The goal of this blog post is to both demystify how SEO works, and in the process, give you the overall strategic approach you need to either guide your internal team or outsource to the right company. Read on to learn about:
Part 1: Proof that SEO can generate sales for manufacturers
Part 2: How SEO works
Part 3: Why you shouldn’t be overly concerned about technical SEO
Part 4: 3 types of SEO content that will lead to sales
As we present all of this, we’re going to also tap into insights from top SEO experts. So let’s go!
BONUS CONTENT: If you’d like a brief overview of what’s in this post, check out the video:
Part 1: Proof that SEO can generate sales for manufacturers
We’d like to present a body of evidence showing that manufacturing can generate sales through SEO.
Exhibit A: There are a gazillion (yes, a gazillion) studies showing that SEO can help generate leads. For example, in their 2020 report on top sources of B2B sales and marketing leads, Sagefrog.com revealed that SEO was the 4th top source of B2B sales and marketing leads.
Beyond studies like that, however, what’s a simple way to tell if SEO really delivers? The amount of money people will pay to get a click.
Exhibit B: Let’s type in the term “machine vision camera.” Using a tool called Keywords Everywhere, we can get an approximation of how much advertisers are willing to advertise to get a click from searchers for this term:
If someone is paying money to get a click, then you know it works. And obviously, this is a proven formula, because this approach is how Google got to be one of the biggest companies on the planet.
The difference between paid and organic search results
Just a point of clarity here: The purpose of this post is to share strategies on how to rank for “organic searches.” That means appearing at the top of the results that aren’t ads.
The cost per click we showed above is how much people are willing to pay to show up in paid ads.
Using our “machine vision camera” search term as an example, we can see the results that show up first are ads.
This is an example of paid ads:
Scroll further down the page, and you’ll see “organic results.” These are “free” — you don’t see the little ‘Ad’ label attached to them. Google ranks these results highest based on criteria we’ll get to in a little bit.
This is an example of organic search results:
Organic rankings tend to be more valued by searchers because they’re technically not ads.
Because this result is in the top organic position, we’re likely to click on it and trust Google’s recommendation that this is a trustworthy website that’s valued by other searchers.
A few things to keep in mind:
Paid ads appear before organic search results. However, you’ll see paid ads on the side and the bottom of the page too.
The top 3 organic search results get the majority of the clicks. This study from Sistrix shows that most people click on the top 3 results.
Google and other search engines can serve up different types of results. You might see a video instead of lines of text; or “People also asked” questions (featured above); or photos of actual products. It all depends on the search intent, which we’ll get to in a bit.
Ok, now that we’re clear on organic search, let’s look at how you get those top rankings.
Part 2: How SEO works
We’re now going to share some simple basics that will help you understand how SEO works.
The reasons why people search
To understand how SEO works, you have to start with the two main reasons people are using search engine browsers like Google or Bing:
- They are searching for information.
- They are searching to make a transaction.
- They are searching for a specific thing (company, restaurant, location).
Blog pages typically satisfy those informational searches, and they provide information and research. The tone is helpful, not sales-focused.
Product and Services pages are transactional in nature. They are designed for people who want to buy a product or sign up for a service, like our “Machine Vision Camera” example above.
The factors that influence what shows up in the search engine results
There are many factors that can influence ranking, but SEO, especially for smaller manufacturing sites, will be primarily impacted by the following factors:
1. Keywords indicate relevance to search engines
Both transactional and informational pages will have keywords. When Google reviews your pages, these keywords indicate what your page is about. This indicates Relevance to a particular subject on Google.
You should use keywords in a natural style, including “semantic” keywords, or other keywords related to the one you’re trying to rank for. There are some technical points here, which we’ll dive into in a bit, but essentially when you construct the page, you’ll build it to be relevant.
2. Backlinks to your webpage demonstrate your site has authority
Relevance alone is not enough for Google to determine which website page should be ranked highest. For that, it needs some sort of signal that your website is a reputable source for information. This occurs when other websites link to your page.
For example, let’s say you publish an article on how to improve efficiency on the manufacturing floor. You’ve conducted research on the topic, and you have data that proves your point.
You publish the article, and notify other publishers via social media and direct contact about your findings. Eventually these other collaborators will mention your content in their own writings, and link to it on their websites because now you’re a source.
You’ve just received what is called a “backlink” to your site. Backlinks, or inbound links, indicate Authority — i.e., your site is an authoritative and trusted source.
