I'm in the business of search engine marketing, so it's sometimes easy to forget that many people don't really know that the industry exists, how useful it is in business-to-business (B2B) marketing, and what a valuable marketing tool search engine optimization (SEO) can be.
However, a disturbing number of business executives, as well, would not be able to tell the difference between SEO Outsourcing and REO Speedwagon (though most would probably agree that neither sounds particularly good*).
In fact, when I explain that I work at a search engine optimization company that focuses in part on B2B marketing, most people instantly assume that I have a search engine of my own and I am somehow trying to compete with Google. I'm flattered—until I see the pity in their eyes.
Even those familiar with SEO have common misconceptions about its value in B2B marketing. Frequently, I encounter prospects who understand that achieving a high ranking on a search engine is a valuable marketing tool that can make an impact on the bottom line of a business, but they mistakenly believe that that is actually the case only if the business sells something online.
Not so. Though e-commerce companies can and do benefit tremendously from SEO as a marketing tool, many aspects of SEO actually favor B2B companies in terms of overall benefit from the channel.
Large e-commerce sites have thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands, of individual product pages. While performing SEO on such sites does not (thank goodness) involve manipulation of all those pages, each page element that will be used for SEO benefit (titles, headers, text, and meta tags) have to be painstakingly entered into a database. It is very rare to find that the existing database that a company has for each of its products contains all the elements necessary to use SEO as a successful marketing tool.
Once all of these elements have been added to the database, it is then necessary to make certain that the server is performing as it should. Then, you must ensure that each of the pages can be crawled by the search engine spider; so, often, the linking structure must be manipulated.
Using SEO as a marketing tool in B2B marketing is typically much easier, because a standard B2B site is usually built using simpler technology, and the individual pages physically exist on the server. In this case, each page is optimized for a few terms relevant to the business.
While a good SEO firm will spend more time on the marketing aspects of a B2B campaign (the overall goals of the initiative and the keyphrases that will bring the right kind of visitors to the site), the actual implementation of the elements necessary for SEO success is usually much simpler.
Average Dollar Sale
There is a practical price limit, which varies from industry to industry, beyond which people become uncomfortable buying online. B2B companies typically have a higher average dollar sale than e-commerce Web sites, which makes it much easier to justify the cost of any effective B2B marketing tool.
While a visit to an e-commerce site might result in revenues of $12 from the purchase of a coffee mug, a visitor to a high-end B2B website is potentially worth millions. It does not take an Alan Greenspan to crunch the numbers: the higher the average dollar sale, the fewer visitors you need to actually justify the cost of SEO as a B2B marketing tool (provided that a certain number of visitors actually lead to a sale).
Value of Relationship
The people who run e-commerce sites such as Amazon.com are incredibly smart, and they know that almost all of the products they sell online are highly commoditized. And because they are trying to develop lifetime buyers, they devote much effort toward enhancing the visitor experience on their Web sites with tools like personalization and one-click shopping.
B2B companies don't have that problem. After a successful B2B marketing campaign, the visitor you attract to your site could be more valuable over a lifetime than thousands of e-commerce buyers. Offline sales require offline relationships, and personal relationships are easier to maintain, no matter how many bells and whistles an e-commerce company might add to its site.
There is another reason that SEO is often even more effective for B2B marketing than for e-commerce sites: No matter how beautiful the Web site, how secure the checkout process, and how big the company name, price will always be the primary differentiator when items are purchased online.
How else to explain the popularity of online shopping comparison sites such as Yahoo Shopping, NexTag, and Shopping.com?
When it comes to B2B, marketing is crucial. In a world where prices are rarely listed online, a B2B company almost always has the opportunity to differentiate itself on its own terms after the initial contact is made. With the right marketing tool, such as SEO, a B2B company can easily stand out from the crowd.
Using SEO as a Key Marketing Tool
E-commerce companies are more readily embracing SEO as a B2B marketing tool because they are technologically savvy and because their businesses already depend on the Internet to survive. However, e-commerce companies make up only a small fraction of the number of companies.
There are many B2B industries where there is little or no competition on the search engines, and the ones to move first and use SEO as a key marketing tool will reap the greatest rewards.
*This bothers me both as the owner of a search engine marketing company and as an REO Speedwagon fan.
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