The humble website is more important than ever. This is because, where the public face of your company is concerned, it’s basically the centre of the universe: it’s your shop window, it’s the thing you’re pointing to on social networks, and it’s a Gatling gun in your business development arsenal. Of course, if you remember the brochureware websites of yesteryear – the age of the dial-up tone and Titanic making more money than most small economies – you’ll remember that it wasn’t always this way. A website was something optional, something you stuck on a business card and in an email signature: a resource for people who already knew who you were.
These days, if most of your site visitors are people you already know, then it’s a major red flag. This is because a bunch of people – sometimes a couple thousand, sometimes millions – are looking for what you’re offering every month. But if your website isn’t easily accessible and visible in a search engine, they won’t know you’re offering it, and they’ll get it from your more web-savvy competitors, regardless of how blatantly inferior, more expensive, and dubiously hygienic they may be. In fact, research shows that if your site doesn’t show up on the first page, it probably won’t gain any traction with searchers. Ideally, you want the top two positions – it’s optimal from a web traffic and lead gen POV.
B2B SEO terminology
Organic – this is the type of traffic that comes from someone clicking on a link in Google’s search results that a company hasn’t paid to put there. You’d commonly find paid ads at the top and the bottom of the search engine results page
SERP – search engine results page
CRO – conversion rate optimisation – involves improving your users’ experiences with your website so more of them complete ‘goals’ like filling out and submitting contact forms and clicking on your hello@ email address
CTR – click through rate – this is the percentage of users that click on a link in the SERP
CTA – call to action – this is a phrase or word encouraging a user to do something e.g. ‘Click here!’
CMS – content management system – the software that helps you manage your website. Think WordPress, Joomla etc. Google works directly with WordPress
Sales funnel – this is the buying journey your prospect goes on – typically split into three parts:
TOFU – top of funnel – the research phase of a buying journey
MOFU – middle of funnel – the consideration phase of a buying journey
BOFU – bottom of funnel – the purchase phase of a buying journey
EAT – expertise, authority and trust – this is what Google asks its Quality Raters to assess. Will often be dependent on subject matter experts associated with a company; awards the company has won, press coverage the company has received etc. More on EAT here. It is particularly important for websites associated with the financial and healthcare sectors (otherwise known as Your Money Your Life or YMYL sites).
Keywords – words and combinations of words users search for in Google – you can optimsie the content on your site for these keywords
AMS – average monthly searches – a volume metric secured from Google’s Keyword Planner tool – geographically specific (by country or regions within a country)
CWV – Core Web Vitals – Google metrics related to the speed at which your site loads and becomes usable
Penguin – a Google algorithm update that targeted manipulative link building tactics (was named Penguin by the SEO community not Google)
Panda – a Google algorithm update that targeted poorly written, manipulative content (was named Panda by the SEO community not Google)
Google’s Search Quality Raters – human beings tasked with assessing the quality of websites in Google’s index – Google uses their feedback to crosscheck its algorithms
When B2B buyers are considering a purchase‚ they spend 17% of their time meeting with potential suppliers but 24% of their time researching independently online (source)
Professional services (12.3%), Industrial (8.5%) and B2B services (7.0%) have some of the highest organic onsite conversion rates (source)
With fewer clicks come fewer opportunities – so it’s smart to get as close to the top of the organic search results as you possibly can. And while you may be surprised at how low the percentages are when it comes to searches resulting in organic desktop and mobile clicks (51% and 22% respectively), consider that the equivalent PPC stats (i.e. the percentages of searchers who click on the ads that appear in search engine results pages) are 3% on desktop and 1% on mobile – so 17x more users click on organic search results – but is your SEO budget x17 your PPC budget?
Business-to-business or B2B, means that the focus is on selling to other businesses as opposed to consumers (that would be B2C). For example, we help businesses sell services and products to other business using SEO: from point-of-sale transactional searches, through to the research stage of any purchase, SEO can be used to influence a prospect at multiple points during the buying journey.
Search engine optimisation, is also a pretty simple concept. The most important thing to understand is that search engines want to return the best possible results for their users. This basic idea should inform every aspect of your SEO strategy.
The discipline has spammy origins and there are still a lot of agencies and individuals claiming they have the magic ingredient to get your website to position #1 for your target keyword/s. This is because it used to be easy to game the system in the late 90s and influence organic results using spammy tactics such as low-quality link building (using networks of agency owned websites) and spamming webpages with keywords.
At a basic level, Google – or rather, its spiders – look at (or ‘crawl’) webpages (e.g. your homepage or any other page on your site).
Pages are then added to a huge database (Google’s index) and it decides whether it should return the page as a result when someone conducts a related search.
Google’s multiple algorithms assess hundreds of ‘ranking factors’ which they use to establish the page’s authority and the likelihood of it satisfying a search. Google then ranks it accordingly. If somebody looks for life-size celebrity cardboard cut-outs, for example, and you have the dubious honour of running the internet’s best page on life-size celebrity cardboard cut-outs, you’ll be pinned right to the top of page one.
It’s possible to ‘optimise’ a page to help Google get a better idea of what it’s about. Optimisation comes in the form of on-site optimisation (i.e. stuff you can do on your website) and off-site optimisation (i.e. stuff you can do online but away from your site). Striking the right balance between both is essential.
Everyone uses Google (86% of international search engine users in Jan 2022), and lots of SEO focuses on earning the clicks of everyday people as consumers. Business-to-business (B2B) SEO, meanwhile, involves businesses earning the clicks of decision makers at organisations.
Disclaimer: it’s almost impossible to write an up-to-date guide on how to do B2B or any form of SEO as things change so often. Start with Google’s beginners guide and supplement your B2B SEO strategy from there. There are some staples though…
Successful on-site optimisation (the stuff you can directly influence on your own website) is mainly focused on keywords, content (including structured data) and design/usability (think page experience). Get these cornerstones of your B2B SEO strategy right and you’re well on your way to ranking success!
To get found, your website pages need to feature the terms (aka ‘keywords’) your target audience is searching for. This seems self-explanatory – after all, if you’re selling fishing rods, you’re not going to make a page about tennis or pancakes or whatever.
