How to use SEO to influence B2B buyers at every stage of the buyer’s journey
Columnist Nate Dame notes that these days, B2B purchasers are performing as much as 90% of the buyer's journey on their own. Are they consistently finding your brand along their journeys?
Content marketing isn’t a new strategy anymore, and as every corner of the web fills up with content, marketers increasingly need to prove ROI and drive revenue. Modern SEO has, for years, been the secret weapon for creating content that stands out above the noise — and now that B2B marketers are discovering the value of mapping content to the buyer’s journey, SEO is already equipped to help.
Why align content marketing to the buyer’s journey?
Among other benefits, mapping marketing activities to the buyer’s journey has proven to increase upsell and cross-sell opportunities by 80 percent.
And that’s because the buyer’s journey has changed. The internet puts all of the info directly into buyers’ hands, which has shifted most of the traditional buyer’s journey into marketing’s territory.
Now, 77 percent of B2B purchasers won’t even speak to a salesperson until they’ve done their own research first, and they might be performing as much as 90 percent of the journey on their own. The question for marketers, then, becomes, Are those buyers consistently finding your brand along their journey?
Because if they’re not finding your company, they’re finding your competitors. Talking to prospects throughout the buyer’s journey means defining the path, discovering how prospects are navigating it online, creating content that finds them when they want it and adjusting with the market.
1. Define and understand the buyer’s journey
We all know what a basic buyer’s journey looks like, but mapping marketing activities to that journey means digging in and uncovering some specific details about the journeys that your unique buyer personas are taking. The buyer’s journey for someone investing in a tech platform, for example, might be very different from the buyer’s journey for someone hiring a logistics partner.
When defining the specifics of your audience’s unique buyer’s journey (and there may be more than one if you are targeting different personas within the purchasing team), ask yourself and your team:
- What problems are buyers becoming aware of?
- Is internal or external pressure driving them to find a solution?
- How are they exploring solutions?
- What type of content do they desire and respond to?
- What are the most important factors as they compare vendors (pricing, customer support, reviews or something else)?
Answering these questions as specifically as possible for your audience will help you create a solid foundation from which to optimize content.
2. Uncover unique insights with keyword and user intent research
With detailed buyers’ journeys in hand, the next step is understanding how your audience navigates that journey online—specifically via search engines because they are definitely using search engines. 71 percent of B2B decision-makers start the decision making process with a general web search.
And traditional keyword research is no longer enough. People use Google to ask questions, and working with Google’s algorithms to get your content to your audience requires marketers to understand the questions behind the keywords.
Google has defined four micro-moments that describe most search queries:
User intent starts by understanding which micro-moment is happening with each target keyword. Google your keywords and see what organic results Google provides. Those 10 links can tell you:
- what content your audience is looking for. A definition of a term? A product? A free trial? A list of steps?
- what type of content they prefer. Lots of videos means they watch the videos. Lots of infographics means they download infographics.
- where they are in the buyer’s journey. Definitions are at the beginning. Pricing sheets are at the end.
- who on the purchasing team you should be talking to. If you get big-picture content, the C-suite is probably using those terms. If you get detailed, technical instructions, the influencers who are actually doing the work are using those keywords.
A Google search for “content management,” for example, produces a definition in the featured snippet, several other “what is” suggestions and a whole page of organic listings for content that defines the term:
If your company produces content management software, then, you know that when your audience searches this term they are looking for a clear definition. They don’t need flashy content features, they’re at the beginning of the buyer’s journey, and they’re probably managers or executives. Use user intent insights to map your keyword to buyer journeys.
All of these insights will help you create content that meets the right personas at the right stage of their journeys.
3. Create content for every stage in the journey
It’s time to create some content — or optimize existing assets if adequate content already exists.
First, review existing content against new user intent insights, and figure out where you do and do not have content that meets (or tries to meet) the user’s need. If a keyword has a strong Buy intent, do you have a sales/product page? If a keyword has a strong How or Do intent, do you have helpful resources? If the answer is no, it’s easy to start prioritizing.
Additionally, consider whether the content:
- is using your audience’s prefered format.
- is better than the content already ranking well.
- speaks to the right audience segment.
- includes an appropriate CTA for the buyer and journey stage.
- performs well on mobile devices.
Optimize content you have that is already on the right track. It’s much easier and faster than starting from scratch.
Finally, create content to fill in the gaps where you don’t have anything that answers the question/pain point for a keyword/user intent combo.
You might find yourself with a long list of content that needs optimizing and/or creating — which is great! Don’t rush through the process, though, and create low-quality content. Prioritize the work, and develop a reasonable content calendar to keep the project moving.
4. Measure and adjust
As with any SEO and content marketing strategy, of course, keep monitoring engagement and conversions to make sure you’re getting the most out of your efforts. Look for signs of engagement (or lack of):
- CTAs. If CTAs are being ignored, content isn’t connecting.
- Forms. If prospects land on pages with gated content but don’t fill out forms, then content isn’t achieving marketing goals.
Other standard SEO metrics can also help determine how the strategy is performing before sales start increasing:
- Organic ranking. If your content is climbing in organic search, it means your content is getting better.
- Click-through rate (CTR). Increasing CTR means you’ve successfully targeted your users’ needs and pain points.
- Time on site. Longer time on the site hopefully means users are engaging with your content, but it’s not a perfect measurement.
- Bounce rate. Consider the content before you determine if a high bounce rate is good or bad. It’s traditionally considered a bad sign, but if your content is just providing a definition, it’s probably okay. Or if you’re consistently publishing blog posts, it’s probably okay if users bounce out of each one.
- Total visitors/pageviews. If it’s consistent and/or increasing, you’re attracting better leads.
If something isn’t working — if an organic listing isn’t getting clicks or a form isn’t getting filled out — test some other options. Rewrite the title and meta description that appears in search results. Shorten the form and change the color of the button. If small changes don’t seem to help, reevaluate your user intent research and make sure you are answering your audience’s questions better than the competition.
These metrics demonstrate signals of a larger problem relating to your content not working.
Using SEO to influence B2B buyers at every stage
A company that fails to acknowledge how the buyer’s journey connects with content creation is ultimately wasting time and missing out on potential customers. Aligning SEO, content marketing and the buyer’s journey, however, is the secret to creating a brand voice and presence that nurtures leads through their own buyer journeys.
Define your buyer’s journey, uncover insights through keyword and user intent research, then create content for each step. When you go in to measure your efforts, you’ll find that the metrics speak for themselves.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.