Why is B2B SEO Important?
If you’re a B2B company, Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and digital marketing can seem like tricky business and a low priority. At Exposure Ninja, we often work with businesses just like yours on B2B SEO and B2B digital marketing. Ready to find out how it could transform what you do?
Just like consumers head straight to Google when they’re looking for help, so do businesses. For B2B companies, being found prominently on Google means being seen by people looking for your products or service, right at the moment of need.
Despite this, in many industries, SEO (and digital marketing more widely) is not treated as a priority. Out-of-date websites, infrequent and poorly-targeted blogs, and infrequent or non-existent authority outreach mean the results for those B2Bs which do take this seriously can be significant. Rather than feeling powerless against consumer-facing brands with large marketing teams and budgets to match, they could find themselves consistently beating weak and underperforming campaigns.
How Does Google Decide Where to Rank Your Website?
Google wants to give prominence to websites that are relevant and authoritative. Relevance is fairly obvious: does this site serve the intended purpose? Do visitors seem to have a good experience? Does this site actually deserve to have a top ranking? We’ll talk in more detail about how to make sure your website is seen as relevant in step three.
As well as displaying relevant websites, Google wants to show visitors sites which have authority. To understand why authority is important, let’s look at how we make decisions in the “real” world…
Imagine that your partner’s birthday is coming up and you know that they love Italian food. You’re trying to choose between two Italian restaurants with similar menus for a night out. You drive past them both and notice that one is full of customers, with a waiting area and a line out of the door. The second is completely empty, with the staff hanging around the front door, trying to encourage people to come in. You check them both out on TripAdvisor and find that the first has hundreds of positive reviews, whereas the second has only a few. You visit their websites and notice that the first has been featured in prominent food guides and national media. The second doesn’t seem to be mentioned anywhere.
Which do you choose? In this situation, choosing the busy restaurant would be considered the “safe bet”. The social proof from all of those visitors; the positive reviews; the authority features; it all indicates that this is a great restaurant. It has authority.
Google’s algorithms use the same process when it is deciding where to rank websites in your market. It’s all about which sites are being talked about, visited and mentioned by people who know what they’re doing. This authority is measured primarily through links. When a website links to you, that’s a “vote” of authority in your site. A link from a popular, important site is a more valuable “vote” than a link from a low-quality site.
B2B SEO vs B2C SEO: What’s the Difference?
The basic principles of SEO are always the same, no matter the business type, but the execution will be slightly different when it comes to B2B SEO for a few important reasons.
In general, search volumes are lower for B2B companies because the potential audience is often smaller than for a consumer-facing company. This isn’t a problem, as the typical B2B company needs far fewer leads and sales than a typical B2C company. B2B order values tend to be higher, whether they be eCommerce or service contracts. Fewer potential customers also means fewer searchers, so when you carry out keyword research, you’ll usually find that search volumes are lower. Not to worry, though: this emphasises the importance of a modern, long-tail, topic-based approach to keyword research, rather than focusing all your attention on a handful of key “money phrases”, as was the approach a few years back.
One key difference between B2B and B2C marketing in general is the end goal. Usually, the B2B “conversion” you’re aiming for on the website is a lead, rather than a direct sale. This is obviously a generalisation, but it can impact a B2B campaign by emphasising the importance of “top-of-funnel” traffic. That’s searchers looking for answers to questions and those gathering information during the research phase of the purchase cycle.
Building links and getting mentioned around the internet is an important component of a B2B SEO campaign — and there are clearly some channels that aren’t as suitable for B2B companies. Most bloggers, for example, are less likely to be interested in posting a review of a ball bearing than they are a vegan makeup and yoga retreat. But where one door closes, another opens. Trade publications, for example, can be an excellent way to get links and visibility in front of a highly targeted audience.
The ball bearing manufacturer link acquisition challenge also brings up another key difference between B2C and B2B SEO: the topics can often be much drier and, for use of a better word, boring. This is not a fatal flaw, though. It merely requires some creativity in order to identify the topics that people like to read and write about, working in an angle which features your business in an authoritative way. Whether it’s using Doctor Who and Game of Thrones to talk about warehouse racking safety, or piggybacking the latest Star Wars release to talk about accountancy, there is always an angle that you can use. Always.
