By Yoav Kutner
If you were around in the mid-1990s, search engine optimization (SEO) might sound a little bit retro. Back in the early days of the World Wide Web, marketers routinely crammed as many keywords as they could into a webpage in the hope of tricking primitive search engines into promoting their pages. Most manufacturing companies could have been forgiven for sniffing at SEO, and sticking to tried-and-tested marketing methods — including word-of-mouth referrals, direct mail advertising, and directory listings — to generate new leads.
Well, times have changed. The manufacturing industry as a whole has gotten far more tech-savvy in recent years as Industry 4.0, advanced manufacturing, and automation have transformed the sector. Now, the digital revolution is changing the way that manufacturers market and sell their products, too — and that means it’s time for manufacturing brands to get serious about SEO.
Fortunately, SEO has changed since the 1990s as well. These days, search marketing isn’t just about churning out low-quality keyword-driven content in order to trick an algorithm. It’s about creating effective, brand-focused content that meets a genuine need — and, in the process, helps your business to catch the attention of online B2B buyers. Best of all, because few manufacturers have so far embraced SEO, it’s possible for brands to stand out from the pack — and generate a lot of relevant traffic — relatively easily, simply by making SEO a priority.
Here are 3 things that manufacturers need to know in order to develop a winning SEO strategy:
- B2B buyers are moving online
First things first: it’s important to recognize that B2B buyers are moving online, and that manufacturing businesses need to follow suit. This is partly a generational shift: as young, digitally native employees climb the career ladder and wind up in procurement roles, they’re using digital tools to find and research potential suppliers. But that trend has been accelerated by the pandemic, too. Sales reps are going through far less shoe leather than they used to: traditional, in-person B2B sales fell 52% since the start of the pandemic, and use of videoconferencing for sales has risen 69%.
In fact, about 70% of B2B buyers now prefer to identify and evaluate new suppliers remotely, often using self-serve websites that do away with direct human interactions altogether. And with buyers moving online, manufacturers are finding that an increasingly significant proportion of their sales come from the web. As recently as last summer, 70% of manufacturers lacked a clear digital commerce strategy — but despite that, they made $458.7 billion from B2B ecommerce sales in 2020, up 6.7% from the previous year.
- SEO starts with knowing your customers
Back in the day, SEO marketers were little more than spammers, deliberately seeking to manipulate search engines and inflate their rankings. Fortunately, over the years Google and other search giants have poured enormous resources into improving their search results, and their algorithms have grown vastly more sophisticated and nuanced. That means that winning a coveted front-page ranking is no longer merely a question of packing in as many keywords as possible. Instead, marketers need to understand their customers, and work in partnership with brands to create content that genuinely adds value.
It’s still important to understand the intricacies of Google’s algorithms to ensure your content gets the play it deserves, of course. But the goal isn’t to trick search engines into promoting your site — it’s to create a site that’s worth promoting. If you know your customers, and leverage your domain expertise to identify the queries they’re using to find products, then you can build a website that delivers that content, creates real value — and wins more traffic than those of less SEO-savvy rival brands.
- SEO lets you pick your battles
Every SEO marketer wants to drive their brand to the top of their customers’ search results. But every industry is different, and it’s possible for manufacturing businesses to tailor their SEO strategies to serve their specific needs. A manufacturer selling to B2B buyers will typically see low conversion rates but much higher sales values than a B2C brand, and will have a correspondingly more complex sales funnel. A manufacturer’s SEO strategy needs to reflect that, and ensure that the manufacturer shows up in search engine results at every stage in the buying process—from awareness to interest, desire, and finally action.
Fortunately, B2B companies typically know their customers on a deeper level than B2C sellers, and it’s possible to leverage market research, data, and insights from sales reps to develop relevant keyword terms and content that will serve those customers effectively. That lets you hone in on low-hanging fruit: instead of trying to win a high ranking for generic categories such as “HVAC supplies,” for instance, you can optimize SEO for individual product pages, where the queries are far less competitive but also more tightly focused on users’ intent to purchase — leading to higher conversion rates for your brand.
Don’t sleep on SEO
While SEO has been around for a while, it’s still enormously important when it comes to getting your brand noticed and drawing potential customers and decision-makers to your company’s website. After all, many people still use a search engine as their entrance point to the Internet — and with Google alone now processing over 97,000 searches every single second, there’s plenty to be gained from appearing prominently in relevant search results.
If you don’t embrace SEO, there’s a good chance that your rivals will — and with buyers moving online, it’s easier than ever for competitors to poach even your most loyal customers. To stand out, you’ll need more than just a 5-page corporate website — you’ll need a fully realized ecommerce presence, with professional product pages and a seamless checkout experience.
Finally, it’s important to remember that an SEO strategy is about playing the long game. You won’t see immediate results, as you might with conventional digital ads. But that cuts both ways: your investments in SEO are also long-lasting, and will deliver benefits far into the future, long after your banner ads or social-media campaigns are a distant memory. Get your SEO strategy right, and you’ll develop a rich new trove of content that will ensure customers who reach your website will stick around and will view your business as a credible and trustworthy partner — and that’s always going to be a winning strategy.
Yoav Kutner is the CEO of B2B eCommerce platform OroCommerce. He is also the former co-founder and CTO of Magento, which was acquired by Adobe for $1.6B.