Content Marketing Strategy Must Drive Your Industrial Website Redesign

Jeffrey Zweldman on content and web designAn industrial website redesign shouldn’t be a quick decision because your site is the very foundation of your online presence. Why is it such an important decision?

According to the Industrial Buy Cycle survey of engineers and technical professionals conducted by IHS Engineering 360 (formally GlobalSpec), “The top three most frequently used sources for searching for products and services to purchase are search engines, supplier websites, and online catalogs.

The survey also found that in the early stages of the Buy Cycle, Needs Awareness and Research phases, industrial professionals use a variety of online sources of information.

By the time buyers reach the final Procurement stage, supplier websites and online catalogs become the most important sources of information. Take a look at this chart from IHS Engineering 360’s Buy Cycle survey.

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Industrial Marketing Plan: A 3-Phase Approach

Industrial marketing plan

As we go deeper into Q4 with the holidays right around the corner, most industrial companies start to think about their industrial marketing plan for the next year. As an industrial marketing consultant, I’m often asked by clients the best way to approach this important planning task.

My preferred way is what I call the 3-phase industrial marketing plan approach. I refer to them as phases instead of steps because each phase consists of several smaller steps.

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Why do so Many Industrial Website Redesigns Fail?

why industrial website redesigns failThis is a long post, so grab a cup of coffee and get comfortable. You are going to be here for a while and thanks for taking the time to read.

We’ve all heard or read about industrial website redesigns that have failed. I’m not talking about the aesthetics of a site which can be subjective; I’m referring to a site redesign that fails to produce results. For manufacturers and industrial companies that usually means that the redesign failed to deliver enough high quality leads that turned into sales opportunities.

I’ve had many conversations with prospective clients that start out something like this, “We’ve spent a bunch of money with an outside company to redesign our website but it hasn’t done much for our sales.” Some have even gone as far as saying “This other web developer did a disservice to us.”

Understandably they are now reluctant to spend more money on another industrial website redesign. What went wrong? It’s not that the other web development company deliberately ripped off these people, though there are some unscrupulous companies out there.

Most web design companies are led by graphic designers and coders; some are also experts at search engine optimization (SEO). Their primary focus is on creating an attractive site that gets found in Google for certain keyword phrases. Well, what’s wrong with that, you ask?

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Industrial Website Redesign: Content Before Design

Industrial website redesignAround this time of the year, I get more calls and emails about redesigning industrial websites. This of course is very good news for my industrial marketing business but there is usually something missing that makes me cautious.

My “Spidey Sense” is heightened whenever I hear the other person say something like “We need to spruce up our website so we can be found in Google.”

It goes without saying that being found in Google is a must but there are two wrong assumptions in that statement.

  • Sprucing up or making the site look pretty is not going to produce better results beyond a spike in traffic right after the launch. You are not going to be any better off than you are now but will have spent thousands of dollars in nothing more than a cosmetic facelift for the current site.
  • A website redesign is not the same thing as search engine optimization (SEO). Don’t expect to suddenly appear on the first page of Google just because you’ve done a site redesign. SEO that produces sustainable results requires implementing proven white hat tactics and consistently applying good content marketing practices.

Design, aesthetics, coding and maintaining branding standards are all important. However, the single biggest factor that determines the success of an industrial website redesign is content. I say that based on my experience in successfully redesigning and launching several websites for manufacturers, industrial distributors and engineering companies.

Content is what fuels the digital marketing engine, drives traffic and generates quality leads from industrial websites. That means content is the foundation for SEO, differentiation, thought leadership, engagement, conversions, acquisitions and retention of customers just to name a few of the goals that you want to accomplish with the redesigned site.

You need to ask a few important questions about content before you start a website design or redesign project. It doesn’t matter whether you do this in-house or outsource it; you need good answers, preferably backed by data and research. Here are some of the questions that I ask to help me plan for content before starting an industrial website redesign project:

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Industrial Website Redesign Should Fit Your Sales Process

Industrial website redesign

I have had many conversations with manufacturers and industrial companies where our discussions began with the statement, “We need to  redesign our industrial website.” Great news, right? Not exactly and here’s why.

If you want your industrial website to generate qualified leads and drive sales (Of course you do), make sure you and your web developer take the time to ask and answer the key question, “How will the industrial website redesign align with our sales process?” Many other related questions begin to surface whenever I ask that question.

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Priming Industrial Websites for Content Marketing

Many of my industrial clients are starting to plan and budget for 2014. High on their list of priorities is redesigning their industrial websites. A welcome change in these discussions is that redesigns are now driven by the needs of inbound marketing with content rather than just a cosmetic facelift to the site.

