Every B2B organisation wants to show up in the results when its target audience makes industry searches. That's a given.
But is it enough just to rank for the biggest keywords in your industry? How does an organisation gain prominence in these results? What can a company do to improve the results of its search marketing strategy?
To get started, let's understand how your buyers really use search engines.
How B2B Buyers Use Search Engines
The first thing you need to realise is that someone isn't going to make a Google search for "Blue Widgets", click the top link, read about your company's "Blue Widgets", then press the "contact us" button and fill in your form to order £100,000 worth of widgets. It may happen once in a blue moon, but it's rare.
Most B2B product or service purchase decisions take time, and considerable research.
Let's imagine what a prospect for a data backup service company called "EZ Backups" might do to find the company via search, and eventually buy:
- Make a Google search for "how to backup company data".
- Read a number of articles on how to backup their company's data.
- Make a Google search for "choosing a data backup company".
- Read a number of articles about how to choose a data backup company, perhaps download an eGuide.
- Make a Google search for "data backup service providers".
- Read a few lists of data backup service providers, and make a short list.
- Make a Google search for "EZ Backups review" (as well as their competitors).
- Read a number of reviews of EZ Backups around the web.
- Ask a few colleagues what they they think of EZ Backups.
After all these steps, they might then finally come back to EZ Backups, and look to talk to a sales person, or begin to consider making a purchase from the company. These searches could all happen in a day, or over weeks/months/years.
Notice how showing up in search results for any one of the given search phrases alone isn't enough.
Search engine marketing therefore delivers the most value to your organisation when you rank for as many industry phrases as possible. That means thousands of search phrases covering everything from informational searches around problems your prospects are facing, through to decision making searches on subjects like pricing and reviews. The more of these phrases your company can rank for, the more likely you are to appear time and time again as a prospect progresses through the buying process.
The more a prospect stumbles across your brand as they search, the more likely they are to buy from you. It's a modern version of the famous Thomas Smith excerpt from his 1885 guide, Successful Advertising:
The first time people look at any given ad, they don't even see it.
The second time, they don't notice it.
The third time, they are aware that it is there.
The fourth time, they have a fleeting sense that they've seen it somewhere before.
The fifth time, they actually read the ad.
The sixth time they thumb their nose at it.
The seventh time, they start to get a little irritated with it.
The eighth time, they start to think, "Here's that confounded ad again."
The ninth time, they start to wonder if they're missing out on something.
The tenth time, they ask their friends and neighbors if they've tried it.
The eleventh time, they wonder how the company is paying for all these ads.
The twelfth time, they start to think that it must be a good product.
The thirteenth time, they start to feel the product has value.
The fourteenth time, they start to remember wanting a product exactly like this for a long time.
The fifteenth time, they start to yearn for it because they can't afford to buy it.
The sixteenth time, they accept the fact that they will buy it sometime in the future.
The seventeenth time, they make a note to buy the product.
The eighteenth time, they curse their poverty for not allowing them to buy this terrific product.
The nineteenth time, they count their money very carefully.
The twentieth time prospects see the ad, they buy what is offering.
The B2B companies that are most successful with their search engine marketing strategy appear time and time again. Their content shows up virtually no matter what you search within their industry.
How to Improve Search Visibility
This leads to an obvious question: how does a company improve its search visibility for hundreds of strategically targeted phrases?
1. Blog Strategically
Modern SEO is primarily about content creation, and one of the best ways to produce content which will rank well in search engines is to produce educational blog posts. B2B companies that blog even just 1-2x per month generate 70% more leads than those that don't blog at all. It's not enough to churn out blog posts for the sake of it, though. Your blogging needs to be strategic, and answer the questions your prospects are asking search engines.
One great way to come up with a list of ideas for blog posts to write is to interview your sales team. Ask them about all the most common questions and objections your prospects come up with. Each question represents a great blog post idea.
Blogging is a skill in itself, and producing blog posts which are simultaneously well optimised for search and engaging for your prospects takes time.
2. Optimise Your Website for Search Engines
Optimising your website for search engines will require an SEO expert, but tools like HubSpot can make the job easier. Some of the important tasks that will need doing include:
- Keyword research to determine the most valuable keywords to rank for in your industry.
- Ensuring your website is setup appropriately in Google Webmaster tools.
- Optimising each page for a target keyword based on your keyword research. This includes titles, meta descriptions and website content.
- Optimising navigation structure and internal links so that your most important pages gain visibility in Google.
- Setting up an XML sitemap, and appropriate robots.txt.
- Removing broken links, 404 pages, analysing any crawl errors showing up in Google Webmaster Tools and fixing HTML errors.
- Establishing Google Authorship for your blog authors.
3. Leverage Social Media
Social media is a great opportunity for building awareness of your content, and in turn drawing more attention to it. Google is increasingly paying attention to social media sharing metrics when it decides how to rank content in search results.
Another important aspect of ranking highly in search engines is the number, and quality of the links to your website and blog posts. Google views a link to your blog or website as a "vote" for both your website and the piece of content linked to. By increasing your visibility on social media, you increase the chances of other bloggers and website owners engaging with your content, and deciding to link to it from their websites.
This leads onto my fourth tip...
4. Build Relationships With Other Industry Experts
Build relationships with other industry experts, and in particular bloggers within your industry. The stronger the relationships you can build with other people in the industry, the more likely your content is to attract links when it's published.
By actively sharing other people and company's content, engaging with them via social media and adding value wherever possible, you develop a crowd of loyal followers who will further share your content. It benefits everyone.
Great relationships with other bloggers also offer you the opportunity to secure guest posts. Guest posts are blog posts which you publish to other blogs, which can help you to reach entirely new audiences with your content.
5. Invest in Adwords Where You Fall Short
It takes time to rank in organic search results, which is where Adwords can prove a great investment. You can use Adwords to ensure your brand achieves prominence in areas where you're struggling to rank naturally.
Traditionally Adwords is used primarily for targeting keywords with a high commercial intent. So going back to our EZ Backups example, they might purchase Adwords ads for the keyword "data backup service providers". To think of Adwords in this way alone is short sighted..
Another great use for Adwords is targeting the less competitive informational searches within your industry. So as an example, EZ Backups could target "how to backup company data". When a visitor clicks through to the EZ Backups website landing page, EZ Backups simply asks them to fill a form with their basic contact details. In exchange for their contact details, they are sent a free PDF eGuide with all the information a company needs to start implementing data backups.
Once you have this information, you can then nurture the lead with targeted emails. By staying in touch with the lead via email you ensure that your company remains top of mind throughout the entire buying process. Think about it: if one brand provided you with the majority of the material you educated yourself with during the buying process, would you be more, or less likely to buy from that brand?
B2B search engine marketing isn't as simple as it sounds on the tin. Great results are all about ubiquity - that is having well optimised content appear in as many relevant search results as possible. The more you appear throughout the buying process, the more leads your website will generate.