It always pays to be first. We all like to think of ourselves as savvy consumers, especially when we’re researching products and services for our business. But when you open a new tab and search for a term in Google, one way or another those first few suggestions are going to stick in your head. They set a level for everything else, and even if you pick something that didn’t come up right away, those first few search results were in the running just by virtue of their placement on the page.
That’s why search marketing is critical for B2B businesses. Top of page is top of mind, and you want to make sure that your company’s offerings are as visible as possible whenever anyone searches for what you do.
Read on to learn our 5 steps for mastering B2B search marketing in 2023.
What is search marketing?
The two pillars of search marketing are organic (search engine optimization (SEO)) and paid (pay-per-click (PPC) advertising).
SEO is a set of practices aimed at boosting your website’s ranking on search engine results pages (SERP) through organic means. That means developing content that targets the right keywords, answers searchers’ questions, and cultivates authority through backlinks.
PPC is a form of advertising that lets you pay to show your ads on the results page when people search for a chosen keyword. Your ads get displayed alongside the search results and you only pay when people click on the ad.
Why is search marketing important in B2B?
Because B2B buyers are researching everything online, just like they research where to eat for dinner or which HVAC services provider to hire. One review found that, as of 2023, 98% of consumers read (and write!) online reviews of local businesses. If nearly the entire U.S. population is putting that much thought into where to order Chinese food tonight, you can be certain your B2B partners are researching the goods and services you provide before they contact you.
In fact, one survey found that 77% of B2B buyers said they didn’t talk with a salesperson until they’d done their own independent research — and that research started with a search engine. Decision makers consumed five pieces of content on average before they were ready to speak with a sales representative. B2B buyers need to be able to find your content, and they’re likely going to want to see a lot of it before they’re prepared to make a decision.
So not only does your company need to be visible online when businesses search for your services, you need to have marketing content ready to engage them so you can start drawing them through your sales funnel. It’s not enough for them to just make it to your website.
What makes B2B search marketing different from B2C?
There are a variety of factors that make the B2B customer experience different from B2C.
- There are more stakeholders in a typical B2B purchasing decision, and therefore a wider array of perspectives to consider and appeal to.
- The customer journey is often less linear — different stakeholders may be at different stages at different times and your content needs to offer them all a foothold.
- There are opportunities to target lower volume keywords, since fewer people are searching for small business CRM software or cloud storage solutions than are searching for sneakers or blenders. But that also often means lower conversion rates, especially on big-ticket investments.
On the other hand, B2B and B2C marketing are less distinct than you might imagine. Recent studies have shown that more and more businesses are expecting vendors to provide more “consumerized” experiences. 82% of business buyers say they want the same experience as when they’re making a purchase for themselves in their personal lives, and 72% said they expect more personalized engagement.
Does B2B search marketing need SEO to be successful?
SEO is critical to effective search marketing. PPC ads will only get you so many clicks — your site won’t go far without the foundational brand visibility you get from organic search results, and in order to rank organically your pages need to be optimized for search engines.
That’s why you should begin with SEO, especially if you don’t have a large or consistent budget for advertising. An effective SEO strategy will lay the foundations for your site’s long term success — success that you can then build on with well-placed PPC ads.
A strong search marketing strategy will get your page to display both in the paid advertisements and toward the top of Google’s organic results page. Appearing twice on the same results page will reinforce the idea that your business is a leader in the area the user’s searching for.
Remember, with PPC ads, you only pay when someone clicks on your link, but clicking isn’t the same as converting. What happens after they click? If searchers don’t find content on your site that speaks to their reason for searching, those clicks won’t serve much purpose.
That’s why proper SEO isn’t just about gaming the algorithm into displaying your site. It’s about producing keyword optimized, high quality content that aligns with users’ search intent.
5 Steps to Master B2B Search Marketing
Here are five steps to get you started running search marketing campaigns that will generate high quality leads for your business.
