Written by Saphia Lanier on Dec 5 , 2022

PPC + SEO = Powerful campaigns. Learn how search engine marketing for B2B brands can boost visibility and sales. 

Here, you’ll find:

  • What search engine marketing is 
  • Search engine marketing benefits for your biz
  • The difference between B2B and B2C search marketing
  • Steps to build a search-minded marketing strategy

Paid search vs. organic search: What’s the best way to generate traffic and conversions for your business-to-business (B2B) website?

It’s a question many B2B brands come to at some point. But the better question to ask is, how can you use the two together?

You see, search engine marketing (SEM) is a heavyweight strategy for B2B brands. That’s because it casts a wider — but more targeted — net to capture leads.

If you want to improve your online presence and sales, then it’s time you learn the power of search engine marketing for B2B brands.

Let’s review.

What is B2B search engine marketing?

B2B SEM is the practice of optimizing your online ad campaigns and website to increase visibility in search engine results pages (SERPs). It consists of using both search engine optimization (SEO) and pay-per-click (PPC) ads, also known as paid search (e.g., Google Ads, Microsoft Bing Ads).

When leveraged properly, SEM tactics help connect your business with people searching online for your products or services via certain keywords and phrases.

woman working on laptop computer

SEO is the second most effective channel for new customer acquisition. (Image: Rawpixel)

What are the benefits of SEM for B2B brands?

Search engine marketing can help B2B brands accomplish three main things:

  1. Increase visibility and brand recognition
  2. Grow inbound organic traffic
  3. Boost conversions

This is possible because most internet traffic for brands stems from search: 36% split between paid and organic search, according to a recent HubSpot survey.

But wait, isn’t traffic a vanity number? Not quite. It’s a great indicator of how well your SEO is working. However, this is only half of the picture — the number of conversions from that traffic is key.

According to the same HubSpot survey, we see SEO is the second most effective channel for new customer acquisition (as of 2022).

So if you’re looking to:

  • Get your B2B brand in front of high-intent searchers at the moment they need your product or service
  • Increase the value of your content by gaining higher rankings and traffic
  • Boost the return on investment (ROI) of your digital marketing efforts

Then search engine marketing is the path for you.

B2B vs. B2C SEM: Are they different?

At the highest level, no. While B2C and B2B search engine marketing campaigns follow the same principles, that doesn’t mean they’re the same.

In fact, there are some distinct differences between B2C and B2B search engine marketing.

For example, B2Bs have:

Longer sales cycles: B2B products tend to be more complex, requiring more time to decide on a purchase. That means they must be in front of their target market longer.

Complex products or services: B2Bs need more content to explain what they offer and how it works.

Higher average order values (AOVs): B2B leads are higher value, but also harder to close, since the price ranges can reach into the thousands.

Pro tip: Given the longer sales funnel, leveraging remarketing can help lift conversion rates. Along with that, integrating a winning Linkedin strategy will help fuel your sales pipeline.

The good news is search engine marketing can help you overcome these roadblocks. You just need to tailor your B2B SEM campaigns to meet the needs of your customers throughout the buyer’s journey.

When done right, B2B companies see amazing results from SEM. Here’s a look at the results from that same HubSpot State of Inbound Marketing report:

  • 52% of B2B brands run marketing campaigns compared to 48% of B2C companies
  • B2B brands see more success with inbound marketing and SEO than B2C companies
  • These brands see a higher ROI from inbound marketing than B2C companies
  • B2B brands are more likely to use blogs, case studies, white papers, and interviews
  • Most business-to-business marketers prioritize SEO over brand partnerships

So it’s no surprise that B2B brands find content marketing to be a top strategy.

“Advertising to businesses vs. directly to consumers means using a different messaging, strategy, approach, and even marketing mix,” says Steven Dang, VP of Growth and Strategy at HawkSEM.

But how do you develop a digital marketing plan that incorporates SEO and paid search?

Steps to develop a holistic B2B search engine marketing plan

B2B SaaS, B2B services, B2B products — no matter what business you’re in, your B2B search engine marketing campaign should start with these steps:

1. Define business goals and objectives

Your business goals are what you hope to achieve from your B2B search engine marketing campaign.

For example, you may want to:

  • Grow brand awareness
  • Generate leads or sales
  • Expand your customer base
  • Improve your customer experience
  • Build loyalty

Your objectives are specific metrics you’ll use to measure your success against your business goals.

For example, you can have goals like:

  • Increase traffic by 10%
  • Improve conversion rates by 2%
  • Achieve a certain number of leads or sales

The more specific your business goals, the easier it’ll be to determine if your marketing efforts are working.

2. Develop targeted buyer personas

Your buyer persona is a detailed description of your ideal customer. In B2B, creating buyer personas is trickier because there are multiple stakeholders involved in the purchasing process.

You’ll need a persona for each individual that’s a part of the decision-making process. For example, if you sell a CRM, then you’ll likely need content that gets buy-in from the CEOs, marketing leaders, and sales leaders.