Content producers tend to produce informational articles, and they’re far more likely to link to other informational articles as a source. But they’re far less likely to link to your Product pages. (And why should they?) That’s why informational pages are so valuable for SEO.
3. Search intent, which indicates what the searcher is looking for, is becoming more and more important
Ok, we’ve talked about Keywords and Backlinks. But what Google emphasizes in its ranking continues to evolve. As Search Engine Journal points out:
What we do know is that Google will continue adjusting ranking signals to best meet the needs of searchers.
And with everyone chasing easy factors to grasp (keywords and links), another factor has become increasingly more important: search intent.
What is search intent and why does it matter?
Search intent is the reason why someone is searching for a particular keyword or keyphrase.
That reason can be incredibly nuanced. Because Google’s algorithm is always adjusting based on data, it will analyze billions of searches to determine the intent behind the phrase. Google will then rank the content highest that has the greatest appeal to searchers.
As Tom Gerencer explains here, Google is like a giant voting booth, and you have to “empathize with the searcher.”
We use the strategies Tom discusses in his book Think Like Google to look at the top ranking pages and figure out what are the content elements that searchers are looking for. Then we can deliver content that really meets the needs of the customers.
“Buying” search example:
Let’s look at how this plays out with our “machine vision camera” term. The results indicate a transactional search — someone wants to buy the equipment. That’s why the cost-per-click is higher and there are more ads on the page.
Informational search example:
Now let’s say you want to do some more research on machine vision compared to computer vision. So you input “machine vision vs computer vision.” Now you see 140 searches per month, but a much lower cost per click, and no ads.
The search intent here is informational — the searchers are doing research, not buying.
However, they may be considering a purchase later in the buying cycle. Or, if you have great data, your informational content could be linked to by other authors writing on the subject, netting you invaluable backlinks.
This is why you must understand the search intent. If your content doesn’t match the type of intent, you’ll never rank for the term.
In fact, if you really do your research and understand what the customer is searching for AND offer up content that is superior to what’s currently ranking (find out what’s missing), you can beat the competition.
Part 3: Why manufacturers shouldn’t be overly concerned about technical SEO
SEO has always fallen into the realm of technical website developers.
In the early days of the Internet, search engines weren’t that sophisticated, and you only needed a well-placed keyword here or a few extra backlinks there to rank high.
As competition increased, search engines started to factor in things beyond keywords, and started to include other technical elements, like page loading times and on-page schema.
But those technical aspects aren’t as important as the factors we listed above, especially when it comes to less competitive keyword terms. Our friend Andy Crestodina of Orbit Media explains.
As Andy notes, your website development team should focus on items that impact the user experience. For example:
Page load time: If it takes forever for your website to load, people will click away. Do fractions of a second matter? No. But if the thing takes forever, then visitors won’t wait.
Mobile-friendly: Does your site look good on multiple devices, like a smartphone or a tablet? It better or the user will click away.
Other types of granular adjustments matter when you’re talking about big websites in highly competitive spaces.
And Andy also brings up a very important point: If you’re going up against websites which have much higher authority (which we discussed above in regard to links), you likely won’t beat them in the rankings.
On-page optimization: The not-so-technical SEO elements content creators must know
Now that you’ve matched the sales funnel content to the search intent, it’s time to dress your content for success.
Let’s now talk about “on-page optimization,” or optimizing your page for search engines. Think of these as additional signals on your website pages that you can give to both search engines and searchers that your content is the best on the Internet.
Title tags and meta descriptions: What appears on search engine results pages
Title tags and meta descriptions are what shows up when you do a search on Google. They show in the Search Engine Results Page. We’ve shown you SERPs earlier in the post. Here’s another example:
These elements don’t actually show up on the web page itself. They’re elements inserted into the html code on the back end, or through plugins like SEO Yoast, that have a convenient interface for when you upload your content.
People tend to overlook these elements, but they’re actually mission-critical. They are basically like an envelope you get in the mail. If what you see on the envelope is intriguing, you’ll open it to read more.
This is where Tom Gerencer’s voting booth analogy from above comes into play. The pages people click through to read get ranked higher by Google, which is why it’s crucial that your content is enticing enough to get a reader to your page. We’ve written more on this topic here.
Headlines: Think about an outline for skimmers
Website pages have headlines and subheadlines. Think of these as an outline — a framework for your webpage.
The main headline will include your main keyword, if applicable. Subsequent headlines can include semantic keywords. When these are uploaded onto your website, they will be coded with tags in the HTML code to indicate to Google which are the most important headlines.
