Many B2B marketers see organic search as a solution to just one piece of the sales funnel, but that’s an insufficient view of things.
“Organic search really can be used throughout the sales funnel,” says Jim McKinley, principal of 360Partners. This means that marketers need to step back and see the bigger picture—the one beyond short-lived successes and taking advantage of the ever-shrinking loopholes in Google’s algorithm. This also means that when marketers think of “search,” “content” should be the very next word to come to mind.
The Components of Search Marketing
Search marketing comprises two main buckets, paid and organic, according to Ric Dragon, CEO of DragonSearch, who will be speaking with McKinley at B2B LeadsCon Aug. 14-15 on maximizing organic search. “Paid search, for many business types, can behave as a sort of faucet that can be turned on and off, or reduced to a small stream, to bring in leads when other channels have slowed down,” he says. “This is often a great tool in businesses with seasonality. Of course, those leads can be costly and competitive.”
Organic (or natural) search, on the other hand, can bring in leads over a long period of time at a minimal cost. “Instead of $5 a visitor, the cost might be reduced to pennies,” Dragon says. “Done well, it can also develop momentum wherein your website develops more and more authority, so that over time, you gain a leadership position in your content type.”
The sales funnel comprises four main sections, according to McKinley—awareness, research, negotiation and purchase.
“A lot of the focus around organic search is really at a narrow sliver of that,” he says, noting many B2B marketers see organic search as relevant only to the research part of the funnel.
The truth is that SEO isn’t just helpful for getting people into the sales funnel—once they’re in the funnel, it’s a “vehicle to assist not only with lead generation but with closing the sale as well,” McKinley says.
“It’s important to understand how people use search,” Dragon says. Searchers rarely go through the straightforward process of wanting something, conducting a search, finding it and buying it. “There are often cycles of research that people do, even passing information to others in the organization. Think through the entire decision and influence cycle of your audience, and find where you can create meaningful value.”
Creating that kind of value means B2B marketers need to match searchers up with the right content. So, for example, if a marketer knows that someone has a problem that they need solved, they shouldn’t send them to a products or features page. These searchers should be sent to content that addresses and frames their problem and possible solutions before putting them on the right path into the conversion funnel.
“Before you think about specific factors or tactics or anything like that, what you really want to do is think first about creating trust with users and Google,” McKinley says. This requires high-quality content or a high-qualify offering. If you don’t have these things in place, “having great tactics is not going to build a long-term business.”
Marketers who get laser-focused on specific tactics to win in search lose sight of the bigger picture. Google aims to provide its users with the most relevant answer to their question. Marketers who don’t have this same mindset will wind up doing a lot of wacky things, according to McKinley.
Assuming a company has quality content that answers pertinent questions asked by their target audience and a good offering to back it up, McKinley says there are main three factors for successfully leveraging organic search to drive B2B leads:
1) The technical architecture of your website. According to McKinley, the key question to ask here is, “Is your website easily readable and understandable by end users?”
2) Having quality content that is organized in a way that’s easily understandable by Google and end users.
3) The authority of your website.
In light of those key factors, here are five things that B2B marketers need to remember in order to best utilize organic search for their lead-gen purposes.
Title Tags and Meta Descriptions
One of the most overlooked tactics that McKinley sees from audits of B2B websites is the use of title tags and meta descriptions. The title tag is basically the signal that the site sends to Google informing the search engine what the page is about, according to McKinley. The meta description is a way to summarize a page’s content and is sometimes used in Google’s search results snippets. For B2B marketers more familiar with PPC ads, McKinley says they should write title tags and meta descriptions the same way they would write PPC ad copy.
A big mistake marketers make is writing bland meta descriptions. They need to remember that the goal is to compel a searcher to click on your page in their search results, and this requires a compelling title tag, meta description and call to action. Even if a site’s ranking doesn’t improve, writing effective title tags and meta descriptions will yield more clicks and engagement, McKinley says.
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Another finding from McKinley’s audits of B2B websites is that about 30 percent of them don’t have an XML sitemap, which is basically a map that’s generated and uploaded to Google and other search engines to show them the layout of a site.
Not having an XML sitemap is the “equivalent of dropping someone off in the middle of New York City and saying, ‘Map out the city now’ or ‘Find your way around without any sort of map or guidance’,” McKinley explains. The good news is that a sitemap can usually be generated in about 20 minutes.
A Proper Perspective on Link Building
“A lot of times, people equate organic search strictly with link building,” McKinley says. While link building is, indeed, a powerful tool, B2B marketers need to know why they’re doing it.
For many marketers, link building is like taking a bunch of vitamins, according to McKinley. That’s fine, but it’s better if marketers know what they’re specifically trying to accomplish.
He explains that in the past, the emphasis was on quantity – e.g., registering a site with 500 free directories. But Google has figured out those kinds of tactics and has discounted their effectiveness to zero. Today, the most traction in link building is achieved by focusing on quality over quantity.
“Getting links from high-quality resources or other information sources in your industry is what is going to help you succeed long-term, as opposed to trying to get 5,000 in 30 days,” McKinley says.
The way McKinley and his company phrase Google’s mission is: “Try to present the relevant content or the most helpful content to the user based on a particular search query.”
While the search engine’s algorithm to achieve that goal isn’t perfect and sometimes presents marketers and site owners with weaknesses they can take advantage of, Google is getting better and better at refining its algorithm and closing up those open doors quickly, McKinley says.
Some sites that try to squeeze the most out of those fleeting loopholes in Google’s algorithm find that they lose 60-90 percent of their traffic overnight because they focused so heavily on that one aspect of Google’s secret ranking formula.
“Gaming the system might provide short-term benefits, but in the long run, that benefit will always dissipate and even become a risk,” Dragon says.
This shift away from quantity and toward quality demands a refreshed view of what link building looks like today.
The Rise of Content Marketing
The new perspective on link building has led to a huge trend: content marketing. Content marketing, McKinley explains, is the creation of high-value content on a variety of topics that are interesting to people in your industry looking for a solution to a question they have.
“When you create meaningful content, your audience will naturally share that content with one another, and there will be more signals pointing to your content as being trustworthy and authoritative,” according to Dragon. “All of this will mean that you show up in search results more often and build an even larger audience.”
Dragon cites Unilever’s “The Real Truth About Beauty” report as a good example of content marketing. B2B companies that follow suit can use similar research on important issues in their industries to craft videos, white papers, blog posts and books. “It can become the de facto source of journalists investigating the issue, insuring that it is quoted in countless articles.”
B2B marketers should also remember the importance of “passion points” in their content marketing. Dragon says a passion point “is a concept that is shared by a larger community but not self-promotional.” GE, for example, celebrates invention, ingenuity and innovation. The company uses these values to share content and participate in conversations without being blatantly self-promotional.
A Look to the Social Future
“Social media will continue to become an even more vital component in the marketing ecosystem, even in B2B,” Dragon says. He notes social media’s increasing importance as a factor in SEO, and how social and SEO are converging to create an environment of relevance and context.
“Social media will become less of destination as it becomes ubiquitous and woven into the fabric of life – it will become less visible but still present,” according to Dragon.
He foresees a world where more and more people voluntarily share their sentiments and personal data, creating “datasets of historically unprecedented proportions.” This will give marketers a nearly endless supply of information at their fingertips.
“The beautiful, wonderful challenge will be for us to imagine how we can use that data to create real and sustainable value.”