Each customer persona should include information about each of the decision-makers like:

  • Demographics: age, gender, job title, company size, and location
  • Psychographics: interests, needs, wants, pain points, challenges, roadblocks, and goals
  • Use case or why they should desire your product
  • Quotes from your target audience to insert their voice into your content
  • Elevator pitch that’ll entice them to buy (1-2 sentences)

Here’s an example buyer persona template, which you can use instead of creating one from scratch.

Man using laptop, free public domain CC0 photo.

If you’re an established B2B brand, then odds are you already have content on your website. (Image: Rawpixel)

3. Conduct competitive research

There’s a lot you can learn from researching your competitors. Not only does it tell you about their positioning, but it also gives ideas into how you can serve the customer better, giving you a competitive edge.

Various tools exist to help you strip apart competitors’ strategies, such as their content types, search queries, rankings in search, and backlink profile. Some include Ahrefs, Semrush, and SparkToro. But if you don’t mind getting your hands dirty, you can research competitors for free using Google.

Start with a broad search of your industry + product or service. Then dive deeper into your products and target industry. The more you can narrow down your focus, the better.

Spend some time on their website, reviewing how they communicate their product, how they position themselves, what kind of content they produce, what their grammar and style choices are, and which channels they use (paid, search, both?).

Competitive research pinpoints the best strategies to use by seeing what works — and how to improve your campaigns by showing what they’re not doing right. For example, maybe they’re not using PPC, or their campaigns lack a solid landing page to increase conversions.

4. Perform a content audit

If you’re an established B2B brand, then odds are you already have content on your website. Conducting an audit on your blog and web pages is an excellent way to determine what’s been working and what needs improvement.

Many B2B companies make the mistake of focusing too much on net new content and overlooking low-hanging fruit in their content vineyard. Sometimes, all you need is content refreshing to boost a page’s ranking in the SERPs to drive more traffic.

For example, you can refresh an outdated blog post to include new links, images, stats, and information. Others may need better optimization or to be merged with another post that’s cannibalizing it (e.g., targeting the same or similar search terms).

Make a spreadsheet of the content that’s doing well and what needs improvement or deletion to help your site ranking.

5. Assess your technical SEO

Ranking on Google is tough. And it’s even harder when you have a website with poor technical SEO. By running an audit, you can find issues with your technical SEO, such as:

  • Broken links
  • Missing pages
  • Duplicate content
  • Non-indexable pages
  • Slow site speed
  • Poor website navigation
  • Poorly optimized images
  • Unoptimized meta tags

You’ll also want to look at your website structure to ensure that there are no silos. For instance, your blog content should be accessible from the blog homepage and not just from the blog category pages.

Tools you can use for this include Screaming Frog and Google Search Console.

6. Perform keyword research

Your keyword research will inform your entire B2B search engine marketing strategy, from the topics you blog about to the terms you target in your ads and web pages.

But don’t let this be the foundation of your B2B content strategy. Start with your audience and their pain points — talk to customer service, support, and sales teams to gather intel. Ask about the most common questions, concerns, and problems customers and prospects have, and whether these teams need content that could make their roles easier (e.g., case studies, tutorials, guides, etc.).

“For B2B companies, it’s critical to pre-qualify customers using careful keyword selection and clarifying who you’re targeting in the ad copy,” says Steven.

“For instance, if you’re only going after users who will order in bulk, say 1,000 pieces, you don’t want someone who’s looking to buy 1 or 2 pieces to click your ad and drive up ad spend. If there’s a minimum spend or quantity requirement, it’s best to state that up front and not incur unnecessary waste.”

Then use this to develop topic ideas, then match them with keywords you discovered using your tools.

“Keywords between and across SEM and SEO should be analyzed together,” Steven advises. “For instance, if there are gaps in your SEO keyword rankings (e.g., important keywords you don’t rank for), bid more aggressively for those terms on the paid search side. Conversely, if there are keywords on the PPC side doing poorly (e.g., high competition or low quality score), attempt to address that on the SEO side. Between SEM and SEO, you want to ensure your keyword coverage is complete and comprehensive.”

It’s also ideal to focus on long-tail keywords, so you’re targeting people with a more narrow focus. For instance, instead of targeting “CRM” you can target “CRM for sales leaders.” 

Look for long-tail keywords with medium to high search volume and low competition, or somewhere in between. 

