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Your Quick Takeaway
With some smart research, some common sense and a little patience, there are huge gains to be made in Google rankings and monthly revenue. Joel Gross, CEO of Coalition Technologies, an ecommerce design + marketing agency that has worked to increase the organic visibility of multi-million dollar brands including Spinning.com and Pink Lily, walks you through how to build the B2B SEO strategy your company deserves, without the confusion.
Until you’ve seen the positive effects of a properly optimized website first-hand, until you’ve seen monthly and annual revenue increase as a result of search engine optimization (SEO), it can be difficult to grasp why this practice is so valuable.
Even if you do understand the value of SEO to your digital marketing stack, where do you start for your own business-to-business (B2B) ecommerce website?
- What’s involved in building a search engine strategy from the ground up?
- How do you identify the right keywords for your audience?
- And crucially, what questions should you ask to make sure you’re getting the most out of your online presence?
There’s a lot to think about, but it’s more than manageable with some smart research, some common sense, and empathy for what your audience is looking for.
In this guide, we’ll talk through the following, to help you understand the value of B2B SEO for your ecommerce (or soon-to-be ecommerce) business:
- B2B vs. B2C: What’s the difference?
- Identifying your product’s true worth with 8 simple questions
- Understanding the buyer journey for your products
- Building a keyword and content marketing strategy
- Optimizing the right parts of your ecommerce website
- Best practices for outstanding B2B SEO (both off-page and on-page SEO)
- Guarding your secret sauce (aka. Overcoming the fear of online selling)
Protecting Your Secret Sauce: Overcoming Online Fear
The last point on our list is the one we need to address first, because the fear, or rather the suspicion of taking a B2B or any business online after becoming hugely successful offline, is a major roadblock for a lot of people.
It’s understandable, too.
If you have a product that works and that has produced revenue for you year after year, then what’s to say that once you go online, you won’t have competitors stealing your secret sauce left and right?
There are a few ways to approach this issue, and to rationalize it.
The first, is to recognize that if you’re an authority on your product or service — let’s say you make car wax, for example — then you already have the high ground going into the online market, even though your domain authority (how highly you rank in the standings online) may be lower.
Any competitor who ‘steals’ your idea is on the back foot from square one.
I’m concerned that competitors will see my prices and undercut me.
Fair point, but in relation to the point above, if you’re the one setting the pace then it becomes less of a concern anyway. Plus, with platforms like BigCommerce, you can hide prices until a customer is signed in.
For a B2B ecommerce company, this is standard practice, and one which will help you keep those pesky competitors at bay. That’s the second way to approach this.
The third and arguably most important way to overcome this fear of getting online, is to think about it from your customers’ point-of-view.
They have a problem, and you have a solution. Modern humanity solves problems using the internet — specifically, search engines. Therefore, to truly put your best foot forward with your audience, you need an online presence. This means marketing strategy, lead generation, and conversion.
At Coalition, we’ve helped around 800 clients big and small, to get their businesses online, and to increase revenue with a tailored SEO strategy. We’re currently in the process of getting as many of those case studies as possible onto the website.
Will our competitors be able to figure out how we did what we did and for who? Probably, but what we bank on, is that those clients (and prospective ones) will see our results and either stick with us, or join us for the first time.
Every knock-off cola brand is running in the shadow of Coca-Cola. They might be cheaper, but Coke has been leading the way for 125 years because they’re the real deal, like ‘em or not.
It’s the same with your business.
B2B vs. B2C SEO: What’s the Difference?
Alright, now that we’ve cleared that up, we have another important question to address: when it comes to SEO, and specifically the kind of language used on your website, is there a major difference between a B2B ecommerce store and a B2C one?
The answer is both yes and no.
No, in the sense that the way you measure return — analytics, data, metrics, all of that — is the same.
When the two differ in terms of your SEO strategy becomes evident when you think about who your audience is.
As a business-to-customer brand, you’re speaking directly to the consumer, to people who may or may not have expert knowledge of your product. For those people, the language used on-site is likely to be softer, more general and less technical. The goal here is to make that prospective customer feel welcome, and to speak to them in a way which gently but definitely moves them toward a sale.
Trumpet & Horn, for example, is a company that sells vintage engagement rings. By understanding that their audience is wealthy individuals and not wholesale buyers, they were able to pitch themselves with the right kind of language to ultimately help them increase organic search revenue from $160k a month, to $315k a month.
They were able to pitch themselves with the right kind of language to increase organic search revenue from $160k a month to $315k a month.