The process of discovering the best keywords for your business is called keyword research. It involves everything from reviewing the competition to see what they’ve optimised their websites for, to reviewing the PPC ads that are returned when you search for your company’s product or service to see which keywords they contain.
A good starting point is Google’s own Keyword Planner. It will only give you broad estimates on keyword search volumes (Google now only provides one of seven volume sizes: 0–10, 10–100, 100–1,000, 1,000–10,000, 10,000–100k, 100k–1M and 1M+) – unless you are a fully paid-up advertiser, but it at least gives you an idea of which keywords are searched for and could be worth targeting. Other paid-for keyword research tools are available.
Once you have an initial list of keywords you think might be relevant to your business, you can use tools like Answer the Public and Soovle to create long tail (‘long tail’ means three or four words plus) versions of them – very handy for future blog content for example.
TIP: Think about user intent during the keyword research process. Certain keywords indicate the searcher is ready to buy, whereas other keywords suggest they are still in the research phase. For example, someone searching for ‘B2B SEO’ or ‘What is B2B SEO?’ probably wants to know what it is. Someone searching for ‘B2B SEO agencies’ is probably interested in appointing one.
Once you’ve done your keyword research, you need to create pages optimised for these keywords. Different keywords are suitable for different types of pages e.g. keywords connected to the research phase of the sales cycle would typically be the focus of blog content.
For example, if you want to rank for ‘life-size celebrity cardboard cut-outs’ (seriously, how did you get into that industry?) then you want to create the best page ever on the subject. You’ll want to make sure the keyword and synonyms of it appear in the text on the page and that it’s used in the metadata (‘metadata’ is the supplementary info on a page that tells search engines what a page is all about).
Example metadata includes:
Title link – the blue underlined search result that appears in Google when you search for summink – this is a very important place to put your target keyword. You’ll find it in the HTML <head> section of any webpage e.g. <title>Life-size celebrity cardboard cut-outs</title>
Meta description – this is the small paragraph of text that appears in Google’s search results, e.g. <meta name=”description” content=”Only the very best life-size celebrity cardboard cut-outs. Live your fantasy friendships with our cardboard constructions. Call 08444112233 for more info.”/>. Meta descriptions aren’t used by Google as a direct ranking factor, but they can impact click-through-rate. Worth noting that Google will often rewrite the meta description if it thinks something different would be of better use to the user. The search engine still encourages webmasters to write a unique one for every page though.
To edit metadata, you should log into your content management system (frequently shortened to ‘CMS’ – the software that manages your web content. Think WordPress, Joomla etc.), navigate to the page you’re focussing on and do it there, or ask your web developer/the agency that built your site to do so on your behalf (if you don’t have an easy-to-use CMS).
Beside the metadata you’ll need to include the keyword/s throughout the page and its copy. This includes in the page header (which you’ll want to have tagged as an H1), in the sub-headers, the body content and in the URL.
Careful though. Long gone are the days where you can take a single keyword and stuff it into the copy as many times as possible with total disregard for quality, logic, grammar and comprehensibility. Alongside your primary keyword choice, you should use variations, synonyms and related terms to improve quality and relevance. Google will assess your page in-line with the other pages ranking for your target keyword and if it’s not using similar language and common terms typical for the industry, Google may smell a rat and decide that your page is not the quality of result it wants to show its users for that particular search term.
Content is probably the most important part of on-site optimisation.
The truth is that poor or irrelevant content can be as much a turnoff for Google as a slow-loading site or one that isn’t mobile-friendly. Don’t spam pages with ‘life-sized celebrity cardboard cut outs’ repeatedly: this will alienate the weirdos who come to your page to buy them, and search engines are wise to this trick anyway. Use keywords in a natural and relevant way and don’t forget, Google’s smart enough to understand synonyms as well.
Dedicate sections of your site to specific topics to ensure your company is seen by search engines and users as an authority on them. You could have a section of your site dedicated to life-sized celebrity cardboard cut outs and have pages sitting within this section breaking it down into specific categories – such as actors, footballers and singers. Don’t forget to use keyword optimised internal links on your site to further reinforce your topic expertise. For example, your life-sized cardboard cut outs page would link to your actors page using the keyword that you’d chosen to optimise that page for e.g. ‘carboard cut outs of actors’.
And remember, it’s a common misconception that B2B SEO leads to clunky content writing: it may be true if you’re doing it incorrectly, but it certainly doesn’t have to be the case. If we’re being honest, if your content isn’t focused, on-topic, and interesting to your prospects it probably won’t rank anyway!
Design and structure
A well-built website should have a logical structure that allows search engines to crawl it quick smart. This will help Google to understand the importance of certain parts based on their prominence. Basically, your most important pages should be located as close to your homepage as possible from a ‘clicks’ perspective (conduct a ‘click test’ – how many clicks does it take to get from your homepage to your most important pages? If it takes one click then Google assumes it’s an important page, if it takes six clicks then Google assumes it’s a less important page) and every page on the site should be accessible via internal linking.
Once you have done your keyword research, you’re ready to plan out your site’s structure. The process involves assigning keywords from your research to pages on your website. These can either be existing pages to be optimised, or new pages to be created and optimised. Pages on certain subjects should be grouped together – could be by topic or by category i.e. group all of your service pages together on one part of your site and all the sectors you focus on on another part of your site. We love drawing site structures out to help visualise where the pages will sit (Gliffy is a great tool for this).
TIP:If there is no internal linking, then how will Google’s spiders reach the right pages and crawl them? Internal links could come in the form of links in the text of the page; a sitemap page that links to every page on the site (always a good idea to have one of these that dynamically updates as you create more pages); or links in the site navigation.
It’s also worth mentioning mobile design at this stage. Google uses a mobile-first index. This means that the pages it returns in its results are the mobile versions of web pages. For example, if you have a mobile website in addition to your standard website (normally indicated by an ‘m.’ e.g. m.example.com) Google will return pages from the mobile site.
