B2B ABM and SEO
B2B Marketers are aware of all the buzzwords, platform promises, and a plethora of techniques. As account-based marketing (ABM) has become more scalable and innovative, more and more businesses are implementing target account lists and outbound marketing programs to align with sales. Inbound marketing channels like SEO are a reliable standby, an almost old-fashioned mix of best practices and steady organic traffic.
Too often, the SEO content strategy and the ABM strategy are created in silos, isolated from one another during the most important parts of the process; also completely devoid of feedback from sales organizations. By integrating SEO and ABM from the beginning, marketing and sales teams can save time and content creation costs and generate faster, greater returns.
Shared Goals and (Mostly) Shared Processes
Ultimately, the business goal of marketing is to get qualified leads into the sales pipeline. By aligning the whole team on this goal and tracking and targeting KPIs against it, businesses are setting these teams up to cooperate and coordinate efforts.
Shared Goals and (Mostly) Shared Processes
Identify Business Goals
Identify key competitors
Identify Target Topics
Identify Target Accounts
Identify topics searched by personas
- “How do I…” “What is…”
- This tool vs. That tool, Product specs
- Case studies, proof that this is the best choice
Identify 3-7 personas within those target accounts
- Individual contributor who is looking to solve a problem
- Middle manager who is trying to make a recommendation
- Upper management looking to make the best ROI and get the right solution
Create landing pages and content for the website
- Research user intent in Search Results and determine what language, voice, media types and depth of content speak to a specific topic
- Optimize the landing page to increase clicks from search engines by meeting user intent and answering the search query completely
- By pairing the personas to search topics, ABM knows the right call to action for each content landing page’s place in the funnel
- ABM’s campaigns are omnichannel, multichannel and channel agnostic.
- (Who cares if that lead came in via SEO? Oh, it was free?)
Qualified lead is captured by efforts and passed into the sales pipeline for nurturing
- Build lasting relationships with target accounts to grow new opportunities in the future
If approached this way, SEO can become one of the personalized campaign channels for ABM. It can also provide key insights and information into the kinds of media and content types that personas are looking for at each stage.
The business immediately reduces costs by having a strategic content creation plan that is informed by search data and optimized for higher conversions with the ABM data. By doing the ABM and SEO strategy concurrently, the time and effort of articulating goals and researching targets can be greatly reduced.
How SEO Can Help ABM
Account-based marketing includes a series of assumptions about how B2B buyers work. ABM assumes:
- That B2B buyers are highly self-educated before they are ready to buy
- That there are a number of people on a team that have to make a recommendation to buy
- And by targeting these lists and campaigning to them personally, the business can generate greater ROI than the strategies that cast a wider net like SEO.
Let’s break that down a little bit, shall we?
“B2B buyers are highly self-educated before they are ready to buy”
How exactly do you suppose they are self-educating? According to a 2015 Google study, 71% of B2B buyers start their journey by Googling a problem with generic (non-branded) search terms. Gartner reports that buyers spend 27% of the entire purchase journey independently researching online.
SEO is helping ABM by getting in front of those target personas at the beginning of the journey. Because Google tries to estimate user intent for search topics, the search result pages offer clues to the SEO team about what kind of content that persona might be looking for with a given query.
“There are a number of people on a team that have to make a recommendation”
There are about 3-7 people that are part of most B2B buying decisions, and ABM marketers have to touch each of them about 7 times to get to the sale. Google reports that on average, B2B researchers do 12 searches prior to engaging on a specific brand’s site.
What if organic search results and content landing pages were several of those touches?
Further, what if targeted organic search topics and the content landing pages created for them were tied to the funnel stage for various target personas?
Given that 90% of the time, B2B buyers are using Google to research decisions, ABM could do some A/B testing on conversions on those pages to see if they were indeed capturing the right audience at the right time.
“Targeted account lists generate greater ROI”
Absolutely, the core of ABM is not in question.
But there is data available from the SEO team that could help define potential gaps in the buyer’s journey – and inform outreach steps that had previously been missed. The keyword information paired with personas can also help the team understand the pain points of those particular people, and inform collateral that might be built to support the conversion.
Also, by coordinating and consolidating the content strategy, the two teams can reduce the net content creation investment, which improves ROI.
How ABM Can Help SEO
SEO is more or less built of three parts; content strategy, technical implementation, and execution, and then all of this is informed by and supported by data.
