We continue to see meteoric growth in self storage throughout the U.S. The number of facilities in each city continues to grow exponentially. Correspondingly, the competition for customers has also skyrocketed. By far the most direct avenue to increased business is via Google search results. The higher you rank in organic search results and on Google Maps, the more visitors who will come to your site, and the more rentals you’ll achieve. There are many factors that go into ranking well on Google. Brightlocal, in their Local SEO Ranking Factors 2020, outlined the most important signals Google considers in its algorithm when determining where a storage facility should rank. As you can see from the graphic below, reviews play a key role in this.
Within the study, it was determined that three factors were the most important. Those were the average Google rating received, the positive sentiment stated in the text of the review, and the quantity of Google reviews. To a lesser extent, third party reviews also factored in. These would be reviews on Yelp, Facebook and other sites.
How to Get More Reviews
As you can see, reviews are a driver of better rankings; but getting reviews is easier said than done. Taking the passive approach by sticking up a Google or Yelp sticker on your office window and waiting for your customer to leave a review will get you a smattering of reviews with mixed results. You may have a few good ones, but your overall star rating may be dragged down by one or two bad one.
Instead, storage companies should have a systematic, integrated approach to getting reviews. This should include a multi-pronged effort involving both in-person contact as well as digital communication.
Online Reputation Management
To start, consider signing up for an online reputation management (ORM) software. These tools facilitate the collection of reviews. There are a number of good tools out there, including Gatherup, Power Reviews, Trustpilot, Podium, and Birdeye. These tools allow you to deliver emails and texts to customers asking for their feedback on your products and service. You create a templated message that asks for initial feedback and then — depending on whether the customer ranked their experience high enough — those reviews can be added to your website or discarded. Most of these tools have automatic follow-up emails for non-responders as well as variables that allow your customers to leave reviews directly on Google, Facebook or other sites. SMS texts to customers are becoming a highly-effective way to reach your customers, with open and reply rates being higher than traditional email delivery.
Asking for the Review
While having review software set up is a good idea, nothing beats directly asking your customer for a review. For many store managers in our business, the idea of asking for a review can be intimidating. But with a little practice and consistency, getting reviews from your customers will be just one more step in the process.
There are a couple of instances that make for an easy segue into asking for the review. The first would be when the customer is giving you or the store unsolicited praise. For instance, a customer is filling out the paperwork for a new rental and comments on how clean the units are. You can come back with a statement such as, “Thank you! We work really hard on cleaning so I’m glad you noticed!” At this point, you may be tempted to ask for a review, but this might come off as a little disingenuous. But if the customer then goes on to talk about other things that impressed them such as great rates, the security, the convenience, or some other factor, this might be a good sign that they would be willing to leave a review.
After you’ve finished all the paperwork and you’re at the end of the transaction, you can then squeeze in a comment such as “Thanks again for the great feedback. Would you feel comfortable sharing these thoughts in a Google Review? They really help us get new customers.” To make it easier for the customer, consider creating a postcard that lists the Google, Yelp or Facebook URLs where the customer can leave a review. See the example below:
Existing customers that you’ve developed a good rapport with are also great sources for reviews. When you see them in the office or when you’re out making the rounds, you can start the conversation by asking how the customer is doing, what they moving in or out, etc. At the end of the interaction, you can begin to ask for the review by inquiring about how their experience has been. You’ll most likely get a glowing statement to which you can respond by saying something like, “That’s great to hear. We’re trying get the word out about our facility. Would you mind leaving us an online review?” Again, handing them a postcard with the details of how to do it would make it easier. This type of interaction also goes for long-term customers that are moving out.
While it’s never a good idea to offer customers gifts or discounts for reviews (it’s against the terms and conditions of most platforms such as Yelp and Google), you may want to develop a company program to incentivize your employees to ask for that review. This incentive can take many forms from actual cash payments for each review to quarterly bonuses each store employee for reaching a predetermined number of reviews for the store. If the plan is to reward individual employees, a requirement might be that the review must mention the employee’s name. You’ll also want to determine what happens if both the manager and assistant are mentioned. Lastly, think about how often you want to pay these bonuses. You may find that paying these more often (such as weekly or monthly) will incentivize employees more than paying them quarterly or annually because they can see the fruits of their efforts sooner.
Getting plenty of reviews is important, but it can also be said that responding to reviews has an impact on ranking. While Google doesn’t come out and say that it improves rank, they say that responding to reviews builds customer trust, which is part of Google’s EAT methodology. It’s important to be timely and consistent in responding to each review, whether that’s a good review or a bad one. Obviously, responding to good reviews is easy, but answering negative reviews thoughtfully and honestly without getting personal is the key. Be sure to offer thanks for the feedback and to follow up when necessary. According to Brightlocal’s Local Consumer Review Survey 2020, 70% of consumers are more likely to use a business that responds to negative reviews.
While reviews are just one factor in ranking well in organic search, they play an important role on helping customers determine whether they trust your facility enough to store their belongings with you. With 87% of consumers reading online reviews when researching local businesses, it behooves you to develop and cultivate a systematic approach to the acquisition and management of your online reviews.