Websites As Marketing Tools

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Getting The Most From Your Site

Absolutely phenomenal sales people are rare. Equally rare are websites that bring in prospects and turn them into loyal customers. For each website that can do this, there are countless others that do nothing for the businesses they represent; they don’t produce what business owners expect of them in terms of sales.

At this point, the majority of the self-storage industry understands that potential tenants are going online to find storage facilities. Storage operators know they need a website, so most facilities have online presences. But that’s the problem. Simply having a website isn’t the same as having a website that works for you—one that provides your facility with visibility and revenue while also helping to streamline different parts of your operation to save you time and money. So, how do you use a website as a marketing tool that fills storage units?

Visibility: The Essential Ingredient
Marketing is all about getting eyes on your business to move consumers through the sales funnel. The same is true when you use a website to advertise your self-storage facility. In order to get potential tenants into the sales funnel, you have to get them to visit it before you can start selling. This is why visibility is so important online.

To get more eyes on your self-storage website, you have to be found in the areas where storage customers are looking. It’s not a secret that people who need self-storage go online to research storage facilities in their area. Google searches continue to be the primary place new tenants look for self-storage units available near them. In fact, as much as 70 percent of web traffic for the storage industry can be attributed to Google searches alone. This is where you’ll start to hear about using SEO (search engine optimization) to improve search engine visibility.

Optimizing your website for search engines usually entails structuring your site to make it easy for search engines to crawl and index, doing extensive research to see which keywords and target phrases should be included within your website’s content, and prioritizing informative webpages to get the most attention from search engines. These things often require someone with SEO experience to implement. Let’s look at some actionable changes someone without tons of search engine experience could implement.

One of the most basic things that your website should do is clearly communicate what your facility offers. This is done through the content on your website, which can include text, images, and videos. Do you have 10-by-20 drive-up units that can be used to store a car? Your website’s content should clearly communicate that you offer car storage. Do you accept business deliveries? Potential tenants care about specific storage services and will search for facilities that offer those services, which means you’re more likely to be found if you mention it on your site.

Don’t take anything you offer for granted. Tell your customers exactly what it is that you can give them. Not only will it create a stronger experience that better communicates the benefits of storing at your facility, but it helps Google understand the types of search queries that your website could be displayed for as well. Though Google is constantly becoming more advanced in understanding what searchers are seeking, it’s still not at the point where it knows 10-by-20 drive-up units can be used to store a car, so you have to make that explicit on your site.

Another mistake many storage websites make is being too broad in the way they describe their storage services. Don’t summarize your storage unit sizes by saying something as vague as “We have storage units ranging from 5-by-5 to 10-by-30.” List all of your unit sizes. Believe it or not, storage consumers regularly search for an exact storage unit size to rent. Do you offer car, boat, and RV storage? Don’t just say you offer “vehicle storage.” Data proves that people search for the specific type of vehicle storage they need.

Also, just as important as communicating what you offer is communicating where you’re located. And this goes beyond having your address on the website. City, neighborhood, ZIP code, and nearby places, such as colleges, military bases, and airports, are all great things to include within your website’s content.

Because search engines allow a searcher to type in “self-storage near me,” searchers have become accustomed to receiving local results. More and more, they use search terms like “closest storage units to me” or “storage units near campus”. In order to reach these potential customers, you have to let them know you’re located in the exact area where they’re looking for storage.

Another major aspect of gaining local visibility is through local search optimization, commonly referred to as local listings. As part of their search algorithm, Google compares the information they have for your business against other strong business directories such as Yelp.com, Yellowpages.com, Whitepages.com. Google wants to ensure that your website, your Google My Business Listing, and listings on these other authoritative directory websites convey the same business information: facility name, address, phone number, and website (NAP+W).

The hard part about this is that almost all of these directory websites scan the web for businesses and automatically set up listings with the information they’re able to find. Unfortunately, you don’t have any control over this or a way to stop them. Directory websites benefit from displaying that information, and they can easily find it through several different data sources that they either scrape on their own or purchase information from. Because these directories get their information from different places, inconsistencies are inevitable. This is a problem because something as small as “Street” versus “St.” can be seen as an inconsistency.

Google checks your business information against the information on these websites. When inconsistencies are found, it essentially weakens Google’s confidence in your facility location. As a result, it lessens your chances of being shown by Google for local search results (i.e., the “near me” searches).

