Search engine optimization (SEO) has been a core tenet of digital marketing for the last 20 years, and it continues to be the main driver of organic traffic for many companies. Despite over two decades of SEO existence, it is still a marketing initiative mainly popular with B2C and eCommerce companies.
However, slowly but surely, B2B companies have quickly caught up with their B2C counterparts in their commitment to SEO. And like marketing as a whole, execution and strategy for B2B businesses can be very different.
There’s no one-size-fits-all SEO strategy, and if you want to refine your SEO strategy as a B2B company, you need to ensure that you understand what will work and what won’t be as applicable. Today, we’ll take you through understanding how to approach B2B SEO.
The three pillars of SEO
This guide is meant to be a more specific, advanced SEO guide, but I want to cover the three pillars of SEO for those who need a refresher. These three pillars are the foundation of all SEO.
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On-page SEO includes both the customer-facing aspects of your website and some of the technical backend aspects. The focus here is on the customer-facing elements, which consider search intent and keyword research.
Here’s how to optimize your on-page SEO:
- Research your optimal low-volume keywords.
- Conduct manual searches to see what type of content exists about your topic.
- Record the top search results.
- Review those pages. What’s working? What could be better?
- Use the information to develop better content that serves the audience.
Off-page SEO is often more challenging than on-page SEO, so many marketing teams simply avoid it. However, it’s vital to one key SEO element — link building.
Gaining backlinks takes time; there’s no way around it. You can’t buy, hack, or fast-track link building. Or I mean, you can, but you are putting yourself at risk for penalization. If you want quality links, you have to put time and effort into getting other credible websites to refer back to your site with links.
Sure, you could find some blackhat link-building methods, use spam tactics, or pay outright for links, but they’re useless. The links have to be authoritative; the only way that happens is by putting in the work for content that sites want to link to.
Technical SEO refers to the technical side of your SEO strategy and the user experience. Mostly, it’s about how your site runs and whether the customer leaves with a positive impression.
Here’s how you can optimize your site:
- conduct an audit for site speed;
- make sure target keywords are in the title, meta tags, and URLs;
- include both dofollow and nofollow links to design a “map” of your site structure;
- correct any broken links;
- check for duplicate content and remove it;
- enhance site security with HTTPS;
- optimize your site for mobile.
Now I want to move into the meat and potatoes of this guide.
B2C vs B2B SEO factors
Much like any business function, B2B organizations need to employ different SEO strategies than business-to-consumer (B2C) organizations. The main difference between them is the consumer.
Both B2B and B2C consumers demonstrate similar buyer behavior, but understanding the differences is important for a successful B2B SEO strategy. The sales cycle with B2B consumers and organizations and the relationship are nurtured longer. There can often be multiple decision-makers involved in the process, so you can’t rely on a high volume of single impulse purchases.
However, what the B2B sales and marketing cycle lacks in impulse purchases often is made up for higher ticket prices and longer-term engagements.
Understanding what makes the B2B process different is a key factor in seeing success with your B2B SEO strategy. Let’s walk through how exactly SEO influences each variable of the B2B sales process.
Multiple decision makers
It’s common knowledge that B2B purchases involve a number of stakeholders or decision-makers, including department heads, executives, or team leaders, all of whom have a say in the decision. You have to persuade all of them, but they have different pain points, challenges, obstacles, and perspectives.
For example, the CIO is a technical decision-maker and may be responsible for IT strategy and roadmap. In this role, the CIO is concerned with breaking down technical silos, getting software ROI, and increasing productivity while reducing the IT team’s burden. For this CIO, seeing real-world examples of how the technology was implemented with case studies is a strong motivator.
Then there’s the CEO, the lead decision-maker, who wants to drive top- and bottom-line revenue and maximize revenue, fast. This decision-maker isn’t interested in the granular details or the features — they just want to know how that translates to real-world results for the business.
This is where B2B SEO makes a difference. With this approach, you’re focusing on the individuals that make up the entire decision-making group and have the final say. You have to understand what questions, challenges, budgetary restrictions, and goals motivate each of their decisions to make an impact and show them why purchasing your product is a smart choice.
