Search engine optimization (SEO) is the art of getting your website to rank at the top of search results, thereby driving a steady stream of organic visitors over a sustained period of time.
Why is SEO Important?
Of course, it’s possible for people to land on your website simply by typing the URL on their browser and hitting enter. You can also drive traffic by sharing your website to your Facebook page. But the fact of the matter is that if you’re trying to increase your traffic significantly without having to manually spread the word, you need to invest in an SEO strategy.
Almost 71% of all web traffic originates from search engine results. Google accounts for the majority of this, followed by Bing, Yahoo, and DuckDuckGo.
So if you ignore SEO, you’re basically saying you’re not interested in more traffic, more leads, and, ultimately, more revenue for your business.
Why Do B2B Companies Need SEO?
SEO was once assumed to be largely focused on the B2C industry, but times have changed.
B2B search engine optimization needs to be granted the same time and attention — otherwise you run the risk of losing real revenue and customers.
How so? That’s because nearly half of all B2B researchers are now millennials with 89% of them resorting to the internet throughout the purchase process. They’re consuming video, downloading case studies, poring over user reviews and testimonials, and actively using their smartphones for work-related tasks.
So if your business isn’t going to make an active effort to build an extremely robust and visible online presence, be prepared to start losing a healthy chunk of revenue. Your customers in the past might have come to you through referrals, cold calls, or trade events but that’s not the case any longer.
How is B2B SEO Different?
Whether it’s B2C or B2B, the essential goals of SEO don’t change:
- Understand what people are searching for online
- Plan and create content that answers their queries holistically
- Apply a bunch of technical methods so that Google ranks this content higher than others
Having said that, B2B SEO requires a different approach to its B2C cousin. That’s because of factors like:
- Multiple decision makers
- Longer sales cycle
- Variances in keywords
Let’s take a closer look at these.
Multiple Buyer Personas
Building buyer personas is the bedrock of your digital marketing campaign.
After all, if you’re selling enterprise-level servers would you want to target an 18-year-old college student interested in cybersecurity?
If you’re not careful, you might just end up doing that.
When it comes to B2B purchases, there are usually multiple decision makers involved. Your buyer persona research will be able to identify each stakeholder and create content that appeals directly to their concerns and thoughts.
That’s a critical difference between B2C SEO – where the target consumer is just one individual – and B2B SEO, where multiple people need to be addressed.
Longer Sales Cycle
A B2B purchase isn’t something that’s decided overnight. The sales cycle can be several months, a year, possibly even more.
That’s why your B2B content marketing funnel must cater to queries that span across the entire buyer journey. Content at the top of the funnel, also known as the awareness and discovery stage, is different from the middle of the funnel where your customers are now considering your product.
And content at the bottom of the funnel — the evaluation and purchase stage — must include things like how your product or service is the best choice.
The phrase ‘long-tail’ refers to the distribution of the search engine graph. This graph, referenced below, clearly shows how general keywords such as ‘weather’, ‘basketball’, or ‘gmail’ account for a massive amount of searches by volume, but make up only about 10 – 15% of all web traffic. Hence, competition for these keywords is fairly intense.
Long-tail keywords are those search queries that lie in the latter half of the graph. Competition for these keywords is lower and conversion rate is higher as they’re highly specific and usually sought by researchers looking for a very specific solution to their problem.
For B2B companies, the opportunity lies in long-tail keywords as you’re attracting the right kind of traffic giving yourself the best possible chance to close a sale. Let’s illustrate with an example.
If your company was in the heating, ventilation, and airconditioning space and your B2B SEO strategy simply targeted the keyword ‘HVAC system’, then it would definitely be able to cater to more search queries.
But would this actually attract the right kind of traffic? You might get students, researchers, or other unqualified leads.
If you go a little granular:
At this point, the researcher is already aware of what an HVAC system is and wants to go deeper. The volume of searches is much lower, but it actually costs more to bid for this keyword showing greater buyer intent. Competition is higher, too.
Let’s assume the researcher settled on Trane as the HVAC provider of choice. Now they want to see how others experienced it. They’ve moved further down the funnel and are actively considering the product — again the volume of searches is lower but these people are the ones you want to be attracting.
