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Is Your Website Obsolete?

While we were busy chasing new tenants and conducting day-to-day business with existing customers, something startling crept up on us when we weren’t looking. Following years of building and maintaining our websites, optimizing content, and flirting with ecommerce, some of us have been forced to look in the mirror and face the ugly truth: Our websites have become virtually obsolete overnight.

With nearly two-thirds of all Internet traffic to websites now being generated from smartphones and other mobile devices, a tragic number of websites have been labeled as mobile unfriendly.

At the risk of losing readership, spend the next minute visiting a free Google site at https://search.google.com/search-console/mobile-friendly. That site will let you know how mobile friendly your website is—or isn’t.

Google Analytics is another tool that helps identify if you need a mobile site. It lets you know what percentage of your total visits are from a mobile device, the average time on site, and the bounce rate. If your average time on site is lower and the bounce rate is higher than your overall numbers, then you’ll know that you’re losing much of your mobile traffic.

Adding salt to the wound, last year Google rolled out a mobile-first index to reflect the fact that more searches happen on mobile. Some Web experts contend the search engine now treats websites with fully responsive mobile versions preferentially in search results over those that don’t have a mobile-friendly version. That’s because Google doesn’t want to direct mobile users to sites where they will encounter a frustrating experience.

“Google is not likely to list your site in their mobile search listings if you don’t have a mobile compatible site,” says Jason Marsh of Marsh8 in Winter Park, Fla. “It’s hard to get on the first page of Google organically anyway, but if you don’t have a mobile site, they’re not even going to list you because they feel like that site is a bad user experience. You’re making it harder for the user to gather the information they want and take the action you want which is making reservations online or at least calling the store.”

Lost Lead Opportunities

It all comes down to screen size—and time. Mobile users have smaller screens than desktops and laptops and less time to spend finding information on the go. Unless a website is “mobile responsive”, your business risks losing untold amounts of business.

“If your website isn’t mobile friendly, it will be difficult for users to navigate or reserve a unit,” says Rachael Heslop, marketing manager for storEDGE, a technology company based in Westwood, Kan. “This means the user is ultimately going to leave your website and use a competitor’s site to complete the move-in. A website that isn’t mobile responsive translates to lost lead opportunities for storage owners.”

Marketers have been closely following the progress of mobile users to websites in recent years, and when mobile searches crossed the 50/50 mark with desktops/laptops in 2016, that was a game-changer for many.

Some self-storage companies anticipated this landmark event several years ago and implemented new mobile strategies. The William Warren Group, a Santa Monica, Calif., company that operates more than 120 StorQuest Self Storage facilities, established a mobile-friendly website approximately five years ago.

Then, about two years ago, the company switched to mobile responsive, which allows seamless formatting no matter the platform—whether it’s a mobile phone, iPad, or tablet. The website becomes responsive to the display size of the user’s device. All components of a page shrink and reorder themselves in a way that is optimized for a mobile device.

“That’s when we started seeing the biggest uptick,” reports Michelle Bakva, vice president of marketing for William Warren. “Having that responsive design has helped us capitalize on mobile visitors and improve our conversion rates from traffic to leads across every device.”

StorQuest is seeing approximately 50 percent of its customers and 55 percent of its leads coming from mobile devices.

Using Third-Party Firms

Most operators don’t have the expertise in house to redesign their websites to be mobile responsive, so they typically hire third-party companies to build and maintain their websites.

“Most storage operators and marketing people are not going to have the skill set internally to write code and make the transition,” says Marsh. “If somebody is happy with the look of their website, then all they’re looking to do is find a developer they can work with and migrate the site to a mobile responsive platform. You want to vet those people, look at examples of their work, and make sure they’re reputable.”

Marsh estimates that work could cost from $500 to $2,000, depending on the size of the website.

James Appleton, director of sales for Phoenix-based MiniCo Insurance Agency and owner of Barking Tuna Web Design, says companies that build and host websites for operators charge a fee from $2,500 to $5,000 for the initial design and build, and from $200 to $500 a month for ongoing maintenance services.

