The Ultimate Guide to B2B SEO in 2020
by Mike Khorev
What Actually is B2B SEO?
Most people know that SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization, and most also understood the basic concept that SEO is about optimizing your website to rank higher on Google’s—and other search engines’ — SERP.
However, there are still many misconceptions surrounding B2B SEO, especially regarding the technicalities and purpose.
First, SEO is not a secret method to cheat the search engine’s algorithm so you can rank quickly. Instead, it’s a series of optimizations so your site—and your content— aligns better with Google’s goal, which in their own words is: “Our mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”
The more useful and accessible your content and website are for the user, the higher you will rank, period. SEO is simply a series of optimizations both on-site and off-site to achieve more usability, relevancy, and accessibility.
Also, the end purpose of SEO is not the #1 ranking, it’s just a means to the actual end: increasing the quantity and quality of organic traffic to your B2B website.
With those points being said, there are three additional terms we should understand to learn the concept of B2B SEO:
- Organic traffic: simply put, any traffic to your website that you don’t pay for. A huge portion of traffic coming from Google and other search engines come from paid search ads.
- Traffic quantity: pretty self-explanatory, the more people coming to your website by clicking on the SERP (Search Engine Results Page) results, the better.
- Traffic quality: not all traffic is equally valuable for your business. You want to attract visitors that are actually interested in your brand/product/service with the highest chance of conversions.
SEO for B2B is not only effective in getting more organic traffic (quantity), giving you a more cost-efficient source of leads. However, SEO also ensures that you get the most relevant, most valuable traffic with the highest chance of conversion (quality).
How B2B SEO Actually Works: Understanding The Ranking Signals
Above, we have mentioned that SEO is as simple as a series of optimizations. So, what do we need to actually optimize?
There are some aspects on and off our site that will affect SEO performance more than the others, and we call these the ranking signals, or ranking factors. While there are over 200 ranking factors considered by Google’s algorithm today, we can divide these optimizations into three main categories:
- On-Page Non-Technical SEO. Referring mainly to any optimizations you implement on your content, such as optimizing keyword usage, meta descriptions, optimizing titles and headings, proper website design to achieve decent user experience score, and so on. So, also often referred to as “content SEO”.
- On-Page Technical SEO. Any technical optimizations on your site from improving the load speed of your site, implementing a mobile-responsive design, structured data markup, AMP, SSL, improving XML sitemap, and so on. Often called just “technical SEO”
- Off-Page SEO. Anything outside your website that will affect your SEO results. While there can be many different ranking factors that can be categorized as off-page, most of them will deal with backlinks quantity and quality. Backlinks—links pointing to your website—, are the most expensive asset you can have online, not only for SEO, but for the overall digital marketing results.
With those three being said, there are only 4 crucial steps in implementing SEO for B2B brands:
- Find what people are searching for via a proper keyword research
- Develop high-quality, relevant content to target these keywords according to the searcher’s user intent.
- Optimize the technical and non-technical aspects on your site, with the goal of providing the best experience for the user and keep them as long as possible
- Promote your content and get more backlinks in the process. Remember that the quality of your backlinks is more important than quantity.
That’s it, and the key here is to do these consistently and slowly climb the SERP rankings.
B2B VS B2C SEO
Now that we are starting to understand the importance of SEO and its key concept, we can discuss how B2B SEO is quite unique compared to its B2C counterpart.
Remember, that SEO is essentially about reaching your ideal audience via the SERP. In a B2B environment, this will translate to getting the professionals/stakeholders within your target company to find your business from search engine results.
For example, let’s say you are a B2B SaaS company selling a cloud-based big data analytics tool, then the possible targets for your SEO campaigns can be:
- An IT manager or CTO searching for “Big data analytics”
- An entrepreneur or startup founder looking for “startup analytics tools” or “big data for startups”, among other keywords
- A data analyst or data scientist looking for data science-related keywords
So, while the main principles of SEO remain the same, there are a few uniqueness you can expect in B2B SEO compared to B2C, and here are some of them:
1. Targeting Multiple Stakeholders and Decision Makers
B2B products and services are generally—although not always— more expensive than B2C products and typically designed for long-term investments. Organizations tend to have more considerations and tend to involve more decision-makers before deciding on a purchase.
These different decision-makers can consist of different roles—managers, staff, financial directors, etc. —, and they will use Google with different search intents.
So, in implementing SEO, a B2B company must target all these different stakeholders and decision-makers while considering the different intents, for instance:
- Practitioners (i.e., marketing officer) might require a more actionable, tactical content like “How to improve click-through rate”.
- Executive and managerial roles might want a more high-level strategic content, for example, “How to develop a marketing plan”
- Finance roles and high-level executives might want a content that informs how their investments will be justified, such as “key benefits of X tools”
So, you will need to develop several different buyer personas and create a content strategy that can target all these different roles. The better you can define these roles, the more effective your B2B SEO strategy will be.
