B2B marketers may have felt the sting of the move to an all-digital purchase path a bit more strongly than many other marketers. With a heavy reliance on in-person sales, the move to digital meant disrupting high-value decisions that can take weeks, months, or even years to close.
What’s worse, business buyers are likely shifting their habits for the long term. With search as a leading channel before the pandemic, it’s now emerging as the absolute must-have for B2B marketers. While many already have some search strategies in place, now is the time to reach for the next level.
Search Rises in Importance
Business buyers spend 27% of their time researching independently online—more than any other activity in the buyer journey—and it’s likely to increase as the result of long-term changes due to COVID-19. Many business decision-makers don’t feel that it’s necessary to talk to a salesperson to make a purchase. In fact, 97% said that they’ll make a purchase online without sales support, and most would be very comfortable spending as much as $50,000.
Depending on how well-prepared B2B marketers were for the rise of digital in 2020, the past year could have exposed gaping holes in their digital marketing approach or helped them capture new business from brands that were further behind. Moving forward, a sure bet for maintaining competitive relevance online is to focus on enhancing both their search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM) tactics. Without a good search marketing strategy, many other parts of online marketing are left lacking.
Creating a Strong Search Foundation
Search is a complex beast. Part paid advertising, part content strategy, B2B marketers need to ensure that both SEO and SEM practices are buffed and shined to gather the highest possible amount of real estate on a given search engine results page (SERP.) Search isn’t an afterthought that should be tacked on after a site design or handed to an agency. It’s the glue that binds each individual customer touchpoint, including social, blogs, webinars and white papers.
In many cases, I see a scenario where SEO and SEM aren’t considered to be part of the whole customer experience, and so marketers deal with them differently and through different marketing groups (or sometimes by separate agencies.)
Paid search is actually an effective testing ground for messaging, links and content that should also be used on organic search (and, for that matter, on the ecommerce site, social media, and other marketing channels).
A/B testing, using Google Adwords, is a fast and effective way to narrow in on the best messaging and landing pages for different keywords. Yet, a lot of B2B marketers fail to apply these learnings to their organic results, let alone anywhere else. Similarly, Google’s Keyword Planner isn’t only a good tool for finding competitive keywords to bid on, it can help inform what keywords can be used on an ecommerce site to make the site’s user experience more relevant.
Searching for the A+
There is always that one competitor company that seems to be, well, everywhere. The reason is that they have prioritized search marketing across everything they do. The good news is that, when done well, this becomes a natural part of business. Search isn’t just about algorithms and bidding strategies (although that helps.) The best search strategies are built on a solid foundation of genuinely relevant and helpful content. For top search marketers, that content has some key attributes:
- Timeliness—Creating evergreen e-books is great, but it’s not going to move the needle for the most relevant or competitive keywords. However, having a timely blog post about a new innovation or bit of big news not only helps with search, but it also is relevant for business buyers.
- Variety—Blog post after blog post can be good, but blog post after video after infographic is better—much better. Videos offer more real estate on the SERP and are highly engaging. Infographics are easy to share and show up on image searches. For search, and for searchers, variety really is the spice of life.
- Connectivity—Having links to and from content on an ecommerce site helps with search results, and is, well, helpful. Point to a great guide with a link, credit sources and add a link, share big news—and add a link!
Socialize for Success
Speaking of connectivity, search and social should be connected—social media activity factors into search rankings. Social marketing follows many similar patterns to search marketing—plus it has the bonus of enhanced audience targeting—and so lessons for each can be applied across the two channels.
Marketers can also use social media to forge relationships with clients, thought leaders and partners, and remain active communicators and sharers. It’s essential to make an effort to foster a two-way engagement on social media and try to avoid the robotic push of content every time something new comes out. Comment, like, and share other posts as well. Involve as many people in the company as possible.
In that same vein, partners can be a great search asset in another way. By guest posting on a partner site, or being mentioned as a speaker for a webinar, social mentions go up, and natural search rankings improve.
Ultimately, A+ search strategy in 2021 is about creating that same welcoming, communicative, and helpful environment that marketers have been perfecting for so many years in person and on the phone. Sure, great technology can help with scale and automation, but the foundation is set in quality output and genuine participation in the market dialogue.
Mo Awad is vice president, search, at digital marketing agency MeritB2B. Follow him on Twitter @MoAwadMarketing.