A recent research report developed by TriComB2B and the University of Dayton School of Business Administration provides insight into the B2B purchasers’ decision making process.
Key findings from the benchmark report, for B2B search engine marketers to consider, include:
- Content assets, ranging from B2B blogs through technical data sheets, are critical in the B2B buying process.
- The source of information was most important in the search and evaluation stages of the decision process.
- Mobile websites, discussion forums, and blogs are important information sources for purchasing decisions
This article takes a deeper look into each of these points, and the impact for search engine marketers working in the B2B space.
Understanding the Role of Content Marketing Assets
As indicated in the report, the B2B buying cycle is often broken into six distinct phases:
- Problem identification
- Criteria creation
- Test and selection
B2B SEOs should seek to understand how the content assets associated to keyword strategies apply to each phase in the buying cycle, thereby developing the right goals and objectives per campaign.
For example, one-third of respondents followed industry blogs and 50 percent viewed video content to gather information for the buying process. What remains unclear is whether these were content assets that brought sales-ready leads and prospects.
Our experience has been that these types of assets seem to be better suited at bringing in “top of the funnel” opportunities. The expectation should be that these leads are expected to be brought into the lead nurturing phase of the sales process.
In similar fashion, even though technical data sheets were critical in the decision making process, gaining inbound links and social media buss around these assets might be challenging. Goals associated to measuring the performance of well-optimized technical assets should fall closer to the sales-ready side of the lead funnel.
Fundamental SEO Best Practices
Regardless of the intent of B2B buyer; content assets need to be optimized for search engine visibility. At a high level, this should always include:
- Defined keyword strategy
- Keyword visibility in HTML titles, meta descriptions, applicable web page copy
- Cross-links to and from relevant web pages and content assets
B2B SEOs should remind the marketing team that the first step in attracting potential decision makers is to provide the best opportunity for content assets to actually be found. That is where SEO best practices come into play.
Social Networking: The New Link Building Tool
Technological innovation changes the way decision makers find information online and social networking plays a critical role. Search engines are no longer the sole destination, particularly when a company name or brand is not well known.
As illustrated in the table below, sources of information are most important in the search and evaluation stages of the decision making process. Near the top of the list, informal connections business decision makers have, within professional groups, social networking sites, and contact lists, all play a part.
B2B search marketers should apply this knowledge to how they set out to acquire links for SEO. Relationships matter.
Where to start? Consider these opportunities for building the relationships designed to acquire links and bring visibility to SEO initiatives:
- Twitter Networking: Retweeting and showcasing potential site owners content and publications are a first step in getting visibility and establishing an informal connection. Quality list building helps enable marketers to follow multiple groups in an effort to uncover interests and define content strategy.
- Blogger Outreach: Start simple by offering quality comments on a few key industry blogs on a regular basis. By building a rapport with online influencers in the space, it might be possible to gain visibility and links to key content assets and/or initiatives down the road.
- LinkedIn Groups: This can become a simple way to establish informal connections, by regularly contributing to the discussions happening within. The key is in researching groups that are both active and directly related to content marketing objectives. Don’t just submit a link and leave; establish trust and presence through regular activity and contribution.
Platform & Location
Finally, B2B SEOs should consider the platform that decision makers view online assets. More than half (59 percent) of B2B purchase decision-makers and influencers had used a smartphone to gather requisite information. In a study released back in 2006, 81 percent of executive respondents indicated they were connected to work through mobile devices all of the time.
B2B search engine marketers need to consider how content will present on a mobile device, and what type of content makes the most sense for review.
To get some recommendations for mobile SEO, I interviewed an SEO colleague and mobile search columnist Sherwood Stranieri for his perspective. Here were some of his recommendations:
- Not just iPhones: While iPhones are the gold standard of mobile technology, they are not the only (or even best) way to reach B2B decision makers. Most of the corporate world carries a Blackberry in their pockets, and Blackberries have simple web browsers that demand simplicity from a mobile site.
- Simplicity for everyone, really: A “simple” mobile site is one that relies mostly on HTML for text content and navigation. As with desktop sites, SEO works best when the basic framework is built on tried-and-true HTML.
- Starting from scratch? You have one big decision to make: to build one site for everyone, or two sites for the desktop and mobile user.
- One Site: These days, you can design websites using fluid layouts that will detect a narrow screen, funneling all the content into a phone-friendly, one-column layout. Be careful with how much content is on a given page.
- Two Sites: If your site’s layout is complex, or if you predict having different user needs for the mobile site, you should go with a two-site strategy. An example of differing user needs: if you’re a parts supplier, the purchasing manager at her desktop will want a detailed pricing chart, front and center. In contrast, the technician out in the field will tend to be more interested in a brief set of specs, to make sure they have the right part for the job.
It’s worth noting that price dominated the benchmark survey respondents’ answers when it pertained to factors influencing the buying decision. That said, total cost of ownership was also critical.
What does that mean for B2B search marketers? The right details and explanation of features and value added resources should be identified. In turn, this creates even more opportunity for the integration of keyword strategy and optimization of content for search.