What do an office furniture supplier, a graphic design agency, an accounting software company, and an online job search platform all have in common?
The answer: They're all business-to-business companies.
Product-based, service-based, e-commerce, or software-based, business-to-business (B2B0 companies market and sell to other businesses and organizations rather than directly to consumers (B2C).
The B2B marketplace differs from the B2C marketplace in many ways, but guess what? Search engine optimization (SEO) remains a critical element of successful marketing across the board. In the year 2023, it doesn't really matter what you're selling or who you're marketing to if potential buyers can't find you on Google.
In this article, I'm going to provide an overview of B2B SEO and share some key strategies that have helped many B2B clients rank highly in Google SERPs.
There's going to be a lot of information packed in tightly, so hang on for the ride!
What Is B2B SEO?
B2B SEO is a digital marketing strategy that aims to increase organic traffic and search engine rankings (mainly for Google). It's a long-term approach that takes into consideration the unique needs and habits of high-level decision-makers who are searching for products or services while at work.
While it's critical to understand this target audience and focus your SEO lens accordingly (more on this below), the fundamentals of good SEO remain consistent no matter what. Google doesn't know who your target audience is, but it does respond to authoritative content combined with quality on-page SEO, off-page SEO, and technical SEO. These are the hallmark elements of any successful SEO strategy, and B2B SEO is no exception.
The Differences Between B2C & B2B SEO
If you want to succeed at B2B SEO, you're going to need to throw out some of the preconceptions that have been drilled into you. While the foundation and structure of good SEO practices remain the same from B2C to B2B, certain elements will differ:
High-Volume Keywords Vs. Low-Volume Keywords
With B2C SEO, high-volume keywords are the dream. Whether or not you can rank for the whales in your niche, you're always evaluating the keywords you can be competitive for with a mind to search volume. After all, if very few consumers are searching for a term, why would you want to rank for it?
With B2B SEO, the mindset around keyword volume is somewhat different. It goes without saying that you still don't want to select keywords that have zero traffic, but low search volumes are not inherently a bad thing either. To understand why, let's return to the B2B target audience:
Broad Audience Vs. Specific Audience
Decision makers in large companies have a complex and specific job to do and, as a result, their search engine queries will often be complex and specific as well. Whereas a B2C business may be targeting a massive global audience such as "dog owners" or "people looking for a relationship", a B2B business is usually targeting a select group of professionals with highly focused goals in mind.
In this vein, it makes sense that search volumes will be lower for B2B keywords. After all, there are a lot more people out there searching for doggie products or dating sites than for specialized CRM business software (for instance).
If keywords seem highly relevant to your business, don't automatically bypass them just because they have low search volume. But don't automatically pounce on them either! Careful keyword research is still crucial (more on this below), but you can also glean helpful clues about a keyword's potential by looking at its CPC.
Low CPC Vs. High CPC
Cost-per-click (CPC) is a bidding model that determines how much a marketer is willing to pay for an ad that includes a particular keyword or phrase. CPC value generally correlates directly with search intent. Keywords and phrases that demonstrate high search intent (bottom of funnel) are usually more expensive than words that reflect less serious intent to purchase.
Keywords with high search volume often have lower CPC values and are less likely to convert directly to sales (though they can still be valuable in B2C marketing), while words with high CPC values are often moneymakers (and thus more expensive). With effective B2B SEO strategies, you shouldn't need to invest in paid search engine advertising. But you should use CPC statistics to your advantage to help identify the keywords that are most likely to convert directly to sales.
Think of it this way. If you select a keyword with low search volume and high CPC, it may only receive 75 searches per month. But if 15 of those searches convert directly to expensive purchases, you've done your job right. (Keep in mind that B2B sales typically have a much higher price point than B2C sales.)
Brand building is valuable and highly encouraged for B2C marketing, but for B2B marketing, it’s a crucial element of success. Creating a brand image that’s recognized, trustworthy, and responsive can help your B2B company stand out in all the right ways.
But how do you build your brand in a B2B marketplace? While most B2C strategies rely heavily on social media marketing and easily consumable content, this isn’t the case for B2B.