Now that we’ve examined the differences, let’s look at how to construct the perfect B2B SEO campaign.
Step 1: B2B SEO Keyword Research: What is Your Target Audience Searching For?
The first principle of SEO is to make sure you’re targeting the right phrases. Working to improve your ranking over months and years, only to find that the phrases you rank for bring in no business, would be a frustrating situation.
Just like B2C keyword research, the key is to understand the language of your target customer. What do they actually search for when they are looking for you? Are they using correct industry language, or are they using more natural language? Are they searching for the name of your solution, or are they teIling Google the name of their problem?
These are important distinctions to know. If you’re unsure about exactly what your customers search for, it’s a good idea to just ask them, as keyword tools are most useful as an enhancement to — rather than a replacement of — common sense.
Many businesses, for example, are surprised to find that “industry language” isn’t as popular with their target buyers as they might have thought. The lower search volumes in B2B SEO are more susceptible to being skewed by self-Googling. Closer examination of one of Exposure Ninja’s first clients, for example, revealed to us that the industry was Googling itself so much that search volumes for industry terms were artificially inflated. The target market didn’t use — and, in fact, didn’t even understand — these “correct” industry terms and were far less sophisticated in their keyword use.
A great source of keywords is questions. What are the problems your business solves and how do your audience ask the questions they have about these problems? Questions make great topics for blog posts, which are a fantastic SEO asset when used correctly. Talk to your sales team to find out the top questions new leads have and, if you record your sales calls, listen to the specific language that these leads use.
Best B2B Keyword Research Tools
People often ask me about the best keyword research tools, so here’s the workflow I personally use (I should say that the Exposure Ninja SEO team uses a much more advanced process, with our own prioritisation system, which puts my rather more rudimentary process to shame! However, it’s a good starting point).
I’d always suggest talking to your customers and asking them “what would you search for?” as a first step. From there, there are three main tools I’d recommend.
Keyword Tool 1: Google. Your goal at the start of the keyword research process is to get the lay of the land and make general observations. This will allow you to narrow your focus and get more specific later on. Google is a great tool to start your research on, because it shows you something that no other tool will: exactly what the searcher’s experience will be. When you search for your “best estimate” keywords, do the search results show sites that are similar to yours? Are there relevant ads running? If so, how many? More ads means more competition and/or more “commercial intent”, because more advertisers are willing to pay for traffic from this phrase — usually because they make more money from the traffic.
Notice the predictive search suggestions that Google makes as you type. Are any of these relevant to your topic? Is Google trying to steer searchers to a particular phrase, or is there a related word which keeps popping up that you hadn’t considered?
Next, check for the “searches related to” section at the bottom of the search results page. As well as giving useful suggestions, these related and suggested terms can show you what Google understands about the topic, which can give an indication of the audience you’re working with.
Keyword Tool 2: SEMRush. Next, I like to run each of the most relevant-looking search terms through SEMRush, so that I can get a feel for the sort of search volumes they’re getting. It’s important to say that low search volumes don’t necessarily mean a particular term is off-limits; if the relevance is there, it could still be very profitable. SEMRush also gives you related search suggestions, but the juiciest info it provides is the rankings of your competitors.
If you drop your own site’s URL into SEMRush, it’ll show you “Main Organic Competitors”. The usefulness of this section will depend how competitive your market is and how well your own site is ranking for relevant phrases. The example below shows what happens if your keywords are poorly targeted, or your competitors are absolutely clueless: huge top-10 sites being listed because the phrases you’re showing up for are so broad and unspecific, no other sites have visibility for the same combination of phrases.
But putting your main business competitors’ URLs into SEMRush is where things can get interesting. This will show you where they are ranking, as well as give you an estimate of the amount of traffic they are receiving for each of these phrases.
In the image below, you’ll see some of the data that SEMRush gives about this particular competitor site:
Let’s look at what this table is really showing us. The first row in the table shows us that this site ranks for “ball transfer units”. The position the site ranks is six (this means sixth on page one; 13th would mean third on page two and so on) and this search is made approximately 170 times per month. Very approximately: this data is not directly measured, so it should be used as an indication only. The column “Traffic %” is also only an estimate, which shows an estimate of the percentage of the competitor’s organic traffic brought in by this phrase, giving you an indication about how important a particular term is to the site.