7. Build a content strategy that targets every stage of the funnel

The beauty of a search engine marketing strategy is that you can create a perfect loop and journey for your audience. It looks something like this:

  • A prospect sees your ad on Google after searching for your product keyword
  • Prospect clicks on your ad and arrives on your landing page
  • Prospect either schedules a call or demo, or visits other pages on your site
  • After viewing your service pages and blog, they leave
  • Prospect sees your retargeting ads for a few weeks and decides to return
  • The prospect reads through a series of blogs targeting their pain point, downloads a case study mentioned in a post, and decides they want to purchase your product
  • Prospect clicks on a CTA to schedule a demo and fills out the form
  • After the demo, the prospect becomes a customer

By creating high-quality content for every stage of the funnel, you have something for everyone. The goal is for each post to guide prospects through the funnel. For instance, a top-of-the-funnel (ToFu) blog post about “What is a CRM” can have several use case links throughout the post that lead to middle-of-the-funnel (MoFu) pieces, like “How to build an ABM campaign using a CRM.”

Then you can include a case study link in the MoFu post showing how your product helped a customer achieve goals. In that case study, there’s a CTA to book a demo.

There’s no one way to set up your content funnel — it depends on your product and audience. So analyze the needs of your target customers to see how to best match their needs at every stage of the buyers’ journey.

8. Create lead capture forms

Your website’s lead capture forms are essential components of any search engine marketing strategy. They’re the entryway to your buyers’ journey and turn prospects into leads that you can then direct to your sales team — or other helpful content on your site.

One of the best lead-capture strategies is to create multiple forms to segment prospects and direct them to the most relevant content. This strategy also includes a retargeting component, where you create a unique ad group with multiple ads for prospects who’ve visited various parts of your site.

Create retargeting ad campaigns for each page, where you can also email prospects who visited the page (if you have their email).

9. Develop ad copy that qualifies customers

Broad ad match keyword campaigns are usually the preferred method for PPC, but for B2B marketers, maybe not. Titling your ad copy and PPC campaign with top-of-funnel terms will lead to impressions from prospects who aren’t ready to buy.

It’s better to target bottom-of-the-funnel (BoFu) keywords with high-intent, so your clicks are more likely to lead to purchases.

For example, instead of targeting a ToFu keyword like “CRM software,” you can target a BoFu keyword like:

  • “{CRM brand} vs. {CRM brand}
  • “{Competitor brand} alternatives”
  • “Best CRM software for real estate”

Also, it’s good to include negative keywords to ensure your ads don’t appear for irrelevant searches. Pay attention to your campaigns to see which keywords get traffic but little to no conversions.

10. Create a retargeting campaign to re-engage leads

Your most valuable site visitors are often those who’ve already been on your website. By retargeting these leads, you can bring them back to your site by sending them ads reminding them where they left off in their buyer journey.

Add the Google Analytics tracking code to your site so you can see what visitors are doing on your site. Then, set up campaigns based on the pages visited and create personalized ads to display to past visitors of that page.

This is a powerful way to nurture and engage your prospects, leading to higher conversion rates because you can show relevant content and ads to someone who’s already interested and engaged with your product.

chain links by a river

If you’re part of an organization and have partnerships with other companies, ask for a link in a relevant piece of content published on their site. (Image: Unsplash)

11. Create compelling landing pages

Your PPC campaigns should lead to a specific page on your website or a specific form. Your landing page is what will convert visitors into leads and customers.

If your ads are pre-qualifying customers, then your landing page should see a high conversion rate. Just make sure your landing pages speak to a specific customer pain point and have a relevant offer.

12. Build backlinks

Backlinks are links from external websites that link back to your website. Link building is a powerful strategy for deriving traffic from a search engine. These links have a direct impact on your site’s SEO — which impacts your organic and paid search rankings.

If you’re part of an organization and have partnerships with other companies, ask for a link in a relevant piece of content published on their site. For example, including your SaaS tool in a round-up listicle with your competitors. 

You can also share content on other websites as guest posts, which are non-promotional but include a link back to your website.

13. Monitor and experiment

Monitor your campaigns to ensure they’re performing to your standards, and keep track of your goals to see if you’re achieving them.

You can use Google Analytics, Google Search Console, and other SEO tools to monitor what keywords you’re ranking for and whether your ranking is increasing or falling. Also, experiment with various content formats, including blog posts, infographics, webinars, and podcasts. 

As for your ads, continue to watch which keyword groups perform best, so you know which to scale and which to abort. Run tests to maximize results before deciding. For example, you can experiment with various headlines, ad copy, and calls to action (CTAs).

One way to simplify this is to use a tool like ConversionIQ. This is HawkSEM’s proprietary software we use to determine which PPC keywords perform the highest (aka yields the most customers).

With this information, you can scale your ad campaigns with the potential to drive the most leads.

The takeaway

SEM is a powerful tool that can yield high ROI, if done strategically. By using PPC and SEO together, you create a holistic approach to your digital marketing and content creation.

You’re targeting prospective customers at every stage of the funnel on the channels they use the most to find B2B products: search engines.

Saphia Lanier

Saphia Lanier

Saphia Lanier is a content writer and strategist with 16+ years' experience working with B2B SaaS companies and marketing agencies. She uses an engaging journalistic style to craft thought leadership and educational content about digital marketing, technology, and entrepreneurship.

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