Table of Contents
Why SEO for manufacturers matters
Despite Covid driving a huge boom in online marketing spend across almost every sector, too many manufacturers are still failing to take advantage of SEO and tap into the latent interest in their products and expertise that no doubt exists across eight and a half billion Google searches a day.
There really is so much untapped opportunity out there for manufacturing businesses to drive sales and gain leads by boosting their search presence.
This is good news for you (as you’re reading this guide). The bad news is that, if your competitors are outranking you in the search results, the likelihood is that they realise it too and are already doing something about it.
While there may not be droves of people searching specifically for your product or even know that your product exists, the people who are searching, are likely to have serious intent.
But what do I mean by ‘intent’… and why does it matter so much? Surely it’s all about getting all that lovely new website traffic right?
Well it’s not quite that simple.
A note on keyword intent
Effective SEO for manufacturers, whether it’s for ecommerce or lead generation, requires having a good idea of what search engine users are looking for when they make certain searches.
In SEO, we call these searches keywords, and whilst your pages may contain plenty of the signals for Google to associate it with a given search, the actual intent of that search needs to be taken into account. This is keyword intent.
For example, a person Googling ‘premium wallpaper’ is highly likely to be looking for high-quality wallpaper products they can buy.
Continuing with our wallpaper example, now imagine that same user typed into Google ‘how to put up wallpaper’ or ‘what wallpaper is in fashion’. Clearly this person isn’t necessarily looking to buy wallpaper (not yet anyway). Rather they have problems they could deal with on their own but just need a little help and education. These customers are likely at the top of the marketing funnel in the ‘discovery’ or ‘learning’ stage.
For manufacturers that rely on lead generation instead of ecommerce, keyword focus will more likely be on those people searching for solutions and insights to their problems.
Let’s take another example and see what happens when we type in the term ‘hydraulics’ into Google. The page below is what we see.
Clearly the user intent is mixed here and Google’s search results reflect this. There are hydraulics businesses, but they appear further down the page. This term is therefore ambiguous in its intent. Type in ‘hydraulics company’ and the results are very different.
As you can see from the results page, despite some FAQs, the page is now based on a far clearer user intent of someone looking for a hydraulics supplier or manufacturer.
The examples above are pretty obvious, but user intent can be very subjective and nuanced in practice, across hundreds or thousands of keywords. Good SEO strategy takes into account the nature of pages returned by Google for given keywords and will seek to optimise your pages for only those keywords that match the corresponding user intent.
How business model determines strategy
SEO strategy for a manufacturing business depends a lot on your business model.
If your product has a high sale value, then it’s going to be a more considered purchase and so your focus will need to be on lead generation and nurturing. This requires generating leads first of all and maximising touch points (online and offline) in order to make a sale, which means building trust with your target customers. You can do this by offering high value content, such as a lead magnet, webinar or video, in exchange for an email address or other contact details.
Conversely, an ecommerce company with lower ticket items, such as fast moving consumer goods (FMCG), will have a much shorter buying cycle and so SEO strategy will focus primarily on pushing traffic towards transactional pages.
Whilst Manufacturers with eCommerce sites will still be looking to create informational content to address their target market’s problems, their first focus will be getting traffic to their product detail pages (PDPs) or product listing pages (PLPs). The types of keywords that will draw users to these pages will have a higher search intent and focus on the type of product the searcher is in the market for (high intent), or even the specific product name itself (very high intent).
Businesses that have a combination of high and low ticket products, or those that sell medium to high ticket products that can be customised and ordered online might want to take a mixed approach, factoring in both lead gen and optimising high-intent product pages is required here.
How manufacturing companies implement SEO
Ok. We’ve talked about how SEO strategy works for different businesses and how understanding keyword intent, as well as your target keywords, is crucial to nailing that strategy.
But what about the actual act of ‘doing’ of SEO?
Well now we’re going to dive into some of the actual nuts and bolts of SEO for manufacturers (no pun intended). We’ll start at the start, where most strategies start off and that’s with a good old website audit.
A website audit is run through one or more professional SEO tools which will identify any technical issues on the website, such as broken links, poor page load speed, mobile responsiveness and crawl errors. These are all issues that could be affecting the website’s performance and therefore harming rankings.
On top of this, website audits will also evaluate current rankings and look at the keyword landscape, often by analysing competitor rankings. Also called website quality audits, this exercise is absolutely crucial, as it forms the foundation of the entire SEO strategy, specifically informing the keyword research and mapping activity which follows it.
