Complete Guide to Developing a Winning B2B SEO Strategy
What Is B2B SEO and Why is it Important?
Most marketers are familiar with the concept of search engine optimization (SEO) and its role in helping your website rank higher in search results. But some may not be aware that they must approach SEO differently – and use different methods of optimization – if they sell to businesses (B2B) rather than directly to consumers (B2C).
Whereas consumers have ultimate purchasing power, businesses usually require sign-off from several people or departments before a buy is approved. Since the price for items businesses purchase tends to be much higher than for goods sold to consumers, the sales cycle is generally extended over a longer period of time and progresses in increments.
As an example, imagine a consumer who is searching for garden supplies on Google. She decides to click on one of the first listings on the results page, and after reviewing the features of the item she’s looking for, makes a purchase within minutes. But for business customers, sales conversions do not happen immediately. Business buyers demand a lot more information than the consumer who is seeking to buy a relatively low-cost item like pruning shears, and it’s going to be a long journey through the sales funnel before they decide to make a purchase.
Despite differences in sales cycles and purchasing power, both B2C and B2B companies rely on SEO to drive visitors to their websites. It’s just that B2B companies will use different SEO tactics in order to make the sale. B2B companies must fully understand how their customers make purchase decisions before they can create an effective SEO strategy.
What Does a “High-Quality” Page Look Like for a Business Customer?
Google developed the acronym “E-A-T” to explain what meets its standards for high-quality websites. B2C and B2B websites that demonstrate Expertise, Authority, and Trustworthiness will rank higher in search results.
Here’s how these principles might show up on B2B websites:
Since the products companies sell to businesses are more costly and complex, B2B websites are expected to display a high degree of knowledge and expertise about their customers’ problems and how to solve them. Business customers may not feel comfortable moving forward in the sales process if they don’t get the impression that the company is an expert in its field.
For business customers, authority is bestowed upon a company by industry experts who are experienced and highly credible. While having a recognizable brand name may help in establishing authority, a brand’s fate can change over the years, based not only on customer service but on perception within the industry.
Trust is probably the most critical dimension of E-A-T for B2B SEO. Companies who purchase business products or services are risking their reputations – and their earnings – if they invest a large portion of their budget in something that doesn’t live up to their expectations. Trust is paramount in moving a business customer from consideration to purchase.
How is B2B SEO Different from B2C SEO?
We’ve established that both B2B and B2C organizations rely on SEO to move prospective buyers through their sales funnels. How must B2B marketers approach SEO as compared to the B2C counterparts?
B2B SEO is Directed at Many Decision-Makers
The products and services businesses purchase are enduring investments, so a major, big-ticket buy will require the approval of several decision-makers within the organization. Those tasked with making the decisions may be executives, managers, and the people who will ultimately use the product – and they’ll all have different concerns and questions that the seller must answer. Instead of having to develop a persona for a singular target customer, businesses will have to develop many of them, and web pages will need to be optimized for each of those personas.
B2B SEO Depends on Keywords that are Low-Volume
The keyword research process is going to look different for B2B marketers. Since each of the B2B decision-making groups enters the buying process with a different perspective, keyword research should focus on those separate audiences and their influence at specific points in the sales funnel. Each of these groups will have specialized concerns and requirements, so the words they search for will likely be low-volume (not searched very often). That differs from B2C marketers, who look for high-volume keywords that have little competition.
B2C Sales Conversion is Easier than B2B Sales Conversion
Since consumers hold all of the purchasing power for the products and services they buy for themselves and their families, it won’t take as long for them to pass through the sales funnel to make the decision to buy. A typical B2C business would expect that a person who finds their site after completing a Google search would more easily convert to a buyer. And due to the sheer volume of people searching for its products, it’s going to take less effort for a B2C company to reach its sales goals.
But because the stakes are higher for business customers, B2B companies don’t expect to convert a site visitor to a buyer right away. Instead, they’ll qualify their leads according to the specific actions taken while on the site. If, for example, a site visitor fills out a form that indicates he wants more information, the company will either have its salesforce contact the lead or target him with an email to move him closer to a purchase.
