Questions? (877) 643-7244
FutureNow Article
Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2008

Does a 100-ton Drill Rig Need Web Copy?

By Robert Gorell
February 20th, 2008

drilling down with copyLast week, one of our readers emailed Bryan after finding herself in a tough situation.

Her firm does content development for websites, so she’d never literally been at a loss for words — not online, anyway — until a new client hired her to write some search engine-friendly copy. For the first time, she questioned whether her client’s site actually needed Web copy to do its job. She was stumped.

The client sells new and used industrial drill rigs, augers, hammer grabs, oscillators — stuff they sell at construction equipment auctions (and, no, you can’t find it on eBay). The current website consists of a few image galleries and, thus far, the conventional wisdom has been that all they need to do is show pictures of massive, earth-moving objects, list some basic technical specs, and that’s all their audience needs to know before buying one of these things at a live auction.

A 100-ton drill rig is a 100-ton drill rig is a 100-ton drill rig, right?

Here’s how our anonymous friend described the situation:

According to the [client], there’s not much to say, and the pictures are apparently more important than words in conveying a description of the item. I suggested adding content — a product description — to each picture, so I could get in keywords and so forth, but there’s so little to say about it, and that’s part of [the] problem.

Their visitors are construction companies who already know what kind of equipment they’re looking for. It’s mostly a matter of price competition and whether they want new or used equipment. So descriptions are hardly necessary, especially with the descriptive pictures telling most of the story.

I’ve worked on a ton of web sites and never encountered this before. Any suggestions on what I can do to help them increase page rank?

Let’s start by unpacking some the dangerous assumptions she’s making:

  • There’s not much to say
  • Pictures are more important than words
  • The problem is that “there’s so little to say”
  • Their visitors are all from construction companies
  • Their visitors already know what kind of equipment they want
  • It’s mostly a matter of price competition
  • Visitors already know if they’re looking to buy new or used
  • It’s unnecessary to describe such products with text
  • Pictures can tell most of the story
  • Page rank and content are independent variables

Still, the most dangerous assumption she’s made is that the client‘s assumptions are true. Yes, they know their business better than she (or any other consultant) possibly could, but that doesn’t mean they know how to market. Whether they can imagine a scenario where someone might need more than just a picture before purchasing 100 tons of construction equipment is irrelevant.

Besides, has a search engine ever bought an oscillator at auction?

Since this was taken on as an SEO gig, not a strategic planning and copywriting project, it’s based on a false premise (“We’ll pay you to help us rank higher, but you shouldn’t have to do much writing to accomplish that”). Until this client understands the value of Web copy — to both humans and search engines — this blog post will likely rank higher for relevant search terms than their website.

Here’s what Seth Godin says about this common SEO myth in his latest book, Meatball Sundae:

My position is that the clients are the problem, not the consultants. That’s because they want shortcuts, not hard work. The best SEO is great content. Don’t do that and you don’t get much.

Do they really believe “there’s not much to say” about a used hydraulic rotary drill rig that (probably) costs hundreds of thousands of dollars? Where has it been? What type of condition is it in? What sorts of jobs is it best suited for? What distinguishes one design or manufacturer from another? Are the needs of a big-budget construction project manager the same as those of an owner-operator of an excavation company? What should I know about each model before I show up to the live auction to bid? If it breaks, do you sell replacement parts? Is everything being sold “as is”? How long have you been in business? Why should I trust your brand?

These are fair questions, and the current site doesn’t answer one of them. There’s not even an ‘About Us’ page.

Of course the client’s customers “already know what kind of equipment they’re looking for.” Those are the only people who would ever be persuaded by a site with no content!

Could you imagine if a real estate website listed houses that were to go up for auction, but showed nothing except for a few pics of the exterior? This is how Christie’s hypes an upcoming auction. Her client should take a look.

Think that’s a stretch, comparing the way 20th century British art is sold to how one should sell drill rigs online? Volvo Construction Equipment begs to differ.

When Volvo hired Future Now, we started with an uncovery session to get to know their business and its key metrics. Then, based on what we learned, we developed personas to match various customer segments. We then performed a scenario analysis of the site to see how it met the expectations of each persona, and to identify fixes that could be made without a redesign. Once they could see how visitors’ needs were unique, they were able to write copy that sold gigantic new and used construction vehicles, machinery and parts.

There’s still work to be done, but with these adjustments, Volvo CE’s lead generation went up 700%. (Here’s the case study from Web Trends, if you’re interested.)

If her client wants rank well and sell more construction equipment, she needs to know more about their business. The client needs to be more forthcoming and she needs to push back for answers. Of course, it would have been better if they’d discussed these things before she took the job, but if both parties continue to look for quick fixes, the site will continue to be “nothing but pictures of drills, augers, and oscillators.”

. .

[Editor's Note: This has been the first post in our new "Ask Future Now" series. If you have questions about interactive marketing optimization, let us know in the comments or contact us directly and we'll start a dialog via email. We'll answer your question in a new post.

Hat tip to Dave Young for reminding us of the Meatball Sundae excerpt.]

Add Your Comments

Comments (5)

  1. Yes you are right. She needs more understanding and information of that business. After ganing a lot of information, then she try to convience her client about the importance of text with graphics, text role in SEO and SEO importance from marketing aspects. Best of luck to her.

  2. “The best SEO is great content.” Priceless advice and so true! I will amplify that statement: Relevant, need oriented, key word rich copy will trump anything else in a search engine’s cache, every time.

  3. Clearly, the client has made some assumptions that may or may not be correct. Of course content is necessary to achieve SEO. But beyond that, the site’s visitors must be prompted to take action. For some visitors, the pictures will be most compelling. But for others, information like product specs and applications will be most persuasive. If the client opts not to include factual information on his website, he is missing a significant opportunity to attract traffic via search engines and ultimately to generate sales.

  4. I’ve seen interactions similar to this many times with copywriters. We all get stumped from time to time.

    It seems to me that dislike, fear or lack of familiarity with the topic can cause a copywriter to go into the assumption frenzy described here.

    As you pointed out, it can be easily resolved with skilful questions. You can write good web copy about literally anything, and it always starts with good questions.

    The client has the answers; they just don’t know it yet.

    Thanks for raising the topic Robert.

  5. Christie’s certainly does a great job of promoting the items they are selling…I have to say though, the items they are selling appear to be much more attractive in photographs than 100 lb. drill rigs.

    Nonetheless, this shouldn’t stop someone from presenting the items they are promoting in the most thorough, attractive light possible. On this note, although the comparison is apples and oranges, there are a few valid points there.

Add Your Comments


Print this Article

More articles from Robert Gorell

Marketing Optimization Blog
FREE Newsletter Sign-Up
send it once every: