B2B SEO: Marketing strategy for specific niches

This is a guest post by my Onetomarket colleague Erik-Jan Bulthuis. You’ll be seeing more guest posts from him and other people in the future!

Business to business marketing is a strange thing. In some ways, it cannot be compared to business to consumer marketing:

  • The market is much smaller
  • The products and services are more complex
  • Sales take much longer

This is part 1 of a series of 3 about B2B SEO. I suppose that the reader has a basic knowledge on SEO and wants to broaden that knowledge to B2B SEO as well. The most important goal for this article is comparing B2B SEO to B2C SEO. A little bit of background in marketing is also quite handy.

Buying process

This first article talks about the strategy of a B2B website. What are the targets and conversion moment and what do you want to communicate? First of all, we must understand that the lead time of a purchase in a B2B market is much longer than in a B2C environment. Even the most expensive B2C products like holidays only take a few weeks between gathering information about the product and ordering the holiday. The graph below (source: Enquiro Research) shows how long the lead time for a B2B purchase is:

b2b-seo-1-1.jpg

As the graphs shows, it might take weeks or even months for someone decides to buy the product. In the same research of Enquiro Research, 85% of the respondents claim that they use online media somewhere in the buying process. This shows the importance of having a good B2B website for your products and services. Search engines do play an important role in the buying process:

b2b-seo-1-2.jpg

The long lead time of a B2B purchase obviously doesn’t apply for things like office supplies. However, it does apply for something like a complex technical installation. This has a lot to do with the money and people involved. The technician has to take a look at the performance of the machine, the economic man is interested In the cost of buying and maintaining the machine and if you aren’t lucky, the managing director also has an opinion about the whole thing.

A B2B website contains information that eases the decisions that has to be made. There is a need for information about when to use the machine, the cost of the machine (purchase, maintenance and devaluation) and technical specifications. For most B2C markets, this information isn’t that necessary.

Soft conversions and long lasting funnels

Al this desired information has consequences for the targets of your website. Most B2B websites don’t offer ways to order anything online, because the products are too complex. The sales take place in a personal meeting or through a telephone call.

The way towards those sales however does lead through various interesting conversion moments of the website.

The download of a PDF with product specifications is a good sign of someone being interested in the product. Therefore, you would like to know how many of the people visiting your site download such a PDF. You also would like to know who these people are, where they come from etc. If the same downloader reads a text about the cost of the product a few weeks later, we can be quite confident that he’s a serious interest in buying the product. It’s important to measure such ‘soft’ conversions (i.e. conversions that can’t be monetized immediately) as a funnel by means of long term cookies.

KPIs for a B2B website

The soft conversions just mentioned, lead us to the following question: What are the KPIs of our B2B website? A webshop has very simple KPIs: the number of sales, the number of newsletter registrations, etc. The KPIs of a B2B website are much harder to define.
The number of people sending you an email is an important KPI, as well as the number of people calling you by phone. Therefore, you would like to know how many people are calling you using a telephone number that they found on your website. It might be a good idea to mention a different phone number on your site than on other (offline) publications. In this way you can measure how many of your telephone calls are being delivered through the website (of course you don’t know whether they came from paid search, organic search, referrers or some other source).

In most cases, the number of unique visitors on your website isn’t a good KPI. I worked for a company that produces industrial pumping systems. In The Netherlands, they rank in de top 3 for ‘pumps’ which does lead to a lot of traffic. Many of these visitors are consumers looking for a little pump for in their pond. They increase the bounce rate quite a lot. The unique number of visitors in a certain period isn’t a nice KPI, but they might use “number of unique visitors visiting three pages or more” as a KPI.

Expert knowledge at B2B SEO

Another problem of B2B SEO is the required expert knowledge. My overall knowledge increased a lot since I started working at Onetomarket. I now know quite a lot about industrials pumps, HR software, medicines and interim management. However, it’s still difficult for me to do a good keyword research for the industrial pump manufacturer. After a few weeks of practicing, I do know how to spell peristaltic pumps, mag drive pumps and progressive cavity pumps, but my knowledge about those things is still pretty limited.

This happens a lot at B2B clients. It’s important to make your B2B clients self-learning. Explain what they should do and train them. Have a brainstorm with your clients about determining keywords; let them write their texts; use their technical knowhow. Your client has also more experience in selling their products than you have. The client knows (if everything is okay) how their clients are calling their products and services and how they’d describe certain problems. Of course, as an SEO you should some basic knowledge about the products your client is trying to sell.

Different audiences

In the B2C market, the buyer is also the person who is going to use the product. This doesn’t apply for the B2B seller. The purchase department buys a technical installation that the technical department ordered. Therefore, there is not much emotional involvement at the purchase of a product or a service. This means that you want to communicate solutions, rather than the beauty and the esthetic value of the product.

As said before, many people are involved in the purchase of larger B2B products. In the report of Enquiro Research four types of buyers are distinguished;

  • The economic buyer
  • The technical buyer
  • The user buyer
  • The coach buyer

You have to offer information for each of them. It isn’t that hard to determine the information they need:

Economic buyer
Information about the price, the maintenance cost and the depreciation of the product.

Technical buyer
Technical information about maintenance, information about the installation of the machine, availability of spare parts, etc.

User buyer
Information about how to handle the product, manuals, a support service etc.

