The Science and Art of SEO for Manufacturers

Ed Marsh | Sep 16, 2022

Tl;dr - SEO is an important revenue growth activity for industrial manufacturers. Effective implementation is rare, and requires business savvy, creativity, patience, budget, and talent. Further, the goal must be revenue impact vs. rankings and traffic, and that requires effective sales and technology.

Can SEO for Manufacturers Drive Revenue?

Kind of. SEO can certainly contribute to revenue.

But it rarely does.

Rankings...are not revenue. not revenue.

Competitive not revenue.

Leads (IQL, MQL, or even SQL)....are not revenue.

The lack of integration between marketing and sales, poor conversion optimization, absence of strategy in the formulation of marketing plans, and the dearth of disciplined, process-driven sales follow-up all dissipate the impact of SEO on manufacturing revenue. Each of those is a topic for another day - for now we're just going to focus on how to optimize SEO for manufacturers to maximize its potential revenue impact.

That comes down to speaking with buyers about the topics that are important to buyers. Successful SEO for manufacturing is built on answering the questions prospects are asking and helping them understand the other questions they should be asking.

The Typical (and Wrong) Way to Approach SEO for Manufacturers

Typically companies create a list of terms that are used to describe their product, their company, and the common process/functions that their product performs.

This is understandable because it's the essence of most companies' marketing and sales - talking about their stuff in intricate detail. And talking about their company.

As I'm fresh off a couple of days at the IMTS show in Chicago, let's use an example of a company that makes some traditional technology like laser cutting, friction welding, or parts polishing or washing. For this example, we'll pick friction welding.

Even if you're not in the industry, you'll probably get most of the basic terms in a few minutes. There would be several in each of five basic categories:

  1. friction welding- the basic machine purpose and several varieties like "linear friction welding" "electrical upsetting" "plug weld" and "metal gathering"
  2. vendors - MTI, Spinweld, Stirweld, ETA
  3. the outcome - "parts joining" 
  4. common problems - difficult metal pairs like "copper to aluminum"
  5. specialized industries - aerospace welding, milspec welding, oil field services welding

You'd be able to have an intern in the office, or a very junior staff member log into a tool like MOZ, Ahrefs or SEMRush to run reports on the key terms that competitors rank for, then add some others that are easy to conjure up. (If you pay an agency that's exactly what they'll do - with lots of fancy "deliverables" and "analysis" language around it.) 

Assuming you follow all the proper steps after that, you'll end up with an SEO profile like all your competitors, and you'll limit your reach to people that are trying to buy a friction welding system. Statistically, that's 3% of the possible buyers - in other words, those who have diagnosed their problem and considered all possible solutions, arriving at the conclusion that it's time to buy a friction welder.

If your goal is to work hard to attain parity with your competitors - to basically homogenize all your traffic and prospects, then this is the right approach. You might get a small edge like MTIWelding which ranks for about 900 key terms (about 15-20% branded e.g. includes company name and key execs) - which is about 3X most of their competitors.

But maybe you're shooting higher than that. You probably work to build better machines and provide better shouldn't you also work to provide more value to the market and execute superior marketing and sales as well?

The Right Way to Optimize SEO for an Industrial Manufacturer

You flip the script.

Instead of building your SEO effort to be average by focusing on the things that you normally talk about, you build it around the questions your prospective buyers are asking.

And here's the critical point - these are the questions they're asking every day, about various aspects of their business, long before they've decided they want to look for a friction welding system.

That means welding education, trends, supplies, methods, quality considerations, preparation, and lots more. It could mean average pay rates and recruiting/retention, business economics, service bureaus/outsource providers, metal supply chains, and yes, absolutely it means your largest nascent competitor - 3D printing.

That means that your research needs to be much broader and built on business management savvy, the perspective of P&L responsibility, and curiosity. And it can't be just another "check the box" task on the plate of a harried internal or external person.

You'd want to find authoritative sites in the industry like:

  • (which ranks for >69K key terms)
  • American Welding Society (education >37K terms)
  • (vendor >29K terms)
  • (>25K terms)
  • (supplies - >20K terms)
  • (>7K terms)
  • (staffing - 1K terms)
  • maybe even (for hobbyists - 36K terms.) 

Many of these have taken years to achieve their rankings and you need to be realistic about the short, medium, and long-term objectives, as well as prioritize key terms based on a combination of potential volume and difficulty to rank. But embedded within this research, and particularly an analysis of overlap vs. gaps, you'll find amazing opportunities.

But opportunities for what?

Here's where flipping the script becomes important. You'll uncover opportunities to answer those questions that people running your prospect companies and working within them are asking.

Long before they ever decide to research a "friction welding" system (if they ever do), they'll be searching for solutions and insights to a wide variety of other problems. This will put you on their radar. They'll know your name, perhaps follow your brand on social, subscribe to one of your blogs, subscribe to your emails, etc. You'll begin to build a relationship with them; a relationship built on expertise where your advice/insights/recommendations help them do their jobs better.

Then, someday in the future when they need a solution to a welding problem that you help solve, or need to add or replace a friction welding system, you'll be positioned very strongly as a vendor. And if they've got an active procurement project going on and they find you because of your SEO, or research you from a short list of vendors in the space, your insightful material will help to differentiate your firm from your competitors more effectively than your machinery can in virtual research.