Remember that your target audience of high-level professionals is not spending their valuable work time scanning Facebook or Instagram for things to buy. Rather, they’re scouring industry blogs and news sites for products and services that are peer-reviewed and promoted by experts in their fields.
While a pleasant or even humorous business casual writing style may be welcome amidst a sea of dry, technical content, don't make the mistake of creating content that’s overly informal or conversational. Keep in mind that professional decision-makers aren’t looking for you to be their best buddy; they want you to concisely demonstrate to them why they should trust your business to put their company ahead.
Creating a valuable niche blog with high-quality industry content is a great way to drum up readership and also build your brand presence. But don't fall into the trap of only writing about exactly what you're trying to sell. Build out authoritative content about topics that are related to your company but that your target audience might also find entertaining, interesting, or useful.
Backlinko founder Brian Dean provides some great tips about B2B blog development here.
Getting your company featured on other blogs and websites is a best practice for link building, and it's also a phenomenal way to broaden awareness of your brand. And remember to consider content that includes audio/visual elements (such as podcast interviews) or engages viewers in some way (such as a usable virtual tool). Other tactics for demonstrating leadership and brand building simultaneously include LinkedIn marketing, video marketing, and speaking at conferences (in-person or webinars).
Ultimately, in order to build your brand and conduct effective B2B SEO and other forms of digital marketing, you've really got to have an in-depth understanding of the B2B sales funnel.
Complex Sales Funnels
A B2C sales funnel visions potential buyers through the phases of awareness, interest and evaluation, desire, and action. A B2B sales funnel encompasses the same phases but needs to be contextualized within a different purchasing reality.
The amount of time and energy a prospective B2B customer puts into researching a product or service is, in most cases, exponentially greater than that of an average consumer. B2B purchases are usually expensive and will impact the trajectory of an entire company, which means a lot of responsibility sits squarely on the decision-maker's shoulders. For example, selecting new company-wide accounting software naturally requires more forethought and research than splurging on a new cell phone or sunglasses.
For this reason, it’s absolutely vital for B2B marketers to know their target audience backward and forward in order to understand their thought process (and search terms) at each and every stage of the sales funnel. B2B marketing is a long game, and B2B SEO must therefore target keywords that increase brand visibility at every step along the way.
From the top of the funnel to the bottom, you've got to thoroughly consider all of the opportunities to get your brand in front of the people searching for what you've got to offer.
A Complete B2B SEO Strategy
In my work as an SEO expert and consultant, I'm often involved in developing and implementing results-based SEO strategies for B2B clients. In the section below, I'm going to share with you the 9 steps that I believe have the potential to truly revolutionize your approach to B2B SEO:
Create Buyer Personas
You can't expect to sell much at all if you don't understand your ideal customer in depth. And that's where buyer personas come in.
A buyer persona is a comprehensive profile of a specific member of your target audience. Some marketers find it helpful to actually build an avatar that encompasses both physical and mental attributes, while others prefer to create a detailed chart or file instead. It may sound silly if you haven't done it before, but buyer persona development is a solid methodology for bringing your ideal customer into crystal clear focus.
Marketers often create multiple personas to capture the attributes of different segments of their target audience. Crucial information includes who these people are, what their pain points are, and where they spend their time online. You may think you already know these things about your customers, but it's best not to guess (seriously, don't). Conducting thorough research may affirm your gut suspicions, but it may also reveal surprising nuggets of information that can open up new and effective channels for recruiting future loyal customers.
Because B2B SEO is so targeted, the onus is on you to become a bonafide expert on the habits, thought processes, and needs of your ideal buyers. But first, you've got to know how to reach them. While B2C SEO targets individuals with particular needs or interests (e.g., if your business sells dog collars, you'll target new dog owners), B2B SEO targets companies—often large ones.
So, how do you get your brand in front of the person within a company who has the power and expertise to pull the trigger on a purchase? Especially since these types of high-level decision-makers are typically busy and bombarded with marketing campaigns (your direct competition) from morning until night?
The key is to know and understand what they're searching for.
Keyword research is a major piece of the puzzle (see below), but also don't underestimate the raw potential of proactively reaching out to your audience.