In addition, it’s important for a third-party company to prepare the website for ecommerce. “Finding a website provider that integrates with your management software and online rental portal is vital for a smooth user experience for your customers,” says Jana Haecherl, marketing communications specialist for storEDGE.

Components Of A Mobile Website

Whether you’re able to build a mobile compatible website in house or choose to hire an independent web designer, there are elements to look for in a good design. A mobile site tends to look a lot different than traditional websites.

“People have less time when they’re viewing your site from a mobile platform, so you want to get the point across as quickly as possible,” Appleton says.

In fact, it’s generally believed a website needs to grab the attention of visitors within four seconds to be effective. Surveys indicate that nearly 40 percent of visitors will stop engaging with a website in less than a minute if the content or layout is unattractive. Over 44 percent of visitors will leave a company’s website if there’s no contact information or phone number.

Web designers advise avoiding clutter and too much extraneous information. “Always think about what the user is trying to accomplish and what information they want and try to make it as easy as possible to find and access all those things,” Marsh says. “Make sure it’s easy for them to find what storage units you have.”

Marsh recommends having an imbedded Google map somewhere on the site so it’s easy for visitors to find your location.

“Make sure the most prominent tabs are the ones that are accessible to mobile devices,” Bakva advises. “You want to make sure images are mobile friendly and formatted because the last thing you want is images that are getting cut off the page.”

It’s also important for potential customers to easily contact the facility. “One of the important things you want to have is an immediate link to your phone number at the top,” Appleton says. “You should always have your phone number in a prominent place. You can hyperlink telephone numbers so when someone visits from a mobile device, if they click your phone number it should pull up their dialer and give them the option to dial you.”

Marsh recommends having a click-to-call that includes a phone number. “Make it easy for users to contact you. Don’t make the user think too hard about finding things they want. There are some plug-ins with WordPress where you can have a button at the bottom with a phone icon they can click,” Marsh says.

Video: Yes Or No?

Flash displays and video popups can take valuable time away from the mobile experience, so some developers generally avoid these features on home pages. However, when employed properly, informative videos could add to a mobile website’s success.

Social media users are showing a preference for video, with four times as many consumers preferring digestible video content over text, according to Mobile Marketer. Social media platforms have given more weight to video content over static imagery Facebook’s daily video views jumped from one billion to eight billion in one year, with 500 million people watching videos every day, Mobile Marketer reports.

StorQuest has used more videos with some degree of success. “We have definitely noticed the higher impact of videos, especially with regard to receiving more impressions and engagement,” Bakva says. “It’s going to become more important for operators to be using video to get more traffic and eyeballs to their website and brand.”

While some advocates argue that video makes the website more “sticky”—keeping visitors on the site a little longer—others say it should be a lower priority on a mobile site.

“Video has its role, but for somebody looking to find storage near them, is video going to be that much of a difference-maker?” Marsh says. “It might to some people but for the most part, how quickly can they see the types of units you offer, the various features, can they make reservations online? All come far before what video is ultimately going to do for you. It’s a lot of other things that come first in terms of creating a good user experience that’s going to drive an individual that’s looking for storage to respond to that site and inquire for more information or actually reserve a unit.”

Marsh adds that he hasn’t seen any clear data that suggests video is going to generate more leads or more occupancy. Bakva agrees that it’s largely an educated guess right now. “In terms of customer conversions, it’s a little fuzzy, but I think videos are very valuable for brand awareness,” Bakva contends.

Video can be effective when illustrating the facility’s amenities, cleanliness, and security features. A family-owned business might promote that aspect in video as a way to differentiate its facility from bigger operations. Regardless, videos must be professional and compelling enough to draw people in.

Online Transaction Tools

More and more consumers expect online convenience, so it behooves operators to offer tools to allow mobile users to easily obtain information and transact business. Online tools include autopay, e-sign, and other self-service technology.

