If you’re not in sync with how your potential prospects look for your type of products and services via the search engines, it can absolutely kill your chances of getting found in the organic searches results. There are two key factors B2B marketers must consider when developing keyword search strategies for optimized websites.
First, remember you’re usually not talking to one buyer. A typical B2B purchase involves four, five, or more different people who ultimately influence the purchase decision. Sure, they share common organizational objectives—but they have unique perspectives, interests, agendas, and needs. The “technology” buyer may base their search on product and performance attributes, while influential “end-users” considers ease of operation, and the “economic buyer” looks at ROI. All use the web to research, evaluate, or vet business purchase decisions, and yet they may use completely different search terms relevant to their individual interests and concerns. An effective B2B keyword strategy considers varying search strategies.
The second force
When someone visits an online retailer to buy a book or a Polo shirt, he or she is probably pretty far along the path to a buying decision. Two, maybe three sites are checked for the price on the book, or the colors available for the shirt. But chances are, there’s not a lot of searching going on. The buyer simply wants to find that particular item, buy it, and get delivery as soon as possible.
In the B2B realm, the situation couldn’t be more different, for several very good reasons.
It’s a matter of time.
First, the vast majority of B2B purchases are not snap decisions. For major supplies and capital investments in particular, the factors influencing the decision unfold over time, and in many cases can ebb and flow with business realities. In the B2B buying cycle, it can be a year to 18 months or more from the time the possible need is first acknowledge to the time the “trigger is pulled” for purchase.
Throughout the entire process, starting at the very earliest speculation, information is being gathered and preliminary decisions are being made, at least informally. These prospects—prospects tiptoeing around the rim of your sales funnel—need to know about you early to put you in their consideration set. That’s what B2B SEO does. And why it matters.
It’s a complex issue, with more people involved in it.
Not too many things to think about when you’re buying a blue Polo shirt. And only your opinion matters. That’s not true for B2B purchases. The very nature of many B2B purchases requires significant knowledge and research in order to make the best purchase decision.
The SEO purist may argue why anyone would ever want to use PDF content on a website for search purposes. The reality, however, is that many businesses have a lot of PDF assets. These may include sell sheets, brochures, white papers, technical briefs, etc. The purist simply says why not convert these to html? In the real world, not everyone has the time, budget, and expertise to do that. There may also be other “marketing” reasons. Perhaps a company wants its prospects to experience the content along with all the other brand elements inherent in its print materials. Whatever the reason, there are lots of PDFs available on the web, and you can optimize PDFs to get high-ranking search results. Here are some tips on the right way to do it.
Perhaps nowhere is keyword strategy more complex than in B2B SEO. The lack of shared lexicons, the obscurity of most B2B brand names, the multiple parties involved in the purchase decision, and the extended nature of the buying cycle present unique challenges for B2B marketers. Here are some tips to keep you on course.
Although corporate brands are vitally important in driving B2B sales, B2B brands are often reliant on channel partners to sell products and services to end users. And while manufacturers and others offer traditional co-branding marketing tools, they often fail miserably at driving traffic to distributors, dealers, and other channel partners through B2B search marketing.
Channel partners often face the heat of companies whose lines they represent. Why aren’t you selling more of our stuff? What did you do with all the leads we gave you? What’s our return on the co-op dollars we gave you? What are you doing to market our products?
Channel partners, on the other hand, often complain about the lack of support. We need more co-op dollars. Why don’t you give us more leads? The leads you give us aren’t qualified. What are you doing to help promote us?
Both sides are generally justified in their stance. The root issue, however, lies not in the money spent promoting channel partners, but in the effectiveness of channel partner initiatives. With all the evidence that search plays a huge role in B2B purchases, few B2B brands have made the investment to properly optimize their own sites for search, let alone optimize their sites to promote channel partners or help channel partners with search marketing. Yet B2B search marketing can be one of the most effective, cost-efficient ways to drive traffic to channel partners and generate leads and sales.
Despite the key role it plays in B2B purchasing, branding seems to move further and further down the list of corporate priorities. In the drive to generate revenue in today’s ROI-driven world, don’t ignore the influence of corporate branding on B2B sales or focus search marketing solely on product offerings. In B2B, corporate branding drives customer acquisition, and search can be branding’s best friend.
