How have manufacturers been affected by changes in internet technology and what will future trends in this area mean to the industry? Greg Poulson of web developers and SEO specialists Freetimers talks through the issues.
The internet offers manufacturers a superb opportunity to acquire, convert and retain customers, whilst offering excellent customer service. However, the industry has not always maximised that potential.
When I first started designing sites in 1997, manufacturers often told me that they either didn’t need a website, or only needed a simple online brochure because they ‘already knew’ their customers. Few used their sites to add value for their customers.
However, over the last five years, an increasing number of manufacturers have realised the necessity of integrating internet technology with business processes. In my view, this is where much competition for customers will be fought over the next ten years.
Ultimately, the aim is not just to sell, manufacture and ship a product, but to do it better, faster and cheaper than the competition. We advise our clients that the needs of their business should drive the website design, programming and marketing – not the other way round.
Give the customer what they want
Broadband has brought much increased speed and functionality, changing the purpose of manufacturing websites which must actively drive business. To do this, a site needs to be found and be fit for purpose. When potential customers seek out or come across a website, they are often looking for product information. With increased speeds and capability, facilities such as magnification on hover, online catalogues and 360° views are now relatively simple to include, and are more likely to give the customer what they want. Adding online ordering and stock management facilities streamlines operations and logistics for both parties
A crowded marketplace
When we built our first ecommerce site in 1998, there were only 400 competing sites worldwide; that figure is now several million, which is one of the reasons why SEO is so important. For example, a high Google ranking is not only important to being found – it also carries weight with potential customers who are more likely to take you seriously as a supplier. Some manufacturers have told me that they didn’t need SEO, because people would just type in their name. However, potential customers most often search by product or need, and so a strong search engine presence is vital.
An ongoing commitment
Having a high ranking on Google is achievable if you know what you are doing and where the website owner is prepared to commit to make it happen. Too many web companies build sites and then move onto the next project. Clients are often complicit because they view their website as a design job; a brochure with pretty pictures and a nice design. My experience over the past 15 years has proven that a website can and should be much more than this. It needs ongoing engagement from both the owner and developer. As the ‘shop front’, the chief point of contact and interface between the site owner and customers, the initial website is just the beginning. The real work comes after, both in terms of SEO and in improving value, including integrating and automating business processes. In fact, in 2012, we spend more time and money helping clients to automate and improve business processes than we do on design – with the result that some clients have achieved website visitor growth in excess of 7000% in only a few years.
Look to the future
Technology is constantly evolving so it’s important to predict future trends and innovations in advance. For example, the popularity of smartphones means that websites will increasingly need to become mobile friendly, an area yet to be explored by most website owners.
We are powerless to influence many factors that currently have a negative impact on manufacturing. However, having a strong internet presence which feeds into your business is something that you can control. Manufacturers need to ensure that they stay abreast of technology, taking account of its impact on their customers’ needs, demands and behaviour. It is only by anticipating and responding to these changes that companies will survive and thrive in a competitive global market place.