B2B Search Best Practices

Online retailing, financial services, and travel get a lot of attention when it comes to Internet and search marketing. What isn’t mentioned as much is another hot area in search marketing: business-to-business (B2B).

B2B marketers know the value of a new customer is typically very high. Individual transaction sizes are high, and once an affiliation has been forged the business relationship’s lifetime value can be in the hundreds, thousands, or even millions of dollars. That makes search a particularly critical part of many B2B marketing managers’ overall marketing plans. Regardless of where prospects are in the buying cycle, chances are search is part of their daily routine. Among other things, prospects may be researching:

  • Capabilities

  • Specifications
  • Usage practices
  • Reliability issues
  • Costs (including costs of ownership and maintenance)
  • Liability issues
  • Substitutability with other products or services
  • Manufacturer reputation
  • Testimonials or case studies
  • Supplier/distributor locations

A well-crafted paid search and organic search marketing plan makes sure the site’s content meets the needs of visitors seeking this type of information.

When managing CPC– or CPM-based search marketing campaigns, remember not every visitor is in the same place in the buying cycle. When measuring, managing, and optimizing a campaign, you may want to set blended objectives that go beyond a simple “contact us” lead form or a phone call.

Those searchers in earlier phases of the buying cycle may download white papers, look up specifications, use product configuration wizards, or take any multitude of actions on your site. In some user actions, such as registrations, the identity of the visitor is captured. Other actions will be anonymous but still may tell you something about that visitor’s value. By assigning each post-click behavior and action a relative value based on your business, your campaign can be optimized to take into account the true value of visitors.

For example, a medical x-ray equipment manufacturer has a long sales cycle that involves several influencers and decision makers. A doctor researching new equipment may search on “portable x-ray generator” and leave after viewing or downloading a specifications sheet for the “Golden Inspector XR150 X-Ray Generator.” A purchasing manager may use the phrase “XR150 x-ray generator” as a search term, find the site, then fill out a quote request. Both visitors are important to the marketer. If the first phrase was not included in the campaign because specifications viewing was not considered a valuable activity, the doctor would never have downloaded the specifications sheet and told the purchasing manager to “check out the XR-150. I think we need one in the operating room.”

Think about your business, your sales cycle, and the way visitors to your site interact with the content, as well as which calls to action you have built into the site. You might even want to place different calls to action on your site, to appeal to various types of prospects.

The way you use copy in your B2B listings is also critical. If you’re trying to attract searchers in a particular phase of the buying cycle, tune your copy appropriately. Be aware that for your industry consumer marketers may share some keywords. The keyword “lumber” might be searched by both businesses and consumers, while “lumber kiln” or “hardwood lumber molding” are more likely to be business searches.

When a term is ambiguous, your creative strategy must be tuned based on the venue. Because of how it looks at relevance, Google may penalize your ad if your copy prequalifies the searcher, particularly when other ads competing for the traffic are not doing so. Similarly Overture’s “Click Index” can get an ad removed if the CTR falls too low in comparison to neighboring ads.

As with all online marketing, hone and test landing pages to assure a good fit with the creative and search term, as well as the expected visitors’ needs. A landing page that does well for one phrase may not work well for others.

In addition to the expected paid search listings locations, such as Overture, Google, LookSmart, and XML feeds, there are also specific B2B portals (some of which cover specific vertical markets). Most of these vertical portals sell listings on an annual or CPC basis. Those alternate search listings vendors go far beyond what your might expect. They include:

Many of these alternate sources of search traffic have monthly, annual, or hybrid deals instead of the CPC deals you may be accustomed to getting with the major search portals. In addition, some have prospects fill out lead forms. As a marketer, you have the option of purchasing these leads on a per-name basis. Depending on the vendor, those leads may be exclusive by geography or prequalification, so measure the long-term value of leads, particularly if that is what you are buying from the venue.

Many B2B marketers find traffic from vertical portals is particularly high quality because the visitors to that portal have further identified themselves as the “right traffic.” This is true even if visitors arrived at the vertical portal from a search on a general portal. For this reason, vertical portals also tend to be buyers of paid search listings on major sites. Alisa Fogel, marketing director at the Thomas Register explains: “Searchers trust the Thomas Register brand and know they can expect great relevant information on our site. That’s one reason our search marketing efforts are so successful.”

For particularly popular B2B searches, the main search portals, such as MSN and Yahoo, may also have special keyword bundle packages they can put together for larger marketers.

As a B2B marketer, your sales cycle may be long. Therefore, I highly recommend you tag your leads with a code that indicates the source by engine/vendor, keyword, and possibly even click or lead price. That way, you can do an analysis as sales close and gain an understanding of where the really valuable traffic is coming from. This lead source conversion information may not change your short-term campaign strategy, where lead generation is the primary goal. But in the long term, it sure helps to know where the sales and revenue originate — just in case the CEO comes in and slashes your marketing budget while raising sales goals.

Don’t miss ClickZ’s Weblog Business Strategies in Boston, June 9-10.

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