Yes, long-tail keywords don’t have the same number of search volume as compared to short-tail. But that doesn’t make them any less important. If done right, a long-tail keyword approach could actually get you more relevant traffic.
Campaign Goals and KPIs
For a B2C SEO campaign, the main goal for the marketer is to close and convert a potential lead entirely online. The sales cycle is much shorter — could be a few hours — and there’s no need to appeal to several decision makers.
But the success of a B2B SEO campaign can’t be determined by how many hard sales it achieved. You won’t purchase an HVAC system using your credit card entirely online and without consulting others. Rather, the goal is to attract the right kind of traffic and marketing qualified leads.
Your content must address all queries and pain points so that when it’s time to purchase, your company is recognized as a thought leader and remains top of mind.
Thought Leadership is a Key Strategy
Businesses only want to work with other businesses who they perceive are the best at what they do. One way of establishing credibility is to position yourself as an expert in the field.
Build relationships with journalists and those that blog about your industry so that they ask you for soundbites when there’s a relevant story. Reach out to publications and offer original articles and content pieces. Make sure your author bio has backlinks to your digital properties. Not only will that drive up SEO juice, but it’ll also assist in helping your company stay top of mind and build the perception that your brand is one that others can trust.
Again, this approach is towards B2B SEO is different when compared to B2C.
Types of SEO
SEO is an ever-changing, iterative field. When it comes to B2B SEO, however, there are a few dominant types.
Plainly speaking, organic SEO refers to the process of optimizing your site and content so that it ranks highly for search results. This means you’re not investing any money to drive it to the top of the search pages and are leveraging free, organic queries.
Local SEO, also referred to as Google Maps SEO, aims to attract hyperlocal search queries (think neighborhood traffic to brick and mortar outlets).
If, for example, you’re looking for a very specific solution to an engineering problem it’s likely that you want to speak to another company in your vicinity. In this case, Google recognizes the search intent and automatically populates the relevant results.
The first step towards getting your business listed in local search results is to fill out your Google My Business profile.
Consumers watch more than 500 million hours of video on YouTube every day and 87% of online marketers use video in their content strategy.
Video SEO is absolutely crucial to your B2B SEO strategy.
Optimizing things like the video title, description, meta-tags, and transcript will help propel your product or service video to the top of the organic search results. As we mentioned earlier, a large proportion of B2B researchers actively use video during their decision process. This means you must capture this interest or the competition will.
Voice Search SEO
With 27% of internet users leveraging voice search and 34% indicating that they have plans to purchase a smart, voice-controlled assistant, the time to adopt voice search SEO is now.
For businesses, this means your site must have the relevant keywords to rank for local searches, how-to guides, and an optimized site structure.
According to Google, mobile searches that contain a variant of “can I buy” or “how to buy” have increased over 500% since the last couple of years. Some of these are carried out via Siri or the Google Assistant, meaning they want immediate answers to their needs.
Critical Elements of a B2B SEO Strategy
Your B2B SEO strategy can’t be planned in isolation and is tied to your overall B2B marketing approach.
That means your first step in B2B SEO is developing a B2B marketing strategy. This entails defining your competitors, your market, your focus areas, and your buyer personas.
Once the above are done, you can get into the nitty gritty of B2B SEO.
Step 1 – B2B Keyword Research
B2B keyword research is the science of discovering which keywords currently drive organic traffic to your site as well as related keywords that you want to target.
Start by conducting an internal audit using a third-party tool like Ahrefs or SEMrush.
In this case, we used Ahrefs to analyze the top inbound keywords for Salesforce.com.
Take it a step further and determine which keywords your competition ranks for. Once you’ve figured those out, add them to your content.
So now you’ve analyzed both your existing site as well as the competition. But there are more ways of going about keyword research:
- Services method: start by mapping out all your high-level services — also known as the seed keywords. Then brainstorm and strategize all semantically related keywords within each seed. For example, if you offer software development products then include all the programming languages you cover.
- Build your buyer personas: as we discussed earlier, building coherent buyer personas and mapping out buyer journeys is key before embarking on keyword research. Analyze all of the questions they might have and then plug your assumptions into an SEO tool
- Tools like Ahrefs and SEMrush can help you analyze your competitor’s keywords, your partner’s keywords, and keywords that your industry publishers rank for. Add all those into your strategy.
