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E-Commerce Isn’t a ‘Set It and Forget It’ Game

E-Commerce Isn’t a ‘Set It and Forget It’ Game

By Bridget McCrea

Successfully reaching new customers online requires a Google-friendly site that breaks through the barriers set up by the world’s largest online retailers. Is your company up to the challenge?

Do a quick Google search for common electrical products like duplex receptacles or junction boxes and the first results page includes links to The Home Depot, Lowe’s, Amazon, Grainger, and maybe a few product manufacturers. Not a single independent electrical distributor can be found on that highly-coveted first page, where 91.5% of web traffic comes to a complete halt. That’s right—just 8.5% of searchers make it past Google’s first page (with 4.8% stopping at page two and 1.1% ever making it to page three). From there, each subsequent page receives 0.2% or less of total traffic, according to Value of Organic First-Page Results.

What does this mean for the electrical distributor that’s developing its own e-commerce strategy in a world where the Amazons and Lowes of the world are already dominating the web? The answer is simple:  Taking a “build it and they will come” approach to the project isn’t going to work. Regardless of how much time, money, and human resources that get funneled into an e-commerce strategy, if you’re not constantly finding new ways to drive traffic to your site, you’re fighting a losing battle.

“I’ve heard some distributors say, ‘I don’t care if I get found on the web through Google; those aren’t the customers that I’m targeting,'” says Denise Keating, president of Sycamore, Ill.-based DATAgility. “What they don’t realize is that the web is a powerful tool for reaching new customers, but if they don’t use the right combination of content and search engine optimization (SEO), these companies are missing out on a big chunk of business.” It’s also about having their customers know that their distributorship has that product and supporting information—not their competitors.

The situation becomes even more complex when electrical distributors take the time to develop e-commerce sites where their customers can shop online 24/7/365, check ship dates on their orders, check inventory, and do everything else that today’s highly “mobile” consumer wants to be able to do online. These sites take time and effort to develop, but to create true return on investment (ROI), distributors must have the right support strategies in place to drive traffic to their online stores.

Keating points to the fact that 71% of B2B buyers start their research with a generic search as yet another reason for distributors to pay close attention to how they positions themselves and their e-commerce sites online. This means buyers are looking for a product or for a problem to solve, says Keating, and not for specific manufacturers or distributors.

“The number of potential customers that open Google and do a search instead of going to a specific distributor’s website—or even a manufacturer’s website—is high,” says Keating. “In order to broaden your customer base and reach these new prospects, your site has to show up on one of those first few web pages or the searcher won’t know that you exist.” 

Using Guerilla Tactics
According to Forrester, the number of consumers browsing and buying online is expected to hit 270 million by 2020, driven largely by activity on mobile devices.  Online sales in the U.S. alone are expected to reach $523 billion in the next five years, up 56% from $335 billion in 2015, and mobile devices are expected to be a key driver in that growth, according to Internet Retailer’s Online sales will reach $523 billion by 2020 in the U.S.

With online sales growing at an average annual rate of 9.32% over the next five years, Forrester projects an additional 26 million shoppers will be both browsing and buying online by the end of this decade, reaching 270 million, as bigger smartphones and faster wireless networks make it easier for consumers to use the Internet to shop on their phones.  

For electrical distributors, these numbers seem to say that flying under the radar online isn’t an option anymore. And while these companies may have historically made their bread and butter by establishing and maintaining long-term relationships with key customers in the offline world, more and more of those buyers are starting their product and service searches on the web. With companies like Amazon Business making their way into the electrical distribution game—and taking up valuable real estate on Google’s first page—it’s time for distributors to start using some guerilla marketing tactics online.

“If you want your existing customers to find you online, you can basically point them in the direction of your site and give them some incentive to come and visit,” says Keating. “However, if you want to attract new customers and those potential buyers who don’t know what they want, who want solve a problem, and/or who need an answer to a question, you have to put the right keyword, content, and SEO strategies in place.”

That means that the distributor whose site provides clear answers to questions like, “How do I repair this piece of equipment?” or “How do I install this particular product?” will garner more attention not only from search platforms like Google, but also from individual customers.  “Distributors are so focused on getting their e-commerce platforms launched that they don’t think about tying their data content back to SEO,” says Keating. “They put this off until later, but that can be a big mistake if you actually want to be found online.”
Creating a Google-Friendly Site
Distributors that want to buck the trend and get their sites onto the page where 91.5% of searchers stop, click one or two links, and then make a purchase selection, should start by familiarizing themselves with how Google actually works. The Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide-Google, offers tips on how to create title tags, come up with unique titles for each page of your site, and utilize descriptive metatags. Google also offers some basic primers on how to optimize a site for best results, including Do you need an SEO?and Steps to a Google-friendly site.

“SEO is a key part of your digital strategy and it needs to be integrated with robust structured content,” says Keating. “It’s a way for customers to find your products based on the way they are searching for them.” The latter is particularly relevant for the new breed of millennial customers, most of whom won’t know part numbers off the top of their heads. Instead, they’ll do a quick Google search on a product name, brand name, or product description to find what they’re looking for. When that happens, the majority of them will be whisked off to Grainger or Amazon.

To begin reversing that tide, Keating says smaller sellers should put time and effort into developing a data content strategy that delivers the kind of relevant, useful information (i.e., product features and benefits) that ensures both product and brand differentiation. Other industries, for example, use 360-degree imaging that allows customers to view the back of a product as well as multiple images that can change product color and finishes.

Electrical distributors can borrow a page from these retailers by offering a similar experience, and by adding elements like product blogs, installation manuals, energy-efficiency calculators, and project management estimating tools to their sites. “These various pieces of content support the pre- and post-sale experience,” says Keating, “while also helping distributors create robust, content-rich e-commerce sites.”

To promote their valued-added services in the online world, Keating says distributors should focus on customer engagement (or, “stickiness”). Do this by becoming the go-to resource for all product-related data, including installation, maintenance, and troubleshooting. “Customer engagement can come in the form of Q&A, forums, product reviews, blogs, and interactive tools,” she says. “Also, consider making product recommendations by including accessories, cross-sells, and upsells associated with the products that you’re selling.”

Ready, Set, Go!
If your company has already invested in an e-commerce solution, it’s time to start driving more traffic and creating an enriched customer experience to drive sales and brand loyalty.

“Remember that a digital strategy isn’t about the application of available technologies or about applying new marketing methods; it’s about transforming your business to deliver value more to your customers and creating a competitive advantage,” Keating concludes. “This will require blending business strategy and objectives, customer desires, and leveraging the right technologies with new approaches and techniques.”

McCrea is a Florida-based writer who covers business, industrial, and educational topics for a variety of magazines and journals. You can reach her at bridgetmc@earthlink.net or visit her website at www.expertghostwriter.net.



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