Most modern websites are responsive (i.e. they adapt to the size of the screen of the device the search is being conducted on) which is great, because in theory the same website is returned regardless of whether the search is conducted on a desktop or mobile (worth checking with your website agency/developers that your responsive site definitely is the same on mobile – we have seen instances where the reshaping of the site for mobile has resulted in important information on the site being lost which has subsequently affected its ability to rank for keywords).
Accordingly, a slow-loading website is a major no-no. Google is so insistent on this that they’ve even provided free tools (one of which is PageSpeed Insights) you can use to test how fast your site responds – both for convenience and, one assumes, so you’ve got no excuse!
Page experience (focussed on Core Web Vitals, security, mobile friendliness and intrusive interstitials) is a ranking factor. To help businesses and webmasters manage and improve their user experiences, Google has released a Core Web Vitals report in Google Search Console. It visualises how your pages are performing in relation to key factors with a handy traffic light system so you know exactly what to fix. Google really does want businesses to succeed at B2B SEO, because it means they can offer better results to searchers!
A great site is no good if Google doesn’t know about it. You need to alert them to its existence – and, more importantly, its value – as soon as it’s ready. Use Google Search Console to register your site and submit a sitemap containing your pages: this will ensure the search engine crawls them all (you can also use Search Console to submit individual URLs for indexing – a useful tool if you’re regularly publishing new content for example and don’t want to submit a new XML sitemap every time).
The acronym stands for expertise, authority and trust. There is no ‘EAT’ ranking signal but Google repeatedly references it as a concept in its Search Quality Rating guidelines making it a critical part of any B2B SEO strategy. These guidelines are used by Google’s quality raters (human beings tasked with assessing the quality of websites in Google’s index – Google uses their feedback to crosscheck its algorithms). Quality raters are encouraged to review independent third-party sources to make assessments on a website’s ‘quality’ (as judged by the expertise, authority and trust signals the brand/main content creator of the website is responsible for cultivating).
In short, this is a pretty good indicator that Google has algorithms designed to do the same thing, so an important part of offsite optimisation is reputation building. One way to do this is by earning links and brand mentions…
Among the most important of Google’s ranking factors are hyperlinks pointing to your site from other sites. Google uses these links as votes of confidence. The basic concept is that the more links you have, the more authoritative Google thinks your website is and the higher your site will rank for keywords you’ve optimised it for.
There are several caveats.
Once upon a time, B2B SEO professionals would build hundreds of links from spammy networks of sites to game the system. That tactic no longer works and can do way more harm than good (Google’s got good at ignoring spammy links but if it detects a deliberate attempt to build spammy links on mass it will issue a penalty that will likely remove the receiving website from Google’s index altogether). Instead, you want to think about how relevant the site is that you’re looking to attract a link from as well as the quality of that site. If I have a fishing website and I manage to get a link from AnglingTimes then that’s great, because it helps search engines understand the site is about fishing.
It’s also important to understand not all links are born equal. There are four types of hyperlink – a followed, a nofollowed link, a sponsored link and a user-generated content (UGC) link. In the case of followed links, Google’s spiders will follow the link to the destination site and start crawling that site (thus passing ‘link juice’). Nofollowed, sponsored and UGC links don’t automatically pass on link juice in the same way as the followed links. Google has stated these directives are used as ‘hints’ as it decides which links to include or exclude within its search systems.
Want to know how to tell if a link is followed or nofollowed? Download the MozBar and use its handy highlighter.
Good link and brand earning/building however, is tough; it requires a creative, metrics-driven approach and it’s seen a lot of traditional SEO agencies fade away as older spammy tactics cease to work. We think the best way of building links in the good quality, contextually relevant publications you need, is via a creative B2B PR strategy backed-up with top-notch media relations.
And if you do decide to go down the spammy route…
When you’re caught cheating or counting cards in a casino, you’re thrown out, and Google responds with similar force when it thinks a website is trying to trick it. And, as is also true of casinos, in the long run, the house always wins. Maybe you’re a genius B2B SEO conman: maybe you’ve genuinely come up with a way to beat it. It won’t matter. Your victory will inevitably be short-lived: Google will almost certainly update its (increasingly complex) algorithms to accommodate your tricks at the first opportunity. Its reputation depends on it.
Trying to defeat Google is like trying to fistfight the sun: you’ll waste a lot of energy, and you’re liable to get horribly burned in the process. For example:
When it was discovered that links counted in search engine rankings, some smart alecs decided to indulge in a spot of link-farming: building vast networks of sites that all linked to each other in order to rack up huge numbers of links to their own webpages. Because this was detrimental to user experience – it pushed irrelevant sites right up the search rankings – Google responded by penalising sites in their updated algorithms (this is why Penguin exists).
People realised keywords in copy were a critical variable in most rankings. So they decided to flood their sites with keyword-packed text – often irrelevant to the site itself. Some webmasters even packed their sites with invisible text (black writing on a black background, for example) or in tiny, imperceptible writing. Google didn’t update their algorithms to ignore this tactic: again, they updated them to actively penalise them. Overnight, these SEOs were rewarded for their deviousness with terrible, terrible rankings. Or simply removed from Google altogether (this is why Panda exists).
For a long time, Google’s motto was ‘don’t be evil’. By no means does this make it a soft touch. When Google thinks it’s being messed with, it responds promptly, brutally, and without mercy.
Knowing the ins and outs of keyword analysis is obviously helpful, but you first need to get clear on your ‘why’ (to parrot Simon Sinek). Also, there’s the matter of the buyer’s journey i.e. where they are in the sales funnel (top, middle or bottom).
It’s tempting to gloss over this initial step, but don’t. Here’s why.
Let’s say you’re choosing a keyword for a TOFU (top of the funnel, but be honest, you thought we meant that weird vegan gloop masquerading as food) blog post designed to promote an eBook, you’ll want an informative keyword or one that’s centred on a question.
Conversely, if you need a keyword for a website landing page, then it’ll have more of a lead-gen focus. For example, on our own website we have a landing page optimised for ‘B2B PR agency’ rather than just ‘B2B PR’ because someone searching for the former is closer to the point of purchase. Make sense?
