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Preparing for a Successful Manufacturing Website Redesign

Thinking about revamping your manufacturing website? Your website is a reflection of your business that is meant to grow with you. In fact, the average lifespan of a website is estimated to be between three to five years. Your goals evolve and so should your website.

Careful and strategic planning is critical to be certain the money and time you invest in your new website will produce the ROI you need. This episode, Jon and Evan will guide you through everything you need to know to have a successful website redesign and questions you should be asking your website partners.

Time Stamps:

  • 0:00 - Intro
  • 1:35 - Where do you start when you’re ready to redesign?
  • 6:45 - Why are you redesigning your website? 
  • 10:00 - Does your website have a long-term strategy? 
  • 17:20 - How long does a website take to build from start to finish? 

Resource Mentioned:

Find more marketing insights and show notes here


Intro: You're listening to the Foremost Media Marketing Chat Podcast, with Jon Ballard and Evan Facinger.

Evan Facinger: Hey everyone, welcome to the Foremost Media Marketing Chat Podcast. I'm Evan Facinger, we've got Jon Ballard here with me as always.

Jon Ballard: Hey Evan, how's it going today?

Evan Facinger: I'm doing well, how about you?

Jon Ballard: I'm good, thanks. Excited about today's topic.

Evan Facinger: Yeah, I was just about to say the same thing. It's a topic that I feel is near and dear to our hearts, as we help a lot of manufacturing companies redesign their websites. This topic really today just kind of focuses on the overall planning side of that. What are the steps that you should take to get ready... not only get ready for your website redesign as kind of an industrial or manufacturing company. What are those steps, how does that process look like, and kind of just things to look out for so that you can make sure that you're actually going to be set up for success before you start the actual work.

Jon Ballard: Absolutely. And if you're not in manufacturing or industrial, don't tune out. There's some good stuff in here for you too.

Evan Facinger: Yeah. You know a lot of it is similar processes throughout, depending on the different industries. You've got to look out for different things. So you'll still be able to get a lot of good content here.

Jon Ballard: So let's set the stage here a little bit. I'm a new, or a manufacturing company. Typically I have an existing website that's pretty seasoned and old, and we're ready to redesign. Where do we start, Evan?

Evan Facinger: Well, I always like to start with the actual strategy and planning phase. So the idea here is you can't just dive headfirst into the website redesign, right? Especially if you want it to be successful, and I think at the end of the day when you're going the redesign route for the website, the company you choose, the way you go about it, there's a lot of things at stake. Whether it's your career, reputation, business, things like that. Always things to take into consideration. So I always recommend starting with the actual strategy, and that strategy includes knowing your current metrics, being able to set that baseline of where you're at right now so that you can document not only what are things working on your website, what are some things that are not working on your website, but what does that mean, right? So for example, the most common one is going to be how many visitors do you get a month on average to your website?

Jon Ballard: Yeah. Where are you getting this information? Where do you start?

Evan Facinger: Most of this information that we get for these benchmarks can be found in Google Analytics. Also some of them you'll get from Google Search Console. Of course, if you're already working with a company to do some of your search engine optimization or kind of website work there, they should have some of this too, especially when you start looking at what are the keywords that you're ranking. Otherwise, you've got a marketing automation system, there's going to be some information there that you can glean from. But you can get a good amount of it just from Google Analytics and Google Search Console, which are free, and hopefully, you've had them running when you've had the website set up originally.

Jon Ballard: That's a great point. You kind of hit on this. One of the things that people will do often is they want to just streamline their website. It's got too much content, it's not sexy, it's not clean. It's just got way too many details. And I always am a little nervous when we hear that happening, because search engine rankings, a lot depending on the content on the website. So we've seen people do a lot of damage to their website as well when they've done a redesign, so strategy becomes really important here. What am I ranking for, you know? And how can I keep those rankings, even if I'm going to make it sexy and clean, which is everybody's goal these days?

Evan Facinger: Exactly. And one thing I always say too is Google's still reading the website. Everybody wants to get rid of a lot of the text on their website to make it clean and sleek and sexy like you were saying. But you don't want to lose all of your rankings that you have on Google, so when you do the necessary steps here and kind of document where you're at, that includes creating that organic positions report where you can see what your current rankings are on Google, and what pages are currently ranking for those terms on Google too. And that'll give you a good idea as to, one, maybe where there are some improvements, but two, what are some things that maybe you want to be a little bit hesitant toward getting rid of?

