Cracking the Lexicon of B2B Search Optimization

Unless your products have nearly universal name brand recognition in the business-to-business space (think Microsoft Office), chances are your search campaign will be infinitely more difficult to create, execute and optimize than 90% of all business-to-consumer (B2C) efforts. Evidence based marketers can help you overcome these challenges regardless of how new your product is or how small the industry might be.

One primary but often overlooked challenge is that sellers in the B2B space can often survive in a conventional marketplace despite using different language than their customers do. Unlike typical businesses that market directly to consumers, B2B businesses often ignore or subconsciously resist the very language that their customers may use to find their product because of a desire to seem innovative and sophisticated. For example, let’s imagine that a technology company creates a product that is designed to help law firms bill their clients more efficiently. Rather than calling it what it is, they may instead choose to promote it as “Professional Services Automation Suite” to distinguish itself in a crowded marketplace. Meanwhile, this creates a problem online, as the lion’s share of search engine queries for the same type of product might use the key term “agency billing software.”

Choosing which lexicon to optimize for in an SEO campaign is a crucial consideration, and the answer really depends on which audience you want to capture. Let’s take the example of “Cloud-Based Software.” While this term is steadily becoming more mainstream, it’s still a safe bet that this term is still mostly used by technology or marketing industry insiders with a “C” in their title, (CTO, CIO, CMO, etc) and in far greater numbers of executives in Silicon Valley, the epicenter of the cloud-based revolution. If we were to optimize a site for “Cloud-Based CRMs,” we would then be making the assumption that these decision makers will be the ones doing the research that begins the sales process.

But assuming that our hunch is correct, will optimizing for this term necessarily get us more sales? Of course not. And since creating SEO content is time-consuming, we need to base our assumptions on more than just a hunch.

Due Diligence and PPC Testing

To find the answer, we would need to do our due diligence by talking with sales representatives from the major CRM providers and finding out who they are getting first contact from and indeed validate the type of language they are using. If CTOs are farming out the initial research to, say, junior-project managers, they may be using terms such as “CRM,” “Web-based CRM” or “Hosted CRM.”

Assuming this is also true, we might want to structure at least one pay-per-click (PPC) search campaign around these persona-specific words and test its effectiveness in driving conversions. Building in testing phases around keyword assumptions is one of the most important aspects to evidence-based marketing. A paid search campaign is essential to helping us understand which keywords should then be used in an organic or SEO campaign. This is especially true in the B2B space, where long sales cycles and lower search volume can drag out SEO campaigns. The key indicator in this type of test is not which keywords garner the most clicks, but which ones lead to conversions (here defined as a customer making contact with a sales representative by email, form conversion or phone).

Optimizing based on PPC Results

Once the paid search campaign has run its course, we can then typically distill the set of keywords from hundreds or thousands down to a small subset of keywords that lead to conversions. Again, we’re looking for keywords that specifically lead to conversions. It’s these keywords that should be used in a natural search (SEO) effort. We can then tailor the site content and optimize specific site pages for these terms.


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