Demystifying SEO for B2B content marketers

Solomon Radley08/04/2019

Some ‘digital gurus’ make SEO seem like it’s a kind of black magic, but don’t let them fool you. Once you strip away the jargon, you’re left with common sense rules for getting your content ranked in search engines.

Too many B2B companies separate SEO from content.

Some put content writers and SEO experts on different teams with different budgets. Others plan their content strategies without giving SEO a second thought. A few even put all their eggs into the SEO basket without investing in the skills needed to create great content.

But the fact is, the two are related.

You can’t have good SEO strategy without great content strategy. And good SEO is crucial for drawing organic traffic to your brand’s site.

We know that 71 per cent of B2B buyers start their research with a generic search online and that the vast majority of clicks go to pages that appear high up in online search rankings.

But, before you can research which search terms your audience is typing into Google, you still need a strong understanding of the specific needs of each stakeholder group you’re trying to reach.

As you’re about to see, incorporating SEO best practices into your content marketing strategy isn’t half as hard as certain ‘experts’ make it seem. In fact, getting the basics right is easy once you strip away the confusing industry jargon so many of them love to use.

It’s almost as if some people writing about SEO online don’t really want you to start doing it by yourself!

That’s why we created this no‐nonsense introduction to B2B SEO. It does away with jargon terms like ‘SERPs’, ‘canonicalization’ and ‘link reclamation’ – leaving just the simple ideas you need to start optimising your content for search engines.

The role of SEO in B2B content marketing

The relationship between SEO and content strategy is simple.

Your content strategy will answer the big questions about who your target audience is, what challenges these stakeholders face and how you can create content that effectively addresses those needs.

Meanwhile, the scope of your SEO activities will likely be much narrower. It’s about understanding how people phrase the specific questions they need you to answer when they search online and helping search engines see that your content provides the best answers to these questions.

What B2B marketers should know about SEO

When you get down to it, most common SEO terms are related to content marketing concepts you should already be familiar with.

For example, many SEO guides start with ‘keyword research’. This involves using search data and tools to discover what phrases your audience types into search engines while researching their business needs.

Before you can do this, you need to understand your audience’s interests, business goals, pain points and preferred content formats.

Content marketers achieve this level of understanding by creating buyer personas for each of their target stakeholder groups and using the themes they uncover to create a ‘messaging framework’.

SEO experts will then take these insights and combine them with search data to identify specific search terms to target.

Like the themes in your messaging framework, these target search terms will be grouped based on the types of question your audience members are looking to answer. For example, someone who enters ‘B2B SEO best practices’ probably has the same intent as someone how types ‘how to do B2B SEO’ into their search bar.

With this groundwork complete, the next step is to create an authoritative ‘cornerstone’ content piece for each of the search term groups you want to rank for. (Some SEO writers also call these content pieces ‘pillar pages’.)

Cornerstone content will typically be more than 1,800 words long and provide a comprehensive overview of the topic in question.

These pages act as a ‘jumping off point’ for readers who are interested in each topic and should contain links to any other posts you create on the theme in question. You should look to update them at regular intervals to ensure they always contain the latest and most valuable insights.

The idea here is that if you can create a single page that represents the best available answer to a specific set of search queries, the algorithms search engines use to find and rank search results will reward that content with a high search engine ranking.

High‐ranking content can achieve clickthrough rates ten times higher than similarly placed search ads. So, when you succeed in doing this, you’ll establish a stream of qualified organic traffic to your website.

As you’re about to see, there are three ways to improve your content’s search rankings: technical SEO, on‐page SEO and off‐page SEO.

Just like the SEO terms we’ve looked at already, none of these ideas are as complicated as they sound.

Why marketers should care about technical SEO

Technical SEO is about optimising the structure of your website.

It can be tempting to think of this as “not marketing’s job” because your web team will do a lot of the legwork, but that would be a mistake.

A badly designed site will make it much harder for search engines to find and rank your content. So, you should think of this side of things as the bedrock of your whole SEO operation.

Unlike ongoing optimisation efforts such as link building, technical SEO typically involves one‐off site audits to remove redundant web pages and check for any factors that might be affecting your search rankings.

This can include improving site speeds, improving your mobile optimisation, updating security certificates and fixing issues with the website metadata that search algorithms will use to decide which pages to favour.

Establishing a logical site structure is essential for maintaining your search rankings as your website naturally grows over time

Ideally, you don’t want any pages to be more than four clicks away from your home page. Search engines can only find pages that are linked to other pages, like a chain. So, anything that’s further down than this will be hard for them to find.

The next technical challenge you need to be aware of is duplicate content. In short, search engines will penalise you for it.

This can cause problems if you need to syndicate the same content across different corporate sites or subdomains (e.g., as these posts will all end up competing for the same search position.

To get around this, your web team will need to use what are known as ‘canonical links’ to show search engines these URLs aren’t evidence of duplicate content and tell them which address is the original.

Other key technical decisions to make include how you’ll use subdomains, how you’ll format URLs and which part of the site you don’t want to be indexed on search engines.

Making these technical improvements should be a collaborative process between web design and marketing, as many of them will have implications for the content you create.

Once you have the right technical foundations in place, you can get back to what you do best – publishing great content.

