In this article series, we’re looking at how electrical distributors’ e-commerce websites stack up by comparing them to non-industry sites in areas like HVAC, plumbing, floor covering, and plastics distribution—all in the name of helping NAED members create more effective, customer-centric e-commerce sites for the year ahead.
In this article, we look specifically at search engine optimization (SEO), and how well distributors are doing in their attempts to get to the top of the first page of a customer’s Google search for products or services.
Getting onto Google’s First Page
The practice of increasing the quantity and quality of traffic to a website through organic search engine results—unlike pay-for-play strategies like Google Adwords—search engine optimization (SEO) is used by Google, Bing, Yahoo, and other sites to rank what is considered to be most relevant for users. For website owners, SEO serves as a set of rules that can be followed to optimize a website for search engines, thus improving that specific site’s search engine rankings.
As business-to-business (B2B) e-commerce grows, the need for effective SEO has become that much more important. After all, there are just 12 ranked sites on the first page of any Google Search, and the average web user doesn’t even go past the first five listings on a search engine results page (SERP). “Things start to get grim when you look past those first few results,” Madeline Jacobson writes in How Far Down the Search Engine Results Page Will Most People Go? “Research shows that websites on the first search engine results page receive almost 95% of web traffic, leaving only 5% for remaining search results pages.”
The good news is that by building backlinks (an incoming hyperlink from one web page to another website), creating and posting videos and other content that keeps customers engaged, writing blog posts and “how to” articles, and making myriad other tweaks to their sites, electrical distributors can better position their e-commerce sites on search engines.
The bad news is that most aren’t doing it. “You really can tell when a company has invested in its digital properties and in SEO strategies,” says Justin King, co-founder of the DigitalBranch, and Senior Partner at B2X Partners. After reviewing one NAED member’s site, for example, King says he knew it was built using a low-end turnkey web platform.
“The site design doesn’t consider the customer experience,” says King. “It was hard to find products on the site, and once I did, the product data was severely limited.” These oversights directly impact a company’s ability to get onto Google’s first page—or, better yet, into that highly-coveted “top 5” ranking on the first page. King says distributors that want to do a better job in this area should focus on three different types of content: general content (i.e., about us sections and contact pages), catalog content (product data and photos), and engaging content that actually answers customers’ questions. The first content category is straightforward, but the other two take a bit of effort to get it right.
Beyond Catalogs and Contact Pages
Comparing electrical distribution to the industrial and office product segments, for example, King says the latter are both “ahead of where NAED companies are right now.” That’s because the industrial and office product sectors have put time and effort into building catalog content that allows customers to actually find the products that they’re looking for in a quick and efficient manner online. “At the end of the day, a distributor sells products,” says King. “The reason their customers come to these providers is because the distributors have a lot of the widgets and products to meet most of their needs that they require for that day.”
Going a step further, King says good SEO is also built on content that goes beyond catalogs and data, and that answers questions like “What is the best solution to the problem I’m having with X?” or “How can I fix or install X?” The content can be in the form of a short article, a tutorial, an infographic, or some other engaging material that helps to build trust with current and potential customers online.
To improve their SEO rankings, distributors have to hit all three content angles, says King, because each has its own SEO and data ramifications. “A lot of NAED members have successfully put what we call ‘base content’ on their e-commerce sites, but that content isn’t engaging or easy to navigate and find,” says King. In many cases, that means publishing some basic information about the products, the manufacturers’ part numbers, the retail prices, and some technical specifications—all in hopes that customers will find it.
Where to Start?
To get beyond the “build it and they will come” mentality, King says electrical distributors should start with optimizing onsite search, and then make sure the backend search capabilities are in place for customers to be able to find what they’re looking for within one click.
“A typical distributor sells tens or even thousands of products, but people can’t find what they’re looking for if you don’t give them a search box,” says King, “and the ability to find what they need within a single click.” Calling that search box “the most valuable piece of real estate for distributors,” King says that after interviewing about 2,000 electricians and institutional buyers, B2X Partners learned that most of those buyers don’t know all of the products their distributors provide.
“Your customers don’t understand, don’t know, and/or have forgotten what you sell even though you may have told them last week,” King says. “So, they go to Google, they see the link to your site, know that they already have a relationship and contract with you, and click on it because they know that you’re a trusted, reliable source.” For this reason, King says SEO is just as vital to the B2B segment as it is to B2C. “The average B2B researcher does 12 searches before doing a branded search on a specific website, versus four for B2C,” he says. “That’s why SEO is just as important for existing customers as it is for customer acquisition.”
For their SEO to be most effective, distributors should incorporate both how-to/thought leadership content and product/SKU content. The latter should include rich product data; good taxonomy; and good category and subcategory structures. “Quite honestly, SEO is really nothing more than what Google values as a good customer experience,” says King. “Start with focusing on an experience that is highly relevant, engaging and provides your customers with the information they need and you’re on a path to driving good Google results.”
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