Evan Facinger: And I think there's a big difference between getting rid of a lot of pages and getting rid of a lot of text, versus just actually having a bit of design skill and being able to lay those out in a way where it doesn't look like it's an intimidating wall of text that you expect somebody to read 2,000 words. A good designer can take that information and make it easily digestible, even if it is a lot of content on there, and still look good.

Jon Ballard: Yeah. One of the things I love to do too is just some keyword research. One of the things we run into a lot with especially manufacturers is they might call their products something completely different than what the end user's searching for. So like we've got a company we work with that makes these products called a case former, and it essentially takes a cardboard box from flat to, down the assembly line so it's erected so people can put product in it and ship it out the door. So that's called a case former. And when we started doing the research, there was a lot of search volume for case formers, but there was also a ton of competition. Everybody in the industry was calling it a case former. But when we looked a little further, the term case erector, which is exactly the same product, same term, kind of like tissue/Kleenex, had about double the search volume and about half the competition.

Jon Ballard: So essentially what we found is that the end-users were all calling it case erectors, and the manufacturers were all calling it case formers. So by re, kind of organizing how they called their products or what they called their products, we were able to achieve a lot of new rankings for them when we launched their new sites.

Evan Facinger: Yeah, and that's not uncommon either in terms of when you do the actual keyword research and take a look at what is the average monthly search volume of these different terms, what's the overall strength of competition around them. You can really find some good winners in there besides just the typical ones that everybody's thinking of that they can just rattle off on the top of their head in their industry.

Jon Ballard: Yep, so a redesign is a perfect time to address some of that structurally, and as you start to set up pages. So it all comes back to the strategy. Also benchmarking competitors is a great part of that initial process. What are they doing right, what are they doing wrong? What sites do you really like? And there's a lot of data that can be gained out there.

Evan Facinger: Yeah. And it's not that you want to copy the competitors, but they're who you're competing with. You at least want to know what's going on and know how they're positioning, and know what they're doing to find even more opportunities that way.

Jon Ballard: Right.

Evan Facinger: And that kind of comes down to a lot of, the other part of the before you actually get started part of the website redesign, and that's having a goal around redesigning the website. A lot of times, as fun as it is for us right because we're in the industry, there's a purpose for the redesign too. It's not just, "Oh, I just feel like having a new website." Is it you need a better user experience, you need more search engine optimization, it's just not performing well or it's not integrated well with your ERP or CRM for example? All those different things ultimately help you kind of figure out what the reason for redesigning it is, so you can have some goals based around that redesign.

Jon Ballard: Yeah. The big one we're seeing with manufacturers especially is, how can we sell online? We want to start selling online without upsetting our channels or our distributors and stuff. So that's typically a factor that they would use if they haven't sold online in the past. They're looking at maybe building an eCommerce, or like you said, integrating that eCommerce with ERP systems so they talk back and forth, or even just making their distributors, making it easier for them to order by building an online ordering system. And sometimes it's security. Is that website really out of date? So what are the goals? That's a great question.

Evan Facinger: Yeah. And the other thing too that's been really increasing the past couple of years is not only just targeting the distributors and getting more potential leads and customers and sales online like you said, which is obviously always going to be popular, but right now being attractive to potential employees has been a big reason why a lot of companies are looking to refresh their website because that's where somebody's going to look for you at when they're considering taking a job at your organization. That's where they're going, that's where they're looking at you. So you can really change the overall perception of your company in the industry for somebody that's going to be looking for a job.

Jon Ballard: Yep. I would say start taking pictures. One of the things we see a lot that just frustrates me is these companies make beautiful products, but all they have is some product images. They don't really show who's making them, the behind-the-scenes. And I think that's what especially potential employees are connecting with. They want to see what it's like to work there, they want to see who they're going to be working with, what the shop floor looks like. And I think that goes a long ways toward your end-user, the buyer as well. They want to know that you're not just reselling this product if you're a manufacturer. So you can go a long ways towards taking some real pictures of people on the shop floor, putting your products together, or people in the office, and just kind of get away from that stock art and really connect with people.