How to create B2B content that ranks online

No one outside of Google or Bing knows exactly how the big search engines decide which content to rank for each search term.

The specific criteria they use may even be different for different searches. Search engines want to find users the best answers to their users’ queries – and what ‘best’ looks like will depend on the question being asked.

For example, someone who has typed ‘define SEO’ will probably be happy with a couple of sentences. Had they searched ‘ultimate guide to SEO’, it would be safe to assume they were after something more in‐depth.

But we do know that all search rankings are based on a combination of three factors: expertise, authority and trustworthiness.

We also know that Google judges your content, the authors of your content and your website itself based on these three criteria.

For example, Google says a news organisation that has won multiple Pulitzer Prizes will generally rank more highly in search engines than one that hasn’t. Meanwhile, a medical article will receive a higher expertise score if it was written by a doctor, rather than a layperson.

Expertise is something that takes a very strong effort to establish. In most cases, this will likely take a great deal of time to build from the ground up
Peter Meyers, Moz

As Moz marketing scientist Peter Meyers says, publishing regular, quality content targeting a well‐defined niche is the best way to establish your expertise on a particular topic.

This is one of the key benefits of publishing regular content. And it’s also why you should aim to have a piece of cornerstone content for each of the themes in your messaging framework.

Authors that appear on (or are cited by) high ranking websites receive better trustworthiness scores, while a trustworthy website is one that uses clean code which is easy for search engines to read.

Meanwhile, a post’s authority can be affected by things like how well written it is, how many citations the author has online, how relevant the topic is to your website’s content niche and any reviews your site has online.

In addition to publishing relevant, comprehensive and actionable content, you also need to ensure your posts are formatted for the web.

That means using short sentences and paragraphs so that your content is easy to read and making sure your keyword or phrase appears within the first 150 words of your post.

It also means breaking up your articles with subheadings and including images, charts and videos to cater for visual learners. Using subheadings will help to reengage skim readers, and including phrases related to your target search term will help broaden your content’s reach in search engines.

Each page’s metadata also has a role to play. Ensure your post URLs reflect the search terms you want to rank for and use an SEO tool to create the extracts that will display when your articles appear in search engines or are shared on social media.

Taken together, these ideas make up what’s known as ‘on‐page SEO’. As you can see, this is essentially the idea that publishing more and better content will improve your search engine rankings.

Link building is a lot like content distribution

‘Off‐page SEO’ has a lot in common with digital PR.

The term refers to everything that happens on other web pages that helps your content rank more highly in search engines. And getting the right people to link to your content is a big part of that.

“Links work in B2B SEO similarly to how word of mouth works in real life,” explains Overthink Group cofounder Jeffrey Kranz. “If hundreds of websites link to a piece of content you published, Google takes that as a clue that the content is good.”

The process of getting people to share links to your content is called ‘link building’ – and you’re probably already doing some link building activities already, possibly without even knowing it.

It all comes down to 1) making sure the content you create is genuinely worth talking about and 2) promoting it effectively to the people in your target audience who will share and amplify your message.

If you can do these two things, the rest will happen naturally. The real issue is that most marketers aren’t doing either of them well.

When BuzzSumo’s Steve Rayson analysed more than 1 million blog posts and articles, he found that 75 per cent of them earned zero backlinks. But he also discovered that certain types of content do generate tons of inbound links – and it’s these formats that marketers should be focusing on.

Content length also correlates strongly with link volume.

The more in‐depth a content piece is, the more links it tends to receive. The average Google first page result contains 1,890 words, and some of the best performing SEO content is much, much longer than that.

That’s why SEO legend Brian Dean recommends publishing ‘ultimate guides’ on relevant topics for your industry, and it’s also why so many brands choose to publish their own original research.

In both cases, the secret is to find what we call ‘white space’ – a topic area or theme where you can realistically create a piece of content that beats everything else on the market.

Of course, even the best piece of content in the world won’t receive any links if no one sees it to begin with.

So, to earn your place on the front page of Google, you still need an effective distribution strategy to get your content in front of audiences that will reshare it or link to it in their own articles.

At the same time, you should link to your cornerstone content pieces whenever the opportunity arises in your own content writing. This is known as ‘internal link building’.

Having senior company stakeholders contribute guest blogs to relevant B2B publications can also supplement the links your content distribution strategy generates. But doing this will typically be too time consuming to form the backbone of your operation.

Taken together, these activities will make up your link building strategy – and as you can see, your existing content marketing strategy probably covers a lot of the bases already. SEO is simply how you optimise the content you’re already creating for search engines.

So, there really is no reason to be mystified by B2B SEO. It’s just one more thing to consider when building your content strategy. And with the insights we’ve outlined here, you’ll be in a far better position to master it.

Key takeaways

  • Marketers should care about technical SEO. If search engines struggle to read your website’s code, they won’t be able to find, assess and rank your content.
  • On‐page SEO is about establishing your brand’s expertise, authority and trustworthiness. The best way to do this is to publish regular content tailored to your audience’s needs.
  • Off‐page SEO is about distributing your content to audiences that will share and amplify your message. To do this effectively, you’ll also need to create content that really is worth talking about.