Unsurprisingly, there has been a lot written about B2B SEO.
Marketers are gonna market, after all.
A quick Google search shows that a) “B2B SEO” is a super competitive search term, and b) most of the posts that appear on the first page are the length of small novels.
This post will also be long. But it will not try to outdo what’s already been created in terms of pure length or in depth of detail, because, let’s be real, that’s not needed. Instead, I’m going to tackle this subject from another angle:
There’s a ton out there that will give you tremendous technical detail or just leave you waist-deep in keyword-stuffed fluff. But there aren’t many step-by-step guides that will help you to start doing B2B SEO efficiently.
This guide will.
If you want to do B2B SEO, here’s what you need to do:
- Clarify your business objectives.
- Determine your target keywords.
- Optimize your on-site content.
- Create new (SEO-optimized) content.
- Build backlinks.
- Track your progress.
Ready to learn how to get your site to the first page of search results that will make a difference for your business?
Let’s get started.
1. Clarify your business objectives.
This may seem like common sense, but it’s very important: You should not do B2B SEO if you don’t know what you’re trying to accomplish with it.
You could switch “B2B SEO” with nearly any marketing tactic and the previous sentence would still make sense. But having clear business objectives is even more important for SEO purposes than it is in other channels – because B2B SEO takes time.
Unless you are starting from a very strong base, you probably will not rank for the keywords you want to rank for overnight. The truth is that it will probably take you months to see the results you want.
That means that, if you change your mind and want to sell another product or service midway through an SEO campaign, you’ll be setting yourself back significantly.
Some marketing channels (like search ads) are sprints – they can get results quickly. But SEO is a marathon. If, after getting halfway through, you decide that you want to run in another direction – well, you’ll have to go back to the starting line.
Before B2B SEO is worth it, you need to be very clear about what you are selling and who you are selling to.
Decide what you’re selling.
The first step is to determine what products or services you’ll focus on.
Often, this is pretty obvious. If you’re a B2B SaaS company and your only offering is data replication software, the choice is pretty clear – you’ll focus on ranking for searches related to data replication.
But if you have a broad portfolio of products and services, you may have some thinking to do.
We’ve worked with national AV firms, for example, who do everything from cable installation to conference room setup to managed IT services. Sometimes, new products are developed and offered; sometimes, old offerings are shelved. Sometimes services are available in Georgia but not in California.
You get the idea. You don’t want to invest time and money into ranking for searches around a product you’ll discontinue in a year.
SEO can inform your business strategy – but it absolutely has to align with it.
So, get crystal clear on what you’re selling.
Identify who you’re selling to.
Once you’ve clarified what you’ll be selling, it’s important that you also know who you’ll be selling to.
There are several reasons for this.
First, your target audience may search for your offering in a unique way. The IT department at a school might call workstations “learning stations”, for example. Knowing your audience will help you to identify the right keywords to target in the next step.
Second, knowing your audience will help you to create relevant content. If you’re selling to laboratory managers, you’ll write about different topics than if you were selling to individual researchers.
Of course, many B2B buying decisions are made by groups. From a B2B SEO perspective, you should target the people who are most likely to be searching for solutions.
Let’s say you’re selling laboratory information management software to academic laboratories. Maybe the board makes final buying decisions, but the lab manager is the one actually searching for a LIMS solution. Your SEO content should target the lab manager.
You’ll have content geared toward the board, too – but it doesn’t need to rank in search, because when the board is reading your material, you’ve already been found.
2. Determine your target keywords.
Once you know what you’re selling and who you’re selling to, you can start to determine your target keywords.
These are the keywords that you want your website to appear on the first page of search results for – the keywords that will guide the rest of your strategy and, eventually, translate to sales.
There’s a lot of advice out there about how to pick the right keywords. Here’s what I recommend.
Use your brain.
Your own brain is only a starting place, but it’s helpful (most of the time, anyway).
- How would you search for your own services?
- What are some common questions you think people have about your services?
