How to Succeed Online (The Truth About Manufacturing Websites)

Ashley Wilson-Rew


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Do you want to know what professional marketers and web designers REALLY think when we see manufacturing websites?

"This website is so bad they might as well not have one at all."

True story. 

Websites are expensive, as you probably know. If your website isn't bringing you new leads and customers, why do you even have one? Because Some Guy on the Internet said you needed one?

Well, Some Guy is right. You do need a website. But your website needs to be optimized, and you need to be doing other stuff to promote your website. You can't just make a website and say "OK, done." Which is what most manufacturers seem to be doing. Hence the quote above.

What makes a website "bad"? Believe it or not, there are a few things that make or break a visitor's trust right when they enter your website:

  • Design. An ugly website will make visitors immediately click the back button. Or, like a car crash, they'll feel compelled to examine it to see the extent of the damage. Then they'll leave.

  • Content. You have to have more than a sentence or two on any one page, and your content has to be valuable and relevant.

  • Navigation. Does your website even make sense? Are the buttons where we expect them to be? Can we easily find a path through your site?

  • Loading time. Yup, if your website takes more than a few seconds to load, we can guarantee it's driving people away.

  • Readability. Did you choose a tiny/"interesting" typeface? Are the words approximately the same color as the background? 

  • Mobile friendliness. 80% of consumers do research on mobile devices before making a buying decision. If your site looks gross on mobile, you're losing customers.

Once the trust is broken, it's very hard to get it back. First impressions are everything.

Think about how vendors are chosen for your own company. If a vendor can't produce a quality website, would you be more or less likely to trust them with your business?

And if their competitor had a better website? Who would you contact first?

The choice seems obvious, at least to a website expert.

Where do manufacturers drop the ball?

We've already talked about the basic elements of a good website. If you want a full rundown on website best practices, check out this eBook.

A website is just the beginning of your online journey. Think of your website like your home base in a strange new world. The Italian camp of Christopher Columbus when he landed in the Americas.

You're Columbus, blazing your own trail through the Internet. (Though you should probably hold off on making up new names for things that already have names, and slaughtering the natives.)

But you can't just run off into the brush looking for gold, because you're more likely to be eaten by a wild animal. You need a strategy, especially when navigating unfamiliar territory.

Too many people read about the wonders of the Internet and rush to claim their prize. They get ahead of themselves. It's their first time in the wilderness, and they get so excited they forget to pack clothes. They scream at the existing inhabitants without bothering to learn the native language.

Other questionable metaphors.

According to Business 2 Communityonly 21% of manufacturing marketers have a documented strategy for creating content online.

That's a lot of people running through the forest, screaming, sans clothes. 

What we're trying to say is: don't jump without looking. Put your clothes on. Learn how to talk to Internet users before typing. Observe before acting. 

Yes, you need to be on the Internet. You should have been online yesterday, because your customers have been here even longer than that. They've been waiting for you to join them - what's the hold up?

The only hold up should be the research that you do before putting yourself out there. Learn how to manage an effective website, how your customers communicate online, and where you need to set up camp.

So, when you do finally burst onto the scene (wearing your best monocle and Oxfords, speaking their language like you belong there), they welcome you as one of their own. 

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I'll repeat one of my favorite quotes here:

"People buy from people that they like, and people like people just like themselves."


Moving on from the bad explorer analogy.

One of the biggest misconceptions in manufacturing is that your customers don't care about the Internet and aren't online. That's wrong.

Statistics from a GlobalSpec 2013 survey show that:

The vast majority of industrial buyers are now finding products and vendors online. Guess which manufacturers are getting their business? (Hint: probably that 21% who have a defined plan of attack.)

So what can YOU do to succeed online?

Make a Plan

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There's a good reason the planners are getting ahead.

You think successful people roll out of bed in the morning and say, "I wonder what surprises today will bring! Each day is such a mystery! I love flying by the seat of my pants!"?

Nope. The most successful companies have detailed schedules, policies, procedures, and strategies. They identify the problems that may crop up and put contingency plans in place. They have backups for their backups. 

Not many people become successful by winning the lottery (and that depends on your definition of success). For most of us, it comes from hard work and careful planning.

You need a plan for the things you do online. So you have a website - now what do you do?

  • How do you promote it? Are there things you're not doing right now, like inbound marketing (blogging, social media, SEO, etc.)?

  • What are your benchmarks and goals? How much business growth do you want to see in a year, and how will your website/online presence help you accomplish that?

  • Find out what your competitors are doing online. Are they on social media? Do they have a blog or newsletter? If so, try subscribing. Do they send follow up emails? 

  • Do market research. What results can a business of your size in your industry expect to see from online optimization?

  • Keep your expectations realistic - what is a good time frame to see results? How big will those results be, realistically?

The truth about manufacturing websites is simple: Manufacturers simply have no idea how to navigate the new online landscape. That means under-optimized websites, ineffective online marketing campaigns, and wasted resources.

We understand the Internet can be intimidating, especially for manufacturers who have traditionally relied on offline communications and marketing tactics.

Don't be intimidated, and don't let stubbornness keep you from growing your business. There are plenty of resources to guide you through this strange new world, and the benefits of being online far outweigh any possible negatives.

Just remember:

  • You need to be online, but
  • Don't jump in without looking,
  • Learn to speak your customers' language, and 
  • Make a concrete plan for your online activities.

Good luck! 

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VIEW MORE STORIES IN Strategy, B2B, Content Marketing, Manufacturing, Inbound Marketing

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