Branding efforts can clash with SEM

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Ian Harris is CEO of Search Laboratory Ltd., based in Leeds, England, which helps companies’ search engine marketing and optimization efforts. BtoB recently asked Harris about best practices in search engine marketing.

BtoB: You’ve said that b-to-b companies spend too much time thinking of new ways to describe what they do in terms that prospective customers don’t understand. Can you elaborate?

Harris: Let me give you an example. We do some work for a big video conferencing company, and the marketing team there spends its time trying not to be a video conference company. What I mean is, they try to brand themselves as a “video communications” company, because all their competitors do conferencing.

They get so obsessed with this that they put it on their home page, title tags and paid search keywords. The problem is, their clients do not see them as a “video communications” company. Their clients want video conferencing, and that’s what they see them as.

Believe me, this is a common theme. Again, we do work for a few companies that do IT support and services, but without fail they brand themselves as something like “system care,” or “logi-care” or “integration change.” It’s like “IT support”’ is a rude word.

BtoB: During your session at the Search Engine Strategies conference in New York this spring, you stressed this is a b-to-b issue.

Harris: Yes, you don’t see this in b-to-c. People are proud of selling mobile phones, or TVs or whatever it is. In b-to-b, they tend to have one thing they do but they want to present themselves as unique, different.

BtoB: That sounds like a typical branding effort. Where’s the problem?

Harris: It becomes a challenge with search marketing. I see the value of what they’re trying to achieve, but they have to put that to one side. In search, their brand has to resonate with what people search for. These companies want to differentiate themselves and, with a normal sales message, I understand that. But this isn’t a normal sales message. It’s matching up searches.

BtoB: You’re stressing the value of relevance?

Harris: Of course. There are two problems with lack of relevance. One is that you’ll get lots of impressions but few leads. And second, with Google if you don’t get enough click-throughs, you start dropping down the screen and have to pay more and more to retain your position. So whether viewers click or not, it damages your brand.

This particular Google algorithm is quite good, by the way, because it means if your ad is relevant to people’s searches and you get it right, you can appear at the top very cheaply.

BtoB: Relevance can mean different things to different people, right? The business technician and the generalist search for different solutions?

Harris: Yes, in b-to-b you tend to get that type of situation—where you have to address very different needs. One solution is to make the landing page and the conversion process appeal to all, with different pieces of information on that page. Another way is to split the traffic by having one landing page with two big buttons—one for those looking for technical information and the other for just an overview. But you don’t want someone going down the wrong path. So the first choice is to try one landing page to address everything.

BtoB: What else is significant about keyword choice?

Harris: We know that some inquiries are more valuable than others. We have found that certain keywords will give lots of inquiries but that they’re not very valuable in terms of sales, while other keywords get fewer inquiries but lead to actual orders.

Trying to get people to keep track of all this is quite a challenge. Ideally you have a fully integrated system to automate it; but if not, you have to worry about whether the salespeople are typing in the information accurately, if they’re incentivized to do it and even if they’re actually incentivized not to do it in order to take credit for the sale themselves.

This is a challenge unique to b-to-b. The solution is for marketers to really get into bed with the sales teams and their CRM software that tracks leads. You need to track the keywords the prospect typed, the ad they saw, the landing page they went to, etc. And all that data stays with that customer’s record as it goes through the CRM system.

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