Internet marketing is complex, but there’s no great mystery about it. Unlike with other avenues for marketing, such as television or print, digital leaves a very distinct footprint. For you, the self-storage operator or owner, that footprint means everything.
Why Digital Matters
For operators, developing an
Internet marketing strategy means setting an important goal: Getting a good
return on investment (ROI). To achieve that goal, your marketing efforts must
be trackable, and the ability to track information is one great advantage of
the digital space.
Maybe a customer lands on your
reservation page after reading content about your business, such as an online
article, or perhaps the customer lands there as a result of good search engine
optimization (SEO). Either way, the ability to track this information means you
can change your marketing efforts when necessary to achieve a greater ROI.
When you invest in SEO, paid
search, or content, you learn how your customers are finding your storage
business. Gabe Thayn, senior interactive marketing manager at Extra Space
Storage, emphasizes that digital is a big focus because of the tracking and
attribution of marketing efforts. “In the digital space, we have all kinds of
mechanisms to enable us to track where a visitor or search is coming from,” he
With pay-per-click advertising and
SEO, it’s easy to find out if your marketing dollars are having the desired effect.
There’s no mystery like with television or print. In short, it’s much easier to
identify where customers are coming from when you’re doing good work in the
Creating An Internet Marketing Strategy
You need a presence in the digital
space, but what exactly can you do as part of your Internet marketing strategy?
Some important areas of focus include emphasis on customer experience, SEO,
paid search, content, and social media. All of these web strategies are
important for different reasons, but they should be used together. If you omit one,
your business may suffer. If you don’t provide a good customer experience on
your website, then the SEO that helped a customer find your website doesn’t
matter because the customer will quickly abandon the site.
Here’s another example: If you
don’t use social media for your business, you’re not only missing out on an
important way to engage with customers, but you’re also losing an opportunity
to gather data that can be used for paid searches. It all fits together like a
puzzle; if a part is missing, you’ll see it in marketing results.
Improving Customer Experience
A key component to having a smart
Internet marketing strategy is having a focus on customer experience. James
Overturf, chief marketing officer at Extra Space Storage, says, “Customers want
to be treated well, and for it to be easy to do business with you. If you’re
not doing those two things, it doesn’t matter how great your brand is. You’re
always going to struggle for repeat and referral business.”
Your website is a huge part of the
customer experience for your business, yet it’s tempting to think abstractly
about it or even forget it. After all, you can’t touch it. However, failing to
optimize your website is a costly mistake.
A good website is easy to use with
a clean, simple design that allows customer to quickly find needed information
or make reservations. The website should provide detailed information when
needed. If a potential customer becomes annoyed with your website, that
customer will swiftly move on to the next storage business. Impatience is a
hallmark of the digital age, and there’s plenty of competition.
Even with a great website, the
customer experience won’t be good if the brand doesn’t carry through to the
retail experience at the property and with the site manager. If there’s a disparate
nature between your website and what the customer finds upon arrival at the
facility, the customer may stop and wonder if he or she has even found the
Part of providing a good customer
experience is making sure that your online presence matches up with the
physical presence of your facility in terms of brand and service. Even your
paint colors should match up with your website. And, of course, if you’ve
promised certain things on your website, such as a clean property, that should
materialize in reality.
Regarding customer experience at
Extra Space Storage, Overturf notes, “If someone goes to our website or
contacts our call center and has an excellent experience, we don’t want that to
fall off if someone goes to a store with a dirty property or a site manager who
might not be where we want them to be in terms of their training. So, it’s a
very much a macro effort in concentrating on an awesome customer experience at
all levels—from first contact to when they move out.”
Maintaining Mobile-Friendly Websites
Much of customer experience today
comes down to one word: mobile. Reason number one to make your website mobile
friendly is customer experience.
“If your website isn’t mobile
friendly, or in a format that makes it easy to reserve on a mobile device,
people are leaving your website and trying to go other places,” says Thayn. “So
having that mobile focus is going to make a very big difference, and it’s only
going to get more and more important as mobile becomes the leading form of
search traffic for industries like storage where it’s service based.” He notes
that sometimes customers suddenly realize that they need storage, and those customers
are likely searching on a mobile phone for quick solutions.
Other than customer experience,
why is it so important to have a mobile-friendly website? Just look around you.
Everyone has a mobile phone these days. Thayn states that within the last five
years there’s been a doubling of traffic on the mobile front. In response,
Extra Space Storage has doubled its efforts to ensure the company is taking
advantage of mobile traffic.
What about applications or apps? Are
they anywhere near as critical as having a mobile-friendly website? “If you
build it right, and understand exactly what you’re trying to accomplish with
the app, it can be beneficial for any company,” says Thayn. However, mobile
websites are more accessible to individuals than apps because they don’t have
to be downloaded. In addition, storage owners and operators with apps would
have to market those apps. “You’re going to have to a lot more success
marketing a website than an application at this current stage, but who knows
what apps are going to look like in the future,” Thayn says.
Dayna Hathaway, marketing director
at Extra Space Storage, notes that it’s important to understand what your
consumers want and whether something like an app would be relevant and useful
for them. She points out that while you may use an amazon app to regularly make
purchases, a storage app may not be used as often after the customer moves into
a unit. Online payments are one use for an app, but, in general, there aren’t
as many touchpoints for an app in the storage world. It’s important to
understand the consumer’s behavior and apply your technologies to suit their
needs. In the case of storage apps, perhaps they aren’t essential right now.