Evan Facinger: Yeah, people want to work with people. And when you can show real people on your website, it resonates more with everybody that's going to land on there. Everybody's seen the same welding photo I'm sure on every manufacturing website it seems like, and it starts to lose its appeal. Whereas when you have real people that are actually at your office or at your facility, that's going to resonate a lot more.

Jon Ballard: Yeah. And a pro-tip here too, take your iPhone out and start shooting some pictures. Sometimes those turn out pretty well, and if nothing else, you'll know what to shoot when you bring that photographer in with lights and stuff, so you get some ideas of what we can use on the site that really helps with kind of the planning process, the initial design. I'm getting a little ahead here though. What's next, after you've got the strategy and we've developed the strategy?

Evan Facinger: Well you know there's always going to be a little bit more with the strategy, and we'll actually in the show notes, we can include a link to a workbook that you'll be able to go through and kind of check by check line out, and there's a lot more details that you can go through and start to jot this information down so you can kind of have those step by step instructions to plan out your website. But you also want to take, as you're kind of getting the benchmarks, as you're setting your goals for the website, kind of taking a look at your brand and targeting, making sure that the imagery and the messaging and how you're positioning yourself is going to resonate with your target audience. That's something you want to take stock of, and at the same time, start the actual planning of the website itself.

Evan Facinger: Even if you have a very old website at this point, and old can mean different things to different people for the website, there's probably still going to be some good things that you're going to want to keep on there. So we always recommend listing out some things that you actually like about your current website, along with obviously some things that you hate about it. And sometimes those lists are longer there than the other one, but this way you don't have to start over completely from scratch and frustrate both the end-user and kind of start over with all the information, too.

Jon Ballard: Yeah. How often are we seeing people redesign their sites in the manufacturing space?

Evan Facinger: It's of course going to vary a little bit based on kind of what sector of the industry it's going to be in, but usually, around three years is when I think it starts to be a little bit more common, five is probably when it should start being done. So three to five, kind of falling in that range, is what we've been finding in that manufacturing industrial space, versus it's usually closer to two years for the more consumer-focused brands.

Jon Ballard: And so to kind of bring this back around, if the company that you're working with isn't talking strategy and a deep dive into what we should be building, that probably should be a warning sign to you that maybe that's not the right company to build your site because without a good plan, it's not going to work.

Evan Facinger: And that's a good point. It comes down to website design and website development. It's not a commodity. Even with all the different tools and features and ways that some of these content management systems are making it easy, it still requires a lot of skill. It still requires a lot of strategy and know-how. Just because one person can use Photoshop doesn't mean that somebody else that knows Photoshop's going to be able to produce the same amount of work. There's always that skill and strategy involved.

Jon Ballard: Absolutely. So once we've got our strategy down, where are we heading next?

Evan Facinger: So once we've got the plan, we've got the strategy, once we kind of put all that information together, we need to kind of start figuring out what are those different pieces for the website that we want to have on there. So part of that is understanding a little bit about what is that sitemap going to be. How many pages do you have, what is that sitemap, are you going to be changing out any of those pages or kind of changing around that sitemap? It's an important consideration because as those different pages are structured on the website, that has big implications for not only the user experience, how are people going to find that information and get to the other parts of your website, but also search engine optimization, how you're placing the different hierarchy of those different pages. That's going to impact the SEO.

Jon Ballard: Absolutely. And then we get to the technical considerations. What are we trying to do? Is this an eCommerce site? What platform should we be using? Are we updating this in-house? Where will it be hosted? All those things really make a difference in what CMS system you're going to use and what it needs to do.

Evan Facinger: Yeah, especially when you start talking integrations with an ERP like you mentioned before.

Jon Ballard: Yeah. It's important to have something flexible that you're not paying a ton for extra add ons to do things down the road.

Evan Facinger: And also you mentioned having a dealer or distributor portal on there earlier also. As part of that, you need to have a lot of STS or other documents. If so, maybe you should look at having a document management system.

Jon Ballard: Absolutely. This is a... oh, go ahead.

