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The Ins and Outs Of Internet Marketing

*This is an update of the article written for the June 2016 issue of the Mini-Storage Messenger.

As a builder, owner, and operator in the business for over 40 years (my first experience in self-storage was working as a labor at the first Watson & Taylor facility on Belt Line Rd., Dallas, Texas), the intent of this article is to relate and try (to the best of my ability) to illustrate the advantages for owners and operators to promote their brand.

The Google page shot on page # reveals four types of listings on Google page 1. The most successful self-storage operators in North America are usually on the first page of Google, organically. If you are not on the first page, it’s your fault! According to Quora, “Only 10 percent of the people go beyond the first page of SERTS.”

  1. The first zero to four listings are typically paid text (pay-per-click) ads that relate to the keyword search.
  2. If Google thinks the user is looking for a local business nearby, it will add a local section called the “Local Maps Pack,” comprised of zero to six facilities.
  3. The main section comprised of 10 listings. These are “organic” results web pages that are relevant to the keywords used. Google’s system reads every word and other content on a web page (photos, videos, audio files, etc.). You must be listed in this section if you want to the benefit of Google searches.
  4. These are the bottom paid text (pay-per-click) ads (zero to four). Note, there are no listings for directories and aggregators in sections one, two, or four.

Directories and aggregators are always located in section three, organic; because of their budgets and web experience, this is where they can rank. As the Google first page survey update (2016 to 2019) reveals, the directories and aggregators are appearing more frequently in this section. Consequently, facility listings are being pushed off the first page. A business case may be advanced that, if you are a major operator (large budget) and are willing to accept discounts, this type of marketing is acceptable. There is a comparable here to the Yellow Pages placements: Big budget gets full, double-page ads. Whereas, a smaller facility equates to a smaller budget and ad.

It is my opinion that there are two negative results in the use of directories and aggregators:

  1. Owner sites are pushed off the first page.
  2. Rental rates are lowered and there are more discounts; net results are lower income. Another consequence is that small operators find it harder to achieve a first-page listing. The enclosed survey encompasses 13 major cities in the United States and Canada. What about the listings of directories and aggregators in smaller cities?
  1. McKinney, Texas: 3 D/A, population of 181,330
  2. Mount Pleasant, Texas: 4 D/A, population of 16,257
  3. San Marcos, Texas: 3 D/A. population of 63,071

The above sampling reveals that directories and aggregators are obtaining first-page listings not only in large cities across North America but in small markets as well, the results being owners lose their Google identity.

The Chicago self-storage survey reveals the extent of dominance for directories and aggregators on Google’s organic results. Of the 10 listings, four are directories and aggregators, three are Yelp, and three are owner listings. By comparison, the Toronto survey reflects only one directory, one Yelp, and there is a “Best of Toronto” (BlogTO) site. This site rates a cross section of goods and services in the Toronto area. To analyze the directory listing in Chicago versus Toronto, it would appear that the current lack of directories in Toronto, and across Canada, will soon change. As more U.S. operators locate here, the directories will follow.

What drives lower rates and discounts? There are two factors that create this.

  1. Directories and aggregators. As more self-storage owners list with them, they will gain more first page organic placement. In turn, this will attract more self-storage listings on their sites. This will drive rates down and create more discounting. Why would owners want to be a fragment of an aggregation whose principal format is price and discounts?
  2. Self-storage owners who do not create/design a website that will land them on the first page. Do not run with the pack. Establish your Google identity; this is not that hard to achieve. Click Google Partners!         

Self-storage in North America is experiencing its largest expansion in history. With this greatest-ever growth, one can expect tough new competition that will offer better designs, increased security, more services, mobile apps, online leasing, etc. Due to high land/building, labor cost, time delays caused by excessive bureaucratic requirements, and environment quagmires, all new facilities open with higher costs. If they are going to cover costs and provide profits/returns to investors, these new players must have a superior marketing plan. One may assume there are budgets to achieve this.

To put new self-storage supply into perspective, there are more than 55,000 facilities in the United States. According to an analysis at IBIS World, annual growth has been 7.7 percent since 2012. A new development of self-storage in 2017 resulted in 36 million square feet. The figure for 2015 was 18.5 million square feet, and most think the square footage was more in 2018. In 2015, there were 48,500 self-storage facilities in the United States. In terms of comparison numbers, there were 7,880 Starbucks and 14,146 McDonalds. The current ratio in the U.S. is 7.06 to 1. However, there is a lot more product on the way. As with any product or service, new competition drives marketing. How do existing and new operators maintain and capture their needed share of rentals? There have been spikes in our industry in the past; as with any business, the smart and the quick will survive. How will you tread in this flood of new product and competition trying to take new users and customers from you?

Although competition in Canada has never reached the level of the U.S. market, indications are that this is now changing. Because of demand and funding availability, the square feet of rental space per capita in the U.S. is now 7.06 to 1; it was 6.77 to 1 in 2016. As with any product or service, new competition drives marketing. How do existing and new operators maintain and capture their needed share of rentals? The answer: intelligence as well as aggressive marketing “in” and “out” of the box!

Directories And Aggregators

Directories/aggregators are like race track owners. They list new competitions every day. The cost to enter/run service and overhead goes up but the return on success (a rental) is less.