It’s tempting to think that anyone with the right tools can conduct a website audit, but that’s only part of the challenge. The real benefits come from the splicing together of data from different sources and the interpretation of this data in order to provide solid technical recommendations and a broad strategy going forward.
The direction of your SEO campaign always revolves around your keywords. As discussed, these are the terms and phrases your target audience are using with search engines to find what you’re manufacturing and selling. Discovering these is a process of looking at what your site is currently ranking for and analysing what keywords your competitors are ranking for.
Keyword research also differs between manufacturers with ecommerce websites and those with lead gen business models.
The immediate goal of lead generation isn’t to get people to make an online purchase but to demonstrate your expertise and understanding in order to present your company and your product as the best option to solving their challenges. You do that with value-adding content that provides solutions to problems, ideally that your business can solve. This is to drive micro-conversions; that is potential customers making themselves known in exchange for something like a lead magnet or a webinar signup.
Lead-generation keyword research therefore identifies the keywords that people use when they are looking for help or insight on problems they’re experiencing and that your product or business helps to solve. These tend to be long tail searches, which means they are quite specific and often phrased like a question (for example “how to maintain a commercial kitchen’).
Because of their specificity, long tail searches often have lower search volume (less than 100 searches per month) but they make up for this by their being many variations on a theme, which all adds up to a lot of potential traffic.
With ecommerce sites, product price tends to be lower and your ideal audience is therefore more primed to make a purchase. Whilst they will still be searching for informational content they are also using transactional search queries, to get straight to the goods.
The keywords targeted here typically have the product itself in the query, often prefixed or followed by associated transactional phrases like ‘price’, ‘shop’, ‘company’ or ‘where to buy’. For example, ‘commercial oven price’ or ‘restaurant cutlery set shop’ are keywords a food service equipment manufacturer may target.
Technical SEO work will come off the back of the website audit and covers anything relating to the website’s technical infrastructure that can affect search engine visibility.
This can involve:
- Optimising the website’s architecture and structure to ensure that search engine crawlers can easily access and index its pages
- Improving page speed and load performance, often through image optimisation
- Ensuring the site has a mobile friendly design (most modern CMS’s will do this for you now)
- Structured data and schema markup, which affects how certain pages appear in the search engine results. It also helps search engines better understand the nature of your content.
- Security, including implementation of HTTPS encryption and SSL certificates and addressing security vulnerabilities that may arise from things like plugins, etc.
Everything to do with the structural makeup of your website is covered by on-page SEO.
These are the technical elements that search engines interface with to understand what your website is about, how it performs, and how it is organised. The easier it is for search engines to understand what you manufacture, and the industry, interests and individuals it relates to, the better the chances of search engines showing your website to more of your target audience.
Effective on-page SEO isn’t just about satisfying the machine prerequisites of search engines. It also creates a seamless, intuitive, and hassle-free UX that benefits real human beings.
The key areas for on-page SEO include:
Page titles — As the first point of contact both on your website and on the search engine results pages (SERPs), your page titles have to be succinct and clickable
Metadata and descriptions — The data describing the parts of your website to search engines and the actual text describing the contents of your webpages to humans have to be accurate and concise.
Code and Performance — Your site has to load quickly and work for all major platforms, devices, and browsers.
Structure — Search engines need to be able to index your site properly, and users need to be able to navigate it smoothly.
Along with on site signals, Google also ranks your web pages based on a host of offsite signals. Primarily these are links from another website linking to your website (known as backlinks), but they can also include any kind of brand mention or citation (hyperlinked or otherwise).
Link building is the principal method of creating off-page signals. When it comes to link building, quality trumps quantity every time. You can have hundreds of links to your website, but if the vast majority come from irrelevant web pages with little to no authority, you won’t see any increase in your search rankings. Worse case scenario you might even be penalised if these links are from poor quality websites.
Another off-page SEO technique you can employ is to generate citations from trusted online business directories. This is used in local SEO campaigns, where you want your company to show up for localised search results.
Where in the World Are Your Customers?
Depending on the scale of operations, manufacturers have to take into account geography in their SEO. Manufacturing companies that only cater to customers within their region have different tactics and priorities compared to international manufacturers who have exponentially greater reach. Suffice to say, the costs involved can differ considerably as well.
Let’s break it down.
Google factors in the location of its users and will show local results for searches for searches it deems as having local intent.
Local SEO can be done through keywords and content focused on the area being served. This can include blog posts about news and events happening in the local area. Existing landing pages can be optimised with mentions of the area and the inclusion of local terms. You can even get hyper focused by creating landing pages targeting specific cities, towns, villages or areas that are within your company’s coverage.
