Search engine optimization (SEO) is critical for every business to understand—because whether or not you’re actively engaging in it, your business is being impacted by it.
For example, let’s say that your company sells an email marketing platform. You could be ranking for search terms like “best email platforms” on Google. And if you’re not, then somebody else is. That means that you’re losing potential customers to competitors who are taking the time out of their day to employ a strong SEO strategy.
While SEO is a multi-faceted practice and can get very technical, you don’t have to wait to fill an “SEO strategist” role to get started. Here are some tactics that you can put into practice right away, as well as answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about B2B SEO.
What are the benefits of B2B SEO?
As with all marketing strategies, the goal of B2B SEO is to help your business reach your target audience. However, unlike paid ads, SEO is virtually free. You won’t see results as immediately as you would with ads, but your success doesn’t hinge on being able to make daily payments and outbid your competitors. The effects of SEO live on for a long time—this is why it’s widely considered “the gift that keeps on giving.”
When done right, SEO can bring increasingly more traffic to your site from the right types of visitors. Ultimately, it should result in you seeing more leads and conversions on a regular basis.
At its core, a strong SEO strategy doesn’t simply aim to satisfy search engines. Its primary focus is to answer the questions that consumers have about your product and service, and to deliver the types of content that they’re looking to consume.
When should my business start investing in SEO?
The short answer: from day one. SEO costs nothing but your existing time and resources to start, so it’s a big missed opportunity if you let it go ignored.
The long answer: SEO is a long-term investment, so it never hurts to get an early start, especially since you need to start building a backlink profile. It could take anywhere from four to 12 months for you to start seeing the fruits of your labor, and you’ll have to commit to consistently creating and promoting content for the best ROI.
That said, there’s no end to how far SEO can take you. While in the beginning, you may be targeting just a handful of keywords—over time, your site may easily be ranking for thousands and thousands of keywords. Your SEO goals could vary between increasing your positions on those terms, to increasing engagement on ranked pages and redesigning your entire site.
The general rule of thumb is that it’s better to start laying the foundation early, as opposed to trying to play catchup in the future. By that time, many of your competitors will likely have gotten a huge lead ahead of you.
What is the difference between B2B vs. B2C SEO?
SEO is SEO. The same principles apply whether you’re marketing for a B2B or a B2C company. However, as a B2B marketer, you face some unique challenges.
Lower search volume
B2B SEO tends to focus on long-tail keywords that are more educational, less transactional than B2C SEO. This is because most consumers aren’t impulsively purchasing software or third-party services. Some may not even know they need a solution like yours (yet).
To make matters even more complicated, the B2B buyer journey is much less linear than marketers once thought it to be. The graphic below shows how Gartner portrays the different stages of a buying decision. Note that it’s not your typical marketing funnel.
For this reason, your keywords may vary between the first few layers of awareness (problem identification: “how to send good marketing emails”) to the last (validation: “reviews for XYZ email marketing platform”).
Instead of targeting broad terms with high search volume, you’ll find yourself targeting long-tail keywords with only a few thousand (if not a few hundred) monthly searches. Your priority is no longer to cast a wide net, but to find more specific queries to address as your consumer moves through the different phases of consideration.
More segmented audience
If you were marketing for a B2C brand like Crocs, you’d likely be targeting a large demographic like “parents in the U.S.” But as a B2B marketer, you’re challenged with identifying the exact decision makers and customer segments that need your product or service.
This could make your job more difficult because you’ll have to understand how each segment thinks and arrives at a solution like yours. You’ll have to build out thorough buyer personas before you can create an SEO strategy that reaches the right people and connects the dots between your product and their individual desires.
Longer sales cycle
As mentioned, the sales cycle is far more complex for B2B sales than B2C. Your consumers tend to wear multiple hats during the decision process and need to confer with other team members before arriving at a consensus. This makes predicting customer behaviors more difficult.
You’ll additionally have to compensate for the fact that your product is less tangible. Your content must appeal to audiences who are seeking long-term solutions (without always having a clear idea of what they’re looking for) and clearly portray abstract benefits of your product.
Along these lines, your content and SEO strategy will need to factor in both the emotional and rational motivations of your consumer. You may find yourself having to answer questions like, “Why is [your product] a good investment?” alongside, “What are the risks if this doesn’t work out?” There’s typically more at stake with a B2B purchase, forcing your strategy to cover a wider base of customer queries and insecurities.
How much time should I spend on SEO?
The time you spend on SEO depends on your goals, resources, and availability. One source estimates that an SEO campaign could range anywhere between 12 to 104 hours per week.
Some of the longest projects may involve updating your site to improve factors like site speed, mobile friendliness, and the overall user experience. But If you’re just starting out, chances are that you’ll be focusing most of your time on content development.
At this point, you’d benefit most from establishing a regular publishing cadence. Get in the habit of developing content twice a week, once a week, or biweekly—whatever is most doable for you. You will probably want to increase your frequency over time, but the most important part is to establish the right framework.
