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Search Engine Marketing Boosts ROI for B2B Sites

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by Heather Lloyd-Martin, Guest Writer

A special report from the Search Engine Strategies 2002 Conference, August 12-14, San Jose, CA.

Many Business-to-Business web sites don't bother with search engine marketing, and that's an expensive -- and possibly fatal mistake, according to a panel of experts.

"If you run a T.V. ad and your customers can't find you on Yahoo, you lose validity as a vendor," said Barbara Coll, CEO of the SEO firm WebMama, Inc. "An enterprise sell requires the support of every available tool."

With that declaration, the Business to Business Forum audience discovered the answer to their top B2B search marketing question: Is search marketing really cost effective for B2Bs, and will it drive sales?

"Business people are looking for solutions to problems, and they use search engines for answers," says Coll. When a company's name appears on the search engine results page, it gains perceived status and top of mind awareness.

"Search marketing lets you show up on the 'short list,'" Coll said.

Using Search Marketing To Help Transform A B2C Into B2B

Is a search engine optimization (SEO) strategy important for overall B2B marketing success? In the case of Bravanta, a search marketing plan helped them rebrand their company and update their messaging.

Bravanta, a B2B company specializing in enterprise incentive and recognition, used search marketing to help them hurdle a major marketing obstacle. From 1999 until 2001, they operated a B2C ecommerce site. Then, in mid-June 2001, they shifted their core business strategy, transforming themselves into a B2B. Bravanta used their search engine optimization efforts as an extension of their existing messaging and marketing activities.

One of Bravanta's initial challenges was reaching "influencers." "We needed to reach people who would say 'My life would be easier if I had...' These are the people who surf and do research," said Julie Bacon, Vice President of Marketing and Client Services for Bravanta. After evaluating their needs, Bravanta realized that they required professional SEO assistance for a successful campaign.

"This cannot be five percent of someone's job. If you really want ROI, you need to look at it on a strategic level," says Bacon.

Bravanta and their SEO provider designed the new B2B Web site together, creating strategies and solutions for keywords, content pages and domains. For maximum success, Bacon believes that a B2B's SEO provider should be highly involved in the business' marketing strategy.

"You have to look at your SEO as a strategic partner, not as a vendor" says Bacon. "Don't change a page without telling your SEO partner about it. Every time we took a business turn, we asked our SEO how to do it."

B2Bs Face Unique Keyphrase Research Challenges

"When business keywords have consumer applications, bad things happen," warns Todd Sims, Vice President of Sales for Business.com, a business search engine and directory.

Many keywords have well-known consumer applications, which make finding business-targeted keywords a challenge. For example, if a computer memory retailer buys the keyword "RAM," they'd be competing against people searching for St. Louis Rams tickets. For B2Bers new to the search marketing space, optimizing for the wrong phrases (resulting in untargeted consumer traffic,) is a common problem.

The difference between B2C and B2B search marketing is the research," says Ben Lloyd, Account Supervisor for Young and Roehr Group, a B2B marketing communications company. "You have to weed out the consumer searches."

But how can companies "weed out consumer searches" and adopt a successful keyphrase plan? Coll recommends B2B marketers adopt two complimentary strategies: Optimize pages for both tried-and-true traditional keywords and phrases (called legacy words,) and buzz words (those words only 'in-the-know' people understand, explains Coll).

Legacy keyphrases are well-established, generic words describing a solution or service (for instance, "voice xml", "Web design" or "laptop computers.") Optimizing for legacy keywords ensure that the greatest number of qualified leads can find a company's product or service. These phrases gain the highest number of business searchers, and cast a wider search traffic net.

Buzz words (like "low-barrier communications systems" instead of the legacy term "voice xml") may not snag many hits, but any leads will be highly targeted. A company's buzz words may describe emerging technology in an established market, reflect an industry-wide terminology change, or be a branded company term.

Coll advises that companies sprinkle their buzzwords throughout their text, but save their main optimization efforts for their legacy keywords. The buzz words will still be indexed (especially since there would be low competition for these terms) plus the site will position well for the traditional keyphrases.

SEO and the Snail's Pace B2b Sales Cycle

"Sales cycles run much longer with B2B sales," explains Lloyd. "Looking only at traffic is not 'big picture' thinking," says Lloyd. Sims agrees, "One of the major challenges B2Bs face is that their programs are not set up properly, [with B2B marketers” wanting volume over quality."

Unlike B2C marketing where deals are closed in a click, B2B search marketing conversion is tough to track and takes time.

"In a B2C purchase, it takes one person 30 minutes to make a decision. For a B2B buy, ten people are involved in a decision that takes three months," says Sims.

So what does this mean for measuring conversion? "The complexity of a B2B purchase presents challenges to accurate tracking and ROI conclusions," says Sims. Many B2B companies don't know if their hits eventually translate into qualified leads or sales -- and are wary of expanding their marketing efforts for an unsure ROI. Implementing spider-friendly tracking systems can identify returning visitors, linking these leads to eventual conversions.

"Most clients rely on referrer strings and Web site log analysis software," says Sims. To capture information accurately, sites must do at least 30-day tracking cookies."

Training sales people to ask their leads how they heard about the company also helps B2B businesses measure their search marketing effectiveness.

"If you want to measure the results, you have to track it back," says Bacon. Train your staff that it's not enough to hear 'I found you on the Web.' Learn to ask, 'Did you find us on a search engine? Which one? At a Web conference?'"

Although the sales cycle is longer, and the keyphrase research more challenging, search marketing can be a valuable strategy for B2Bs. With some internal (or outsourced) SEO effort, a company can brand itself via the search engines, gain new qualified leads and increase their site's ROI.

"You have to use every available tool to get in front of people. The more people you can engage once they hit your Web site, the more you can remarket to them," says Lloyd. You can gain mindshare if you take the time to do it right."

Heather Lloyd-Martin is the President of SuccessWorks. She is a regular speaker at the Search Engine Strategies conferences, offering expert tips on search engine optimization writing. Contact Heather at [email protected]

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