Jerked Into The Digital Age

Whether your company is a manufacturer with a product line or a job shop offering machining services, a Web site can be an important part of your marketing effort. Here is advice on making that Web site work more effectively for you. (2002 Guide To Metalworking On The Internet)

Article From: 5/1/2002 Modern Machine Shop,

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CALIPERS

CALIPERS (Circles, Angles, Lines, Intersects, Points, Electronic Reckoning System) is a set of modules that performs a variety of trigonometric functions such as solving for the unknown side of a triangle. This interactive feature attracts potential customers to the Web site.

Drill sharpener

Owners of this drill sharpener are assured that they have the latest drill sharpening programming available. As upgrades and programs for optional custom point styles become available, the drill sharpener is equipped to receive files for the new points at the vendor's Web site.

In the opening scenes of the 1979 comedy film, "The Jerk," the character played by Steve Martin dances around wildly celebrating the publication of his name in the white pages of the telephone directory. "That's my name in the phone book—Johnson, Navin R." he exclaimed. "Now I can be somebody!" This was just the sort of publicity he needed to begin his quest for fame and fortune, he reasoned.

Clearly, a Web site for your business can be a good investment. But it is Navin Johnson-like naiveté to believe that the world will beat a path to your door simply because you launch and then maintain your Web site. Some business owners favor investing in their Web site development over traditional advertising media, but they do so at their peril. Just owning a Web site and a URL (Uniform Resource Locator, or Web site address) is useless to your business if customers are not aware of your Web site. As you do with your phone number, you should promote your URL. In fact, if you think of your Web site address as similar to a phone number listing in the white pages, you'll improve your marketing efforts.

Promoting Your Web site

Promoting your Web site need not cost large sums of money. Place your URL where potential customers are likely to see it—on your business cards, stationary, brochures, catalogs, invoices, packaging, advertising and signage. Any money invested in such simple Web site promotion will go a lot farther than money invested in search engine placement.

Getting Listed On Search Engines

If you administer a Web site, you've probably received e-mails promising that your Web site domain name could be listed on thousands of search engines for a price. Whenever I think of this incredible offer, I think of the old adage that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. First, how can you check if they really do list your site on all the search engines that they promised? You can't. Second, you don't need to be listed with thousands of search engines. Internet industry watchers, such as StatMarket Search Engine Ratings and Media Metrix, report that just the top 10 search engines are used by 98 percent of the public. Yahoo alone directs about 50 percent of all search engine initiated traffic. The tenth most popular search engine musters an anemic 0.7 percent. Before you read the next paragraph, how many search engines can you name?

Listing your domain name on the following Web sites would be more than sufficient (arranged here in alphabetical order): AltaVista, AOL, Ask Jeeves, Direct Hit, Dogpile, Excite, Go, Google, GoTo, Hotbot, Infoseek, iWon, LookSmart, Lycos, MSN, Netscape, Snap, WebCrawler and Yahoo. It is easy, and free, to register your Web site on all the top search engines by going to their Web sites and following their instructions.

What Search Engines Can't Do For You

You can't assume that even top search engines will direct customers to your site. Your business name needs to come up at, or near, the top. Obtaining this ranking at the top of the search engine can be a tall order, however. If you search the term "job shop" using the search engine Google, for example, you'll find that there are about 98,000 listings. Unless your job-shop-related Web site is really something special, it will be difficult to gain a prominent front-page position on the search engines. If your business is similar in description to many others, you'll want to "position" it. Positioning means differentiating your business from the competition. For example if you have job shop serving a geographic area, include the biggest cities in your region.

Make Your Site Search Engine Friendly

Search engines look at titles, keywords, and "metatags," as well as the content of your site. The trick is to include as many logical and appropriate terms, and variations of those terms, as possible for your business when applying for search engines and to include these terms in the content of your Web site.

If you build a highly specific product, it is easier to appear on the front page because you can include esoteric search terms when registering your Web site with the search engines. For example, using this strategy at Darex has helped us appear on the front page of every search engine under the search term "drill sharpeners," which is a logical search term for our business. Many of the other top listings are either pages on our site or other sites linking to our site.

Some search engines sell enhanced placements for specific search terms. Often placement is determined by Web sites bidding on search terms. However, this practice may be self-defeating. When Web sites buy positions on the search engine, the search engine itself becomes less reliable because the most informative sites may not be participating and are therefore less accessible to users. After a while, disappointed Web surfers are likely to switch to more objective search engines.

Most search engines factor in the number of sites that link to your site. The greater the number of Web sites that link to yours, the higher your Web site will come up on search engines—the theory being that the most popular sites are also most relevant to the searcher's needs. Consider asking other related Web sites to swap links with you. The more informative, helpful, and engaging your Web site, the more popular it will be, and the more other related sites will want to provide a link to yours.

Building Site Traffic

Simply put, the best way to increase site traffic is to not lose any.

Consider how often you have faced the warning Web page, "404 Error - File not found," or words to that effect. This means that you have either entered a wrong or outdated web extension or you have been misdirected to a Web site from another site. When visitors are confronted with this impersonal message, they often go on to the next Web site listed by a search.

However, rather than chastising visitors for making a "mistake," a new page that welcomes visitors can be made to appear. The reprogramming on this "htaccess" page takes less than an hour. To see a working example, type in any random letters after either the www.darex.com/ or www.mmsonline.com/ addresses and see what comes up. Now do the same with the URL for your own Web site.

