Should You Hyphenate Self Storage?

Posted by Brad Hadfield on Jun 18, 2023 12:00:00 AM

Updated with poll results July 11, 2023

Should you hyphenate self storage? The debate about whether to hyphenate or eliminate may not be as old as the industry itself, but the question has lingered like a bad tenant for quite some time.

“Hyphenate,” says Tarik Williams, Vice President of TLW Construction. On his side is Ray McRae, Vice President of Storage Solutions. “Hyphenate it,” he adds.

“I prefer it without the hyphen or just simply the word ‘storage,’” says Ryan Lorenzini, Director of The Claremont Companies. MSM’s own editor, Erica Shatzer, agrees that “Dropping ‘self’ would be the best option.”

So let’s settle this once and for all. My first step in this journey, naturally, is to see what 19th century American lexicographer Noah Webster has to say about the hyphenated version.

self-storage hyphenated

Okay, let’s try it without the hyphen.

Screen Shot 2023-09-12 at 9.08.31 AM

With Webster’s Dictionary unable to provide the answer, perhaps looking at the history of the words would provide some insight.

History of the Words “Self Storage”

When self storage took off in the late 1960s and early 70s, many of these new companies used the term “mini-storage,” the idea being that you were renting a miniature warehouse for personal possessions (of course, that’s where Mini-Storage Messenger, first published in 1979, got its name before our rebranding).

Now, hyphenating a word that includes “mini” makes sense, especially since the concept was new at the time. The Guide to Grammar, an authority of the Oxford University Press, writes, “When the word is newly coined, use the hyphen.”

It further states that, over time, the hyphen may drop off, such as the case with words like miniskirt or minicomputer. It’s no stretch to think that had “mini-storage” not evolved into “self-storage” that today we might simply write “ministorage.”

Of course, that evolution happened, and many instances of self-storage retained that mini-storage hyphen. No one is suggesting that selfstorage should be one word, however. That’s just weird.

Another interesting point. Self-storage is in itself short for “self-service.” And that, it should be noted, is in Webster’s Dictionary!

Since self-storage is short for self-service storage, which had no hyphen preceding “storage,” is it time to drop the hyphen and let it stand on its own?

Let’s Ask an English Teacher

Maybe the Ask the English Teacher website could offer some guidance. There, reader Alva posed a question about “self-learning,” referring to so-called self-learning programs. Alva’s argument was that it doesn’t make sense, “because nobody else can learn on your behalf.”

The English Teacher concurs. “I agree that ‘self-learning’ makes no sense, except in the sense of gaining greater understanding of oneself,” he replies. “The correct term should be ‘self-teaching’ or ‘self-instruction.’”

More to our topic, he brings up another interesting point. “My wife and I always marvel at signs for ‘Self-Storage,’ as if customers wanted to put themselves in lockers.”

By hyphenating, are we suggesting people pull a Walt Disney and store themselves away for later? Of course not, everyone knows that’s not what self-storage means, but it’s food for thought.

The SEO Factor

When you write for the web, you always want to write for readers and not a search engine. But in this case, readers are not going to be confused by a hyphen or lack thereof when consuming self storage content. So, it makes sense to see which word pairing would perform better for SEO.

Years ago, when I wrote my first blog about self storage, it definitely did have an impact. Checking now, it doesn’t appear to matter, with internet expert Neil Patel’s SEO tool Ubersuggest showing no change in SEO value based on hyphenation.

Google also shows the exact same number of results for articles or pages when typing both words into the browser:

  • Self Storage: About 1,040,000,000 results
  • Self-Storage: About 1,040,000,000 results

What changed over time? According to John Mueller, Senior Search Analyst/Search Relations Team Lead at Google, the search engine learned. In the tweet below, he writes “…by default we don’t ignore hyphens in words. Sometimes we learn they’re synonyms, sometimes we learn that they’re not.”

Screen Shot 2023-09-12 at 9.17.36 AM

So, it would appear that over time, Google has learned that these words are synonyms, and internet users will get the same results whether they hyphenate or eliminate.

Regional Differences

Next thought: Could regional differences account for the hyphen and non-hyphen variants? Is self storage the soda to self-storage’s pop? The crayfish to its crawdads?

This thought is quickly ruled out by a look at each state’s self storage associations. All but two reject the hyphen in their official name, with Arizona and Michigan being the two outliers.

Maybe it’s an American English vs. British English thing? Again, no. The European associations uniformly drop the hyphen, and Google UK actually does show some favoritism toward no hyphenation (60,500 monthly searches without vs. 49,500 with).

The AP Way

Maybe the journey should’ve started here, with the AP Stylebook favored by reporters and editors. According to the stylebook, it’s proper to use a hyphen to separate two consonant (non-vowel) letters, as in self-storage. It also instructs hyphenating two or more words when they are being used as an adjective, e.g. self-storage manager, self-storage facility, and so on. In these cases, self-storage is an adjective because it describes the type of manager or the type of facility.

Confused? You’re not alone. “English is a tough language to learn,’ says Shatzer, “even when it’s your first language.”

The Results Are In!

From June 18-July 7, 2023 we conducted an online poll to see how those in the self storage universe felt about the hyphen. Now, the results are in!

hyphen poll

Nearly 50% of respondents in our “Hyphenate or Eliminate” poll believe it’s time to drop the hyphen in self storage, while just over 25% think it should remain. Just “storage” garnered about 15% of the vote with the remaining ~10% believing it doesn’t matter as long as it’s consistent. So, while the most support is in the “eliminate” corner, perhaps we won’t settle this once and for all today. Have thoughts on the outcome? Sound off in the comments!