Old-school B2B search engine optimization (SEO) was about getting traffic immediately by gaming algorithms and ranking well for certain keywords. Today the definition of SEO has changed, and this requires businesses to take a much more holistic view of things, according to Jim McKinley, principal of 360Partners.
Old vs. New
In the early days of SEO, search algorithms weren’t as complicated, which made them easier to cheat with certain tactics. Also, many markets weren’t competitive, making it easy for active companies to rule search engine results pages (SERPs). Lastly, “users had low expectations about what they wanted in an experience,” said McKinley at a session during the recent B2B LeadsCon conference in New York.
However, the search landscape has changed dramatically since then: algorithms are much more sophisticated, thanks to heavy investments by Google; most markets are more competitive, since everyone is cognizant of SEO and taking action; users have higher expectations of their search and website experience, especially regarding how quickly they can get the information they want; and marketers and C-level executives now realize that more traffic doesn’t guarantee more customers and revenue.
The New SEO
In light of all those changes, SEO should now stand for “search experience optimization,” according to McKinley. “You have to think about things not only from the beginning but all the way through to revenue.”
He highlighted five key links in the new SEO chain:
- Lead form
“If any part, any one of these links in the chain is broken, it will fail – you will not see revenue on the back end,” McKinley said. “You may get traffic, but if you don’t engage your users, you will not see leads and you will not see revenue.”
B2B companies should become visible on search engines across a wide range of keywords and at all stages of the buying funnel (i.e., awareness, research, negotiation, purchase and post-sale).
McKinley noted that many companies focus their efforts on the research portion of the funnel, since that’s where leads are captured. However, focusing on the awareness stage beforehand and the negotiation, purchase and post-sale sections of the funnel afterward is also crucial.
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“A person’s search for information doesn’t stop with them filling out a lead form,” McKinley said.
The No. 1 position in SERPs will still get the most clicks – that hasn’t changed. However, SEO also involves maximizing the real estate of a SERP. Pay-per-click (PPC) ads and authorship markups, in addition to organic search positions, can attract clicks on SERPs, according to McKinley.
He added that title tags and meta descriptions demand the same level of thought and commitment as copy written for PPC ads. “You need to have value propositions, why someone would be interested in your company or why the information you have is relevant to your query, calls to action, etc. It’s not just about stuffing keywords or filling out the space, but you’ve got to sell the click in 156 characters.”
Once a user clicks a link, they’d better be sent to the most appropriate page on your site, which for most companies isn’t their home page.
McKinley calls this “search query-to-content pairing”: “You’re pairing people up to the most relevant content on your website for what the user is searching for.”
This link in the SEO chain also requires placing a strong call to action (CTAs) in front of visitors. Taking people to the most relevant page on your site is akin to taking them to a dead end if there’s nowhere to go next.
“Generally, simple is better than longer,” McKinley said about lead forms. He noted that lead forms are often a point of contention between sales and marketing, since sales wants to know in-depth details that make their job easier. But the more fields you require a visitor to fill in, the lower the conversion rates.
Users must also know what the payoff is for submitting a lead form, since SEO is a dialogue. In other words, B2B companies need to give visitors a reason to give them their personal information.
“SEO fails if you don’t get people to take the action that you want,” McKinley said.
The True Goal
“The lead is not the goal,” according to McKinley. How quickly sales contacts a lead, the number of times a lead is contacted and the consistency of the messaging are all priorities that need to be optimized before getting into SEO.
“Pouring water into a bucket with a bunch of holes in it isn’t going to be successful at the end of the day,” he said.
A truly powerful baseball or golf swing happens only when you follow through. “It’s the same thing with SEO,” McKinley said. “It’s not only about getting visibility or getting traffic, but it’s engaging the user, leading them to the proper action you want them to take and then finally putting them into a well-honed sales process.”