This is why local search optimization is so critical. Instead of allowing thousands of websites to possibly display different information about your business and weaken your search signals, storage operators need to take control of their listings and consistently optimize them to make sure that accurate information is distributed.

Converting Visitors Into Tenants
Regardless of whether or not your site is doing a decent job at driving traffic and getting consistent page views, you have to make the traffic and views on your site count. If your website does a poor job turning site visitors into customers, it’s almost as bad as not being visible online at all.

A clean, landscaped, well-lit facility can get a potential renter to make a decision to turn into your facility’s parking lot. An organized office with a polite and knowledgeable on-site manager can get them to turn into tenants. What if your lights were half-working, gate was stuck open, and front door had the wrong address marker? Would people turn into your parking lot? What if your on-site manager didn’t know what you offered? What if their desk was a mess, smelled a little funky, and they didn’t know where the necessary paperwork was kept? Would someone in the office possibly back out? The same idea of “curb appeal” applies to your website.

It’s very likely that the first impression potential customers have with your storage facility nowadays will be on your website. When your website loads, do you feel confident that a visitor will immediately say “Yeah, I’d store my stuff there”? Does your website provide the “curb appeal” that is so important to tenants?

Fortunately, your website doesn’t have to be revolutionary to create a strong first impression. It should look modern, use images and text to quickly communicate what storage services you offer so they know they’re on the type of website they need, and promote what makes your facility desirable over other facilities in the area through advertising of amenities such as security and climate-controlled storage.

A visitor will determine whether or not they want to do business with you within seconds of looking at your facility’s website. Therefore, making sure that your website instantly makes them feel like they’re at the right place is a huge part of getting a website visitor one step closer to renting a storage unit. If your website doesn’t represent your facility in a positive light that instantly builds trust in the mind of the customer, it isn’t going to be a great marketing tool.

If you want to get an idea of how well your website is doing in this area, take a look at your website’s analytics (You may need your webmaster to relay this information to you if you don’t operate the website yourself). If the average time on your site is really low or the bounce rate (i.e., how many people leave without visiting a second page) is really high, it’s a sign that your website isn’t making a good first impression. If you want your website to be a conversion-based marketing tool, now is the time to make some design changes to your website.

Speed matters to site visitors too. According to kissmetrics, an online marketing analytics company, 40 percent of people abandon a webpage that takes more than three seconds to load, and 47 percent of people expect a website to load in two seconds or less. Finally, a one-second delay in page response can result in a seven percent drop in conversions.

Quite literally, every second counts when it comes to how quickly your website loads. Your website taking one second too long to load could be the difference between a customer who rents a storage unit for three years and someone who leaves your website before they even fully get there. If you want to see where you stand, just time your website. When you switch pages, how long does it take for the page to display fully? If you’re above the numbers mentioned above, it’s worth looking into ways to make your site faster.

Common causes for long load times are hosting and unnecessary code. If hosting is the issue, the solution is simple: Change your web hosting. This could be an upgrade within your current hosting company or by switching companies. If your website is being bogged down because of large amounts of code, it should be an easy fix. But it’s also possible that this might be a good point to take whatever you’d need to fix that issue and use it toward updating your website entirely, especially if your site’s current “curb appeal” is outdated.

Once you’ve addressed issues that could keep site visitors from converting into tenants, look into ways to drive more conversions. The biggest mistake websites make here is overcomplicating the design of conversion pages and calls-to-action.

Almost any storage operator’s goal for their facility’s website is to generate a call into the facility or an online reservation. Unfortunately, there are plenty of websites that don’t prioritize conversion-based design and make the visitor jump through too many hoops in order to figure out where to take action. This is a surefire way to lose a customer. Because Internet users have become accustomed to finding what they need with ease on most websites, they will leave your website in an instant if they can’t immediately see a way to take action.

For example, only having contact information on the “Contact Us” page of your website can cause this problem. If your goal is to get a call from the customer, the facility’s phone number should be on every single page, especially the homepage, and should be easy for the visitor to find. Most websites will include the phone number in the header section of the website so that it automatically displays on every page.

For websites that offer online reservations, the same principle applies. You never know which page someone will be on when they decide they’re ready to reserve. Make sure that the “Reserve Online” call-to-action can easily be found no matter where the visitor is on your site.

