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Nov 17, 2004
Case Study

How to Use Search Engines to Market Engineering Equipment (Without Paying a Cent to Google)

SUMMARY: If your site offers a heck of a lot of products, and you're in a highly competitive marketplace, definitely check out this Case Study. We discovered a valuable search optimization tactic from the marketers at an electronic test equipment manufacturer. They use competitors' names (in a safe, non-trademark-abuse way) to get really high search results in Google's organic listings. Then, instead of marketing copy, their landing page continues the search-experience. Visitors are drawn in and keep clicking and clicking. A remarkable percent turn from clicks to extremely solid sales leads:

"When I entered the company five years ago, I did a whirlwind tour of customers and distributors. We were relying too heavily on distributors to promote products. Every single one of the distributors screamed for leads, 'Tell me somebody who will buy these products!'," says Bob McCue, VP Sales & Marketing for B&K Precision.

The company had been a famed brand name in the past. "Anybody who is over 45 knows who B&K is." But the younger engineers and purchasing agents didn't always know the brand well enough to seek it out.

Eager to get marketing campaigns launched, McCue ran a down 'n' dirty market research campaign to the younger demographic. He asked his professional engineer son and his pals which catalog was best to invest more co-op ad dollars in.

"They said No, Mr. McCue, don't do that! We don't go to catalogs. You just type in here on the Internet..."

So, McCue took the ad dollars and hired a Web designer/marketer instead. It turned out to be an unfortunate decision at first.

"We had zero results. I was burned. We had 200-300 visitors coming to our site per month." However, McCue, propelled by his research, still had faith the Net could perform for B&K... somehow.


McCue turned to search engine marketing. But instead of taking the immediate plunge into Overture or Google paid ads, which most B-to-B marketers new to online would do, McCue took a more highly targeted (and possibly less costly) approach...

He focused online efforts in three targeted search marketing efforts:

SEM Tactic #1. GlobalSpec

1.4 million of the four million total professional engineers in the US are registered, active users of the GlobalSpec search engine. They love it because it was designed by a former engineer to show search results in the manner that's most useful for engineers seeking equipment (i.e., not the way you see things in Google).

Plus, there are some fun problem solver games, and engineers are all about online games.

"GlobalSpec spent a lot of money tracking down and educating engineers about the site. So they have that market. But the service people, the education marketplace, international people, the purchasing people, they don't know about it," notes McCue. So he decided not to rely on GlobalSpec alone.

SEM Tactic #2. Direct Industry

This international engineering portal took a feed of B&K's product listings and translated it into five languages. "They do the same thing overseas that GlobalSpec does here."

SEM Tactic #3. Google optimization

Obviously we'd never advise you to break trademarks or abuse a competitor's name strictly for rankings. It's frowned on by search engines and can get you booted down in rankings if not outright banned.

However, if your landing page very obviously has a legitimate reason for mentioning competitors' names and products prominently, and it's optimized in a Google spider-friendly manner, you may see your site pop up when folks search for competitors’ products.

In the case of B&K, the Web team reviewed their line of 300 products looking for items that could be said to be comparable to famous-name manufacturers such as Tektronix, Agilent, Amprobe, and Extech.

McCue reasons, "If someone wants a Fluke, there's not a darn thing I can do to convince them otherwise. If they're looking to see what else is out there, now I can reach them."

And when these less-than-brand-loyal shoppers clicked on the organic results link to visit B&K, McCue knew just what they were looking for. "Our site had to quickly answer the three questions:

a. Do we have products that meet the specifications?
b. Is the price within budget?
c. Where can I physically buy that product today? Who has it in stock right now?"

So, he ripped the marketing copy out of his landing page and focused on creating a microsite that helped search clicks drill down to answer those questions super-quickly and easily.

It wasn't sexy. It wasn't glamorous. It was extremely factual.

In fact, it looked and felt a heck of a lot like a search engine built by and for engineers and purchasing agents. McCue hoped that continuation of the search experience -- clicking from Google into a more detailed search experience with pre-populated results -- would propel visitors further along the search trajectory they were already on.

In other words, don't distract visitors in any way from their search path, instead, enable it further.

McCue had to rope in his distributors to help with the last point on the path. Instead of just giving a flat list of authorized distributors, McCue wanted to hand over eager wanna-be customer leads to distributors who had parts in stock ready to ship immediately. Many distributors wanted to take the easy road, saying "Just link to my home page." But McCue wisely refused. Why send traffic to a home page that's not a proven lead generation device? Plus, why send traffic someplace they might see direct competitors’ names and logos?

Instead, he told distributors that if they wanted leads from his site, they'd have to stream their inventory reports to his Web team, and stand by, ready to respond to leads seeking RFPs.

Then McCue had an RFP generator built into his site, showing visitors exactly who had the part in stock. He worried a bit that visitors might request lots of quotes and annoy distributors instead of converting easily. But he decided to test it anyway. (See link below to sample pages from this system.)


"Last year the test equipment market was down 32% and B&K was up around 9%", says McCue. "This year our growth has been in excess of double digits."

GlobalSpec and Direct Industries are definitely driving their share of sales leads, and McCue plans to continue with both of them.

The SEO is also a solid success, especially for sales to the education marketplace (such as supplying equipment to technical schools). B&K is now listed in the top five Google results for dozens of keywords, and hundreds of thousands of purchasers click through to B&K's site every year.

Roughly 60% on average of visitors click beyond the initial landing page to search for more specs and pricing on B&K's offerings. (This percentage ranges widely depending on the traffic source, but even at its lowest point it's unusually high.)

73% of visitors who click on a particular product's "where to buy" button wind up filling out the quick RFP form and submitting their request to at least one distributor. As McCue says, "That's astronomical."

Dispelling McCue's fears, most visitors only request a quote from a single distributor despite many choices. Why?

He guesses, "Everyone takes the path of least resistance. Everybody just wants to use their funding before somebody takes it away from them. They want to get the order off their desk today. If they already have an open account with one of the distributors, they go to that account."

He adds, "People don't really care where they are buying it from. I ship a lot to the East Coast and they ship it back to the West Coast."

One last benefit from controlling and tracking the RFP form -- McCue knows exactly how many qualified sales leads he's sent to each distributor. Which is very handy during co-op advertising negotiations.

"It's nice to go in to somebody when they want more ad dollars and say '28% of all the business you're doing with B&K, we're sending to you.' In negotiations that really stops them." Nevertheless, McCue still invests in some co-op campaigns.

"Print is not going away. Print will always be there. And distributors are my partners. But now I can say, 'Here's what I'm already doing, let's target my co-op dollars in the catalog and not in broad ad campaigns in other marketplaces."

Useful links related to this article:

Example of B&K's search ads and landing page:

Mectronic - the B-to-B electronics and mechanical parts search optimization specialist firm who helped B&K get listed on Google and develop their landing pages:

GlobalSpec - the search engine B&K uses to reach US engineers:

Direct Industry - the search feed B&K uses to reach international engineers:

See Also:

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