Last week, MFG.com presented a webinar titled Navigating the Online Landscape. We shared a great deal of info for small- and medium-sized manufacturers (SMMs) to get more out of their Web sites and marketing efforts. We had a great turnout, and it was a lot of fun.
We got some really good questions from the attendees. Here they are along with our answers and advice, in all their glory:
Q: Do bilingual sites create good value for Search Engine Optimization (SEO)?
A: The development of any SEO strategy should begin with who is searching, what condition they're in at the time, and what they'd be typing if they are who you want to talk to and are in the mode you want them to be in (e.g., buying what you're selling). If your business strategy is global or looking to break into another country, then a bilingual site that speaks to that demographic is supremely important. But a bilingual site for its own sake probably isn't worth the effort.
Q: You don't seem to respect Search Engine Optimization. Do you think it's not important.
A: SEO is extremely important, but focusing ONLY on SEO and not baking content equally into the strategy equation will backfire on any business, especially in technically specific sectors like those in vertical manufacturing markets. By only manipulating SEO to get more traffic and not providing relevant information to a prospect (i.e., what differentiates your business, what you've done for others), a business is saying "Hey, everybody! C'mon into our site and see how irrelevant we are!" If you want more traffic, I'll get you more traffic - but you won't want your mother visiting your site. Put another way, building a beautiful road to our store is irrelevant if we haven't stocked the shelves. In the mix of complex research cycles, your content is your commodity.
Q: How important is Web site categorization, especially when applying a "vignette" strategy?
A: Proper categorization is awfully important for several reasons. Think of creating "buckets" that hold related vignettes and present your experience and capabilities to buyers based on their interests - label "buckets" by industry (automotive, aerospace, medical), material of parts (steel, titanium, aluminum), processes (machining, rapid prototyping, design, injection molding, tooling), complexity, special certifications, or anything that will help a prospect relate previous work you've done with their needs.
Placing and updating relevant "vignettes" in "buckets" will improve SEO (search engines LOVE buckets - when they're named "Aerospace" or "Aluminum" or "Extrusion" and contain like content). "Buckets" create logical paths for buyers to follow based on their specific needs, and make it more likely that a prospect will see you as an expert in those categories. And "buckets" give purchasing or sourcing professionals the ammo to pass you along to managers or teams as worthy of further contact.
Q: Any good small- or medium-sized manufacturer (SMM) Web sites?
A: There aren't may at this point, which is why the info in this Webinar is so important - there are great opportunites for SMMs to capitalize. One that I really like right now belongs to an attendee of the Webinar last Friday - Alexandria Extrusion Company (www.alexandriaextrusion.com). They've done a fine job of differentiating themselves, and are as good an example as you're likely to find these days.
Q: Can you give some examples of free Blog platforms for SMMs?
A: In my opinion, the best at the moment - and that's all reletive - is Wordpress. There's also Blogger, Blogspot and Blog (all can be found via a simple search). Each of these have been around a while, will host your blog, are easy to set up and use, and offer several options for look and features.
Q: Are manufacturers really using social media sites like facebook or Twitter?
A: Manufacturers are moving toward LinkedIn and Twitter, but somewhat less toward facebook. Generally speaking, manufacturers have been reluctant to embrace the Web - since '95, I've found that they're usually about 5 years behind in adopting these types of channels when compared to the rest of the population. Here's what I suggest is more important when determining whether to pursue these channels in your marketing strategy: what are your prospects doing when in these channels? With facebook, while you may indeed find manufacturers there, they are more than likely in a social rather than professional mode. With LinkedIn, there is more activity among manufacturers (especially in LI Groups) but much of it is self-promotion or employment-related - jut what you'd expect from the top employment site. Twitter is seeing more and more activity, and there are real opportunities to engage prospects and create paths to your Web site. My advice as these channels evolve: Use facebook sparingly to link to your site; participate on relative LinkedIn groups to share info with others, but you'll probably find few relationships come from LI in the short term; and use Twitter to communicate info not just about your business but also what matters most to you as a professional. Twitter can be a great tool for networking, but be selective of who you "follow" or accept as a "follower." This will ensure your message is targeted to the right folks, and not blanketed to the entire Twitterverse.