Also, the conversion checkout process needs to be as simple and as fast as possible. Minimize the amount of work the visitor has to do. If you’re currently asking for information that you don’t need the tenant to provide or that they could provide once they’re at the facility, remove it from the checkout process. The more information and time you ask of someone at this step, the higher the chance that they’ll decide to leave your website without checking out, even if they’re right on the brink of reserving.

The Mobile Aspect  
Mobile has an impact on both visibility and conversion. Plain and simple: Mobile is where a huge percentage of online searches come from today.

Mobile was a huge topic in 2015. Google made an announcement that they were making an algorithm change specifically regarding mobile-friendly websites. Though the algorithm change didn’t wipe non-mobile websites out of search results like many anticipated it would, it did reward mobile-friendly websites. This was, in a way, Google’s message that they care about mobile-friendliness.

Google made it clear that mobile-friendly websites are important to them. Do a search on Google from a mobile device; you’ll see that they have an indicator that reads “mobile-friendly” under websites that offer a quality mobile experience. Google’s ultimate goal is to provide the best websites for every search. If they display websites that provide a terrible user experience on mobile devices for someone searching on their phone, they aren’t exactly providing their users with quality search results.

One thing to note is that Google does make changes frequently, and this could get stricter as time goes on. Now that they’ve made the announcement loud and clear, it wouldn’t be surprising if mobile-friendly websites continue to rise to the top, and websites with poor mobile experiences begin to disappear from searches conducted from mobile devices.

Google confirmed that mobile searches passed desktop searches this year, so being visible in this area is absolutely critical. If by chance your website does still get found and visited through mobile searches without having a mobile-friendly design, the chances of anything positive coming from that visit are pretty small. If you’ve ever visited a desktop version of a website from your phone, you can relate to how difficult doing almost anything can be.

So what makes a great mobile site? You know it when you see it. Text and images are proportional to the size of your screen, and large buttons, including click-to-call buttons, make it easy to take action. This just goes back to making it easy for your visitors to convert.

In addition, mobile users are typically more ready to make a decision than desktop users are. It has been reported that 70 percent of mobile searches lead to action within an hour. You can see how this applies to the storage industry as well. If someone is just starting to think about renting a storage unit, they’ll probably use a computer to do some research. If they already intend to rent a storage unit and find your facility’s website in a mobile search, that might trigger them to take action immediately.

There are two popular options in regard to making your website mobile ready. The first is developing a mobile website (referred to as an “mDOT”) that is triggered to load on mobile devices. The second and probably more effective option for most storage operators is a responsive web design. A responsive design simply adjusts how your website is displayed based on the screen size of the device where it’s being viewed.

Unfortunately, if you have a website that isn’t mobile-friendly, it isn’t practical to make your current site responsive. Instead, the better option is to have a new website built that’s responsive from the start. It’s just one of those cases where it’s easier and probably cheaper to start new rather than try to fix something that wasn’t built with mobile functionality in mind. Long term, it’s a great investment that will help your business thrive online. And it’s common practice to build responsive websites at this point, so they’re more affordable than you might think.

When would an mDOT website make sense instead of a responsive website? mDOTs are typically best if you have a really large website and want people on mobile devices to see something entirely different than what you want visitors on desktop to see. As for a responsive website, this will typically make more sense for self-storage operators from both a functionality and cost perspective.

The Takeaway
Each year, consumers become more accustomed to finding everything they need online. Though being visible on a high-traffic street corner or having a sign out front that lets everyone know where you are will still bring new tenants in the door, many will see that sign and then do a search on their phone to figure out whether or not they’re going to go with your facility or if they need to keep looking.

Why? Because they can. Consumers have so much more information available to them at all times now. Why should they trust their belongings to a place they know nothing about other than where it’s located? Why wouldn’t they do a quick search to see what a facility offers and how the facility looks before they make that decision?

Your website has to be a strong marketing tool going forward. Storage consumers use the Internet to find local facilities, research them, and make decisions based on what they see on websites. There is undeniable proof at this point, so it’s something that cannot be ignored.

Just like a salesperson, your website has to effectively reach interested consumers and establish trust. If it does these things for you, it’s likely that it will also be a very profitable marketing tool for many years to come.

Websites are meant to make you money. Make 2016 the year that your website becomes the profitable marketing tool that it can and should be rather than a brochure site that exists to exist.

Brandon Taylor is CTO and co-owner of Storage.com. He has more than 20 years of website and software development experience.

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