Mary O'Brien is chairman of the PPC Summit (www.ppcsummit.com), a series of conferences on search marketing held around the country. She has held executive positions with Goto.com, the first company to provide pay-for-placement search results. Goto, later named Overture Services, was acquired in 2003 by Yahoo. BtoB asked O'Brien about trends and best practices in search marketing.
BtoB: What are some major challenges in b-to-b search marketing?
O'Brien: Unlike on the consumer side, where customers entering the sales funnel are self-selecting themselves to purchase something, first-time b-to-b visitors coming via a search query aren't looking to make a quick buy. The marketer needs to know that and just try to start a relationship with them. You don't want to overwhelm visitors by asking for too much information—maybe just the name and e-mail address will do. B-to-b marketers sometimes forget that, and craft landing pages designed to sell straightaway or ask for too much information, which can cause visitors to abandon the page entirely. At this stage, you're hoping to start a relationship, not ask them to marry you on the first date.
BtoB: What's the optimum nature of that beginning relationship?
O'Brien: A landing page without a call to action is a complete waste of time, so you've got to get people to engage with you in some way—sign up for a newsletter, say, or download a white paper or get a free trial on something. In fact, the action people take on your landing page is how you determine the effectiveness of your campaign. Whether that action is a white paper or a free trial, you have to get people to do something. Your website is a living, breathing sales piece and needs the same messaging as what your salespeople are saying. I'm constantly surprised at the number of marketers that don't know their conversion rate.
BtoB: Is offering white papers still a good way for b-to-b marketers to gain leads from search?
O'Brien: Usually yes. But marketers often err with too small, or even overlong, white papers. I like to see them in the 15-to-25-page range, with lots of statistics, substantive numbers, charts, graphs, comparisons between markets and well-drawn conclusions. A lot of white papers are vaguely informational, with little substantive information in them. If you offer that, you'll not only not build your brand but maybe even diminish it.
BtoB: What about other offers that can be effective on a landing page to move along conversions and produce leads from search?
O'Brien: Free trials seem to work very well, especially with software companies. Salesforce.com, which built its business around the one-month trial, is a prime example here. [This tactic] helps people really get engaged with the product. Discounts offered on the landing page can work effectively, but they should be used a little farther down in the funnel. If people are at the informational stage and don't yet have that relationship with the company, an offer like this won't be that effective. But if a visitor is in the buying phase, then it can be very effective. You wouldn't think someone buying a $100,000 enterprise solution would consider, say, half-a-month off the per-seat fee as being very effective, but we all have that value gene built in, and this year in particular the value gene is really coming to the fore.
BtoB: How can marketers identify where prospects are in the funnel when they arrive anonymously via search queries?
O'Brien: Prospects signal where they are in the funnel with the search terms they use. If they're in the early phase of their research, they'll search for very general, educational keywords. Marketers must design landing pages geared toward those general keyword phrases that indicate an early phase prospect, perhaps with those white papers and newsletters. The next phase, which might entail comparison shopping, might prompt marketers to deploy keywords asking about brand features, for example. The marketer then can have those keywords point to a landing page citing product awards, client testimonials or perhaps an influential review in The New York Times.
At the final buying stage, marketers can anticipate that the prospect will search for terms that are very specific, such as “Unica CRM for a 150-person business.” Here, the searcher is telling you exactly what he wants, so the landing page those keywords point to needs to be crafted appropriately to fit with those exact expectations.
BtoB: How effectively are marketers capturing leads coming in from search queries?
O'Brien: Often, search operates in a separate silo from other marketing areas, but automation is addressing this. Salesforce, for example, has partnered with Google AdWords, which is now totally integrated with its CRM system, driving people through the process. Infusionsoft is tightly integrated with Google Analytics, with the visitor identified with on-site actions, and with appropriate auto-responder e-mails going out to help make that funnel shorter. I also see search playing well with big enterprise solutions. Unica and Covario do this well, pushing the visitor into different parts of the funnel based on their self-selection.
Originally published Sept. 14, 2009