Most manufacturers understand the value of an online presence; they recognize that a website is a primary platform for delivering information to their customers and the world. Not all manufacturers understand as well that their site is one click away from being deleted.

Nearly every manufacturer promotes continuous improvement to reduce waste and increase productivity. Applying the same Lean manufacturing principles can enhance a manufacturers’ web presence — reducing website “waste,” increasing response rates, and gaining/retaining customers.

Identifying waste in your website requires the same careful evaluation that you apply to your plant. It’s easy to see scrap and recognize the waste that a project creates in your foundry. Website waste is not as visible.

Lean principles teach that anything that does not provide true customer value is waste. To identify that waste, you must distinguish between customer value and product value. Lean is the reason we ask, “what does the customer value?” Identifying customer value makes waste more visible.

Once customer value is understood it is easy to tackle the common areas of waste. Lean identifies seven types of manufacturing waste and these same tactics will guide your process of identifying website waste.

No. 1. Over-Production and Search Engine Ranking — An “over-produced” website makes it difficult for viewers to find your content and for search engines to “spider” your website. We are often asked how to code websites to rank higher on the search engines. Our advice is always the same – do not write your website for the search engines, as they do not buy anything! Instead, write content to your viewers and you will have site that’s friendly to search engines too.

There are ways to encourage viewers and search engines to return to your site: Keep content fresh … Use images carefully (search engines only read text) … Make updates when necessary, not earlier or later. Also, spend time learning which search engines your customers’ value. Your website’s stats will tell you which search engines viewers are using to find your site. 

Takeaway:  Know which search results are relevant. The only way to do this is to know which search engines (Google, Yahoo, Bing) your viewers are using and ensuring your website is well ranked for each one. Viewing your stats and performing a simple keyword ranking report will help identify which search engines your viewers are using and if your site is optimized for each one.

No. 2.  Web Inventory —  Carrying excess inventory is always a bad idea. Finished parts in storage are in the way, growing obsolete, and yet must be maintained and tracked. The problem is not “how much” inventory you have, but how much “delay” it causes.

Content that no one is viewing gives you the same result as a stack of obsolete parts. The only content that adds value to your site is the content that customer deem valuable; everything else is waste, yet this content must be maintained and gets in the way of viewers looking for what they really want or need.

Your site serves as a silent salesperson and needs the same things sales people need: product specs, photos, videos, RFQ, search. You also need to keep adding the content they want – so that your viewer will want to return. Don’t forget to add answers that they are looking for in the form of whitepapers, case studies/solutions, videos, etc.

Spending time in your web stats will easily identify which pages are important to your viewers and which ones are not visited. It may not be easy to determine if this is navigation or a content issue.  When in doubt, don’t be afraid to test new navigation paths and ask your customers!

After review of a supplier’s web stats, we determined the majority of viewers exited from the used equipment page.  To keep the viewer on the website, new navigation was created that led them to the new equipment.  Showing customers content that they were not finding previously led to increased RFQs for new equipment.

Web stats will easily identify a website’s conversions, ‘use’ and ‘bounce’ rates.  Knowing which conversions your viewers use or ignore is important.  E-newsletter sign-up?  Whitepaper download? CAD file upload? Contact form? Quote form?

Takeaway:  If your customers do not visit those pages, replace them with content your customers’ value.

No. 3.  Conveyance/Bottlenecks — How easily do your customers get to what they want?  One client required all viewers to register before they could view their parts.  However, their web stats showed a 100% bounce rate at that log-in page.  This meant that every single viewer that encountered the registration log-in quickly departed (bounced) from the site — 100% of the time! So, the registration page was eliminated.  If the web stats had not been reviewed, we would not have known this critical piece of information.

Takeaway:  A high bounce rate on a Welcome page and/or News page indicates problems on your website and needs to be investigated further.  Make sure your web stats calculate bounce rates.

No. 4.  Incorrect Web Content —  A website needs to be cleaned up regularly to encourage viewers as well as search engines to return.  Broken links, pages not found, emails from people no longer at your company, video files that do not easily play on all browsers (e.g., .wmv files), dated materials, old pictures of products no longer offered – in other words, content that offers no value turns off the viewers and search engines at the same time.