Coach buyer
The coach buyer is a manager with some influence. Tell him that your product is indispensible for the performance within his organization.

The list above has consequences for the information on your website. Your site will need quite a bit of information.

Conclusion

Building a good B2B website is hard work. Your role as an SEO is to train, coach and motivate your client, who will be doing all the hard work. Together you should define the information architecture and KPIs of your website. Please make sure that the visitors are climbing in their phone as soon as possible.

This serie is continued with B2B Content SEO, followed by the concluding B2B SEO: Link Building article.

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25 Responses

  1. seo expertsBy seo experts on 20 June, 2008

    content written in this blog is very good . Mainly comparison between B2B SEO and B2C SEO is most useful to understand them. But there should be some examples required in this blog to understand.

  2. brewginBy brewgin on 20 June, 2008

    Guess you’re not afraid of dupe content then? :p
    EJ’s articles on B2B are very helpful, good to see them in English on Yoast.

  3. Erik-JanBy Erik-Jan on 20 June, 2008

    @seo experts: What is the part you need examples for? Maybe I’m able to explain certain things a bit more.

    @brewgin: Tnx for the compliments :)

  4. MichelBy Michel on 20 June, 2008

    I’ve been researching for B2B Online Marketing a while ago. There isn’t much out there. This article from Nielsen was interesting: Nielsen B2B Usability.

  5. sr ivikasBy sr ivikas on 20 June, 2008

    i really enjoyed reading this article. very informative. but i have a doubt here:

    let me quote u first – ” Therefore, you would like to know how many of the people visiting your site download such a PDF. You also would like to know who these people are, where they come from etc. If the same downloader reads a text about the cost of the product a few weeks later, we can be quite confident that he’s a serious interest in buying the product. It’s important to measure such ‘soft’ conversions (i.e. conversions that can’t be monetized immediately) as a funnel by means of long term cookies.”

    now, the question is – how do u know if it is the same guy who read about the company product has come back to the site to check on the price later , few weeks later? how would u identify and connect with such a “downloader” ?

  6. Erik-JanBy Erik-Jan on 20 June, 2008

    @sr ivikas: Thanks for your comment. There are multiple ways to achieve the thing I stated. First of all, you can use a registration process before the information is available. I don’t like this option, so it might be better to use long lasting cookies instead.

  7. KirkBy Kirk on 20 June, 2008

    Hello, this is nice strategy

  8. John AllenBy John Allen on 24 June, 2008

    Marketing to different buyers (ie:economic buyer, technical buyer, user buyer, coach buyer), is something I try to impress on every client. However, just to give credit were credit is due, I am not sure Enquiro can claim authorship. It is concept I learned while in sales training the 80′s from the book Strategic Selling by Miller and Heiman.

    In the book it is pointed out that a single individual can represent multiple influences (or a committee a single influence), but that ALL the influences must be satisfied in order to make a sale. — Good stuff and highly relevant to marketing on the internet.

  9. Corné HoogendoornBy Corné Hoogendoorn on 27 June, 2008

    @ Erik Jan,

    Especially the different audiences are interesting in B2B SEM projects. But how can you filter the consumers out of an B2B SEA campaign? Both consumers as B2B customers will use the same words.

  10. JerryBy Jerry on 30 June, 2008

    Very good introduction, I will be really helpful to have some few eamples.

    Thanks for the post.

  11. Media ProfessionalBy Media Professional on 23 July, 2008

    This is a great information for all business enthusiast who planning to extend their business online. Great post!

  12. NooozeguyBy Nooozeguy on 26 July, 2008

    I am curious about this sentence:

    Have a brainstorm with your clients about determining keywords; let them write their texts; use their technical knowhow.

    I have had a hard time getting clients to take a constructive look at either their keywords or their ad copy.
    Most are too busy to take a close look. Others do not understand the details of PPC.

  13. Tony MurphyBy Tony Murphy on 26 August, 2008

    Hi Erik,

    You mention tracking white paper or technical pdf documents using cookies, but I wonder if you also use a standard internet marketing email subscription in order to capture the prospects name and email and usually the email will identify the organisation that is interested in the sites products. I’m sure you do, but would be keen to have your opinion on this.

    I often have to research detailed technical information on servers or network switches and I tend to gravitate towrds those sites that provide the best information. Examples are HP (they have an online configuration utility) and Cisco. I tend to steer clear of sites that are nothing but brochureware :-)

    Great post.

    cheers
    ony

  14. Erik-JanBy Erik-Jan on 26 August, 2008

    @Ony: Ofcourse an email subscription is a good way to attract more information about your visitors. I’m going to write an article about “aggressive ways for B2B lead generation”, because I don’t think you need an email address to make the deal…

    And yeah, it’s quite nasty that you can’t throw brochure-websites in the paper basket – or burn them.

  15. Tony MurphyBy Tony Murphy on 27 August, 2008

    Hey Erik,

    Thanks for the quick response. I look forward to seeing your article on “aggressive B2B lead generation”

    Tony

  16. Erik-JanBy Erik-Jan on 27 August, 2008

    I already found your name a bit strange, but you forgot a T. ;)

  17. Tony MurphyBy Tony Murphy on 27 August, 2008

    well spotted that does look a bit wierd :-)
    I must learn to type slower – too much programming!

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