Evan Facinger: Oh, I was going to say even taking that a step further, do you need a distributor or store lookup tool? Online warranty registration? All of those different things should be part of the conversation that you're having with the web development partner, or if you're using our workbook that I mentioned before, that's got all those different questions kind of outlined on there so you can answer yes or no and have kind of that complete picture.

Jon Ballard: And as you're kind of planning this, I think it's a good idea to get the people that are dealing with your customers involved, or even your customers. What could we do better for you? Would distributors looking up your price online or retrieving invoices be helpful? Customer service, where are you spending all your time? If it's retrieving invoices and emailing them to customers, maybe that could be built into an internet system linked to an ERP. So there's all sorts of things to consider if you're going to make this investment. How can we make our company more efficient and a better partner for our customers?

Evan Facinger: Exactly. And I think once you have all that information kind of put together, and like I said there's a lot more in there too. But overall, if you look at what's the rest of that project and how that's going to unfold once you're working with a web development company, they take all that information, there's going to be estimating, budgets, things like that. Once a project actually gets started, then you start looking at the design side of things. What does it look like to create a UX analysis and a wireframe of those different pages along with creating the actual design mockups that use that information?

Jon Ballard: Yeah, so our process is we don't just start with a template or graphic design. We're actually doing wireframes, where you can kind of easily move things around the screen, and identifying the things that need to be on the screen or on the page with a wireframe box, so that again, we're kind of taking that plan and translating it to, not even really a functional website, but more of just a plan. Where's all that information going to house? How are people going to navigate, how's it all connected?

Evan Facinger: Exactly. And then you have your revisions, get that really refined so you know what the website's going to look like before you start the development. Then once that starts, then we're going to create a staging environment is a pretty common practice there so that your current site can remain live the entire time while this new site is being developed on a staging environment. You want to make sure that's going to mirror the final environment, and that's going to vary a little bit based on the content management system that you're going to use.

Jon Ballard: Yep. And then we're making sure that we've got all those resources lined up while that design is going on. If you guys have to produce more pages or need help with copyrighting during that design and kind of planning phase, that all need to be identified where that content's coming from, who's going to produce it. So a lot of moving parts in a web design.

Evan Facinger: Yeah, and is there any custom development that's going to be required for the functionality side of things? Whether it's an ERP integration, or maybe a custom configurator that you can have built out for it all, and that planned out. The search engine optimization side of things is going to be very important here as you're kind of populating that with content, too. You want to make sure that when you're doing the title tags, the header tags, meta descriptions, alt tags, that you've got to understand what the keyword focus is going to be since you've already had that keyword research completed as part of that initial kind of setup and phase step forward that we were talking about before. The planning phase I should say.

Jon Ballard: This is a loaded question, but obviously, there's a lot of stuff going on here. What's a typical site take to actually build from start to finish in your experiences?

Evan Facinger: I would say, and obviously like you referenced it is a loaded question. More standard websites that don't require heavy customization, I would say that it typically averages around six to eight weeks. When you start to get more in the custom development, that can get a little bit longer for it. But also the design phase too, depending on the complexity there and the revisions and the back and forth, but with an asterisk there of course I would say six to eight weeks is pretty common. What would you say, Jon?

Jon Ballard: Agree with that, it depends a lot on the planning and how much we're getting done on where the content is coming from if we're connecting to internal systems, who our resources are on those internal systems. So I think it all starts, a successful launch, and a quick launch really starts with planning and research and having a great strategy in place.

Evan Facinger: Yeah. One thing I would always say too is that the timeline can be determined very much on the customer themselves. How fast those revisions return, how many delays are there. Because at the end of the day, even though a website redesign is a big project, might be the biggest project that you have this year or even the next couple years, the companies that we work with at least there's still a lot going on in the day-to-day, the regular parts of the job that need to be handled. So sometimes the website needs to take a backseat to the other things that they're working on.

Jon Ballard: So what's, in the interest of a seven-minute podcast here, let's jump forward a little bit. We've got the site done, we've tested it, it's ADA compliant, it's responsive, it's working, we're ready to launch. What's that look like? What do we need to worry about there?

