Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Questioning the Prominence of B2B Search

Have business-to-business marketers assigned too much stock in search?

Admittedly, I realize that questioning the value of prominent placement on Google, Bing or Yahoo search results may produce snickers of disbelief. Scholars of search will point to the flush of AdWords cash in Google's coffers, as well as the near CSI-like dissection of the key words and tags to enhance organic search engine optimization.

For many companies with diverse and fragmented customer bases there is no mistaking the importance of Web search to drive prospect interest.

However, the value proposition of search sharply declines for purveyors of high-end solutions for corporate and government buyers. That's because the vendor community knows exactly who their prospective customers are, and the importance of proactive outreach and relationship building in the sales process.

Moreover, there has been a sustained shift in entry to the Web from search engines to social networks, such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. This is why Google has tagged Facebook as a significant competitive threat.

A good friend and long-standing client pointed me to a BtoB Magazine article about a recent survey entitled "The Impact of Social Media on Search." The nearly 500 marketers queried reported their most important goals for social media marketing as the following:

-Building brand awareness (81%)
-Increasing traffic to a Web site (77%)
-Generating leads (67%)
-Providing deeper engagement with customers (66%)
-Improving search results (57%)

This clearly supports my contention about search for enterprise solutions vendors. It's important, yet not as high on the priority list as many believe.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Marc - I like your thoughtful blog post and think that fundamentally we agree on this issue.

To take this one step further, I feel it can be difficult to justify spending on a PPC campaign for B2B marketers and the cost in human or outside vendor resources for SEO, when so much of B2B does rely on the relationship.

Having said that, though, this situation reminds me of the tagline for the athletic clothing manufacturer Under Armour - "We must protect this house!"

By this I mean that all PPC and organic "real estate" on the front page of search engines is very valuable. Whether I'm a longstanding B2B stalwart or a relative newcomer, the value of those top positions can influence someone in the early to mid stages of the buying process and provide an opportunity for that newcomer to get in the mix for the sale or make the industry leader irrefutable on the search engines.

As that newcomer, I would want to wrangle away some highly targeted organic keyword positions (maybe short-tail KWs, but certainly some long-tail KWs) from the market leaders to get an opportunity. If I can't get there organically with SEO, I want to buy into one of those top PPC spots to compete, just to get the chance to show why my business is more nimble, more focused, etc.

As the stalwart, I never want to allow that opportunity to exist organically or through PPC - and the meaning of the "We must protect this house!" mantra. If you're not on top organically and in PPC for your best KWs, there's still something you can be doing better.

To your point, social media certainly gives a richer experience than search - and in B2B the richer experience is the lifeblood of the deal. And because of that, I agree with your posting.

But no good business leader should allow "the house" to be unprotected for even one second - and that is the inherent (albeit somewhat lesser) value of SEO and PPC for B2B. Tut Bailey,