For many manufacturing and engineering companies, or indeed, for any company in one of the more “traditional” marketplaces, any  can be quite daunting. It can seem that bright young things have overtaken the Internet and that the type of company that does well on-line is the dot-com start-up that produces whizz-bang pocket-sized products. It can certainly seem that most digital launches these days are in the “shiny tech” end of the market, but, for want of a better word, “old” trades can still do well. Indeed, they do very well.

So how can you compete? How can a manufacturing company that has been churning out the same materials, bent and bashed into shape, for the last 100 years hope to compete with companies like Apple, Microsoft and Tesla?

The answer is; you don't. There's a misconception that any marketing is competing with the Internet as a whole, and it's not. You're only competing with people who do the same thing as you. So, if there are only five companies creating the same type of stuff you do, you've only got them to compete with. And that's much easier.

Some people are also of the opinion that buyers are only interested in dealing with people they already know, and they aren't going bother searching for others. As long as they get their complimentary bottle of whiskey at Christmas, all will be fine.

However, this is a dangerous position to take as the Internet is everywhere, and most people use it these days, even your customers. One day they could find someone else doing what you do, and decide they do it better than you. Or cheaper, or quicker.

But if you create “widgets”, surely people will just search for those widgets? Again, another misconception.

The Mobile Web

If you have a mobile phone, then chances are you have an electronic assistant of some kind. It might be Siri from Apple, Cortana from Microsoft or even Google (they don't have a fancy name, it's just Google). You can quickly ask a question of any of these systems, and they'll search the web and try to find an answer.

This is a fundamental shift in how search works, and it's been changing for a while now. In essence, people are moving away from typing in single keywords and instead asking full, natural language questions.

For example, if you sell casters, many people may be searching Google for “casters”. Fair enough. But casters can be used for many things. What if someone asked the question “How do I move cabinets about quickly?” That hasn't got the word “casters” in it anywhere. If your website  to date has focussed on that one word, then the chances are those people looking for them won't find you because they're not using the word you've optimised for.

The answer then is simple. Find out what your product is used for. Find a bunch of questions that your product answers. When you've found those questions, create the answers and then put those answers on your website.

Those answers might be good for multiple questions, and if that's the case, you should write them to be as broad as possible. That's OK, Google is good at understanding context and related words. All you have to do is mention your keyword in the answer, and you're good to go. Got the gist of it?

Of course, it's even better if you can find questions that people are already asking on Google. Let's try that out.

On-line Tools

Head over to Google and type the following into the search:

Notice how a bunch of questions appear? These are what people are searching for, and they're related to the keywords you've just typed in. This is useful information because it now means we can answer those questions. Let's choose one and hit ‘Search.'

The results are quite interesting. Notice how the top answers are videos, and they're all years old. This is crying out for someone to create a more up to date video that is more relevant to the market today. Also, notice how some of the titles and descriptions have “casters” and very little mention of “wheels”? This shows that Google knows what a castor is and how it's used. It's been able to work out that if you're looking to put wheel son a cabinet then what you really need is some casters, so it's shown you the most relevant results.

But, if you can create a video that is about ‘casters' but is more focussed on the word ‘wheels', you can actually very easily get to the top of this set of result. Your content will be mor relevant to the question being asked.

This may seem like a long-winded way of doing things, but it really does yield results. Even though you're essentially optimising for “wheels on a cabinet”, Google knows what you're talking about and your website will eventually begin to rank better for “casters”.

So many people, including your competition, will be wasting all their time trying to rank for very difficult keywords, when in reality, it's probably a complete waste of time. SEO and  isn't just about getting one big ‘hit', reaching number one for a difficult word and then reaping the benefits, it's about working your way to the top by giving value to people, and you give value by helping them and giving away information.

Information is the new currency of the web, and you probably have it in abundance. Exchange that currency for good will amongst your customers and potential customers.

Email

Of course, email is a very powerful and often misused resource. A few months ago we were struggling to find things to write about; we thought we'd probably covered everything worth doing, so we decided to go out to our mailing list and just ask people. The question we asked was “what is it about content marketing you want to know?” We were inundated with questions, so we set about answering them. These became our blog posts for the next month, and they were very well received.

You can do the same with your customers. Simply send out an email to all your clients asking a simple question such as “What questions do you have about our products” or “how can our products better serve your needs” and you'll probably find lots of people willing to tell you. Simply answer those questions and before you know it, you'll have a whole bunch of blog posts and content you can get out there into the world.

The best thing is, the content you create will be what people are actually asking. If your customers are asking them, the chances are potential customers are asking them, too. When they ask them next time, you'll have the answers and you may just get yourself another customer.

Does It Matter Where You Are?

In today's modern world, there's really no barrier (other than paperwork) to trading with anywhere else on the planet. But if you're based in Birmingham, there's a chance that you've got more than enough potential customers within a few dozen miles of your factory. The benefits of cost savings through reduced transport are obvious, but there's also the issue of working closer with customers. For this reason, it's also very useful to create content that appeals to a local marketplace.

To do this, it's worth making your site “local”. There's no secret sauce to this, it's just a matter of making sure your pages have content that indicates where you are in the country, and that can mean having your address (obviously) but also a phone number, importantly, as text on your page and not as an image. These small changes can have a dramatic effect on your ranking when people are searching for you nearby.

When people search for anything these days, Google will attempt to match a location as well as a keyword. So, if you happen to be in Birmingham and someone searches for “castors” and theyare in Birmingham or even very close, there's a chance your site will appear, assuming Google knows you're in Birmingham, too.