This is a very happy outcome for buyers in any market; they will be able to buy the goods and services they seek at the lowest possible price for any given level of quality.

I have told self-storage owners for years that if you have the lowest rent rates in your market you could post them online. I always add that in a few days a competitor will post the same rate or lower. This type of marketing creates the “Race to the Bottom”.

The directories have the knowledge and budget to rank on the first page of Google. Self-storage companies that list on them are promoting and funding these listings, enabling them to rank higher than owner listings on website pages. If one analyzes the model, structure, and results of this, it is evident that discounts and low rates are the two selling points promoted by directories. Self-storage owners who should be working to rank on the first page are instead relying on others to direct leads to them, always based on discounts and lower rates.

In the fall of 2015, the author conducted a self-storage website Google review/survey and an on-site visit to four Tampa, Fla., self-storage facilities. The results were surprising. The four locations visited were all listed with directories/aggregators and all listed discounts and low rates. Now, the surprise: All the facilities had 90-plus percent occupancy. The on-site staff stated the high occupancy level had existed for many months. So, why the discounted low rates? A Google search for “self-storage Tampa” revealed that operators relied on directories/aggregator sites to drive traffic to their site rather than developing a branded web presence (and first-page ranking) that they own and manage. Staff also stated that many new renters ask, “What about my first month free?” This was the expected result of all the “free/discount” marketing. A Dallas, Texas, self-storage web search and location visits revealed the same findings as Tampa. Self-storage Tampa now has five directories/aggregators on the first page!

As stated above, all customer surveys indicate that online ads are the No. 1 generator of new rentals. This being the case, why would owner operators not build websites to rank on Google (and other sites) to sell their products/services and build their brand? If your website ranks on the first page and you do not post rates, you get the phone call and web contacts.

Consider this marketing strategy:

  • Strong website that generates more inquiries than your competition. Capture the first contact!
  • Professional, well-trained staff to answer and convert to rentals.
  • You may have higher rates than the competition. No rates on website!
  • By generating more inquiries and higher rates your rental income and sales will be increased.
  • Win with marketing not price!

Yelp

Of the 13 locations surveyed, Yelp had 20 listings on the first page of Google. On some searches, Yelp appeared three times on the first page. Yelp is another listing that can land you on the first page. Staff should ask all tenants, new and existing, for a review. Yelp is stingy when it comes to posting a review on its website. I have never seen a self-storage review stick that was posted from a new Yelp account. It is difficult to get Yelp reviews, even from people with established accounts. One should contact a Yelp rep for advice on working with them. Bottom line: Yelp can place you on page one of Google. All Canadian Self-storage is the No. 1 Yelp reviewed self-storage site in Toronto.

*”self-storage toronto” Google search, first page organic result*

One of the final observations regarding directories/aggregators: These companies are in a sense using Google as their vehicle to carry ads to the user. What if Google elected to move these listings off the first page as has happened in the past (see “The sneaky tactic Google is using to kill price comparison websites, Time to say goodbye to aggregators?” By Desire Athow) and may occur again. Regardless of what happens to aggregators, within today’s web marketing world, companies should try to control, and in the case of self-storage, claim their place on Google’s first page. Remember: Discounting is not marketing.

Websites

First off, let’s be clear: Every self-storage facility, no matter how small, should have a website. Start by registering a domain name at services like GoDaddy. You only need one domain name for your business. However, since domain names only cost about $20 per year, don’t be hesitant to register more than one. If your business is ABC Storage, register ABCStorage.ca and ABCStorage.com. You might even want to get ABCselfstorage.com. You can, and should, redirect one name to the other; therefore, even though you have several domains, you only need one website. Make sure to use yourname@abcstorage.com for email, not a Rogers or Yahoo account.

Your roadside signage and any other printed materials should clearly display your domain name. Since many people are just looking for your phone number or address, make it easy for them to find. People driving to your facility might also need directions. Give them a link from your website to Google Maps.

DIY Or Hire A Pro?

There are many easy-to-use website builders, such as Wix, on the market that make it simple to build your own website. While this is better than not having any website, it may not be the best solution. Try to find a professional in the industry. Ask to see examples and make sure the website is friendly for tablet and mobile devices. See if that professional’s clients are on the first page.

One of the more challenging goals will be to rank on Google when potential customers are searching online. You want your website to appear prominently and, ideally, above your competitors for terms like “self-storage Toronto”. Getting your site well ranked involves SEO, or search engine optimization. Make sure the web professional shows you examples of where they achieved placement for similar local businesses. Are they on the first page?

Once you have a good, well ranking website running, you can use your website statistics to see how many people are visiting the website. Each visitor is another opportunity to book a unit. Is your website doing all it can to convert the visitor to a customer?

Tools like “click and chat” allow you to directly engage with website visitors via a real-time chat box and can dramatically improve conversion rates.

If you are managing more than one facility, each should have a page on the website devoted to the information about the location such as hours of operation, photos, and a map. These location landing pages give more specific location information and may actually convert better than your homepage. Be sure the content on the pages varies; never use duplicate content anywhere on your site.

In conclusion, claim my business, create a website, optimize it, do not post rates, and get maximum Google reviews. All Canadian Self-storage now has 1,029 Google reviews.

Hal S. Spradling is the co-founder and partner of All Canadian Self-storage. Research and data compiled by Anya S. Ettinger.

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