For off-site local SEO, simple but effective tactics include building citations in local business directories as well as building a well-optimised Google My Business page. Link building with industry-adjacent websites that focus on the location is also a reliable method.
Local SEO often applies to smaller companies with a local market, but it can also apply to large national or even multinational companies looking to target local search.
In contrast, national SEO isn’t going to be targeting specific locations. Instead, the focus is going to be on broader search terms. National SEO is basically applying SEO best practices in order to beat or, at the very least, compete with other national competition. Most manufacturers will fall into this camp.
An elegantly structured and intuitively navigable website with valuable content, targeting the right keywords and has links from relevant and authoritative sites is a solid foundation.
Manufacturers that are either already serving an international audience or are planning to need to consider additional factors when handling SEO.
The principles of geotargeting in local SEO where you include specific areas work here as well, but instead of using local terms, you will be targeting countries. Language is also going to be crucial to an international SEO strategy.
You can target both countries and languages for maximum coverage, but you can just focus on either one if it suits your target audience. For example, you can target the French language in your international SEO efforts to not just reach France but other French-speaking places like Belgium, Switzerland, Canada, and North Africa.
Site structure is pivotal to capturing a global customer base, with each one having its own pros and cons. You have the choice of using:
- Country code top-level domain — website.fr
- Subdomain — fr.website.com
- Subdirectory — website.com/fr
- Language parameters — website.com/?lang=en-fr
- New domain — frwebsite.com
You can also tell search engines that you have content on your website in different languages so they know to serve those relevant results to searchers that speak those languages with the ‘hreflang’ tag.
Translation should also be included in your international SEO strategy. Don’t skimp on translating your website’s content, as native speakers are immediately going to notice. Cost savings made on cheap translation services or machine translation just aren’t worth tanking your credibility in new territories for.
Other online marketing tactics
Pay-per-click (PPC) marketing is a form of online advertising where you have your ads shown throughout an online advertising platform and pay for every click those ads get. Today there are eight types of PPC ads out there:
- Paid search
- Amazon advertising
In contrast to SEO where you have to put in a lot of work over a lot of time to get your website to show up organically in the SERPs, doing PPC marketing, such as Google Ads, brings immediate results, as your ads are given prime online real-estate through highly visible display ads on whatever platform you are placing them on.
The big drawback is that it’s nowhere near as cost-efficient as SEO, as you have to constantly pour in money to keep your PPC campaign running. And if it’s run poorly, as most PPC campaigns are without experts at the helm, it can become an absolute money sink with poor ROI.
PPC can and should be used alongside organic SEO to enjoy the benefits and mitigate the risks of both digital marketing strategies. This is especially the case for manufacturers with ecommerce sites that sell directly to their customers.
I’ve written this guide about SEO vs PPC, and why it’s a false dichotomy and, more often than not, why you should be doing both.
The type of content you create goes back to your business model. Manufacturers focusing on lead generation need to create lead magnets, while manufacturers with an ecommerce site will tend to focus on optimising content on their product or product category pages first and foremost, as well as creating more product focused content (listicles, comparison pieces, product reviews, etc).
In general though, all content marketing is about generating credibility, trust and thought leadership around your brand and your people and all types of manufacturing businesses will benefit from it.
Whilst a lot of content should be freely available, not all of it should be. Lead magnets are any type of high-value content that you only give in exchange for a business email address. This allows you to nurture leads through email marketing tactics like newsletters, exclusive offers and company news and expert advice.
You’re not going to be able to get their precious contact details easily, however. Lead magnets have to be worth the information your audience will be giving away. Here are key considerations for creating effective lead magnets.
- It provides high value — You need to offer something that your target audience can’t just easily get anywhere else. Be it industry-insider data reports, exclusive webinars, or powerful yet simple tools, it has to be of high value.
- It is highly relevant — You want to attract qualified leads, so your lead magnet has to be relevant to your target audience. Lead magnets that net you people who in the end won’t be interested in what you’re selling are a waste of resources.
- It is shareable — Its primary purpose is to get leads, so maximising its reach by making it easy to share increases its impact.
- It leaves them wanting more — While you are helping your target audience solve a specific problem or accomplish a task more conveniently, you also want them to eventually turn to you directly. Give them a taste of your expertise that would persuade them to commit to your products/services.
Whilst social media doesn’t equate to a ranking signal to search engines, it does contribute to your overall online presence in a number of ways and can therefore have an indirect effect on SEO. It does this through:
- Wider content distribution
- Increased site traffic
- Higher brand visibility
- More lead generation opportunities
- Supports local SEO
The platforms you focus on will depend on your target market. B2B manufacturers will tend to focus on LinkedIn, whereas B2C will tend to focus on platforms like Facebook or Instagram. Businesses with highly visually appealing products, may also want to focus their energies on platforms like Pinterest.
