SEO Mistakes B2B Marketers Must Avoid

I’m pleased to welcome guest blogger Brad Shorr to share his insight on one of today’s most important B2B marketing topics — SEO.

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For B2B marketers wishing to use search engine optimization (SEO) as a source of qualified leads, the most crucial element to remember is to think long term. “SEO campaign,” a phrase we often hear, is a misnomer. While a campaign has a beginning and an end, SEO should be ongoing. It is not a get-rich-quick scheme. Organizations that commit to SEO long term with sustainable budgets are the ones that obtain the best results – as reported by Shari Thurow on her ClickZ post “Short- vs. Long-Term SEO.”

SEO ChartThe primary purpose of SEO programs for B2B marketers is to generate sales leads. Although this may sound obvious, many B2B marketing organizations lose sight of this purpose and instead focus on rankings or traffic. Both of these strategic goals are dead wrong.

In a Search Engine Journal article, “The Evolution of SEO Metrics,” Sam McRoberts explains that organic search has too many variables for rankings to have any meaning. Google and Bing evaluate a user’s location, his or her personal search history, and the type of search the user is conducting – video search, news search, etc. What this adds up to is that each user sees a different set of results; what ranks number one for me may be totally different from what ranks number one for you.

An interesting recent test – “Experiment Shows Up To 60% Of ‘Direct’ Traffic Is Actually Organic” – shows that search traffic is more helpful than rankings, but is becoming a rather fuzzy number. It can be misleading as an indicator of whether an SEO program is doing anything useful for a business.

More traffic does not always equate to more sales leads. For instance, a widget manufacturer could publish a blog post about a trending media story and experience a significant spike in traffic – with not a single one of those visitors having any interest in doing business.

When B2B marketers overcome this fundamental mistake and focus with laser intensity on lead generation, all of the other common SEO mistakes become obvious. Here are three of the most critical:

  1. Companies focused on rankings tend to optimize around highly popular keywords. On Search Engine Watch, Grant Simmons states that companies focused on lead generation optimize around specific keywords where the user intent to do business is high.
  2. Companies focused on traffic tend to have massive amounts of content on their websites to hit as many keywords as possible. Companies focused on lead generation have compact, structured content and powerful calls to action, giving visitors an easy path to take the next step in establishing a business relationship. Review this Hubspot post – “What Is a Call-to-Action? [FAQs]” – for a clear understanding of how to choose and communicate a good “call to action.”
  3. Companies focused on lead generation have the ability to track the sources of their phone inquiries and form inquiries (e.g., forms visitors submit on the company site). Unless a firm knows where its leads originated, it cannot evaluate how well its SEO program is performing compared to its other marketing activities.

One final mistake: Although few B2B marketers implement reliable form- and phone-tracking on their sites, fewer still have the ability to validate these inquiries. The key is to realize that not all inquiries are sales leads. For example, a contact form submission could be a sales lead – but it could also be a sales solicitation, a customer inquiry or spam. If the company considers all inquiries to be sales leads, it will overestimate the performance of its SEO – and probably any other Internet marketing activities it has underway.

Everything in the B2B world hinges on a sound strategy and attention to detail in the execution. SEO is not an exception – a strategic focus on lead generation makes it possible to distinguish important tactical activities and metrics from those that don’t really matter.

About the Author: Brad Shorr is the B2B Marketing Director of www.straightnorth.com, an SEO firm headquartered in Chicago. Brad writes frequently on B2B marketing topics and his articles are regularly featured on Forbes, AllBusiness and Carol Roth.

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Perfectly time your contact with B2B buyers.

It’s widely understood that most B2B buyers conduct product or service research on the Web during the buying process. Knowing when they do this online research can give B2B marketers great insight into what marketing practices to put in place and when.

Fortunately, Derek Singleton, a B2B Sales and Marketing Analyst for Software Advice, studied data from more than 6,000 visitors to their site to discover when this research is performed and when is the best time to pick up the phone and call these prospects.