Surveys or questionnaires are one route (though they often don't make it back to you or get returned with very short responses). Another option is to interview prospective customers directly (which is a fantastic practice if it's feasible for you). Flying Cat Marketing provides some helpful potential interview questions here. A third possibility is to try a tool like SeedKeywords, a platform that solicits your contacts to share the keywords they'd search for based on a particular scenario.
No matter what approach you take, having an intimate knowledge of your target customers is the first step toward impactful B2B SEO.
Understand Your Sales Funnel
Once you've created some buyer personas, but before you dive headlong into keyword research, be absolutely certain that you possess a thorough understanding of your sales funnel.
As I mentioned earlier, B2B sales funnels can be complex. They’re highly specific and are also often lengthy timewise (don't overlook the potential of a top of funnel browser who might evolve into a bottom of the funnel customer a few months or even years down the road). It’s imperative to target potential B2B customers at every single stage of the sales funnel. And, in order to do this, you've got to know your sales funnel inside and out.
So, dig deeply and don't be afraid to ask the tough questions. Talk with your sales team. Speak with your clients. Gather as much data as possible on what others perceive as your funnel's major elements, progression, sticking points, and function. Consider your average customer retention period and where you're losing customers. Get familiar with statistics like the lifetime value of your customers and the average length of time it takes them to make a purchase.
Do not (I repeat, do not) move on into the realm of keyword research until you feel completely confident in your understanding of your business's ideal customers and sales funnel.
The moment you've been waiting for: Keyword research tools and strategies for B2B SEO. And, yes, there's quite a bit to cover, so hold onto your hat!
Detailed keyword research is the foundation of powerful B2B SEO, and you've got to invest time in it up front as well as throughout the duration of any marketing campaign (I know that might mean many years of continual keyword research, but I'm telling it like it is; there's no avoiding this stuff). You need to identify keywords at every stage of your unique sales funnel.
So, where do you begin?
First of all, use what you learned in step one. Consider the responses you received from conversations, surveys, interviews, and other information-gathering campaigns and convert them into searchable words and phrases. Remember to consider queries with informational and navigational search intent as well as those that are clearly commercial or transactional.
To find long tail keywords, try using the Google autocomplete feature. Simply type keywords into the Google search bar and see what suggestions come up for increasing their length and specificity.
Use a dedicated SEO tool to uncover and analyze keywords and phrases that may be valuable for your business. Also, check out your competitors' keywords and reverse engineer their ranking strategies. Personally, I think Semrush has the most in-depth keyword research tools on the market. Read my comprehensive review of Semrush.
As you research, reveal, and collect keywords with high potential, you'll want to sort them based on where you think they fit into your sales funnel. Informational and broad queries (higher search volume) are usually near the top of the funnel, while specific transactional queries (lower search volume) fit in closer to the bottom. It's often best to sort keywords as a team since there can be a lot of room for interpretation.
In my opinion, focusing on bottom-of-the-funnel (BOFU) keywords first makes the most sense. Though you'll ultimately want to build out content to target keywords at every level of the funnel, it's always a good idea to have your bottom strategy securely in place before building upward. This ensures that customers who are ready to make purchases right away can be readily accommodated.
Create a Site Silo & Keyword Map
Keyword maps and site silos (also known as topic clusters) provide blueprints for your site's architecture in slightly different ways.
A keyword map tracks (you guessed it) your site's keywords and assigns them to different pages or pieces of content. Keyword mapping aims to create a logical structure for your website based on robust keyword research.
Relatedly, a content silo (or topic cluster) is a group of content on your site that revolves around a central keyword or topic. A silo has a pillar page (the hub for a particular topic) with multiple topic cluster pages linked to it. Each topic cluster page may also be the parent page for even more specific pages. Ultimately, through precise internal link building, each content silo builds relevance and authority around certain keywords and topics—thus showing up more frequently and with higher rankings in search engine results.
Keyword maps and content silo templates can become invaluable guides for you to follow as you design and construct an optimized B2B website.
