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ByteManagers webcast produces bevy of questions

Webcast panelists provide written answers to select attendee questions

Several attendees from our June 25th webcast submitted questions, but as is always the case, there wasn't enough time to respond to all.

Here, Eli Cooley from ByteManagers and Greg Palmer from Reid Supply provide in-depth responses to a handful of unanswered questions.

Q: Are keywords and categorization related and how?

A: (Greg Palmer) There should be a direct correlation between your product categorization and keywords. One of the keys to web page indexing is relevance. If your categorization and keywords match, the search engines can connect the dots easier. If your category is "widgets" and your keyword is "widgets", when you get indexed by search engines, they can determine that you sell "widgets" as one of your main product categories.

Q: How do they normalize the data if the vendor won't provide the data?

A: (Eli Cooley) This is a great question. It's hard enough to normalize data across hundreds of vendors, but you'll often find that a handful of vendors will not provide crucial data elements or will not provide data at all.You are left with two options before accepting a gap in information:

  1. Develop an escalation process by which Senior Management gets involved to resolve content gaps. We are seeing this scenario more and more frequently. We have even seen distributors ending relationships with vendors who cannot provide necessary product content.
  2. Shift from the mindset of "asking" for data to "getting" data. This can involve sourcing from the vendor website(s) or catalogs when necessary. Some distributors go so far as to take product measurements or images themselves.
Q: Greg, did you have to re-engineer your process for product data, that is getting what is needed from suppliers, from internal product managers etc. Today we struggle with this, and are often told the supplier cannot give us the data.

A: (Greg Palmer) Our product data collection process has been refined over the years. Once your data is clean and your attributes are normalized, create a spreadsheet of the attributes you want all suppliers to give you in each product category. Some will provide what you need, others may not. For the ones that do not, you may need to assign internal resources to translate what the supplier calls an attribute versus what you want to call it.

Q: I would like to get Eli's and Greg's opinion on ThomasNet

A: (Eli Cooley) I will assume that this question is referring to, and not the organization as a whole. The problem with assessing a site like ThomasNet is that, on one hand, it is arguably the industry-leading vertical search engine. I can't point to another resource that is demonstrably superior. On the other hand, many people I've spoken with are frustrated by ThomasNet's content and usability.

Q: How would you go about researching search-terms that customers use for each product?

A: (Greg Palmer) Your search logs and analytic software should be able to tell you what your customers are searching for. You will find out a lot of important information in your search logs.

Q: How important is design of a web site? What suggestions would you make to get your team on board for a web site redesign?

A: (Greg Palmer) Web site design and layout are critical elements to web site success. If your customers can't find what they are looking for quickly, they will leave and not come back. The fastest way to get your team on board is to ask your customers what they like and don't like about other sites. Make sure you get a good cross section of customers and design your site that makes sense. Some suggestions we received, we decided most customers may not want or need what was suggested. You need to also look at other best-in-class sites and go from there.

Q: I assume paid ads work. I am interested in particular how paid ads relate to industrial distributors.

A: (Eli Cooley) It really depends on the product portfolio of the industrial distributor. One thing is certain for any industrial distributor: some of the paid ads will work, and some won't. It's important to have a metrics-driven system that will maximize campaign effectiveness over time. For example, you might find that advertising to manufacturer part numbers is highly profitable for some brands and a waste of money for others. A system needs to be in place that will stop running the ads that are losing money and increase the ads that are working. Given the number of brands and product types most industrial distributors deal with, an analytical framework is critical. Even for a mid-sized distributor, the universe of potential keywords is often in the hundreds of thousands, with significant portions of opportunity lying in the "long tail."

Another important factor is the Distributor's brand awareness. If I'm seeing your name every time I search for certain types of products, your brand is in my head, whether I know it or not. This can be powerful for niche and regional distributors looking to expand their footprint. Of course, if your website is poor all bets are off.

Q: Greg, did you focus on stock material or both stock and non-stock for normalization?

A: (Greg Palmer) Both. If you are selling it on your web site, it doesn't matter to the customer where the products are stocked. They need to be able to easily find whatever you are selling, stocked or not.

Q: Is a UNSPSC code taxonomy considered good, fair, reliable or . . . ?

A: (Eli Cooley) UNSPSC is reasonably effective as a global classification scheme. However, it would likely look silly if you tried to use it on your website. It would be too broad in some places and too narrow in others... kind of like a bad suit. Effective ecommerce requires customization. I would even go so far as to say "style." Even if an organization is classifying all products to UNSPSC behind the scenes to facilitate other business processes, ecommerce leaders tend to have a customized customer-facing ecommerce taxonomy.

Joe Walsh
Manager, Customer Development

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