“The most effective technique to turn online window shoppers into renters it to offer action items that let them easily reserve or rent a unit right from their smartphone,” says Heslop. “Having actionable steps on your website lowers the barrier by creating an online storefront for your business that’s open 24/7. By offering tools online, leads are able to shop your available units and rent a space from the comfort of their home, any time of day.”

storEDGE offers a self-service tool called Rental Center™, where new visitors to a facility’s website can check out information on storage unit sizes and amenities, rent a unit, and sign their rental agreement digitally. Rental Center integrates with most facility software and is accessible from all devices, including desktops, tablets, and smartphones.

Tenants can view storage unit sizes, choose their space, and complete the entire move-in process in minutes, all from any device with an Internet connection.

Google offers free tools to evaluate website performance and improve the content, conversions, and user experience.

Google Analytics lets you see which online marketing campaigns such as local search and social media marketing are the most successful in terms of attracting traffic and making conversions. Analytics lets you determine where your best visitors are located as well as average time on site and bounce rates.

Learn what visitors are searching for and determine if they are finding what they are looking for on your site. Get information on the percentage of clicks that have happened on each internal link. Find out which pages keep your visitors on your website the longest or have the lowest bounce rate. Analytics also helps to identify your worst performing pages.

Google Search Console is like a mystery shopper that shows how Google Search sees your site. Search Console lets webmasters monitor a site’s performance, identify issues, submit content for crawling, spot errors, and view the search queries that brought visitors to the site. Console identifies which queries caused the website to appear in search results and also lets you see if your mobile site is performing well for visitors searching on mobile devices.

Text Messaging Pros And Cons

Some operators market directly to customers’ cell phones through text messages, although they must be mindful of privacy issues. One operator says she sends a thank-you text message to new tenants and asks them for a recommendation. If the customer agrees, a link takes them to a Google page where they can do a quick review.

“That is increasingly becoming a viable way to stay in contact with people,” Appleton says. “People can very easily ignore an email message but people tend to view their text messages and respond to them more regularly. There’s no doubt from a collections standpoint, from the initial thank-you standpoint, you’ll get a much higher response rate if you’re employing text messaging.”

Some customers not only expect to be contacted through texts, but prefer them as a form of communication.

“Many renters prefer to communicate through text messaging rather than through phone calls or emails,” says Haecherl. “Sending automated payment reminders or move-in confirmations is an easy and effective way of communicating with your renters. Two-way text messaging adds to the user experience of the modern mobile consumer.”

Make sure texts are OK with customers and not an intrusion into their privacy. “You want to find out how people want to be communicated with,” Marsh says. “Potentially, it could turn people off if you send them a text message. People look at text messages as a private thing.

Marketing can be coordinated with social media to take full advantage of an operator’s mobile investment. Smaller operators can use online apps to create a bigger Internet presence by automating responses and posts on various social media platforms, much the way larger operators do with teams of digital experts.

Appleton’s family owns three storage facilities and employs various tools to stay visible on mobile devices. “We use social media automation on Twitter and Facebook to post things to profiles,” Appleton says. “If somebody follows them on Twitter, it automatically sends that person a message thanking them and giving them information about the facility with a link to the website.”

More and more customers—especially Millennials—want to serve themselves on their smartphones and mobile devices by using automated tools like online move-in, document e-sign, online bill payment, text reminders, and gate access by phone.

More prospective tenants interact with a website as much or more than they do with facility managers. In one consumer survey, two-thirds of respondents say they prefer using online self-service tools over human contact when interacting with companies. So, increasing the digital tools available from their phones will make it easier for them to rent a storage unit.

Operators that don’t cater to the needs of mobile users may start to get left behind. Digitally connected consumers may pass through your website in a matter of seconds and move on to a competitor at frightening speed—all in the time it normally takes a facility manager to answer the office phone.

David Lucas is a freelance writer based in Phoenix, Arizona. He is a regular contributor to all of MiniCo’s publications. 

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