Setting SEO KPIs for small manufacturing websites

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For many people outside of marketing, Google Analytics can quickly become overwhelming. This is particularly true for the owners of small manufacturing firms. Without the time and resources to properly understand and use the vast amount of data in Analytics, many small manufacturers simply look at top-line traffic as evidence their website is “working.”

The reality, however, is more nuanced. It’s not so much that small manufacturers don’t understand how to analyze the data available, but that they often don’t know what to measure — especially if they’re not involved in selling parts or services online.

With an e-commerce website, it’s fairly easy to see if the marketing program is working or not: you simply look at daily or weekly sales.

For manufacturers, with their small, information-only websites, “pageviews” and other similar data points mean nothing when the end-all-be-all metric they care about is inquiries.

To help solve this problem, my company has worked over the last year to develop meaningful KPIs (key performance indicators) for our small manufacturing clients. While SEO is usually the primary focus of an online marketing strategy, we also work to integrate other tactics (whether it’s an e-newsletter, a print ad campaign or a trade show), and then show how these tactics result in inquiries over time.

What follows is the process we use to set up and measure the KPIs for an SEO marketing program — but any small business can use this process for any marketing tactic or channel.

Step #1: Determine what will be measured (KPIs)

A well-thought-out SEO program can meet several marketing objectives — including increasing awareness of the company and educating buyers — which help drive inquiries. Here are some of the things a small manufacturer can measure as part of the SEO marketing program.

Request for quotation (RFQ) form completions. This is one of the easiest KPIs to measure because you can export the form data from a CMS such as WordPress and then analyze it. Even better, you can get richer data by tracking the KPI in Google Analytics. To do this, create a thank-you page that people will see once they click the “submit” button on the form. You can use this page as your Analytics Goal (Figure 1).

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Figure 1: RFQ thank-you page Goal

Setting up a simple Goal like this gives you a great deal of other information in Analytics, such as which marketing channels assist or result in Goal completions (Figure 2) or how many sessions it takes for people to get to conversion.

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Figure 2: Multi-Channels Funnel report showing Last Click or Direct Conversions

Inquiry calls and emails. RFQ forms are good, but for two of our clients, the majority of inquiries come in by email, and some by phone. This is why it’s critically important that owners of small firms train customer service and sales people to record all inquiries.

To track inquiries, we recommend using a simple Google spreadsheet. Why? Because it’s easy to set up and use, and because if the company doesn’t have a CRM (some smaller firms don’t), it’s the best way for more than one person to view and track information.

Without an inquiry spreadsheet, we and the client lack specifics on how inquiries are coming in. One client, for example, received 21 inquiries for the period August–October: 15 of these came in through email and phone; the remaining six came in through the RFQ form.

Seeing data like this helps clients better understand their sales process, and it helps us ensure the website provides a smooth and intuitive user experience with regard to how prospective buyers contact the company.

Closed sales by channel. In order to determine if SEO is driving the right kind of inquiries, it helps if the manufacturer, when tracking inquiries, also tracks the source of the inquiry — something you don’t always know if the prospect emails or calls the company directly.

For smaller companies, “closing the loop on sales” is relatively easy. The person handling inside sales can simply ask, “How did you hear about us?” and then note this on the inquiry spreadsheet.

Traffic data. While traffic is important in determining if an SEO program is working, it’s also important that clients better understand what’s behind this data. This because it’s possible to have high traffic, but not the right kind of traffic (e.g., spam, people looking for something not related to the business). Some of the things we like to track and measure are:

  • Filtered data — For all clients, we create filtered views of the website property while also making sure bot filtering is turned on to weed out referral spam (which used to be a huge problem for smaller websites, as it really skewed the data).
  • Landing pages — Are people finding the content we’re creating and optimizing?
  • Conversions by channel — Which channels, search, direct, referrals, email drive conversions (Figure 3)?
  • Referrals — If we’ve been working on a PR campaign or creating inbound links, is this work paying off?
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Figure 3: Goal Completions by Channel

Step #2: Set a baseline and targets

A baseline is the starting point for what you’ll be measuring. Targets are the goals you want to achieve: a 20 percent increase in website sessions, inquiries and so forth.

To set the baseline for SEO KPIs, you can use data from the previous three, six or 12 months (depending on how much data you have).

What if you don’t have any data? That’s fine — it simply means you’re starting from scratch — which was the case for one of our clients. In this situation, we determined the company’s KPIs, set up Goals in Google Analytics, and then let things run for three months. We then used this data as the baseline for the next quarter targets.

Step#3: Determine how you will measure and when

Tracking the ROI of an SEO program generally involves Google Search Console and Google Analytics. For smaller manufacturers or businesses, looking at Analytics every day is like looking at the stock market — and then reacting to every hiccup.

Instead, pick a specific period of time you’ll analyze, such as monthly, every other month or quarterly, and then measure and analyze your results. You can create a simple KPI chart, and then fill in the boxes (or do whatever works for you).

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As an aside, we like to look at Search Console at least a couple of times a month just to be sure site health is good and that the site hasn’t seen any warnings or other obvious issues.

Step #4: Create the marketing strategy

To properly measure an SEO program, it pays to develop a strategic marketing plan that ties into the company’s business objectives. The written strategy should include:

  • target audience;
  • industry overview;
  • competitive analysis;
  • outline of the sales process, sales cycle and sales challenges;
  • marketing tactics in play or the ones you want to add;
  • KPIs, how you’ll measure them and your goals for the next 12 months and so on; and
  • marketing calendar.

Having a written strategy gives a small business two main benefits: 1) You have a marketing roadmap of what tactics will be implemented and when; and 2) when a new opportunity presents itself (or when something comes along that sounds too good to be true), you can refer back to the plan to see if the opportunity fits with the strategic direction.

By having the strategic plan in place, it’s very easy to ignore unimportant opportunities (to quote the late Steve Jobs).

Step #5: Work on one thing at a time

Just as you focus on one productivity or process improvement in your manufacturing plant, focus on improving one KPI at a time. For example, it can take some experimentation to find the right keywords or the type of content that draws in website visitors — the kind that convert and become inquiries. Once you have one thing figured out and working smoothly, then tackle the next one.

In conclusion

Before embarking on any type of SEO or marketing initiative, small manufacturers should first decide which KPIs will be measured and how they’ll be measured. Create a KPI chart or other recording mechanism, and then consistently track and measure results that mean something to you and your business.

By having KPIs in place, you give your marketing direction and focus — and you give yourself the ability to make decisions based on data rather than hunches, guesses or industry hype.

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