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 says.
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 digital space.
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 right location.
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 while traveling.
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 marketing revolution.
Noah Springer is vice president of business development at Extra Space Storage.