Isn’t it funny how things have a way of coming full circle? It’s been years since I last talked with my mentor, but his sage advice rings true today more than ever. He told me that anyone can ramble on about anything without regard for their audience, but that it takes great skill to find a connection and engage them in a conversation. And the only way to make that connection, he said, is by understanding the audience you are trying to reach.
The same can be said of search.
While there are numerous ways to engage with an audience—and we’ll cover some in future columns—let’s first focus on identifying your audience and understanding the messages that will connect with them.
For some strange reason, many B2B marketers approach this process in exactly the same fashion as B2C marketers. First they seek to understand what topics people are looking for, then they structure their content accordingly. When done right, it results in more traffic from search engines. However, it also usually results in a terribly low conversion rate from search (for this purpose a conversion is defined as a user taking one or more desired actions on your site).
Unfortunately, many B2B organizations hastily interpret this poor outcome to mean that search—or even more broadly, the Web—does not work for them. So they move on to something else.
But just because some fall into this trap, doesn’t mean that you have to. Think about it. You’re not like a B2C organization in any other area of your business, so why try to understand your audience in the same manner? There’s a better way.
Don’t chase volume. Your goal is to acquire customers in what is usually a long sales cycle. Often this goal becomes compromised by a desire to drive huge volumes of traffic to your site. Most B2B sites have a potential audience that is a mere fraction of their B2C counterparts, but your audience often searches with more descriptive terms that clearly demonstrate their intent. Focus first on relevance to your business, and make volume secondary. You might think my recommendation is flawed because driving traffic always has to be good for branding, even if people don’t convert. Right? Not in my opinion. I would take a few solid brand experiences over a somewhat random mix of visitors any day.
Understand where your customers live and breathe. It has long been established that people use search engines regularly, and that most organizations have at least a foot in the door with search. Given that, I have seen numerous B2B clients experience a sizeable increase in customers by finding other means for reaching them that does not directly include their own company website. I am not referring to the usual social suspects such as MySpace, Digg, Technorati, and YouTube because these have a more mainstream audience. Take a look and see if any of these may be a good fit for your business. If not, consider starting up a social community yourself.
Don’t be afraid to be a bit geeky. I often get into debates with my B2B clients about including technically oriented content on their websites. Most are willing to include some details about their offerings, but often shy away from providing the nitty gritty on what they do. While I understand the desire to protect the proverbial “secret sauce”—and would never argue for full transparency—don’t be afraid to get a bit in the weeds. The point is that your ideal customers need to understand some level of the technical details, but many marketers believe this content is boring and will turn users off. My experience shows that for most B2B sites, this content is exactly what many users are looking for.
Focus on what makes you unique. Your business has its nuances. Maybe you only sell to the Fortune 500; or perhaps you have a unique methodology; or maybe you have minimum order requirements, all of which keep certain people from buying from you. Whatever the distinction, don’t hide from it; embrace it. Be front in your search marketing creative and organic search meta data and content so that you can save the potential visitor (and yourself) the frustration of later realizing that this relationship won’t work.
Remember, seasonality is a key factor. People are going to search for different things at various times during the year. Understand that if your business has seasonality, you need to make decisions about your audience based on the entire cycle and not just a peak or valley.
Overall, creating a connection with your B2B audience first requires understanding. The best way to gain that understanding is to avoid the model followed by B2c organizations. Sure, it works for them, but B2B is different. You are tasked with the responsibility of creating a relationship, not just a sale. Follow the above approach, and you’ll be on the right track towards meeting-up with you audience. Next time we will focus on how to get your audience to stay connected, and keep them coming back to continue the conversation.
Brian Kaminski is managing director of search engine marketing firm iProspect in San Francisco, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Strictly Business column appears Wednesdays at Search Engine Land.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.