The Key to B-to-B Search
Results for this tactic hinge on matching objectives to the sector's unique business model
By Robert J. Murray
B-to-B? B-to-C? or B-to-B-to-C? Whatever the industry, one thing is clear: Search marketing has become an important and powerful tool for marketers today. It's a tool that, when wielded effectively, can dramatically improve your organization's business results. But search marketing is not a one-size-fits-allmedium. To produce optimal results, it must be customized to meet a marketer's specific business objectives and function within the organization's unique business model.
The goals of a B-to-B marketing initiative, for example, often differ greatly from those of a B-to-C effort. As such, the search marketing strategy, tactics and implementation for each also would need to differ. For B-to-C organizations, search marketing frequently is used to drive traffic to a Web site that actually produces an online sale. But for B-to-B marketers, it's typically not so straightforward, as their Web sites usually have a different goal—generating leads that are converted to a sale via another channel (e.g., sales force, telesales).
Given this difference, there are several specific areas in which you should focus your B-to-B search marketing efforts to maximize your business results.
There's probably nothing as synonymous with search marketing as keywords and keyword phrases. Developing an effective keyword strategy and an appropriate universe of keywords to target via your campaign is the crucial first step to any successful search marketing initiative. Both building keyword-rich content on your site—to appear near the top of the natural search results—and buying paid search advertising—to appear in the sponsored search results—are essential for producing an effective search marketing campaign. But in the case of B-to-B, the importance of the keywords you choose to target is even more complex because of the nature of the typical B-to-B buying cycle.
The length of the sales cycle for the typical B-to-B product or service is longer than that of B-to-C, for several reasons. First, the price point typically is higher. Next, there often are multiple people involved in the buying approval decision. And often corporate purchasing policies dictate that buyers obtain a minimum of three options for any purchase. As a result, there is far more time and effort spent on initial research into products and services by potential B-to-B customers, and transactions—or the desire to engage with a salesperson—rarely occur during a prospect's first Web site visit.
So B-to-B marketers need to focus their efforts on developing a keyword strategy that encompasses the entire continuum of the sales cycle, with targeted keywords for each and every phase in the process—from research through final sale. For example, someone searching for "fork lifts" may be at a relatively early stage in his research process, whereas the use of the search phrase "electric forklift dealers" demonstrates a higher degree of specificity and intent to purchase, and indicates that the searcher probably is further along in the buying cycle. Targeting keywords that are indicative of early stage search behavior is important, as doing so attracts searchers to your site early in the process. Capturing your target prospect at an early stage not only provides for a longer, deeper relationship with your organization, but it also keeps the prospect from finding the Web sites of your competitors.
Understanding a B-to-B site's real marketing objectives is paramount in devising an effective search marketing strategy. And since the marketing objective of most B-to-B sites is lead generation, not direct sales, the actions you want visitors to your site to take are different—and more numerous—than those of a B-to-C site.
Often, there are any number of conversion activities available to visitors of a B-to-B site, and they often can be aligned with the various stages of the sales cycle (as discussed above), reflected across the variety of visitors to your Web site. For example, some may want to print or download a copy of a product brochure. Others may want to read an educational white-paper or view a rich-media presentation. Still others may want to subscribe to your free newsletter, while some may want to speak to a salesperson or use the store locator.
It is the job of the B-to-B marketer to devise and provide the appropriate number and type of online conversion activities so that the needs of all the archetypal visitors to the site, at each stage of the buying cycle, are met by at least one of the activity options. In this way, the site is effectively leading the prospect through the sales cycle based on a starting point that's defined by the prospect … and responded to by the conversion activity that addresses the particular stage in the buying cycle.
As a result of creating these various conversion activity types, you need to track metrics for every one, tie these conversions to eventual business results (e.g., sales, revenue), and then assign a typical value to each conversion activity available. In so doing, you will discover which of these conversion activities, focusing on a specific stage in the sales cycle, is providing you with the most bang for your buck.