Since the B2B buyer’s journey relies so much on research, SEO efforts should focus on driving potential customers to landing pages and blog posts that offer the information they need to make decisions. That differs from B2C SEO, which would typically lead a prospect directly to a product page and present a direct sales message.
Thought Leadership and Brand Authority are Key to B2B SEO
Since business decision-makers are seeking trust signals in addition to information, B2B content should be designed to establish a brand and its website as an authoritative leader in its industry. The more your business customers can see your brand name show up in searches related to their field, the more comfortable they will feel entrusting your company as the solution to their business needs. B2C customers rarely need that level of trust before they decide to buy.
What B2B Buyers Say About their Searches
- 89% of B2B researchers use the internet to find information (Google, 2020)
- 77% of B2B buyers said that researching their latest purchase was complex and difficult (Gartner, 2019)
- B2B buyers won’t get in touch with a salesperson until they’re more than halfway through their decision-making process (Google, 2013). They’ve also read 3-7 pieces of content by that time (Demand Gen Report, 2019)
- 96% of B2B buyers seek out content written or backed by thought leaders. (Demand Gen Report, 2016)
- B2B researches average 12 searches before they spend any meaningful amount of time on a specific brand’s site. (Google/Millward Brown Digital, 2014)
The majority of B2B marketers say that SEO is more effective at generating leads than any other marketing initiative. Markletic, which is a source for discovering the best strategies for B2B marketing, reported that 56% of B2B marketers feel that SEO is the best way to get leads on a continuous basis. They also said that brands who have blogs are able to generate 55% more organic leads than brands who do not have one.
The Three Pillars of SEO
Whether you’re a B2B or B2C company, there are three areas where you can optimize for better search rankings: On-Page SEO, Off-Page SEO, and Technical SEO
On-page SEO encompasses optimization practices both on the visible portions of your site and the “behind-the-scenes” backend – also known as technical SEO. We’ll cover technical SEO in another section, below. The on-page optimization practices we’ll discuss here refer to organizing your content so that web crawlers will recognize that it’s both useful and relevant to people using search engines to find the kind of content you provide.
Understanding that people who use search engines type keywords into the search bar, your goal will be not just to find the best keywords but to provide content that SEO-expert Moz says is 10 times better than content on other sites. There’s a simple formula for optimizing your content so that it ranks well on search engines:
- Do your own search with the keywords you’ve identified as being the best to attract site visitors.
- Make note of the pages that are coming up first in your search.
- Analyze what’s unique about those pages that has led to their ranking status.
- Create content that’s better than those pages.
Off-page optimization generally refers to improving your site’s reputation and authority by asking for other reputable and authoritative sites to link to yours. Many quality links pointing to your site is a factor that web crawlers use to improve your ranking on search engines.
Off-page SEO is what many marketers say is the most challenging because it essentially involves convincing other website owners that it would benefit them to link to your site. Additionally, search engines are constantly reevaluating what constitutes a quality link, and since your competition is also working aggressively to ask for links, the process of link-building requires a lot of time and expertise.
Technical SEO is the other component of on-page SEO. Its aim is to ensure that navigating your website will be a good experience for users and web crawlers.
Some of the ways you can optimize for technical SEO include:
- Making sure your pages load easily and quickly
- Inserting the focus keyword into a page’s title, in the meta description, and the page’s URL
- Developing an internal linking structure that makes it easy for crawlers to understand what your site is about
- Signalling to robots which links not to follow
- Ensuring you don’t have any broken links
- Preventing duplicate content issues
- Boosting site security by using HTTPS, ensuring that Google won’t label your site as unsecured
- Making your site indexable by Google
- Using structured data – a markup language like HTML – to make it easier for search engines to accurately describe your content
- Making your site mobile-responsive
Zupo’s 7-Step B2B SEO Strategy Formula
Understand Your Customers
Before you can attempt to drive customers to your website using SEO practices, it’s imperative that you know exactly who you’re trying to target. Because business purchase decisions are made by many different entities within an organization, work to understand how that process is structured within the companies you wish to attract.
