Online search is central to b2b marketing, comprising half of all digital marketing expenditures. But there's a significant variance in how marketers view the different search channels available to them, according to a new study by BtoB.
“Search Marketing: The State of B2B SEO and PPC Practices,” found that 95% of marketers have optimized their websites and landing pages to appear near the top of organic search results. However, the use of paid search ads is much less pervasive, and 35% of respondents have had nothing to do with pay-per-click efforts.
“I'm a firm believer that, from a customer-experience perspective and as a driver of traffic, search should be a marketer's No. 1 concern,” said Shawnn Smark, manager-global e-business and CRM at life sciences research and manufacturing company Bio-Rad Laboratories. “And that means both organic search and paid search. The two go hand in hand.”
Seventy-nine percent of marketers surveyed by BtoB cited building Web traffic as their primary goal in using search marketing, followed by lead generation and branding (each at 76%), sales revenue (59%), product and event promotion (57%) and competitive intelligence (38%). When paid search was considered alone, lead generation was cited as the most important goal.
The use of specific keywords and phrases is the most common element in marketers' SEO efforts, cited by 84% of respondents. Other important SEO elements include meta-description tags (72%), title tags (64%), social media integration (58%) and blogging (51%).
While organic search leads in adoption, paid search takes over commandingly when special needs or industries are considered.
“We are further along in our paid search than in our organic,” said Corey Carrillo, manager-global media worldwide search and online programs at Intel Corp. “We have a behemoth of a Web presence, and our U.S. site alone is a couple of million pages worth of content. It's been easier, frankly, for us to attack the paid search market and make strides with specific pages where we're not necessarily ranked toward the top organically.”
Smark said paid search is particularly effective when dealing with so-called “long-tail” search queries, in which users research very specific products of interest to a narrow group of specialists.
“In the high-tech world there is more disparity between the head and the tail,” Smark said of the dichotomy between general branding keywords and extremely specific phrases. “There is no middle here. Our strategy is to win on the brand with the head keywords, but to make sure we're part of every conversation with the tail keywords.”
There was a strong endorsement of social media's impact on search in the survey findings. Here, social media ran second (64%), behind effective Web pages (82%). Strong content—in the form of white papers, case studies, e-newsletters and videos—also was mentioned prominently as supporting a successful search marketing effort, in particular when shared socially.
Russ Mann, CEO of search marketing company Covario Inc., said optimizing for socially shared content, in particular videos, can be difficult. “The definition of what is video search is still being defined,” he said. “When you say video search, marketers might be talking about video advertising or user-generated video product reviews. And sometimes you might see display ads at the top of a video, or search ads that pop up inside a video, or text ads to the right of videos.”
BtoB's survey also showed the extent to which marketers are adjusting their efforts toward users of smartphones and tablet computers. While three-quarters of marketers said they are aware of the growing importance of mobile devices, only 23% said mobile search is either “important” or “critical” to their search marketing objectives; 46% said mobile search either is not important to their companies or only somewhat important.
Of those marketers that are developing their mobile search efforts, most are focused on developing versions of their websites (54%) or landing pages (48%) that display properly on the smaller screens of mobile devices.
Even though mobile search marketing is still in its nascent phase, local search is viewed as important or critical by 68% of marketers, a result that may have something to do with the survey's firmographics, including a significant proportion of respondents from industry verticals that rely on strong local outreach.
Local search best practices include adding local business addresses to Web pages (cited by 53%), adding local keywords in internal links (38%), making sure local content or references are included on websites (37%) and submitting company data to business directories (32%) and Yellow Pages (23%).
The totality of all these efforts seems to be paying off in return on investment, with more than two-thirds of marketers saying they're satisfied with their search ROI. For this year, 46% of respondents said they plan to increase their search marketing budgets, while 50% will stand pat. Only 4% plan search budget decreases.
BtoB's “Search Marketing: The State of B2B SEO and PPC Practices” is based on an online survey of 508 b2b marketers that took place in September and October 2011. Technology companies comprised 28% of the respondents, followed by publishing/media (12%), consulting (10%), financial services (9%), nontechnical manufacturing (9%), healthcare/pharmaceutical/medical (5%) and agencies (5%).
Respondents tended to be from small-to-midsize companies: 72% of participating companies reported annual sales less than $100 million, with 44% having sales less than $10 million. Thirteen percent of respondents reported company sales greater than $1 billion.
For information about obtaining the complete research findings, go to www.btobonline.com/searchreport.