How to Map SEO Keyword Research to the B2B Buyer Journey
Understanding the B2B buyer’s journey, from awareness to vendor validation to sales readiness, becomes critical in developing a successful online marketing program. The application of keyword research is also a critical component of this process, since search engines are a primary acquisition channel bringing prospects to a B2B website.
B2B marketers have sets of keywords they want to target in a SEO program. This list is historically generated through research associated with product and marketing collateral, competitor and industry insights, and interviews with key personnel and business stakeholders, among other resources.
But once this list of keyword research is developed, an important facet of SEO is to prioritize this list based on where these keywords resonate in the buyer journey.
In order to do this, B2B marketers must assess the search engine results for strategic keyword targets, in order to define the content marketing objectives present in these results.
Understanding Search Query Intent
Before evaluating search engine results, let’s briefly revisit the primary reasons B2B buyers use search engines to find potential solutions to their needs. As detailed in a post on Yoast, there are three primary types of intent associated with keyword targets (search queries).
- Informational Intent – these search queries represent information seeking objectives and the desire to learn more about a particular topic of interest.
- Navigational Intent – these queries align more towards the evaluation of a particular topic or theme. Brand-related queries are often a function of navigational intent.
- Transactional Intent – and lastly, these queries are more representative of a purchasing action, or more directly related to the buying process.
Translating this to the buyer journey, we can see similarities between search intent and the B2B buyers’ proximity to sales-readiness.
- Informational queries are more in-line with potential buyers seeking information about a particular problem, business scenario, or concept relevant to their industry or target audiences
- Navigational queries are more representative of the vendor-specific research process, including validation of the B2B vendors’ expertise and capabilities.
- Transactional queries point potential buyers to specific solutions, products, or information designed to generate more sales-oriented leads for an organization.
Identify Content Marketing Objectives in Search Results
The critical factor in aligning keyword research to the B2B buyer journey is in understanding the content marketing objectives found in the search engine results of strategic keyword targets.
As B2B marketers review search engine results for specific keyword opportunities, consider the following patterns to realize.
- What percentage of the top (first page) search engine results include vendor-specific product or solution-based web pages?
- What percentage of first page results include articles addressing questions like “what is [keyword]?”, best practice pages, definitions, or lists of examples?
- What type of “People Also Ask” questions are raised in search engine results and is there a mix of blended results such as images, videos, or scholarly articles?
The key takeaway is that it might be difficult to obtain a favorable position for a strategic keyword target with a solutions or product-specific web page, if there are very few or no applicable page types appearing in first page search results, for that keyword target.
Search results that predominantly address questions like those listed in the second bullet above, likely require comprehensive information-oriented content marketing assets, not vendor solution pages.
Conversely, search results that primarily contain vendor solution pages may be more transactional in nature, reflecting search intent that is more sales-oriented as well.
A Keyword-Based, B2B Buyer Journey Mapping Example
Here is a scenario where this type of mapping might work. In this example, we’ll tackle three keyword targets associated with the theme “customer experience”.
- customer experience management
- customer experience solutions
- customer experience management solutions
In the screenshot below, we’ve uncovered Google Keyword Planner data associated with these terms.
Note that all three keywords have historic search volume, are at least moderately competitive (i.e., advertisers are bidding on these terms via Google Ads), and it can be relatively costly to bid for these phrases.
Customer Experience Management
Seven of the first 10 results for this keyword phrase offer definitions and information about “customer experience management”. There is also one software review, one list of strategies related to this term, and only one product listing.
In addition, Google also shows a Knowledge panel on the top right-hand side of the page (referencing the Wikipedia definition) and “People also ask” questions at the bottom of organic results.
This phrase appears more suitable to content that showcases thought leadership and addresses awareness building of a vendor’s expertise. B2B buyers may be less likely to be considered “sales ready” when searching for results associated with this phrase.
Customer Experience Solutions
For this keyword phrase, nine of the first 10 organic search engine results feature vendor solutions and product information. We can infer that Google believes B2B buyers are further into their buyer journey when using this search query.
It would seem more likely that a well optimized product or solutions page has a chance to compete for search results associated with this keyword target.
“Customer experience solutions” is therefore a more sales-ready keyword target in the B2B buyer journey.
Customer Experience Management Solutions
It would be easy to assume that a more detailed keyword phrase like “customer experience management solutions” could be more actionable for SEO targeting. Search volume is significantly less and phrase may also be less competitive than the other options.
But an analysis of search engine results infers that the type of content required may be even more tricky to assess than the other two phrases.
Five of the first 10 results offer comparison / review-based content. There are also three vendor listings and two articles in first page results as well.
In this case, a well constructed product page may succeed in the long-run (similar to what we would create for “customer experience solutions”) but it is also advisable to ensure the vendor has visibility in popular reviews and comparisons that are either currently ranking or will be developed in the future, in trusted publications.
This phrase is likely aligned with middle of the buyer journey objectives, since the results point more so to vendor validation and more thorough information gathering.
Next Steps in SEO and B2B Buyer Journey Mapping
Of course, once B2B buyer objectives are defined, the next step is to execute content marketing and SEO tactics designed to improve the position of a web page specific to keywords like the ones above.
Beyond individual and direct search analysis, SEO tools like Moz Keyword Explorer and SEMRush’s Keyword Analytics and Content Tools help B2B marketers further uncover patterns in search results that aid in optimization efforts.
The overarching recommendation is two-fold:
- Understand the factors and commonalities with existing search engine results to address areas of opportunity in owned or to-be-created web page content.
- Develop a plan of action to exceed the expectations of searchers looking for answers associated with target keywords, based on patterns and best of breed material found in existing search results.
This sounds easy enough but attention to detail is required to build effective optimization campaigns, particularly when tackling the most competitive keyword targets.
And lastly, mapping keywords to locations in the buyer journey also helps marketers better communicate expectations to senior management and team members.
This is because the types of leads generated will be more in-line with broader content marketing objectives, matched to strategic SEO keyword targets.
Is your organization mapping keyword targets to locations in the B2B buyers’ journey? I would love to read your perspective via comments below or on Twitter or LinkedIn.