- Another nifty method is to simply ask your sales and customer service team about common customer questions and pain-points. It’s likely that they’re actively searching the web for answers to these questions before calling a human agent. By creating content around these topics, you’ll be catering to real queries.
When you’re done with keyword research, the next step is to plan your content in order to leverage your findings.
Step 2 – B2B Content Planning
88% of B2B marketers use content as an integral part of their strategy. B2B content entails several types:
- Blogs – an informational piece of content written in a conversational style
- Pillar Pages – an in-depth webpage that provides a deep dive into a particular topic (you’re currently reading a pillar page)
- E-book – an electronic, downloadable book which you can read on your laptop or a handheld device
- Case studies – a real-world instance that illustrates a specific outcome as a result of an intended action
In the process of your keyword research, you will have discovered where the opportunities lie and the keywords you have a good chance of ranking for. Be sure to use those keywords and search phrases within your copy to give yourself the best possible chance of ranking positively and attracting organic traffic.
The caveat to this, however, is that your website must be primed for search engine crawlers. That brings us to the next step: on-page and off-page optimization.
Step 3 – On-Page and Off-Page Optimization
SEO is split up into 2 major elements. On-Page SEO is all the things you can tackle on your own site. This includes:
- Meta descriptions
- Title & title tags
- Site maps
- Page load speeds
- URL structure
Off-page optimization is external SEO ranking factors. These include:
One largely overlooked tactic for B2B SEO is link building i.e. the process of getting backlinks to your site. Not only do they help with building domain authority from an SEO lens, they’re also a great tactic of enhancing your company’s brand. Let’s take a closer look at this.
Step 4 – Link Building
[Insert video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BNHR6IQJGZs]
B2B link building is the process of getting other websites (bonus points if they have high domain authorities) to link back to your content. This acts as a vote of confidence for search engines, a signal if you may, that your content is trusted by other sites.
Google admits to backlinks being a major ranking factor for search results. It’s also one of the ways they keep discovering hidden aspects of the web and indexing more of the world’s information.
How Do You Get More Links?
There are a few methods you can use to your advantage:
- Create killer content: If your content is top-notch, other websites will naturally want to link back to you. The caveat to this is that you must make it the most in-depth source for a particular topic and spend enough time promoting it.
- Identifying broken links: A tool like Monitor Backlinks scrapes the web on your behalf, helping you identify outbound links that point to a 404. Once you’ve identified those, reach out to the webmaster in question and ask them to replace it with yours.
- Guest Blogs: Pitching original content to industry publications can help with backlinking. You can reference your site within the content or inside your author bio.
Now that you’ve set up your website to give it the best possible chance of ranking highly and attracting organic traffic, you must ensure your visitors convert i.e. take an action by downloading an e-book, signing up for a newsletter, or another way of handing over contact information.
Step 5 – On-site Behavior and Click Through Rates
When you get to the first page, it’s important to be able to stay there. At this point, the search engine crawler will be actively monitoring how users engage and interact with your website.
This means you ought to incorporate conversion-focused design, and optimize things like page load speeds, site structure, and clear call to actions to ensure people stay on your page. A high bounce rate will cause your page to lose SEO juice and move down the rankings.
B2B SEO Trends
While B2B SEO is an iterative science, the following things are going to be relevant well into the future:
- Mobile-first indexing: According to Google, the mobile version of the site will be the primary method used for indexing and ranking. So if your site isn’t optimized for mobile, be prepared to be booted lower down the search results page.
- Responsive design: The practice of making web pages render on a variety of different devices and screen sizes. It’s emerged as an additional ranking factor for search engine results.
- No keyword stuffing: Google’s Panda update deprioritized sites that relied on excessive keywords to rank well. Hence, your content must be written to appeal to human readers in order to rank highly; poor content and keyword stuffing practices will be actively penalized.
B2B SEO Best Practices
To reiterate, the top B2B SEO best practices are:
- In-depth research into your buyer personas
- Keyword research and content marketing
- User experience and lead capturing
If you’ve read this far down, then you’re definitely well on your way to building a cohesive B2B search engine optimization strategy. We’ve said this before but we’ll say it again: there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. You have to experiment, iterate, and see what works.
And if you need any help, don’t hesitate to contact us.