Is Search Engine Marketing cost-effective enough to increase profits for B2B marketers?

You bet, and here's why. It's always been conventional wisdom that the fastest and most efficient way to research products and pricing is on the Web. Recently, Enquiro and Marketing Sherpa have documented survey research on the role of search engines in B2B transactions.

B2B transactions are unique

As you know, B2B transactions differ from most consumer transactions, because these decisions require coordination among several personnel before the final transaction. Therefore, the process requires some time between researching the product and placing the order. In other words, it's an ongoing process rather than a quick decision.

Enquiro's "The Role of Search in Business to Business Buying Decisions" is a well-designed study of approximately 1,500 participants who responded to a 40-question survey about B2B buying habits. You can download the entire report for free. But here are a few highlights:

  • When participants were asked to indicate how they would go about making a B2B purchase, 93.2% said they would research the purchase online.

  • When asked if they would use a search engine at some point in this task, 95.5% of participants said they would.

  • When asked where they would start their search for information, 63.9% of participants chose a search engine over consumer review sites, e-commerce sites, manufacturer's sites, and industry portals.

  • When taking budget into consideration, manufacturer's sites and industry portals were the chosen starting place as budgets increased. However, 86.9% of participants said they would visit a search engine after visiting those sites.

Search engines dominate

The study is too rich with details to cover in this article. But here are some important conclusions:

  • Search engines play a dominant role in B2B purchases.

  • Search engines are used in the early or mid research phase in the buying cycle.

  • Google is favored over other search engines.

  • Search engine research takes place at least one to two months before the buying decision.

  • Good balance between organic and paid search is necessary. Organic SEO gets over 70% of the clicks.

  • Position is a factor, with over 60% clicking on the top three listings.

  • Most users decide which listing to click on within seconds of scanning the page.

With all this qualified traffic originating from search engines, it is more important than ever for B2B marketers, wholesalers and B2B exchanges to ensure that their Web sites are correctly optimized for good positioning in search results. There is also great value in SEO/SEM as a marketing tool.

It's a user-friendly tool

Search engine traffic is highly targeted. That's because potential buyers who find your B2B offerings through search engines are looking for your products and services on their own; as a result, they are predisposed to hear your marketing message. You can't find a more qualified prospect than that.

Here's what distinguishes search engine marketing from other types of advertising:

  1. It is non-intrusive. Search marketing is a non-intrusive marketing tool. Most advertising, both online and offline, interrupts consumer behavior. If a user goes to a Web site for info, up pops an intrusive ad. Reading a newspaper? Ads dominate and force articles to be continued on another page. With search engine marketing, the user is actively seeking your products, services, and information. They are delighted to be driven to your site.

  2. It is voluntary. Search marketing is the result of user-originated behavior. Your visitors from search engines and directories have voluntarily clicked on your listing rather than any competitor's; thus, they are motivated to explore your offerings.

Which engines do users like?

Google rules, of course. But other search engines are becoming very competitive in trying to narrow the gap. This is due to the increasing potential revenues from paid search ads and the growing awareness that search is an integral part of consumer behavior.

Yahoo! has been persistent in improving its core services and coming up with innovations such as the map that shows you where the local diner is. It has consistently developed its shopping search, local search, travel search and video search.

MSN is third in line with a 16.5% share of US Web searches. Google enjoys a 34.4% share. Yahoo! has a 31.8% share (November 2004 figures from com Score).

MSN finally launched its own search engine technology February 1, eliminating the Yahoo! results, except for the Overture-sponsored links. A huge advertising campaign hopes to dazzle users and increase market share. SEO guru Danny Sullivan says he doesn't see anything beyond what Google, Yahoo!, and AskJeeves offer. (See his thorough review in this article.)

What else do you need to know?

How good is the ROI? How effective is search engine marketing and optimization for B2B? What are the key-points to consider regarding a B2B search engine optimization and marketing plan? Please join me next month for Part 2, when we examine the answers to these questions.

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Paul J. Bruemmer is founder of trademarkSEO ( Reach him at