By now, you should have a good idea of the keywords that you want to rank for and an indication of the search volume for these phrases.
The next step is to begin optimising your website to rank for them.
Step 2: B2B SEO — Website Optimisation
The most important factor in your site’s ranking is its optimisation. A poorly-optimised site will always struggle to rank against well-optimised competitors, even if it has a bucketload of authority.
How Much Content is Enough?
One of the most common recommendations we’ll make to B2B websites is around content. Content is how Google reads and understands the internet — and few B2B sites have enough of it. As a rough guide, aim for 250 words per page and make sure you have separate pages targeting each of your main keywords, services, or topics.
Think about it first from a potential customer’s perspective. If you are selling a high-ticket product or service to someone unfamiliar with your business and unsure what their decision criteria should be, how much information should you be giving them? Probably more than a paragraph, right? And yet, countless B2B sites think that a few sentences of text are enough to establish authority, build value, explain benefits and allay concerns and fears about each of their services. It astounds and frustrates me how these sites not only expect to rank, but also expect to convert visitors into leads. But anyway, you get the jist: more text.
Keyword Use In Your Text
It’s always important to talk in the language your customers use — and never has this been more true than with keywords. Make sure that your target keywords are used prominently in your content and page headings; not only for the SEO benefit, but because these are the words your audience are using in their heads.
If your target audience is searching for “simple accounting software”, how about using a headline like “The World’s Simplest Accounting Software”? Your audience instantly understand this. Your body copy can then talk through the features that make your “bookkeeping” and “financial management” software so “simple”, “easy to use”, “straightforward”. Knock me down with a feather: you’ve just written a well-optimised, keyword-rich page using semantic keywords! All by just writing in the language your customers use.
People often ask how many keywords they should target on each page. How I’d suggest thinking about this is to make each page target one topic. Google now understands language well enough to group keywords and phrases into topics, so rather than having to have a separate page for each small keyword variation, just focus on having a single page for the topic and making the text as good as it can possibly be. Naturally include your keyword variations, too, and the targeting will take care of itself.
How To Use Your Blog to Improve SEO
Most B2B blogs are little more than a dumping ground for dull press releases. If you need to publish this stuff for compliance purposes, cool — put it in a “Media” section. But please, do not soil your blog with this junk. The golden rule of blogging is that you should never publish anything on your blog that you don’t think your target customers would actually want to read.
If you want to take it a step further, imagine that your visitors have to pay to read your blog posts. How useful would you make them if you knew that people were forking out to read each of your posts? Well, the truth is that visitors do have to pay to read your blog — with time, rather than money. They will get more money, but they will never get more time. So, make your posts interesting and aim to take your reader closer to their goals by the end of the post.
Your blogs should also be of a reasonable length, too. In fact, from an SEO perspective, the longer, the better. This post is long for a reason: because I want it to be as useful as possible and to rank as well as possible.
So what should you blog about?
A great place to start is to identify the top 20 questions that your target customers have about the problem they are facing. If you’re unsure what sort of questions these customers would have, you can ask your sales or customer support team. Alternatively, head to answerthepublic.com and put in your topic to see the questions that people are asking on Google.
Each of these questions would make for a top blog post. All you need to do is write the most complete answer you can to each of the questions, positioning your business where relevant and including any examples of case studies and testimonials, when the opportunity arises. It’s also a good idea to include calls to action throughout your blog posts and link to any relevant products or services that you sell.
For example, if you would like free recommendations of how to improve your site’s ranking, then request our free SEO and website review.
Use Different Pages for Each of Your Products or Services
We looked at using pages to discuss each topic, but it’s a good idea to make sure each of your products or services has its own page, too. As well as allowing you to target these pages to keywords specific to that product or service, it also means that you can tailor the content on that page very specifically to people looking for that solution.
If you have a complicated product or service, you might even choose to split key benefits into their own pages.
For example, at the time of writing this post, we are planning the build of a SaaS product which offers sales teams a pipeline management solution. It’s a new type of product, but the people who would make suitable target customers would usually be searching for either “Sales CRM” or “Sales Automation”. So we’re creating separate pages to target each of these topics (and audiences) and positioning the software as the specific solution to people looking for these topics. Because the product is new, people aren’t necessarily going to be searching for it. In that case, we need to find existing searchers who would have an interest in the solutions it offers, giving them content tailored to these topics to introduce the new solution.
