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
“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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
“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,”
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
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,”
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
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
“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
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.
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
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
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.