I'm in the business of search engine marketing, so it's sometimes easy to forget that a majority of people don't really know that the industry exists, how useful it is in business to business marketing, and what a valuable marketing tool SEO can be in general. However, the fact is that a disturbing number of business executives could not tell the difference between SEO Outsourcing and REO Speedwagon (although most would probably agree that neither sounds particularly good*). In fact, when I explain that I work at a search engine optimization company that focuses in part on business to business marketing, most people instantly assume that I have a search engine of my own and that I am somehow trying to compete with Google. I'm flattered until I see the pity in their eyes.
Even those familiar with search engine optimization have common misconceptions about the value of SEO in business to business marketing. Frequently, I encounter prospects who understand that achieving a high ranking on a search engine is a valuable marketing tool that can make an impact on the bottom line of a business, but mistakenly believe that this is true only if that business actually sells something online. Nothing could be further from the truth.
While e-commerce companies can and do benefit tremendously from SEO as a marketing tool, there are many factors in search engine optimization that actually favor B2B companies in terms of overall benefit from the channel.
Large e-commerce sites have thousands, and sometimes hundreds of thousands, of individual product pages. While performing SEO on such sites does not involve (thank goodness) manipulation of each of the individual pages, each of the page elements that will be used for SEO benefit (titles, headers, text, and meta tags) have to be painstakingly entered into a database. It is very rare to find that the existing database a company has for each of its products contains all the elements necessary to use SEO as a successful marketing tool.
Once all of these elements have been added to the database, it is then necessary to make certain that the server is performing as it should. Then, you must ensure that each of the pages can be crawled by the search engine spider, so the linking structure often must be manipulated.
Using SEO as a marketing tool in business to business marketing is typically much easier, as a standard B2B site is usually built using simpler technology, and the individual pages physically exist on the server. In this case, each page is optimized for a few terms relevant to the business. While a good SEO firm will spend more time on the marketing aspects of a B2B campaign (the overall goals of the initiative and the keyphrases that will bring the right kind of visitors to the site), the actual implementation of the elements necessary for SEO success is usually much simpler.
Average Dollar Sale
There is a practical price limit, which varies from industry to industry, beyond which people become uncomfortable buying online. B2B companies typically have a higher average dollar sale than e-commerce websites, which makes it much easier to justify the cost of any effective business to business marketing tool. While a visitor to an e-commerce site might garner $12 in revenue from the purchase of a coffee mug, a visitor to a high-end B2B website is potentially worth millions. It does not take Alan Greenspan to crunch the numbers--the higher the average dollar sale, the fewer visitors you need to actually justify the cost of SEO as a business to business marketing tool (provided that a certain number of visitors actually lead to a sale).
Value of Relationship
The people that run e-commerce sites such as Amazon are incredibly smart, and they know that almost all of the products that they sell online are highly commoditized. This is why they devote so much effort toward enhancing the visitor experience on their websites with tools like personalization and one-click shopping. They are trying to develop lifetime buyers. B2B companies don&t have this problem. By utilizing a successful business to business marketing campaign, the visitor you attract to your site with this marketing tool could be more valuable over a lifetime than thousands of e-commerce buyers. Offline sales require offline relationships, and personal relationships are easier to maintain, no matter how many bells and whistles an e-commerce company might add to its site.
There is another reason that SEO is often even more effective for business to business marketing than for e-commerce sites--no matter how beautiful the website, how secure the checkout process, and how big the company name, price will always be the primary differentiator when items are purchased online. How else to explain the popularity of online shopping comparison sites such as Yahoo! Shopping, NexTag, and Shopping.com (to name but a few)? When it comes to business to business, marketing is crucial. In a world where prices are rarely listed online, a B2B company almost always has the opportunity to differentiate itself on its own terms after the initial contact is made. With the right marketing tool, such as SEO, a B2B company can easily stand out from the crowd.
Using SEO as a Key Marketing Tool
E-commerce companies are more readily embracing SEO as a business to business marketing tool because they are technologically savvy and because their businesses already depend on the Internet to survive. However, e-commerce companies only make up a small fraction of the number of companies that are actually out there. There are many B2B industries where there is currently little or no competition on the search engines, and the ones to move first and use SEO as a key marketing tool will reap the highest rewards.