2. Expect Lower Conversion Rate and Longer Sales Cycle
It’s the nature of B2B products: when 10,000 Googled a keyword related to consumer product, let’s say “iPhone”, a bigger percentage will buy the iPhones compared to a B2B-related keywords, for example “marketing automation tool”.
This can be caused by many different factors, but the common ones are higher price range, more decision-makers involved (as discussed above), and longer sales cycle.
What would this mean to your B2B SEO strategy? For instance, we should develop our content pieces not with the intent to directly convert visitors into purchasing customers—which is very difficult if not impossible—, but aim to slowly inform and educate the user from more general information to specific tips and education about your product/service. Think in the mindset of B2B sales funnel.
This, however, wouldn’t mean we should completely neglect keywords with conversion intent, as there can be some high-purchase intent searches in your niche that you can capitalize upon. Also, if you are implementing B2B ecommerce on your site, you should target keywords that can capitalize on this.
3. Low Search Volume Keyword With High Value
It’s no secret that the B2B environment is much smaller than B2C. More people will, for example, search for “recreational fishing tools” than “marine fishing solutions”. A lot more, in fact, and so B2B businesses should focus on high-value, hyper-targeted, and very low-volume keywords.
So, if you are already familiar with B2C SEO, this fact can throw you off balance. In B2C SEO, its common to target keywords with over 10,000 or even over 100,000 searches a month. In B2B SEO, even keywords with just 10 searches a month can be extremely valuable.
The common (and effective) approach here is to group several keywords together into a topic we can address with just a single content, so it will bring more traffic every month. However, even with this approach, hundreds of organic views per month is already pretty good.
In short, focus on the quality of your traffic instead of quantity.
4. The Importance of Establishing Expertise and Thought Leadership
Since, as mentioned, B2B site visitors aren’t likely to convert at their first visit. For example, an IT manager might stumble upon your content and is now aware of your brand. They are interested in your product, but now they have to convince their higher-ups and the finance team.
It’s also possible that problems related to your niche haven’t materialized in the searcher’s organization but only appear a few months after this initial “encounter”. In this case, establishing your brand in this searcher’s memory is very valuable.
This is why in B2B content marketing and SEO, we should approach our content with a long-term approach. It isn’t solely about making sure your site shows up when people search for keywords related to your product, but it’s about getting your presence everywhere in the SERP when your ideal audience asks questions and tries to find information related to their work.
In short, one of the goals of B2B SEO services and arguably the most important one, is to establish your brand’s position as a thought leader in your niche. This will mean consistently publishing high-quality, relevant, and informative content covering all the possible nooks and crannies of your industry.
Developing a Comprehensive B2B SEO Strategy
Above, we have mentioned that there are only four crucial steps of implementing a B2B SEO strategy. To reiterate, they are:
1. Proper Keyword Research
No B2B SEO strategy can run without proper keyword research, since SEO for B2B is mainly about optimizing our content to rank for certain keywords.
With that being said, we should run our keyword research based on the following principles:
- The keyword should be relevant and popular for your target audience. This is mainly measured by monitoring monthly search volume.
- The keyword should be relevant to your brand and product/services. Not all keywords that are popular with your target audience are going to be relevant for your brand.
- Depending on your available budget and timeline, the competition for the target keyword should be manageable. The more popular the keyword/query is, the heavier the competition, so finding the right balance is key.
2. Content Development
B2B SEO is about content, period. Your SEO performance will only go as far as your content’s strength, and not the other way around. That is, no amount of optimization will help weak, low-quality content to rank higher on the SERP, but on the other hand, there is a chance that high-quality and relevant content can rank higher even without any specific SEO optimizations.
How can we determine if a piece of content is ‘good’, SEO-wise? The secret is not to focus on pleasing Google and the other search engines but instead focuses on how we can provide value to our target audience with the content.
While content development for B2B can be a very broad subject on its own, here are some best practices to follow:
- Do a quick Google search for your target keyword and check the highest-ranking pages on the first page. These are your competitors, and your job is to develop content better than them. Analyze their structures, flow, length, and check their readability, and aim to develop something better while focusing on your target audience.
- Make sure your content has a clear structure: intro, challenges, solutions, conclusions. Make sure your posts are non-promotional.
- Include your target keywords naturally throughout the content. Again, focus on delivering valuable information for your human readers.
- Include external/outbound links to prove claims and points in the post. Also, make sure to link your own content (internal links) and maintain a healthy internal linking structure.
- Don’t forget to include other forms of media (images, infographics, charts, video) to keep your readers engaged.
However, even after you’ve created a high-quality, relevant, and valuable content, your job is not yet done, as we will discuss below.
3. On-site Technical Optimizations
Another important factor in implementing SEO for B2B is ensuring your website and all the pages are performing well so that your audience can consume your content with an optimal experience. On the other hand, you’d want to make sure Google and the other search engines can index your site.
