aging technology

Back in March 2017, around the time of the Eastec tradeshow, someone from AMT, American Manufacturing Technology, posted a great piece, “Manufacturers: It’s time for an image change.”

Unfortunately, the post has been removed. But suffice to say, it talked about how the manufacturing industry as whole needs to do a much better job of educating people why manufacturing isn’t a dirty, dangerous, dark, sweaty endeavor.

Far from the truth, as a matter of fact.

But you couldn’t guess this from the many websites we look at on a daily basis.

What we see are clunky outdated websites that don’t really do much to project a positive first impression of the company and its products / services — whether to potential buyers or employees.

It’s this challenge that prompted us to run with our “Make American Manufacturing Websites Great Again” campaign. Yes, it plays off the MAGA theme, but it also encapsulates my own personal vision and goal: to help small industrial manufacturers grow through marketing.

Because let’s face it: you can’t grow through marketing if your website sucks.

Why websites go out of date: Technology changes

Our world has seen tremendous change in the last five years — from ever more powerful mobile devices to the IoT.

A faster internet has made video streaming more accessible. The arrival of HTML5 in all browsers superseded Flash as a clunky browser plugin, and old design methods, such as frames, have been deprecated.

Add to all this Google’s constant changes, plus their insistence that sites support HTTPS and responsive design.

A website built five years ago is the equivalent of driving a 1950 Chevy Bel-Air. Yes, it still works, but it lacks the underpinnings that make it compatible with today’s technology — and more importantly, user expectations.

Hence, it’s not going to help you grow your business. In fact, it’s going to hinder it.

Example of a small manufacturing website showing its age

I’ve chosen the following website to illustrate the following seven issues, not because it’s particularly bad, but because it’s a fair representation of many of the small manufacturing sites Rachel and I see.

Manufacturing home page example

Issue #1: The site isn’t responsive

Responsive design means a website renders well, regardless of the device type or screen size on which it’s viewed.

Although you may not be able to determine if the site is responsive from looking at the screenshot of the home page, it’s easy for Rachel and me to immediately know, simply by looking at the live website, that it’s not.

In this case, one clue is the vertical orientation and the relatively narrow width of the page itself.

When a site isn’t responsive, it’s more difficult to use on mobile phones, tablets and other devices. Page sections may get cut off and links can be hard to isolate and touch.

In addition to making the website more difficult to use, a non-responsive site may rank lower in Google’s search results. It can also impact your AdWords efforts, too.

To determine if your website is mobile friendly, you can use the Google testing tool. Running this example website through it, we can see the following results:

Manufacturer website not mobile friendly

The Google tool also had problems loading the site, which suggests other issues may be present.

Issue #2: Logo doesn’t link to home

Having your logo link to the home page is considered a navigational best practice.

I’ve covered the logo in our example with a black box for privacy reasons, but I can confirm that it does not link to home.

Without this functionality, the company has to keep “Home” as a menu item in the navigation, which wastes valuable space.

On the plus side, at least the logo is in the left corner, which is another navigational best practice.

The reason I bring this up is because some WordPress theme builders have moved the logo to the center of the navigation bar or even to the right side. This practice isn’t based on usability research and does nothing except momentarily confuse people.

(Even worse are themes where the entire navigation bar is removed and replaced with the “hamburger icon,” but I digress.)

Issue #3: Phone number doesn’t incorporate “click to call”

“Click to call” is the ability to call a company directly from a text ad or a website using a mobile device — by simply touching the phone number. Before the advent of mobile, it was a best practice to include the company phone number as an image (e.g. jpeg) — as you can see in the example.

Manufacturer website home page - phone number

We see this problem again at the bottom of the home page, where the phone number is displayed as an image in the red bar:

Manufacturer website - red bar

A phone number as image is now a liability — because it hinders mobile users from simply touching it and calling you. In this day of instant gratification, no one wants to flip between screens trying to memorize a phone number.

Issue #4: Rotating photos above navigation

What’s particularly old-school with regard to this website is the slide show — which features an astonishing 20 images! Similarly, there are more scrolling photos at the bottom of the home page.

Neither of these slideshows offer any benefit to website visitors — and in fact, can detract from the user experience.

Research shows that slideshows like this are by and large ignored by visitors — because they’re viewed as ad banners. They also slow down the loading of the page, making it frustrating for visitors and impacting search engine ranking.

Issue #5: Navigation isn’t sticky

As you scroll down the home page, you lose the navigation bar. Thus, if you’re at the bottom of the page and want to access the navigation, you have to scroll back to the top to find it.

Today, the best practice is to make the navigation bar “sticky” so that it stays at the top of page no matter how far down you scroll. A “sticky nav” makes it easy for people to find the information they’re looking for.

To see a sticky nav in action, visit Form Cut Industries, a manufacturer of terminal pins and specialty wire form parts. (The website is a project Rachel and I recently completed.)

Format header - manufacturing website

Issue #6: The site URL is “HTTP,” not “HTTPS”

This site is still using “HTTP” in its URL, not “HTTPS.” This is an issue that Google first raised in 2014. Back then, Google announced that it would give a ranking boost to sites with secure HTTPS/SSL sites.

In 2017, Google announced that Chrome browser users will start getting “not secure” messaging on HTTP sites in some cases. Google has since confirmed its commitment to HTTPS.

As you can imagine, having potential buyers see a scary “not secure” message isn’t going to help your website traffic. Fortunately, it’s something that can be fixed relatively easily.

Issue #7: Product list offers conflicting calls to actions

Initially, the product category list on the Home page looks reasonable. But upon closer inspection, we can see a problem:

Manufacturing website home page - collectors

Each product category title (e.g. [name] Collectors) links to a more detailed product page. That’s good.

But each category also has a “Read More” link to a testimonial page — which sets up a competing call-to-action. Do you want people to view your product page or your testimonials?

You want to be clear about the action you want users to take. If you give users two very different options, you’ll only confuse them.

The result of these problems? Lack of inquiries / leads.