His post “B2B Buyer Behavior—Web & Phone Channels Industry View 2013” tells it all. B2B marketers will want to review his entire report, but here are highlights of the valuable data he uncovered:

  • Call leads fast—really fast. When they call a lead generated on the Web within 5 seconds, the odds of qualifying them are 29 percent higher than if they are called within 5 minutes.
  • Tuesday through Thursday is the best time to reach buyers. Leads that come in Tuesday through Thursday qualify at twice the average qualification rate as other business days.
  • Don’t underestimate the opportunity around the holidays. The week before Christmas is surprisingly active for conversion and qualification rates.

This information is not only over-the-top valuable for managing the staffing of your inside sales force, but it reveals that offsite meetings and other “non-sales” activities should be scheduled for Mondays or Fridays. Marketers might even consider some weekend staffing for those leads that do their research on the weekends. These leads could easily be lost or overlooked if they don’t receive a well-timed call.

Of course, this data is based on the practice of the prospects and customers of Software Advice, so marketers may want to study their own data to make sure these findings apply to their business and market. It’s great information that can make a fast and direct impact on the bottom line.

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1-Minute Quiz May Reveal Your Best B2B Marketing Tool

In the early days of this B2B marketing blog I wrote a post about social media called “Getting over our own marketing bias.”

In the post I clearly stated that I didn’t “get” social media. I couldn’t see what benefits it brings to B2B marketing. Of course, because I recognize my bias, I work hard to read about and understand the value of social media and be open minded about its value to integrated B2B marketing strategies.

DM BiasToday’s big bias on the part of most B2B marketers, however, is against direct mail marketing.

B2B marketers who do not properly test this channel for lead generation are being as narrow-minded as I was about social media. I’m here to help them get over this bias with this quick Quiz. It’s designed to help B2B marketers discover if their bias is getting in the way of their marketing success.

Answer these seven quick questions now and see the result at the bottom.

  1. My company sells B2B products or services into definable universes that can be classified using firmagraphics such as industry, number of employees, annual sales, years in business, etc.
  2. My marketing budget can cover a cost of $1 to $5 per contact to generate a direct response from qualified prospects.
  3. I want the opportunity to generate 1% to 2% response to my lead generation efforts.
  4. I am willing to spend more than $5 per contact for the opportunity to generate as much as a 10% response rate of qualified prospects.
  5. I can cover the cost of a $25,000 direct mail campaign by making just one or two sales.
  6. I have a list of respondents to my other marketing programs that I haven’t been able to reach via phone or email.
  7. Sales has identified a finite number of top prospects with whom they want to have a conversation.

If B2B marketers answer “yes” to just one of these seven B2B marketing questions, I can pretty much guarantee that their company is missing what could easily be one of its most productive marketing tools.

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Lookin’ for B2B buyers in all the wrong places?

Sometimes B2B marketing is conducted like the country song “Lookin’ for Love” made popular by Johnny Lee in the 1980 film Urban Cowboy.

I was reminded of how common this problem is when working on a recent copywriting project. The work was for a B2B marketing agency whose client was selling products and services to small business.

Small businesses come in many types, of course, including such categories as:

  • Personal services, such as hair and nail salons
  • Home services, including contractors, landscapers, plumbers, electricians, etc.
  • Restaurants
  • Gift stores
  • Financial services, including CPAs and financial advisors
  • Lawyers and physicians
  • Dry cleaners and tailors
  • Shoe repairs
  • Phone stores
  • Framing shops
  • Drug stores
  • Nail and hair salons
  • and many more.

All of the direct mail, email and digital B2B marketing elements (media, channels, messaging) that were part of the client’s B2B marketing programs were chosen to reach and appeal to the generic small business.

However, like the song lyric “Lookin’ for love in all the wrong places,” this company was spreading its marketing budget over such a broad sweep of channels and businesses that the impact of each dollar spent was significantly diminished.

Then, its agency conducted a detailed analysis of the client’s customer database and the revelation was dramatic. Out of the dozens of small business categories, a handful of very specific types of small businesses stood far above the rest in terms of the number of orders and amount of revenue they generated.