Manufacturers and industrial companies are more willing to accept the fact that their customers and prospects are interacting with them differently and this change in buyer behavior is permanent. They’ve seen how expensive traditional outbound marketing tactics are and how difficult it is to track results from those efforts.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that one should abandon outbound marketing. However, the balance has definitely shifted more towards online digital marketing for industrial companies.

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Does Your Website Content Meet the Needs of Industrial Buyers?

When was the last time you actually read the content on your industrial website? Put yourself in your buyer’s shoes and see if the current content will persuade you to take an action that will ultimately lead to an RFQ.

The answer I get most often is either a no or a may be. Your site content must match the industrial buyer’s needs if you want your industrial website to be an effective sales tool for generating qualified leads.

The tendency for most companies is to talk about their product features and available options. Those are great and technical specifications are important to engineers and a technical audience. However, one-size-fits-all content is not very effective because of two reasons. They are:

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Responsive Web Design Becoming Important to Industrial Companies

Lately I have been fielding a lot of questions about responsive web design from companies that are planning an industrial website redesign. In case you are wondering what the heck is responsive web design, let me give you Wikipedia’s definition first:

“Responsive web design (often abbreviated to RWD) is a web design approach aimed at crafting sites to provide an optimal viewing experience—easy reading and navigation with a minimum of resizing, panning, and scrolling—across a wide range of devices (from desktop computer monitors to mobile phones).”

I found a better description in an article from Forbes (You know something has gone mainstream in the business world when Forbes publishes a featured article on it). They define it simply as, “Responsive Web design is a new design approach that enables Web designers and developers to build and maintain a single website to serve to all kinds of devices: smartphones, tablets, laptops and more.”

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Is it Time for Your Industrial Website to Sing Auld Lang Syne?

As 2012 ends and we look forward to 2013, it is a good time to review your current industrial website. In keeping with the tradition of celebrating the start of the New Year by singing “Auld Lang Syne,” it may be time for you to say farewell to the old site and greet the New Year with a redesigned website.

There are many reasons for redesigning your industrial website, mainly because it is outdated or it is underperforming or not producing any results at all. However, before you dive into the deep end of a site redesign, you need to first plan your content. By content, I don’t mean just the text on your web pages.

Based on my experience in developing successful sites for manufacturing and industrial companies, I suggest you spend a lot of time on the following tasks before beginning the redesign:

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What You Should Know Before Developing Industrial Blog Sites

At this time of the year, many industrial companies are getting ready for their annual budget planning meetings. If you are one of them, a redesign of your industrial website may also be part of those discussions.

Blog sites have become a very popular choice with many manufacturers and industrial companies since content plays such an important role in today’s digital marketing programs. These dynamic sites combine static webpages with a blog to give you the best of both worlds – fresh content and functionality. See my post, “Build Industrial Websites as Dynamic Blog Sites” for advantages of blog sites.

The thing that worries me though is that in my conversations with some of these industrial companies, I find that they want to discuss their choice of Content Management System (CMS) with me. In my opinion, that is not what you should be focusing on.

As the Owner/President/CEO, your input should be in shaping the content marketing strategy. Focus on the kind of content you need that will attract the most qualified traffic to your site and convert those visitors into customers. Help the site designer build the functionalities that your site visitors want. Leave the choice of the CMS to the web developer, be it in-house or outsourced.

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Is Blogging Right for Every Industrial Company?

The fact that you found this industrial marketing blog and are reading my post, tells me that you have asked yourself that very question and are curious about the answer. There are literally millions of articles written on why you should be blogging and they are easy to find in Google. I see no point in rehashing the same ideas here.

Instead, let me share my experiences in helping manufacturers, engineering and industrial companies launch successful blogs, produce results from them and in some instances, flat out advised them not to start one.

In this post, I’ll talk about some of the more difficult questions you should be asking yourself before jumping on the blogging bandwagon. Otherwise, you may be joining the ranks of countless other industrial blogs that were launched with a great deal of enthusiasm and expectations but were abandoned after only a few months.

Let’s dig a little deeper to understand what it really takes to achieve the four major benefits of blogging.

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Is Your Industrial Website Leaking Leads?

One persistent problem for many manufacturers and industrial companies is the small number of leads generated from their Websites. By default, they assume that the issue is the lack of traffic because of poor SEO. It is quite likely, that your industrial Website is attracting enough traffic but suffers from poor conversion. In short, you may have a leaky industrial Website. (See my earlier post, You’ve Got Traffic. Now What?)

Look at your Google Analytics, one quick indicator of a leaky Website is your bounce rate. Google defines bounce rate as “The percentage of single-page visits or visits in which the person left your site from the entrance (landing) page.” Anything over 60% is worrisome and you may have a leaky Website.

