January 6, 2015: It’s (fortunately) not a surprise that as the fourth quarter drew to an end, our team was (and still is) engaged in several discussions with prospects about SEO projects kicking off in the New Year. A few weeks ago, I prepared for three, back-to-back-to-back, preliminary sales discovery meetings.
As I reassessed those discussions, I thought about how different each program could be. Even though the broader goals and objectives appeared very similar at the start (traffic, leads, conversion improvements, etc), each meeting revealed vastly different tactical objectives, competitive environments, organization-specific resources, and ultimately scopes of work.
High Level Examples:
- One organization featured a team of three content marketing professionals as well as partnerships with PR and marketing communication departments and specialists.
- Another organization was stuck in a legacy CMS from a previous holding company. Business cases would be needed for moving to a new platform.
- Yet another had limited resources for content development and site management (thought they recognized the significance), but a primary goal was to diversify their lead funnel with organic search.
The same type of SEO program and tactics will not work for all three of these organizations because each their website experiences, business strategies, and personnel resources are quite different.
This realization can be quite daunting for B2B marketers looking to find the right SEO partner for their organization. Late, last year I wrote an article on LinkedIn about preliminary questions to consider when hiring an SEO vendor.
In this blog post, I will discuss four themes to consider when determining the type of search engine optimization program that will hopefully lead to B2B online marketing success, and what to gauge in an SEO partner during the evaluation process.
Preliminary SEO Analysis
There is at least two points of evaluation that should be made in any prospect discovery initiative; three if the right comfortability with a prospective vendor is there.
- Basic keyword research review
- Competitive assessment
- Existing performance metrics evaluation (based on trust and viability)
Some preliminary analysis should be handled to help understand the competitive landscape, specific to both keywords and websites found in search engine results, as well as traditional competitors in the space. While the SEO vendor should tackle some of this, here are points the B2B marketer should consider as well.
- Keyword Review – In the preliminary discovery scenario, we are basically looking at the type of websites and the type of content that appear in the search engine results for an initial set of target keywords. How often do you find direct competitors, industry publications, or entirely different websites in these search results? Do you find vendor solution pages, research reports, or blog posts and articles?
- Competitive Assessment – For both direct and indirect competition (IE, those competitors that you are often up against in the sales process as well as those that appear in search results) understand their basic SEO and online marketing profiles, including inbound links, pages on website and indexed by search engines, social presence, depth of content developed, etc.
Casie Gillete’s presentation on Slideshare (shown above) provides a much more in-depth look at how one might go about the two processes of keyword review and competitive assessment as well as providing a series of tools and resources in the process.
Recommended SEO Tools
With this information in hand, the B2B marketer and the SEO vendor can make a better determination on direction to take next in developing a potential SEO program.
Technical Know How
It’s hard to capture, in one sub-heading, the coverage of “technical SEO”. Basically, the B2B marketer should consider whether there is a very specific obstacle or tactical challenge necessitating outreach to an SEO vendor.
Examples might include:
- Site Redesign, Merger, or Launch
- Lost visibility for a specific set of keyword phrases or web pages
- International Site Deployment
In scenarios like the ones listed above, B2B marketers should consider evaluating SEO vendors based on their experience handling these types of challenges or their comfortability and background leveraging specific programming languages or web CMS platforms.
The SEO vendor should also be evaluated based on their program management experience and capabilities, and how they might be able to work with the organizations’ internal teams, policies, and even personalities of key team members.
If it is a search engine-specific obstacle, consider screening for specific search technology knowledge, understanding, and even industry participation as well (just make sure to know the answers to the questions being asked :-)).
Resources for Establishing Basic Technical SEO “Know-How”
The Role of Content Marketing for SEO
I still hear from B2B marketers who believe investing in SEO is just a one-time expense. While it is true that fixing SEO-specific website obstacles may improve organic search traffic quite a bit, these fixes rarely provide permanent organic search improvements over time.
How are you going to build your presence for a spectrum of business-related keyword phrases and themes? How are you going to improve your presence for existing keyword targets, once search engines have acknowledged site changes and updates?
The answer is through SEO-centric content marketing: developing website material designed to appear for specific search phrases and acquiring links and engagement metrics from third party sites and resources.
The questions marketing managers need to consider is the role an SEO vendor plays in the content marketing process and the volume and depth of content marketing required to compete in existing search engine results. There are two scenarios we usually see come into play:
- Limited Content Marketing Resources – It’s more common than not that your marketing team’s resources have difficulty matching either the volume or depth of competitive content marketing strategies. Your SEO vendor should be evaluated based in part on their ability to help produce the content needed to improve organic search presence as well as provide keyword analysis, recommendations, and communication to third party sites and influencers.
- Adept Content Marketing Resources – In this case, your team is already producing or overseeing the production of a wide array of content marketing programs. Your SEO vendor needs to focus more on keyword optimization and recommendations for existing and upcoming content development and working with the teams already in place for implementation and third party communication / outreach.
Most B2B marketers would agree, regardless of SEO focus, that content marketing is a priority in their broader B2B marketing strategy. Internal assessment of resources combined with knowledge of the competitive / keyword landscape will help direct the scope of a content marketing program required.
By tying in a SEO focus, B2B marketers will help expand and relate keyword strategy as well as put mechanisms in place to build engagement, establish third party relationships, and acquire inbound links.
B2B Marketing Exposure
It’s becoming more common for prospects to want to work with SEO vendors with a more specific marketing mindset. While you can make the argument that there is a greater convergence between B2C and B2B marketing disciplines, certain aspects of B2B marketing are unique.
- You need only to quickly glance at the Chiefmartec.com Marketing Technology Landscape Supergraphic to understand the influence technology plays in the today’s B2B marketing environment. SEO vendors need to have comfortability in a range of technology platforms, beyond traditional SEO tools and resources.
- Lead generation will always be a top priority for B2B marketers. SEO vendors need to understand the role SEO, content marketing, and website reporting and analysis play in turning visitors and prospects into sales-ready leads.
- For many technology/ software organizations in particular, analyst firms play a larger role in generating influence and awareness. Having an understanding of applicable communities, influencers, and the research process can help provide direction in SEO program development.
As the complexities of the B2B marketers’ role continue to evolve, the experience an SEO vendor has with platforms, systems, and business strategies becomes more important.
With all of these variables in mind, you can see how quickly your path to success in search engine optimization will need to be shaped in a manner that is specific to your organization’s business objectives and characteristics.
Several factors, onsite, offsite, and in coordination with internal resources, will impact the type of SEO program to be developed and the strengths and experience of the SEO vendor required. One-size-fits-all SEO program management simply won’t cut it.
What are your thoughts and perspective? I’d love to read your feedback via comments below and make sure to get in touch if a custom SEO program is the right direction for your B2B organization.