Now, with this research in hand, all the client’s B2B marketing efforts are focused on channels that directly reach these small business categories. All the visuals and copy used in the marketing are designed to build a connection with these specific business types.

The lesson is clear. It’s essential that B2B marketers periodically conduct this kind of analysis of their own customer data. It’s the only way to ensure that they are not spreading their dollars too thinly, but that their targeting and messaging lead to the most sales, the greatest income and the best lifetime value.

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B2B marketing that talks “Outside-In” not “Inside-Out”

A few weeks ago, a colleague forwarded a post — “Better SEO through Integrated Content Marketing,” by Scott Fasser — that was on the Optify blog in 2012.

In the post, Scott recognizes that SEO is no longer a separate tactic but an integral part of B2B marketing strategy. He discusses four essentials to maximizing SEO. These include effectively using personas, which I discussed recently in “Personas: They’re not just for B2B marketing anymore.” He covers the importance of addressing all B2B marketing buy cycles, as well as the long list of the social media elements that are now part of any successful SEO initiative.

One point, however, was something I knew but had never seen presented in such a clear and definable way. That was his advice to “Talk Outside-In vs. Inside-Out.”

Here are the highlights of his important point:

“How you talk about yourself and market yourself dramatically impacts how well you are found via organic channels — especially SEO. If your website is driven by a brand perspective that creates new phrases to describe what you do that is unique to your communication, you are not creating a true differentiation in your product, but new words to describe something that prospects don’t understand.

Marketing AutomationA major marketing automation company has positioned themselves as a provider of ‘Revenue Performance Management’ software. This term could mean many different things to different functional perspectives, but the core term for this category of service is marketing automation. ‘Revenue performance management’ has about 590 searches in Google in North America per month while ‘marketing automation’ has 14,800. This tells us that marketing automation is a better known term and more people are looking for this type of solution than ‘revenue performance management.’

The lesson here is to review your current and future messaging from the point of view of a persona that does not know about your brand, focus on true differentiation/value proposition and create content that they will understand without needing an explanation. Finding that balance between pushing new concepts and terms vs. serving the market where it exists today is an important input into your content marketing planning.”

This point was strongly supported in an SEO copywriting training session I attended. It presented the background on Google’s SEO algorithms and why it’s important for top positions in Google to use the terms that customers are using. This is the same in all B2B marketing copy and messaging.

To truly connect with customers, it’s essential to use the words and phrases that they know and to always speak from their point of view.

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Why B2B marketers must read this book on lead generation.

The title of David Scott’s new book “The New Rules of Lead Generation: Proven Strategies to Maximize Marketing ROI” is a bit misleading. It doesn’t just cover the new rules of lead generation marketing that involve LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. It covers all the channels and all the practices necessary to achieve successful B2B marketing lead generation.

As the CEO and founder of Marketfish, David Scott knows his stuff. When he tookScott Book marketing courses at the Wharton School, all he learned about was brand marketing. Thrown into a B2B marketing position when the CMO left the $3.5 billion publicly traded software company where he worked, he had to learn fast. Over the years he has discovered the value of data, testing and measurement for all channels. He now shares his knowledge and experience in this comprehensive lead generation marketing handbook.

B2B marketers must read and share this book if they:

  • Have been so focused on entering social media — or any other single media or tactic — that other necessary lead generation channels have been neglected.
  • Want a comprehensive refresher course on B2B marketing best practices to ensure that nothing valuable has been missed.
  • Have beginners on their team who need to learn what effective lead generation is all about.
  • Need to better understand the importance of data, brand, B2B marketing math and all the other elements that turn million-dollar companies into multi-billion-dollar companies.
  • Are worried that they’re missing one of the seven most successful lead-generation approaches that companies are using today.
  • Have budget limitations and want to focus lead gen dollars on tactics that can maximize the return.
  • Want a handy list of how-tos on any aspect of lead generation marketing.