Is your site inviting customers to stay, or is it sending them away? To see how many Web visitors you may be losing when the failure message appears, look at your Web site traffic report under the section "Complete 404 File Not Found Statistics" or "Failure Report." It is not unusual for these lost visits to account for 10 percent of the total attempting to reach your site.

Web Site Balance

Sites that don't perform well fall into two categories on opposite ends of the spectrum. Both types simply do a poor job of inviting, or in some cases, allowing visitors to inquire.

On one end of the spectrum, some Web sites offer special effects but little substance. For example, Web visitors are often required to download programs such as Flash, enabling them to watch the company's logo spin for a while before they can reach a home page, not to mention the inquiry form.

Animation programs and the like can offer visitors an enhanced Web site experience, but don't allow these programs to create an impediment between your visitors and your sales. Some Web sites are so focused on the visitor's visual experience that they even neglect to let visitors know where or how they could buy their products.

On the other end of the spectrum are the uninspired Web sites, which offer little more than an "online brochure." These Web sites bore visitors by providing incomprehensible information such as raw statistics and mysterious technical specifications. Visitors are not engaged. They see no reason to keep reading, let alone make an inquiry or a purchase.

Interactivity Is Key

One key to successful online inquiries and sales is interactivity. Interactive features engage visitors and give a reason for repeat visits. These interactive features can take many forms. For example, the four interactive features found at the Darex Web site are representative. They include:

  • a "Selector" that is a decision-making tool for automatically recommending the most appropriate model from our product line. This feature is based upon the customer's answers to questions about preferences and requirements. Custom selectors for Web sites are available at selectsmart.com.
  • a "Cost Calculator" that calculates for visitors what it costs them by not owning our product. Further, the "Payback Calculator" determines the return on investment of purchasing our products.
  • a shop math program called CALIPERS, which provides trig-solving routines for triangles, bolt circles, line-circle intersections, and so on. The program calculates angles and positions, and so forth, and it generates drawings based on the visitor's input.
  • a free classified ads page that allows manufacturers, machinists and metalworkers to sell or find products and services for their shops.

These online tools provide visitors with valuable information unique to their situation while engaging them at the Web site. Thanks in part to interactive features, the typical visitor to the Darex Web site spends about 2 minutes with each visit and typically views three pages, an impressive amount of time for the hurried Internet world.

The Web site has proven to be a great source of leads. In fact, the "Selector" is the No. 1 source of online leads. With this feature, customers are able to tell the company exactly what they want before a sales call is made. A remarkable 14 percent of people who complete the selector form move on to buy directly from the company.

Measuring Your Site's Success—Or Lack Of It

Another source of feedback at your disposal is Internet log files, a report on the traffic to your Web site. By studying our own Internet log files, for example, we discovered that slightly more than one third of the searchers used generic search terms such as "drill sharpener" or "cutting tool sharpening." That is a significant number, but it results in fewer than 3 percent of all the online inquiries. Among those visitors who used a search engine to find us, 62 percent had specifically typed in the term "Darex." That means they already knew the name. A logical inference from this fact, along with visitor feedback, is that our company's traditional marketing exposure (direct mail, tradeshows, advertising) drives traffic to our Web site.

If your product line is relatively expensive, the thrust of its Web site should be to collect inquiries rather than to close sales. But, if your product is both easily understood and in the right price range—consumables often fit into this category—you might focus your Internet marketing on direct sales. Whether you orient your Web site to garner inquiries or direct sales, there are certain questions that you should ask yourself.

Online Marketing Of Job Shops

Of the aforementioned 98,000 Google listings for the search term "job shop," the first real job shop site, www.lalco.com, is ranked number 25. This site offers a good deal of interactivity to encourage repeat visits including an FAQ (frequently asked questions) page, service descriptions, a quotation form, technical articles and a free newsletter. It is significant that the site encourages visitors to recommend the page to others with a simple pop-up e-mail form.

The Internet has allowed for innovations that were unimaginable just a few years ago. In this industry, there are RFQ (Request For Quote) Web sites that promise to match job shops with appropriate customers. There are different models for fulfilling this promise. In one common approach, the potential customer enters the dimensions of a certain part required at a particular quantity. These specs are forwarded to presumably qualified job shops that subscribe to the service. The job shops then bid on the job. All this is accomplished for a price (generally paid by the job shop) with varying degrees of success. As the Web site salespeople are likely to say, users can recoup the subscription cost with just one job. Of course the trick is to get that first job.

If you own a job shop and opt to use these services, you'll first want to ask questions about the provider's level of experience and sophistication. In particular, ask about methods of coupling customers with vendors. The prices of these services vary, so you'll want to shop around. Some of these services offer a free trial period.

A consideration in selecting any online service that promises to advertise your job shop is the popularity of its Web site. A good indicator of popularity is the number of Web sites that link to it. The table above shows some of the Web sites, along with the number of links pointing to them. (Status of these links was assessed in early February 2002 using statistics provided by 7MetaSearch—www.7metasearch.com.

Properly executed, promoted and combined with your other marketing efforts, your Web site will help generate business. You'll never know how much until you try. The outcome may be like that in "The Jerk," where, with little more than a phone listing and an idea, Navin R. Johnson found fame and fortune before the final credits.

About the author: Curt Anderson is Marketing Director at Darex Corp. He can be reached at (541) 488-2224 or by e-mail at curt@intercds.com.

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