The Business Case for Expanding B2B SEM

If you’re looking for the business case for expanding your B2B SEM efforts, this is the executive summary.

I recently sat down to dissect the results of Enquiro’s Business to Business Survey 2007, and it’s impressive. Here is a summary of what I gleaned; it makes a great business case for expanding your B2B search marketing efforts.

Online Research Happens at All Phases, Search Engines Take the Lead

We all know there are many factors that influence B2B buyers throughout the buying cycle, particularly in the early awareness and research phases. However, what surprised those doing the study was that online research is relied upon in all phases of the buying cycle, not just the early phases.

The study found an overwhelming number (85 percent) of business buyers go online during the purchasing process, and 83 percent found the vendor from which they eventually purchased online. Of those using the Internet, over 70 percent start with a search engine (either a general search engine such as Google or Yahoo!, or a B2B search engine such as or KnowledgeStorm). There are, consistently, three top online influencers used in all phases of the buying cycle:

  • Manufacturer Web sites
  • Distributor Web sites
  • Search Engines

Search engines consistently ranked in the top three, making it a primary means for getting in front of business buyers.

An interesting discovery was how much the offline and online research are intertwined – throughout the entire buying process – using search engines starting at the awareness phase and continuing into the purchase phase. The study showed that once the buyer becomes aware of a particular product or service that could meet his/her needs, even if it is from an offline source such as a tradeshow or a business colleague, most B2B buyers will then turn to a search engine to find a vendor’s Web site and more information.

B2B Buyers Use Search More than they Realize

Search is actually used by business buyers more than they realize. Even when the buyer said s/he wouldn’t use a search engine as a starting point for the online research, 27 percent actually did use search. In many cases, rather than guessing the URL, it may simply be easier to navigate to a vendor site or industry site, using the browser’s built-in search functionality, a search box on the homepage, or an installed toolbar.

The breakdown of when the respondents used search to navigate to a site is interesting; search is used to find an industry site far more than to find a vendor site. The Awareness phase is highest for an industry site, and the Research phase is by far the highest for a vendor site:

Navigation to a Vendor vs. Industry Site via Search

Life Cycle Phase Vendor Site Industry Site
Awareness 12.6% 55.5%
Research 29.6% 34.5%
Negotiation 15.4% 30.8%
Purchase 17.3% 19.2%

Where You Want to Be: General and Vertical Engines

As with the general public, B2B buyers prefer Google as a general search engine by a considerable margin. For general search, the study found that 77 percent of B2B buyers prefer Google, 14 percent prefer Yahoo, and 7 percent prefer MSN. This is in line with where most companies place the focus of their search marketing campaigns.

B2B Vertical search engines “definitely have a place in the purchase process” as well, according to the study. While general search engines (Google, Yahoo! and MSN) are used initially, buyers increase their use of B2B search as they move from basic awareness into the research, negotiation, and purchase phases. The leading vertical business search engines were:

  1. (preferred by 73 percent of respondents) – Broad business “horizontal” search engine covering over 65,000 business product and service categories.
  2. KnowledgeStorm (preferred by 22 percent of respondents) – Focus on technology purchases such as enterprise software and hardware.
  3. ThomasNet (preferred by 5 percent of respondents) – Directory of industrial and manufacturing solutions.

The Key Take-Aways

This study had many great stats. After poring over it for a few hours, here are my key take-aways and recommendations for B2B search marketers to use this information for expanding their search marketing initiatives:

  • B2B Buyers research online in all phases and use search engines in all phases. Therefore, you want to know what your prospects are searching for throughout the buying cycle, and ensure your Web site is listed for each of those phrases. For vendor sites, keywords in the research phase will be your biggest bucket of terms. For industry sites, your biggest portion of terms will come from the awareness phase.
  • Many B2B buyers use search to find a vendor Web site rather than direct navigation, even if they learn about the vendor through an offline channel. This means you want to ensure you are well covered for brand phrases, particularly if you have a domain that is difficult to remember, has frequent misspellings, and/or is not your exact company name.
  • Industry Web sites need to focus on search marketing for brand terms more than vendors because more B2B buyers will search for an industry Web site than a vendor Web site, so make sure you are at the top of the SERPs for the variety of brand search phrases that people type into a search engine.
  • Search marketing to business buyers requires a presence on both general search engines and B2B vertical search engines to ensure you are visible wherever your buyers are searching throughout the B2B purchasing process. If you are not in vertical search engines, this is where you need to expand. While general search engines are a must, vertical search engines increase their influence in the latter phases of the buying cycle when the prospect is more qualified and closer to making the buy.

Enquiro’s Business to Business Survey 2007 is available to download.

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