Business to Business (B2B) marketing is often different from Business to Consumer (B2C) marketing thanks to the elaborate buying processes, narrow markets and more complex products and services of a B2B website. In this article about B2B SEO, I’ll compare the two and explain what that means for your B2B website and SEO.
When reading the above, you might think: “In both cases you’re selling products or services to a customer, and you want those products to be found and ordered, so what could be the difference?” While that might be true in the case of, for example, office supplies, there are instances of B2B products and services that do require a different approach, especially when it comes to more specialized, complex, technical and expensive products, ordered by larger organizations with multiple stakeholders, so you’ll have to adapt your website to take those distinctions into account.
Differences between B2B and B2C
So, what are the main differences between B2B and B2C trading?
- The buying process can take much longer because it often involves more stakeholders and specific requirements;
- The products and services can be more complex and more costly;
- Professionals usually use jargon to describe their products;
- Size of the market: the B2B market generally is much narrower;
- Ordering scale: orders for businesses can be much larger.
How do these dissimilarities affect the goal of your site, your keyword research and the web content you present to your audience? Let’s take a closer look!
1. The buying process in a B2B market
In general, it takes longer to close a deal in the B2B market than it does to get a B2C order. The time between gathering information about the product and ordering it is at most only a few weeks, even for the most expensive B2C products like holidays or cars. When it comes to ordering products or services as a business, it might take weeks or even months before the decision to order the product is made. This is mostly because of the amount of money and the number of stakeholders involved.
Let’s take the example of buying a complex technical installation or expensive software: The user of the machine or software wants to know the features and how it works. The technician has to take a look at the performance of the machine or the IT department has to evaluate how it will integrate with existing systems. Finance is interested in the costs of buying and maintaining the machine and the managing director wants to know if it will help his staff to perform better and will ultimately need to give his seal of approval too.
An extensive buying process like this influences both the goal of your website and it also demands more from your web content:
B2B and the goal of your site
On a lot of B2C eCommerce sites, the goal is to get the sale done as fast as possible. People look for a product they’re interested in, find it, think about it, add it to their cart (or perhaps wait a day or two), and then decide whether to buy it or not.
A B2B website, especially when it comes to complex and expensive products and services, is much more focused on getting sales leads from a website. Customers won’t order a $25,000 machine or $300,000 medical gloves in a split second, so they’ll gather more information, and probably want to contact a sales rep or product specialist to get more details on the products or services as well. Perhaps they’d even like to order a sample of the product or test it.
Obviously, you should mention all these options on your site, and make it as easy as possible for your potential customer. Display the phone number on a prominent place on every page of your site and create easy-to-use forms to request a sample, a trial or a quote. Perhaps customers can directly email product specialists or ask them questions in a live chat? Whatever possibilities you offer, make sure your prospect can’t miss them!
B2B sales and your web copy
In the B2C market, the buyer is usually the person who is going to use the product. This doesn’t always apply to B2B, because, as mentioned already, many people are involved in the purchase of larger B2B products. To ease the decision that has to be made you’ll have to address different stakeholders in your web copy. Define who your stakeholders are and make sure to provide all of them with the necessary information, whether that’s the staff who will use the equipment, the technician, IT, finance, the manager or the director.
So your site will need quite a bit of information. Remember that, compared to B2C purchases, there is less emotional involvement with the purchase of a product or a service. This means that you need to communicate solutions, rather than the beauty and the aesthetic value of the product.
2. The complexity of products and services
Another difference between B2B and B2C is that, generally, B2B products and services are more complex. For instance, not many people use an X-ray machine at home. But your B2B customer doesn’t even have to buy a complicated machine or software to be interested in very detailed specifications.
I used to work at a company that sold medical supplies, like exam and surgical gloves. Even for a ‘simple’ product like medical gloves, requirements will be much higher than if you were buying disposable housekeeping gloves. Before buying, the hospital will want to find out: What material is it made of? What’s the exact thickness? Does it contain latex (in case of allergies)? What’s the texture like? Is it tested for use with chemotherapy drugs? Is it certified? Can you scientifically prove the claims you make about this product? And so on.