Right, once you’ve answered those two questions, come back and we’ll get cracking on the ‘how’ part of this equation. Or, as we SEO geeks like to call it, the long tail and the short of it. Nerd much?
Our keyword analysis quest begins (as all good quests do) with a blank Excel spreadsheet. Beginning in column A, your first task is to create a long list of potential keywords for each of your products and services.
Establish your priority services/products
You need to be clear on what it is you’re trying to sell before you start researching associated keywords. If you only sell a handful of products or services this will be easy, but if you’re a technology reseller with multiple vendors and hundreds of products, not so much.
You’ll still support all your products, but there will naturally be an order of priority. This will help you focus your keyword analysis and build your SEO strategy. Once you’ve established the priority services/products, assign each one its own tab in your keyword research spreadsheet.
Drill down for more information
You need to gather as much information as possible and the best way to do that is by answering a bunch of questions around each product/service you offer. It’s going to be time-consuming, but the results will be worth it. (Sustenance in the form of caffeine and snacks is advisable.)
The easiest way to go about this is to come up with a bunch of questions that you need to answer. Here are some examples, but feel free to add, subtract and adapt as you see fit.
Who are your main competitors?
What are the various names of your product/solution?
Is it known by anything else?
Has it been called anything else in the past?
Will it be called anything else in near future?
Is the product modular? Does it have component parts?
Is the product described by a generic name e.g. your customer might be selling the ‘StepMaster 54XXX’ but everyone’s calling it a ‘treadmill’?
Are there any common suffixes or prefixes (known in the SEO world as ‘modifiers’) customers use when describing product or solution e.g. price, training, support, partner, implementation, modules, reviews, geographic, industry specific, plurals?
Has the product been manufactured by a different vendor in past?
What are the typical customer pain points this product/solution addresses?
Are there typical organisations you work with in relation to this product/service?
Don your analytics hat
The next step in the process requires a little analytics know-how. If you’re comfy with this, then open your Google Search Console account and set it to review the last 16 months (this is the maximum).
The plan is to review your search analytics to find out the types of queries people are already searching for that result in them landing on your site. Add these keywords to your growing list.
These keywords can often be helpful when planning content. For example, after doing some research of our own we saw that one of our much older posts was still generating search traffic. We immediately set to work updating it to make it current before republishing: cue even more traffic.
Let’s get Googling
Try Googling some of the most common keywords you’ve generated so far. What kind of PPC ads do they return? Do these ads contain keywords you haven’t thought of that you can add to your list?
Stick with Google, but this time review the search engine’s autocomplete suggestions instead. While you’re at it, take a moment to check out the ‘Searches related to…’ at the bottom of the page for additional suggestions.
You can also Google the terms in the ‘Searches related to…’ box for even more options. I’d tell you to add these keywords to your super long list, but you already knew that, didn’t you?
By now your head is likely ringing or fuzzy or both. Mastering the fine art of keyword analysis isn’t like figuring out how to use a blender, it’s slightly more complex than that. So, take a power nap if you have to, but then pour yourself a strong cup of coffee and come back. We ain’t done just yet.
Coffee at hand? Good, let’s dive back in. Stick with me and by the end of this series you’ll be searching for keywords like you were born for this (or, at very least like you kind of know what you’re doing).
Spy on the competition (only, try not to call it spying)
Review your competitors’ websites and Google the main keywords you already have and pick out the top-ranking competitors on page one of the search results. Using a website crawling tool like Screaming Frog (it’s free to download and use on sites with up to 500 pages), you’ll be able analyse things like their title tags and H1s.
Why is this geeky stuff important? Well, if the websites you’re analysing have done a good job of their SEO they’ll have optimised these elements for the keywords they’re targeting. Add these keywords to your long list. You’re welcome.
List assessment time
Take a long, hard look at you ludicrously long list. Can you perhaps do any of the following to increase the length of the list? Seriously, you want it as long as possible, so don’t hold back.
Make words plural
Swap words with numbers
Swap words around
Ask questions (“How do I…”, “What are the…” etc.)
Note common prefixes and suffixes you keep coming up with and try applying them to other keywords in your list
Pair up keywords and sectors
Now you need to start pairing the keywords you’ve come up with to the sectors you’re interested in. This will further increase the size of the list (yay) and also ensure it’s as targeted as possible.
Then you’re going to pair the keywords you’ve generated with common modifiers like ‘business’, ‘services’, ‘price’ etc. Let’s say you have a document scanning product, you could come up with a keyword by listing ‘document scanning’ as the name of the product and later on pairing it with the suffix ‘services’. The result: ‘document scanning services’ – a great bottom of funnel keyword.
But what if you’ve got your sights set on selling this particular service to the charity sector? Well then, you’ll want to make sure you combine ‘charity document scanning’ with the suffix ‘services’. The result: ‘charity document scanning services’ – an even better keyword for your purposes.
The question is, how do you know which products to pair with which sector names? Your best bet is to quickly run the long list of product names you’ve already compiled through Google’s Keyword Planner and sort them according to search volume. From there, pick the five or six product names with the highest search volumes and pair these with your sector names. Finally. combine them with sectors. Easy peasy.
List swapping (it’s not the same as spouse swapping)
If you’re conducting this keyword research as a team, it’s time to swap your long list with someone else’s. Using some of the techniques above, spend about 20-30 minutes doing basic searches to come up with obvious keywords you feel should be in the list you’re checking.
Now cross-reference your results with your teammate’s spreadsheet to make sure the keywords you’ve come up with exist in their list. (You’d be surprised how easy it is to miss obvious alternative names for services/products.)
Run a spellcheck and ditch the duplicates
Once you’ve identified (and plugged) any holes in your spreadsheet, the next step is to run a spellcheck. Obvious, maybe, but you’d be surprised how many people gloss over this seemingly obvious step as well.
Spelling mistakes can result in a lot of wasted time if they’re not discovered at this stage. Moving ahead with your list generation and keyword analysis process using corrupted information means you could potentially lose out huge opportunities.
