Q: I’m a professional SEO. I have a potential B2B client who keeps saying: “Sure, online marketing works for B2C or just selling stuff on the Internet, but it doesn’t work well with B2B.” Is that true? And do you know of any studies that I can quote to show whether SEO works for B2Bs or not?
A: There are some very good reasons that SEO works for B2B (business-to-business) websites. The main reason is that targeting is the key to B2B website success. The total traffic for a B2B can be very small, as long as it’s well targeted. You don’t have to bring in thousands of users per day; you just need to bring in the right people. By contrast, with their bigger audiences, large B2C (business-to-consumer) sites often find pay-per-click advertising prohibitively expensive. Websites with a very focused niche are actually perfect candidates for SEO. As a bonus, SEO will help your B2B clients think about their users – what categories do they fall into and what are they looking for – so it can be a great part of a holistic web usability effort.
Of course, if you’re promoting a B2B site, your SEO strategy should be tailored for a B2B site. You won’t want to focus on general keywords; instead you may want to focus on more specific keywords like product names and descriptions.
In some cases, it will be harder to track SEO success for a B2B than for a B2C. This is because your conversions are not likely to be straight sales or any other quantitative value, but rather leads off the website, phone calls, or something even less tangible like branding. Further, the total number of people visiting your site is smaller than a typical consumer site, so you’ll have fewer opportunities to experiment with your SEO strategy through variations on landing pages or navigation.
We do know of one B2B study, which we quoted in our book, which states that “A 2004 survey found that in business-to-business (B2B) purchasing decisions, 63.9% of respondents stated that a search engine would be the first place they would go to research a product or service.(Source: Enquiro/MarketingSherpa).” Of course this is a couple of years out of date, but our strong suspicion is that these numbers are only going to go up, not down. One important takeaway is this: Visitors to B2B sites are using the Web for background research, not necessarily direct goal seeking as you’d see in B2C. Since this is the case, you as the SEO provider need to work hard up front to figure out how you are going to measure and track gains, and tie them to your SEO efforts.
One last thought: have you looked up any of this client’s competitors? In some cases, if your competition is using SEO in their marketing efforts, that’s reason enough for you to do it, too. You would hate for a competitor’s name to come up in a search for your product. (Ask your client whether they’d like to come up in a search for the term “myProduct vs theirProduct” and we have a feeling they are going to say yes!)
And lastly, think about how SEO can play into a company’s branding efforts and overall reputation. All companies, but probably B2Bs especially, should pay some attention to their online reputation and make sure that searches aren’t bringing up anything embarrassing or discrediting.