Northwoods Forest

10 Things Manufacturers Do Wrong When Redesigning Their Websites

Matthew KargeMatthew Karge/Business Development Manager
September 03, 201911 min read

Industrial manufacturers, historically, have been slow to improve their bottom lines by leveraging social media, digital advertising, their websites and other digital marketing tools and techniques. We have found that many manufacturers hesitate because they don’t understand how the technology works.

Digital marketing, done right, can greatly assist manufacturers as they seek qualified prospects and top-notch employees. But doing it right calls for full investment in the medium. A lukewarm embrace and foggy understanding of digital marketing typically lead to avoidable, costly mistakes – such as the 10 that follow.

1. Emphasizing Technology Over Strategy

Many manufacturers assume that a website is an IT Department issue. Wrong.

God bless the IT Department. They keep systems running and deal with Karen who always has a complaint about something on her computer. But as wonderful and helpful as IT is, that department has no business initiating website development or redesign.


Because digital marketing is all about creating a content strategy that will reach your intended audience. Your website is all about content and content management. The content management system (CMS) is crucial. A CMS that impresses IT people might very well stick the marketers who actually use the system with software that fits neither their skill sets nor the content strategy.

Frustration ensues. Marketers get mad at the IT Department because only IT can make things work. And IT gets mad at the marketers because they constantly ask for help with the website.

Solution: The future strategy behind your digital presence should be the primary driver in selecting a platform to run your website. Include the IT Department near the end of the decision-making process. Yes, you want their opinion, but not their diktat.

2. Placing Look and Feel Over Content and Utility

Art for art’s sake is just not a thing in a business website. Aesthetics do matter, but the aesthetics should serve the user experience and lead to conversions.

If your team constantly talks about look and feel and the cool factor of the home page, make them stop. Focus on this question:

“What do I want my website to do for my business?”

Is the answer “sell more products”? Then a solid, well-organized product catalogue should be your focus.

Is the answer “generate more leads”? Then make an easy-to-search resource library or industry thought leadership content your top priorities.

Any answer to that seminal question will involve content. Visual design should be transparent and not call attention to itself. Content should always be the focus. If a visitor’s eyes are drawn away from content and toward design elements on a manufacturing website page, you’re getting it wrong.

Solution: Begin your website’s “redesign” with a content strategy. Don’t even think about look and feel until you have a good sense of what sort of content your clients and prospects seek. Design your website from the inside out.

3. Bad Information Architecture

Do clients and internal staff struggle to find what they’re looking for on your website?

The problem likely lies in the layout of the content. Your new content strategy (see point 2, above) should drive a new or improved organization of that content. This is called Information Architecture or IA.

IA architects have different skills than look-and-feel designers. Think of the difference between an architect who designs a building and an interior designer who decorates the rooms.

Good IA creates a variety of user paths to the same result. The IA architect commands content placement. The architect must be intimate with the tools and techniques of arranging content in a way that moves the user through the content on a logical, intuitive path to conversion.

In the site development process, the information architect creates site maps and wireframes for the key user journeys through existing or planned site content. Each step in the process focuses on moving the user through to the desired action.

Solution: Usability studies identify spots where users get confused. This process gives actual people a task to complete and records their efforts. The data thus collected is golden for an information architect.

4. Insufficient Product Catalog Detail

When you visit a website and can’t find the information you need quickly and easily, what do you do? You leave. Visitors to your website will behave the same way.

They want to know whether or not you provide the products or solutions they need, and they want to know that now. If the answer is yes, they want to go directly to that product or service page, and they want to get there now.

What’s the industry standard for now? Amazon. Everyone uses Amazon and everyone expects every catalog website to be Amazon-fast, Amazon-intuitive and Amazon-complete. Filtered results, reviews, images, and lots and lots of product detail have become the standard for manufacturers with online product catalogs. Users want to compare options and gather the details they need to make a decision.

For service-based websites, Google has set the standard for now.

