RP Photonics

Buyer's Guide … the one with the Encyclopedia!

marketing in buyer's guides

Buyer's Guides for the Marketing of Photonics and Laser Technology Products

As we are operating the RP Photonics Buyer's Guide, I am not neutral when writing on that topic. However, I do my best – as always – to present interesting and useful thoughts on the topic, and it is up to the readers to critically read that and form their own opinions. By the way, I would be glad to receive any comments, including criticism, especially if it helps to further improve articles like this one.

What function can a buyer's guide fulfill?
Print or online?
The economical model of buyer's guides
Are enhanced entries worth the money?
Can you trust buyer's guides?
Criteria for the usefulness for finding suppliers
Search engine optimization
Data privacy
The major photonics buyer's guides

You may also interested in my more general article on photonics marketing.

What Function Can a Buyer's Guide Fulfill?

Obviously, the essential purpose of a buyer's guide (in short: BG) is to quickly and reliably find out which suppliers should be considered when you plan to purchase certain items.

It would be quite silly to assume that the general Internet search engines like Google would fulfill that purpose just as well:

For those reasons, BGs are certainly as valuable today as they were in the past – at least if they are of good quality.

It still happens quite often (thousands of times per month!) that someone starts out with Google or some other Internet search engine, then stumbles on a BG listing in the search results (most likely the RP Photonics Buyer's Guide, since that website has the best search engine ranking) and continues the search for suppliers there.

Print or Online?

In the old times, they were presented in the form of thick books; you can still obtain printed BGs, but obviously in our times one mostly uses online BGs – for several reasons:

I think these are strong reasons to believe that it doesn't matter much whether or not you get an additional entry in a printed version of a buyer's guide.

The Economical Model of Buyer's Guides

As a user or advertiser, you should be aware of the economical model behind the BGs. The principles are easy to understand:

Of course, advertisers demand clear advantages. On the other hand, one cannot go so far that the value for the users is undermined. For example, if one would not offer links to the websites of non-paying suppliers, that would hurt the users, and they would probably go away.

It can be problematic if the visibility of free entries is made so poor that the users find it difficult to get an unbiased choice of suppliers. Some operators take greater risks in that direction than others.

Are Enhanced Entries Worth the Money?

As explained above, you obtain substantially improved visibility in any buyer's guide if you are prepared to pay for it. Depending on the used resource and the level of improvement, also on the number of products to be displayed, the cost per year will typically be somewhere between 2000 USD and 10,000 USD. Given that you can also have free entries, that may sound like a lot of money. On the other hand, you get a much improved visibility for a whole year, while you could also easily spend 10,000 USD for a single full-page print ad in a trade journal (not including the cost for artwork). In comparison to any substantial print ad campaign or having a large booth at a major trade show, the cost for some enhanced BG entries are peanuts.

You should also consider that many products can be promoted at the same time, and the cost per product can be rather low. In our BG, for example, every additional product adds only 90 USD, or 60 USD for every product beyond 50. If you are selling some product which is really not worth a promotion for additional 90 or 60 USD per year, you should seriously think about taking it out of your portfolio.

Of course, you should still check which buyer's guides are really performing instead of spending 5000 or 10,000 USD on each one. This article should give you a lot of useful thoughts for checking that yourself.

Can You Trust Buyer's Guides?

As a user (potential buyer), I think you can trust all the major BGs – at least in the sense that you can find nearly all relevant suppliers there. They have large databases and generally no reason to exclude any suppliers – only that they have to limit the number of displayed products of non-paying suppliers in order to maintain an incentive for paying.

As an advertiser, you should be very vigilant. In particular, the value of the obtained advertising – and thus the cost which can be justified – depends substantially on the ability of a resource to generate leads, and to some extent to support your branding. And that of course depends on their popularity, which however is not so easy to assess. I would like to make you aware of some critical issues:

At least after having started with paid entries, you should check yourself what is most relevant for you: the incoming traffic on your web server. You should at least study statistics on how many visits you obtain from different web domains. If possible, compare that with what they claim and draw your own conclusions. If you cannot check such things yourself, ask your IT department to do it for you.

To give you a flavor, I show you some statistics of an example case in the table below. It shows that one of our advertising customers started getting substantial traffic when beginning with paid entries in the RP Photonics Buyer's Guide. Receiving over 100 high-quality website visits per month creates a big value – very easily justifying the cost. The same customer gets much less traffic from other resources – even from those where he pays much more.

example for BG traffic
Example for the development of traffic which an advertising customer of RP Photonics received. In the first three months, they had free entries only, which are limited to 10 displayed products. Thereafter, they started with an ad package and some enhanced product entries, allowing them the display of many more products, and that with improved visibility. The page impressions of those pages containing their entries did not rise dramatically, but the received traffic (“clicks”) did – particularly for the enhanced product entries. The currently available at package implies such enhanced product entries for all registered products (without extra cost) and will therefore drive even substantially more traffic than seen here.