Take a look at the copy on their website; it’s clearly aimed at individual buyers looking for a special vintage engagement ring. Trumpet & Horn isn’t trying to be high and mighty or exclusive, but rather chooses to speak directly to the consumer.
Understanding who your audience is – and this is something which cannot be overstressed – is crucial to building a successful B2B SEO strategy. Unlike a customer audience, a B2B audience is likely to be more educated about the specifics of your product or service. They’re looking for specific features, they’re interested in your deep knowledge of the subject, and they care about who you’ve worked with before.
What does that look like in terms of keywords?
Which keywords and phrases you choose to use on your B2B ecommerce store will be informed by what your audience is searching for. We’ve listed some our favorite tools for finding this out in another section, but essentially what you’re looking for is language more appropriate to people with specific needs.
Here, for example, it’s still possible for home customers to buy from 1ink, but the website — including the design, copy and SEO strategy — are set up to appeal to the business customer, the wholesale buyer. Long-tail keywords such as ‘Tax season savings on printer ink and toner’ might not sound sexy or even like they’d garner much return, but for the high-spending business customer searching for just that, it’s the perfect choice of keyword phrase.
The result of this kind of specific, business-focused keyword strategy? An increase in revenue from organic search results from $525k a month to $918k a month.
What Are Long-Tail Keywords?
A long-tail keyword is a phrase that’s very specific to the product you’re selling. Another example might be ‘botanically brewed organic cola’ instead of ‘cola’.
8 Simple Questions to Identify True Worth
Remember how we said that understanding your audience is crucial for building an SEO strategy that works? Well, before you can do that, you need to fully understand your own business, your own product.
That might sound silly, because why wouldn’t you know what your own business is all about? But honestly, the value you’ll get from assessing your brand and product as objectively as possible, is enormous.
Whenever we get a new client at Coalition, we spend about two hours with them initially, just going through these basic questions.
Like all aspects of marketing, they aren't just relevant to one channel such as SEO. These questions will help you increase conversion rates and hone your messaging across every part of your digital marketing strategy.
Here they are, with a simple explanation of how to answer each one, using one of our clients, PaperMart as an example for some of the answers.
1. What are you selling?
Being able to define what you’re selling in simple terms is the first step to understanding what its value is to your customers, and who those customers might be. PaperMart sells packaging supplies — cardboard boxes, wrapping paper, tape, bubble wrap, etc.
2. How does it work?
You know how your product works, but getting it into words is another story. Defining how your product works is going to inform how you communicate its benefits to your audience.
When your audience knows how your product works, they can quickly and easily decide whether it’s right for them. PaperMart’s products work by providing cost-effective protection to items in need of shipping.
3. What are the features / benefits / pros / cons?
Of course you won’t advertise any cons, but recognizing them helps you to capitalize on your strengths. Listing the features and benefits of your product will help you build and prioritize keywords. For PaperMart, the focus is on quality shipping products at affordable bulk prices.
4. How much does it cost?
Having said all we have about being an authority on your product, if you price yourself out of the market, it doesn’t matter how good your SEO strategy is. PaperMart makes sure that what it’s charging is both competitive and attractive enough for customers to choose them over say, Staples.
5. How does it compare to competitors?
Sometimes a competitor will have features you don’t, or will have thought of something you haven’t. In that case, you need to focus on what makes your brand unique. Your goal is to be as positively different from the competition as possible. See what they’ve got, and go one up on that.
6. How proven is your company?
This is an important one, because if you’re new to the game both online and offline, then your strategy for building growth and trust is going to look different to if you’re established and proven.
In terms of your keywords, for example, a less proven company may have to start out targeting smaller, more specific groups of people, in order to build some trust. We’ll touch on this again in a bit.
7. Who have you worked with before?
This, and the final question are all about social proof. SEO is essential for driving people to your site, but there is no better marketing tool than social proof, including word-of-mouth and the people you’ve worked with before.
8. What do your former customers say about you / references?
This is linked to social proof, but knowing what your customers are saying about you is also helpful for defining the kind of keywords you should be using in your strategy. If people are talking about a certain product or feature a lot which they love, then focus on that.
Building a Keyword Strategy: Identifying Keywords
There are countless ways of identifying the right keywords for your B2B ecommerce store, but we’re just going to focus on a few which we know from experience will yield results you can put into practice on your website. Traditional keyword research revolves around tools and maximizing click through rate — which, while undoubtedly important, is only part of the puzzle.
Talk to people
The first way involves no special metrics or software at all, unless you choose to run a survey or something of that nature. One of the best ways of finding out what people think about your brand and how they find and interact with it, is to ask them.