However, interestingly enough, the goal of B2B SEO isn’t always necessarily to try and hit every single decision-maker. Now granted, if you can rank for all keywords that a potential client and all their stakeholders would search, please do so. However, in a world with limited resources, that isn’t always the case. Often for any new investment, there is someone (or a small group) assigned with researching companies.
These are often not the C Level executives doing the search. It’s often members of the marketing team who are delegated to do the initial research to find potential vendors/suppliers.
This is where B2B SEO is the most important. Your business needs to hit that initial list that is created, and so you need to ensure that you are ranking for keywords that your potential clients would initially be Googling when searching for a solution.
Once you are on the initial list, the name of the game changes, and it often goes beyond just SEO. Upper management will Google your business, and you need to ensure you rank well for your own brand name; however, at that point, the strategy turns from SEO into the content strategy and UX of the site.
You already have a potential lead who is interested, SEO got you found, and now other areas of marketing kick in.
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Low search volume keywords
When operating in B2B, keyword research also has differences that are important to understand when finalizing a keyword roster. To borrow a euphemism used when eating, many marketers pick keywords based on their eyes. In this case, it’s not hunger but search volume.
And picking keywords solely based on search volume can be the demise of any meaningful SEO progress. Especially in the B2B space, search volume should be one of the primary metrics used to evaluate keywords, but we need to anchor expectations.
Most B2B keywords are lower volume. In my own experience at Zupo, where we predominantly work with B2B clients, we see most keyword groups having volumes in the hundreds. If we are lucky, we’ll get into the thousands, and on the flip side, we’ll see some keyword groups barely hit 100 monthly search volume.
However, as we have mentioned above, many B2B companies operate in a specialized niche and offer outsized value and expertise. Therefore, the market for their services is often much smaller than the consumer who is looking for new shoes.
At the end of the day, we find that most B2B marketing teams understand this, but the second they pull up some keywords and data they think like they are in the B2C space.
Remember, B2B inherently has less search volume, but don’t let that deter you from picking them. There are many reasons low-volume keyword groups can be impactful. The recommendation here is to always do a thorough keyword research campaign to review all opportunities, compare all the keyword groups that have been discovered based on volume, keyword difficulty, and business relevance.
Keyword groups will rise up to the top, some with high volume and high business relevance, some with low volume but high purchase intent. It’s up to your team to slow down, evaluate all opportunities and make those decisions together.
Expertise and thought leadership
Two of the most impactful areas of SEO are content and link building. Granted, 200+ factors affect the algorithm; however, time and again, once a certain baseline is met for site functionality, content, and links is really where SEO comes down to.
When it comes to B2B SEO campaigns, they have link-building strategies unique to the B2B space.
Link building is traditionally thought to be executed in the following manner:
- product or service reviews;
- blogger or influencer outreach;
- publicity stunts;
- press releases.
These points are not exclusive to B2C, however, it’s not always easy for a B2B company to have a blogger review their product or service.
Despite being unable to easily execute the above link building strategies, B2B companies have other great and unique options.
The primary method is through thought leadership. In the B2B space, knowledge transfer is much more common and highly sought out. There are too many things to be good at and, therefore, too much to learn. Businesses and teams are hungry for a faster, better, and nicer way to do things, so they go to conferences, join webinars, read articles, etc., to learn.
This is where B2B SEO strategies can focus their SEO effort. By positioning the company and its members as thought leaders, the company can get its name out to the industry and potential customers while sending links back to its website, which passes link equity and authority.
Thought leadership can come in the form of interviews, features, podcast appearances, and contributorships. Regardless of the exact medium, these offer B2B companies a treasure trove of link-building opportunities that B2C companies would not naturally be conducive to.
Off-site SEO strategies
Thought leadership is a strong way to build links, but it is not the only uniquely B2B opportunity for link building.
Some other link-building strategies that B2B SEO campaigns can engage in:
- case studies;
- industry surveys;
- expert roundups.
These, including thought leadership, are all strong link-building initiatives. Your company’s resources, clout, and strength will determine what is the best.
Reputation management is prevalent across all commerce. Think about every time you looked up Yelp or Google reviews before visiting a restaurant.
The same goes for the B2B space.
