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July 19, 2017
When it comes to SEO, the devil is in the details.
The nuances between some verticals can be slight, while the differences between SERP’s for slight variations of the same keyword can be sweeping.
Because of this, it’s important to be aware of how SEO can be best leveraged to take advantage of these nuances – and focus on what works for the target audience.
In this post I’m going to specifically explore how we approach optimizing content / doing SEO for B2B companies (and I’m going to throw in some bonus information around user experience and driving conversions – lucky you).
The differences between these two top-level audiences are staggering, but in the interest of not putting you to sleep I’m going to cover the main considerations you need to pay attention to when you’re designing and building your SEO campaigns:
B2B buyers are likely to be more educated on the nuances of the products or services they’re seeking to invest their tightly managed budgets into.
They’re going to be deeply invested in the specifics of the purchase, they will have requirements sheets for features, want to see your deep knowledge of their product or sales cycle, and will need to be shown social proof in the forms of clients and testimonials.
For a consumer product you may expect to spend anywhere from $50 to $500, depending significantly on whether or not it was an impulse buy versus a calculated decision.
For a commercial product, instead you’re likely to be considering spending in the range closer to $5,000 to $50,000 or more.
With 10-100x the average price-tag, you can expect ~10-100x the average length of the buying cycle.
The buying process for B2B services (especially software at an enterprise level) usually runs through an expanded version of the consumer purchase funnel.
To help illustrate this here’s what an SEO purchasing funnel might look like for your average consumer product:
Where the consideration phase often includes reading reviews, asking friends, and price shopping.
Compared to the average SEO purchasing funnel for a B2B product or service with a longer purchasing cycle (so think specifically of 3-6+ months on the sales cycle and an average price point of $50,000+):
This becomes critically important when designing a B2B SEO campaign, because you need to make sure you have pages and associated content to support each stage of the business buyer’s purchasing journey.
One more important consideration is who the decision maker is.
With consumer products you’re often selling direct to the decision maker, but that’s rarely the case when selling to a business.
Instead you need to consider all of the departments that may be weighing in on the purchase decision, and more so – the varying motivations of those people depending on their organizational roles and responsibilities.
This again, means building out the specific content that is needed to effectively pitch and sell into each of the functional roles that may be weighing in on writing you a check.
Now let’s expand on how search behavior for B2B purchases is specifically different.
Since we work with a lot of B2B software companies, I’m going to draw on my specific experience in what I’ve found to be true most of the time, when we’re setting up B2B software websites and SEO campaigns for success.
The most common roles that need to be considered from a B2B SEO perspective are:
So if you think about this for a moment, the considerations for each of these departments can vary significantly from the others, for instance;
These folks are going to be most concerned with lead-flow; how is the website helping us generate new leads, qualify those leads, and helping to build our sales pipeline.
Marketing make be more focused on the volume of leads to the site, and not as concerned with the qualification process – but instead their focus is more specifically on on-site conversion points from low value micro-conversions like shares to higher value conversions like form fills and downloads.
These teams will be focused on top of the funnel and middle of the funnel keywords, looking to understand how you are helping to drive new prospects into their CRM.
These departments are going to focus on how much your solution costs, what your payment terms are, and process alignment around how your receivables requirements sync up with their payables processes.
For them they want to know you’re legit, and how your solution and it’s features stack up against your competitors. These folks are likely to be looking at your client lists, case studies, and running comparison searches against your closest competitors.
What’s important here is making sure the comparison content exists, and if you want to be smart about it – put it somewhere else other than on your website, i.e. get an influencer to write the post or use a 3rd party content platform like Medium.
More times than not, you’d be amazed that this is actually where you’ll run into a brick wall more so than accounting.
Depending on which level of the organization you need to interface with, you could be dealing with the guys that have to actually implement your solution – or the guys that are responsible for hitting specific deployment / functionality milestones, and your solution is another item tying up their time.
Search behavior among IT departments tends to focus on the technical details of your solution;
This is where having a detailed and comprehensive FAQ section comes into play – and making sure it RANKS for informational and technical queries.
Finally, the big guns.
These folks are going to be most concerned with top-level impacts to the organization like;
Management folks are unlikely to be doing much of the Googling, instead they will likely be asking their direct reports in Sales, Marketing, and IT specific questions about the above topics – this is where you need to make sure it’s easy for each of those departments to find answers to these questions so this information can be quickly and easily provided to management.