Brain dump the results into a spreadsheet and move onto the next step.
Use customer data.
Customer data can be a great indicator of what people are searching. And depending on the nature of your business, you may have a ton of it.
- Can you pull common terms from ticket requests?
- Can you review customer reviews or testimonials for keywords?
You may also be able to actively generate this data. Your sales team probably has insight – poll them. Poll your clients, too. You can do this manually. If you want to get a little technical, Seed Keywords is a great option, too.
Once you’ve got your data, add it to your spreadsheet and move on to the next step.
Use competitor data.
Finally, your competitors might know something you don’t.
I recommend plugging the websites of your three biggest competitors into a free tool like Ubersuggest or Google Keyword Planner.
You’ll be able to see a list of keywords they currently rank for and a list of suggested keywords. Pick the most relevant ones and add them to your spreadsheet.
By this point, your spreadsheet is probably a mess. But it’s okay, because now it’s time to…
Organize your keywords.
By tapping your own brain, your client data, and data from your competitors, you should have a pretty good idea of the many different phrases people are using to search for your solutions.
Now, it’s time to pare things down.
First, go to Google Keyword planner, enter all of your keywords in, and check their historical search volumes. Filter out any keywords that get no searches.
Then, categorize all of these keywords around core topics and identify a main keyword for each. You should have 3-5 main keywords.
Next, under each keyword, identify 8-10 supporting keywords.
There are a few ways to gather these. The simplest is to see how Google autocompletes your core keyword.
You can also search your keyword and then scroll down to the bottom of a results page to see related keywords.
Or, you can use an SEO tool like ahrefs to get detailed data on related topics.
After you’ve listed 8-10 supporting keywords for each main keyword, you will have 24-50 keywords total. And now you’re good to go.
You don’t need to focus on more than these. Stay focused and you’ll get results faster.
As an example: “B2B SEO” is a main keyword topic for us. Searches like “how to do B2B SEO”, “top US B2B SEO agencies”, and “backlink building for B2B SEO” are longer-tail keywords that fall under that main keyword.
Here’s a final piece of advice as you select your keywords. Usually, the best keywords are a) closely correlated to buying intent, b) have more than 50 searches each month, and c) aren’t incredibly difficult to rank for.
For most keywords, one of these factors will be less ideal than the others. Assuming that the keywords you’re looking at are at least related to the solution you’re selling, I’d weigh search volume most heavily. If the term isn’t directly tied to buying intent but is still related to your general field, you can likely find a way to convert traffic and nurture the sale later.
But if nobody is searching for a term, it won’t matter if you rank for it.
3. Optimize your on-page content.
All right – you know your business goals and you have a list of keywords you’re targeting. Now, it’s time to get into the nitty gritty: on-page SEO.
Here’s what you need to do.
Make sure your site is well-built with a logical architecture.
When I say “well-built”, I mean that your site should:
- Load fast (check that here)
- Be easy to use
- Be mobile friendly
- Not be hacked
Assuming that those bases are covered, you’re doing pretty well.
When I say it should have a logical architecture, I mean that your site should have a simple URL structure.
Don’t publish your blog posts at /blog/education/01/2021/this-is-my-blog-content. I recommend setting up your URLs so that they align with your core keywords. For example, if you’re targeting data replication, have a page for /data-replication and put supporting keywords under it (i.e. data-replication/heterogeneous).
The other approach that works is to have all of your content right under your homepage – so that the URL for any page is yoursite.com/URL.
I know this is a little technical, but it does impact SEO pretty heavily. If you need help, get your developer involved.
Make sure your content is optimized.
Assuming that your site is well-built, the next step is to optimize your content.
First, you should review your site and identify what pages you’d like to rank for what keywords. I recommend creating a spreadsheet that lists every page on your website, then going through and pairing page to a keyword.
You may not have a keyword for each page; that’s okay. Once you’ve picked the pages that you want to rank, it’s time to optimize them.
There are three crucial keys to this:
- SEO titles
We covered URLs above, but again – use your keywords in your URLs.
