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LeeOddenSales cycles are different when we research purchasing decisions on behalf of companies and this podcast is devoted to explaining why, how and what it takes to search engine optimize content for business to business customers. 
 
You’ll learn about B2B keyword discovery, how B2B sales cycles impact search optimization strategy, aligning keyword selection with marketing strategy, how to leverage off-message search phrases and much more with Lee Odden, president of Top Rank Marketing.
 
SHOW NOTES
 
01:37 – B2B SEO is quite different than B2C SEO, according to Lee Odden.  The B2B sales cycle is often much longer than B2C sales cycles.  When business buyers are researching an intended purchase, the keywords they search online tend to be much more exploratory, general and broad, as they educate themselves about the procuring a specific service, product or solution.  And as they drill down and get closer to making an actual decision, their search queries get much more specific and focused.
 
03:32 – Attract customers at the beginning and end of the sales cycle by examining the marketing and public relations activities that are already underway, and look for opportunities where you can apply search engine optimization.  For example, if a company identifies and creates original content on its website based on broader, research oriented terms, and starts to acquire inbound links embedded against those terms as anchor text on other websites, their website is more likely to get found through search when a potential customer starts getting educated to make a purchase and that’s how they’d SEO their website to get found at the beginning of the buying cycle.
 
04:40 – “At the same time, maybe that same company is publishing a blog, and there are a mix of keywords that represent more long tail or niche terms that are more specific.  And the content strategy, or the content plan for the blog, can make sure that it creates content using those niche keywords over time.  And, of course, each of those blog posts that’s about a niche topic would link back over to the product page so that people who discover that topic or that content through search can click-through and arrive over on a sales page to interact with a call to action like download a whitepaper, sign up for a webinar or contact us for a consultation,” says Lee.
 
06:14 – Keyword selection should be consistent with marketing objectives, messaging and demand.  If a company’s marketing strategy is to undercut a premium brand on price, we might try adding modifiers like “cheap” or “discount” to the search phrase to see if people are actually searching those phrases and if they are, optimize the website content for those terms, get links and try to rank for those affordability-related versions of the more general, broader keywords.  If a category isn’t well known, if there isn’t much demand for these types of keywords, that’s where companies might apply convention PR and advertising to generate more demand for those queries.
 
09:09 – Sometime the high volume keyword that people associate with a particular concept biased.  For example, the impact of carbon emissions on the environment might be described as climate change or global warming.  The demand for global warming versus climate change is more than two to one.  But climate change is considered a more politically correct, safer phrase.  Search engine optimization is about embracing popular language, but according to Lee, it’s very difficult to convince clients to embrace popular language when that language conflicts with their existing brand messaging.  As I write these show notes, my thought is a company that cannot embrace the lexicon by which it has come to be known in popular language is a company in denial, because its image is misaligned with its perception.
 
09:15 – But if clients are adverse to embracing the terms by which they are known, incorporating that language in blogs, tweets and status updates that link to them is one way to SEO their website for alternative messaging that’s inconsistent with their existing brand message.  In this type of scenario, the content on a blog might be intentionally written in a more informal tone, so as not to compete with the more formal brand messaging on the company’s corporate site. For example, you might create a blog post that’s an argument for the use of “climate change” over “global warming” which would require the use of both terms, and which could be optimized for the latter term.
 
11:07 – When you’re doing keyword research for search engine optimization, you use tools that quantify the search demand for and competitiveness of a certain phrase.  But you also need to validate those keywords in social media, to see if the phrases people use when they’re searching for something are the same ones they use in social media when they conversing with others about that subject.  Don’t assume those phrases are the same.
 
12:15 – Ultimately, keyword effectiveness is validated by the sites analytics.  Are the keywords you’re working to draw traffic against listing on your web stats?  Are people visiting your landing pages and tasking the intended action?
 
14:45 – SEO newbies tend to try and cram all the keywords they can into their text, thinking that by saying the same thing a bunch of different ways, their page will be seen as more relevant.  But readability is more important than repetition. If you’ve keyword stuffed your document to the point that it reads silly, you’ve lost because even of that page does wind up ranking high, it’s going to have a very high bounce rate.  Instead, Lee prefers to map keywords according to website categories.  He creates a long list of phrases that’s organized according to popularity, competitiveness and relevance, and then decides which pages on the website those terms should be linked to.  Then, he varies the usage of the those terms evenly across whatever content gets SEOed and that way he can still use all those terms, but without cramming them into a single document.  Lee cautions users about going after just high volume keywords.  Instead, focus of those words and phrases with the greatest probability of conversion.
keyword-selection
 
17:59 – Matching up the keywords with the analytics is how you validate keywords and phrases.  Analytics will also reveal trends and show you the seasonality of your phrases.  And just as media relations pros attempt to position press releases as riffs off the popular news of the day, search engine optimization initiatives can take a similar approach, and your analytics show you were those potential opportunities are.  If relevant terms lack significant volume, keep in mind there are other activities that can drive search demand, so when you’re launching a new product, use your mainstream sales and marketing to drive demand and be careful not to sacrifice relevancy for volume because you’ll be tapping into traffic that unlikely to result in sales.
 
19:16 – Ultimately -- and particularly in B2B SEO -- keyword relevance is more important than popularity, because relevant terms and phrases have a greater probability of conversion.
 
23:29 --  Enquiro research suggesting that while people may go move from broad phrase to niche phrase research as they progress through online buying cycle, they often go back to broad phrase research before they make their final decision, to confirm their intended purchase.  And for this reason, Lee says you can’t base a B2B SEO strategy on just broad or niche terms.  You need both.
 
