I’m a big fan of Jakob Nielsen. He’s a Web usability cat with his head screwed on straight. Why? Because he focuses on what’s important on the Web, especially for manufacturing – that is, what a site says and does for a business, not what it looks like like or SEO as an end-game. Much of what Jakob has discovered and brought to the fore as a first-tier Web advocate is perfectly applicable to manufacturers and their Web initiatives, and the 90-9-1 rule is no exception.

The 90-9-1 rule is about “participation inequality” on the Web, particularly as it applies to its social qualities (forums, comments and other facets that depend on community contributions). Jakob observed through data and observation that online, 90% of visitors to sites are “lurkers” (viewers and researchers that never contribute), 9% are “viewers” that may contribute a little every now and then, and 1% are serial participants that contribute the lion’s share of content. (graphic hat-tip: www.useit.com)

Let’s cut to the chase: the 90-9-1 rule is fact. I’ve seen it and lived it as an online community builder and curator for numerous manufacturing platforms & marketplaces. Jakob succintly (and correctly) gives the following advice on how to overcome this participation inequality of the Web:

You can’t. I mean, do sites you visit force or entice you do something you don’t want to?

Instead, manufacturers should accept and embrace this supreme fact: visitors and prospects visiting your site are in control. You can influence their behaviors some, but ultimately the motivation that brought them there will rule the day – or at least their activities while they’re on your site.

So, what do you do? Understand that the 90% lurkers represent “stealth prospects” that can be motivated to contact you or add you to a short-list by finding the information they need about what you can do for them, what you’ve done for others like them, and how you’ve made others like them rock stars.

It’s not just about your machinery or your new plant expansion or that new VP you’ve just hired. Those things are important to you, and maybe to some of the people that visit your site.

But the meat – the real value – of a manufacturers Web site consists of information that a lurker can digest and present to an organization that rationalizes why you’d make a preferred node in their supply chain.

The 90% are where your money’s made. They are the group that are looking to be convinced. And that just can’t happen with equipment lists and SEO strategies alone.