SEO titles are the headlines that appear in search results. These can be set from your content management system (CMS); if you’re on WordPress, install the Yoast SEO plugin and you’ll be able to edit them easily. Again, use your keywords in your SEO titles.
H1s are primary headings. Each page or post should have only one primary heading, and it should contain your targeted keyword.
There are a variety of other factors to optimize your content, too. These include:
Images and media. Google likes when pages provide different materials to engage with. Videos, infographics, memes – you get the idea.
Content length. Generally, longer content performs better. (This is why every post appearing in the results for “B2B SEO” is longer than 2,000 words.)
Links. External links (links to sites other than your own) help search engines to determine how your page fits into the entirety of the internet. Internal links help search engines to determine how your page fits into your site. Use both liberally as they’re relevant.
Now, there’s a good chance that the existing content on your site isn’t geared for SEO – and it may not even make sense to optimize it.
That’s okay, because a big part of SEO is creating new content.
4. Create new content.
Content creation is the engine of any legitimate B2B SEO strategy. The reality is that, if you aren’t creating content, you won’t rank.
Here’s how you should create content so that you do rank.
Create pillar pages for main keywords.
“Pillar page” is a term coined by HubSpot; basically, a pillar page is the hub of your SEO efforts for a particular keyword. It’s goal is to rank for one of your core keywords.
For example, if one of your core keywords is “task management software”, you should create a pillar page dedicated to that topic. Your pillar page will include internal links to supporting pages that are related to that topic.
Importantly, pillar pages are usually very long – 2,000 words is a baseline.
There are several types of pillar pages:
“What Is X?”
This is often referred to as a “skyscraper” page. It’s basically a complete guide to your core keywords that’s meant to have information on everything a reader could want to know about the topic. See an example here.
“How to Do Y”
This is another complete guide, but it’s targeted toward action. You’re reading an example of this right now.
“Best of Z”
This is a collection of resources around a given keyword. You can see an example here.
The examples above will give you ideas to start; if you want more pillar page advice, here are a few helpful resources.
- What is a pillar page? (HubSpot)
- Pillar pages explained (Neil Patel)
- Ultimate pillar page development guide (Blue Frog)
Create blog posts for long-tail keywords.
You pillar pages will be supported by blog posts written about your supporting keyword topics.
Reread that last sentence, because it’s important.
If you’re doing B2B SEO, your blog won’t simply be a place to write your latest thoughts (although you can do that if you want to).
It will be a channel to create SEO-relevant content on – and your content will be guided by the keyword research you did at the outset of your campaign.
Remember, you should have 8-10 supporting keywords for each core keyword. Write a blog post that is focused on each keyword.
If your core keyword is “accounting software” and a supporting keyword is “how to use accounting software” – well, that’s the topic of your blog article. If your core keyword is “cabling installation” and a supporting keyword is “types of cabling installs” – well, there’s your post.
When the keyword research is in place, what to blog about is pretty straightforward.
As far as how to blog, here are my tips:
Follow all of the guidelines discussed above in the section titled “Make sure your content is optimized.”
If you do, you’ll be off to a great start.
Promote your content.
The last piece of the content creation puzzle is promotion. At a baseline level, this is pretty simple: Share your content with people.
If you have employees on LinkedIn, ask them to share your articles when you post them.
If you have an email newsletter, send out your latest blog posts.
Basically, share your content across your social networks as much as you can. This has a quantifiable impact; search engines are more likely to rank your content if a bunch of people are posting about it online.
And that takes us to step five.
5. Build backlinks.
On-page SEO is one half of the equation. The other half is off-page SEO – or, as it’s commonly called, backlink building.
Backlinks are links back to your site from external sites. In the early days of search engine optimization, these were the most important factor in rankings. Google treated backlinks like votes, and the more votes your site got, the more likely you were to show up high in search results.
Now, things are more complicated. Certain links carry more weight, and certain links carry non. But let’s not get too bogged down in the details, because the truth is this:
Backlinks still really matter.
