Buyer's Guide … the one with the Encyclopedia!

Good and Bad Reasons Not to Use a Buyer's Guide for Product Marketing

Dr. Rüdiger Paschotta

Many marketing people take care to have their company listed in several buyer's guides, but don't care about having enhanced (paid) entries there. There can be various reasons for that – good and bad ones –, which are worth to be analyzed. Of course, I am not neutral here, but you are welcome to develop your own opinions.

You don't believe in buyer's guides. Just don't want to be fooled.

I think that many marketing people generally don't believe in buyer's guides, often based on frustrating experiences. I can well understand that after you have tried with a few of them, every time checking the resulting referral traffic and getting disappointingly low numbers, you are not keen to try such things again.

It is unfortunate that quite a few organizations try to make money with a buyer's guide which fails already at the first challenge: getting enough traffic to become useful for advertisers. Of course, they can then not openly communicate that embarrassing fact. Instead, there are various ways of disguising it. Either they try to distract people with large colorful graphics having basically no verifiable content, or they present statistical data which apply to their whole website, rather than the small part of the buyer's guide itself which is relevant for the advertisers.

But you should not overlook that in the area of photonics there is one buyer's guide which is different: the RP Photonics Buyer's Guide. In contrast to all others, it is intensely linked with my famous RP Photonics Encyclopedia, which is the main reason why it performs far better: people typically find that it delivers about an order of magnitude more referral traffic to their website than the best competitors. That leads to great value for money – see below.

You don't believe in the SEO value.

Some enhanced buyer's guide entries are advertised with their SEO benefits is a primary selling point: allegedly, you can get a higher search engine ranking for your websites when placing your links in there. I believe that this is completely bogus because how on Earth can a digital resource have such an effect, if itself has a rather poor search engine ranking?

The concept already fails due to the fact that search engines absolutely dislike paid links. This means that they put heavy ranking penalties on websites which are recognized to contain such links. Therefore, we (as various others) use the so-called nofollow links, which by definition do not count as ranking signals, but at the same time avoid the mentioned penalties. I know a resource which uses ordinary HTML links, but has a far too low search engine ranking to have any significant SEO effect – maybe partly due to those links.

Clearly, SEO considerations can not possibly be an argument for engaging in any buyer's guide. That doesn't mean that there are no other good reasons to engage their – and certainly there are such reasons.

You just use free entries, isn't that enough?

In every buyer's guide I know, suppliers can have free entries, and that's what the majority of them uses. Isn't that enough?

Well, that depends on how the additional benefits compare with the cost in terms of money and time. I think that in many cases a closer inspection will show that not wasting any time and money will be the best decision. With our buyer's guide, however, it is different:

With a free entry only, you can get listed for up to 100 products – but only for the fact that you offer such things, without giving people anymore information on what it really is. You may now think that it does not matter, since they can find this out on your website. Well, they can, but only if they decide to go there.

Imagine someone requiring a femtosecond laser; he or she will currently find 88 suppliers for those in our resource. Now don't expect that the interested person will now visit 88 supplier websites in order to find out which ones are suitable. Instead, one will look through the 16 product descriptions on our site and use those to make a short list of suppliers who then get a closer inspection. Product descriptions are displayed only by those having our ad package. Those having that get many more referrals to their website – which is reported by our statistics and can be verified by the advertisers on their own web servers.

You don't believe in the value for money.

Are paid buyer's guide entries a waste of money? I think yes, and also a waste of time, if you pick one of the many which don't really perform – generating only a very modest number of referrals to your website per month. Unfortunately, various organizations operate a questionable buyer's guide on their website (often using a dubious marketing company) just to generate some additional turnover with those advertisers who don't have a critical look at it.

Just don't overlook our buyer's guide, where that is profoundly different. First of all, this resource is based on numerous hours of hard work, which results in outstanding quality – first of all for the readers, consequently then also for the advertisers. Only that way we are able to generate hundreds of referrals per month (i.e., thousands per year) for the suppliers having registered dozens of products (and of course having our ad package).

Now if you do a very naïve calculation – dividing the yearly cost by the number of referrals – you end up with a cost per click (CPC) which is similar as for Google Ads. However, that comparison is quite inappropriate because (a) it ignores the much better traffic quality of a photonics buyer's guide (which is essentially used by photonics professionals only) and (b) the also important branding effect, which you cannot expect from Google Ads. So we clearly give you a better value for money than Google Ads. Indeed, I think this applies to any other online advertising resource for photonics products.

Your target audience is not there.

That depends on what your target audience is, of course. I do not hesitate to admit that it makes little sense to engage in a photonics buyer's guide, if your target audience is largely outside the photonics community – for example, if you want to sell medical lasers to medical doctors. It is unlikely that such a doctor would use a photonics website for finding his instruments; some journal for doctors would thus work much better.