While technical SEO is a pretty deep subject, and you can check out our previous guide on technical SEO checklist to get started, here are some important areas for you to consider:
- Optimize each page for the target keywords that have been identified in the keyword research stage. Make sure to naturally include the focus keyword in the page’s title/heading, META description, and URL beside the body of the content itself.
- Make sure your site has an optimal load speed. According to Google, more than 50% of users will bounce when the page loads in more than 3 seconds. On the other hand, bounce rate is now an SEO ranking factor.
- Make sure your site is mobile-friendly/mobile-responsive. Remember that more and more people are not accessing websites exclusively from their mobile devices. Again, if your site is not mobile-friendly, it can increase the bounce rate.
- Make sure your website is using HTTPS instead of HTTP (SSL certificate), if you are not using HTTPS, Google might brand your site as unsecured and Chrome might block your site from their users.
- Make sure your site can be properly indexed by Google, and fix any existing crawl errors
- Implement structured data markups (schema.org) so Google can understand all the different elements on your site.
To reiterate, remember that there are three objectives of technical SEO for B2B:
- Ensuring your audience can comfortably consume your content and use your website’s functions
- Keeping your audience for as long as possible on your site
- Ensuring the search engines can properly understand your site’s content and all the different elements in it
4. Link Building, Both in Quantity and Quality
Backlinks or inbound links remain the most important ranking factor in B2B SEO, but it’s important to know that nowadays, the quality of your backlinks is just as, if not even more important than quantity.
So, we can no longer rely on simply getting as many low-quality backlinks as we can in our link building, but we know getting those high-quality backlinks from famous sites that are relevant to our niche can be easier said than done.
So, how can we do it?
First and foremost, give them a reason to link your content, what we call the link hook. For example:
- Totally unique data or information (statistics, research reports, etc.)
- Aesthetically pleasing assets (infographics, beautiful photos, well-designed images, etc.)
- Engaging original stories
- Informative, actionable tips not available anywhere else
Again, your content is going to be the key.
However, no matter how good your content is, it won’t really bring any value if it doesn’t reach anyone. This is why promoting your content is very important in link building and also to generate more traffic to your content.
Utilize all possible marketing channels like social channels, guest posting, outreach, and other means to build your backlinks while also promoting your content.
That’s it, there are only four key areas in implementing B2B SEO strategy, and while they might seem complicated at first, implementing them is actually quite simple once you’ve got the hang of it.
So, when developing our B2B SEO strategy, it’s important to keep things simple and focus only on the important aspects, instead of over-complicating it.
There are only three key considerations to address when developing a B2B SEO strategy.
1. The Intent(s) Of Our Audience
B2B SEO performance is only as good as how well our content and keywords are reaching our relevant audience.
We can certainly rank for all the possible keywords out there, but it won’t bring any value to our business if our ideal audience is not searching for them.
So, here our focus is about two things:
- Understanding our audience through methods like market research, buyer persona development, using the latest analytics tools, etc. We should find out our audience’s behavior, pain points, needs, and how to address them.
- Keyword research. You most likely will need a paid keyword analytics tool (Ahrefs, SEMRush, among others), and remember that B2B keyword research can be a deep and painful process.
Here are some common approaches to finding B2B keywords for your SEO campaign:
- First and foremost, check keywords you already rank for (if any), and emphasize on them if they are valuable
- Check your competitors’ keywords. If you can beat them with better content, do so. Also, check keywords of publications in your niche.
- Group different keywords by intent. You might be able to target several of them with a single content.
- Consider the competition. Most keyword research tools will provide “keyword difficulty” metric.
- Remember, relevance is more important than search volume in the B2B environment.
2. How To Deliver Value-Based on These Intents
Now that we know what our audience wants, how can we address their needs?
In short, here is about content and providing information. Develop a content calendar. Remember that SEO for B2B companies is a long-term game and you’ll need to maintain consistency both in quantity (how often you publish) and quality (maintain high relevance and value).
For each keyword you target, you have two different options:
- Create a content that is significantly better than your competitors’ (the top-ranking pages)
- Take a different approach and cover the topic from a different angle. In short, be different
That’s it, and again, don’t overcomplicate things.
3. How We Can Convince The Search Engines
You might want to check out this guide by Search Engine Journal for the most important ranking signals we have today. However, in the end, it will boil down to just two things:
- How recognizable and indexable your site is by Google and other search engines (technical factor)
- How many sites are linking to yours, and if there are any relevant sites linking your site (backlinks quality)
The first is mainly about technical optimization, and you might want to check out this technical SEO checklist to get started.
For backlinks, although there can be many different strategies, remember that the best approach is to actually have a content worth linking to. If your content is good and it’s promoted properly, sooner or later you’ll get those valuable links to fuel your B2B SEO campaign.
SEO for B2B is actually pretty simple. Executing it, however, will require commitment and long-term consistency and in some cases help of SEO consultant. Remember that there are only three things to consider: your audience’s needs, how you can cater to these needs, and how you can appeal to the search engines.
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