Over the last 15 years, the Internet has changed the way we do just about everything, and what we’ve seen so far is just the beginning. Self-storage operators are catching on to the importance of the Internet, and most have some kind of Web presence. Some declare that as many as 50 percent of their new tenants find them online.
Five years ago, that number was likely closer to 10 percent. That’s a pretty fast rate of change, and it’s not slowing down. In fact, not only do consumers search for self-storage online, many prefer to complete all move-in tasks via the Web.
To ensure potential customers find your facility, there are several steps you can take to leverage your online presence, including search-engine optimization (SEO), search-engine marketing (SEM) and third-party referral sites. Let’s talk about each.
Although there are a few search engines on the Web, Google by far dominates, grabbing more than 64 percent of the search market. Naturally, the Google search engine should be your main concern for SEO and SEM. Its proprietary search technology is one of the greatest “black boxes” in the world.
Despite what anyone tells you, the factors that help your website rank higher on Google are the secrets of none other than Google itself. People will claim to be experts and “guarantee” placement for your site in organic search results, but the truth is, unless they work for Google and spend every day deep inside the company’s search algorithms, they don’t really know how it works.
Additionally, Google is constantly tweaking its ranking algorithm (PageRank), so it’s impossible to know exactly how to achieve top rank at any given time. Google’s goal is to display truly relevant search results rather than results manipulated by self-promoting individuals or companies.
The most important thing you can do to make Google notice you is to get links from other websites! Even better, get links from other contextually relevant websites—other storage sites, for example. Get all your friends in the storage business to link to you, and offer to link back to them in exchange. Call your local chamber of commerce and get a link.
Do something that gets your facility press coverage, which can often lead to a link. For example, offer free storage to victims of a fire, flood or other natural disaster. Not only is this a great thing to do for those in need, but there’s a chance a link to your facility’s website could appear in local or national news outlets. The story will quickly fall off the front page, but your link stays archived on the press outlet’s website forever—and Google could find it. The act of obtaining links to your website is called “link-building,” and it’s something every self-storage company with a website should be doing on an ongoing basis.
Additionally, Google cares about quality content. Try writing a few articles on hot storage topics for your website, providing a legitimate resource for potential customers to learn about self-storage and why they might need it. If you add new articles and new inbound links to your website every week, your Google ranking will grow over time.
Setting Up SEM
A good SEM campaign includes Google, Bing and Yahoo. It’s very easy to set up an account on any of these services from their homepage. Google’s ad program, AdWords, allows you to bid on certain keywords and target geographically. Google makes it very easy and intuitive to set up, but you also need to have conversion tracking in place to ensure a positive return on investment.
Storage keywords can be extremely expensive. In New York and Los Angeles, each click can cost upward of $14! Google has free tools to help you track conversions built in to its AdWords program. All you need to do is install a snippet of code from Google on your confirmation page, or whichever page shows up when someone has completed the desired action on your website. You can also use another program called Google Analytics to track how people are interacting with your website.
Third-Party Referral Sites
Capturing organic search traffic from Google is part science and part art. It takes time and hard work to rise to the top. But there are other ways to boost your online presence and get more tenants in the door today, such as getting listed on third-party referral sites. For example, sites that primarily offer moving, relocation and real estate services also host self-storage listings. For a fee, these sites will list your facility and drive traffic to your site.
In addition to sites in adjacent verticals, a number of third-party referral websites have popped up in the self-storage industry itself. These range from basic online directories to fully integrated marketplaces with online booking capabilities.
When people think about renting self-storage, some will still thumb through the Yellow Pages, but others will turn to Internet searches. Look for sites that offer the best user experience for your potential consumers, and make sure your company is listed on all of them.
Chuck Gordon is the CEO and cofounder of SpareFoot.com, an online self-storage marketplace. SpareFoot is 100 percent performance-based with no setup or monthly fees. For more information, call 202.257.2111; visit http://www.sparefoot.com/.