When we think about a successful website it has different meanings to people. In my experience, for self-storage, it means generating rentals. For the purpose of our discussion we will define success as a website that places well in searches, is found through the internet on major consumer used websites, generates visits by potential customers and has the ability to convert them into paying customers.
There are 2 main components to accomplish the above. The first is proper website development which uses certain techniques in the site's design (the way it looks), layout (the way the site functions) and content (what the site says and the way it sells). I have seen websites that have one or even 2 of these done correctly, but without all 3 there isn't much hope for success. Ask yourself, would you sit on a 3 legged stool with only 2 legs? No. The same logic should be applied to your website. Anything less than a complete effort will be in vain. The second is your ongoing marketing efforts. You have probably heard some of the terms to describe website marketing, which include Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Search Engine Marketing and internet marketing. These terms have different meanings, of course, but most people use them as synonyms. I will give you more detail about marketing in a moment.
Let's discuss "Building a Successful Website". Over the past 10 years things have changed dramatically. We have been through several versions of website code, screen resolutions doubling in size, internet speeds rapidly increasing and more browser types and versions than anyone probably expected. These days, websites must be written to be viewable in all browser types and on mobile devices, look good in various monitor screen resolutions and can have many more graphics & colors to stand out and prompt action. This is all prior to creating website code that is necessary to tell search engines what your site is about. If this seems like a lot, it is, but it's all necessary. I have heard SEO companies make statements like "It doesn't matter what your website looks like, it only matters that it gets seen." My response to this is how many times do you walk by a piece of trash before you pick it up and take it home. I am guessing the answer is, "Never" or "I might take it home, but I would never use it." The same is true for your website. Even if you get found you still need to have something that's professional looking enough to trust and offer content and/or a sales process to prompt action and close the deal. Here are some tips for the development stage: make your website aesthetically pleasing and have a polished and professional look, organize your website information so the next action needed is easily identifiable and available when the user is ready to move forward, use repetition to give multiple opportunities to find important information about your facility and use contrast to make specific items stand out from the rest. These four things alone will help your website be considerably better than most.
Now, we are on to the hottest topic in the self-storage industry over the last 2 years, "Marketing a Successful Website". I am often at trade shows across the country and most of the marketing topics are about internet related efforts, i.e. SEO, mobile websites, social media, Google Adwords and Google Places. These are all important, but equally important is what not to do. For example: when you hire someone to help you with one or all of the above or plan on taking on the task yourself, don't be on the hunt for a magic bullet that guarantees to hit your target of selling most or all of your available inventory (this is an exaggeration, but you get the idea). If you go looking for this you will certainly find plenty of people who are willing to sell to you, but you will end up frustrated and disappointed. I run across companies in many industries that are sold a marketing program where the customer's website is "submitted to 1000's of search engines" or "guaranteed to be placed at the top of your search in Google in 24 hours or less." Let's face it, if it sounds too good to be true it is. There are only 3 search engines that drive most of the search traffic, not thousands. Anyone can get on the first page of Google using paid ads in less than 24 hours, but they can't stay there unless they pay for every click. Let's not forget some of the latest techniques marketers use by taking your Google & Bing places, pointing them to your listing on their website and claim they gave you the traffic. In fact, those Places are yours to point wherever you choose. Now you know what not to do, but the question remains, what do you do? Here are 4 must do's for marketing a successful website. (1) Generate a list of accurate search terms for your facility website. You can service a certain radius and you should know what that area is. Use that list to generate good search placement via SEO. (2) Claim your Google Places and keep it updated with all of the information they allow. Remember that Google has a purpose and is successful for one main reason, when people use it for research and results are relevant to them. (3) Use paid placement for Google & Bing (that includes Yahoo now). I often hear people say, "I am not fond of pay per click" or "it has never worked for me". My response is always, are you fond of rentals? The answer is always "Yes" or "Sure" but never "No". I believe that PPC (pay per click) is certainly a worthwhile investment if you choose your keywords correctly, monitor your spending and track conversions. What other marketing venue allows you to choose the exact words your ad comes up under, limit what you pay for each person who clicks on your ad and only shows your add to people who live in your target market? Seems like a pretty good deal to me. Finally, there are free and paid placement opportunities. Most of these would be considered as premium directories and self-storage has their share of these. General business directories would include: Merchant Circle, City Search, Yahoo Local, Google Local (DMOZ.org) and more. For self-storage specifically the main directories are US Storage Search & SpareFoot. Being in these directories is a great way to take advantage of their placement and drive traffic and rentals to your facility.
Marketing your website happens online and offline. I am not sure if you are aware, but according to Google, most searches are a result of people who hear/read an ad through television, radio, signage etc. then go to Google to research what they read/heard offline. I believe most people, by now, are aware of the self-storage industry so make it a priority to be seen online when they are looking for a place to store their stuff.