The next detail that is important to wrap your head around is HOW B2B companies sell, and what their internal sales process looks like, so you can design your campaigns to support it.
For the purposes of this post I’m going to go forward with examples from our experience working specifically with companies that sell software to other companies.
Most of the B2B software companies we work with operate with a sales process that looks something like this:
Where MQL stands for marketing qualified lead, i.e. the visitor has come into the site, and converted on an initial event to qualify them as “lead,” usually a report download or a demo request.
Then to move into SQL, or sales qualified lead, they usually need to complete a more specific qualification conversion like completing a company questionnaire, a solution requirement form, or attending a live demo.
Then if you overlay how this maps to keyword modifiers, it would look something like this:
Search engine optimization can be used here to create rankings to generate and then nurture leads at each stage of the funnel.
Obviously the more you pair your SEO efforts with engagement strategies and leverage marketing automation + email nurturing, the better your net results will be.
Now it’s time to design your growth engine, and not surprisingly – here is where most agencies fall short of delivering real value.
Let’s say you’ve done all of your keyword research, and built out a nice SEO content map to support the various stages of your sales process.
Simply having that content map isn’t enough – you need to then map the content against your buyer’s purchase journey to 1) build out your keyword strategy, and then 2) identify where there are still holes that that SEO-focused content won’t fill.
You see, kicking ass with B2B SEO isn’t enough to crank up your lead volume…
I know, seems blasphemous coming from me but hear me out;
There will be components of your target buyers journey where you will need to have pages / content to move them through your funnel, and SEO won’t play any role at all.
An example of this we often use is industry-specific use cases or case studies, where there’s no real search volume to speak of – but you need to create a bridge from informational to initial conversion to push visitors though your funnel.
In this case your conversion funnel blends with SEO to look something like this (in a simplified representation):
^In this specific example, I’m suggesting most B2B companies won’t have keywords that aligned to their case study content. Sometimes you get lucky here, but that is more the exception than the rule.
Another common wall I see B2B websites hitting is how to implement on-site SEO without sending their site’s user experience straight to hell.
What’s worse – if they focus 100% on the UX, it’s highly unlikely they’ll be using patterns that still support getting all of the necessary content and internal links into the pages.
Instead, there are design patterns that can be used to bridge the gap between SEO and UX.
These include elements like internal, horizontal navigations:
Feature link grids (incorporating text links but remaining “finger friendly” for mobile devices):
Functionality or report screenshots:
and so on. These range from just supporting prescribed on-site SEO to also leveraging best practice conversion-focused design for key pages like feature detail pages, demo request pages, and content upgrade templates.
Link building continues to be of epic importance for pushing up your organic rankings. For those of you reading this doubting the current impact of links, just an FYI – link building still works.
The thing about building links for B2B sites is most of the more scalable strategies can still work, you just need to adjust your approach and positioning.
Here are the link building strategies we’re using for B2B websites:
Good old fashioned content creation and promotion. The nuance here is to be relevant for B2B these pieces tend to have to be process focused, or solve a specific issue of too much information or misinformation – where the resource is the comprehensive destination for organization data on the subject.
Broken links have become the diamonds in the rough – if you spend enough time looking, and exhaust all possible locations, you might find one. These are best utilized if you scrape for them monthly and be ready to jump on one if and when the opportunity presents it self.
The easiest of all, hit up your strategic or professional partners and make sure they’re linking to you – this is a good opportunity to shoot for optimized anchor text links, especially if you can negotiate a linked mention in a relevant blog post.
While yes these have been done to death, to the tune of cat memes – there are still SO many professional verticals where they barely exist. The more boring, obscure, or hyper the niche is – the better likelihood you have that ego-bait is still alive and well, and will work with flying colors.
People of late have started to doubt the effectiveness of this strategy, however, Google still understands that universities are some of the most trusted websites on the web – so if done well, and at scale; this still moves the needle.
There are a few nuances to actually having success with this strategy at this point in SEO:
Exactly what it sounds like, become a sponsor for events or causes. These tend to work best when local (think of a local fair, soccer team, fundraiser, raffle, etc), especially because everyone and everything has a website these days.
