Perhaps nowhere is keyword strategy more complex than in B2B SEO. The lack of shared lexicons, the obscurity of most B2B brand names, the multiple parties involved in the purchase decision, and the extended nature of the buying cycle present unique challenges for B2B marketers. Here are some tips to keep you on course.
Lingo and lexicons
In any given B2B industry, there is a lexicon, the words and terms used by those operating in the industry. In addition, many B2B companies have their own internal lingo as to what things are called. In the end, however, the only terms that matter in B2B SEO are those your prospects actually use. And these may be very different from the terms you use inside your organization and within your industry. Get in touch with your prospects. Talk to them. Optimize your site using the search terms they actually use.
The search for solutions
B2B prospects initiate their research from a wide variety of angles. They may start their search with search terms related to their problem or need (e.g., speech privacy). On the other hand, they may use search terms that involve the name of a potential solution (noise masking systems). They may start broadly (office acoustics) or narrowly (healthcare acoustic design), or they may be looking for the solution provider (noise consultants) or the industry (acoustical consulting). The key to B2B SEO is a complete understanding of the prospects, their issues, and their likely actions as they search for solutions. Good optimization considers all potential starting points of the B2B searcher.
Brand names versus generics
We’d like to think everyone has heard of our company and the specific products we sell. Truth is, however, it takes a lot of money and time to achieve top-of-mind awareness and recall. In B2B, unless you’re the ubiquitous, undisputed industry leader, people probably aren’t going to Google your company’s name or the name of one of your branded products when looking for a solution to their problems. Even if they know about you or your products, searchers want to educate themselves. They want to see who else is out there. So don’t make the mistake of focusing B2B SEO principally on proprietary brand names. Most prospects are going to start with generic search terms. Focus your energy there.
One product, many names
Even if you focus keyword strategy on generic search terms, in many B2B industries, there is often no agreed-upon set of generic terms—even when it comes down to a single, specific product or issue. Take, for instance, this article. Is it B2B search marketing, B2B search engine optimization, B2B SEO, b-to-b search engine marketing, BtoB search, business-to-business SEO, or some other combination? You’ll get different search engine results for each of these queries. The endless permutations make B2B keyword strategy tremendously complex. On which search terms should you focus?
The product of B2B keyword research is only as good as the input. Unless you have a complete understanding of the diversity of potential keywords for generic terms, you may never identify the most valuable keywords. Effective B2B keyword research requires a thorough understanding of the industry and open-minded brainstorming. Make sure you have both.
One searcher, multiple searches
In the B2B world, the buying cycle may last months or even years. That’s because B2B purchases undergo much more scrutiny throughout all phases of the buying cycle—and in those phases the same person may perform multiple searches, each with a different intent.
In the first phase (research), the B2B purchaser is seeking alternatives, seeing who’s out there to potentially fill the need. During this phase he may use generic search terms related to the product or services sought in order to form a “short list” of potential providers. Later, in the evaluation stage of the buying cycle, the purchaser’s focus turns from researching potential suppliers to researching specific issues related to the product or service, such as performance, efficiency, maintenance, ergonomics, white papers, etc. Different search terms will be used and different sites will be found—and different suppliers may be unearthed, supplanting those previously identified. Late in the process, just prior to the purchase decision, the searcher now has a thorough understanding of specific needs, wants, and issues affecting the purchase decision. One last round of searching will likely ensue to confirm the purchaser’s intended direction, and again different search terms may be used.
In B2B SEO, it’s important to understand the search terms your prospect may be using in the different phases of the buying cycle. If you have a good understanding of this, you can ensure you not only get initially found, but also get confirmed at every search in the buying cycle.
Tip O’Neill was famous for saying, “All politics is local.” The same is true in B2B search. In the typical B2B purchase, many individuals influence the purchase decision—and each uses varying search terms depending on their role and the issues that affect them. In a capital equipment purchase, the user of the product or solution will likely use different search terms than the plant manager. So too, the purchasing department will use different terms researching alternative suppliers than the VP who is ultimately approving the expenditure. Make sure you take into account the different influencers and the search terms they’re likely to use.
The tail often does wag the dog
In B2B SEO, it’s often the search tail that truly drives click-through. For some, geographical modifiers are the key to traffic. For others, it’s the inclusion of different, additional search modifiers. For instance, someone looking for environmental engineering services might search for “environmental engineering” or “environmental engineers.” However, the diversity of search results may cause the searcher to refine her search to “environmental engineering firms” or “environmental engineering company.” It seems simple, but so many people miss this. Failure to properly and consistently incorporate such modifiers into optimization tactics can be the difference between getting found and staying lost. Focus on those keywords that have the highest conversion potential. Whole-hearted pursuit of more general, high-traffic search terms at the expense of lower-volume, high-conversion keywords may send you (and your money) barking up the wrong tree.