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Jan/san distributors are a lot of things, but a proponent of technological innovation is not one of them. Case in point: The industry’s lack of exploration of the internet and all of the sales and marketing opportunities it offers. 

It has been many years since the internet became a fixture in homes and at businesses across the world, yet 11 percent of jan/san distributors say they still don’t have a website, according to a 2017 survey conducted by Essendant. The same poll showed barely half of responding companies have an e-commerce website where its customer can place an order. 

In the days of “just Google it” browsing and easy online shopping, experts say distributors would be well advised to pour resources into e-commerce before they not only miss out on more sales, but fall out of favor.

Keith Schneringer, director of channel marketing and sustainability for WAXIE Sanitary Supply, San Diego, has been with the company since 1990, so he remembers the days when the purchasing process was started by a catalog, phone call and in-person demonstration. While those practices are still alive today, distributors are dealing with a whole different kind of customer. By the time WAXIE sends staff out to meet with a customer, he or she already has a knowledge for the product that is just short of intimate. That’s the power of online research.

WAXIE’s experience with today’s customer isn’t unique. Others in the industry say customers use the internet to do plenty of research. This is especially true for the Millennial, a cohort that already makes up half of B2B buyers, according to a study on e-commerce in the jan/san industry conducted by Apruve. And if a distributor’s website isn’t informative and easy to navigate, potential customers are going to look elsewhere, says Kathryn Bruno, digital content specialist for Hill & Markes, Amsterdam, New York.

But before a jan/san distributor can woo a prospective customer with its website, it first needs to get that site discovered. 

The Importance Of Content

Picture this: An end user plops down for a seat at a desk, opens his or her web browser and types out “floor machine” in a searchbox, which pulls up several hundred thousand results in roughly a half second. 

What a time to be a buyer in this business. It’s a great time to be a distributor, too, when it’s your company near the top of the page. But how does a distributor go about accomplishing this feat? For starters, the distributor needs to appeal to one of the web’s most powerful websites.

“You have to play by [Google’s] set of rules,” says Michael Gosson, founder of JanSanConsulting.com, an e-commerce consulting firm in Syracuse, New York.

One thing the distributor must abide by, says Gosson, is the bounce rate statistic, which is the percentage of people who leave a website after only viewing one page on that site. So if a visitor is engaged with a website, he or she will likely view multiple pages, resulting in a lower bounce rate, which in turn will lead to Google favoring a website more. If the website isn’t aesthetically pleasing and lacks quality content, that boring website will suffer.

The bounce rate rule is one of several imposed by “RankBrain,” an algorithm learning artificial intelligence system Google uses to establish search results.

Another thing Gosson believes Google craves — and good websites have — is unique, relevant and interesting content. He says some of the worst e-commerce websites are those that use a “canned e-commerce database,” meaning that the sites tend to look the same — this too could create a bad bounce rate.

“Unique and engaging content is invaluable. That’s what we strived for for 20 years; whenever possible interject the real world,” says Gosson of the content strategy that was used by his former company, Parish Maintenance Supply.

Hill & Markes also believes content is king when it comes to bringing traffic to an e-commerce website, says both Bruno and Mike Powers, the company’s e-commerce manager. 

“Mike and I believe it is vital to the success of any distributor’s e-commerce strategy to drive engagement and lead generation through content marketing — educational blog posts, videos and landing pages, for example,” says Bruno.

As it pertains to search engine optimization and being discovered, Bruno and Powers suggest jan/san distributors make sure their website isn’t missing any product data or a subdomain. They also suggest distributors consult their vendors and ask them what content they need to have on their website. If what they desire is already there, fine. If not, make the addition.

The importance of content on a website goes way beyond SEO. By offering a lot of rich, informative information, a distributor can prove to website visitors that it cares about what it’s doing and it does it well. 

Take WAXIE, for example, whose catchphrase is “The Most Trusted Name In Clean. Since 1945.” The company really cares about this image and works hard to prove that phrase right, says Schneringer. WAXIE builds this trust not only through the business it conducts, but the education it provides.

If there is a popular question raised by customers, WAXIE might create an article to inform the customer on just that. Topics of these blog posts and articles range from updates in legislation that could impact the industry to answers to common cleaning challenges.

“(We cover) everything from the nuts and bolts of taking something out of a carpet to ‘why my seat covers are going up in price,’” says Schneringer.

Great content doesn’t have to just be the written word, it can be a picture or video. It can also be not just an attraction, but a bonafide money-maker.

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