Business-to-business (B2B) blogging is be a great way to forge relationships, talk with customers and prospects, demonstrate thought leadership, and dramatically increase visibility in natural search results for targeted search terms. Done right, it ultimately drives substantial traffic when others in the media and blogosphere link to compelling or noteworthy content. Yet the Fortune 500, many of which are B2B companies, has been slow to embrace blogging.
Last year, Forrester Research reported that only 29 of the Fortune 500 companies were blogging. While the number of large companies blogging is still relatively small, that number more than doubled in 2008.
If you’re looking for insight into big business blogging, both for B2B and B2C companies, check out the Fortune 500 Business Blogging Wiki, a directory of Fortune 500 companies with business blogs. The wiki, started as collaborative project between Wired Magazine’s Chris Anderson and Socialtext’s Ross Mayfield, is a compilation following active public blogs by company employees blogging about their companies and/or products. Easton Ellsworth of We Know Media and John Cass of PR Communications joined the effort to expand the project.
As of November 15, 2008, the site indicates 12.8% of Fortune 500 companies (64 of them) are blogging. That’s up from 54 companies in May 2008. Initial findings at the start of 2006 found just under 4%, or 18 Fortune 500 companies, had corporate blogs.
Included on the site are lists and links of blogging Fortune 500 companies, example blogs for each (many have multiple blogs), examples of other social media in use (such as Twitter), and reviews.
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B2B copywriting is tough stuff. Instead of, “Wipes clean with a damp cloth,” you may find yourself trying to simultaneously explain and extol the virtues of some complex mechanical system while being creative and persuasive at the same time. Copywriting for B2B SEO is even tougher. Here are ten tips to help you succeed.
Watch the Lingo Make sure to use generic terms on the page. In most cases, B2B searchers are more likely to use generic terms than brand names. Proprietary brand names tend to be unusual, so searchers Googling for one of your brand names will likely find your site quite easily. Go ahead and use the brand name in copy, but make sure you also include the generic terms just as much, if not more.
Keep Page Copy Focused. Search engines attempt to discern the topical focus of the page. Don’t confuse them. Keep the content of a given page focused on the page’s keyword strategy. If you have multiple topics, better to put them on multiple pages. Don’t try to use a single page to go after numerous unrelated keywords.
Remember the Long Tail. Before you even start to write copy for a given page, you better know the likely long-tail words B2B searchers may also include in their queries. While the keyword focus of the page may be “conveyor systems,” your target prospect for that page may also be entering words like “distribution”, “sortation”, and “full-case” when they’re searching for a solution to their problems. Good B2B SEO copyrighting seamlessly includes these long-tail words.
Watch the Word Order. In some cases, word order doesn’t matter for PPC. In SEO, however, word order matters a lot. Obviously, you don’t want to create stilted copy…
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By now, many B2B marketing professionals know the basics of content optimization and how to make a site search-friendly. With that complete, their focus turns to link building. While that’s an admirable pursuit, it may not yield the maximum results if unaddressed website issues aren’t resolved. Here are some of the most common mistakes we see.
Inadequate site architecture
I’m surprised how often even large B2B companies fail to have organic landing pages on their website related to key revenue streams (e.g., product or service lines). It’s usually not that they forgot key segments of their business, but rather that they failed to get specific enough. For instance, a leasing company promotes leasing of office equipment but fails to have a page focused on copier leasing. One of the reasons for this may be that many B2B marketers have often taken a minimalist approach to site architecture, incorporating only that which is necessary to establish initial credibility.
To be found for a specific keyword, there needs to be an optimized landing page on the website that revolves around that search term. Simply put, this means you need to review your business and ensure your site has at least one page that promotes each specific revenue stream. However, the complexities of B2B keyword strategy—which include the lack of shared lexicons in most B2B verticals—mean that you may have to create and incorporate several landing pages for each revenue stream. For instance, an accounting firm promoting litigation support services may have a page on expert witness services, but it may do well to also consider having a page on forensic accounting.
Simply put, most B2B websites need more content, both to respond to likely organic search and to be seen as being by the search engines as an authoritative site on a given topic.
Lousy meta descriptions
If any meta descriptions have been specified in the first place, that is. It seems like B2B marketers often leave meta descriptions blank or simply leave it to the IT department to fill something in. This leads to poor descriptions in the search engine results.
When B2B marketers actually specify the meta descriptions for site pages, they often write from an internal standpoint, using corporate and internal lingo that doesn’t speak to the searcher. Typically, B2C marketers are much better at writing meta descriptions that promote click-through. When you write meta descriptions for B2B, think about what will entice the searcher (your prospect) to click on your search result versus all the others on the page. While you can write as much as you want, Google will only display about 165 characters. Make sure you use those characters wisely to create a keyword-rich, compelling message. You’ve only got a few seconds before searchers decide on which results they will click.
Not analyzing organic landing pages
Many B2B marketers don’t bother to evaluate, let alone manage, organic landing pages.