Highly readable and very informative, this book doesn’t miss a beat. I recommend it for every member of every B2B marketing team — beginner or expert — wanting to maximize the success and the ROI of their company’s lead generation.

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5 must-dos in B2B marketing measurement and metrics.

I just attended another fabulous live presentation by the San Diego Direct Marketing Association. The speakers, Randy Gerson of Gerson & Associates and Chris d’Eon of Deon Direct, knocked one out of the park — again.

ROI ChartLast time I saw Chris speak was when he was at ProFlowers. It was at that talk that I first realized he was a real direct marketing pro. This last presentation on “Collecting Marketing Metrics that Matter” didn’t change my mind about that. Randy, too, spilled out an impressive core of knowledge and advice.

Out of my pages of endless notes came a number of bits that every B2B marketer should brand on his or her brain. Here are five of those bits — from the experts’ mouths to my keyboard:

1. Keep your KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) on a single page. Any more than that will lead only to a muddied understanding of the metrics. Remember, KPIs are NOT analysis. They are top-level trends only.

2. In B2B, never figure cost per sale on immediate sales revenue. Always calculate it using the average life-time value of a customer.

3. Always start with simple A/B split testing. If the company is new or starting testing for the first time, keep the test simple. There is an approach to testing (multi-variate) that allows for testing dozens of elements at one time. But getting the results from complex testing takes too long. When just starting out, keep it simple and always run a direct test of one time against the other. Test one online site against another, one piece of content against another, one mailing list against another, etc.

4. Test the call-to-action button on every landing page. Having discovered the dramatic difference this single item can make in conversion on a landing page, Chris and Randy advise testing the color and the copy on the call-to-action button every time a new landing page is run.

5. Don’t waste time measuring things based on pure vanity. Impressions, clicks, leads, and likes are numbers that make us feel good, but they have no value as metrics on which B2B marketing decisions should be based.

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Personas: They’re not just for B2C marketing anymore.

Thanks to Software San Diego, I finally got the opportunity to learn about why there is such a widespread interest in personas these days. I always thought of them in terms of B2C marketing. Although creating personas is more formalized than it used to be, we B2B direct marketers have been targeting messaging to customer profiles for decades. So they didn’t seem like anything new.

What I didn’t understand, I learned from a knock-out presentation I just attended by Mitchell. Mitchell is a company started in 1947 that is now the leading provider of technology for claims management and repair shop solutions. They’ve adopted personas big time and not just in the marketing department.

Mitchell is in the process of joining a literal handful (5%) of companies that are putting the customer experience above all else in every aspect of their operations. That means people in every department are discussing customers, by persona, as part of everything they do.

Mitchell Persona-2InformationWeek recently recognized this growing shift in their cover story “Goodbye IT, Hello Digital Business: Delighting customers is job No. 1. Everything else is secondary.” In this story, Chris Murphy tells how IT no longer has a “support-the-business” role but is now at the forefront of creating products and applications that enhance the customer experience. At Mitchell, when the development team talks about products and features, those talks focus on the personas identified as users of that product.

The Mitchell presentation covered their journey and their learning process on how to create their personas, how many to create, what info should be included in them and how to make them easy to use and understand. Here are the basics I learned that may be helpful to other B2B marketing companies:

  1. The 5% of companies currently heavily focused on incorporating personas into their entire operation are, without exception, leaders in their industries.
  2. Depending on the budget available, these profiles can be created through a combination of customer interviews and surveys, plus interviews with sales and other personnel who directly interact with customers.
  3. Less is more.  To incorporate too many data points or too much information on each make using personas too complex and difficult to use.
  4. Rather than just data, the descriptions should be somewhat emotional.
  5. Each persona should be based on an individual’s role within their company.
  6. After much trial and error, here are the ingredients of each description that they found worked best at Mitchell:
  • Name: Using names with the same initials as the individual’s title were found to be much more memorable. For example: the parts managers might be Pete Murphy, the shop estimator might be Sean Edwards, and Carl Atkins might be the claims adjustor, etc.
  • Age
  • Education
  • Job Title and Description
  • Activities: What their job involves, specifically
  • Experience and Skills
  • Goals: In relation to their job
  • Tools and Technology: What they currently use, not just for the solution being sold but all the technology and tools used
  • Quote: These are usually gathered from interviews
  • Environment: A description of their surroundings when working
  • Picture: These are essential to help employees identify with each persona

At the heart of what I learned is that personas aren’t just for B2B marketing anymore. They can help the company succeed at every level and should be incorporated into decisions regarding products, messaging, personnel, processes and services. Every one contributes to the customer experience.

