The Current State of the Business-to-Business Marketplace
In this report:
Search Engine Marketing: An Overview
Two primary areas of Search Engine Marketing (SEM) exist in the B2B marketplace today:
These online search engine marketing resources are proving to be some of the most cost-effective and measurable means today of generating qualified leads. Many Internet fads have come and gone in the last decade, but the one constant has been the desire of Internet users to quickly and efficiently find relevant and important information. In the early days of the World Wide Web when only a few thousand websites existed, hand-edited directories, like Yahoo.com, which began in 1994 as the first website of its kind, provided a concise listing and categorization of practically every website online..
As the Internet grew exponentially in the late-1990’s, robotic search engines, such as Alta Vista, Excite and Lycos, began to gain popularity because they were able to visit and index many more websites than was humanly possible. Then Google.com came online in September 1999 and everything changed.
Google's founding engineers developed software robots (known as "bots" or "spiders" that "crawl" the Web looking for sites) and algorithms that accurately determined the relevancy of many more web pages than any other search engine or directory. As word spread about Google's quality and quantity of listings, the Internet populace flocked to its site to access the most up-to-date and relevant database of websites that existed. Through its own website and its partnerships, Google now delivers results for approximately 60% of all Internet searches.
The Google Economy and the Big 3 (errr 2?)
The importance of Google in today's business environment should not be underestimated. In the Information Age (first referred to as the 'Google economy' by the New York Times in December 2002), the single source for the most important global information wields a great deal of power. BtoB Magazine has repeatedly named Google the #1 business-to-business website. The trademarked Google brand has become so pervasive in our society that it is has become a generic term for Internet search. The pronoun Google is now also used as a verb, as in "Just Google it."
Google and its main competitors for supplying search results, Yahoo! and Bing (previously MSN), have leveraged the power of their multi-million daily users by selling highly targeted keyword focused Pay-Per-Click (PPC) advertising to help businesses reach their best markets. Note that Yahoo and Bing have now joined and while they function separately, they now use the same search engine and PPC AdCenter.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO): No Tricks or Secrets - Just Acquired Knowledge
Search Engine Optimization is an art and science that has been misrepresented over the years. Though many people who make their living optimizing websites would tell you that they know all of the tricks to obtaining high rankings on Google and the other major search engines, no SEO tricks exist to help you obtain the best rankings for your company's most important keywords. Tricks will only get you permanently blacklisted by Google.
Successful Search Engine Optimization combines known methods of coding a web page (science) with a writing style (art) that integrates the results of extensive keyword research (science) to determine the best keywords and phrases to target along with a compelling story about your expertise. Several other factors, including the traffic history of a site, the number of incoming links to a site, the size of a site (number of pages and amount of content), the frequency of updates, etc. All of these factors and more combine to generate higher search engine rankings.
However, the most important, and frequently overlooked, aspect of successful search engine optimization and high rankings is the contents of your website. One of the most amazing aspects of the algorithms devised by Google and others is the ability to decipher the contents of a web page and determine its relevancy to a particular keyword search. Another artful aspect of search engine optimization is knowing what type of content is well-received by both the spiders and your site visitors. Likewise, knowing how to entice site visitors to complete and submit an RFQ or an inquiry form is an important ability when writing and designing a website.
Pay-Per-Click (PPC) advertising is an important means of selectively targeting an audience, but it requires bidding in an open auction to secure the top listings, which appear as textboxes on the side or the top of a search engine’s results page. This type of advertising is fairly cost-effective because you only pay when someone clicks on your ad to view your website and you can set daily, weekly or monthly expenditure maximums to fit your budget. You can also easily calculate your ROI with this program.
However, to maintain the top positions for your pay-per-click keyword or phrase, you need to constantly monitor the current auction prices and adjust your bid as necessary, which can be very time-consuming. Also, with the rapidly rising popularity of this program, the bidding price for popular keywords and phrases can go as high as several dollars per click, whether or not that click turns into a qualified lead or sale. In addition, a pay-per-click ad is not ranked purely based on what you are willing to spend. Rather, the ranking is based on a formula that creates a Quality Score. Google doesn’t make any money from you unless people click on the ad, so the better the ad is, the higher it may rank.
PPC advertising can get very complicated when trying to really set up a good plan and maximize the effectiveness of your dollar. Negative keywords, A-B ad testing, landing page testing and more are all factors to be considered and implemented.
Pay-per-click ad programs have, in many cases, proven they are effective means of generating targeted website traffic. However, statistical and anecdotal evidence indicates that traffic generated by pay-per-click text ads is a small percentage of the traffic produced by being well-ranked in the organic, free search listings - usually as a result of good search engine optimization.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) or Pay-Per-Click (PPC) - That is the Question
As a first step in developing a search engine marketing (SEM) program, we usually suggest optimizing a company's website to obtain high search site rankings for their most important keyword phrases. This is the most logical first step, because if you later decided to participate in a pay-per-click program, the site will be ready to deliver very specific messages to the tightly targeted viewers that click through the paid links to visit. The pages of an optimized website are developed with the intent of getting the viewer to take action - to make contact with you - before leaving the site.
Another reason we recommend search engine optimization first is that the click-through rate for pay-per-click listings is only about 10% of that for the top organic listings obtained through SEO (or by sheer luck based on its highly-relevant contents).
Because many B2B companies have several lines of products and services, and each line has many associated keywords and phrases, optimizing your website could eventually become a very large project. However, building the ultimate website does not need to be completed immediately, in one phase. Keyword research will determine the most potent keywords for your company, so your website can be optimized for the most popular keyword phrases first, followed by an incremental process of adding other potent keywords while maintaining and improving the initial optimization.
The Benefits of Search Engine Optimization
The benefits of search engine optimization are both immediate and long-term. The immediate benefit is that your company will have a website that is a much better reflection of who you are and what you do. With the input of your sales team, the site will serve as a valuable selling tool for both the audience that finds the site via a search engine or the audience driven to the site via your other integrated marketing communications and lead generation tactics.
The next benefit that will result from optimization is that your site should begin to achieve high rankings on the major search engines for your designated keywords. These high rankings allow you to occupy some of the most valuable real estate in the global B2B world - the first few pages of search engines' search results. Having achieved this goal, you should shortly thereafter begin to receive a stream of phone calls and emails requesting further information and quotes for your products and services.
The two main long-term benefits of search engine optimization are: First and foremost, you will increase your site traffic and your responses from site visitors, which should lead to increased sales. Second, through increased site exposure and traffic, you will increase the awareness of your company and products within your targeted markets.
An additional benefit is that - because effective optimization requires a little continual maintenance - your website will be kept up-to-date and will grow to be an extensive and valuable resource for your prospects, customers and staff. An extensive website that establishes your company as the foremost experts in your industry, combined with top search engine rankings, will help your company attain a position as a leader and innovator within the industries you serve and among your peers.