Follow up question:  Is there any research out there suggesting that in the case of considered purchases, buyers are more likely to revert to broad phrase search at the end of their online research phrase?  Also, are the broad phrases keywords they revert to the same ones they started with, or do those broad phrases tend to change as they become more informed about the category they’re researching?
 
24:05 – But website design and content strategy also impact purchasing decisions.  More often than not, B2B products and services are not one-size-fits-all.  The buyer may need technical information or product specifications to select a compatible, interoperable product to meet their specific needs.  A website that makes it easier to choose the right product by having that information available and easy-to-use may wind up landing the sale over a higher-ranked website if that website hasn’t invested the time in making that content accessible online. 
 
24:15 – “Increasingly, the social web comes into play, because there are many more opportunities to develop relationships, where search is the initial discovery mechanism, [which is different from] what B2B marketers were using search for in years past.
 
25:00 – Whether for B2B or B2C, there are different types of research to be done.  There’s keyword research, which is identifying phrases based on the audience you’re trying to market to.  Competitive research is about understanding who is currently ranking for the phrases you want to rank for, and determining whether or not they’re vulnerable to being toppled.  Not all of them will be real world competitors.  In the B2B space, there are a lot of academic and government institutions with top ranks that topically, might compete with your commercial website.  There’s also research on link building and link acquisition to determine who’s linking to top ranked sites so you can see who’s propping up those influential websites with inbound links. There’s also content archetype research, which endeavors to determine what type of content tends to travel in your category, so that organizations can anticipate the type of content most likely to stimulate discussion and generate inbound links.  And you can often figure out what type of content is most popular by searching specific social media services to see what gets talked about most.  And then analyze the syntax, the language and page layout and you can start to see the trends about what type of content resonates best in your community.
 
29:16 – In terms of just how important to technical aspects of SEO are versus just having great content, Lee says it’s a question of competiveness.  In moderately competitive scenarios, having great content alone may be enough. So it’s important to develop enough channels of distribution so that when you publish your content, people know about it.  And that’s achieved through RSS, email, blogs, status updates and other social media.
 
30:18 – “Having great content is important but if people don’t know about it, they’ll never link to it,” says Lee.  “Links and content are the ying and yang of an effective SEO program.”  When you get into a competitive category that is where fine tuning the technical aspects of SEO, like titles tags, Meta data, page load speed, HTML and template optimization become most important.  Just like a swimmer shaves their bodies to be just a smidge faster, in the ultra competitive categories of SEO, these factors become increasingly important.
 
Follow Up Question:  Is there any research to support that the less the total sales volume of a given product or category, the less competitive a search category is, or is competitiveness driven by other factors?  I wonder of niche B2B SEO plays are less competitive.  But I also wonder, if it’s so uncompetitive, is it really worthwhile?  And lastly, what about professional or consulting services?  Are prospects less likely to purchase these types of services without a personal recommendation from someone they know?
 
31:44 – Erik Deutsch of Excel PR asks via Twitter, “Are inbound links from news releases less valuable in Google’s eyes than links from other pages?”  Is there anything about links form news releases specifically that will either increase or decrease the value of that link?
 
32:06 – More than anything, what Google’s going to look at is the flow of page rank for other pages to your particular page.  So the objective is lure as many inbound links are you can to your press release, and then use a link from your press release to raise the rank of a corresponding landing page.
 
33:44 – It’s a mistake to evaluate the value of links from sources as a snapshot in time.  Content that gets inbound links over time grows in influence accordingly.  Lee says those inbound links are like electricity, and that electricity can be passed on to whatever it is its linking to.
 
34:43 -- “The bulk of SEO value from submitting a release over any wire service isn’t so much the version that’s hosted by the wire service, which many wire services will expire unless you pay more money.  The SEO value comes when other websites copy that press release.  And if you’ve been smart about including the right kinds of links in that press release in the first place, the duplication, the syndication of that press release on other websites will result in unique inbound  from different domain names.  Hopefully from domains that publish relevant content,” says Lee.
 
citation-indexing
 
36:26 – In terms of how SEO is changing, it’s getting tougher and the lines between links referenced in social media and webpages is blurred.  What becoming increasingly important is understanding the value of social media optimization.  For search engine optimization, we can use conventional tactics and leverage social media for link acquisition.  “But the search that happens behind the login on Facebook or MySpace or even Linkedin is increasingly going to be important.  So I think folks need to consider optimizing content within social networks,” says Lee.  “There’s so much content within social networks it’s becoming increasingly important to sort signal to noise, so I think companies will do well to consider keywords when optimizing their social content,” he continues.
 
37:58  – End
 
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ABOUT THE PODCASTER
 
@EricSchwartzman provides online communication training, strategy and governance to public relations, public affairs, corporate communications and marketing specialists. He has extensive experience integrating emerging information technologies into organizational communications programs through public speaking, hands-on training seminars, consulting and the development of corporate policies on social media usage. His clients have included Boeing, BYU, City National Bank, Environmental Defense Fund, Government of Singapore, Johnson & Johnson, Southern California Edison, Toyota, UCLA, US Dept. of State, United States Army, US Embassy of Athens, the United States Marine Corps and many small to medium-sized companies and agencies.
 
Schwartzman is currently co-authoring a book on business-to-business social media communications with Paul Gillin, to be published by Wiley in Fall 2010. He is the instructor behind PRSA’s top-rated social media and emerging treads training seminars, the Social Media Boot Camp and the Social Media Master Class, which are offered monthly in the US through PRSA. Since 2005, he has been producing the weekly, award-winning public relations podcast “On the Record…Online” (@ontherecord) about how technology is changing the way organizations communicate, the official podcast of the PRSA International Conference for the past three consecutive years.
 
On the Record…Online is the Official PR Podcast of the 2010 PRSA International Conference.  Subscribe via RSS or follow us on Twitter @ontherecord.


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