Ask previous customers and clients how they found you, what search terms they used, and how they approached navigating your website/store. If you have a customer service team, mine them for information on the types of things people ask for.
You’d be amazed by how much you can learn by asking your team, ‘Hey, what do people ask for when they call or email us?’
Your team will then say things like, ‘Oh, they say ABC all the time, but they never ask for XYZ.’
Having that kind of top-level insight is priceless when it comes to building your keyword strategy.
Use the right research tools
Which tools are best and how each of them works in detail is for another article, but getting to grips with some of these fan-favorites is going to help you understand what works, and what doesn’t.
Google says, “Keyword Planner is a free AdWords tool for new or experienced advertisers that’s like a workshop for building new Search Network campaigns or expanding existing ones. You can search for keyword and ad group ideas, see how a list of keywords might perform, and even create a new keyword list by multiplying several lists of keywords together. Keyword Planner can also help you choose competitive bids and budgets to use with your campaigns.”
Why we love it: Since Google is where your keywords are going to be ranked, it makes sense to use a tool built by Google to choose them. You don’t choose your keywords here, though, you can also optimize and test them.
Google Trends takes a search term — ‘GMO food’ for example — and shows how that term has performed in search results and in the news over time. By parsing the data, you can see how interested people might be in what you have to say.
Why we love it: The fastest, most accurate way we know of to see what massive groups of people are talking about. You can use it on a small scale, as well, by searching for very specific topics.
Moz is a great tool for all things SEO-related, from identifying keywords, to tracking and optimizing. We recommend checking them out and having a play around as the best way to learn the ropes.
Why we love it: Moz is dedicated to SEO, and with a community of specialists on-staff, there’s not much that hasn’t been covered.
Trusted by Disney, Amazon and eBay, SEMRush is a service aimed at competitor research. The idea is that you use the SEMRush service to see which keywords your competitors are ranking for, so that you can out-do them. Sneaky!
Why we love it: It feels so wrong, but at the same time it feels so right.
Choosing the Right Keywords at the Right Time
Let’s just make a point of this, because it’s something which does trip people up on occasion.
Let’s say you’ve been running an audio speaker business offline for 15 years, with an annual turnover of $3 million — not bad.
You’ve done your research, you’ve got some keywords lined up and you’re ready to hit the internet. This should be a breeze, right? You’ve been dominating the indie speaker scene for fifteen years, so you ought to dominate online, too.
Not so fast.
Even though you’ve been hugely successful offline, when you come online, you’re competing against the likes of Amazon and online independent audio stores, and so using keywords like, ‘Best home speakers’ and ‘Portable beach speakers’ is going to do absolutely nothing for your search rankings.
Focused on those ultra-specific, long-tail keywords which are going to bring in customers who are already at the bottom of the funnel (AKA People with their wallets out).
What you need to be focused on, is those ultra-specific, long-tail keywords, which are going to bring in customers who are already at the bottom of the funnel (aka. People with their wallets out). You then need do determine the intent behind those, so you can create pages that:
- answer user questions or concerns for a particular search term.
That might mean a direct response landing page, an ebook, or a blog post/other form of content marketing asset.
It’ll be slow going for a while, but building a reputation and trust online by providing the best possible service to the few will eventually help replicate your offline success with the many.
6 Best Practices For Building a Killer B2B SEO Strategy
With all of that said, we’re going to round this off with some easy-to-remember best practice tips to help you build that B2B SEO strategy for your online store. Here goes:
- Be fearless — Realize that fear of poaching and copycatting is holding you back. Trust in your ability to shine, and in your customers.
- Understand your own product — Get back to basics and define what it is about your product that people love.
- Understand your audience — If you have to hide prices, so be it, but know who’s interested in your product and speak to them. Tailor your keywords to that audience, and don’t cast your net too wide.
- Use the right research tools — Talk to your team, and take advantage of the tools mentioned here.
- Stay focused on the customer — We said it of word-of-mouth, and it’s true of your entire business: there is no better way of growing a business than to treat your customers well. When you understand what your customers want, SEO and everything that comes with it, becomes a whole lot easier.
- Create the right content — Content is the bridge connecting what you offer and what your customers are looking for at each step in the buyer journey. So many SEOs create content for content's sake; in reality, content success is equal parts art and science. Speaking to your potential buyers and existing customers is good not only for direct response, but also for brand awareness and link building (plus social media shares).
And there you have it. Search engine optimization for B2B websites is the same basic formula with some altered application. Take the marketing principles that have worked for other aspects of your business, and find ways to apply them with the tips outlined in this guide.
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