Now is also a good time to deduplicate the list using Excel’s ‘remove duplicates’ function (last seen lurking under the data tab).
Choosing priority keywords
Now it’s a case of picking the priority keywords. You’re looking for a subtle combination of high volume + low competition + correct user intent.
To rank first: a) the content you’re creating to rank for that keyword needs to be better than everything else on page one b) your website (actually your domain) needs to be roughly as authoritative as the other websites on page one.
This is where a paid Moz account comes in useful. The Moz toolbar will return DA measurements for each site returned.
This makes it very quick and easy to compare your website’s DA to the competitions’.
We wouldn’t get too hung up on DA scores though. These days the best content will have a chance of ranking regardless of number of links – Google’s got a bit cleverer.
This comes back to our ‘B2B PR agency’ vs ‘B2B PR’ example. If your keyword is ‘blue widget supplier’ then you know the person searching for it has real buying intent.
Once you find keywords that look like they would be good to target, make sure you Google them. This is to ensure:
The keyword is not actually the name of a company – many companies chose to make keywords their domain name (e.g. www.blue-widget-supplier.com) as they think it’ll help them rank better (this is not a thing anymore)
The keyword is actually relevant and you haven’t accidentally selected a keyword with an alternative meaning that’s nothing to do with your business
Page one real estate is not dominated by ads, knowledge boxes etc.
Mapping keywords to pages
Finally, you need to map the keywords to the pages on your site and start making meta data edits and creating new content. Oh and finally, after all that keyword analysis, don’t forget to track them to see how your rankings are progressing. There are a lot of keyword ranking tools – Authority Labs is reasonably priced and pretty good. Good luck!
You’ve got the basics down – congrats! – but now you’ve got to get to grips with the key elements of a successful B2B SEO campaign. Why? Because again, SEO changes a LOT. This field has been around for over two decades, and it hasn’t sat still since: algorithms are constantly changing, and a strategy that worked last year may not do it today (in 2021 Google conducted 800,000 experiments and ongoing quality tests to make the results better). In time, the information contained in this very blog will be entirely irrelevant: useful only as a historical snapshot of what SEO looked like at this moment in time (or not if we’re doing our jobs properly and keeping it up to date!).
Still, here are some B2B SEO best practices. You may need to outsource some of this – again, it’s very time-consuming and requires ongoing maintenance – but understanding it will allow you to appoint the appropriate B2B SEO agency that can advise on the right blend of strategy and tactics and get the right results.
Start with the basics
Be mobile-friendly – Google indexes mobile sites instead of desktop sites in its search results. This means you want to ensure your mobile site is also the main site you update with all your great content. If, on the other hand, you have a separate mobile subdomain (e.g. m.example.com) then it’s important to consider how authoritative it is. If it’s a light version of your desktop site then you may find it doesn’t rank as well as the desktop one did.
Do your keyword research before writing concise, engaging, keyword-rich content that demonstrates value to your visitors. Keyword research is an exhaustive subject and probably worthy of a guide in itself. If you want to read more about it, then the Moz blog is a good place to start – here’s Moz’s starter for ten on keyword research.
Work on your niche. While broad brush keywords like ‘IT support’ may be too competitive, keywords related to your niche are likely less competitive. Think about your strongest services or products (whether from a revenue generation perspective, or from a USP perspective) and pair them with modifiers like the location or sectors you operate in to generate achievable keyword targets.
A Google Business Profile is essential if you’re a small business with a localised offering – with limited resources to invest in online SEO, it’ll be the fastest and cheapest way for potential customers to find you.
A short, simple rule that won’t see you go wrong: quality content wins.
Assess the SERP
Long gone are the days when the first page of organic search results simply consisted of ten blue underlined links. Here are the first few organic results for the keyword ‘warehouse automation’:
Modern B2B SEO involves SERP analysis to look for the content gaps your business can fill in order to raise awareness and drive target audience engagement. Analysis:
The featured snippet is pulling a paragraph from a conger.com blog – Google’s decided that the searcher is likely looking for an explainer piece. Conger is a Wisconsin-based warehouse automation supplier.
The featured snippet is pulling an image from the same conger.com blog – Google’s decided that the searcher is likely looking for a visual representation of what they’re searching for and is confident the image is appropriate.
The featured snippet is pulling an image from the Netsuite blog (the one under the ‘People also ask’ section) – Google’s decided that the searcher is likely looking for a visual representation of what they’re searching for and is confident the image is appropriate.
People also ask section – the three questions you can see all contain information from different blogs written by companies interested in ranking for the keyword.
First ‘traditional’ blue organic result – Netsuite doesn’t sell warehouse automation systems, but it does sell software that supports warehouse automation implementations, hence its guide targeting multiple top of funnel keywords.
Second ‘traditional’ blue organic result – Swisslog does sell warehouse automation systems, hence this bottom of funnel product page. Arguably this is the result that will drive the most revenue: even though it ranks third, it’s clearly a vendor as it mentions products, systems and solutions in its title link. It’s therefore likely to drive qualified traffic: buyers interested in purchasing a solution.
Scroll slightly further down the page:
Video results – Google has decided that video explainers are appropriate for this search term. It makes sense as it’s a very visual query. Warehouse automation systems are full of moving parts and lend themselves to well to a video medium.
Fourth ‘traditional’ blue organic result – this is another explainer piece by Camcode. Interestingly Camcode sells labels, identification tags and barcodes, not warehouse automation systems. However its solutions are tied to the tech and warehouses, so it knows it will be selling to the same audiences.
Fifth ‘traditional’ blue organic result – this ‘indented’ result was introduced in October 2021 – it means one domain can own two organic results on one page if Google deems two pages appropriate to satisfy the same query – an excellent example of why parent/child pages on a website are a great idea!
The subsequent opportunities for organic success based on SERP analysis:
The featured snippet – structuring content on your landing page in a certain way to fit the format of a featured snippet is a common B2B SEO content tactic employed by our skilled copywriters! In this instance a US company is being returned; there’s a good chance for a UK company to secure the featured snippet in their region.
