Lee Odden

Common B2B SEO Mistakes and How to Solve Them

Working with a variety of companies large and small, local and international, B2B and B2C, on SEO projects over the past 12 years has revealed a variety of common obstacles to success.  For many reasons, B2B marketers often lag behind B2C in terms of tactics and adoption of new marketing technologies.  The customer acquisition and buying cycle are very different for business to business than consumer oriented products and services.

Since SEO presents the biggest opportunity to generate a high quantity and quality of B2B leads, more B2B marketers are speeding up their ability to test innovative search engine optimization programs. Unfortunately, there are a mix of common mistakes that persist.  Here are 5 common mistakes and how to avoid them.

1. Using Keywords More Important to You Than Your Customers

It’s pretty common for some B2B web sites, especially those in the technology space, to over emphasize nomenclature, specifications and in some cases, cleverly named products or categories as attempts to stand out.

These product and service references are accurate to someone, but often not the buyer. In many B2B SEO programs, one of the most frequent exercises is developing insight into what customers actually think about an industry or a company’s products and services. What a customer might type into a search box on Google, Yahoo or Bing  may very well be different than the language the company uses in it’s own marketing and advertising content.

Here are a few tips on researching the keywords your customers use to find your products/service:

  • Brainstorm based on solutions & customer needs
  • Identify what concepts are most relevant according to where the customer is in the buying cycle
  • Conduct interviews or survey customers
  • Review current web analytics for referring search traffic
  • Poll sales & customer service staff for phrases used by customers
  • Leverage social media monitoring tools for tags and phrases
  • Review competitor web site content

Once you’ve created a glossary of key terms, you can organize them by category of the site and add metrics for Popularity, Competition and Relevance to guide in their use for optimizing existing pages and creation of future pages.  A Standard Keyword Glossary can be created based on input to tools like Wordtracker or Keyword Discovery. A Social Keyword Glossary can be created using social media monitoring tools that aggregate keyword clusters.  Looking at both types of glossaries allows SEOs to find Cross-Over Phrases for social media optimization as well as standard SEO.

2. Content is Not Reachable by Search Bots

We’ve learned from persona experience and heard from people like Vanessa Fox, creator of Google’s Webmaster Tools, that one of the most common issues with web sites performing poorly in search results has to do with barriers to getting crawled by search engines. Crawling of course, means the process of discovering links and content and then copying that content. If a search engine cannot follow links to your web pages or follow the links between web pages of your site, then it will be difficult for crawlers to find your content.  No content means no presence in the search results.

Many B2B web sites are created with technological and design prowess that offer a good user experience and even better tools to manage content. But they often ignore the need for search engines to interact with content.  We’ve run into situations where title tags are hard coded exactly the same for all pages of a site, or Ajax or Flash are used to create navigation elements within product categories that are seen as one web page vs 5 or 6. Multiply those missing 5 pages across hundreds of products and that’s a very large portion of content not being able to attract new customers.

Here are a few ways to avoid crawling issues:

  • Avoid unnecessarily complex URLs & using session ids
  • Do not publish multiple URLs to duplicate content
  • Rather than use temporary redirects (302 or JavaScript) use a 301 redirect to point old pages to new pages
  • Understand that if you site navigation relies on Ajax, Flash or JavaScript, you’ll want to provide an alternative text link navigation method.

Use Google’s Webmaster Tools or even those offered by Bing to see how their respective bots are interacting with your site. If there are crawling errors, they will be reported along with broken links and a variety of other useful feedback that you can use as a basis for implementing fixes.

3. Lack of New Content

If you read Online Marketing Blog with any frequency (and we hope you do) then you’ll know how we feel about content for marketing B2B companies. A longer buying cycle for most B2B products and services requires more content to educate customers, help them evaluate their options, consider choices and ultimately, make purchasing decisions.   Many B2B SEO efforts focus on optimizing existing content without a content marketing strategy that defines and editorial calendar for producing new content.   Blogs have been our tool of choice for managing and promoting B2B marketing content to attract customers via search, links and mentions within social media and networking sites.

Along with the creation of new content is the issue of site architecture. Managing content along with the interlinking of keywords to pages helps search engines find pages and infer meaning. Fresh, themed content along with a logical site structure using  categories, sub-categories and appropriate links between them can make a tremendous impact on search engine driven customers to a B2B web site.

Each new web page, or digital asset for that matter, that is optimized, published and included in a search engine’s index can serve as a potential entry point for prospects, customers and even journalists and potential employees.   Many companies in the business to business category publish large numbers of documents in PDF format. Those can be optimized with keywords and links just like any other document. The same goes for whitepapers, archived newsletters, press releases, past webinars, case studies and content used to describe online demos.

However, do not create and publish content just for the sake of adding more “hooks in the water”. Pages and media should have a purpose and should be mapped out in the keyword glossary and managed with a content editorial guide.  Search performance is greatest when you optimize content for customers first, search engines second.