1. Align your search engine goals and audience with your buyer’s journey
It’s critical to understand the keywords you’re targeting with your SEM campaign. Keyword research will tell you which keywords you have a chance to rank for. It’ll even tell you about the purpose behind the search. For instance, when people search for your keyword, are they just looking for information or are they looking to make a purchase? Understanding that distinction will help you tailor the content they find on your site to their unique position in the buyer’s journey.
For instance, a potential B2B buyer who’s in the initial awareness stages should get directed to general resources you’ve provided about your product or service such as blogs or ebooks. They’re looking for information about the problem they need to solve, and they aren’t necessarily ready for a harder sales pitch. Customers in the consideration or decision phase should be directed toward case studies, testimonials or pricing pages.
2. Keep ROI and cost-benefit at the forefront of your keyword research
Figuring out which keywords you want to target isn’t the end of the process. There’s an essential next step that marketers often overlook: determining your keyword cost per click so you can budget appropriately for the ROI you hope to achieve.
Keyword prices depend on a number of factors: one of them is just sheer demand. The more people across the internet who are clicking on a particular keyword, the higher the price will be. If your cost per click (CPC) is too high, then you’ll spend too much on clicks that don’t generate enough leads to justify your investment in the first place.
What else affects your keyword cost? Interestingly enough, the quality of your website. (Another reason why SEO is so important.) A well-designed, user-friendly site with content that closely matches search intent will lower your bounce rate, boost your click-through rate (CTR) and ultimately lower the price you pay for keywords.
3. Build a foundation in SEO best practices
A lot of work goes into good SEO practices, but there are some basic first steps you can take to make sure you’re starting with a solid foundation.
- Research your customers and create buyer personas.
- Plan out your sales funnel.
- Conduct keyword research aligned with your typical customers’ stages along that funnel.
- Establish a strong foundation of relevant content geared toward each step on the customer journey.
- Connect your keywords with the appropriate content.
- Develop product and service landing pages.
- Promote your content on social media to develop backlinks.
4. Optimize key elements for conversion
We’ve talked about search engine optimization — now let’s talk about conversion rate optimization (CRO). Optimizing your conversion rate means making the most of all the people who clicked on your ad and showed up on your landing page. We want as many of them as possible to take action. So how do we do that?
First off, that means designing a landing page that’s clear and convincing and matched up with the ad your users clicked on. The more you can minimize the dissonance between what they clicked on and what they see when they arrive, the smoother the transition will be.
There are certain best practices to follow when it comes to your landing pages:
- Align your content, messaging, and phrasing with the ad that drew the user
- Make sure CTAs stand out with clear wording and eye-catching colors
- Place CTAs toward the top so you see them before you scroll
- Offer testimonials and other forms of social proof
Refer back to your buyer personas to figure out what’s drawing your customers to you. You can also find some subtle ways to focus on the right audience so that fewer people bounce after clicking on your ad. For instance, more specificity about your services in your ad copy will let people know whether the ad is right for them.
5. Monitor, test, and re-test
ABT. Always Be Testing. Monitor your ads to see how they’re performing. Run A/B tests with different variations to see which performs better. Use a heatmap to track how users interact with your landing page. Conduct interviews with customers to find out what sold them on your product. Use UTMs (Urchin Tracking Modules) to figure out how your customers are finding you then re-target those locations for investment. The more you know about why your ads are working, the more you’ll be able to build on your successes.
Establishing a regular test and reporting cadence is key to optimizing your performance. Consider what needs to happen on a weekly, monthly, and quarterly basis and set up workflows to enable the feedback loops you need. There’s a lot of data behind Search Marketing campaigns, so it’s important to be efficient and focused on priorities.-Nick Ferry, Big Sea, Vice President, Marketing
Partner with us to unlock the power of B2B Search Marketing
Whatever kind of business you run, chances are you’ve already taken some of these steps on your own. No one can afford to ignore the internet in 2023, and every business has put some thought into how people will find them online. But B2B search marketing is a complicated, multi-layered process where success accumulates over time. If you’ve never done it before, it takes a lot of know-how and a lot of trial and error.
If you’re looking to level up your search marketing game, reach out to Big Sea. Our marketing professionals have spearheaded search campaigns for B2B clients that generate leads, boost their ROI, and get serious results.