One caveat to the above rule of thumb – a page for downloading case studies probably will have a very high bounce rate but that doesn’t mean it is bad. If you are sophisticated enough with analytics, you can set up conversion tracking within Google Analytics to get a better handle on where the leads are leaking from your Website.

Often, I find industrial websites designed with no thought given to traffic conversion. The most common conversion mechanisms I see are a toll free number in a big bold font and a Contact Us or a lengthy RFQ form. While making your contact information very visible on your site is a good idea, it is not very effective in converting site traffic into named contacts or leads.

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You’ve Got Traffic. Now What?

You’ve done all the hard work of optimizing (SEO) your industrial website and now you have a steady stream of traffic to your site. Congratulations!

Sorry to rain on your parade but that is only half the equation. The other half is all about converting that traffic into leads and customers.

I find there is a strong but mistaken belief among industrial companies that somehow their site visitors will interrupt their online activities and pick up the phone to call their sales people. Even though this behavior is contrary to how they themselves interact online, they expect their target audience to behave differently. (See my post, “Do You Believe in Industrial Websites?”).

The reality is that the vast majority of site visitors will do nothing and leave. What they have is a website that is leaking potential leads like a sieve. Whenever I make that statement, there is silence on the other end of the phone or in a face-to-face meeting; I get a look that says, “What the heck are you talking about?”

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Do You Believe in Industrial Websites?

Just like the classic ’60s hit song “Do You Believe in Magic?” by The Lovin’ Spoonful, I am wondering if manufacturers and industrial companies believe in their industrial websites.

I am not so sure manufacturing companies are fully convinced that their website is a real sales tool. My doubts stem from some of the things that I hear in my regular conversations with these companies. Here are a few actual sound bites:

  • We are still using our first website that was created by our president’s 23-year old son-in-law
  • We didn’t want to spend too much money so we hired an offshore programmer from a freelance site to design our company’s website
  • We spent a lot of money on SEO and PPC programs but our site hasn’t generated good quality leads
  • We are not very happy with the look of our site and we want a good designer to make our site look really “cool”
  • We put up a website because all our competitors have one
  • We don’t really use the website because 80-90% of our new business comes from referrals and repeat business

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Website Evaluation Comes Before Site Redesign

Many manufacturers and industrial companies consider a website redesign during Q1. The two main reasons are 1) Not showing up in Google search results (SEO – Organic Search Engine Optimization) and/or 2) Not getting enough qualified leads from the website (Traffic and Conversion).

You know your industrial site needs a major makeover but diving right into a site redesign without first doing a website evaluation or a site audit can be a costly mistake.

Poor SEO and conversions are the symptoms that are obvious to you. Only an in-depth website evaluation can diagnose the underlying causes. Without that, a website redesign will only be a cosmetic facelift and cannot address all the issues that are stopping your industrial website from producing results.

Keep in mind that SEO is not the same as a website redesign. They do go together because retrofitting SEO is more difficult and not as effective. Don’t expect to show up on the first page of Google just because your website has just undergone a redesign.

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Internal Links – the Secret Sauce for DiY SEO

It is no secret that link building is critical to SEO success. However, some people often ignore internal links because they are just not aware of their SEO benefits. To most do-it-yourselfers (DiY), link building for SEO means external or inbound or backlinks. These are links that originate from another site and point to a page on your domain.

Don’t underestimate the SEO power of internal linking. They are not only great for increasing the number of pages indexed by Google but also help you target a larger number of keywords, especially long tail keywords. The number of site pages indexed by Google has a direct impact on your online lead generation. For every 50 to 100 pages indexed by Google, expect double-digit growth in the number of leads. (Read my earlier post, B2B Lead Generation Using a Business Blog).

The best news is that building internal links is completely in your control.

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Where Industrial Websites are Falling Short

First the good news – 76 percent of small and medium sized manufacturers and industrial companies reported that their websites made a contribution to their growth during the second half of 2010.

Nearly 9 out of 10 “Outperformers” credited their websites for helping them increase revenues, open new sources of business, compete more aggressively in core markets and serve customers better or more efficiently.

Even among the “Optimists,” 54% reported that their website opened up new sources of business, 44% stated it helped them serve customers better and 33% reported it contributed to new revenue growth.

Outperformers are defined as manufacturers, custom manufacturers and wholesalers/distributors that experienced growth in the last half of 2010 and expect further growth by June 2011.

Optimists are companies from the industrial sector that expect growth to happen by June 2011 even if their sales were flat or declined in the last half of 2010.

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