If you’re like me, you no doubt receive a ton of offers for digital marketing. Most frequently, these offers are for Search Engine Optimization (SEO) for your website.
Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of affecting the online visibility of a website or a web page in a web search engine’s unpaid results—often referred to as “natural,” “organic,” or “earned” results.
While, in many cases, SEO is indeed an activity with a compelling ROI, it is by no means the only digital marketing activity that matters, and proper SEO execution depends on a number of other factors.
Digital marketing can be very confusing, and it means a lot of different things to different people. As a quickly emerging field, even its language and terms are not yet clearly established. What some call inbound marketing, others may call pipeline marketing or revenue marketing. At IBD Consulting, we focus on B2B marketing tools and processes that are directly related to sales. Therefore we like to think that we focus on B2B revenue marketing with an emphasis on international markets.
One thing is certain: in recent years there has been a profound shift in the way both consumers and B2B buyers behave. In 2014, McKinsey reported that, as recently as 10 years ago, the average customer would visit five car dealerships before making a purchase. By 2014 it was just 1.6 dealerships on average, indicating the extent to which purchase-making decisions have become driven by buyers on their own.
According to Google, 71% of buyers in the B2B field begin with a generic web search. Before speaking with a sales rep, 47% of surveyed B2B buyers have already consumed 3-5 pieces of digital content.
Unless you engage the buyer with digital content early in their research, you have little to no chance of the customer actually contacting your sales people.
The best thing you can do is create a path of least resistance on your buyer’s journey, using appropriate marketing content and activities to gently guide your customer.But before you can get started with digital marketing, it’s important to understand who you’re going up against.
Starting with basic SEO is a good strategy – after all, much of the competition in most industries is taking place on the internet. If you’re not online or cannot be found, your business might as well not exist in terms of international customers.
To truly understand what it takes to attract and maintain a substantial share of attention on the web – and more importantly, how much it costs – you need to start by understanding where you stand against the competition.
I have noticed over and over that in a number of B2B industries, major market players are still playing by old rules; these companies’ understanding of digital marketing is rather basic and poorly executed. In this situation, even a modest digital marketing investment in things like SEO, a few compelling YouTube videos and a couple high-quality publications can produce a disproportionate return.
Remember – to succeed you only need to be better than your competition.
On the internet there is a winner-take-all principle. As an example, 50% of all internet traffic goes to the first three results on a search engine results page; the first one commands over 34% of the traffic.
While SEO is a very valuable activity to do in any case, I suggest conducting industry analysis as early as possible. This research will provide you with detailed information on your competitor’s activities, their keyword rankings, the content types that are most effective for them, social media use, the exact details of their Google advertising campaigns, success rates and plenty more information.
In fact, the extra insights acquired from digital industry analysis will allow you to substantially improve the efficiency of your SEO efforts.
As a result of this research, you will not only know what works for your competitors, but you will also have a good high-level roadmap of what it would take and how much it would cost to achieve a strong competitive advantage in the digital domain. You are also likely to uncover alternatives that might provide opportunities to grow your business at a lower cost than that of your competitors.
But where to begin? A good starting point is to review the information that Google Analytics tells you about your current visitors and their behaviour. It might give you a good idea of where these visitors are coming from, whether they find your content compelling enough to spend time on your website, which of your product pages are the most popular and so on. Chances are you will also quickly identify some obvious bottlenecks that, once removed, will improve your visitor experience and help increase sales.
If you haven’t already installed Google Analytics, do it immediately. Here is a link to video instructions on how to install Google Analytics on your website. However, keep in mind that Google Analytics can’t work retroactively; you will have to let it run for a while, particularly if you have a low volume of visitors, before you will have significant data to spur change.
A good shortcut is to request your free digital performance analysis performed by IBD Consulting. Our experts will review your SEO performance and traffic sources, including geographic analysis. We will also look for frequent website issues such as website loading speed in different geographies to see if your site complies with Google’s requirements for website mobile performance (since April 2015, website performance on mobile devices has become one of the criteria for Google to rank sites on search results). There is a good chance that this brief analysis will be sufficient to identify a few twists and tweaks that will unlock significantly improved website performance.
There is usually a good number of traditional marketing activities that a small B2B company can do in-house. An external vendor may be used for the benefits of cost, efficiency and specialization.
However, digital marketing is somewhat different. On the one hand, digital marketing allows you to measure virtually everything and everyone, so there is massive potential for increased spending accountability and ROI optimization. On the other hand, this means dealing with an unprecedented variety of technologies, tools and processes; more often than not, this is overwhelming for many marketing and business development professionals.
While there is a heartwarming sense of recognition with every like and share on social networks, it is a completely different game to convert followers and visitors into paying customers.
It certainly makes sense to keep part of the competencies required for digital marketing in-house; over time, you will figure out which activities are best executed from within the company and which will require an external vendor. At a certain size of company, it may well be a good strategy to develop and maintain all digital marketing activities in-house as a source of competitive advantage.
To start, however, I advise using a trusted third-party service provider. If your focus is on business growth, you are likely to benefit from working with a company that has deep expertise in sales, business development and technology rather than only marketing and advertising.
If you are dealing in a niche B2B market, as many of our customers are, you would greatly benefit from working with a company that understands the intimate details of B2B markets and international business. Hands-on experience with sales, business development, product strategy and business strategy is also essential. Working with a company whose executives hold most engineering degrees may also come in handy!
Most of the offers in the noisy environment of digital marketing claim to bring in a maximum number of visitors to your website. While this is a worthwhile goal on its own, it is not what matters most. Instead, the most important moment is what happens next: how you engage your visitors; how you provide enough valuable content that they are enticed to hand over their email addresses; how you use digital technologies to educate and nurture your visitors to convert them from random visitors to your site into educated and trusting leads that are engaged at the exact right moment by your sales people.
At the end of the day, what matters is sales. It is revenue that keeps the lights on, that pays your salaries, that allows for growth and attracts additional investment as needed.
 Google, 2015
 Demand Gen Report, 2016
 Advanced Web Ranking, 2015