By Michael Bird
For manufacturing and other B2C organizations, the ability to connect with customers is critical. But e-commerce customers can slip through your hands. When they search on Google for your products, they might never make it to your website because it doesn’t rank well. And if a prospective customer does find your site, he or she might not get results with the search feature — even though the desired product is in stock.
If such problems aren't fixed, the competition will snatch your potential business by doing what you aren’t. And when sales don't close in manufacturing, the loss can amount to tens of thousands of dollars, if not more.
These issues also could give loyal customers a reason not to come back. If they accidentally purchase the wrong product because they struggled to find what they needed on the site, they will likely return that order. This situation could result in the hassle of restocking — and would throw a wrench in the supply chain. And it could make you lose someone who had been or would have been a customer for life.
These search issues crop up frequently, and often, businesses aren't even aware of them. It's understandable — running a business is a lot of work, and optimizing your website for a smooth experience is a detailed, tedious job. Still, when it comes to success in manufacturing, you can't afford a “Field of Dreams” mentality. Just because you built it doesn't mean they'll come. E-commerce is a critical component of your marketing strategy, and it takes work to ensure it's effective.
Sometimes, search issues stem from site structure. It could be poorly coded with a rigid search engine, making the site unable to deliver nimble search results. More often, however, the problem is the site's content. Product descriptions are either non-existent or so shallow that search tools have nothing to dig up. Most manufacturers have the bare minimum of product information — product number, name and price — in older back-end systems with no keyword-rich descriptions, product categories or details about the industries those products serve.
Without those elements, a customer can search for tires on a tire company's website and find nothing. That's clearly a problem that needs to be fixed.
The good news? You have solutions. Here are four ways to make your content stronger and start fixing your e-commerce search issues:
1) Optimize for Google. Making your site easy to find should be a priority. That means giving Google good content to grab onto. Categorize products, enhance their descriptions, and provide hidden keywords that customers might use in a search. Don't be overwhelmed if you have 100,000 SKUs. Start with your top 100, test the results of those, and build from there.
Your site structure can hinder your performance on Google as well. It's a good idea to have someone with coding and SEO knowledge ensure you're optimizing to the best of your ability.
2) Provide a built-in search tool. Believe it or not, a lot of websites lack built-in search capabilities. Companies can’t expect customers to patiently dig through their website pages until they find the right product — most don't have that kind of patience.
We live in a fast-paced, Google-centric world. Because of this, any website (especially an e-commerce site) should provide a user-friendly search tool. Without it, you're asking customers to leave as soon as they arrive. Many potential customers will leave a website with complex or nonresponsive search features or navigation.
3) Test and tweak. Once you have an on-site search engine, use it. Track what your customers search for — especially searches that provide no results. You can then learn the "voice of your customers" (the words they use) and make content updates so that future searches result in products found.
Type partial product numbers, names, competitor product numbers, misspelled versions and anything else you can think of into the search bar. If the results aren’t good, keep adding depth and specificity to your content and product descriptions. Use your site’s administrative tools to make any structural or basic coding changes, and then test again.
4) Keep it fresh. Building a solid e-commerce website is an ongoing process. You can’t build static product pages and never revisit them. Look at weekly and monthly reports and continue optimizing based on what they show. Look for ways to lead even a small percentage of new customers to the right product — the potential reward is big changes in revenue.
Understand that Google's algorithms are constantly changing, too. Keep up with best practices to ensure your website is tailored to what Google search requires this month, not what was required last year.
Having an online store is a necessary tool. It allows your customers to buy from you today and allows you to learn about them and drive additional sales tomorrow. Measuring how customers search to find your website — and while on your site — provides insights that were impossible to glean even a few years back. Put that information to work and enjoy the rewards.
Michael Bird is CEO of Des Moines, Iowa-based Spindustry, a digital agency focused on e-commerce, SharePoint portals and enterprise websites.