Create Optimized Product or Service Pages
While each and every part of your sales funnel (and each related element of your website) warrants love and care, special emphasis must be placed on the money ticket. Yes, literally. I'm talking about your landing pages.
Making sales is your main goal of marketing in the first place, so be sure that your product and/or service pages really shine.
Consider making your landing pages the pillar pages of your topic clusters and be sure that they clearly answer your customers' most burning questions, link to relevant, high-quality content, and are impeccably optimized. Content must be 100% original (no duplicate content), must not be overly thin (I recommend somewhere between 500-2000 words, depending on your business), and should incorporate smart keyword usage practices (include keywords in your H1 title, title tag, page URL, etc.).
Create Strong CTAs With Your Buyer Persona in Mind
It's simple enough to write a general call to action (CTA) such as, "Book our service today!" or "Call us for a quote". But when you're hoping to capture B2B customers, it's best to be as clear and compelling as possible. Keep your buyer persona's pain points in mind and express how you'll alleviate their problems in your CTA.
If you are looking for a platform that can help you create game-changing CTAs based on top-notch keyword and entity research, check out my complete review of Surfer SEO.
Conduct a Technical SEO Audit on Your Website
Though technical SEO is a massive topic unto itself, I'll just mention it here briefly because it can have a dramatic impact on the search engine rankings your B2B business attains (or any type of business, for that matter).
Technical SEO aims to improve the technical aspects of your website that Google has identified as contributing positively to user experience. These include, but are not limited to, your site's load time (speed), mobile friendliness, broken links, duplicate content, and more.
For a thorough site audit, I'd recommend using a dedicated SEO tool (or tools).
Track Your Keywords
Once your B2B website is up and humming along, it's time to move into maintenance mode (though new growth is also still key). In order to maintain and build your SEO presence, you'll need to continually monitor and assess your keywords and how your site is ranking for them.
At SerpFocus, I'm a fan of Keyword.com for keyword tracking. It's a straightforward but comprehensive tool that puts all the keyword metrics I need right at my fingertips. You can read my complete review of Keyword.com.
Build a Scalable Content Strategy
Remember when I said it's best to focus on the bottom-of-funnel keywords and content first? It's true. But once you've done that, don't forget to scale your content strategy upward.
Building out content around the middle and top of funnel keywords is essential to drawing in future buyers, building brand awareness, and keeping abreast of your competition. Make your brand (and, by extension, your site) an authoritative online entity that performs outreach through as many channels as possible.
When building fresh top-of-funnel and middle-of-funnel content, consider everything from newsletters to research studies, webinars, videos, eBooks, and more. Remember the importance of shoulder topics (high-interest topics indirectly related to your product or service) and keep in mind that, even if it's not landing page material, quality content builds relevance and authority, which ultimately drives more sales.
Conduct Outreach To Acquire Links
No matter whether you're a B2B business or a B2C business, your website is going to benefit immensely from organic, high-quality backlinks. External links are, after all, one of Google’s top 3 search ranking factors.
Link building can be a whole lotta work, but it's work that absolutely must be done. So, get busy reaching out to other websites that you believe will benefit by linking to your content. Also, consider finding broken link-building opportunities to garner more links for your business.
Examples of B2B SEO Success Stories
There are some phenomenal examples of B2B success stories out there, but for the sake of brevity, I'll highlight just two here:
- Canva - Canva is a popular design platform used by many marketing agencies. With 38.7 million organic SEO hits monthly, it exemplifies the wealth to be mined when you offer a concrete solution to your audience's problem. Canva ranks number one for the term "YouTube banner" because it understands the intent behind the search. Potential customers wishing to create a YouTube banner can do so for free using the Canva platform.
- TravelPerk - TravelPerk is a business travel expense management tool that has 151,000 organic visitors per month and is continuously growing. The business has nailed it perfectly in terms of building relevant content around well-researched keywords at every stage of its sales funnel.
If you’re looking for guidance along your B2B SEO journey, I would love to be of assistance. At SerpFocus, I’m committed to helping clients with their specific SEO and digital marketing needs. Questions, comments, problems, and conversations are all welcome. Reach out to me at SerpFocus today!