4. Keywords Missing in Content and Text Links

Content alone does not solve SEO challenges, since customers search using keyword phrases. The keyword research conducted in the first recommendation should be used to “optimize” web page content and any other file formats (PDF, DOC, PPT) or media (images, video, audio) that can be found in a search engine. A general guide is to optimize for 1-2 phrases per web page, document or digital asset.

Here are some basic on-page content optimization tips to guide the usage of keywords:

  • Title tags
  • Headings
  • Paragraph titles
  • Keywords in body copy
  • Anchor text in links
  • Image alt text

Ideally, the content management system would be modified to prompt users to use keywords in these areas when new pages are being created. Dynamic keyword insertion tactics can also be used to help automate keyword placement in Title tags and the alt text of images, for example.

We’ve worked with many B2B web sites that have great content, but are missing keywords where customers and search engines need them – especially in links between pages.  Adding keywords to the link tells both web site visitors and search engines the topic of the page being linked to.

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As far as links go, one of the most often missed opportunities is to encourage keywords in links from other web sites to B2B content. Many marketers complain that they don’t know where to get incoming links for B2B pages outside of paid directories, link swaps and social news/bookmarking/profile sites.  Basic backlink analysis on sites with active PR, Advertising and Marketing programs will frequently reveal anchor text of incoming links to be the company name.

The core strategy that we follow whether the site is focused on B2C or B2B customers is to create, package and promote content that’s worth linking to.  However, no one will know to link to great content unless you promote it. One of the most effective ways to do that is by developing social distribution channels.

Here are a few examples:

  • RSS
  • Twitter
  • Facebook & LinkedIn status
  • Facebook & LinkedIn groups
  • Social News, Networks & Media: Digg, Delicious, StumbleUpon, Flickr, YouTube

One of the best ways to acquire keyword rich links from other relevant web sites to B2B content is to ask!  For example, when Public Relations staff coordinate the publishing of a contributed article or have secured a media placement mentioning the company, they can also remember to ask the journalist to link back to the company site. The worst the editor can say is no, it’s not our policy to link out.  Press releases are common link building tactics as are guest posts on other industry blogs.  The other best way to acquire B2B links is to create unique and often humorous or compelling content that gets shared and linked to by others.

Check out this post on the TopRank Marketing site for even more link building ideas, 43 actually!

5. Not Monitoring KPIs and Ongoing Optimization of Content Marketing

Each phase in the buying cycle presents different needs for the buyer that’s using search to find information and solutions.  Monitoring key data and interactions that are not necessarily conversion or sales focused can provide helpful insight into what content or link sources are helping to move the needle in the right direction.  Meeting the needs of searchers with the right content can be measured in a variety of ways according to what’s being offered.

A few KPIs to pay attention to include:

  • Keyword sourced traffic
  • Branded vs non-branded keyword traffic
  • Pages indexed, popular entry pages
  • Crawling errors & Webmaster Tools Reports
  • Rankings relative to your own site over time
  • Inbound links: quantity, quality, longevity
  • Link traffic
  • Social media citations & traffic

Of course, reaching goal pages & conversions are part of the B2B search marketing feedback loop to guide future optimization as well.  For one of the best resources on the web for measuring web site performance, read Avinash Kaushik’s Web Analytics Blog.

Through ongoing monitoring, keyword performance trends, cyclicality and new opportunities will be revealed. Adjusting certain optimization and linking efforts can improve performance and provide new channels of search traffic.

For an experienced search marketer, these mistakes are very simple and fundamental. In fact, they’re really the tip of the iceberg. However, our agency receives multiple inquiries every day from companies that suffer from these core SEO issues. Every day, week, month and year that goes by presents the same types of issues and until their solutions become as common as the need for a contact form and a home page on a web site, they will continue.  No matter how long that takes, TopRank Marketing is happy to be of help!

If you’re a business marketer, what are some of the common SEO issues you’ve experienced with B2B web sites?

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Lee Odden About Lee Odden

@LeeOdden is the CEO of TopRank Marketing and editor of Online Marketing Blog. Cited for his expertise by The Economist, Forbes and the Wall Street Journal, he's the author of the book Optimize and presents internationally on integrated content, search, social media and influencer marketing. When not at conferences, consulting, or working with his talented team, he's likely on a beach somewhere doing absolutely nothing.

Comments

  1. Very powerful, easy to follow article – well done.
    Out of interest, you mention “Branded vs non-branded keyword traffic” as a KPI. How do you go about measuring this?

    • Hey David, to measure branded vs non-branded traffic you'd use keyword referral data from your web analytics program. Segment search queries that include any of your brand names from generic terms. For example, we'd segment “toprank online marketing” from “online marketing”. Doing so can give you an indication of traffic based purely on SEO. However, it would be a gross mistake to think branded queries are not influenced by SEO in some way. Someone searching for “TopRank Marketing” might have seen an advertisement or a mention of us in an article. Alternatively, a search for “online marketing services” shows the result of SEO efforts alone. Make sense?

