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B2B vs. B2C SEO: What’s the Difference?

Learn why you need an SEO strategy specific to your business.

Business-to-business (B2B) search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of maximizing a B2B website's visibility in search engine results across all keyword and search opportunities that have the potential to drive targeted traffic and engagement. What differentiates B2B vs. B2C SEO are the strategies and tactics necessary to achieve visibility in search results. Some of the main differences that affect SEO are:

  1. Complexity and length of the sales cycle
  2. Type of content most likely to rank
  3. Keyword value for low volume keywords
  4. Ecommerce vs. lead generation
  5. Account-based marketing

By understanding the definition of B2B SEO and the nuances of these differentiators, you can formulate a more successful SEO strategy that creates optimal business outcomes.

1. Length of Sales Cycle

B2B business models typically have long sales cycles that require a much longer user journey. That journey has many more touchpoints than typical B2C user journeys with a lot more information that needs to be communicated to a potential buyer. As a result, there are different kinds of content that map to the different stages of the buying cycle. Gartner defines six stages of the buying cycle:

  1. Problem identification
  2. Solution exploration
  3. Requirements building
  4. Supplier selection
  5. Solution validation
  6. Consensus creation 

Each of these phases has a potential set of keywords that map back to the needs of the buyer. In many cases the buyer is an organization consisting of a number of individuals with different roles in the buying cycle. So the amount of content and the different voices and user focus needed for that content is often much more complex than a B2C business model/ Web site. Therefore, the keyword research and the content strategy to achieve visibility for those keywords in search results is also more complex. 

Aligning SEO best practices and specific SEO content initiatives to the larger marketing strategy can be especially challenging. Integrating the SEO objectives of large B2B organizations into their content creation plans takes a great deal of planning, collaboration and oftentimes a fair amount of education for various stakeholders within the marketing team. This is especially true for top of the funnel, informational content that has less of a direct correlation to potential buyers.

2. Type of Content Most Likely to Rank 

B2B companies need informational content to create awareness, regardless of SEO considerations. However, given the current search engine landscape, especially in the case of Google, it has never been more important. There used to be a time when Google didn't understand intent or entities or semantic relationships. In those days, content with the most powerful link connectivity would own search engine rankings for keywords it was relevant regardless of what type of content it was. In the past decade, as search engine algorithms have advanced, search engines are in a much better position to give users information that is more specific to their query. For many non-brand, broad keywords, this means an emphasis on information and resource-oriented content that has a more top of the funnel or awareness orientation.

That means B2B search results that used to be dominated by company solutions pages are now primarily definition pages, relevant blog posts and other resources that facilitate information gathering and research, as opposed to pages with specific solutions, software, or services.

Take for example the keyword phrase "network security." A desktop search for this keyword phrase in Google on May 20, 2021, shows six of the Top 10 sites with a title that contains the phrase "What is network security?" 

This doesn't include the Featured Snippet with the same title. Two of the remaining four pages in the Top 10 are blog posts, one is a Wikipedia page and the last remaining page is an online course in network security. None of the Top 10 pages are pages dedicated to explaining the products or services of a network security company. However many of the "what is" pages do belong to companies that offer those solutions.

There are many other examples of keyword phrases that produce search results that are dominated by various kinds of resources, educational and informational content. Evaluating the search results of the keywords that your B2B organization is targeting and understanding the type of content that is most likely to rank for those keywords is a critical part of your SEO content strategy. The challenges and solutions required to integrate that SEO strategy into the broader content marketing strategy is one of the key differences between B2B and B2C search engine optimization. In some cases, B2C websites also target keywords that also have this kind of informational bias, but in many cases, they do not. Content strategy is one of the biggest differences between B2B vs. B2C SEO.

3. Keyword Value for Low Volume Keywords

Another big difference between most B2B and B2C websites is the potential value of an individual visit and therefore the potential value of traffic from long tail, low volume keywords. Traffic from long tail keywords is important for both B2B and B2C businesses. However, because of the price point of many B2B solutions versus that of B2C products, the relative value of each visit has the potential to be exponentially higher. Obviously, that is a huge generalization but it does correlate to overall traffic volume being less precise as a measurement of success for B2B websites than B2C websites. 

This puts a greater value on highly targeted, low volume keyword rankings that drive highly qualified leads as opposed to a B2C site where slightly less targeted keyword rankings that drive large volumes of traffic might be more profitable. The difference between those two mindsets affects where you put your focus and many different aspects of your SEO strategy like content strategy and link acquisition strategies. Additionally, it can fundamentally change what KPIs you use to measure success.

4. eCommerce vs. Lead Generation

One of the biggest areas of distinction between B2B websites and B2C websites is that a large majority of B2B websites do not have eCommerce platforms that need to be optimized. B2B websites are usually focused on lead generation and engagement metrics whereas B2C websites tend to be focused on sales and revenue. From an SEO standpoint, this means that B2B sites usually don't need to spend time optimizing data feeds, image optimization across a large number of products or eCommerce platforms which typically have a lot of technical issues. Conversely, B2B sites, which tend to have a lot more informational content, need to have more sophisticated strategies for crosslinking that content and integrating new content into the user journey in a way that maximizes visibility, improves page rank flow and keeps the overall site architecture as flat as possible. This can be especially challenging in an enterprise environment across multiple teams, multiple platforms, multiple site sections or subdomains and hundreds if not thousands of existing web pages.

5. Account-Based Marketing (ABM)

If you aren't a B2B marketer, you might be wondering, "What is account-based marketing?" or as it is often referred to, ABM. ABM is a marketing strategy that pinpoints a list of target companies to pursue based on how aligned those companies are to the ideal customer profile. This is different from a lead generation strategy in that ABM defines a list of specific customers up front and then markets specifically to those customers. That affects SEO in a couple of different ways. 

The first is that it changes how content and keywords are evaluated in terms of success. Companies that are employing a lead generation marketing strategy usually point to rankings, traffic and engagement as primary KPIs for their SEO program. ABM requires an additional filter that asks how much of that activity was generated by the target account list and how much of that activity across the target account list resulted in successful outcomes. This shift in focus can create a shift in value in terms of the keyword rankings and content that is most important. It can also have dramatic repercussions on SEO strategy and priorities, especially when the engagement between target companies and informational content that is ranked for nonbrand keywords is leveraged as an intent signal.

The second way ABM influences SEO is a renewed focus on brand-related search rankings. Specifically, which pages target accounts are most likely to engage with and which brand-related keywords are driving the majority of traffic to those pages. The keywords discovered in that evaluation should receive special attention. They will require reputation management, which means ensuring that anything that ranks in the Top 20 for those terms is evaluated for negative sentiment and addressed accordingly. ABM campaigns spend a lot of time and energy getting the right people to engage with a business, but all of that effort can be fruitless if users are exposed to negative messaging. Having a consistent approach to reputation management and brand-related search rankings is a critical part of any SEO program. That said, it is especially important in a B2B ABM campaign where the value of every unique user has the potential to be enormous. 

B2B vs. B2C SEO Summary

The differences between a B2B vs. B2C SEO campaign are not always black and white. Some B2B websites do have eCommerce platforms. Conversely, some B2C websites have an enormous amount of educational content. In general, the distinctions in this article between B2B and B2C SEO are important to appreciate so that you can develop specific strategies that will help you be more successful in the B2B space – and to answer the question “What is B2B SEO?” once and for all.


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