Step 3: Links and Authority — B2B Digital Marketing
In addition to a well-optimised website, it’s also important that Google perceives your site as an authority. Its primary measure of authority is links, so a significant part of your ongoing B2B SEO work will be increasing the links and mentions of your website around the Internet. Of course, getting your business talked about on popular websites is not purely an SEO activity; it’s also a fantastic way to build credibility with your audience and drive qualified visitors to your site.
The best way of getting websites to link to you will depend heavily on what you sell and the market you’re in. For now, let’s look at Digital PR. I’ll walk you through the process of getting visibility in authority magazine and industry news sites.
Publication Research for B2B Digital Marketing
The first thing to do is identify the sort of websites your target audience spends its time on. The best way to do this is (shockingly) to ask them. For example, I’ll often phone current and prospective Exposure Ninja clients and ask them which websites they spend time learning about digital marketing on. If the same answers keep coming up, we know it would be perfect to be seen on these sites, as there will be other potential clients there. These sites will be some of the first that we reach out to when we want to get our content shared.
You can also Google phrases like “<yourindustry> magazine”, “<yourindustry> news” and “<yourindustry> website”. Let’s imagine that your business sells to hotels. If you wanted to get featured in front of your target customers, you might search for “hotel magazines” “hospitality news” and so on.
Any site covering relevant topics that publishes content in a blog or magazine format could be a potential outreach target. Grab a list of all those that look relevant and put them in a Google Sheet.
Next, you’ll want to take a look through these sites, noticing the sort of topics they are writing about. What are the common threads? Find the article categories most relevant to you and see if you can spot the topics which have been coming up multiple times. Have a look through the article archives, or go back to see what was being published a year ago that is still being written about today. What are the big trends in this industry? What aren’t they writing about which they really should be?
One of the main principles of successful content marketing (and any marketing, in fact) is to think of your customer first. In this case, you are thinking about these websites as your customers. What sort of topics would they really be most interested in?
As you start to build up your list of the publications’ favourite topics, you might start having ideas about how you could piggyback these topics to get visibility for your business.
For example, let’s imagine you sell booking software to hotels. You might notice that a lot of the hotel publications like writing about the impact that Airbnb is having on the industry, or the erosion of profit being caused by price comparison sites. These are great potential article angles. You could use article headlines like “What the Hotel Industry NEEDS to Learn from Airbnb” (spoiler: better usability and an easier/quicker booking system).
Also, think about the trending topics in the news at the moment — whether it’s an election, a leader, laws, the economy, whatever. Whilst some of them might not be relevant to you, you should be able to find a way to work your business in somehow. When Donald Trump won the US election, the stories were about “What Does Donald Trump Mean for the Future of ‘insert name or industry here’?” Pretty much every business could have an angle on this because even if they have no connection with Trump, if the economy drops significantly, this would impact pretty much every industry.
If your business has a significant core expertise, don’t be afraid to share this with your target market. For example, my brother-in-law is an expert at increasing the profit margins in SMEs and is in the process of setting up his own company to do this for people. He has a lot of tools which he uses to identify the pockets of waste in a business. My suggestion to him was that he writes a series of in-depth blog posts to help businesses go through the process of picking out these “profit eroders” and beginning to remove them. His reaction was very typical of many experts new to marketing: “isn’t this giving away my best stuff?”
The reality is that any business owner who gets significant value from one of these blog posts is going to be vastly more likely to become a client than those who know nothing about him. There is no better calling card or demonstration of expertise than helping someone to get closer to their goals before they even do business with you.
Another example is our book: How To Get to the Top of Google. This handy thing teaches people how to improve the ranking of their websites, step-by-step. If you follow the plan it outlines, your ranking will improve and your business will grow. Just check out the Amazon reviews from people who have done this. Some people think this is crazy; we’re an SEO company, after all. Why give away the map to the buried treasure?
Because we know that the key to us getting clients is trust and demonstrating our expertise. There is no better way to demonstrate that we can improve the ranking of your website than to show you exactly how to do it. We also know that no savvy business owner or marketing manager should be spending their time actually doing their own SEO. They have important strategic work to do and learning the intricacies of SEO should not be high on their agenda.
