The Importance of Product Content for eCommerce Success in Industrial Distribution

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    Do you have an ecommerce site, but it’s not performing how you think it should?  

    Before throwing the baby out with the bathwater, consider your expectations. Sometimes, businesses expect immediate results, but in the world of industrial distribution, the sales journey is often a longer road.  

    Business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) websites are similar in that they are meant to drive measurable results such as revenue. But how they function is worlds apart.  

    Consumer-based websites are often designed to elicit a sense of urgency, playing on the buyer’s emotions. Think: Buy now! BOGO! For a limited time only! 

    However, in the B2B world, transactions take time and involve research, trust and multiple stakeholders. The average industrial sales buying cycle can take six to 12 months or even longer for more complex purchases. The more complex the purchase, the more information the buyer needs to make a well-informed decision.   

    Related: 16+ Types of B2B Content (and When to Use Each) 

    Another thing to consider when evaluating your website’s performance is the timeline from browsing to shopping cart is not linear and may not always result in an online sale. Customers may research and compare products online, only to call or email their sales rep and place the order. Today, buyers demand more self-service options and user-friendly digital platforms to navigate product offerings.  

    Imagine this scenario:  

    A shed builder is looking for screws to attach roofing and flooring materials to an outdoor shed at a marina. They need the right length screw that is not overkill for the job but still provides secure attachment at a reasonable cost. They may also need fasteners that offer corrosion protection against salt spray.  

    They’re browsing your site to see what brands you offer and they’ve narrowed down their options.  

    But they didn’t add to cart.  

    Instead, they called their sales representative, from whom they usually purchase their fastening tools, to complete the sale. It could have been more comfortable for them to call directly. Maybe they have questions and need some expert guidance. Either way, that sale didn’t get attributed to the website.  

    That’s why you can’t view content ROI in B2B ecommerce the same as traditional sales. Content on your website doesn’t always follow a clear path from engagement to a closed deal. If your salespeople don’t ask customers where they research products or track leads that potentially come from the website or email campaigns, you’ll never know where they originate.  

    Regardless of where the purchase is made — online or offline — there is one resounding truth: The B2B distributor’s online success hinges on the availability of clean and up-to-date product content.  

    Factors like accurate descriptions and real-time inventory updates improve the customer experience, impact search rankings and influence purchasing decisions.  

    Our friends at Distribution Strategy Group agree. However, Ian Heller, Co-founder & Chief Strategy Officer of Distribution Strategy Group, says one of the biggest ecommerce hurdles faced by distributors is obtaining and managing good product data on the endless SKUs they sell. 

    It’s an obstacle we need to overcome rather quickly because, by 2025, 80% of B2B sales interactions will occur in digital channels. 

    Some distributors say to start small and grow from there. For example, Jarrod Anderson, President and CEO at Walker’s Office Supplies, told Heller that when they launched their new ecommerce site they decided it was better to go deeper than wide allowing them to begin and get excellent content on the products in their warehouse.  

    It’s a good strategy. Focus on the most popular items and work to build robust product descriptions on those items first, and then grow from there.  

    How Good Product Data Improves Customer Experience 

    Successful ecommerce starts with good product data. Customers can make more informed purchasing decisions when they have access to clear, accurate and comprehensive product information, including:

    • Technical specifications 
    • Product descriptions 
    • Images and videos 
    • Pricing information 
    • Inventory levels 

    Including these elements in your product descriptions builds trust with potential buyers by providing the information they need to evaluate and compare products effectively. Additionally, rich product data can boost search engine optimization (SEO), making it easier for customers to find your products through search engines. In other words, getting more traffic to your website. 

    Another bonus? Good product data supports better inventory management and operational efficiency for distributors. Integrating systems to work together ensures accurate inventory levels, reduces stockouts and overstock issues. Plus, customers are less likely to return items when they have adequate product information to guide their purchases.  

    8 Product Page SEO Mistakes to Avoid 

    You don’t want to figure out search engine optimization on your own. That’s why there are professionals out there to help. But we wanted to put some common SEO mistakes on your radar so you are aware of them and can avoid them.  

    1. Not adding structured data to your product pages: Structured data is a standardized format for providing information about your product page. Structured data helps search engines understand and display information more effectively in search results.
    2. Not sharing your product feed to Google Merchant Center: Increase visibility and reach potential buyers actively searching on Google. While adding your product data feed to Google’s Merchant Center doesn’t guarantee your products will appear in search results, it gives you a fighting chance to appear in product carousels and in other rich results. This can lead to higher traffic, improved brand recognition and potentially increased sales.
    3. Neglecting to do keyword research: Do keyword research when creating product titles and descriptions. Use phrases and synonyms your customers are using to describe your products. 
    4. Forgetting on-page optimization: Examples of on-page optimization include using keywords in meta titles and meta descriptions. These populate on the search results when potential customers look for a product online.
    5. Writing poor product descriptions: Make sure the product description clearly explains what the product is, the benefits and why a potential customer should choose this product over others.
    6. Overlooking user experience basics: Shoppers want (and expect) to compare products easily on your site and if relevant, they want to interact with your products with augmented reality (AR) tools like, “see how this product will look in your space.”
    7. Not including images and video: Visual cues like high-quality video or images help customers make purchasing decisions. They also increase visitors’ time on your page, leading to higher search rankings.
    8. Lacking product reviews: Customers’ reviews are powerful social proof of the quality and effectiveness of products. Consider how often you look at reviews on Amazon when making a purchasing decision to understand how powerful they are. 

