Garrett Mehrguth thinks about search engine optimization (SEO) a bit differently. He focuses not just on keywords and conversions, but on brand awareness.

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His approach to SEO at Directive Consulting, the lead generation-based search marketing company he co-founded, has dramatically increased the company's own pipeline and helped clients grow their businesses as well.

The agency caters to B2B SaaS enterprises, for which traditional SEO experts wouldn't consider brand an essential part of the mix for search ranking. But by focusing on building brand awareness through SEO, Garrett argues, you get discovered by people who are looking for exactly what you offer.

I invited Garrett to Marketing Smarts to talk about why it's nearly impossible today to rank for organic search terms, and to explain how you can position your B2B brand for search.

Here are just a few highlights from our conversation.

Build brand awareness among people with intent (01:49) "The old way, there was this idea that people have to see you in a magazine ad, hear you on the radio, see you on the TV, or whatever...and then, once they know about you, there was no Internet, so there was no way to go out and do your own research. You would literally have to be told what you wanted, and then you'd see it due to product placement, and you would purchase.

"The new funnel works really differently. You and I, we have a need. 'I need to do X.' 'I want X.' 'I need help with Y.' So we have intent and we search and we evaluate. And now we become aware of our options.

The old way was that you would make people aware without intent. And marketers are doing that today. What's happening is their cost per acquisition is skyrocketing because they have this idea that you make someone aware of you, then they give you their email, and then you turn them from a lead into an opportunity and, eventually, a customer. What if you could cut out the middle part?

"This is based on a customer acquisition cost and an LTV (lifetime value) model. If you put these things into actual financial models, what you find is lead gen, when there's no intent, is really, really expensive from a cost per opportunity or a cost per deal standpoint. You can get a thousand leads, but if there's no purchase intent, you're wasting your money."

Converting leads from content can be challenging, so focus your SEO on building brand awareness (03:27) "It's a lot harder than people think to turn a whitepaper lead into a proposal. It just is. And people say, 'Well, my sales development team really needs them.' Yeah, but ZoomInfo is 99 cents and theoretically the person who wanted your whitepaper doesn't read it. Ask your development team, because if they call and talk to these people, they'll tell you they haven't read the whitepaper yet. That's the number one feedback you'll get.

"And they have no more intent than if you just bought the lead from ZoomInfo, and you paid $17 to get it from LinkedIn. Why pay 17x more for a lead if it has the same purchase intent?

"At Directive, we do SEO and PPC for software companies. I know that my total adjustable market is around 60,000 marketers in software. So why don't I just build my firmographics and my psychographics on LinkedIn? Then, instead of running traditional in-feed news ads, run spotlight and text ads, get 10 impressions on my ideal customer persona—each, so 600,000 impressions. That'll cost me only like $2,000.

"Make sure every one of them knows me. And then position myself on a search engine so if they search for an SEO agency, a PPC agency, a SaaS agency, a marketing agency, a digital marketing agency...I show up. And then, when I show up and they've heard of me before, now I'm one of the three people they're talking to. Then, hopefully, because of my positioning, I'll have a better value proposition than anyone else and I'll close the deal."

Stop trying to reach executives and focus on your champions (10:37): "The biggest mistake in B2B marketing is the thought that I need to speak to the decision-maker. It's the number one mistake I see everyone making. Who you need to speak to is your point of contact, and that's never the decision-maker in B2B. Your champion is more important than your decision-maker.... Your marketing has to speak to your champion, who will be your future point of contact.... Your sales material is for decision-makers, your marketing material is for your champions." 

To learn more, visit DirectiveConsulting.com. You can also follow Garrett on Twitter at @gmehrguth.

Garrett and I talked about much more, including why thinking about your brand instead of your website is a huge mistake, and how you need to create a human experience or point of contact as soon as you recognize intent, so listen to the entire show, which you can do above, or download the mp3 and listen at your convenience. Of course, you can also subscribe to the Marketing Smarts podcast in iTunes or via RSS and never miss an episode!

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