This post originally appeared as a column in Mini Storage Messenger September 2011, where Red Nova Labs (parent company of StorageFront and WebWorks) regularly contributes marketing advice.
Recently I met with one of Red Nova Labs’ partners in the self storage industry to discuss the next phase of a fall/winter 2011 web marketing project. Watson & Taylor Self Storage operates and manages facilities throughout Texas, so it makes sense that a large part of our chat centered on catering to the Spanish-speaking community.
It’s a topic we’re pretty familiar with here at Red Nova Labs. We worked closely with “wired Latinos” to develop the first bilingual search for mini storage two years ago. Given everything we learned in that process, my response to George Watson and Tracy Taylor was: “Yes! Se Habla Español is a must-have feature.” And I wouldn’t narrow it to certain locations in Texas; it should be a component of all self storage web pages and call centers across the country. (Watson & Taylor have facilities in Georgia, Hawaii, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee too.)
Hispanics are the largest minority demographic across the United States. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, it’s estimated that there are now over 40 million Hispanics in the country—a full eighth of our population. It’s also estimated that Hispanic numbers will maintain consistent growth of more than 1.7 million people per year.
Moreover, Hispanics have purchasing power to be reckoned with. By next year, their spending will reach $1.2 trillion. Remarkably, over the past decade it has surged at three times the growth rate of overall consumer purchasing power. And just like any other segment of the U.S. population, Hispanics rent extra space to store all that stuff they’re buying. The number one reason people rent self storage? No room for items at residence. And consider this: Household income of under $20,000 is the number one renter group; $20,000-$30,000 second.
Almost one in 10 American households rents self storage. That’s a grand total of 10.8 million. About five percent of those are Hispanic households—more than half a million. Naturally, that’s not spread evenly across the nation. Demographics of storage renters vary by area, with Hispanic populations increasing the further south you go. Florida, Texas, New Jersey, California and Arizona comprise the top five Hispanic regions for web search. Watson & Taylor serve unique markets like El Paso, where they estimate the Hispanic renter base at 90 percent. Nonetheless, giving consideration to Spanish-speakers can give businesses an edge in pretty much any U.S. market.
Watson & Taylor are marketing to Hispanic renters in the right place: on the web. Opportunely, they haven’t made the common mistake of assuming that Spanish-speakers use the web less than any other demographic. The fact is, Hispanics are more enthusiastic about the benefits of the Internet and social media than the general public—so much so that they have more confidence in online product ratings (72 percent) than in the opinions of their live friends (28 percent). They also go online to find deals: 57 percent seek web discounts, compared to 41 percent of the general public.
The vast majority of Hispanic households in the U.S. have Internet access—upward of 70 percent. Spanish is the third-most spoken language on the web. Mobile devices are popular with Hispanics too. Because their searching and surfing habits largely reflect the general population’s – Google is their search engine of choice – search marketing is the most effective means of marketing to this group. But there are a few notable differences in search behavior which should sway your search engine optimization (SEO) strategy.
For starters, the web doesn’t hold as much Spanish content as English content. That may explain why the U.S. Hispanic audience tends to spend much more time on websites than Internet users as a whole—it takes them more time and effort to find and decipher content. By developing quality bilingual content, as well as linking to it from blog posts and other online information, you’ll not only augment your SEO for a wider audience but also be appreciated by Hispanic consumers.
Of course, your bilingual content should be peppered with Spanish keywords and anchor text. That’s where another difference comes in: search terms. Hispanic web users generally use longer, more specific search term strings than English speakers. Spanish is a “wordier” language—on average, Spanish sentences are about 20 percent longer than English. The typical English search phrase contains 3.9 words compared to Spanish phrases that contain 4.7 words. I can tell you from experience: This presents a hefty challenge if your web design isn’t built to be flexible.
Thirdly, Spanish isn’t monophonic. A large population like the Hispanic community comes from different cultures and speaks varied vernaculars. Some examples: California is primarily Mexican; Florida is heavily Cuban; New York is predominately Puerto Rican. In many regions Spanish has even evolved into a hybrid lingo called Spanglish.
When optimizing for long phrases, you should try to stay culturally relevant to your facility’s region. To a certain extent you can rely on direct translations from English to Spanish (“Vas a mudra de casa?” Are you going to move? “Vas a buscar un depósito?” Are you looking for a storage unit? “Quieres arrendar un depósito?” Do you want to rent a storage unit?) But it’s a good idea to ask bilingual facility managers for the right terminology in your area.
Once you’ve identified your Spanish keywords and phrases, try to mix them in effectively with English web content. If you stick Spanish keywords all the way down at the bottom of your pages, search engines won’t see the content as important to you or valuable to your web visitors. You might alternate English paragraphs or even create whole pages in Spanish. In fact, the ideal situation is to havea Hispanic targeted Spanish-language landing page. If people search in Spanish, they’ll naturally expect to see a Spanish web page after they click on the search result.
The rest of the optimization process for Spanish-speakers is pretty straightforward. Just like with English SEO, the best spots to put Spanish keywords and phrases are in meta descriptions, headlines, subheads, bold type and lead paragraphs. Write Spanish naturally if you have the resources to do so. Then use keywords two to three timeson short pages, four to six times on longer pages. Don’t use more keywords than makes sense in the context of the copy, and don’t optimize for more than one or two key phrases per page—it can dilute message and SEO alike.
Spanish links are also important, and basic SEO rules apply here too. “Anchor text” is what SEO experts call the meaningful keyword or phrase that appears hyperlinked (typically with an underline or different color font); use Spanish anchor text where it makes sense. Be sure to link to pages inside your website, not just to the home page.
Finally, it’s important to realize that optimizing web content for any audience – regardless of where they live or what language they speak – requires ongoing effort. You can’t throw a few hours into a web development project and then leave it alone; staying up with Google’s and Bing’s ongoing evolution requires diligence.
The good news is that SEO is easy to measure, so you can generally see how much traffic and leads are drawn by your bilingual efforts. Work with your web team to understand analytics so you can “test, learn and optimize.” The more you test and analyze, the better your SEO campaign will perform. You’ll be able to determine which changes worked and which didn’t, so you can continue to fine tune your efforts for the growing U.S. Hispanic market.
I’m not saying it will be easy. As my team is about to dive headfirst into Watson & Taylor’s Spanish web marketing project, I’m exhausted just thinking about it. But it will be worth the effort. Spanish SEO will add value to their business by helping them tap Hispanic interest online. They know that their potential customers are looking for information and assurance that the facilities are safe and secure. The easier it is for Hispanic renters to access this information, communicate with staff, and find content that is written for them, the more likely they are to rent.
The time taken to reach this market segment online is the first step in establishing a long and profitable bond.
Major research sources for this story include Search Engine Land, WiredLatinos, eMarketer, PR Newswire, AOL Advertising Study, Sell It in Spanish, Think Multicultural, MiniCo Self Storage Almanac 2011, Self Storage Association Data Department.