Over the last decade, the self-storage industry has witnessed the rise and fall of several specialized lead aggregation websites. While some aggregators continue to be extremely successful, others have left storage operators dissatisfied and disillusioned. These contrasting experiences have given these types of websites a confusing reputation.
Upon entering the industry, most storage operators are cautious to partner with an aggregator to generate additional online leads and rentals, for they’ve heard horror stories of excessive fees and misrepresentation. Other operators continue to adamantly defend these lead-gen sources, for they’ve seen impressive results, including increased NOI through increased occupancy.
If you’re a new storage operator or one who is just now considering listing with an aggregator website, it can be difficult to wade through this sea of mixed opinions. In this article, we’ll help you tread through the waves and discover the truth about aggregators.
The Different Types of Self-Storage Aggregators
An aggregator is a site that has data from multiple sources around the internet, placed in one location for users to access it. In the self-storage industry, there are two basic types of aggregator websites: contact-focused and booking sites.
A contact aggregator attracts customers, discovers their storage preferences, and then matches the customer with local storage operators that best suit their needs. The customer can then easily click through to an operator’s website or contact a facility knowing that each has units available within their search radius. At first, this service is completed free of charge. However, the longstanding complaint against this type of aggregator is paid placement and ongoing subscription fees. More on these objections later.
A booking aggregator also attracts customers and sorts their storage preferences. However, unlike a contact aggregator, a booking aggregator doesn’t require customers to click through to another site in order to proceed. Instead, the customer can complete their research, reservation, and rental without having to leave the aggregator’s site. Booking aggregators don’t always charge a monthly fee, instead they charge operators a percentage of each confirmed rental. Some booking operators also charge renters a premium for booking through the aggregator. While there are several examples of contact and booking aggregators currently active in the self-storage industry, contact aggregators are far more common. Both types have their own advantages and complications. It’s important to understand these pros and cons before deciding to work, or not work, with an aggregator.
The Advantages of Storage Aggregators
The advantages of listing your facility on this type of website may seem obvious. However, novices should thoroughly explore how their operation stands to benefit.
It’s also important to remember aggregators are not a new concept. In fact, many robust industries have been populated, or even dominated, by aggregators for some time. Travel (e.g., Expedia) and residential real estate (e.g., Zillow) are two industries with a heavy aggregator presence.
In an industry populated by aggregators, the customer can be the main beneficiary. These websites streamline the purchasing process, provide convenience, and empower customers to compare rates and conduct their own research. If self-storage customers are fond of aggregators, then storage operators should naturally consider using one.
Passive lead generation
The most prominent advantage is passive lead generation. Other than updating your business profile (we’ll talk about this next), listing your facility on an aggregator requires little continued work. All facilities are beneficiaries of the SEO and PPC efforts that are (theoretically) built into the aggregator. Compared to traditional digital advertising and website development costs, using an aggregator is also exceptionally affordable. This combined convenience and affordability makes working with an aggregator one of the easiest ways to generate new leads and convert customers.
Using an aggregator website also allows your storage business to expand its online presence. If your operation doesn’t have a strong website or SEO strategy, the business profile an aggregator provides can prove to be very effective, especially if the site performs well in local search results.
While drafting your profile, you should think in terms of what customers will be searching for on the aggregator. Most business profiles will include at least the facility’s address, phone number and hours of operation. More advanced profiles will also include features, amenities, and a detailed facility description. Most booking aggregators also include an up-to-date inventory stream.
Enhanced customer support
Storage aggregators often offer add-on services such as call tracking and email or text notifications. These services can help enhance your operation’s level of customer support. Over time, focusing on customer satisfaction can fortify your facility’s positive reputation.
The Disadvantages of Storage Aggregators
The disadvantages of using a storage aggregator include increased fees and competition. One consistent argument against storage aggregators is that they only help themselves.
It’s true, these websites don’t actively create additional value for specific storage operations. Instead, aggregators can cause operators to spend more to compete for positioning on the search engine results pages. If you look at how aggregators have reshaped travel or residential real estate, it’s easy to assume that aggregators operate with one rule in mind: we’ll outrank you on Google till you’re forced to join us. You can’t help but sympathize with the storage operators who feel this is coercion done legally.
From monthly listing fees to a percentage of each completed rental, using an aggregator can significantly decrease your operation’s profits. Some aggregators also operate on a “pay for your rank” model, which requires operators to dish out additional funds to gain preferred positioning on local search results pages.
Aggregators, especially those offering “pay for your rank” programs, also increase competition within local storage markets. For example, if two local operations were splitting search results in a given market, they suddenly have more competition as additional aggregator sites enter the landscape. This, in turn, causes more competition for the local operators, potentially costing them more money to compete for the same pool of customers. Where two separate operations were once benefiting, now the aggregator benefits.
Tendency to benefit the REITs
Protected by their size and financial capabilities, the largest self-storage operators (primarily the REITs) rarely have to worry about the costs associated with aggregators. In fact, some are actually operated by the REITs. Thus, as more independent operators get pushed out of their local markets, the REITs actually end up benefiting. With less local competition, the REITs can buy up more facilities at a lower price and continue to expand their conquest.
Should Your Operation List on an Aggregator?
In conclusion, there are several advantages and disadvantages to listing on an aggregator website. Many operators will decide to list their properties on an aggregator simply out of necessity. Others will continue to stay afloat while they wait for an aggregator that values their business. In the end, choosing to list on an aggregator has to be an independent decision. What are your operational goals? How competitive is your local market? Do you have a solid website and an understanding of local SEO? Answering those questions will help you better decide if listing on an aggregator is right for your operation.
Seek &Store is a free online listing service, connecting consumers with nearby self-storage facilities. Owners and operators can create a free account on the Seek & Store website to list, manage and update important details about their properties to increase their SEO visibility and organic lead-generation capabilities.