So don’t be afraid to share your expertise with the world on your blog and in the articles you provide to other publications. The authority and credibility you build will help you establish a relationship with your potential clients, while sharing this information will get you on more people’s radars than keeping it bottled up and hidden.
Digital PR Outreach for B2B SEO Benefit
Once you have collected your list of target publications and come up with some article topics you think would resonate with readers, it’s time to contact the writers and editors at the publications.
Some people just starting out will head straight for the contact page and put in their message to the contact form. This is often a mistake, because this contact form is policed by someone whose primary role in life is to delete emails. Instead, look to find the name of the writer who has published articles on the site in your chosen topic before and contact them directly. If you can’t see individual writers, find the contact for the editor and drop them a line instead.
Introduce yourself and be friendly, but cut to the chase quickly. Remember that these people are busy and a long, rambling message about the background of your business and how you were inspired to write whilst on a train journey is quickly going to find its way to the trash. We usually suggest the article headline and ask them if they think their readers might be interested in this topic. Of course, you should know that they would be. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be suggesting that headline. Offer to send over the piece and ask if there is a target word count.
At this point, you won’t have written the article. We always like to get a “yes” before writing, as it saves you having to write an article about a topic that ends up not getting placed.
Writing the Content
Once the writer or editor agrees to see the article, it’s time to get writing. This step is really important because, without a quality article, the whole exercise is pointless.
You should write in the style of the target publication whenever possible. Include references and links to external websites and only mention your own business when it seems natural to do so. Many first-time marketers will make their pieces read like the “About” section of their own website, but this is a mistake. If it reads like a thinly disguised advertorial, no decent website will want to publish it. Whenever you can, include licensed images with your article, as this saves the publication from having to source their own. Also, always make sure that the article is professionally proofed and edited before sending over.
You might be thinking that it’s all starting to sound like we’re trying to do the job of the writer or editor for them. That’s exactly what we’re trying to do.
B2B Digital Marketing Infographics
Infographics can be a really useful content tool in B2B marketing, as they’re a way of presenting complex information in a simple way. They can show people how to do something or give a visual breakdown of data with key takeaways.
Whilst the design is clearly an important factor in whether publications will be interested in sharing your infographic, the often-neglected key to a successful infographic is the angle and content. It’s not enough to just bung a bunch of average tips into a fancy design and expect people to share it like crazy. An infographic should provide a new angle on something, whether it’s a convenient collection of tips, an original study, or pure entertainment.
Remember that, because an infographic is a picture. This means Google will not be able to read the text within it. You’ll also find that some people want a bit more detail and context than the infographic can provide alone, so it’s a good idea to make an accompanying blog post. This is also the place that you will ask publications to link back to when they post your infographic on their websites. So, make sure your infographic blog page includes information about your business and a call to action, should new visitors come into this page through the link on another website.
How Much Outreach Should You Do?
The process of picking up links and features around the internet is like bathing: it’s never “done”. There’s a reason that all Exposure Ninja SEO campaigns include ongoing Digital PR Outreach. In order to have a popular and authoritative website, you need to be constantly shared and linked to. If no-one is talking about you, you ain’t popular. Of course, if your content is top notch, you’ll pick up links without doing anything. But relying on your content doing all of the work without you having to do any outreach is a little like a politician hoping the population notices how awesome they are and decides to elect them without telling people why they’re so good (or their competitors are so bad).
In fact, all of this work needs constant revisiting. Your site will need constant updating as you add more content and monitor progress. You’ll be creating new blogs, articles, infographics, videos; you’ll become a mini magazine yourself. So when taking on a project like this, it’s really important that you measure how well each piece is performing, so that you can focus your time, energy and money into the areas generating the biggest return.
Step 4: Measuring The Success Of Your SEO Work
Most beginner SEOs track the success of their work by typing their primary keyword into Google and seeing where their website shows up. Whilst seeing improvement using this method can feel gratifying, it’s not a particularly accurate way of measuring the impact of your work and is open to all sorts of inaccuracy. Let’s examine some more reliable performance metrics to judge your B2B SEO campaign by.
It’s a common myth that SEO work takes ages to show improvement. Unless you are an order of magnitude behind your main competitors, you should start noticing some improvements within a couple of months. At 1’40” in the video below, Google’s Maile Ohye recommends allowing 4 to 12 months for an SEO company to show improvement, though we believe some noticeable and fairly significant ranking improvement in most markets should show within 3-4 months. So what should you track and how?