This is really the formatting for the headlines, and you’ll be able to select the formatting when you load the posts into your content management system.
Headline with H1 tag
Headline with H2 tag
Headline with H3 tag
We tell our writers that when you’re creating these headlines, readers should be able to skim through them and get the gist of the content.
Your main headline (H1) should have your main keyword. Subsequent headlines should use semantic keywords, and get tags like H2, H3, etc. A simple way to think of those tags is like you would a traditional outline.
After you’ve written your article, take a step back, and look at your headlines. Could you skim through these and get the gist of the page?
Visual presentation and multimedia elements: Keep readers engaged
Regarding how you present the content and whether you present multimedia elements, these factors aren’t necessarily signals to Google. However, if you’ve got great interviews, like the ones we’ve included here, or the information is presented in a visually pleasing way, people will be far less likely to click away.
That dwell time, as Tom Gerencer mentions in his interview above, is a signal to Google that your content should be ranked high.
Some quick rules of thumb:
- Write for skimmers and keep paragraphs one to three lines in length
- Use bullets, tables and charts
- Include a visual of some sort every page fold
- Integrate video and audio clips throughout the post
Part 4: 3 Types of SEO content that will lead to sales
Ok, so now you’ve got a sense of how SEO works. Next, we need the content that will lead to sales.
Let’s apply SEO to our Digital Twin marketing approach, in which we use content to create an online version of your sales team. We’re going to mirror the sales process, in which we’re creating content that will get people to Know You, Like You, and Trust You.
Here’s how you match the search intent to each type of content.
Top-of-Funnel Content: Get people to know you by talking about their needs or problems
We get people to know us by providing informational content that talks about problems or concerns they have. The keywords people typically search for at this stage are questions or longer phrases (called long-tail keywords) that revolve around those problems.
For example, we created a post for Delta ModTech. The company sells converting machinery and is loaded with experts who can guide clients on how to use the machines to improve changeover.
Our research showed that the search intent was informational. The other posts appearing in the searches were informational and in-depth. Thus, we created an in-depth post, loaded with helpful information. We also used a lot of semantic keywords because they allowed us to provide a more complete picture.
However, this content also performed a valuable job: It helped create backlinks because it was valuable information. These will help our buying pages rank, and that’s where the sales are made!
Middle-of-Funnel Content: Get people to like you by helping them do their jobs
Once you get people to know you, the next step in the sales process is to get them to like you. To do this, we suggest helping them do their job more effectively by providing them with online tools or guides. This can include:
- Online calculators
- Product configurators
- Informational guides
- Interactive PDFs
For an example, consider content created by Adam Krumbein, VP of Marketing at Southwest Antennas. Adam knows that engineers needed help with certain calculations in the design process, so he had his website team develop on-page calculators.
Adam obviously researched the search intent around the applicable keywords and realized he didn’t need to write a super-long page. He just needed a tool that helped engineers do their job. In this video, Adam explains the results:
Just like top-of-funnel content, Adam’s content also created a lot of backlinks, which will help his buying pages rank.
Bottom-of-Funnel Content: Get people to trust you by providing valuable information to help them in their buying decision
Typical bottom-of-funnel content can include your Product pages.
Remember, these will likely rank if they are both relevant and you generate links to your top- and middle-of-funnel content (which you should then link to the bottom-of-funnel content, to pass along that SEO juice!).
Search intent is also important here. Think about your customer. What do they need to make a buying decision? Some key elements manufacturers should include:
Specifications: If it’s an engineer, for example, they’ll want product specs, materials, capabilities, etc.
Case studies, testimonials: It’s the social proof that something works and works well.
How-to videos: Show off your manufacturing process, or your finished product. People want to see how things are made.
Call-to-action button: At this point, you’re driving people toward a sale. Include a link to your contact page.
Key takeaways for driving sales through SEO content
We’ve given you the basics of how SEO works. Now let’s review how you can use it to generate sales:
- Create relevant, informational content that will help people get to know you and your brand.
- Share that informational content with other content creators so they’ll link to your website and help your buying pages rank.
- Make sure all your pages match the search intent of your customers, especially your buying pages. Give them content that answers their questions!
Have we demystified SEO?
Of course, we haven’t covered all the nuances around SEO, nor have we addressed all the tactics that can be employed. But by and large, you now have the fundamentals of SEO.
At Winbound, we’ve never been overly techie. We’re writers and communicators. We’re excited that Google continues to put less emphasis on technical SEO, and more on simply connecting with customers.
In the end, it means better content for your customers. Now it’s just up to you to deliver!