Search engine optimization (SEO) is a pretty complex topic. A Google search for “SEO strategies” alone turns up over two million page results as of May 2017. According to Search Engine Land, the SEO market was worth over $65 Billon dollars in 2016, and I can’t even venture a guess at how many hundreds of thousands of SEO consults are out there looking to steal a piece of that pie.
If SEO were simple, we wouldn’t need all this content on the topic and professionals trying to sell you their (often self-proclaimed) expertise. You’d simply follow all the steps in a neat little “do this and rank first” checklist and hit the publish button. Then you’d book a luxurious, all-inclusive Caribbean island vacation and sit on the beach drinking piña coladas while your website climbed to the top of Google, generating thousands of qualified leads every day.
But instead, what we have are hundreds, if not thousands, of other manufacturers like yours competing for those top few positions in Google for all the keywords related to your product or service offerings. So in this overcrowded, cutthroat, clutter-infested mess of an online marketplace, how can you possibly win at the industrial SEO game?
Well, although that handy “do this and rank first” checklist may not exist, we’re not completely in the dark either. In this article, I’ll focus specifically on Google and how to make industrial SEO a true business driver for your manufacturing organization.
In order to realize success, there are four things I believe you first need to understand:
- Google’s mission
- How Google makes money
- How marketers have tried (and failed) to outsmart Google over the years
- How Google chooses where to rank YOUR website
I’ve structured this article around those four points.
If you’d rather watch than read, here’s a seven-minute video we recorded that covers a good portion of the below.
Otherwise, let’s dive in.
“Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”
Pretty simple in theory, huh? Think of Google as a library – the biggest library ever conceived. Having grown up in the 80s before we even had the option to jump on AOL via dial-up connection (remember this accompanying soundtrack?), I can remember venturing into the Wauwatosa, Wisconsin Public Library with my Mom and rifling through library card catalogs to figure out where I could find The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. (Millennials, check your local antique store if “card catalogs” made you scratch your head).
In retrospect, these catalogs were a bit tedious to use, but at the same time, pretty effective. Every book you might need to find was represented by a card. And every card helped you sift through the jungle of information around you to find exactly what you were looking for.
Google’s search bar is kind of like a big, ever-growing library card catalog on steroids for all the information that exists online. And when I say steroids, I’m talking about the kind from the late 90s and early 2000s that had Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds blasting 60-70+ homers a year. According to this article by Statistic Brain, as of 2014, there were an estimated thirty trillion pages indexed by Google.
Whoa. That’s a lot of library cards.
But with Google, of course – unlike with its ancient library card catalog counterpart – I don’t have to know my exact destination. In fact, maybe I’ve never heard of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. But I do know that today I feel like reading something like…. oh, I don’t know, a…
And then voila!
664,000 options for me to choose from, with the ones that Google thinks are most relevant to me right there at the top.
Dang, Ma! How cool would that have been back at the Tosa Library in 1989?
OK – so let’s head back into our modern manufacturing world and business environment – where Design Engineers seek information to help them write specs, Procurement Managers seek vendors to put on bid lists and CEOs seek partnerships with strategic growth partners.
Here’s the thing. It’s not really any different than the Chronicles of Narnia example I just used. Your buyers turn to Google when they need to collect information, get questions answered, find solutions and so on.
So if Google’s mission is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”, we need to assure the information published online about your company is both accessible to Google and useful to your audience.
This is really what’s at the heart of industrial SEO.
How Google makes money
So as it turns out, Google didn’t set out to become the most comprehensive index of information in the history of the world out of the pure goodness of its heart.
Just as your company competes with other manufacturing organizations for the attention of prospective customers, Google competes with other search engines like Bing and Yahoo for your attention.
And if Google expects to maintain its household name in the world of online information searching – the Kleenex or Xerox of their space – they need to maintain their reputation as the absolute best tool for helping you find exactly what you’re looking for, fast and on a consistent basis. (Don’t forget – there was once a day when you “Yahoo searched” something. Yep, that’s right. Yahoo.).
Just as the reach and viewership of the big TV networks command higher prices for advertisers than those of smaller networks, Google’s overwhelming market share of online searches justifies the spends of their advertisers. In fact, advertising revenue alone earned them $79 Billion (!) in 2016.
