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Mar 02, 2006
Case Study

Raise Manufacturing Sales with Five Tactics to Turn a Stagnant Web Site into a Starbucks Experience

SUMMARY: No matter what industry you're in, if your Web site has either a Contact Us page or a Request a Quote Form on it, then you should check out this new Case Study for ways to improve responses. Also includes:

A few tips on search marketing to reach engineers;

the best practices in posting product photos online;

how to get more visitors to use a 3D modeling tool;
plus a surprising answer to the question, can you stop printing and mailing your thick catalog when you have a great Web site?

Founded in 1969, Nook Industries in Cleveland manufactures “linear motion components and linear systems.” In plain English for the layperson, this means they make screws -- albeit fancy screws built to custom spec for engineers.

"They are either design engineers or draftspeople. They end up in every single industry you can imagine, food to paper to defense to medical imaging," says Chris Nook VP Marketing.

The one place these engineers are increasingly NOT ending up is at the industry trade shows. "They're not getting on the plane anymore because they get all their information on the Web. We've dropped out of every trade show we ever did."

However, Web-surfing engineers still adored getting Nook's print catalogs which are famous for unusually clean design. "Engineers are kind of packrats. They like to have their catalog sitting on their shelf behind their desk."

While it's wonderful when your market likes your catalog, Nook winced at increasing costs. "It's $5 a copy and before you're finished it's like $10 for the whole package. It's not cheap."

He wondered, could he turn the company's "stagnant" web site into such a "Starbucks experience for engineers" that they would be willing to forgo their love of print catalogs for the interactive experience?


First Nook decided on a four-part Web strategy that would guide all site development:

o "Make it as simple as you possibly can."

o Graphic design must be as pleasant on the eye as the print catalogs. Instead of hiring a webmaster with a highly technical background, Nook promoted Karen Gail, an eager graphic designer from the catalog department, and gave her loads of on-the-job training.

o Swipe best practices for navigation and basic design elements from famous successful sites across the Web (not limited to manufacturing).

o Track usage patterns through Web analytics, sales ROI via the CRM system, and Web design satisfaction with ongoing telephone surveys.

Next, the team focused on five specific best practices to gain traffic and turn visitors into buyers.

#1. Search engine marketing

Gail went far above and beyond most B-to-B Web site search marketing tactics. She optimized every page of the site to gain high organic (free) search engine rankings by:

- Copywriting highly descriptive title tags for every page, such as "Engineering: Standard Locknut and Locknut Inch Dimensions -- Nook Industries Inc."

- Copywriting every hotlink carefully with keywords. No hotlink uses search-depressing wording such as "Click here" or "Read on." Instead, they say things like "Powertrax Linear Shafting and Bearings."

- Copywriting every page URL with keywords instead of gibberish. Example ""

- Including a link to a site map on nearly every page.

- Building search engine optimized landing pages for anyone who searched the Web using the headlines in Nook's famous print ads. (Example headline: "Groovy Screw").

She also tested paid search advertising aggressively. Unlike most B-to-B marketers who stick to Google, Gail also used Yahoo! and was a beta tester for MSN's new AdCenter, among other engines.

#2. Clickable product photos

"There are plenty of manufacturers who just show you a graphic image of the product," notes Nook. "But in the back of my mind I'm always thinking 'Can I really get my hands on this thing? Have they really made it before?'" So, Nook invested in building an in-house photo studio. "We shoot everything digitally. We've also hired people to take field photos for case studies."

Gail posted these photos all over the site with a lavish and liberal hand. For example, when a prospect clicks down into the product listings for more and more details, every single screen along the way features at least one product photo. (Link to examples below.)

Plus, because as MarketingSherpa has noted in the past, Web surfers invariably click on photos (whether they are clickable or not), Gail hotlinked nearly every single photo on the site to lead to something else that's useful. You don't want to disappoint a click.

#3. 3D CAD/CAM interface

Nook was thrilled to discover a study by ThomasNet indicating that if an engineer uses a 3D/2D tool on your site to custom build a part, the buying probability is 85%. "Even if it's only half of that, 40%, it's huge!" He exclaims.