However, if your target audience consists of photonics professionals to a substantial extent, a photonics buyer's guide certainly provides a good audience match. For example, that is absolutely the case for companies selling all kinds of optics parts, particularly if these are mostly used by other companies, e.g. by laser manufacturers.

You cannot check the results. Or can you?

If you rely only on data obtained from an advertising company (e.g. a publisher), you can indeed not be sure that they are accurate; unfortunately, such statistical data are indeed often highly inflated. Some of those players publish visitor statistics which are clearly inconsistent with referral data which I have. (Occasionally, some of our advertising clients share such data with me – that has sometimes lead to astonishing results.)

Fortunately, there is a relatively simple way of checking the results. You can normally not verify the page view or unique visitor numbers of the relevant website, not having access to their web server, but on your own web server you can measure the generated referral traffic (number of times that some visitor is following a link in that resource to your website). (If you cannot do it yourself, there should be some IT person in your company who can provide such data to you.) Now it turns out that this referral traffic is anyway the most relevant thing. Don't care about how many page views or visitors a resource really has, since if they don't come over to you, it suggests that you didn't have a substantial marketing benefit.

The referral data are also a good tool for checking whether your advertising partner is trustworthy. One of our big advertising clients told me that RP Photonics is the only partner where the referral data are consistent with what they measure themselves.

You have no budget for that.

It seems that some marketing persons hate to do real work and thus use something like the following strategy. They let designers make some nice ad graphics and put those into an expensive print ad campaign, which consumes much of the advertising budget. With that,

  • they don't have that much work setting it up,
  • nobody will ask them to measure the results, since that is hardly possible, and
  • they have a wonderful excuse for not engaging in other activities ( because no money is left).

I am not claiming that a lack of budget is always caused by such a strategy, which can hardly be beneficial for the employer. However, it is curious indeed when enhanced buyer's guide entries cannot be afforded, although they cost only a couple percent of the employment cost for a single marketing person. If that money is not there, it makes no sense to employ any marketing person at all – and probably not to run the company. So it can only be that the money would be there, but is spent for other things, which possibly generate much less in terms of results.

Your company website has good search engine rankings.

You may think that if your website ranks well for important search terms, you can directly get the visitors without caring about a buyer's guide. However, first of all it is difficult to achieve that for a broad range of keywords, if you don't happen to have a huge encyclopedia on your site. Second, someone requiring an expensive laser system (or large numbers of optics parts) cannot simply take the first Google search results and buy there; they need to get an overview on suppliers, and for that a good buyer's guide is most suitable.

You don't have the time to do it.

I see the problem, although there is a solution.

I believe that the crucial aspect of enhanced buyer's guide entries is that you can publish your product descriptions and get them displayed in the list of suppliers for certain products. The reason is that users, being confronted with many suppliers, need to decide which of them to put on their short list for closer inspection. Assuming that a buyer's guide lets you do this (as is the case for ours), the problem is that somebody needs to carefully put your product descriptions and images in that system. And that looks pretty much like work, doesn't it?

It doesn't need to be that bad, however. Usually, you should already have decent product descriptions and images on your own website. Now if you're doing it with us, my offer is that I personally pick those data from your website as far as possible. It may make me busy for quite some time, but maybe less than it would take you (I am fairly efficient with those things!), and that service is included in our advertising package. Indeed, many customers are surprised and delighted to see how easily they get the thing set up with my help.

Final Thoughts

I have shown you that there are several quite valid concerns and objections, which indeed mean that paid buyer's guide entries are often a waste of money and time.

However, there is a very important advantage of a buyer's guide compared with many other advertising tools:

  • In many cases – for example, print ads in some journal –, you are trying to get attention for something the readers have not been searching for. They may find an interesting article but not be interested in ads placed nearby. We are all quite well trained not to see those things which are at the moment not relevant for us.
  • On the other hand, a buyer's guide is normally used only when you want to find suppliers, i.e., if you are ready to buy. In that situation, people will want to read product descriptions, simply because they need to make a decision which obviously should be based on some factual information.

Therefore, the basic concept of a buyer's guide certainly makes it very interesting for product marketing. The caveat is only that most of those resources don't properly perform, for example because of a lack of traffic, or sometimes for other reasons, such as poor data quality, an inconvenient and sluggish user interface, etc. The conclusion should be that you just find and use the one which is working (in the case of photonics: ours, the RP Photonics Buyer's Guide). At the same time, you can stop wasting money elsewhere, e.g. after having detected disappointingly weak referral traffic.

This article is a posting of the RP Photonics Marketing News, authored by Dr. Rüdiger Paschotta. You may link to this page, because its location is permanent.

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