If you’re a small self-storage operator, you’ve seen those pay-per-click advertisements at the top of online search results. Huge companies like Uncle Bob’s and Public Storage spend millions of dollars on them.
So, is it even possible for a small self-storage facility to compete with the big guys online?
Fortunately, when it comes to search engine results, paid ads aren’t everything. Aim for organic, said Anne Ballard, president of marketing, training and development services at Universal Storage Group. Organic, or “natural,” results appear directly below paid ads and aren’t ranked by advertising dollars.
Want to get in on those organic results? Here are seven tips to get you started.
1. Claim Your Place.
List your self-storage facility in free directories like Yelp and MerchantCircle. Go to Google Places for Business to claim your place and add information—name, address, hours, phone, website and a video—that appears on Google Maps for local searches when someone clicks on the balloon that corresponds with your listing. Send customers to these sites to review your facility.
2. Optimize Search Engine Results.
Grab the attention of “crawlers,” the automated programs that visit websites, read pages and provide up-to-date information to search engines. “If you are educating, giving information or inspiring in some way, Google likes that,” Ballard said.
Here are four ways to get crawlers to notice your site:
- Make your website search-engine friendly so that search engines can read it, said Chris Baird, CEO of Automatit, which specializes in developing self-storage websites. If your web developer doesn’t know how to make your site search-engine-friendly, hire someone else, Baird said.
- Focus on local search keywords. Is your self-storage facility in New York City? Narrow keywords to your area, such as The Bronx or Manhattan. With self-storage, “you’re not playing on a national field, just within a five-mile space,” Baird said. “Bring it right down to the local level where you actually compete.”
- Update frequently with lots of photos. Did your employees hand out water at a 5K? Post pictures. Does your facility have new amenities? Show them off in photos. “If you don’t give me lots of pictures, I’m not going to trust what I’m seeing,” Ballard said.
- Post links to apartment complexes, moving companies and real estate agents in your community that’ll link back to you on their sites. “Google really likes a two-way link,” Ballard said.
3. Enable Customers to Do Business Online.
Put your rates online and let customers reserve storage units on your website, said Bob Copper, owner of Self Storage 101, which specializes in self-storage management. “Too many mom-and-pops are still trying to do business like they did in the 1970s,” Copper said.
4. Send Emails That People Want to Open.
Copper recommends that the bulk of each email not be directly related to storage. Profile a commercial tenant. Send barbecue tips, with coupons attached. Include links to inspirational articles. “People look forward to things that are funny and relevant,” Copper said. Build your subscriber list from renters, former customers, event attendees and website visitors.
5. Make Your Website Interactive.
Start a blog. People like to read about how to pack, move, downsize—anything related to self-storage. But you also want to publish occasional posts on health care or other topics that people might search for online. Post videos on YouTube and on your site about how to use rental trucks, pack better, organize a storage unit or choose a secure facility.
6. Use Social Media and Craigslist.
Ballard recommends posting frequently on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. Post daily on your Facebook business page with coupons, specials, and links to articles or websites. Post classified ads with pictures and a link to your website on Craigslist. You can post in lots of categories, including apartments, rentals, movers, boats and RVs, and real estate. Stay on top of it, though. “If you put a Craigslist ad on a month ago, there are thousands of ads in front of it now,” Copper said.
7. Track Your Search Results.
When you make changes to your website, track how those changes affect your search results. “You might change the titles of pages around or add a page and then see how your website ranks,” Baird said.
If you hire someone for search engine optimization (SEO), that’ll make a huge difference in your online traffic, according to Baird. However, if you don’t go that route, the above suggestions are a good start.
“You’re getting nothing if you don’t do anything–just build a website and put it out there,” Baird said. “As a small mom-and-pop competing with huge companies, if you’re going to do this, you’ve got to do all of it.”