Budgets are bigger, more stakeholders are involved, and the implications of a decision go much further. Therefore, those looking for companies want to ensure they minimize risk as much as possible. This is where reputation management comes into play. Many companies’ entire business model is built on reviews of products, services, and industries.
Here are some well-known reputation management sites:
This is where a holistic search strategy is a goal. Yes, you want to rank your site on the 1st page for relevant keywords, but you also want to identify what reputation management sites may also be ranking.
If you find that reputation management sites appear on the 1st page, it behooves you to ensure that when users click those sites, your business appears on the list. This is because they will see your site multiple times (your search results and on the rep management site), but also they will see social proof of others who have reviewed your business.
The strategy here for B2B companies is to make sure they figure out the keys to success for these sites. Nine times out of 10, the combo is quality and quantity of reviews and some level of sponsorship. Each site is different, but figuring out what will get you to the top is important.
Finally, not all industries and keywords have reputation management sites. In these cases, continue to focus on your own site’s SEO.
E-A-T and domain authority
No one knows exactly what makes Google’s algorithm tick, but we do have some guidance from Google itself. According to Google’s Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines, E-A-T is a priority.
This means Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness. These E-A-T guidelines help Google determine how relevant and beneficial content will be for search users, and it’s based on the content itself and the creator of the content — you.
While E-A-T isn’t enough on its own, it does matter. Based on the guidelines, E-A-T needs to be trustworthy, helpful to searchers, current, written by an expert, and shown on a credible site. You don’t need to hire experts with a bunch of degrees — you just need to be an “everyday” expert or hire people who are.
E-A-T is inherently vague and often hard to pin down; however, we like to pair it with a tangible metric — domain authority. Internally at Zupo, we call it Domain Rating, but the terms are used interchangeably.
The days of overnight SEO success are long gone, and the idea that you can create a quick page today and have traffic come in tomorrow is foolish. Google continually wants to reward websites that show expertise but also trustworthy sites.
Domain rating is a strong metric that SEO uses to measure the website’s quality and strength. And the best way to continue improving it is link building and content. Do you see the theme?
Therefore, balancing your keyword with a holistic SEO focus is important. Drive links to your home page, ensure a strong internal linking structure, and build a solid content library on your website.
To give a tangible case on why this is so important, we often have clients who, on paper, have everything they need to rank. They have more links going to a priority page, the word count is higher than any 1st-page competitor, and the page is optimized with SEO tags, markup, and in-text. However, the page just doesn’t rank well.
In these situations, we often find that those who rank over our page may have weaker pages; however, their domain rating is much higher than our client site.
That’s why it’s important to not just get tunnel vision, but to work holistically on strong B2B SEO. Accomplish E-A-T with strong on-site content and thought leadership. Continue to build links and a solid blog on the site to increase domain authority.
The main difference between B2C and B2B SEO content is that B2C content heavily relies on product and category pages. Most of these companies have products that need optimized product descriptions, images, and list pages.
In the B2B industry, while products are still being sold well, it’s much less than in the B2C space.
B2B SEO content tends to skew more toward service pages and blog posts. This is related to the discussion when we talked about thought leadership. Companies in the B2B space are often problem-solving, educating, and offering specialized services.
Therefore, their content is much more information-heavy than sales-driven.
So when it comes to operating in B2B SEO and developing content, the focus will be much more on writing content for keywords that will necessitate more nurturing, info-rich pages than a product page.
Lastly, content for B2B marketing campaigns will go beyond SEO. The goal of SEO is to get visitors into the website and engage. Once the user has entered the site, it’s important to have a user experience and conversion points that bring the customer back.
This can be a guide on the website, upcoming webinars, or gated assets.
And this is where there is a delicate balance between SEO, UX, CRO, and content strategy. However, understanding B2B SEO and where it stands amongst the other marketing initiatives will lead to holistic success.
Create a winning B2B SEO strategy
If you’ve read through this guide, you probably already have a conceptual understanding of the differences between B2B and B2C sales and marketing strategies. However, when it comes to execution and understanding how those differences translate to actual tactics and actions, it can get quite difficult.
This guide is meant to help those B2B marketing teams who are getting an SEO strategy off the ground and just need that little push on the mindset required to succeed. Good luck!