Once you have a good read on the title or positions of the people who make purchasing decisions (as well as those who influence the decision-makers), develop buying personas for each of them. Buying personas are constructed using market research to identify an abstract description of a customer. For each persona you create, fill in details such as:
- Relevant demographics like age and education
- Information about their industry, including the size of the organization
- Job title and responsibilities
- What kinds of tools they use to do their job
- How their performance is measured (e.g. leads, sales)
- Who they report to
- Where they spend time on the internet
- How they prefer to be contacted
Once you construct these personas, you’ll have an easier time determining the best ways to reach them online.
Understand Your Sales Funnel
Now that you have a good idea of who your customers are, it’s wise to outline the way your sales funnel works in your company before you begin the task of keyword research. Understanding the steps customers must take before they can purchase a product will help to better visualize their buyer journeys. You can learn about your company’s sales funnel by:
- Talking to your sales team. Get a feel for the most important places in the funnel and what happens at those stages.
- Explore your company’s analytics to learn how your customers find you, the average time it takes for them to purchase, how long they remain a customer, and reasons why they leave.
Conduct Keyword Research for Your Buyer Personas
The goal of your keyword research is to identify the search queries that your personas are using to find companies like yours at each stage of your sales funnel. When individual consumers search for information on brands, they may use keywords that signal their intent to buy – such as using the terms “buy” or “deal” or “discount.” When business customers search online for product information, they’re looking for information.
A good starting point for your research is to ask these questions:
- What are the problems or pain points faced by your personas?
- How are they searching for solutions to these problems?
- What are the features of your product or service?
- How might your product or service serve as the solution to their problems?
- Which keywords drive the most traffic to your competitors?
When you’re able to answer these questions, you’ll have a head start on the keywords to research, and will likely come across even more words to investigate.
Additional Tips for Keyword Research
Have you ever typed something into the Google search bar and find that, as you’re typing, Google will autocomplete your query with additional words it thinks you might be looking for? When a significant number of people are searching a particular keyword, Google Autocomplete kicks in.
How can this aid your B2B keyword research? If you already have good information about the most relevant keywords for your buyer personas – and this assumes you’ve identified their most likely questions and pain points – Google Autocomplete will find new keywords for you to explore. Also, try using the wildcard method of finding more results by placing your keyword between asterisks like this: *[keyword]*
Related Searches on Google
Find a list of keywords related to your search at the bottom of your search engine results page (SERP). These words are usually less competitive, so will be easier to rank on. Some of these will be valuable long-tail keywords that are the ones people use when they’re closer to converting because they tend to be more specific. It will be useful to note these words when you’re creating content meant to influence decision-makers closer to the bottom of the sales funnel.
Turning Keywords in Questions
If you’re trying to come up with more long-tail keywords that are related to users’ questions, consider using a tool like Answer the Public, a website that literally generates long-tail keywords based on users’ questions. The more specific your keywords are, the better they’ll perform for reaching the decision-makers who really need to find answers. If your site can provide the answers your buying prospects are looking for, that will help in your effort to meet Google’s E-A-T standards for high-quality websites.
Develop a Keyword Strategy to Target Customers at Specific Points in their Buyer Journeys
Take your keyword strategy to the next level by determining what your buyer personas are seeking at each point in their buyer journeys. Brainstorm the kinds of topics decision-makers will be researching on their journey to a purchase, and you’ll not only be able to get a head start on content creation but will also find valuable keywords that will help to boost your rank on search engine results pages (SERPs).
Once you have an idea of the relevant topics, organize them into clusters that branch out from one core topic or “pillar.” This is also called the “hub-and-spoke” model. Your goal is to address the topics decision-makers are most interested in at particular stages of the sales funnel and then lead site visitors to other pages on your site via links on the core topic page. Your prospective buyers will not only gain the benefit of learning more information about your products and services, but the internal linking will also help with SEO.
Create and Optimize Landing Pages for your Products or Services
Each landing page should be designed to persuade your target customer to take a specific action within the sales funnel. In order to get the messaging right, it’s important to ask these key questions:
- After which previous action will the person see the landing page?
- What will motivate someone to land on that page?
- How will that person arrive there?
- What is the action you want that person to take when they land there?
