This post was originally written by Steve Lam.

SEO subject level: Beginner

StorageFront recently ran a sales experiment on our better performing Basic (unpaid) listings. The results stunned virtually everyone in our office. Chris Klein and Marc Smith spoke with several of the operators in our database who responded that they don’t have Internet access. Not only that, but they don’t even have a web page or so much as an online phone book listing!

Naturally, that is going to change our Basic listing strategy (watch for changes in late autumn). It also changes my perception of the greater self storage industry’s technology and marketing savvy. I knew that about 70 percent of self storage operators actively market on the web, but it really didn’t sink in that the other 30 percent markets in the dark ages.

It’s likely that this post will never be read by 99.999999 percent of those operators. Nonetheless, I am compelled to get back to basics and blog about the importance of having a strong web presence. The fact is that dinosaurs no longer stash rocks in self storage, and smart operators no longer waste thousands of dollars per year for two inches of ad space in the Jurassic Pages.

Sarcasm aside, let’s work through this logically: If almost 70 percent of your potential customers are looking for information about your service in a certain arena, do you willingly exclude yourself as a candidate for their business?

That’s right; nearly 70 percent of consumers are turning to the Internet as their primary resource for finding a local product or service, including self storage. For good reason: information on the web is perceived to be more timely and accessible than in print. An annual TMP & Comscore study of local search intent with consumers found that:

  • 67 percent used online channels as their primary source of information

  • 60 percent used online searches to search for businesses that they did not know about

  • The number of consumers who turn to the web as their primary info source has increased 4 percent since 2008.

How do consumers see your self storage website?

The gap will certainly widen over time and at a greater rate in the coming years. That’s because most of the respondents who use print directories belong to an older age demographic. Your up-and-coming customer base – the Millennial Generation – is phasing out print entirely. Just take a look at the rising popularity of the Kindle and iPhone/iPad.

I don’t discourage anyone from using any sort of medium, print or otherwise. You should do what works for your business. The most important factor in establishing your marketing strategy is your return on investment. The point here is,  the web is what works for self storage . And not just a static web page—an active web campaign complete with fresh content and localized mapping.

Several years ago, all you had to do to be visible online was publish a web page. You could spend frugally on an inexperienced web developer, throw some meta keywords into the HTML, and walk away. It wasn’t a big risk to have a mediocre page delivering a weak message. In fact, you didn’t even need marketing help. By picking up a few coding skills you could do it yourself—including the SEO!

Not anymore.

While you don’t need to invest big marketing dollars into a site to be visible on the Internet, you do need to put more effort into it. Message, content, originality, newness, code cleanliness and presence all matter now if you have any hope of getting on that coveted Google first page. That means a strategically composed website, a regularly updated blog, local search listings with reviews and much more.

I’m going to toot StorageFront’s horn a little bit here, because we work hard at all of that stuff as a paid service to self storage operators in the U.S. (and soon Canada). We consistently strive to understand self storage renters’ search and selection habits, and use that knowledge to create something friendly to renters, operators, and search engines alike. We also invest heavily in PPC and SEO efforts to ensure visibility where consumers shop most.

Features/benefits aside, let’s talk budget: I did some research and found that a full page ad in the local Yellow pages would be almost $900 a month. A full web page on StorageFront is less than $70 a month per facility, which gives you access to the largest percentage of your potential customer base for the least amount of effort. (And don’t forget data tracking and call recording.)

But enough about StorageFront. The point is, regardless of where your facility is located or how big/small it is,  you need to be marketing on the web . It’s where you’ll tap the largest number of serious self storage seekers, and thus enjoy the biggest return on your marketing investment.

There are a lot of options for marketing self storage online. I encourage you to shop around and find a solution that works for you, whether it’s a full-meal-deal like ours, a hosted website with SEO services through an agency, a favor owed to you by your awesome developer son (hi Mom!), or even just a listing on Google Local.

Questions? Please share them below…