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How to Build Your B2B SEO and Search Strategies [Extract]
This is an exclusive extract from B2B Digital Marketing Strategy.
The official umbrella term relating to search engine optimization (SEO) and paid search is Search Engine Marketing (SEM). Essentially there are three core pillars to SEM, and they operate a little differently: paid search (or PPC advertising), on-page SEO and off-page SEO.
Paid search is often called pay-per-click (PPC) advertising and is a form of advertising which is based on keywords and key phrases used within advertising campaign content.
SEO is about optimizing your website, and activities outside your website, to support the search activities of prospects and customers. One common thing underpins all areas of search engine marketing – understanding keywords.
The relationship between search and buyer journey
There are a lot of statistics to highlight that in the first stage of a buyer journey, a customer will conduct research. In these initial stages use of a search engine(s) may be one of the first steps - Pardot reports that 72% of buyers turn to Google when researching products and solutions (Salesforce, n. d.).
Paid search and off-page search play a big role in this early stage. However, that’s not to say that some elements of search or SEO are still not valuable in the mid-buyer journey stage or even in the late buying stage.
The difference between search engine marketing in B2B and B2C
Search engine marketing has many roles in B2B. It can:
- Increase visibility of products and services.
- Generate awareness through PPC advertising and/or SEO.
- Help create more authentic and relevant content.
- Be used to understand customer intent by identifying keywords and phrases according to buyer journey stages and then using it as a guide.
B2B search engine marketing differs from that for B2C in the following ways:
- B2B typically involves selling more complex solutions and services than in B2C, and potentially the keywords are more specialized.
- B2B SEO is about serving multiple decision-makers and not one buyer. Hence, understanding the target audience and their keyword preferences is key, as these might differ between different decision-makers at the same target customer account.
- SEO in B2B needs to answer both tactical and technical questions, as well as higher-level business-related questions.
The key differences in B2B search engine marketing lie in the goals of campaigns, with decision-making processes in B2B typically taking much longer than in B2C marketing.
The role of SEO in B2B marketing
SEO activities can be a more interesting area to invest in with B2B, as the impact of SEO not only takes time to build, but it also doesn’t halt immediately if SEO investments are cut or reduced. For example, if you stop bidding on keywords related to PPC advertising, then typically you would see an immediate drop-off in traffic related to PPC ads and keyword traffic, whereas this is not usually the case with SEO.
In B2B marketing, if your SEO focus is primarily about ranking on Google, then you’re probably approaching things in the wrong way. Ranking does tend to be the result of a good SEO strategy - but it shouldn’t be the starting point. Instead, SEO is about authentic and relevant content which engages customers and attracts them to you. It’s about bringing them to your website and providing them with the right answers.
By focusing on relevant content, keywords and overall navigation, all of which support a great customer experience, you’ll likely feature highly in ranking for more meaningful search queries and terms.
When people talk about SEO and websites, it can be confusing as some of the discussions overlap. However, there are key differences between overall website management and on-page SEO.
B2B on-page SEO
On-page SEO is about ensuring your website is optimized for those off-page search or SEO activities. It is about optimizing the site and individual pages to support search queries. On-page SEO can be further divided into technical and non-technical aspects. Non-technical aspects include content on the page, use of keywords, or a keyword and key phrase mix, whereas technical on-page SEO relates more to tagging and scan-ability.
Technical on-page SEO involves more behind-the-scenes activities. Tagging refers to labelling the different aspects on a webpage including in the title, description and heading. Title tags or ‘meta’ title tags help search engines understand what your page is about. The meta title tag essentially names your website or website page and provides that first impression people have of your page. Get it wrong, and this will impact potential customers clicking through to your page.
Meta description tags are key, as Google uses this information as part of the search algorithm; they convey what users will find on the page, i.e., search engines read meta descriptions to determine the page’s topic. Each page of your website should have relevant and searchable tags.
In terms of scan-ability, it’s important to remember that users spend a short amount of time trying to find information before they land on what they’re looking for. Headings and subheadings facilitate easier scanning and make the web page feel cleaner.
B2B off-page SEO
Off-page SEO means everything you’re doing outside your website to drive traffic back to your site. Many factors contribute to successful off-page SEO; this includes link building, social media SEO-based strategy and blogging.
When creating off-page SEO activities, social media can be a good starting point. Likes, followers and shares on Twitter, LinkedIn or Instagram can start to build awareness and credibility of the brand.
A company could also set up their own blog, publish content there and share it using social media channels, or place blog posts in third-party spaces with links back to the page. B2B marketers that use blogs receive 67% more leads than those that do not (Sukhraj, 2019) - furthermore, blogs are proven to increase visits to your website and get more pages indexed by search engines.
Integrating keywords and phrases into your content
One of the common issues you need to understand across paid search and SEO is keywords and key phrases. Of particular interest for B2B marketers are ranking keywords which convert, rather than just the ranking of keywords themselves. (By ‘convert’ in B2B, we’re referring to prospects or customers performing an activity based on content or keywords).
Once you’ve defined the keywords and key phrases for your specific target customer segment, you can look to include them in content. However, watch out for ‘keyword stuffing’ where web pages become overcrowded with keywords which dilute the sense of what you’re trying to communicate. Keyword stuffing will reduce the authenticity of the message and will only put customers off.
It is also worth noting that keyword stuffing is not customer friendly and, as a result, Google has introduced updates to punish such practices.
The percentage of keywords or key phrases within content is known as keyword density. It is calculated as the number of times a keyword or key phrase appears on a page divided by the total number of words on that page. In B2B marketing, keyword density levels can be subjective; in essence, it comes down to the authenticity of content and how it reads. The general consensus is to keep keyword density below 5%, ideally around 2–3%(though some articles might be fine with 10%of the same keyword content).
If you cast your thoughts to previous searches you’ve conducted, it’s likely that the types of searches will have been different. For example, these searches could have been based on different motives or intent. In a similar manner, your B2B prospects will be searching with different intentions depending on what they’re looking for, and according to their position in the buyer journey.
Customers can conduct brand-based searches - where the specific brand or product name is used, competitor brand searches as they look into the different alternatives, category searches to understand the overall categories, or need-based searches - rather than looking for a specific product. If prospects are already searching the branded terms of a particular company, they’ll probably be in the consideration stage.
Because B2B searchers aren’t likely to convert on their first visit, B2B SEO tends to be more about establishing the brand in the searcher’s memory than getting them to make a purchase. This makes the visibility of SEO content, which can be boosted through thought leadership content, an important consideration. Use of subject matter experts can go a long way to improve findability and optimize the search process.
Sukhraj, R (2017) [accessed 1 August 2019] 28 Little-Known Blogging Statistics to Help Shape Your Strategy in 2019, Impact BND [online] www.impactbnd.com/blog/blogging-statistics-to-boost-your-strategy (archived at https://perma.cc/X2A8-WJWW)
Yeung, J (n. d.) [accessed 30 November 2019] John Deere: Integrated SEO & PPC Management, KoMarketing [online] https://komarketing.com/success-stories/machinefinder-success-story/ (archived at https://perma.cc/YN7R-Z322)