The most important metric is the one that actually has business impact: conversions. A conversion is when a website visitor becomes a lead or a sale. This is all that really matters, because whilst ranking improvements might satisfy the marketing director, an increase in leads and sales is what will lead to business growth.
If you’re not tracking conversions inside Google Analytics, you really ought to be. It’s one of the first things we check when we work on a campaign, because whether your conversion goal is a form completion or a purchase, pulling these into Google Analytics will show you which marketing channels and pages on your site are providing the most business benefit.
The next metric that you’ll want to track is organic traffic. This is the number of people visiting your site through finding it in Google’s organic search. Seeing an increase in the number of people heading to your site this way is clear proof that it’s increasing in ranking. The next step to generating more conversions from those website hits.
The third metric we track is ranking — but tracking ranking using a Google search in your browser is not a particularly reliable way of doing this. The reason is that Google is likely to show personalised results to each searcher, based on their location, previous search, browsing history and even use of Google+ (LOL). For this reason, it’s more accurate to use a rank tracker such as SEMRush or Agency Analytics. Most rank trackers will ask you for your website address and target keywords, then show you where you rank each day from that point, allowing you to track your progress. At Exposure Ninja, we use SEMRush because it has the added advantage of showing you where you’re ranking for phrases whether you know them or not. It’ll also give you historical data about where your site has ranked in the past. Super useful.
Finding a B2B SEO Agency
Most B2B companies that appreciate the importance of SEO will, at some point, want to get some help with it. I write this not as a seller of SEO services to B2B companies (although, of course, I am), but as someone who spends my time talking to marketing managers and overseeing the vast and complex work required in an SEO campaign.
The days when SEO was just about stuffing your target keywords in your website copy are long gone. As you will have noticed, it’s now common for an SEO campaign to require at least four or five separate disciplines. Technical SEO and research; creative writing; editing (writers cannot edit their own work); publication research and outreach; design; then there are the strategic and managerial elements to pull it all together. These disciplines require completely different skill sets, which is why our SEO team has grown to a team of around 30. A small, in-house marketing team is rarely able to handle every element.
I’ve spoken with a lot of B2B companies, some who became clients and others that didn’t. Many have made mistakes hiring an SEO company and found that the pain of fixing the resulting problems significantly outweighed the hassle or expense of getting the hire right in the first place, so here are my top tips for choosing a partner:
- Your SEO agency should be able to explain to you — in plain English, no technical jargon — exactly what they are going to be doing for you each month. If they are wooly about their activities, avoid.
- You should know exactly what is going on at all times. SEO should not be a black box and you need to know at least enough to know that you are getting good work.
- Your monthly B2B SEO report should show actual work, not just data and errors for you to fix. How have they spent their time this month and what do they have planned for next month?
- Check for case studies. Can they provide proof of businesses that have been successful using them? You would be amazed (or perhaps not) at some of the “high-profile” SEO companies who are unable to provide a single occasion of showing a demonstrable business improvement for their clients. A room full of monkeys would generate at least one success story given long enough, so if there’s no evidence of success, you are unlikely to be the first.
- Does the agency take the time to explain anything you don’t understand? Play dumb and ask them a question about something you are comfortable with. Are they honest with their answer, or do they try to mislead you in order to position themselves or a cheap offering as something more than it is?
- Finally, don’t sign a long contract. I’ve seen 18-month minimums and 90-day severance periods. That’s an absolute joke. In what situation would a company who is great at what they do need to lock someone into an 18-month contract? Exposure Ninja works with a rolling 30-day agreement, which means that you’re not tied in. If something isn’t working out, you should be able to get out. So be careful.
Free Help With Your B2B SEO
If you’d like some free expert help with the SEO work for your B2B company, you can request our free SEO review and bespoke plan. Just like everything Exposure Ninja does, this plan is designed to blow your socks off. One of our Marketing Ninjas will spend 20 minutes reviewing your website and SEO. They’ll look at your rankings and analyse your competitors. They’ll put all of this into a written or video report, which we’ll send to you by email.
You should have your review within a couple of days, although sometimes it can take a bit longer when we are flooded with requests. But trust me: it’ll be worth the wait.