    (Don’t worry, there are experts who can help you with this!)  

    Want us to perform an SEO audit for your website? Get in touch. 

    Product Taxonomy: Organize Product Data in a Way that Makes Sense to Buyers 

    How you organize product content on your website is critical to the customer experience. Product taxonomy is a structure to organize your product catalog, online or off, so customers can find exactly what they are looking for with as little effort as possible.  

    Taxonomy is often the biggest roadblock to distributor success online. Think about the endless SKUs associated with that corrosion-resistant screw that your shed builder was looking for. Think about how the manufacturer updates them.  

    Fortunately, technology partners are there to simplify the process. Through our robust network, we discovered Distributor Data Solutions (DDS), an example of a technology partner who helps distributors manage product content for digital and ecommerce purposes. Reaching out to DDS or other providers like them could be a good place to start when sourcing product data. Some buying groups like NetPlus Alliance have services from vendors like DDS built into their distributor offerings.  

    Think a disorganized product taxonomy isn’t a big deal?  

    Another way to look at website and ecommerce content is to compare it to your experience shopping on Main Street. 

    Imagine you are strolling downtown. Your community has been buzzing about a new shop near one of your favorite stores, and you want to check it out. When you arrive, you notice the storefront is marvelously decorated, clean and welcoming. So, you walk inside, prepared for an amazing shopping experience, only to find a disorganized and messy retail space.  

    You can’t find what you are looking for, you get a little overwhelmed and quickly head to the exit. The shop had all the bells and whistles from the outside, but the inside was lackluster. You didn’t make a big deal about it; you just continued shopping next door.  

    Expert Tips to Overcome Common Product Data Challenges  

    Distributors have a tough time getting consistent product content online. Instead of throwing good money after bad, where should distributors focus their energy and resources when digitizing their product catalogs?  

    Jason Hein, founder of Acumental B2B, has some suggestions. Hein has more than 25 years of experience working with and merchandising a broad range of industrial products. He’s also collaborated with distributors and manufacturers of all sizes (from the Fortune 50 to small, family-owned firms) and worked with companies at all levels of digital maturity.   

    In “The Love/Hate Relationship with Product Content” webinar, 3 Aspens Media president and founder Lindsay Young spoke with Hein to explore the gaps distributors face with product content and ecommerce. Hein says that to be successful, distributors need to tackle product content in a more targeted way. Otherwise, you could miss out on sales opportunities you didn’t even know you had.  

    Hein says that a big part of that equation is product information – each distributor has extensive collections of diverse product types, each with its own complex sets of product data.  

    You need a plan to manage that effectively at scale with the customer in mind. 

    Here are some takeaways from their discussion:  

    Start with a slow and targeted approach.  

    Hein says the distributor’s main goal should be to create a good customer experience online and in person. Part of that challenge is standardizing industry terminology and translating it from the manufacturer jargon to the phrases used on a jobsite. The trouble is that there is no consistency across manufacturers.  

    “Distributors have a unique problem in that they are consolidators and bring in product data from more than one supplier,” said Hein. “It’s not easy to maintain product data across tens of thousands of SKUs. And, there’s no universal standard for product terminology and formatting.” 

    Despite these challenges, he says that distributors need to make an effort to create clear product content that simplifies the browsing and purchasing experience. The development of online product content should mirror the type of planning that goes into in-person salesforce training. Distributors invest in their sales teams to develop knowledge and expertise over time, and your website should reflect that.  

    Instead of trying to do everything at once, try a slow and targeted approach. “From a cost management standpoint, you don’t want to immediately try to build perfect product content on every single SKU you carry. Don’t try to eat the whole tree; reach up and start with the lowest hanging fruit.”  

    Instead, look at your best-selling product categories and start there. Create conversion content that helps customers make decisions about those products, including instructional videos and images. This targeted approach is manageable and allows businesses to track ROI on those investments.  

    Hein cautions distributors that not taking a measured approach can limit market success. “There’s a generational shift happening in business. Today’s buyers grew up being able to buy anything they ever needed on Amazon. They want to find what they need online and find it relatively easy. While consumer goods are not as technical, the expectations remain.”  

    He adds that a significant challenge is the digital sophistication of these generations and their digital self-confidence. That can make it hard for distributors to meet those requirements.  

    To overcome these obstacles, Hein says distributors must understand the different types of content in distribution — discovery content and conversion content — and their uses.  

    Discovery content is the content that helps a customer move from a homepage to a product detail page. He says to lean into your product taxonomy, category list and attributes. Make it easy for customers to browse. Find out how your customers want to filter their searches. Do they filter by:  

    • Material 
    • Size 
    • Brand 
    • Performance 

    Hein’s 4 Cs of Product Data framework says to focus first on making discovery content clear, complete, consistent and correct before jumping into conversion content.  

    Conversion content is the marketing or educational information that helps customers compare and contrast options to make the best purchasing decisions. Think instructional videos or custom product information.  

    The most important thing to remember is that building an online presence is not a project with a start and end date. It should constantly evolve and improve based on what you learn and shifts in the market.  

    Want more expert insights on how you can begin or modify your product content journey? Watch full webinar.

    If you need help planning and producing effective content for your business or just have questions, reach out to us at [email protected]. Our content services range from messaging and strategy to design and distribution.   

    The Importance of Product Content for eCommerce Success in Industrial Distribution