What’s the most useful content you can post on your web site to attract safety products buyers and keep ’em coming back?

Don’t be overly commercial. That’s the message from ISHN’s recent study of 320 subscribers, conducted to help marketers learn how safety shoppers use the Internet in 2006.

Safety product purchasers come to vendors’ sites looking for resources, according to the study. The top three features that visitors find useful: links to expert safety resources (63 percent), technical articles (58 percent), and regulatory updates — OSHA, NIOSH, NFPA, ANSI, ASTM, etc. (56 percent).

Value-added content

Product updates don’t score as high in terms of useful content. About four in ten safety shoppers (43 percent) told ISHN that product updates are very useful. It could be that shoppers are still comfortable getting product updates from traditional sources: mail catalogs and other literature from distributors; sales visits from distributor and manufacturer reps; advertisements and product news sections in the safety trade magazines; and exhibits at local, regional and national tradeshows.

In fact, previous market research we’ve conducted at ISHN shows both distributors’ and manufacturers’ web sites rank low as preferred sources of product information. Indeed, most popular are catalogs, sales presentations, peer recommendations, trade magazines and trade shows.

Of course this doesn’t mean you should strip your web site of product news. After all, almost half your safety visitors (43 percent) are looking for product info. ISHN’s survey findings might help you rethink the mix of content you offer on your site. Remember, value-added material ranks high: links, tech articles, reg updates.

Don’t be passive

Another take-away from ISHN’s study could be this: don’t be passive with your product publicity. Don’t simply post new information on your site and wait for shoppers to find it. Get aggressive — push new product info to buyers using “e-mail blasts” to your database of e-mail prospect names; mail those catalogs and product flyers; keep making those sales calls; and keep advertising.

Shoppers told us other useful content for a vendor’s site could include pricing information (52 percent), technical Q&A with product experts (31 percent), directions to safety distributor locations (14 percent).

One good reason for not sitting back to wait for shoppers to come to your site: more than two-thirds of ISHN’s survey respondents report visiting vendors’ web sites only once a month (33 percent), or less than once a month (34 percent). Only two percent say they visit vendor sites daily, with 26 percent visiting weekly, according to the study.

But here’s what you’re up against using push technology to send your customers product bulletins and other announcements:
  • The average safety pro deletes about 20 percent of their daily e-mails without ever opening them.
  • Safety newsletters abound on the ‘net. On average, 31 percent of safety pros receive 1-2 newsletters per week; 26 percent receive 3-4; and 19 percent look forward to 5-6 each week.

Online purchasing

What about the ability to buy products online as a feature of your web site?

E-commerce in the safety industry has made strides since the dot-com bubble burst in the late 1990s, and down in flames went virtual shopping malls like Safetyonline and Mysafetydirector.com. Just ask Grainger, which has seen its Internet sales grow to represent about 15 percent of the company’s $5 billion in total sales.

But the safety market is cautious and conservative by nature, and recent ISHN surveys show only three percent of safety shoppers rank Internet purchasing as the most important service a distributor can offer (with four percent indicating Internet purchasing as the most important feature a manufacturer could offer).

It can be argued the safety industry has taken to online training more readily than e-commerce. And if your web site doesn’t offer training presentations and/or downloads, you might want to consider it. According to ISHN’s recent Internet study, the number of safety pros taking distance learning courses via the ‘net is expected to jump from 22 percent to 44 percent in the next two years.

Still, the overwhelming majority of safety and health training is still delivered in the classroom, according to our survey — 85 percent vs. 15 percent delivered online.

Other results

Here’s what else we learned that might interest you about your Web site visitors:
  • Of course almost every safety pro employs the Internet as a tool of the trade — 97 percent according to our survey.

But they are not using it as much as you might think. Compared to Internet usage surveys we conducted in the go-go boom years of the late ’90s and early 2000s — before the bubble burst — the novelty has worn off and safety pros are more selective users. Plus search engines have come a long way.

So your typical safety pro now spends only about one hour each workday using the Internet to search for safety-related information. About 10 percent spend two hours each day. Very few spend more time than that.
  • The object of their searches has not changed over the years that the Internet has been at their disposal. Compliance, compliance, compliance is the name of the Internet search game. Eight of ten safety pros say obtaining OSHA-related information is their number one objective.

That includes regulatory interpretations, MSDS specifics, enforcement data, and as one respondent described, “hazard and toxicology information beyond what’s available on an MSDS.”
  • No wonder OSHA’s web site is by far the most popular destination for safety pros on the ’net. Almost nine in 10 pros say they regularly visit OSHA’s site. Imagine the traffic if the agency was more active in standards-setting…

EPA and NIOSH sites are noticeably less popular: about 39 percent of pros visit EPA’s site regularly; 27 percent regularly hit the NIOSH site.

Organizations with loyal followings — professional associations and societies such as ASSE and AIHA, and safety magazines such as ISHN — are other high-traffic sites.
  • Blogs and webcasts have a ways to go before catching on in the safety industry. The blogosphere in general may be expanding faster than American Idol’s audience, but only three percent of safety pros regularly visit an EHS blog. Practical pros have always been more interested in technical info than rants and raves.

Webcasts are mushrooming like e-newsletters and blogs, but at this point it’s the minority of safety pros who have participated. In the past year, only 13 percent paid to “attend” a webcast, while 30 percent attended a free webcast.

What’s the hang-up with webcasts, even if they’re free? Not enough time to participate, say 38 percent of pros. About 25 percent are not familiar with the technology. One survey respondent probably speaks for many when saying: “I want a face-to-face interaction.”

Compliance, building safety cultures, and getting employees more involved in safety and health processes are subjects most likely to draw webcast audiences. ISHN survey respondents reported little interest in topics such as international safety standards, emerging issues such as nanotechnology, and management systems such as the new ANSI Z10 voluntary standard.

As we said, safety pros tend to be a practical-minded crowd. They want information today that they can apply tomorrow on the job.
  • Secure Web platforms inside an organization’s firewall — intranet sites — are natural delivery mechanisms for safety and health applications, report more than half (54 percent) of ISHN’s survey respondents.

Updating and posting company safety policies and manuals is the number one intranet application, cited by 80 percent of pros with access to an intranet site. Posting presentations, checklists and tracking injury reporting and training session attendance are other popular uses. About 46 percent of pros with intranet access say online training is delivered via the site.