Don Willis, director of marketing for Storage West Self Storage, was a self-described search engine newbie when he launched a Web site for the company in 1999.
He could have hired somebody to help him promote the site, but Willis had been involved with DOS programmers on other projects and always resented the feeling of being “held hostage” by them. “They held the key and I didn’t,” said Willis.
So, in 2000, he dove into the world of do-it-yourself search engine optimization. The company now operates 43 self-storage facilities in three states and, until recently, all search optimization efforts were undertaken by Willis.
“It was all kind of self-taught,” he said. “Back in the beginning, in the self- storage industry hardly anybody was doing anything on the Internet. As far as SEO, at least in my markets, it was pretty much non-existent so I had my run of the field for several years before I had any serious competition.”
That gave him the luxury of being able to make mistakes, but it was the mistakes of others that recently prompted Willis to entrust another company, local search engine marketing specialists Localeze, with his SEO and other Web marketing efforts.
He’d started to notice “bad data” being used by search engines and business directories, especially as other self-storage companies became Web savvy.
“One of the first search engines on which I saw bad data was when Yahoo launched its local search,” said Willis. “They apparently went out looking for names and addresses of storage facilities and they must have been pulling them from a lot of different sources.”
Unfortunately, Willis found that “a whole bunch” of the listings for his competitors were displaying his company’s URLs instead of their own. “I would routinely search on my phone number for one of my facilities or search with my URL,” he said. “It was amazing how much bad data would come up. I’d then try to contact whatever directory it was in to ask them if I could clean-up my data.
All this do-it-yourself patrolling and cleaning eventually became too much for Willis. “I would spend until one or two in the morning fixing this stuff,” he said. “When I met Localeze in San Jose a few years ago, I immediately saw that, with these guys, I wouldn’t have to work quite as hard.”
Now, Willis just submits information to Localeze in a spreadsheet. Serving as an aggregator, Localeze spreads his data to the marketplace. Localeze claims to have reach across more than 85 local search sites.
After he began using Localeze, Willis saw a marked decrease in incorrect search results, primarily because the company is dispersing correct information. He also likes the way Localeze uses “semantics focused linking terms” and keywords that normally don’t come to mind. For example, Localeze embedded the terms “moving” and “college” into Storage West’s profile.
“That way, searchers don’t have to type “self-storage,” said Willis. “They type what comes to mind and Localeze drives those words into the listing to make the brand come out on the top of the page.”
According to Localeze spokeswoman Jennifer MacLeid Qotb, Storage West’s facilities appear within the first ten results of organic and local listings when people search for “self storage” with a city qualifier.
She also said a Google search mixing the terms “storage,” “self storage” and “self storage units” with Storage West’s name and 29 location qualifiers, yields 174 search string combinations within the first ten results and 84 percent of them are in the top two positions. “In addition, seven out of 10 of these search strings appear in the top position,” she noted.
Willis said it is important that local search results do not direct customers to a company’s main Web page if there are localized, relevant sub-pages available. He stressed that allowing inaccurate Web search results to exist is a bad business practice.
“Quality, consistent data on the Internet gets rewarded,” said Willis. “The Internet is like capitalism unbridled. If somebody is searching for self-storage, I want them to find me…. The reason it bothered me to have wrong information out there is it gives the consumer a bad experience.”
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