As online destinations become increasingly popular for engineering, technical, manufacturing, and industrial professionals to research work-related purchases, industrial suppliers and service providers are asking themselves tough questions in order to create an exceptional user experience and drive contacts and inquiries.

Tim Carroll, GlobalSpec’s Vice President of Website Management and User Marketing, tackles some of the pressing issues industrial marketers are facing with their websites.

1. Is it a good practice to require visitors to our website to register before accessing or viewing product information?
Generally I don’t recommend requiring registration on a site intended to provide information about just your company’s product or service offerings. Placing a registration form is an obstacle for a visitor who is in search of information that may lead to a buying decision. It comes with the risk that the visitor will retreat for alternative sources that do not require the time needed to enter contact and personal information just to access specs, application information, videos, and other information important to the buying decision. If capturing a visitor’s contact information is a strategy for growing your marketing or cold-calling list, our recommendation is to limit registrations to technical white papers, additional research, archived presentations such as Webinars, and other productivity tools. A “Request for Quotation” (RFQ) form and e-newsletter sign-ups are other smethods to capture a visitor’s contact information.

2. Our customers sometime complain that information about our products is difficult to locate. What are some best practices we should consider for making our product information easy to find?
Users will try one of two ways to locate information about your company, products, or services: search or browse. Search is dependent on rich content in order to find pages that are pertinent. Make sure pages that offer information about your products and services are rich with relevant keywords such as specs and text-based descriptions. Be sure your product pages use words and expressions that are consistent with the terminology commonly used by your target audience. Avoid internal jargon and code names that only those in your company will understand. Browsing is a bit different in that it is not based on what’s seen on a page, but instead is based on where links or navigation buttons are programmed to go. But the same logic applies. Be sure to use link names and buttons that are consistent with the terminology used by your target audience. Links and navigation buttons should use clear and commonly-used words and expressions to describe where it will take your visitor on your site.

3. What type of product information is typically most important to offer technical specifiers?
The most important product information to offer professionals who are sourcing industrial or technical products or services is specifications. Product specs should be presented with, at the very least, an optional view for a tabular format. This format helps users easily scan large amounts of detailed specs rather than read through paragraphs of text. It also makes comparing specs across similar products much simpler. However, providing summary descriptions on the product page is also helpful for the visitor to learn about a product, especially when researching a company or service offering for the first time. It’s also important when listing specs to include images and drawings (when applicable) of the products or services you’re describing. These are key pieces of information that your visitors will need as part of the evaluation process. Other types of information that your customers and prospects would appreciate are performance-related graphs and charts, application suggestions, cross-reference charts, video demos, CAD files, and, when applicable, pricing and availability.

4. We manufacture mechanical components used in power transmission. Our customers often ask us to list our product unit pricing on our website. But our policy is to avoid pricing on our website out of concern that our competitors will use this information to outbid us on RFQs. How do other manufacturers in other industries deal with this dilemma?
This has long been a dilemma for many in the industrial and technical sectors. The answer might rest more on your products or services than any other factor. Suppliers in some product/service segments freely list their pricing, while others wouldn’t think of it for fear that they’ll miss the opportunity to negotiate their way into a sale. The best advice we can give for those who are feeling pressure from their customers and prospects to list pricing is to highlight that this is only the list price and that volume discounts or a negotiated price may be available. Of course, this approach may not be right for all companies, but we generally err on the side of giving users more information for their buying decisions.

5. GlobalSpec does quite a bit of research within the buying community; can you share some findings from your research that might offer some common behaviors or preferences of this audience that might help us design a better site?
The behavior of the buyers and specifiers in the industrial and technical sector who visit your website vary from company to company. However, there are some common behavioral traits we observe when conducting research. Visitors generally like to look through information from a high level first and then work their way to a lower, more detailed level. This allows them to see all of their options, which gives them a sense that they’re not missing a better solution. Visitors also tend to heavily prefer and utilize visual cues when searching for information. High-quality images of products or processes, text highlighting (using bold for important text, larger font for section headers, etc.), and page graphics are generally much preferred over pages that are comprised of heavy blocks of text. These visual cues will go a long way when steering a user down your intended path toward the content that’s of value and making that content more engaging.

6. There are many in our company who feel that making CAD files available to the public on our website is a dangerous practice due to the proprietary nature of the information. However, clients are telling us they expect that of our site, and many of our competitors are moving in that direction. Is the ability to view or download drawings or models a necessary feature?
This one is similar to the previous question on pricing. We understand that not all companies want their CAD files accessible by just anyone. But we must recognize that in the digital information age making more information available is necessary to stay competitive. In other words, by withholding information, you run the risk of customers and prospects leaving your site for a competitor and finding a product with an acceptable fit, all because they had instant access to the drawings/models on your competitor’s site. Again, the trend is to arm the buyer with as much information as necessary in order to make a buying decision. In most industrial and technology segments, making your CAD files accessible through your website is a good strategy. If making full CAD files available is not an option, consider making available models that include only sufficient envelope dimensions and tolerances of your products, but do not include every detail and feature offered in a CAD file. In most cases this higher level of detail will provide specifiers the information they need to evaluate design fit but won’t present a threat of compromising proprietary information.

Tim Carroll is the Vice President of Website Management and User Marketing at GlobalSpec. He has more than 20 years of professional experience in marketing management, product and brand management, product development, and strategic business planning. Tim’s career has spanned across many industries including consumer goods, business services, online media, and B-to-B information services. During his tenure at GlobalSpec, Tim has led product development teams responsible for three major site redesign projects, development of several Web-based and e-mail-based content delivery products, and execution of hundreds of market research studies across methodologies, including website usability testing, qualitative interviews and focus groups, quantitative surveys, and live site A/B conversion optimization testing.

One comment

  1. Great article and advice!
    I would add to point #2 that making a link to your site map is quite important, as many prefer it to navigate. And make the site map with a simple hierarchy so the visitor can quickly find the page of interest.
    Regarding point #4, we don’t list pricing on most of our products as they can be configured in a myriad of ways. Many times, the customer initially selects a product that won’t sufficiently fill their needs. By listening to their requirements, we are able to direct them to the best fit for their application. On products that have no configurability, we list prices.

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