My friends, Google is highly motivated to continue building and refining the world’s best library card catalog on Sammy Sosa-style steroids.
How marketers have tried (and failed) to outsmart Google over the years
For almost 20 years now, marketers have tried to beat Google. They’ve dug deep to learn how Google indexes content and ranks pages. And they’ve played every card to make their content more visible in search results. To their credit, the persistence demonstrated by many of these marketers has led to their share of wins over the years, even if through “black hat” practices. But most of those wins were short lived, and have eventually come back to nip them in the butts through Google-imposed penalties.
In the mid to late 2000s, marketers overstuffed their websites with keywords. The more you used your target keyword on a given page, the higher that page would rank. But keyword stuffing was just a manipulative tactic – not a signal of quality or credibility for the content on that page. So Google fixed that problem by discrediting keyword-loaded pages and penalizing the rankings of websites that continued deploying these practices.
But marketing people are resilient.
So in the late 2000s, these marketers got back on their feet, did their homework and discovered that inbound links from other websites back to their own sites were being considered by Google as votes of confidence. Naturally, “link building” was born. Marketers gamed the system by doing whatever it took to build hundreds or thousands of links from other websites to theirs. It didn’t matter if those other sites were credible sources. All that mattered was the volume of inbound links. As a result, low-quality content had the ability to rank really well with a little bit of sneaky marketing assistance.
Well, as you might guess, Google didn’t like that too much either. So the empire struck back. In February of 2011, Google rolled out it’s historic “Panda” algorithm update – designed to combat low-quality inbound links as ranking manipulators.
And so here we are in 2017 with more information online than ever before, challenging Google to weed through exorbitant amounts of garbage to give its searchers exactly what they’re looking for.
And as we know (because you and I are both Google searchers too), what we seek is high-quality, informative, helpful content that answers our questions, helps solve our problems and in the case of your industrial buyers – helps them take a step forward during the research, evaluation and purchase stages of their buying processes.
When you boil search down to its essence, what really matters is great content. And five years from now when there are 300 trillion pages on the internet instead of 30 trillion, great content will be ten times as important.
How Google chooses where to rank YOUR website
Google keeps its algorithm under tight wraps, and understandably so. If they gave away their magic ranking formula, the marketers would win – not the credible, authoritative creators of exceptional, informative content for targeted audiences. And as a result, the searchers would lose. That said, the greatest authorities on SEO (companies like Moz and Search Engine Land) have built their own businesses around understanding what makes a web page surface among all the others in the universe that may resemble it.
A recent article by Search Engine Journal examines 2017’s Four Most Important Ranking Factors, based on a study by SearchMetrics, Backlinko and SEO PowerSuite. Those four factors follow:
- Content (high quality, comprehensive and audience-relevant)
- Backlinks (a diverse and significant volume of inbound links from other authoritative websites to yours)
- Mobile-First User Experience (fast page load speed and readability of your site’s content across mobile devices)
- Other Technical Factors (see the full article if you’d like to explore further)
Under the assumption that you’re not yet an industrial SEO guru, these are four great starting places. Begin by getting inside the heads of your ideal customers. Understand the pain points and challenges of their buying committees – from their Design Engineers, Plant Managers and Procurement folks, all the way up the chain to their Presidents and CEOs.
Then build your content strategy to serve them accordingly. Write informative, comprehensive content (like this article, but for your audience) and choose smart keywords to target on those pages (but remember – don’t keyword stuff them!).
Then design a content promotion and link building strategy to get those articles published on trade journal websites in your industry, and more importantly, in the industries of your own customers. Just make sure those inbound links are coming from credible sources. Enlist a smart developer or industrial marketing agency to assure your site is mobile device-friendly and technically-sound.
Ultimately, your industrial SEO success will result from your commitment to being an exceptional resource for your audience and proactively working to expose your content to them.
And, finally, after lots of hard work, loads of patience and a bunch of mini successes and failures along the way, you’ll earn yourself the right to Google “All-inclusive Caribbean island vacations” (which, by the way, should give you about 12.7 million page results to choose from).