The featured snippet pulling an image – if you can’t secure the text snippet, optimise your images instead to drive that featured traffic.
BOFU ‘traditional’ organic result – this is a typical vendor page that will drive high value leads. If the correct expertise, authority and trust signals exist for the brand/domain and Google decides your website content and the solutions you sell are suitable, then proper landing page optimisation will result in your company ranking for the keyword.
TOFU ‘traditional’ organic result – this type of explainer result is open to whichever brand does the best job of explaining the topic. A connection to the topic is required however i.e. in the example SERP analysis above, Camcode is able to rank because it works in the warehouse sector.
Video results – these results are similar to the TOFU traditional organic results. Explainer content is required, and proper optimisation of the video needs to take place. This includes script and transcription optimisation.
Analyse insights and trends
Where B2B SEO is concerned, there’s no such thing as analysis paralysis. Tools like Keyword Planner, Search Console and Google Trends provide data on hot B2B topics and popular search terms. Analysis of the data can give you an idea of what you should be writing about – and how you can increase your web traffic.
Search Console is the organic search marketer’s best friend – it’s free, and Google provides a lot of information on the performance of your website that’s very understandable, even if you don’t have any formal SEO training. You can review the keywords your site is ranking for, address low click through rates, and understand why content might not be indexed amongst other things. It’s also possible to connect Search Console to Google Data Studio and extract information in easy to understand visual formats (for example Google demonstrated a bubble chart on its Search Central blog that can help you understand the content you should focus your attention on i.e. low position, high CTR content).
In addition to Google’s free SEO tools there are a whole host of paid for solutions that are typically most useful for tracking keyword rankings and uncovering link ‘earning’ opportunities. If you’re taking B2B SEO seriously, then experiment with Moz, Semrush and Ahrefs to see which one is right for your organic search needs.
Publish fresh content regularly and update old content
A combined stream of fresh content and updated evergreen blog content is key to improving B2B SEO performance because it gives you lots of opportunities for optimised internal linking; gives you a chance to organically attract links (ideally your blog content is so good people link to it as source material); it enables you to rank for TOFU search queries; and it increases your brand’s expertise, authority and trust signals.
But it’s not quite as simple as knocking out 300 words each week. It should also be of value and interest to your reader. Content that isn’t engaging or valuable will lead to higher bounce rates (people clicking on your site, not liking what they’ve found and then leaving immediately), which isn’t a good look. Rather commit to a set number of blogs that are achievable, plan them meticulously, do your keyword research in advance, assess the SERP and make your content the very best it can be (this includes getting subject matter experts in your organisation to visibly author it).
You can leave your (link) hat on
Again: links from other websites are one of the most important off-site ranking criteria. You need to be cynical about how you approach link earning: in every relationship, partnership, or association you enter into ‘Can I get a link?’ should be in the back of your mind.
Link opportunities are everywhere, and if you reach out and grab them, your keyword rankings will benefit. Here are some questions to ask yourself:
Are you members of any industry bodies prepared to link to you?
Have you written anything for a major trade publication?
Do you regularly use the same suppliers? Can you write them testimonials in exchange for links?
Do you have vendors with partner pages? If so, are you listed? If you’re listed, have they linked to you?
Are you doing any events? There are numerous linking opps from event sites to your website.
Are you involved in any charity initiatives? If so, can you secure links from these charities when you complete a round of fundraising?
Are you involved with local business groups? E.g. Chambers of Commerce or other business networks prepared to link to your website?
In an ideal world the content you produce will be so good (maybe it contains unique data for example) it naturally attracts links. However even the best content in the world will need to be exposed to an appropriate audience – social media is ideal for this. Research who might be interested in your data/content and promoted it to them via Twitter and LinkedIn. Make sure it’s optimised to rank for connected keywords too e.g. a keyword like ‘automation statistics’ gets 210 searches a month globally – rank a page for this keyword with fresh data on automation and watch the links roll in!
Lots of B2B companies we work with resell vendor products. They create product pages and fill them with content from their vendor’s site. Unfortunately this means they’ll never be able to rank for the name of the product which loads of potential customers will be searching for. Search engines will look for the source of the information (the vendor’s site) and return that to the user, removing your page from the index.
Instead, think about how you can improve on the vendor copy. Consider what the vendor’s page doesn’t have e.g. video explainers, images or instructional guides/product manuals. What’s going to cause the visitor to spend longer on your version of the product page and engage with your site?
Think about the pain, claim, gain and proof content structure of your product page. Not only can you do a better job exploring your specific prospects’ pains, you’ll also be able to detail your own USPs and proof points (using your internal subject matter experts), enabling you to create valuable page content with a chance of ranking for the product you’re reselling.
Return on investment is typically measured as a percentage or a ratio so it can easily be compared to other marketing investments. Search engine optimisation ROI can be measured by working out the gain from the B2B SEO investment, subtracting the cost of the investment from that gain, and then dividing that number by the cost of the investment and multiplying it by one hundred. For example:
Gain from SEO = £275,000
SEO investment = £100,000
Difference = £175,000
£175,000 / £100,000 = 1.75
1.75 x 100 = 175% SEO ROI
Put simply, this means that every £1 invested in SEO paid for itself and then generated an additional £1.75 in gain.
Types of B2B SEO investment
In order to work out the ROI you need to know what your gain and investment in SEO are. Sounds obvious right?
For a straightforward ecommerce business selling shoes for example, it’s pretty easy to work out ROI – because the gain is as simple as the value of goods (shoes) sold from customers sourced through SEO activity. You can add ecommerce tracking to your website, assign revenue values to goal completions and away you go – very easy to work out your gains in Google Analytics (although this is a ‘last click’ metric and doesn’t take into account other attribution channels that may have contributed to the sale e.g. social media).
Lead generation B2B sites are a bit different. This is because a website isn’t where a B2B sale is typically completed i.e. for many B2B businesses, sales are initiated when the prospect contacts the company (via form or phone), but sales cycles are often much longer and have multiple touch points.