Everyone uses Google, and everyone expects ready access to the information they want. If you are a contract manufacturer, you must present content related to the tooling and machining specifications users need to know. This usually includes size specifications, tolerances, and past project examples to give the user enough information to submit a request for quote.

Solution: Spend quality time with your sales team before website design begins. Find out not only what sort of questions customers ask during the sales cycle, but also how they ask them. It may seem like too much information, but you will discover nuggets that will inform your content strategy. Your website should be your best salesperson, with ready answers to every customer question.

5. Underestimating the Scattered Content Problem

Once you have a better handle on what content will likely best serve your users, figure out where this content lives in your internal systems. Chances are, this content, which you need in order to build detailed product pages, lives in folders and servers scattered throughout your organization. None of it will be web friendly.

Most manufacturers have this problem. At Northwoods, we often hear how machine specifications are in the engineer’s folders, photos of past projects are in the marketer’s folders, and the whereabouts of the latest sales pamphlets and safety data sheets are unknown.

Thanks to Amazon and Google, users expect to see everything related to a product on one handy page at your website. Creating such pages can be a challenge when the information is siloed in databases, spreadsheets, InDesign files, ERP systems, and plain old text files in various departments.

This content-scattered-everywhere issue tends to be nearly invisible to those who use bits and pieces of the required info every day. And because that info resides across departments, no one has typically been charged with gathering it into a coherent collection.

The usual answer is to charge the web design team with gathering all the data, but that team has no librarian (or group therapist). No one on that team will have the right skill set, and no one in the departments will feel much urgency to clean up the design team’s information mess.

Awareness of the scope of the problem is a good first step, but this is hard.

Solution: Time, money and patience. The most successful manufacturers implement a tool called a Product Information Manager. A PIM is a data manager built into the CMS or implemented as a standalone tool.

6. Forgetting the Call to Action

The content strategy and IA efforts are not complete until you give the user something to do. This is one of the simplest things to add to a website and, yet, many manufacturing websites fail to prompt the user to act.

Ask yourself these questions in regard to the Call to Action (CTA):

  • Is it easy for a customer to purchase a product, find a dealer/sales rep, or submit a quote request?
  • Is the CTA prevalent in the user’s journey throughout the website? Does your site give users the option to reach out to you at all times?
  • Is the CTA quick and easy to fill out?
  • Does the CTA stand out on every page?

Make it easy for your users to act. Display the CTA prominently throughout their journeys and keep the form simple and quick. Poor CTA manifests in your website’s analytics as a high abandonment rate on key pages and in a low number of leads.

Solution: During the content strategy and information architecture portions of website development, list specific actions you want your users to take on the new website. Create CTAs that help a user convert. Be certain to add Google Analytics tags and tracking to follow user behaviors on the website.

If you’ve followed the previous rules discussed in this blog, you should be set to also experiment with A/B versions of the CTAs. Add conversion options in different places or use different messaging or forms. See which versions do better, take notes, learn, improve, and repeat.

7. Marketing Mush

A test: On the basis of the following statement, tell us what this manufacturer does.

At Wayne Enterprises, we provide custom manufacturing solutions to our clients.

Any ideas? Me neither.

So many manufacturers (and other businesses) make this mistake. “Solutions” is a marketer’s go-to word they clutch at when they can’t clearly articulate what the company does or don’t care what the company does.

Be clear. Be specific:

Wayne Enterprises is a contract manufacturer of plastic consumable products primarily used by the medical industry.

This bias toward clarity and specificity should reach beyond the site’s text. Original images add credibility to the content on your website, yet so many manufacturers paste in stock photography.

Your users are savvy and spot this visual spam immediately. A manufacturer located in Northern Wisconsin should not have an image of a group of business attired millennials shaking hands on a shop floor. All credibility that the content may have provided evaporates when the user thinks, “What?! They wear suits to build things in Wausau?”

Vague marketing language and images will annoy or bore your users. Ads and marketing drive visitors to your website. Once they arrive, they don’t want more marketing mush. They want content that concisely explains your products and/or services and offers evidence that you are better than your competition.