So how does all this SEO stuff translate into leads?
It comes down to using the right tool for the job, and in the case of all the nuances in B2B sales, it usually means leaning on one of the following vehicles throughout the various stages of the conversion funnel:
The art form is then scoring the above conversion point based on it’s internal value to the company’s sales process, and then layering in marketing automation in terms of lead nurturing via email sequences and re-marketing to drive the desired outcome.
Nick is the Founder and Chief Strategy Officer of From The Future. When he's not elbow deep in data, he's spending time with his wife, his dogs, or his cars.
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Great article once again Nick. Thanks, keep em coming!
Thanks Nick, great article again. Just one question concerning the broken links. Where shall I look for broken links? And if I find one, what do I do then? Sorry, I really didn’t get it.
Hey Kati –
Thanks! So I wouldn’t consider myself that great at link building, but here’s how we leverage broken link building in the B2B space;
The best way to think about this is from a solutions perspective; where you’re helping someone else solve a problem and in return you’re earning a link. We find broken links by crawling sites within our target niche and looking for links that return a 404 or 500 status code. Once we find a broken link we pull a link report for the URL to discover how many websites are currently linking to the page that no longer exists.
The strategic play from a link building perspective is to align content on your site (either new or existing) with the content that was on the now broken page, and then to contact all of the sites that are linking to that old page, via a now broken link, and make them aware that 1) they have a broken link at “URL” and 2) they can update their link to point instead to your page as a direct replacement.
That’s a great idea – why did it never come to _my_ mind before? I will think about it. Can you suggest any useful tools for finding broken links outside our own website?
There are several Google Chrome extensions that will allow you to find broken links, like Broken Link Checker. This definitely works for me!
Nice article, Nick.
Another thing I’d add is to think differently about keyword volume.
Ranking a website for a bunch of keywords which have ‘only’ a few hundred searches a month could be a game changer for a B2B organisation with a high customer lifetime value. Yet I’ve heard of businesses turning their nose up to SEO because “the volume isn’t there”.
Sure, if you’re going on the opinions of expert SEOs who dominate well-searched B2C niches, then the volume isn’t there. But they’re playing a different game to many B2B companies, and if you can rank for a keyword with 200 searches a month, you can probably capture 2-5x that in long tail traffic, which is definitely worthwhile for most businesses. (Google KW Planner – which is probably the most-used tool for estimating volume by newbie SEOs and client-side execs – isn’t great at showing accurate data for low-volume keywords, which exacerbates this problem.)
That’s my 2 cents, and now I have a question for you.
For B2B resource/outreach-based linkbuilding efforts, which types of sites do you tend to get most links from?
Do you frequently get links from other (non-competitive) B2B vendors’ sites? Or are you more successful with niche industry news sites/blogs, or consultants/employee’s personal blogs?
Thanks so much Brian.
You’re absolutely right, and this is actually how we approach keyword research for all verticals; we pay specific attention to the intent of the terms way above and beyond their search volume. I’ve also notice that if a keyword doesn’t maintain the minimum trend of 10 searches/mo for a certain number of months, it won’t even be reported as having any volume in the eyes of Google. Where consistently the keywords that make the most money have the lowest search volume because they’re long and complex.
Onto your question: when doing content-based link building (which for us is our standard approach to resource-based) we tend to land links from larger topic-specific guides and blogger-driven publications. To be more specific on that last piece; the pitch isn’t usually “hey you should add a link to our great resource into this existing page you’ve already published” but more so along the lines of “hey we know you write about these topics, we did a bit of research and found this relevant topic that you haven’t written about yet — here’s some research we’ve done on it that would help support a post about XYZ that we think your audience would be very receptive to based on x, y, and z”
We definitely see way more placements from industry specific pubs/blogs opposed to vendors. If you’ve figured a scalable way to land vendor links I’d love to hear about it 🙂
Thank you for share great article. You should publish related to SEO blog,
It’s a wonderful and detailed article,
I have it bookmarked and take notes!
Awesome post. Thank your for sharing such a nice article.
Awesome article enjoyed reading it , Thanks for sharing Nick
You were doing a great job such an excellent article with creative tips. I am so thankful for you and your blog. Thanks for sharing such a informative post to us.
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