So, naturally he was among the first in the industry to invest in adding 3D/2D modeling capabilities to the site. Three specific tips:

- The modeling hotlink was a highly visible top navigation tab so wherever prospects entered the site, they would see it.

- Nook eschewed modeling systems with fancy bells and whistles in favor of the system that was simplest to use. "If it's complex on the front end, you're going to lose customers."

- Nook tested forcing visitors to register to use the tool versus removing the registration from the front end. He wanted prospect contact info, but he didn’t want to strangle tool use.

#4. Good request a quote form

Nook hoped much of the site traffic would ultimately use this form, so he worked to make it as clean as possible. The team put a reassuring privacy link at the top (rather than hiding it at the bottom of the page).

The form only asked the minimum of questions beyond street address, including the part ID number or name, an estimated time of purchase ("They're cool with that because they don't want you to hound them") and an open field box for comments.

Also prospects could chose how they wanted to receive their quote (email, phone, fax, or in person) and if they also wanted a print catalog mailed to them. Because he was hoping to save printing costs, Nook had the last question set as "no" on default.

Instead of "submit" the submit button read "request quote." (MarketingSherpa research shows submit buttons that match wording with the offer or headline tend to get better response rates.) Plus, the Web team placed a reassuring little icon and note about the fact that Nook had won an industry award directly under the submit button to help users over the hump.

#5. Useful and reassuring Contact Us page

Biggest difference between Nook's and most B-to-B Contact Us pages? No form.

Instead of a blank form that most prospects strongly suspect no one would ever look at, the Contact Us page listed every possible way you could contact the company. Including:

- phone and fax numbers for multiple departments - multiple email addresses - a PDF map plus driving instructions - hotlinks to pages with forms, such as the Request a Quote page

Plus, recognizing most engineers would rather talk to an engineer than a sales rep, the engineering department's contact information is displayed on this page above the sales and marketing department's.


Although we can't publicly reveal the sales figures, Nook told us privately how much the new site has impacted sales and it's a nice healthy number.

Nook's ongoing phone surveys of site visitors are highly encouraging.

"For the most part, people are psyched. They love the experience, they think it's amazing. 90% of people feel that way. Some folks say, 'Hey quit calling here. Leave me alone, it's kind of big brother asking, and I'll let you know when I need you.'" Naturally the team adds that info into the CRM database immediately.

The number one click from Nook's home page is the tab for the 3D/2D modeling. (The number two click is on whatever product the marketing team have decided to give the "hero spot" to front and center.) "It's something fun for engineers to work with every day; they love it," notes Nook.

In fact engineers love the modeling and the rest of the site content so much that the average qualified visitor spends 45 minutes per visit! (That's insanely high.)

Why do we say "qualified"? Because with a name like "Nook" and Web pages featuring items such as "ball screws," the site also gets a heck of a lot of unwanted traffic from search engine users who are probably expecting it to be about something else.

Gail has learned to segment her Web analytic reports to suppress these non-qualified users who usually dive off the site in under 15 seconds.

She's also discovered three facts that have affected her marketing tactics.

A. More engineers are coming to Nook from Yahoo! organic search results than from any other search engine at this time.

B. Removing the registration barrier in front of the 3D/2D modeling tool caused usage to rocket. So, she's left it off, but worked hard at optimizing all the other calls to action on the site to get registrations in other ways. Lesson -- don't hide your most popular content.

C. Slightly bad news -- Of the thousands of engineers who diligently fill out Nook's request a Quote form every month, more than 50% carefully move the check from the "do you want a print catalog mailed to you" from the pre-selected "no" answer over to "yes." Turns out you can't stop people from loving print.

However, sales have been strong enough from the revamped site that Nook has cut back on his previously aggressive prospecting catalog mailings. Now the only people who get the expensive print catalogs are the increasingly few who attend trade shows, Nook's biggest buyers and prospects who'd proactively requested a catalog from the site.

Useful links related to this article

Screenshots of Nook's best practices in Web pages described above:

SolidWorks' 3D PartStream.NET - the technology that powers Nook's 3D/2D applications

WebTrends - the Web analytics system Nook uses:

MarketingSherpa past article, "How to Market to Engineers: 5 Must-Know Strategies Plus 2 Surprises"

Nook Industries

See Also:

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