Monday, October 12, 2009

Natural Search in B2B Marketing - Analyzing Discoverability

Being discoverable by your potential buyers is critical to success in many businesses. As buyers control their buying process more and more, the need to be found when a prospective buyer is searching for a solution to a business pain is increasingly critical. One of the most obvious elements to this is natural search engine optimization. If a prospective buyer is searching for terms related to your business or the pains you solve, you want them to discover your organization.

If they are early in the buying process, you may want them to discover your thought leadership writings, and recognize you as a leader in the field. If they are at a vendor discovery phase or moving towards solution validation, you may want to have them discover writings that clarify how to think about important aspects of the buying decision.

Measuring this discoverability, however, is an interesting challenge, as there are many search phrases that might be relevant to discovering your solution. Against each of these phrases, your main web site, your social media properties, and your competitor’s web properties may be discoverable.

The first challenge is listing the search phrases that are relevant to finding your solution. For each phase of the buying funnel, you will have a different set of phrases, and this will differ based on the marketing challenge you face. If, for example, your main challenge is a Flying Car challenge, you may wish to focus mainly on the awareness stage, and think about search phrases that are related to, but not identical to, your solution. If prospective buyers are unaware that your solution category exists, they may be looking for solution categories that are peripheral to yours. You will want to be discoverable when they are looking.

At each stage of the buying funnel, list out the key phrases that buyers may be looking for. At the vendor discovery phase, the prospective buyers may be searching for more exact solution category names. At the solution validation phase, the searches may involve your product name directly, but be searching for specific capabilities or objections.

With the search phrases listed, it’s then key to understand where your main web properties, your social media properties, and your competitors rank against those key phrases. One of the simplest ways I have seen of presenting this, is a table that shows your best ranking against each phrase in the form of points on a grid.

On the left side, place your own web properties, both your main web properties, and any social media properties your team runs. For comparison, place your key competitors’ web properties on this side of the chart also. Along the top row, build columns for each of the following search ranks: First place, top 3, top 5, top 10, top 30, and top 100. Then, for each of the search phrases in your list, each property a point in the highest category it is discovered in.

For example, if “widget transportation” is a search phrase of interest, and your website appears as number 8 on the natural ranks on Google for that page, you would give yourself one point in the “top 10” category for your main website. Note, that if you use a marketing automation system or web analytics package to understand which search phrases are being used to find you, this will only show you the phrases where you are already successful. Be sure to include search phrases where you would ideally be found, but currently are not.

Complete this process for all the search phrases (around 100 phrases is often a useful number to gain a good perspective), and you will find an overall discoverability profile for you and your competitors. Note that the first page of search results is generally seen as the only page offering significant value in terms of traffic, so the results that are lower down than that can give indications of progress, but are unlikely to be driving traffic.

This view gives an easily digestible sense of your natural search engine discoverability. It should be noted, however that results will vary by search engine, geography, and over time. It is not a report that gives a definitive answer, but it is useful for providing a perspective as to where you are as a business and whether you are making progress in terms of being discoverable.
Many of the topics on this blog are discussed in more detail in my book Digital Body Language
In my day job, I am with Eloqua, the marketing automation software used by the worlds best marketers
Come talk with me or one of my colleagues at a live event, or join in on a webinar


Mark Delfeld said...

I have read in several blogs that thought leadership is harder to measure than other types of marketing activities. In my opinion, it shouldn't be anything different. Actually it is critical to track this if you believe that thought leadership is more applicable earlier in the sales cycle (as you state in this post).

Particularly now that thought leadership is moving more to social media (where tools like Eloqua can be used to cookie the individual as they join the conversation). What do your customers say? What are they doing with Eloqua for their thought leadership campaigns?

Great post by the way, Mark

Steven Woods said...

It's a great question - thought leadership being both critically important (in many businesses), but difficult to measure.

If there are thought leadership "memes" (ie, for Eloqua, the "Digital Body Language" concept), you can measure the mention/search/visit frequencies around those memes to give you a good sense of their pickup.

Thanks for the kind words on the post, glad you enjoyed it.


Mark Delfeld said...

Well that is not exactly what I said, but I will leave it to you to read my post again. I subscribe to the notion that thought leadership is not "pie in the sky" but achievable today (or in the near future) if the right components are put together using the best practices described in the thought leadership content.

In other words, a solution can be marketed in advance through thought leadership content. A perfect example of thought leadership content is when a reader thinks to himself "I want that!" after reading that.