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My notes from the Business to Business Tactics session at Search Engine Strategies conference in New York.

The first speaker was Karen Breen Vogel of ClearGauge, a search consultancy. Karen says that many of their customers are B2B, including Dell. She noted that some companies are beginning to go away from the traditional industry and job function and going to more psychographics, such as “early adopters.”
She emphasized that your landing pages are the key to conversion and that B2B companies are much more likely to emphasize relationships because the buy cycle tends to be longer than the “e-Commerce search and buy” sessions that typify Business to Consumer marketing.
Next up was Paul Slack, CEO of WebDex, an internet marketing firm. He made the following points:

  • The world is beginning to wake up to the idea that Web marketing, and search marketing in particular, is more than just driving transactions—it is about lead identification.
  • In a typical sales cycle, clients start by uncovering a need. Clients will then try to research the contending suppliers and then shorten the list—they do those steps on the Web, often with search.
  • The B2B opportunity is usually about getting customers to make a decision, rather than a purchase, which usually happens off-line.
  • The two critical players are influencers and decision-makers.
  • Influencers understand the business problem better than decision-makers and they search early in the cycle and are problem-oriented. They use longer searchers and respond to calls to action—usually after looking at a comparison matrix, webinars, trials, and demos. They like specs, white papers, product pages, and newsletters. Influencers begin the sales cycle—if you make their jobs easier, they will make sure your company is on the list. Often you need to take content, such as a white paper, that is not written to be searchable and develop a landing page that is search-friendly that gets the ranking and lets them download the white paper.
  • Decision-makers are searching late in the cycle and they are trying to validate what the influencer says. Sometimes they don’t even click on your listing—they just want to see that you are listed. They may use different search terms that are high-level words that may require you to use paid search rather then rely on organic for such a competitive term. Decision-makers don’t read as much as influencers—the landing pages for them should be short, crisp bullets. If you have a call to action, make it graphical, but don’t expect it to be clicked very often.
  • One problem in B2B is that some of the most important queries get under 25 occurrences per month, and they are not shown in keyword tracking systems.
  • Use a process to improve where you define your marketing goals, measure your success, and then refine your approach to make it better.
  • Use a comparative analysis of all marketing activities and figure out your cost per lead. If you know how many leads you close, then you can see what your cost of acquisition is. Then you can pilot search marketing to see if you can have a lower CPA than the other channels.

The final speaker on this panel was Christopher Grady, president of Merak Communications, a company that makes e-mail server software. His product has very small sales to customers that have problems with his big competitors, but he does have 57,000 servers running his software for customers who care fervently about anti-spam and anti-virus capabilities—with all sales achieved through search marketing.
Chris made a number of points:

  • His company could not actively sell a mail server—they needed to wait for someone with a problem to search for the solution. But that’s why search marketing is so important—it allows Merak prospects to show themselves.
  • Merak prospects identify their problem, seek solutions, compile a short list, evaluate contenders, negotiate a deal, and then purchase. Search marketing kicks in on the first two steps: seek solution and compile the short list.
  • Problem: Every Merak sale was a takeaway from a competitor. But search marketing allows this, because you can market against the problem of your competition.
  • It’s important for companies to know which search engines and keywords to target. Chris sat down with target customers and asked them what they would do if they wanted to replace their mail server—after about 20 interviews, he knew which search engines they used and what search terms they were using. To this day they ask customers what search terms they used to first find them. Chris also studied competitors’ sites and terminology used it subject-related in forums and UseNet, and names in technical books and magazines. Pay special attention to the way the media refer to your terms because that will change searcher behavior.
  • Merak found that, over time, the keywords used by their searchers were becoming more varied. So, Merak started to develop a corporate keyword guide that helped copy writers consistently use the terms that searchers are known to use, no matter how varied they become.
  • Be careful not to target consumer words—use terms that qualify your business customers. Merak briefly had the #1 Google ranking for “e-mail” but that was a big problem because consumers started calling and e-mailing asking for technical support for e-mail clients they bought from other companies. Merak pulled back to keywords that targeted business searchers only—their real audience.
  • Merak found that some of their biggest customers used 7-11 keyword phrases that could not be optimized on a page-by-page basis. The reason they found Merak was because of the central guide that made sure the product was consistently referred to on all pages, so every page has the core keywords and then are found based on whether they are a match for the more detailed keywords in long queries.

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Mike Moran

About Mike Moran

Mike Moran has a unique blend of marketing and technology skills that he applies to raise return on investment for large marketing programs. Mike is a former IBM Distinguished Engineer and a senior strategist at Converseon, Revealed Context, and SoloSegment. Mike is the author of three books on digital marketing and is an instructor at Rutgers Business School. He is a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO, a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research, and a Certified Speaking Professional.

2 replies to this post
  1. Mike,
    I’m still waiting for someone to stand up at one these conferences and say:
    The way to win more customers than the competition is to help the customers win – and this is how.
    The way to beat the competition in the organic results of search engines is to help the search engines win – and this is how.
    What would you do if you heard an expert say these simple truths about search engine marketing?
    How true is it that if you understand this and do the work, you will win?
    Stephanie Stevens – Internet Marketing

  2. That’s well put, Stephanie. And the best thing about it is that you do exactly the same things to help customers and search engines win–you give searchers the information they need. That’s why short-sighted spam tactics do nothing to help anyone. That’s why tricks to appeal to the latest ranking algorithm are so misguided.
    If you create quality content that meets real customer needs by being truly helpful, enough customers will remember to buy from you.

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