You also will discover which keywords are most effective at producing those most valuable conversions, thus allowing you to build more Web site content containing those words or to start buying those keywords in paid search campaigns if you aren't already.
Results. Everybody wants them. They spell success. And it's no different in search marketing. However, how you define success is critical. At the outset of a search marketing initiative, it is important to not only determine how success will be measured, but also to set realistic expectations.
The success or failure of many search marketing campaigns is determined by volume of traffic, and number of conversions generated as a result of that traffic. If the volumes keep going up, the campaign is successful. When the volumes plateau, the campaign is deemed faulty or, at best, "stalled." However, if you take the size of your specific B-to-B marketplace into consideration, that traffic plateau actually may represent significant success. Acquiring and maintaining share of market is an important metric for B-to-B search marketing initiatives.
For example, if you are in the custom widget business, you have a far more limited target universe of prospects than that of someone in the apparel business. The reality is, there are only so many people looking for custom widgets, while everyone needs clothing. As such, at some point your site's traffic volume is going to peak because you've already targeted all the keywords relevant to your custom widget business, and are effectively reaching an extremely high percentage of the prospect universe for custom widgets.
The opportunity here is to shift expectations from continually increasing the volume of traffic and conversions to attaining and maintaining an extremely high share of your marketplace. If traffic has peaked at 4,000 visitors a month, but that number represents 95 percent of the marketplace, it's unrealistic to expect a further increase in traffic. At that point, you should declare victory and reap the rewards.
Competition in today's online marketplace is fierce and requires leveraging every available tool. Search marketing has become a powerful tool that when used effectively can help achieve improved B-to-B results. To achieve optimal performance,
B-to-B marketers need to adjust their search marketing strategy to fit their specific business goals; realize that they need to focus on generating multiple types of conversion activities via keywords that speak to customers in all stages of the buying cycle; and set realistic and achievable goals for their initiatives. Master these B-to-B-specific strategies, and the results will follow.
Case Study: Document Technology Leader Seeks Visibility
Problem: A worldwide service and document technology company faced fierce competition online for sales leads and visibility, both from other firms and its enormous network of ffiliated resellers. Its Web site contained mostly dynamically generated pages, making it hard for search engine spiders to crawl the site. Also, such sites tend to have fewer links pointing to them.
Another challenge was the lack of text-based content for the spiders to index. This lack of content also decreased the chances of human-edited directory listings for pages of the site, because editors prefer content-rich pages.
The company's goal was to increase its Web site's visibility in the major search engines to both branded keywords—which are very competitive due to the number of online affiliates and resellers—as well as non-branded keyword phrases.
Solution: The first recommended action was to implement numerous static pages within the document technology company's Web site, so that search engine spiders more easily could locate pages and content, and then easily navigate throughout the site. The company also worked with iProspect to create interlinking static site maps to enhance the ability of spiders to crawl more of the site. It also optimized each Web page with meta data and ensured that content was crafted to effectively target large, relevant keywords and phrases.
A second course of action involved manually submitting various Web pages to search engines and directories. The directory submissions process included a thorough analysis into appropriate, relevant categories; the development of keyword-rich titles and page descriptions for each listing; and manual submissions for directory editor review.
The final piece of the plan had iProspect research external, high-quality Web sites with related information for linking potential, leading to the solicitation of keyword-rich hyperlinks from each qualified site.
Result: Since implementation, the document technology firm tracked a 180 percent increase in search referrals, and the number of its position one rankings rose by 77 percent. In addition, 79 percent of the company's rankings are visible on the first page of search results. And, perhaps the most important result is the company's Web site outranking its closest competitor by a margin of more than 4 to 1 on non-branded, copier-related keyword phrases.
Robert J. Murray is president of iProspect, a full-service search engine marketing firm in Watertown, Mass. He has spoken at numerous industry events, including AD:Tech, the Internet Dating Conference and Search Engine Strategies. Murray can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.