If you can get inside the head of your target customer, you’ll be able to write copy that will lead him or her to your desired action. Here are some other factors to keep in mind when creating landing pages:
Landing Pages Should Move the Prospect to the Next Stage in the Sales Funnel
Whatever the pain points your target customer has when arriving on your landing page, you’ll need to acknowledge them and explain how your product or service will solve it for them. Your prospect must find the page engaging. You may not be trying to make the sale on that page, but you’re attempting to move the prospect closer to that goal.
A landing page is also a prime spot to link to more information on your products or services. It can serve as a topic cluster that can set up opportunities for the site visitor to get answers to frequently asked questions, and it’s also good for SEO.
Find the Right Offer
The offer you set up must be relevant to the decision-maker at this particular stage in the buyer journey. If the potential customer is closer to the top of the funnel, offer a whitepaper that will provide more information on your product or service. If the prospect is closer to making a decision, you may want to offer a free trial. What you offer should be relevant, valuable, and lead the prospect toward conversion.
Include an Strong Call-To-Action
Whether you’re trying to capture lead data through a form or simply direct your landing page visitor to another place on your site for more information, make sure your CTA spells out exactly what you want the visitor to do. And because the CTA is such a vital component of your landing page, consider where you should place it on the page and the type of graphic elements that will attract attention to it.
Develop a Scalable Content Strategy
B2B Content and Influencer Marketing Strategist, Lee Odden, has suggested a way to build a scalable content strategy that’s optimized across the sales cycle.
You start by creating a timeline of your buying cycle that shows what actions or steps your personas will need to take at each individual stage and which questions they’ll need answered. Then, assign content subjects to each of the stages. If you’ve already developed your topic clusters (as discussed in the section about developing keyword strategy), you’re already on your way to building your content calendar.
Now it’s time to consider which kinds of content you’ll want to include as part of your content strategy and which will be appropriate at each buyer journey stage. Some of the formats to choose from include:
- Blog posts
- White papers
- Case studies
- Research summaries
Best Practices for Content Development
- Start with a competitor-check to view your rivals’ best-performing pages. How is the piece structured? Does it flow? Is it readable? How long is it? After analyzing the content, decide how you’ll approach it in a way that’s more meaningful for your target audience.
- Use your keywords in a way that occurs naturally in the flow of your sentences and paragraphs. You never want to give off the impression that you’re keyword stuffing.
- Your content should easily lead readers from the title through to the conclusion. Is the structure sound? Does the content read at the appropriate level for your audience? Will the audience come away with an understanding of what you were trying to communicate?
- Use external links to prove or fortify claims you make in the post. But also aim to link to other pages on your site – especially if you’ve identified them as belonging to that particular topic cluster.
- Break up your text with other media that will keep readers engaged and either reinforce your points or make them easier to understand. Media options could include infographics, photos, videos, charts, or podcast audio.
Remember that the goal of your B2B SEO efforts is to provide the information decision-makers need to get them through the sales funnel and land on your brand. With this mindset, you should be able to meet search engine requirements for a high-quality site, and improved ranking will follow.
Spend Time on your Back-Link Strategy
Remember off-page SEO? Now that you’ve identified the most valuable keywords and developed your content strategy, you’ll need to develop a strategy for earning backlinks.
How to Earn a Good Quantity of High Quality Backlinks
What is it about your content that other sites will see as desirable? Find the “hook” that will make these organizations bite. Do you offer proprietary data? Is your content original and engaging? Have you designed images like infographics that do an exceptional job of driving a point home? Have you developed a list of actionable tips that cannot be found anywhere else online? Identify your unique selling propositions when “marketing” your content in exchange for links.
High-value content that websites may want to link to their own content include:
- Industry research not found elsewhere
- Statistics specific to your industry
- How-to Guides and in-depth articles
Next, decide how you’ll promote your content. You could use a direct approach, such as email outreach. Start by identifying which organizations to contact – preferably those that will have something to gain by linking to your content. Will it provide useful information to their website audience? It’s a quality over quantity approach. Don’t waste your time on entities that won’t find value in your content in an effort to gain as many back-links as possible.
Other methods for promoting your content include guest posting on reputable and high-traffic blogs, posting on your social media pages, or pitching your exclusive research study to journalists, whose audience could benefit from the information you have to share. You could also scour for broken links and “sell” the benefits of linking to your site.