Solution: Create useful, educational, helpful, and informative content. Think about it this way. Could you post your content to Wikipedia? Wikipedia has zero tolerance for anything promotional. Editors delete anything that looks, feels, or smells like marketing copy.

Don’t fake it. Hire a photographer (intern or pro) to take pictures of real people inside your organization. If you can’t take pictures of your products or don’t specifically build products, show the tools of your trade or the people who run your shop floor. Align your imagery with your reality. Be authentic.

8. Not Having an Ongoing Content Strategy

Every manufacturer wants the top spot in Google organic search results, but few do what is needed to achieve it. Google applies hundreds of factors to its sort and filter processes; no one outside the company truly knows the full list. But we do know that consistent, strategically written content is the tried and true way to move your website up the Google list.

A new website is just the beginning. You don’t set and forget a digital marketing regimen or a website. Websites succeed because of long-term, evolving content strategies. Good marketers constantly update existing content with search-engine-rich keywords and add new content that responds to changing behaviors in the industry.

Manufacturers rarely consider the cost of a recurring content strategy and the staff time required to manage it. Digital content marketing is a time-consuming long play, a marathon rather than a sprint.

Solution: Factor recurring content efforts into your overall website budget every year. It should be as routine as paying for hosting. Then hire a vendor or a new staff member skilled in researching digital marketing trends and keywords related to your specialization.

Then write. Get your staff involved as authors, interviewees and idea generators. Help them tell your brand’s story and their own stories.

9. Ignoring Privacy Trends

Manufacturers are notoriously slow keeping up with digital trends. User privacy has gained significant ground in the past few years with the news surrounding Facebook, Cambridge Analytica, and countless data breaches.

In response to these issues, the European Union passed the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) to give users more power in protecting their privacy. In the States, a similar law, the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), goes into effect in 2020 and numerous other states are either copying, updating existing, or creating their own laws surrounding privacy.

While the laws differ in requirements and penalties, they are similar in several ways, including:

  • A website must provide documentation on what is done with the information gathered during a user visit.
  • A notification must tell users that the website tracks their behavior and enables users to accept or reject the tracking.
  • Contacts must be easily accessible; the user must be able to reach out to the business to request more information regarding tracking practices.

Users are beginning to expect these practices as they become more prevalent. Get ahead of these changes while the laws are still in their infancy. It will be easier and cheaper to address them now than to catch up later.

Solution: Limit your risk as you show your prospects that you are concerned about their needs; incorporate privacy practices on your website. Hire a compliance staff member or vendor who specializes in user privacy to keep up with the rapid changes in privacy regulation and practice.

10. Ignoring 26% of Your Prospects

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 61 million adults in the United States have a disability. That’s one in four Americans!

So manufacturing marketing teams can write amazing content and create award-winning user friendly designs and still frustrate or even anger some users.

Website accessibility is must-do for manufacturers. Build websites that allow individuals with disabilities to navigate and experience the content like everyone else. Disabilities can range in severity and type. Numerous best practices have been established; manufacturers can implement them to make certain their websites are accessible to all.

Some mistakenly believe that only Government-related or -funded organizations must be accessible by law. Not only is this false, but it is, frankly, disappointing. Why would anyone ignore 26% of all potential users? That’s a lot of business.

True, no specific law covers website accessibility and private business. But that has not stopped users from filing lawsuits. Be smart. Practice accessibility to both protect your business and serve your entire audience.

Solution: A good starting point is to review the Revised 508 Standards and Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 AA guidelines. Both standards guide web developers on how to build websites that are accessible to those with limited mobility, sight issues, and many other disabilities. Once you understand the needs, hire a professional to help implement the changes.

Matthew KargeMatthew Karge/Business Development Manager

Matthew Karge is a Business Development Manager at Northwoods. He works with clients of many industries helping them to pursue a digital marketing path with the greatest amount of return. He’s always happy to meet over a cup of coffee to listen to your needs and provide as many resources as possible to help you succeed.

Connect with Matthew on LinkedIn | Read Matthew Karge's Blogs

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