When prospective tenants search for self-storage on the Internet (as up to 90 percent do), the vast majority will click on results that appear “above the fold,” which typically means the first few listings that appear before he must scroll down. When your listing appears in this sweet spot, you stand an excellent chance of landing a new rental prospect. If it appears below the fold, however, it’s only marginally better than if it shows on page 10 of the results.
Most self-storage operators recognize this, and some of the largest have dramatically increased their digital-marketing spend as a result, upping the ante for this high-stakes game of capturing new customers. For evidence of this, look no further than the latest earnings reports of the industry real estate investment trusts. Extra Space Storage saw a 24 percent increase in marketing expenses in the first nine months of 2019. During its earnings call, CEO Joe Margolis noted, “Digital advertising is as expensive as we have ever seen it.” Public Storage was on pace to spend nearly $7 million more on marketing in 2019 than the previous year.
With this in mind, much of digital advertising is focused on search engine marketing (SEM). Google and other search engines use ever-changing algorithms to determine the order in which search results are displayed. Want to guarantee your property appears above the fold? Be prepared to pay—a lot. The cost depends on many factors, but with supply outpacing demand in many cities, bids for self-storage keywords are skyrocketing.
This digital arms race could reach the point of locking out all but those with the deepest pockets. If you’re going to win new tenants away from your competitors, you need to master the art of online marketing. So how do you keep up when everyone else has a bigger budget? Here are 10 things you can do to make sure you’re maximizing your digital marketing efforts.
1. Know Your Market’s Most Important Search Keywords
One of the first things you need to do is target the keywords important to your market. Some cost more than others. Often, you get more bang for your buck by targeting mid-tier keywords that may get fewer hits, but they’re less expensive and won’t result in as crowded of a playing field.
2. Analyze Conversions Over Clicks
When it comes to digital advertising, never forget that the term PPC stands for “pay per click.” That means you pay whenever a prospect clicks on your listing, regardless of whether they end up as a customer. So, it’s in your interest to maximize the number of actual tenants you get for each paid click. That’s known as your “conversion rate,” and it’s a much better indicator of how your campaign is faring than the number of clicks you get.
If your conversion rate is low, review the prospect experience on your website and consider optimizing it with a clear call to action to rent or reserve a storage unit with just a few clicks. If a prospect must call a number for more information, chances are high he’s going to bounce to the next result for faster answers to his questions.
3. Master Geo-Targeting
Unless you have many properties that cover an entire city, don’t waste your money on search terms like “self-storage in Dallas.” You’ll probably end up paying for a lot of clicks by people who live in Dallas but will never be customers because they’re 20 miles away. It’s better to limit your keyword strategy to people searching within a small radius of your property.
4. Optimize for Longtail Keywords
Rather than bidding on the obvious search terms where competition is fierce, bid on longer, more specific key phrases. These will usually have a lower cost and a higher conversion rate because they appeal to a more specific audience.
Which terms should you use? Focus on the unique features or services your property offers. You wouldn’t be in business if you didn’t think you had a superior product.
5. Make Use of ‘Negative’ Keywords
In this context, a negative keyword isn’t one that’s bad, harmful, etc. It’s a keyword that allows you to exclude a specific audience that’s looking for features that don’t apply to your self-storage business. They’re like longtail keywords, but you’re telling Google to ignore them. For example, if you offer a premium location and amenities, you may want to exclude prospects who are looking for a discounted, bare-bones product, and vice versa.
6. Get the Timing Right
A good fisherman knows there are good times and not-so-good times to catch fish. Is there a particular day of the week or time of year that has historically yielded new tenants for you? Strategically time your campaigns to kick in when you think prospects will be biting. Then, use the resulting data and analytics to confirm when those “bites” are happening so you can optimize for next time.
7. Live and Breathe SEO
When people search for something online, the search engine’s goal is to show what it determines to be the most relevant listings first. Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of managing your online presence to maximize your relevance with search engines. There are hundreds of factors that go into it, but let’s get started with the basics.
Keep the content on your website updated and add new material as often as you can with articles or blog posts. Write about helpful storage tips and share regular announcements about happenings in your neighborhood. The whole point is to make your website look like the clear authority on all things self-storage in your area.
8. Manage Your Online Reputation
In today’s digital world, most online customers refuse to take your word for it. They want to see what everyone else is saying about your brand. Don’t spend money attracting prospects only to lose them when they see your negative online reviews. Pay close attention to review sites and actively respond to all reviews, especially negative ones, in a professional manner. Remember, reviews posted to Google Reviews can influence your search result rankings, so encourage happy tenants to share their experiences.
9. Be Patient
If patience is a virtue, then it’s likely you’ll need to be a very virtuous digital marketer. It takes time to build anything of value, and a good SEO and SEM strategy is no different. Even with the most beautiful website, you still need a consistent history of site visitors and reputable backlinks before search engines will start to move your business up the rankings.
If you have a small staff or limited budget, it might be wise to consider hiring outside resources to help you. Curating a robust and authoritative online presence requires continuous attention, and unless this is your forte, it’ll probably take you or your key staff away from what you’re really good at—managing your self-storage properties.
10. Seek Referrals
Here’s an easy, old-school way to get new self-storage customers: Ask your contacts for referrals. Obviously, you want referrals from current tenants, but why not reach out to businesses, apartment communities and other local organizations? Consider offering a referral bonus. It could come in the form of a rent credit to existing customers, gift cards or complimentary storage months to a local business. Get creative.
There’s no such thing as a magic solution that’ll perfect your digital marketing overnight. Every region has its own quirks, and every self-storage business is managed a little differently. Start by applying these 10 strategies, then adapt them based on your results. Don’t be afraid to try new things. Remember, you can’t win a battle if you don’t fight!
Mark Smith is a director of marketing at Yardi Systems Inc., which provides management software for self-storage and other types of real estate. He’s been involved in real estate technology for nearly 20 years. For more information, call 800.866.1144; e-mail [email protected]; visit www.yardi.com.