So, here’s what you need to do.
Set up any relevant listing profiles.
This is the easiest step in backlink building. Identify directory-type sites in your industry, create a profile on each, and link it back to your site.
We’ve got profiles on Clutch and Goodfirms, for example (among others).
Get links from your network.
This is the second-easiest step to backlink building. Make a list of your vendor partners and your clients. As it makes sense, reach out to people and ask them if they’d be willing to link back to your site.
Get links from relevant sites.
The hardest step is to broaden your backlink profile to include sites whose owners you don’t directly know.
There are a variety of strategies to get these links.
You can guest blog. Many sites will allow guest contributors to publish pieces on their platforms. This is usually done through manual outreach.
You can look for places where your content would be relevant and ask site owners to link to you. This is just a numbers game; you’ve got to continually reach out to people and it takes a long time to get decent results.
You can run a PR campaign. For a few hundred bucks, you can pay to distribute a press release, and it will get picked up by a variety of online channels. There’s some debate about whether PR-built links have value, but we’ve found them to be impactful in our own work.
You can outsource your backlink building to an agency. Fat Joe, for example, will basically do the options listed above for you. If you don’t feel like spending a ton of time on this, you’ll probably want to outsource it.
Because it takes a ton of time.
6. Track your progress.
By this point, we’ve covered all of the nuts and bolts of actually doing B2B SEO. But the activity isn’t the end of the story.
For it to be worthwhile, you’ll need to track and measure your progress.
Monitor your rankings and traffic in an SEO tool.
We use ahrefs for this currently. It measures:
- Which keywords we’re ranking for
- How our rankings are changing over time
- Results for keywords we want to rank for
And a lot more.
In the past, we’ve used SE Ranking and Moz; there are a bunch of SEO tools out there, and all of them work pretty similarly. The key is to track how you’re doing so that you can optimize further.
Let the data inform your strategy.
And that’s the final step in the B2B SEO process: updating your efforts over time.
If you get a first place ranking for a core keyword – great.
If you don’t, check to see what kind of movement you have gotten, and compare your content to the content that’s ranking above you.
- Do the rankings above you provide more detailed information?
- Do they have a better backlink profile?
- Are they structured differently?
Granted, some of this data-digging should be done during the content creation stage – but as you work, you should continually be circling back to find what is working, because it will change over time.
Final B2B SEO Notes
So, that’s the process and strategy behind B2B SEO. I hope you find it helpful, and I’m confident that if you implement those six steps, you’ll see real results.
But before I leave you to it, I want to take a quick moment to answer some of the most common questions I hear about B2B SEO.
How long does it take to get B2B SEO results?
It varies – but, on average, I’ve found that it takes one to three months for content to affect keyword rankings.
Now, if your site is well-established and already ranks for a lot of keywords, you’ll be able to get new rankings a lot faster.
If your site is brand new, it will take longer; in fact, unless you can crush content production and build backlinks very quickly, you probably won’t rank for anything meaningful for six months to a year.
This is a long-term game – but in the long-term, it definitely pays off.
Is B2B SEO different than B2C SEO?
No – and yes, a little.
From a technical standpoint, B2B SEO is the same as B2C SEO. There aren’t different ranking factors or segmented search engines or anything like that.
But, as Brian Dean from the excellent blog Backlinko points out, B2B SEO is different in that it targets lower-volume keywords and is often aimed at reaching a group of buyers rather than a single buyer.
Basically, it’s the same game, just played on a different field.
Should I work with a B2B SEO agency?
If you don’t have business objectives tied to B2B SEO results, than the answer is almost definitely “no.”
If you’re strapped for cash, than the answer is probably “no”, too.
But if you do have specific objectives in mind, and if you don’t want to shoulder the burden of SEO work internally, and if you want to ensure you’re pulling the right levers to actually rank – then, yes, it probably makes sense.
If you’re interested in that, let’s talk.
And, either way, good luck out there! Now go get those rankings.