The obvious partnership between ABM and SEO comes on the content strategy side. By coordinating and combining efforts, ABM and SEO will be able to create one content strategy that moves forward both of their goals and the main company goal of getting leads into the sales pipeline.
By working together at the front end when competitors, goals, and target accounts are defined, the content audit and keyword research will be informed by the same information the ABM team is using. The personas that are created out of that work will help the SEO expert “get into the head” of the potential search user and can drive seed keywords, topic discovery, and data mining at the onset.
Further, the ABM team might be able to help the SEO team optimize page titles and meta descriptions for click-through from Google via the lens of the specific pain points per persona.
Less obvious are the technical opportunities in partnering SEO with ABM efforts. High-performing pages can do well in search traffic, but maybe don’t convert as well. The ABM side of the world can help with this optimization in two ways; conversion testing and optimization.
By understanding the target audience as deeply as ABM does, they are able to design and run tests on high-performing pages to see if the CTA is targeting the wrong part of the buyer journey or the wrong persona. By using ABM insights, SEO can “cash in” on high-performance blogs that otherwise drive traffic but no conversions.
Since most SEO experts consider backlinks a “technical” piece, those referral links that ABM goes after can also impact search. It would be ideal to have this coordinated to target the key landing pages that are the most relevant to users on that referring domain, right? Your ABM team agrees.
Don’t be surprised when the ABM team can help add prioritization to the technical SEO improvements that impact user experience on the page. Pagespeed improvements, mobile usability, and other best practices on the page impact their bottom line, too.
Finally, there’s the data component. ABM is the missing link between the analytics data the SEO team is looking at, and the CRM data that the sales team is using.
One thing that SEO might not be able to articulate is the multi-touch attribution of that blog post. If an individual contributor relies on your B2B blog for information, they are more likely to recommend or be interested in purchasing your tool later on down the funnel. Further, SEO doesn’t often see where the non-converting “touches” come to bear later on in the purchase cycle. With the ABM insights and data surrounding the search interactions, SEO can better target and hone pages.
Integrating SEO and ABM Processes
Often, when ABM is launched in a company for the first time, an SEO content strategy is already in place. It’s a good idea to start collaborating together as early as possible in order to reduce double work and inform one another of knowledge already existing between the teams but not necessarily shared yet.
It’s likely that the ABM discovery process will highlight gaps in existing competitor lists, persona definitions, and even business goals. This is important to get alignment early in the process so there’s plenty of time for research.
For the ABM team, the existing content and how and where it’s performing is going to be an important piece of information. The SEO team can highlight top traffic pieces with low conversions for testing, and the pieces they’ve already identified as high-potential but ripe for rewriting.
SEO is just one of the many arms of a personalized ABM campaign, but it’s a crucial one. It can help define what content works for whom and when. Which can even help inform the outbound strategy moving forward.
Gartner identified 6 buying tasks that B2B buyers explore before making the final purchasing decision.
B2B Buyer Journey and Marketing Channels
|Problem Identification||Discovering a problem that needs to be solved||How to...
|Blog, video, webinars, infographic||SEO, SEM, Social|
|Solution Exploration||Finding the tools, solutions and services available to solve the problem||How to... Technical specs Tool type category||Technical pdf, white papers, webinars, checklists, ebooks||SEO, SEM, Social|
|Requirements Building||Key expectations and considerations for the purchase||Tool that does X Tools that integrate with X||Partnership pages, integrations, competitor comparisons||SEM, Social, Email, SEO|
|Supplier Selection||Scrutinizing if the supplier can truly deliver what they need||Tool vs. competitor Tool alternatives Tool reviews||Competitor comparison charts, “best of” news||Sales contact, Email, Social, SEO|
|Validation||Reaffirming that the selected supplier is the right fit||Why I stopped using XXX||Case studies, social proof||Sales contact, social, email|
|Consensus Creation||Getting everyone to agree to the decision||ROI data, case studies||Sales contact|
|Customer Satisfaction||Considering switching tools||Solving X problem with X tool||Webinar, blog, ebook, video||SEO, sales contact, email|
By ensuring that ABM and SEO teams are working together in terms of sharing insights and content strategy, B2B marketers can take advantage of the insights that both tactics provide and save themselves work in content creation, optimization, and targeting.