All marketers want their website to be found easily on the web and to rank well in Google search results. Website traffic helps fill the funnel and user engagement demonstrates the love of customers for our brand or products. Most marketers know about the importance of search rankings and about the basic mechanisms of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) – meaning to optimize your website in a way that it ranks highly on the search engine’s results page (SERP) to drive relevant traffic to your website. The question is: Why is SEO still so underrated in B2B marketing?

Misconception: “SEO doesn’t work in B2B”

There are still many companies out there that believe websites or SEO are not important in B2B marketing especially where their products are not sold online. Many technical products, as well as buyer journeys, are considered by many to be too complex for online shops – high investment products are sold and purchased by real people.

B2B products will continue to be purchased by real people in the years to come, but data clearly proves the above-mentioned concept to be a huge misconception. There are countless statistics that show the importance of online search in the B2B sector, but for the sake of keeping this blog short, I will just mention these two from Google:

  1. 70% of the B2B buyer journey is now digital and search engines are the number one research resource for B2B buyers.
  2. 90% of B2B researchers and 61% of B2B decision-makers start their buying process with a web search, and on average they do 12 searches before even getting in touch with sales.

This means the buyer might make his/her supplier choice before getting in touch with any sales organization. Therefore B2B companies need to provide relevant content at all possible online (and offline) touchpoints.

Digitalize or lose

With the current Corona pandemic, digitalization in B2B marketing and sales has been receiving a new level of attention. Many companies have realized the limits of traditional sales approaches as these are complicated to plan and difficult to measure. In addition, using direct sales staff to physically visit customers is time- and cost-intensive. This friction in the B2B marketplace is dividing the market between adopters and non-adopters of digital sales and marketing, with the non-adopters losing significant market share over time.

A simple example: Let’s say you sell electric motors. All of your website content is tied around your products and technical features. Your competitor uses a more customer-centric approach, talking about the basics of drive technology, providing useful how-to-guides, and outlining the benefits of efficient motors to the customer in terms of uptime and productivity. The competitor’s content makes the life of the motor user easier and directly addresses their needs. In this example, your competitor’s website will likely rank higher than yours for 8 out of 10 search terms related to electric motors. And this will mean you lose out about 80% of possible web traffic and lead touchpoints, and so lose out on 80% of potential business.

Content becomes the important differentiator

Although link building and technical SEO are important, since algorithms get more and more intelligent, content immediately becomes the king of SEO. Of course, it can make sense in some cases to do paid advertising on Google to push up your site in the ranking. But in order to constantly occupy the top spots in the SERPs, and for your website to be regarded as a trusted, useful source of information for your core offering, you have to invest in good organic content, especially if you plan to generate leads and win new business.

But what is good content? To create relevant content, you first must understand the needs of your customers and what information they are searching for. This can be done through persona and keyword research (there are many tools out there to help). After understanding your customer needs, you have to create matching content. This content should answer the questions and needs of your clients by targeting the above-mentioned keywords and search terms according to the searcher’s user intent. User intent is not so much about what keywords somebody is typing in the search bar, but rather about why they are searching and what problem they are trying to solve.

Customer centricity defines content strategy

In recent years, digitalization has been disrupting the B2B buyer journey. The days of a linear journey are gone. The customer chooses their touchpoints and the buying process is at their chosen speed. In the digital space, people most likely engage with brands that are relevant, helpful, and personal. The brands with the most helpful content and best user/customer experience win the race.

As B2B marketers, we have to get a deep understanding of our client’s needs and search intent. And SEO is the perfect starting point. With this understanding, we can produce the content that creates value for the customers and addresses their needs within the specific context of their search. Ideally, each piece of content is tailored to fit the customer’s persona and stage in the buying cycle. Creating high-quality relevant content should be at the core of any B2B marketing strategy.

Finally, don’t think of SEO as something purely technical. SEO analytics should be used to get an understanding of customer needs to create an optimum customer experience. This will enable you to put customer-centricity at the core of your content strategy. To get to this stage, B2B companies need to break down traditional silos and create integrated content teams. Inbound marketing is far more productive when SEO and content creation are done in a joined-up way by digital, content and PR teams. Adopting this customer-centric content approach will significantly and measurably boost your website performance and SERP ranking.

If you would like to learn more about B2B SEO and how contextual frameworks can help you to optimize your content, please listen to the Podcasts for the book “B2B Marketing – A Guidebook for the Classroom to the Boardroom” that will be published in Q4 2020 and features an in-depth article on B2B SEO by Mark Herten (MD Germany) and Jon Barrett (VP Digital)