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).
Differences Between B2B vs. B2C
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.
B2B Search Behavior
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:
- Finance / Accounting
So if you think about this for a moment, the considerations for each of these departments can vary significantly from the others, for instance;
Sales / Marketing
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.
Finance / Accounting
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;
- What are the requirements?
- Where does the software live?
- Where does it store data?
- How much data does it need and how often?
- How often is it updated and what will change?
- What’s the feature list vs. the current 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;
- Does this enable my direct reports to increase their efficiency?
- Does this save us money?
- Are the benefits of the solution superior to the other options available in the market?
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 B2B Sales Process
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.
Designing Your B2B SEO Campaign
Now it’s time to design your growth engine, and not surprisingly – here is where most agencies fall short of delivering real value.
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.
Design Patterns for B2B SEO
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.
Building Links for B2B SEO
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:
Resource Link Building
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 Link Building
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.
Partner Link Building
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.
Scholarship Link Building
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:
- Create a scholarship that is relevant to advancing education or jobs within the companies sector. For example, if your company is a manufacturer of jet engine components, create a scholarship specifically for electronic or mechanical engineering students.
- Donate enough money to make it worthwhile; gone are the days of creating a $200 scholarship and thinking you’re going to land links from top universities financial aid pages. The minimum amount to play ball is $2,000+, plus it’s a tax write-off, so don’t be so cheap.
- Pick up the phone. This will separate your pitch from 95% of the link beggars out there; get the contacts name, call and ask if they’re the right person, have your pitch written up in a 3-4 sentence summary focused on the value for their students – and make the ask.
- If pitching by email, don’t send it from your agency or personal email address. I’m not even going to bother explaining this one; just don’t do it.
Sponsorship Link Building
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.
How SEO Drives B2B Leads
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:
- White papers
- Case studies
- Lead magnets
- Content upgrades
- Process templates
- Blog posts to answer specific questions
- Resource pages and guides
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.