YouTube is also a very powerful platform that tends to work well for both manufacturers with technical products and manufacturers with lower ticket more marketplace-established products.
Your mailing list is a powerful resource for lead nurturing and even direct conversions. It’s likely you gained a lot of these email addresses from lead magnets you put out, so people who are subscribed to your newsletter or email broadcast have already expressed an interest in your business / products.
You want to maximise your chances of conversions via email marketing with a combination of value adding but also conversion focused content. Here are some tactics you might want to think about:
- Content sharing — Highlight some of your best content through your emails. Summarise guides and blog posts in order to drive recipients towards the actual article online. You can also send content that’s only available to your mailing list to get more people to sign up.
- Segmenting — Whilst it does require a fair amount of planning and extra work, if your email marketing list gets big enough, try separating specific segments of your audience with user profiles, so you can tailor content that caters to their different interests and needs.
- Repurposing content — Unique content delivered through email can then be used later on as a foundation for content delivered through other channels and formats. In fact, this goes for pretty much any content you create.
- Feedback — Having a direct line to your most engaged customers allows you to gather useful feedback. Send surveys through email to improve the customer experience, create more relevant content, and even get ideas for keyword research. Again, this is where audience segmentation comes in handy.
Public relations can work in partnership with SEO when it is done through the lens of digital marketing. This has led to the emergence of digital PR. This has the same goal as traditional PR with the main difference lying in the medium and specific tactics.
Whilst traditional PR reaches out to platforms like TV, radio, established local and national newspapers, and trade publication, digital PR makes use of websites and social media, which are generally more affordable, and thus more accessible. Because there are so many more online publications than print, digital media also have the advantages of being more dynamic and targeted to the right people.
The other benefit of digital PR is it can be an extremely effective way to build highly authoritative backlinks to your site.
Whilst digital PR has a somewhat lower price point than traditional PR, it’s by no means cheap if done properly and the benefits will take a long time to materialise.
Search engine optimisation is not a static discipline with enduring rules. It is a constantly changing landscape where both your competitors’ efforts and Google’s own constantly shifting algorithm means nothing stands still for very long. As such, it’s important to analyse and measure performance on a constant basis in order to determine what is working and what is not, and make adjustments accordingly.
Constant measurement allows you to identify opportunities to improve performance and stay competitive. It also allows you to make data driven decisions instead of a more suck it and see approach. Data will also allow you to justify future investment in money, time and resources, as you’ll be able to calculate ROI (something we show you how to do with our free SEO revenue forecaster).
Looking at your data is one thing but being able to interpret it is another. Understanding trends, new techniques and those more seismic algo updates in a highly competitive marketplace, is absolutely crucial to not only outranking your competition but staying there.
There are a host of tools that SEO professionals and agencies will use to this effect, but Google Analytics is probably the most important and powerful tool in your arsenal (and it’s free).
In fact, Google Analytics as we know it is about to be replaced with Google Analytics 4, which is a paradigm shift in this department. For the full low down, check out our guide to GA4 here.
Metrics to keep an eye on include rankings (obviously) but also click-through rates, bounce rate and conversion rates. Crucially though it’s important to bring all this data back to uplift in sales, in order to accurately calculate return on investment.
How we can grow your manufacturing business
At Superb Digital, we’ve never been one to keep our digital marketing knowledge secret, as I hope you’ll agree from reading this guide.
That being said, SEO is never a straightforward methodology to implement. There are many moving parts and various disciplines involved in running an SEO campaign for even the smallest manufacturing company.
It’s why we see, over and over again, fantastic manufacturers with amazing products, try to do it themselves, only to get so far and hit a brick wall.
Whilst we have historically worked in other sectors (and continue to do so), we’ve chosen to niche Superb Digital in manufacturing because it is an area we not only love working in, but one in which we have consistently produced fantastic results.
This focus has developed into a specialism that has allowed us to leverage economies of scale, develop customised processes and build tailored solutions designed specifically for manufacturing companies like yours. You can read more about niched agencies here.
We have the tools, the team and the expertise to create and execute SEO strategies for manufacturing companies that deliver the strongest ROI in the shortest possible time. And we have a lot of case studies to prove it. We’re even happy to put you in touch with our clients to prove it.
Click this link to book a discovery call and find out more. Or if you’re more of an email kinda person, just fire an email over to firstname.lastname@example.org.