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Three B2B marketing practices driving me crazy this week

Some B2B marketing best practices are costly or complex. For example, B2B lead generation that uses direct mail is a best practice as it’s always proven to work better than email marketing. But it is much more complex and costly than email. I understand it when B2B marketers do not follow best practices because of budget or time constraints.

CrazyHowever, there are many instances when B2B marketing best practices are not followed — but could easily be without additional cost or effort. Frankly, that drives me crazy. Here are just three of those practices.

Practice #1
A colleague forwarded me a link to a 17-page white paper on the topic of email marketing. The copy consists of long, heavy paragraphs of information all printed in a soft gray color. I need a magnifying glass to read it. Even then, the experience won’t be pleasant. To be effective, content should be not only informative, but readable. That means dark type on a light background.

Practice #2
A B2B marketing contact of mine wanted his company’s sales phones to ring and decided to offer a “free assessment” to help make that happen. He added a gift incentive for a qualified call to make the offer even more powerful. This offer stands very nicely on its own and can be communicated quickly and easily. However, the powers that be at his company insist that there be product sales material in the package and in the message. This addition makes the mailing package come off as a product pitch and not a “no-strings-attached” offer, which does not follow best practices and is likely to reduce response.

Practice #3
I lost an argument this week over putting more than one call to action in a lead generation email. Offering case studies is great. Also offering a Webinar in the same email effort is sure to diminish response to both the content and the Webinar. Everyone who has tested one call to action versus two has seen this result; thus, one call to action is always the best practice.

True B2B marketing best practices have been tested and proven to maximize response and/or achieve an acceptable cost per response based on the potential sales revenue. When these practices are not followed, but could be, B2B marketers do more than just drive me crazy, they reduce their company’s bottom line.

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Last-ditch B2B marketing metric.

Recently I responded to an offer for a paper, “Getting Started with Marketing Measurement,” from Act-On Software. The paper opens with:

“The B2B marketing world has changed a lot over the past decade. One especially important new trend is the growing emphasis on measurement and analysis.”

MetricsComing from a direct marketing background in which measurement is everything, I say, “It’s about time.” Then the paper quotes, “Today, almost 70% of B2B marketers are turning to metrics to help them justify their budgets.” This spurs me to ask, “Why would anyone in demand generation marketing want to spend one dime in marketing (not branding) if they weren’t willing and able to measure what that marketing produced?”

The reason 100% of the B2B marketers in the study aren’t tracking metrics is because it’s hard. Marketers doing true integrated B2B marketing have a lot to keep track of.

Marketing automation helps, as most of those vendor systems include features for tracking response. However, not all responses to outbound campaigns end up on a landing page. Some generate incoming phone calls or emails and many end up as visits to the company Web site. Some traditional B2B direct mail efforts come back in reply devices.

Tracking that builds accurate B2B marketing metrics and measurement takes planning, processes and personnel. In many companies, those are all in short supply.

If limited or no tracking or measurement has been done, a last-ditch analysis can still provide the most important metric. This last-ditch option is to periodically run a match back data analysis by bumping the list of prospects or the customer file against the list of sales and identify matches.

Relevate Group briefly covers how this is done in “Driving Campaign Profitability Using Match Back Response Analysis in B to B Marketing.”

The Act-On Software paper includes a long list of revenue-related metrics a company should track. However, in the end, a match back can identify the most important metric of all. That is, “How many sales and how much revenue did the marketing generate?”

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