      • Absolutely – makes sense, in fact that's how I'm doing it at the moment with Google Analytics. I was just interested whether or not you used another tactic. Related to this, do use any specific keyword or click path tracking tool to try to determine the real long-term value of non-brand search terms? Specifically I'm thinking of when someone finds your site initially through non-brand search, then revisits your site a couple of months later through a brand term before making a purchase. i.e. I'm looking for ways to determine the original referring source for visitors who visit a site from multiple places before purchasing and determining the value of that original source. Forgive me if I'm asking too much here!

        • David, regarding a clickpath tracking tool that measures long term value – no, not yet. Although, the few companies that are combining web analytics with social media monitoring show promise in this area. Eric Schwartzman and I actually talked about this topic in a recent B2B SEO strategies podcast: http://bit.ly/c8ITyH

  2. Great article Lee. You've given us lots to think about.

  3. Daniel Easterbook says:

    Great list guys!

    • Thanks Daniel – they are basic tips but helpful to companies that might need this kind of “get started” information.

  4. I've seen a general lack of any sort of online marketing sense for most B2B customers that I've worked with. In a sense, that's good for me because the simple things we do create tremendous results! A lack of content and keywords are the biggest offenses I see.

    • This is often true in my experience too Jared. B2B corp marketers often get too invested in certain marketing strategies and because things can move slowly, find themselves in a situation of catch up. This has been the case with SEO and social media but the companies we're dealing with are making very rapid advances.

  5. Good article Lee.

    I can add one more issue – too much content. Some B2B sites just seem to dump all the marketing/technical literature onto the website, sometimes this is as bad a technical manual or some auto generated documentation.

    It really does get difficult to fine tune this content, especially when you need to deal with multiple departments to get SEO changes verified.

    • That's an interesting perspective Ramesh. I suppose the “throw spaghetti against the wall to see if it sticks” method is pretty common in the B2B space. What we've found in those instances where large volumes of content/documents are being published is to optimize the template they are created from so there is at least a minimum of base keyword and cross linking occurring.

  6. Another thing our clients seem to struggle to understand is using a balance of quality keywords and quality content. One client asked us why, for instance, when they type in “Weight Loss” and their product it did not appear in search engines. The fact was that they had never used that keyword in conjunction with their product name ANYWHERE on the site.

    • The funny thing about that is how common it is. Most people don't know how search engines work, not even many marketers who are very smart in other areas.

  7. Sometimes businesses forget what their external goals are and focus too much on their own idea of what is needed for their audience to find their website. It really requires the whole package to be working how it is supposed to.

  8. Great post Lee! I got here from a Google search on “client search habits survey” looking for how to get into issue 1. I’m going to use some of the points in your post to conduct an internal workshop with our marketing team as we practice writing content for search. The question we always come back to is what are our clients searching for, and we’re going to try to figure out some ways of finding that out.

  9. B2B SEO is much harder in my opinion, because the link building is much harder (and boring). Trying to link build for a company that makes “cable glands” for example…god help me. Saying that, you find the competitors don't have many links either so you just have to dig deep.

    • Creativity is the solution for that harder/boring problem with B2B link building. Also leveraging other marketing, advertising and public relations activities. Example: we helped one manufacuturer acquire 1,500+ new, unique and relevant inbound anchor text links simply by leveraging their dealer network.

  10. samitwebsitedevelopment says:

    Awesome article .I am agree with you , monitoring KPIs is one of best way to get actual report about the presence picture of seo work going on.

  11. Great points, I think for the most part, monitoring KPI is what people usually ignore. In case where they use KPI's they must have been using the wrong one. Well I'm not expert on this but upon reading numerous article on SEO, it basically sound simple but there sure are a lot of things to learn. Thanks for sharing your knowledge.

  12. Great article. The points you've provided are very informative. A lot of people think that it only takes Google a day to rank their site. They don't understand that there is a lot more work involved.

  13. Great points – especially the 1st one. Speaking in the customers language is so important. Thorough research on wht people are looking for as opposed to what you want to give them is vital.

  14. Great points to know to stop making fundamental mistakes in SEO, but I think, i have across these above points few times, but the only mistake we do is not remembering it and continuing with the mistakes. So we can keep a note, so that we don't repeat inspite of so many people educating us on better understanding SEO tactics.

  15. Lee you are the best

  16. Matt Braun says:

    Hi there from Paris,

    Excellent article, thank you very much for the detailed information.

    Too many times, we find some web marketing related articles that are too general and lack of concrete examples.

    Keep up with the good work!!

    See you

    -Matt

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  19. What about chasing after keywords that they have no chance in hell of ever ranking high in search engines for? Had one client a while ago that was run by a couple guys that thought their little business should go after the keyword ‘loan refinancing’ and ‘bank mortgage’.nnWithout the proper research into keywords and competition in the beginning you could be wasting your time.