Harnessing The Power Of SEO And Paid Search
“Acquire as many customers as
possible at the lowest possible cost per customer,” says Overturf. Your Internet
marketing plan is a great way to do that, and SEO and paid search are two of
your biggest tools. Those two components make it much easier to target your
marketing dollars for maximum gain.
“SEO and paid search are right
there at the top, and then you’ve got to drive awareness with social media and
content marketing,” Hathaway says, adding that paid search is “really where
you’re going to get your customers, and drive them forward in the purchase path
to your own website to transact.”
With paid search, the big question
is: “How much am I willing to pay to get the customer?” To answer that, look at
your customer data. Right now, some of the best data to have comes from mobile
use. The very detailed location data that can be gathered from a mobile search
is extremely useful for improving paid search. To illustrate this point, let’s
look at a customer searching for the keywords “self-storage Boston” on a mobile
Wouldn’t it be useful to know
where that customer is actually located within a couple of feet or yards of
your self-storage property? What if they’re 50 yards from your property when
they type in the keywords? How much are you willing to pay to appear at the top
of someone’s search on that phone as opposed to if they’re 15 miles away from
your property? What if the customer is traveling 75 miles per hour on the
freeway, and they’re going the opposite direction from your property? As these
questions show, data from mobile searches can really help you decide how much
to spend to potentially gain a high-value customer.
Thayn also notes that customer
experience plays a role in paid search and SEO. For example, he says if a
customer is searching for “San Francisco self-storage,” then that customer may
see an ad or listing on Google. If the customer clicks on it, he/she should
land on the right page of your website: the one for San Francisco self-storage.
After landing there, the customer should be able to find a unit. Thayn says
that it’s all about stream of relevance and making it easy for the customer.
The less searching customers have to do, the better the experience and the higher
the conversion rate.
In the end, it all goes back to
the ability to track results of paid search and SEO. With other tools, such as
social media, it can be more difficult to determine your ROI, but the viewable
data available with paid search and SEO efforts means that you’ll know your
ROI. However, Overturf notes that generating topline revenue at the lowest cost
and in the most efficient manner isn’t something that can be done effectively
on a part-time basis by an operator. It’s better to have SEO and data science experts
in-house, but smaller operators can team up with firms that specialize in SEO
or partner with a larger operator to manage the property.
Introducing Your Business To Google
Your goal is to stand out from the
rest, to differentiate your storage company from other storage companies,
allowing Google and other search engines to know you better. Google sees
differentiation based on brand, search terms, content, and customer comments. With
good content, SEO, and social media marketing, you can make your brand more
relevant online and help customers understand how you’re different. But first
you need to make sure Google understands who you are.
When you have an online presence,
you aren’t the only one doing the tracking. Google wants to validate that you
are who/what you say you are. Are you really a self-storage business? Even if
you say so on your website, Google may not believe you. However, you can help
Google get to know your business. Remember, Google looks at everything on your
website: text, images, white space, how long people stay on a page, etc. In
fact, no one actually knows what all they review.
One way that Google understands
your business better, and sends customers your way through organic searches, is
by tracking how others interact with your business online. So, Google reviews
linked back to your website, your Facebook friends, your Twitter feed, your
YouTube videos, Apple Pay, or Google Wallet all help Google to validate your
website as the real deal. In other words: Google validates your business based
on its web footprint.
Leveraging Content And Social Media
Utilizing SEO on your website is
important, but so are partnerships. When it comes to content, think beyond the
text on your own website. Reach out to moving companies, bloggers, and other
influencers who are part your customer’s online world. Offer your expertise in
interviews and guest blog posts. Social media is also a big part of creating
the right partnerships.
Hathaway notes that making
important connections online helps you get in front of customers earlier in the
buying process before decision time. “Moving is the perfect example,” she says.
“Get your brand out there with those partnerships so that when consumers come
down that buying path, and get to your product, they’ve already had some
exposure through your partnerships and social media connections.”
Besides exposure to customers
earlier in the buying process, social media also allows customers to have a
voice to tell you what’s good or bad about what you’re doing. Social media gives
you an opportunity to hear what the person who is paying you money actually wants.
You get to know more about your customer as well. The number of friends or
followers isn’t so important. What really matters comes down to what you’re
doing with the data you gain from social media and how you’re using customer
responses to improve customer experience.
“We’ve spent money and time to
make our social media interactions with our company as user-friendly and
engaging as possible,” Overturf says. Extra Space Storage also uses information
gained from social media to improve their company.
“We listen for common themes,
threads, and areas we can focus on that we haven’t considered before. Our data
and analytics team does mine social media data and establish customer service
index benchmarks from social media, whether it be from reviews or other text,”
says Overturf. “We utilize that to measure customer satisfaction and experience
in the field, and we compensate, reward, and train people differently based on
the feedback we’re receiving.”
By focusing on digital first
instead of more traditional methods of marketing you can save money and gain
new opportunities to reach customers. With a good Internet marketing plan,
storage operators have a lot to gain, including trackable results and improved
customer experience. If you’re not already harnessing the power of SEO, paid
search, and social media to gain and retain customers, it’s time to join the
Noah Springer is vice president of business development at Extra Space Storage.