Another way to get backlinks is to persuade your current customers to write good reviews that will appear on reputable industry review sites. These review sites will link back to your site and help your ranking status. This may be a good method to use while you’re in the process of trying to secure links through an email campaign or other promotional approaches, as it demands less work on your part.
Link-building is a continuous, time-consuming process. Approach it smartly and strategically to get the best results. When done correctly, you’ll earn links, increase your brand’s visibility, drive more traffic to your site, and enhance your authority in your industry.
B2B SEO Tools
There are so many SEO tools available today that it can be overwhelming to compare them all. Here are four of our favorites:
Google Search Console
Google Search Console is a free tool that provides data that can help you improve your performance on Google Search results. This tool’s features allow you to:
- Confirm that Google is able to find your site and crawl it
- Find out about technical problems on your site via alerts
- Fix problems with indexing
- See traffic data, including how often your site appears on searches, which queries show your site, click-through-rate on those queries, and the average position of your pages on SERPs
- See which sites link to your website
- Troubleshoot other issues, such as mobile usability
People like Google Search Console because it’s a no-cost way to find underperforming keywords, helps to identify which keywords have a low click-thru rate, and which content topics bring in the most backlinks. Its primary drawback is that you won’t find insights about your competition.
Unlike Google Search Console, Semrush will allow you to perform an extensive competitor analysis as part of your keyword research. You’ll also be able to identify where the backlinks are coming from, whereas Google Search Console only aggregates the data to show how many backlinks you’re getting.
Semrush will also provide suggestions for how to optimize your pages. You’ll get ideas for how you can improve content, find backlink opportunities, and how to upgrade user experience. Other unique benefits of Semrush include:
- It’s better than its nearest competitor at identifying toxic links.
- It has what some consider the best site auditing features.
- Excellent CRM-like outreach features, which make it possible to develop link-building plans without the use of other tools
- Generous limits for projects and reporting
All of this comes at a cost, but there are three different pricing levels to choose from. The difference between the three plans is mostly based on the number of results, reports, and metric updates you receive. Semrush does offer a 7-day free trial, however. Note that Semrush also includes tools for your pay-per-click (PPC) advertising campaigns and social media efforts, so you’re actually getting more than an SEO tool.
Ahrefs is very similar to Semrush in the types of reports it can generate and the insights it provides. Like Semrush, it’s priced in tiers, which are all less expensive than Semrush (except that Ahrefs has a fourth tier, titled, “Agency”). The trial period isn’t free, but it’s a negligible $7 for the same 7-day period as Semrush.
Besides its pricing, there are some differences that, depending on your needs, might make it a better choice:
- Ahrefs will let you research keywords on a number of different search engines, while Semrush works only with Google
- Ahrefs estimates how many backlinks you’ll need to rank for a keyword
- Some find Ahrefs reporting easier to understand
- Broken link analyses are easier to do with Ahrefs
- You can have multiple users on higher tier accounts, while Semrush allows only one user per plan
Screaming Frog SEO Spider
The SEO Spider from UK-Based Screaming Frog is a web crawler tool that’s geared toward those who have a firm understanding of HTML and technical SEO. It’s a desktop tool that extracts data for a thorough SEO audit. Here’s what SEO Spider can do:
- Find broken links at high speed and export the errors so they can be fixed
- Analyze page titles and meta descriptions and report on the ones that are problematic
- Create XML sitemaps
- Audit redirects
- Find duplicate content
- View URLs that are blocked by robots
- Evaluate internal linking and URL structure
The free version of the software includes basic features and crawls 500 URLs. The paid version performs more advanced tasks and comes with tech support. Some of the biggest brands and agencies use this tool.
B2B SEO is similar to B2C SEO in its ultimate aim – to drive traffic to your website. But because business buyers have more complex needs than individual consumers – and it takes them longer time to pass through the sales funnel – you must employ different SEO practices to lead them to your site and convert them. Develop a thorough understanding of your prospective buyers’ needs at each stage of their buyers’ journeys, and you’ll be off to a good start in creating a website that search engines recognize as one that should rank higher in search results.