The PPC challenge of selling manufacturing capability vs. stock products

While running a successful advertising campaign can be complex at the best of times, it presents a special challenge to small industrial manufacturers.

It’s one thing to advertise a widely understood product, such as a running shoe or blender, to a large consumer market. It’s another thing entirely to sell a manufacturing capability that’s only really understood by those in the industry — especially when products look and function differently based on the specifications of the buyer.

This challenge is particularly pronounced in the world of search engine marketing, where industrial manufacturers must adapt to an ad platform (e.g., AdWords) that seems more geared to retailers.

My company, Huff Industrial Marketing, faced this challenge with a manufacturing client. I’m pleased to report that through carefully and patiently running a variety of experiments, based on different approaches and ideas, we’re now seeing good results.

In this column, I’ll share how we did it.

A manufacturer of specialized machine parts

The client is in the business of making specialized machine parts used in a variety of manufacturing processes. Because each part is custom in size, type, material and so forth, what this client is really offering is the capability of making these specialized products. In other words, they don’t make “stock” products sold off the shelf.

This immediately created a conundrum with the PPC advertising campaign — namely, how in the heck do you advertise a manufacturing capability to buyers in dozens of industries?

Eventually, we came up with a solution that encompassed three critical PPC elements: keywords, messaging and landing pages.

Element #1: Keywords

Almost immediately, we knew that keywords were going to be a problem. One challenge is that terminology used in manufacturing is often specialized and used as “jargon” inside a company or industry niche — but may not be fully understood or used by buyers across the myriad industries or markets that exist.

Consequently, searches on these terms often return irrelevant results.

For example, when I conducted a search on a specialized type of manufacturing wheel, it returned results for car wheel rims and bike wheels — which wasn’t at all what I wanted (Figure 1).


Figure 1: Google keyword search result

Unfortunately, this didn’t seem to be something that Google’s machine learning could correct.

So, what to do? When we went too broad with our keywords, the ads ended up displaying with irrelevant search results. (Of course, we worked to mitigate this with negative keywords.) If we went too narrow, then search volumes were too low.

Eventually, what saved us was monitoring search queries for both organic search and PPC. Based on the data, we realized we had to stop thinking in terms of “capabilities” and start thinking in terms of “end products” — even when those end products weren’t standard.

Then, we marketed each end “product” individually through separate campaigns and ad groups.

As an aside, the client, too, was surprised at the terms buyers were using to source specific types of products. It’s been a real eye-opener for everyone on the team and has led to the client looking at new ways of marketing custom items they’ve been manufacturing for years.

Element #2: Ad messaging

We also took a closer look at our ad messaging — in particular, the calls to action.

If you’ve looked at PPC ads generated by industrial manufacturers, you’ll know it’s not unusual for these ads to include calls to action like “Free RFQ” or “Get a free quote!” in the ad body or sitelinks.


Figure 2: RFQ in ads

Initially, we followed the lead of other manufacturers and included similar calls to action in the ads. We realized very quickly they weren’t converting. When we thought about it more deeply, we realized that this kind of messaging didn’t make sense.

Why? Because at this point in the sales process, the client’s potential customers weren’t ready to embark on a lengthy quote process. They simply wanted an answer to the question, “Can you make this thing?”

It was a classic case of: “Don’t ask your prospects to marry you on the first date!”

In other words, prospects needed to talk to someone. So, we revised the ad copy — and landing pages — accordingly.

Element #3: Landing pages

Once we identified the issue with the call to action, we knew we needed to revise the landing pages. Instead of a call to action to fill out the RFQ form, we replaced it with a much shorter form that allowed potential customers to ask their “can you make this?” question (Figure 3):


Figure 3: Landing page form

At the same time, we reworked the landing page to remove any unnecessary navigation and competing calls to action.

This task was made significantly less onerous with the help of our web developer, who was able to reconfigure the client’s code and add simple “click to remove” options. This allowed us to remove the main nav, footers and so on by simply checking a box.

With this capability, we didn’t have to rely on a third-party landing page service, which saved the client money and also kept the landing pages on the client’s domain.

To top things off, the development team added the script for Google’s phone call conversion tracking, where Google dynamically changes the phone number on the landing page, allowing for tracking of desktop calls.

Result: Relevant traffic and good conversions

With these changes in place, we were quite pleased to see four “in-the-ballpark” form inquiries and four phone calls in the first five business days. Inquiries have continued to stream in at a good pace.

In conclusion…

What can industrial manufacturers take away from this experience? Three things:

  1. Focus on your business and sales process versus what other manufacturers are doing. It’s very easy to fall into the trap of “everyone else is doing it so it must be working.” Nope! Study your data and then experiment with different approaches until you see the results you want.
  2. Rethink what you’re selling. For many small industrial manufacturers, what is being sold is a capability — often to create highly specialized parts that go into bigger systems. Monitor organic and PPC search queries to see what terms potential buyers are using to find you — and let those queries be your keyword guide.
  3. Don’t give up! It’s very easy to become frustrated with AdWords (believe me!) when you’re spending money and seeing little, if any, return. Continually read the AdWords help files to understand how things work, find a good developer who can help you with tricky things like coding and tagging, and experiment. With patience, you will find a combination that works for you.

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