Other SEO tasks could include promoting your content, analyzing content performance, keyword research, site cleanup, and more. Divide your time up accordingly. Or, if you’re short on time, you can always outsource the work to a reliable SEO agency.
How do I measure my SEO ROI?
SEO is intended to bring more people to your site. However, a B2B SEO strategy tends to prioritize lead quality over lead volume. This means that you’ll want to keep an eye on metrics that show how much of your traffic is converting to leads, and leads to customers.
Connecting the dots will require tracking metrics like:
- Keyword positions
- Search queries (via Google Search Console)
- Impressions (Google Search Console)
- Click-through rates (Google Search Console)
- Organic traffic
- Form submissions from site
- Off-site purchases
These provide context for where your site stands today from an organic perspective (and why). You’ll also want to weigh these against financial metrics like average customer value (ACV) and any costs related to SEO (such as agency costs and/or time commitment by employees).
To put a dollar value on your SEO effort, you can use this simple formula: (Gain from Conversions – Cost of Investment) / Cost of Investment.
So, if your SEO campaign produced $150,000 in new contracts and it cost you $30,000 in manpower, then you’d get ($150,000 – $30,000) / $30,000 = 4. In other words, every $1 you spent on SEO returned $4.
How do I build my own B2B SEO strategy?
At RankScience, we’ve had the pleasure of growing a number of B2B companies into SEO powerhouses. One of our favorite success stories is Curri, a delivery service that saw 640% growth in ranking keywords, landing on the first page for strategic terms like “material delivery service” in just one year.
Over years of leading projects like this, we’ve come to find that the most successful companies follow these four fundamental steps.
1. Define your ideal customer
A strong SEO strategy always starts with a clear understanding of your target buyer. Create an ideal customer profile (“ICP” in marketing-speak) that describes the industry, geography, company size, budget, and objectives of businesses that benefit most from your product.
From here, you can whittle down your ICP into buyer personas, or the various individuals involved in a deal.
“The typical buying group for a complex B2B solution involves six to 10 decision makers, each armed with four or five pieces of information they’ve gathered independently,” according to Gartner.
This underscores the goal of your SEO strategy: to reach and resonate with multiple people within a company by speaking to their unique needs.
2. Identify important topics, customer questions—and lastly, keywords
At this point, many companies tend to dive straight into keyword research. However, you’ll want to take a step back and put yourself in your customers’ shoes first. Think about the questions that your customers ask when evaluating a solution like yours. Consider all the types of content they consume in a day, as well as how to illustrate the gravity of the problem that they’re facing (and that your company helps to solve).
Only after you’ve done this should you start researching keywords. This will give you a starting point for finding keywords that fit into your customers’ existing journey with your brand, rather than trying to forge a path using keywords as your only compass.
Once you’ve gotten to this point, check that your keywords bring in decent traffic, aren’t absurdly competitive, and attract buyers with the right intent. You can analyze these factors using tools like ContentEdge or by googling a search term on your own. See what types of articles rank for your target keyword currently and confirm whether or not your company belongs there.
3. Develop content and promote it
Now that you’ve got a list of keywords and topics to work with, create content that’s in-depth and unique. Resist the urge to regurgitate what other sites have written and expand upon the topic using your real-world experience.
As a general rule of thumb, long-form and evergreen content—or content that doesn’t have a short shelf-life—tends to produce the best ROI. You’ll want to focus on providing a variety of content, too, like ebooks, videos, landing pages, infographics, slide decks, and more. This allows you to appeal to a larger audience and boost engagement on your site.
Another important step to take: promote your content. You won’t get far by simply publishing good content. You have to make sure that people see it by proactively sharing your content with the larger community. Leverage any newsletter, forums, social media, and online groups to get the word out about your company. This will help you to earn backlinks on your content and to signal to Google that you’re a popular, credible source.
4. Create a checklist for SEO
Reinforce your stellar content with SEO best practices. Check that your titles, headers, and metadata are all optimized for readability and rankability. This means balancing keywords and other search-friendly strategies with copy that’s actually compelling.
The name of the game here is content relevancy. Google doesn’t just want to see one keyword repeated all the time; it wants to see that you mention other key topic entities or semantically related words.
Beyond this, you’ll want to make sure that any images on your page include proper alt text. Include links to other authoritative sites, while simultaneously linking to internal pages. Check that your own URLs are structured properly.
There’s a whole other side to SEO that concerns off-page and technical optimizations, too. This requires you to focus your attention on backlinks, site architecture, and more.
Have any more questions?
There is a lot to consider when building a B2B SEO strategy. From first-hand experience, we know that it can be overwhelming.
If you’d like extra help chatting through your SEO questions and goals, reach out to our team. We’ve got plenty of brilliant SEO minds who would love to meet you.