You therefore need to assign values to different types of conversions – it’s not as straightforward as saying a customer spent £30 on product A therefore our gain is… instead it’s a case of saying a customer submitted an enquiry form to enquire about a particular service and if they convert, they’re worth X amount over the course of their lifetime.
But it’s not just about form submissions, you can also assign values to other types of conversions that are really important to the B2B sales cycle.
For example if you generate loads of eBook downloads using SEO and you know that typically every ten eBook downloads will result in one paying customer, then that helps you work out your ROI.
For example, if the total value of customer (gain) generated from ten eBook downloads = £30,000
And the investment total…
B2B SEO agency consultancy (investment) that led to ten eBook downloads = £5,000
Cost of creating blog and eBook content (investment) = £5,000
Cost of nurturing leads until conversion over six-month period (investment) = £10,000
Then the difference is £10,000
£10,000 / £20,000 = 0.5
0.5 x 100 = 50% SEO ROI
Put simply, this means that every £1 invested in SEO paid for itself and then generated an additional 50p in gain.
The above example is important. Search engine optimisation will typically involve lots of different types of investment from both the agency you hire to support you, as well as your internal resource, whether that be marketing and/or sales.
However, it’s rare you’d employ a B2B SEO agency to focus on a series of eBooks like in the example above. It’s more likely they’d consider your micro conversions (like eBook downloads, webinar registrations and/or newsletter signups) along with macro conversions like consultation form enquiries.
It’s therefore really important to know how much your micro conversions are actually worth. However, it is VERY rare to find B2B organisations that know this. (It’s also rare to find B2B organisations that know what their organic conversion rates are for micro and macro conversions – we’ll come on to that later).
The goal that completes in Google Analytics whenever someone on your site downloads an eBook can then be assigned a £3,000 value and it becomes easy to review your SEO ROI for that particular conversion.
So, let’s take another look at a more realistic B2B SEO ROI calculation over a 12-month period:
Total value of customers from eBook downloads generated from SEO = £30,000
Total value of customers from newsletter signups generated from SEO = £25,000
Total value of customers from webinar registrations generated from SEO = £45,000
Total value of customers from consultation form completions generated from SEO = £250,000
Cost of creating blog, eBook, newsletter, webinar and optimised website content = £35,000
Cost of nurturing leads, until they convert, over six month period = £27,000
Total investment: £177,000
£350,000 – £177,000 = £173,000
SEO ROI calculation
£173,000 / £177,000 = 0.98
0.98 x 100 = 98% SEO ROI
Put simply, this means that every £1 invested in SEO paid for itself and then generated an additional 98p in gain.
So far, we’ve considered B2B SEO’s role as a last click driver of leads i.e. the last thing a prospect does before they become a lead that either needs to be nurtured or converted, is click on an organic search result. But what about SEO’s role in other types of conversion? This is where a B2B organisation needs to consider attribution modelling.
Attribution modelling is basically the decision to assign a marketing channel a particular value. For example, in a linear attribution model every touchpoint in the conversion path shares equal credit for a sale. So, if a qualified lead clicked on a paid Google ad, downloaded an eBook that they found via organic search, visited your website directly and then eventually visited via LinkedIn, before submitting an enquiry form during that session, each of the four channels would be awarded a quarter of the credit.
The attribution model therefore impacts your gain calculation, which then impacts your SEO ROI calculation.
Fundamentally your B2B SEO ROI will be dependent on your keyword rankings. The higher you rank for the right keywords, the more traffic you generate and the more leads you’ll generate. And the ranking gains are significant. Let’s consider a macro conversion example – a prospect landing on your website and submitting a consultation form.
First off, let’s take a single bottom of sales funnel keyword – one that you want your website to rank for because you think it’ll lead to prospects contacting you that you can do business with. Let’s say the keyword is ‘B2B SEO agency’. We want to rank for that because we know someone searching for B2B SEO plus the modifier ‘agency’ is probably looking for an agency and therefore someone we want to talk to.
Let’s say the keyword gets 200 searches a month.
We know that the unbranded click through rate (CTR) for the first placed organic search result is 26% and fifth place CTR is 4.4% (according to March 2022 CTR data from Advanced Web Ranking).
Let’s also say we know that ten percent of the organic visitors to our site will submit an enquiry form.
Let’s say half of those enquiries are qualified and we close half of the qualified leads.
Therefore, if we’re ranking fifth for the keyword then we can expect:
200 x 0.044 (4.4% – the fifth placed organic CTR) = 8.8
0.88 x 12 (months in a year) = 11 (10.56 but let’s round up)
So, if we rank fifth we know we’ll probably generate 11 leads a year. Half of those are qualified (let’s say six) and we close half of those (let’s say three). If we know our average customer lifetime value is £40,000, then ranking fifth for that keyword would generate £120,000 a year in revenue.
If we’ve invested £30,000 of our staff’s time in SEO (we have an hourly rate so we can work this out) then we come back to our profitably calculation:
Gain = £120,000
Investment = £30,000
Difference = £90,000
90,000 (difference) / 30,000 (investment) = 3
3 x 100 = 300% SEO ROI
Put simply, this means that every £1 invested in SEO paid for itself and then generated an additional £3 in gain.
Now let’s adjust the ranking CTR. Let’s say we rank first instead of fifth and enjoy a 26% CTR. Everything else (onsite conversion rate, qualified lead and close rate) remains the same:
200 x 0.26 = 52
52 x 0.1 = 5.2
5.2 x 12 = 62.4
So, if we rank first we know we’ll probably generate 62 leads a year. Half of those are qualified and we close half of those (let’s say 15). If we know our average customer lifetime value is £40,000 then ranking first for that keyword would generate £600,000 in revenue.
If we’ve invested £60,000 of our staff’s time in SEO (we have an hourly rate so we can work this out) then we come back to our profitably calculation:
Gain = £600,000
Investment = £60,000
Difference = £540,000
540,000 (difference) / 60,000 (investment) = 9
9 x 100 = 900% SEO ROI
Put simply, this means that every £1 invested in SEO paid for itself and then generated an additional £9 in gain.