Despite this, SEMPO’s State of Search Marketing, shows direct sales edging out branding as the primary objective of search marketers. In BtoB Magazine’s survey, 2007 Marketing Plans and Priorities, marketers were asked to indicate their top priority for 2007. Sixty-two percent cited customer acquisition, followed by brand awareness (20%) and customer retention (11%). Why the discrepancies?
Obviously, getting your site to rank highly in the search engine results and getting searchers to click through to your site is one of the first objectives of B2B search engine optimization. But that’s just the beginning. You still have to turn the visitor into a customer or client.
In the B2C world, conversion (turning a site visitor into a customer) can happen in a matter of minutes. In the business-to-business realm, however, conversion can take months or even years—and it typically doesn’t occur online. So how should you think about conversion in the B2B SEO environment, and what can you do both to accelerate and measure it?
Site visitors like content-rich sites. So do search engines.
It is surprising how often we run across companies that expect their existing sites to be found in the organic search results for a wide range of search terms their sites fail to adequately address. Sure, these companies may have products or services related to those search terms, but they haven’t created organic landing pages for those search terms. They don’t have content-rich sites. To be found for a specific search term, there needs to be an optimized landing page on the website that revolves around that search term. A landing page is the website page to which you want people to click through when they click on a search result for a specific search term.
Effective search engine optimization requires each significant page in a website have its own song, i.e., each page is optimized to specific search terms. You may be able to get two or three closely related search terms to point to the same landing page, but, typically, if the search terms aren’t very closely related, they should have different landing pages. Even when terms appear to be related, for instance “healthcare consulting” and “healthcare consultant”, given the amount of individual competition in the search engines for these terms, each term will likely need its own landing page.
Suddenly, the task of creating a content-rich optimized website seems daunting; you may need to double or triple the amount of content on your site simply to have appropriate organic landing pages for your desired keywords.
In Lee Odden’s recent post, The Lowdown on Web Designers and SEO, he does a nice job of pointing out the often-found real world conflicts that often arise between web designers and SEO professionals because of their respective areas of expertise. In response to a comment, Lee points out that it may not be reasonable to expect web designers to stay on top of both their trade AND the knowledge and expertise necessary for SEO. Although I agree with this, his post and subsequent response to comments is focused largely on the shortcomings of web designers with respect to SEO.
I’m not faulting Lee here; I’m sure this was merely the focus of the post. I’m sure, however, that he’d agree with me that the vast majority of SEOs are going to need to speak to shortcomings also. For years, SEOs have been focused largely on ranking: keyword research, attempting to decipher search engine algorithms to get and maintain rankings for key search terms, researching competitor sites, and mining analytics data. To be sure, this alone can be a challenging area in which to develop proven expertise. However, in order to flourish, today’s SEO professionals, are going to have to get much better at understanding the buyer, the sales cycle and how search changes over the buying cycle, desired actions of prospects and how to effect them…in short, getting inside the mind of the prospect and using SEO to create and drive business results and relationships with prospects. Some SEOs are good at this; others are simply too technically focused. The truly effective SEO professional will be just as much an expert at business and marketing as she is at the “traditional” SEO responsibilities.
Although creating web content is cheaper than print communications, creating a large amount of new, original, persuasive web content is still time-consuming and expensive, especially with the complex nature of technical writing that is often required in B2B marketing. Effective search engine optimization requires a unique landing page for each desired search term. You may be able to get two or three closely related search terms to point to the same landing page, but, typically, if the search terms aren’t very closely related, they should have different landing pages. Add to this the fact that often there is no universally agreed-upon lexicon for most B2B products and services (i.e., people call things by different names) and the number of landing pages your site requires grows significantly—one of the key issues that makes B2B search engine optimization especially complex.
B2B companies seeking for the first time to optimize their sites for search engines are faced with the daunting task of creating a significant amount of new content to serve as landing pages for key search terms.
On the Francis SEO site, we recently added to the series of white papers on B2B search engine optimization strategies. The next white paper in the series, How to Quickly Create B2B Content Optimized for Search Engines, focuses on how to efficiently leverage what you may already have to build high-ranking optimized landing pages for organic search.