That's the way SEO for manufacturers should work. In this example, with a properly crafted plan, editorial calendar, and 12 months of rigorous execution, any of MTI, Spinweld, Stirweld, or ETA should be ranking for 3 - 5K terms.

That should translate to more traffic (subject to CTR), and more leads (subject to conversion optimization and user experience), and more projects (subject to sales skill and sales enablement), and more revenue (likewise subject to sales enablement and sales talent, process, methodology, training and accountability.) But none of these are independent silos. They are all elements of an integrated revenue growth system. That's what ORE™ or Overall Revenue Effectiveness drives.

That's exciting. But let's be realistic. It's not easy. Not only do most inside manufacturing marketing folks and agency teams not really understand how to visualize and execute this approach, but there are other barriers to success.

Barriers to Improving Manufacturing SEO

Mindset - Chief among the barriers is the mindset of management and the sales team. "We're not technical experts on ...!" is a common reply when suggesting creation of some content around a key term that's outside of the five basic categories listed above. And "We don't compete with arc welders. It's not relevant to our industry" or "Nobody wants to hear from us about welding staffing" are related responses.

Industrial companies focus relentlessly on the technical specifics of their equipment and common applications. That's the framework in which they see the world, and that is incompatible with a solid industrial SEO strategy, broad SEO success, and subject matter authority. Of course despite this skepticism, it's possible to approach topics like journalists - to research, interview, aggregate, and report. Information can be delivered with great accuracy, depth and value - even in adjacent areas to what your team builds and services.

Skill set - Often consultants and advisors are similarly constrained in their mindset. They perform some sophomoric analysis and suggest a mediocre approach - invariably presented with grand language of "manufacturing SEO strategy." So it's really hard to build a good plan. You probably don't have the full skill set internally, and most of the "experts" to whom you'll turn won't do much better.

Content - The fuel for the whole effort is what we generically call "content." Content is the body of articles, website pages, videos, downloadable guides, webinars, presentations, social posts, partnership collaborations, emails, and more. It's wonderful to have lots of content, but creating it and maintaining it takes work and expertise. A quick search of shows that Google has indexed approximately 46,000 pages! 

Content creation is a huge barrier for most companies. Writer's block, the mindset challenges listed above, priority allocation of time, video production capabilities, and other factors all limit capacity. And ultimately in many companies that mindset is so thoroughly entrenched that when management is called on to reinforce the priority, they blink. And that cripples an effort.

Quality website content can't be created in a hurried or ad hoc manner. Every piece must be carefully planned to achieve specific results and executed according to a well-designed editorial calendar.

And mindset can impact content through laborious editorial reviews and debates over opinion vs. fact.

Timeframe - this doesn't happen quickly. 12-18 months is realistic to have a material 2-3K term impact. And that's with a great plan and rigorous execution against an editorial calendar. Further, this is the timeframe to first see ranking results. As noted above there are numerous hurdles between ranking and revenue, so the timeframe to revenue is even more attenuated. That means management commitment must be long-term, unwavering, and routinely manifested.

Budget - Most of this will require talent and resources that a typical industrial company doesn't have budgeted. Creating and managing content takes work; lots of work. That means skills (editorial, journalist, videographer, copywriting) and people. That in turn means increasing the marketing budget or shifting funds from tradeshows and journal ads to content creation.

Barriers to Tieing Revenue Growth to SEO

Now back to the original question. Can SEO drive manufacturing revenue growth?

It can.

As noted above there are lots of steps along the way. Like a manufacturing line, if one is lagging, the output, which is the product of the efficiency of each step, is negatively impacted. And executing broad SEO means that your company will create lots of contacts who may ultimately become customers, but are nowhere near "sales qualified" when they first raise their hand. You'll have to manage, nurture and sell those gradually.

So tieing SEO to revenue (vs. intermediate "vanity metrics" like site traffic) requires strong execution in each step. And that means website design, conversion technology like chatbots, sales training, sales process, sales enablement, lead scoring and management, sales force and marketing automation, and more.

Further, it requires really effective technology that ties all touches and interactions together in "closed loop reporting" of attribution. You'll want to understand specifically how each dollar spent and each content piece created, contribute to each dollar of revenue.

That doesn't mean that every piece of content will. In fact, you'll see a typical Pareto distribution of content effectiveness. But tracking requires technology that integrates website analytics, SEO tools, marketing database, CRM, email analytics, and more. 

Failure to build that integrated tech stack invariably means that you'll face a series of "gut decisions." Absent specific data on the effectiveness and return of your SEO program in the bottom line context of revenue, you'll wrestle with budgeting every year. You'll have anecdotal successes and feedback, but no metrics on which to justify continuing, increasing, or reducing your investment.

Bottom Line on SEO for Manufacturing

Generating leads is different than it used to be. Strong sales teams still prospect effectively. And quick internet searches help buyers find 5 - 10 vendors for every product, creating opportunities to "quote."

But long-term organic growth is built on a strategic program of organic lead generation. That only succeeds with a thorough understanding of the process, a well-crafted framework, and superb (and voluminous) content. It requires science and art.

Then turning those leads into projects and revenue requires updated skills and tools.