A few final things to consider when working out your ROI:
Different conversion rates for different conversion types
We’ve used an onsite organic conversion rate of ten percent (the percentage of your organic website visitors that convert i.e. submit an enquiry form) in our calculations.
However, yours might be lower or indeed higher. Your conversion rate is also going to be different depending on the type of conversion you’re measuring. For example, you might find a lower percentage of organic visitors download your eBooks.
Conversion rate is driven in large part by intent. If someone’s searched for a keyword related to one of your services then it’s likely they have an immediate need and will submit an enquiry. However, if they entered the site after searching in Google for the answer to a question, then the conversion rate will likely depend on whether or not you answer their question without them having to download anything.
Conversion rate optimisation
It’s possible to improve the ROI of B2B SEO (and any other online marketing disciple) by improving your onsite conversion rate. This is called conversion rate optimisation (CRO). If you want to learn more about that, read Making Websites Win.
If ten percent of your organic visitors submit consultation forms, then think about the knock-on impact if you managed to move that number by a couple of percent by investing in CRO. In our original example we considered the impact of ranking first for a keyword with 200 searches at a conversion rate of ten percent. Let’s shift that rate by two percent:
200 x 0.26 = 52
52 x 0.12 = 6.24
6.24 x 12 = 75 (74.88)
So by improving the conversion rate from 10 to 12 percent we can increase leads generated by 12. If half of those are qualified and we convert half of the qualified leads then that’s an additional three deals per year. If each deal is worth £40,000 then that’s an additional £120,000 a year in revenue for a conversion rate improvement of two percent. Certainly worth an investment in CRO!
Paid vs organic
The disparity between what brands invest in paid search and organic search is jaw-dropping. Think about your investment. If you’re pumping hundreds of thousands into PPC then consider what impact diverting some of that funding into B2B SEO will have.
Yes, pay per click offers greater certainty, but there is ultimately substantially more value in investments in organic search. It is important however, to consider how long SEO takes – unlike PPC it doesn’t deliver immediate results and your ROI will improve the longer you continue to invest, as that investment will result in keyword ranking, organic traffic, lead and qualified lead increases.
Talk to our SEO team to discuss a B2B SEO strategy for your business or click here to get back to the top of the page.
Choosing the right B2B SEO provider
Ironically enough, finding a good B2B SEO agency can be incredibly difficult. This is because they all tend to promise the same things: a position on page one, within the top five results, for every pertinent keyword. If they weren’t doing this, you get the distinct feeling they’d be peddling love potions and all-natural cure-alls.
Search for a B2B SEO agency in the UK alone and you’ll get thousands of results. You definitely don’t have the time to go through all of them. Given the nature of the topic, it’s tempting to just pick the very first one – after all it’s a poor cobbler who can’t keep their children in decent shoes!
But it’s a bit knottier than that. Unlike bog standard SEO, B2B SEO isn’t solely about optimising the HTML and keyword content on your site. The Panda and Penguin updates both talk about the importance of original, relevant, and regularly updated content for websites that want high-ranking positions, so having a good supply of great material will be more important than ever. Choosing an agency that can provide this (probably based on their sector experience and expertise) – and a steady stream of high-quality links – should be at the forefront of your mind, along with these key questions.
Can the agency produce well written, keyword-rich content?
Essentially: does the agency have the know-how and authority to write for the business you operate in and maintain your brand reputation? Using keywords as though they were jigsaw pieces isn’t going to do it. It’s about strategically deploying original content and news to demonstrate that your business can be trusted. Get them to show you their content templates and talk you through the content creation process: IT WILL involve them quizzing your subject matter experts!
Does the agency have its ear to the ground?
A good agency is an up-to-date agency: one that knows the ‘trending stories’, the hot topics, the hippest lingo – all the relevant, need-to-know industry information that could potentially increase engagement with your visitors and prospective customers. New tactics and factors for consideration are detailed every week by Google – your agency should be reading the right blogs, listening to the right podcasts and watching the right YouTube videos (get them to show you).
How proactive is the agency when it comes to keyword research?
SEO isn’t a one-and-done process. Optimising your site for current, high-volume, lead-gen search terms is part of the job description: everyone does it. Finding an agency that makes use of all relevant data – trend reports, social analysis, etc. – to attract a different kind of prospect or find a new, potentially breakout search term? That’s an entirely different proposition.
The ones that will give you lasting success are the ones that will stay ahead of the competition. SEO is an ongoing process – the agency that can deliver real results will be the one that uses all the analytical tools in its arsenal to deliver a continually-optimised keyword research strategy.
Are they technically competent?
While the advent of SEO-friendly CMSs and plugins like Yoast have massively reduced the level of technical expertise required for B2B SEO, the agency you chose should still know their hreflang tags from their canonicals and their JSON-LD from their 301 redirects. You’re not expected to know much about this but you should expect them to break it all down into understandable chunks so you have a better idea of what needs to be done and why.
Will the agency integrate the SEO campaign with other digital marketing and communications campaigns that you’ve invested in?
As fresh, interesting, user-focused content grows in importance for SEO, it’s essential that the content produced remains consistent with the overall brand message and image presented in your other digital marketing campaigns. Hiring an agency that is familiar with your industry and that can provide an integrated digital marketing and communications service that considers SEO, social media and PR should be at the top of your business’ list.
Keywords are important, but unless they’re surrounded by good, relevant content, they’re essentially pointless. Google knows what users are looking for, and it recognises sneaky webmasters. It’s not yet able to see you when you’re sleeping, and it doesn’t know when you’re awake (unless you own a Fitbit), but it’s only a matter of time. All your content should be keyword-optimised, on-brand, and on-message: go for a service that can balance all these priorities in an integrated marketing strategy.
Search engine optimisation is a rapidly evolving field, and B2B organisations need to ensure they work with providers that can balance technical skills with business insights and the ability to create compelling content.
In almost every industry, investing in quality B2B SEO will deliver direct and measurable benefits in the form of website visits and, most importantly, qualified leads.
Selecting an agency is a bit like falling in love or finding a good burger place: it takes time, but you’ll know the one when you see it. And it’s always worth it in the end.