Evan Facinger: Well, you want to make sure that you've done all the tests, you've done all the things we talked about. And making sure that you've got a list as you were kind of going through and combining those, or compiling those different sitemaps and understanding what the new sitemap is going to be, that you have your 301 redirects as part of that launch so when you launch it, you get those 301 redirects so that your... one, if anybody's got your website or that current webpage bookmarked, if the URL structure has changed at all you don't want them to go to a 404 page. You also don't want Google to go to a 404 page if they have that site ranked. So you put in those 301 redirects, automatically takes everyone including Google, tells them this is the new page. So you kind of transfer some of that search engine equity that you built. Having that set up of course is going to be important. Also making sure that you have the site set to indexed. A lot of times when you're working on a staging environment, you do have that to be no indexed, and you don't want that when you launch a site because that means Google can't crawl it.

Jon Ballard: Right. Seen that happen.

Evan Facinger: Yeah. So then you go through, and speaking of re-indexing, go into Google Search Console. Re-index it there. Go into Bing Webmaster Tools, do it there. Check the number of indexed pages that you have also, right? Making sure that it's going to be what you expected it to be when you launched a site based on your sitemap. And then the other thing that you can't forget is verify the Google Analytics script is still working. So that's first right there. But then also, if you're talking about URL structure changes, make sure you have your conversion goals updated so that you're making sure that you actually are reporting on the right conversions still.

Jon Ballard: And what we always... not always, but a lot of times we'll see a little bit of a dip in traffic to a site when we relaunch, and that's just kind of normal. Google says, "Hey wait, something's changed here. This isn't the same site, we're starting to see pages moved or redirected. We want to make sure that this is still a legit site." So the goal is we want search engines to crawl as fast as they can, and re-index that, and let them know about the changes. And a 301 redirect basically says, "Okay Google, this page has moved from this location to this new location, and it's the same content." So you can do a lot to kind of mitigate that drop in traffic, and then usually what we'll see is if everything's been planned right, we've done enough good keyword research and everything, there's a little bit of a leveling up or a drop off for the first maybe week or so, and then usually as Google starts to re-index, it comes back even stronger.

Jon Ballard: But if it's not done right, I've seen sites that have crashed and burned, essentially lost all their traffic. They didn't identify pages that were important, then a lot of that stuff and that resources, so this stuff is really important if you've got a successful and good website that's driving business for you, that there's strategy involved in that relaunch.

Evan Facinger: Yeah. My favorite saying is, you don't want to throw out the baby with the bathwater. So you want to make sure you also have, while you're redesigning the website, there's going to be some things that you're going to want to keep, and some content and some pages. And make sure that you are getting growth from the redesign. Like you said, there might be a little bit of a dip in the beginning, but that should be very short-lived in the beginning and you should be able to see a lot more traffic after that. And to your point too, there's a lot of steps in here. And that's why we've got the workbook that's available, we'll put that in the show notes. But I think from a podcast perspective, pretty high level. I mean, would you add anything else in there?

Jon Ballard: I think you've covered a lot of it. Make sure you're working with somebody that does all this and that you can trust. Because this is a big deal for a lot of marketing managers, and maybe your career could depend on it, or your chance to make a mark at that company and really move things forward. So spend the time researching the right company and doing the strategy and the planning.

Evan Facinger: Yeah definitely, and you brought up a good point too with the right company is that there aren't just different types of web development companies. There's maybe ones that are more design-focused, maybe ones that are more development-focused, marketing-focused. And it's not to say one is better than the other, but when you're talking about a full redesign, you need to have a company that's staffed accordingly to handle all of those different types. They've got the designer, have the front end, the backend development, marketing team, project management, infrastructure even if you're hosting with them. All of those should be different people. If they're all the same people, then that's either a very, very talented person to have so much knowledge in different types of thinking. But otherwise, you need to make sure that you've got it all kind of handled in-house, that they can handle that for you.

Jon Ballard: Sounds good Evan. I'm ready to start my redesign, let's go.

Evan Facinger: All right. Well then go on, head on over to foremostmedia.com, get the show notes here and you'll be able to see what the workbook is and get started.

Jon Ballard: Great, have a great day.

Outro: Thanks for listening to the Foremost Media Marketing Chat Podcast. Don't forget to like and subscribe so you can stay on top of your game by never missing an episode. You can find even more marketing insights and show transcripts at foremostmedia.com.