Recently, there was an article on MarketingSherpa (membership required) in which Martin Edic set forth 10 tips for optimizing PDFs for search. While access to the article requires membership, there was a posting on SearchNewz by Navneet Kaushal that summarized the ten tips presented, and the author appears to have posted a screenshot of the full article here.
While the tips mentioned in the MarketingSherpa article are mostly accurate (there are some inaccuracies regarding duplicate content, and stuffing meta keywords has been irrelevant for years), the article clearly missed some crucial factors in terms of optimizing pdfs for search. Among other things, the article failed to mention tagging content, specifying the reading order of PDFs, and how to influence meta descriptions.
Sure, it’s great if you can get PDFs indexed and perhaps rank well, but if you don’t know how to specify the reading order and influence meta descriptions, there’s little likelihood that anyone is every going to click on the PDF in the search results. If that’s the case, what good is a high-ranking PDF?
For a much more in-depth and illustrated article, read What you don’t know about optimizing PDFs can hurt you. It’s a substantial article that contains 17 tips regarding how to optimize PDFs and several screen captures to help you understand the issues.
I wrote about how B2B marketers can influence geo-specific search in a recent Search Engine Land article. Although Local search results are generally not as important for many B2B marketers as they are for a retail enterprise, some B2B companies serve a defined market and can benefit greatly from Local search.
In the recent months, there have been several changes in the Local search results. In January, Google started displaying 10 Local results instead of three, and it started embedding its Local search results into web search results (see Blended Search: Implications for B2B Search Marketing.) Yahoo has made changes as well. Recently, Matt McGee posted a great interview he had with Yahoo’s Brian Gil regarding Local search on Yahoo. Check it out.
A few weeks ago, there was a lively exchange on Search Engine Land about using the “nofollow” link attribute to sculpt PageRank. Shari Thurow, in her article You’d Be Wise To “NoFollow” This Dubious SEO Advice, essentially railed on SEO practitioners for employing this practice, which respected expert Stephan Spencer describes and advocates in his article Sculpting Your PageRank For Maximum SEO Impact.
If you do not believe that a page’s content is important, then don’t link to it. Better yet, remove the content. If you believe a web page’s content is important, then link to it and do it in a way that makes sense to your end users, your site’s visitors. I think it is very odd to put a nofollow attribute on pages within your own site. Essentially, you are saying that you cannot validate your own content—you advocate giving users one information architecture and search engines a different one?
Shari’s comments regarding the use of nofollow seem to imply some sort of bait and switch tactic that would not only fly in the face of search engines, but would be deceitful in some way to site visitors. So many people have cited Matt Cutts’ position that there is no problem with this practice that I won’t bother citing more. However, for those fearful of employing the practice, Matt indicated that employing such practice in no way even serves as a red flag to Google. Secondly, how could such a practice be deceitful in some way to site visitors? When the visitor is on the site, they have no idea which links have the nofollow attribute; they can go anywhere the navigation allows.
While it would be great if every page had the same high value to search engines and site visitors alike, that’s simply not reality for the vast majority of sites—even if it has been optimized for human usability. There are many pages that have real value to site visitors but marginal value to site owners in terms of PageRank or being included in search engine indices.
So what links should you nofollow?
In the pursuit of boosting traffic, B2B marketers often search for the most popular keywords, those that will drive a large number of visitors to the site. In doing so, one often fails to recognize (and optimize) obscure, high-value keywords that can lead to a long-lasting stream of ongoing business from customers. Many of these keywords may not be available for PPC, due to their low search volume. However, they potentially represent millions of dollars to be captured via B2B search engine optimization.
The typical B2B company often has plenty of literature available on its products and services. Once closely guarded as proprietary and available only to prospects vetted by the sales staff, this literature increasingly appears on company websites as B2B companies struggle to differentiate and distance themselves from competitors.
While this is great information for those visiting the website, these assets often sit idle in terms of attracting visitors to the website; these brochures, newsletters, sell sheets, technical papers, white papers, and case studies have been created without search engine optimization in mind.
In some cases, these materials are doing nothing in terms of attracting visitors. In others, the posting of these materials to corporate B2B websites can lead to a negative search experience. I noted one such experience (an American Seating pdf) in the last article. These materials are generally created by advertising agencies, marketing firms, and internal marketing departments. The hard, detailed content of these materials usually comes from company experts who labored over the exactness of the technical information. Each of these parties, however, is generally oblivious to search engine optimization. Due to the time and money that went into creating these assets, they are often viewed as sacred in their original form (likely for hardcopy distribution), and B2B marketers typically fail to go back to these assets and modify them for search. Yes, this may create two slightly different versions of the same piece, but there’s little harm in that.
While reworking an entire B2B website for SEO can be a daunting and expensive task, by simply optimizing existing assets for search engines, you can quickly rework these individual assets to serve as organic landing pages for desired search terms.
When it comes to B2B search marketing, what’s the best strategy—Organic search engine optimization or pay-per-click search advertising? In large part, it depends on what you’re selling, your budget, your company’s investment philosophy, and searchers’ actual behavior.