Criteria for the Usefulness for Finding Suppliers

In the long run, a buyer's guide can be successful only if it works well for the users, who need to find suitable suppliers for certain products. Therefore, advertisers also need to consider that. In the following, I give you some criteria to assess that usefulness:

Besides, people are more likely to use a resource if it is close to another resource which they regularly use anyway. The classical example is our photonics encyclopedia; numerous experts use that regularly, and it is just natural that they consult supplier listings which are just one click away from there.

Search Engine Optimization?

Some publishers try to make you believe that by having paid entries in their resource you will also do something for the search engine ranking of your website. I think that such claims lack any credibility. First of all: How on earth can a resource which itself has a very poor search engine ranking help others in any way? That killer alone applies to nearly all BGs.

In principle, it can have some SEO value to have links to your website on another website covering the same topical area. However, the search engines are nowadays very good at limiting that effect to those cases where links can really be regarded as evidence for high usefulness and popularity of the linked websites. The times where you could simply purchase some links to improve your website ranking are long over.

My clear conclusion: Forget about any “SEO value” of buyer's guide listings, even if they explicitly sell you “SEO keywords”. It is not credible in any way that anything of that could work. Of course, BGs can produce other kinds of value.

Data Privacy

More and more people get aware of the important issue of data privacy. For example, most of us more or less hate it to receive related ads after visiting certain websites – even on different channels. Such phenomena reveal that data are collected at huge scales (often without your knowledge, let alone your consent) and monetized in dubious ways.

It is difficult to assess in detail how much of that happens on particular websites. However, you can look out for certain things:

Recently, the European privacy regulations (GDPR) have become substantially stricter. I expect that particularly some large US companies, who cannot afford to lock out European users, could encounter substantial difficulties – forcing them to give up a lot of their practices or to face substantial legal trouble. Note that many of the usual practices can clearly not be reconciled with current regulations. It is not sufficient just to have some lawyers working out proper privacy statements; the data practices themselves need to be profoundly changed, and this will be a huge challenge for some.

By the way, our buyer's guide (and of course the whole website) is made with uttermost respect for privacy. For example, we never try to identify any users of our website (unless e.g. they enter information for obtaining quotations), or to acquire information which is thought to be for the suppliers. We only collect statistical information as required to prove the value for advertisers.

The Major Photonics Buyer's Guides

The major operators of BGs in the area of photonics and laser technology are (in alphabetical order):

The first three ones have been established decades ago, while RP Photonics has started its BG only in 2012. That start, however, was immensely boosted by the already extremely popular Encyclopedia of Laser Physics and Technology. Many of the over 650 encyclopedia articles are directly related to certain products, and they contain direct and well visible links to the corresponding BG pages.

As an example, I show you how that works for an expensive type of laser product in a very competitive market:

Now you will wonder what results the other BGs might achieve there. Think about what chances they have to reach the same level – without having an encyclopedia article on that topic and without having a significant search engine ranking. Of course, you can also apply all the criteria for usefulness mentioned above; usefulness influences popularity. Presumably, you will reach at similar conclusions as we do (and already did before establishing another BG). And the same reasoning will apply to many hundreds of other photonics and laser products, where only RP Photonics has an encyclopedia article.

How Relevant Are Loads of Journal Articles?

A possible objection is that the big publishers do have thousands of articles on their websites – typically, articles which appeared within the last 10 years or so in their trade journals. They indeed have substantially more content in terms of the number of articles or the amount of text. However:

  • Do you think that people would go such a website, just hoping that they will find interesting information through a chronological list of articles? I think they would much prefer to use an encyclopedia, where things are treated systematically, so that it is likely that they can find the needed information.
  • Such articles get some readers primarily because they are sent there by search engines. But now ask yourself how relevant that is for a buyer's guide on the same domain, which has little or no relation to those articles?

You see that the situation is completely different for a website like ours with a big, famous encyclopedia:

  • An encyclopedia is a well organized set of articles, systematically covering a large topical area. You can enter such a resource with a reasonable probability of getting your questions answered.
  • An encyclopedia like ours has a consistent style and quality level (guaranteed by a single well known author).
  • If every product-related encyclopedia article reveals that the list of corresponding suppliers is just one click away, and some advertisers are visible even on the encyclopedia page, it will of course direct a lot of traffic to the buyer's guide.

How Much Work Is It to Get Started?

It is usually no big deal to enter the basic data of your company – things like company name, all the contact information and a short company description. It may be some more work to register all your products, possibly after studying what categorization scheme a particular resource applies. Of course, you should carefully word any product descriptions. Keep in mind that it is very important to publish product descriptions and images, because users will be more likely to come over from the company database to your own website if a product description show them that you indeed offer interesting things. Noted that it is tedious for users to search through many websites.

Fortunately, you can often just copy product descriptions and images from your own website – you should definitely already have them there, and maybe only requires small adaptations (e.g. some shortened versions of the texts).

Furthermore, you need to analyze what kind of enhanced displays you get and what is their cost. That can unfortunately be somewhat tedious, particularly when the publishers don't offer clear explanations e.g. what exactly the terms used in their advertising packages mean.

At least, you don't have to do all that work for many such resources, if you have previously determined which of them have a significant value for the users and the advertisers.

By the way, good service can help a lot. For example, we offer to collect your product descriptions and images from your website, if you want to save time that way.

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