Complex B2B products and your web content
The complexity of the products and services mostly affects your web content, so you need to clearly describe specifications and features in detail. Also, include information that helps your prospect understand how to use the equipment or software. How do you work with these features? Help potential customers understand your product by adding detailed descriptions, imagery and product videos. You need to show how easy it is to work with that complex machine you’re selling!
Potential customers who still have questions should be able to contact you easily through your website. So besides providing sufficient information on how to use the product, get your sales team and product specialists geared up to answer those questions. And, in case of complicated products and services, show how your support team helps your customers out if they have problems after a purchase.
Not only is well-written, explanatory content necessary to help visitors understand your product if you write about the right keywords, but it’s also one of the most important assets that will get people to your website in the first place! This is closely related to the next characteristic of B2B: the use of jargon.
Every field of expertise has its own language. And people in a certain industry might not even be aware that they’re using very specialized words. Nevertheless, often these will be the words they’ll be searching for when looking for products or services online. So make sure you know which search terms they’re using! This is crucial for your keyword research, as I’ll expand on below.
Jargon and B2B Keyword research
When you’re doing keyword research – whether that’s for B2B or B2C – it’s essential to get to know your customers. Don’t assume you already know them! Take the opportunity to speak with customers and prospects and find out which stakeholder does the most searching for the business when it comes to finding a product like yours. Is it the manager? The user? Or the purchasing department? For your website to be found, you’ll have to write enough high-quality content on your site, in which you speak the same language as this stakeholder.
A mistake that businesses often make is heavily promoting a product name, instead of using the search terms their prospects use. If your brand is really famous for a certain product, promoting the product name might work. In most cases though, your prospect will be searching for a type of product, so the search volume for that term will be much bigger. It does mean you’ll have to compete with your competitors to rank for the same search terms. But that’s when a great content SEO strategy can help you out.
One more thing on jargon: to be found you’ll need to use some specialized words, but don’t overdo this! Balance the use of difficult, industry-specific words with the use of clear and easy to comprehend language. Keep your text readable – the readability analysis of Yoast SEO will help you here. You don’t want to scare away newbies to the industry!
4. Size of the market
Most consumer goods are of interest to much of the population, so marketing these products is therefore aimed at a very wide audience. Specialized, business-related products will only matter to the folks working in a certain field. This means you’re selling in a much smaller market, a so-called niche.
Niche products and SEO
In terms of SEO, this does have some advantages. Your target group might be smaller, but there might be less competition too. To become successful in a niche you should write great informational content on the keywords your prospects use, as described above. Focus first on long-tail keywords to increase the chance of ranking. Long-tail keywords are keywords that include specifications or features of a certain product. The search volume for these terms is lower, but there’s less competition for them too, which makes it easier to rank.
Let’s go back to the example of medical gloves. Although a niche market, it is quite competitive. Ranking for the keyword [medical gloves] therefore will be difficult. Luckily there are plenty of opportunities to specify your product. You could optimize your copy for [blue non-latex surgical gloves] and [pink nitrile exam gloves]. There will be less web content on these search terms, so it will be easier to rank. On top of that, you could write copy that goes deeper into certain specifications of your product, like why a hospital should choose [non-latex surgical gloves].
The next step would be to create an awesome site structure that shows Google the connections between all the content you’ve created. You can do this by internally linking related content and defining and linking to your cornerstone content.
Keep reading: The ultimate guide to site structure »
The last characteristic of B2B trading I’ll discuss is scale. Order quantities are usually much higher for businesses than consumers, therefore, total costs are higher for businesses. Often, they like or even expect to negotiate their own price or, at least, get bulk discounts. This means you should either present bulk discounts on your website or clearly show how they can easily contact a salesperson, so they can get a quote or negotiate their own discount. Preferably, you would do both.
Building a good B2B website is hard work. When working on it, keep the following things in mind:
- Think thoroughly about the goal of your B2B site and translate this into features on your website.
- Write content that addresses all the stakeholders that are involved in the buying process, and speak the same language as they do. You really need to get to know your audience to do so!
- Explain and show in detail how your products work.
- Do your keyword research and write awesome content on the keywords your audience uses. Don’t forget to focus on those long-tail keywords first.
Good luck! Did I miss something? Let me know in the comments!