SEO Mistakes B2B Marketers Must Avoid

I’m pleased to welcome guest blogger Brad Shorr to share his insight on one of today’s most important B2B marketing topics — SEO.


For B2B marketers wishing to use search engine optimization (SEO) as a source of qualified leads, the most crucial element to remember is to think long term. “SEO campaign,” a phrase we often hear, is a misnomer. While a campaign has a beginning and an end, SEO should be ongoing. It is not a get-rich-quick scheme. Organizations that commit to SEO long term with sustainable budgets are the ones that obtain the best results – as reported by Shari Thurow on her ClickZ post “Short- vs. Long-Term SEO.”

SEO ChartThe primary purpose of SEO programs for B2B marketers is to generate sales leads. Although this may sound obvious, many B2B marketing organizations lose sight of this purpose and instead focus on rankings or traffic. Both of these strategic goals are dead wrong.

In a Search Engine Journal article, “The Evolution of SEO Metrics,” Sam McRoberts explains that organic search has too many variables for rankings to have any meaning. Google and Bing evaluate a user’s location, his or her personal search history, and the type of search the user is conducting – video search, news search, etc. What this adds up to is that each user sees a different set of results; what ranks number one for me may be totally different from what ranks number one for you.

An interesting recent test – “Experiment Shows Up To 60% Of ‘Direct’ Traffic Is Actually Organic” – shows that search traffic is more helpful than rankings, but is becoming a rather fuzzy number. It can be misleading as an indicator of whether an SEO program is doing anything useful for a business.

More traffic does not always equate to more sales leads. For instance, a widget manufacturer could publish a blog post about a trending media story and experience a significant spike in traffic – with not a single one of those visitors having any interest in doing business.

When B2B marketers overcome this fundamental mistake and focus with laser intensity on lead generation, all of the other common SEO mistakes become obvious. Here are three of the most critical:

  1. Companies focused on rankings tend to optimize around highly popular keywords. On Search Engine Watch, Grant Simmons states that companies focused on lead generation optimize around specific keywords where the user intent to do business is high.
  2. Companies focused on traffic tend to have massive amounts of content on their websites to hit as many keywords as possible. Companies focused on lead generation have compact, structured content and powerful calls to action, giving visitors an easy path to take the next step in establishing a business relationship. Review this Hubspot post – “What Is a Call-to-Action? [FAQs]” – for a clear understanding of how to choose and communicate a good “call to action.”
  3. Companies focused on lead generation have the ability to track the sources of their phone inquiries and form inquiries (e.g., forms visitors submit on the company site). Unless a firm knows where its leads originated, it cannot evaluate how well its SEO program is performing compared to its other marketing activities.

One final mistake: Although few B2B marketers implement reliable form- and phone-tracking on their sites, fewer still have the ability to validate these inquiries. The key is to realize that not all inquiries are sales leads. For example, a contact form submission could be a sales lead – but it could also be a sales solicitation, a customer inquiry or spam. If the company considers all inquiries to be sales leads, it will overestimate the performance of its SEO – and probably any other Internet marketing activities it has underway.

Everything in the B2B world hinges on a sound strategy and attention to detail in the execution. SEO is not an exception – a strategic focus on lead generation makes it possible to distinguish important tactical activities and metrics from those that don’t really matter.

About the Author: Brad Shorr is the B2B Marketing Director of, an SEO firm headquartered in Chicago. Brad writes frequently on B2B marketing topics and his articles are regularly featured on Forbes, AllBusiness and Carol Roth.

1-Minute Quiz May Reveal Your Best B2B Marketing Tool

In the early days of this B2B marketing blog I wrote a post about social media called “Getting over our own marketing bias.”

In the post I clearly stated that I didn’t “get” social media. I couldn’t see what benefits it brings to B2B marketing. Of course, because I recognize my bias, I work hard to read about and understand the value of social media and be open minded about its value to integrated B2B marketing strategies.

DM BiasToday’s big bias on the part of most B2B marketers, however, is against direct mail marketing.

B2B marketers who do not properly test this channel for lead generation are being as narrow-minded as I was about social media. I’m here to help them get over this bias with this quick Quiz. It’s designed to help B2B marketers discover if their bias is getting in the way of their marketing success.

Answer these seven quick questions now and see the result at the bottom.

  1. My company sells B2B products or services into definable universes that can be classified using firmagraphics such as industry, number of employees, annual sales, years in business, etc.
  2. My marketing budget can cover a cost of $1 to $5 per contact to generate a direct response from qualified prospects.
  3. I want the opportunity to generate 1% to 2% response to my lead generation efforts.
  4. I am willing to spend more than $5 per contact for the opportunity to generate as much as a 10% response rate of qualified prospects.
  5. I can cover the cost of a $25,000 direct mail campaign by making just one or two sales.
  6. I have a list of respondents to my other marketing programs that I haven’t been able to reach via phone or email.
  7. Sales has identified a finite number of top prospects with whom they want to have a conversation.

If B2B marketers answer “yes” to just one of these seven B2B marketing questions, I can pretty much guarantee that their company is missing what could easily be one of its most productive marketing tools.

Outbound calling works in B2B marketing and I can prove it.

For a long time, I’ve been requesting a guest post from Leeann Raymond, Director of Operations & Sales at Business to Business Marketing (B2B), but she’s been way too busy to fit it into her schedule. So I finally got wise and asked if I could just interview her. She agreed and now I’m pleased to share with everyone something I’ve been wanting to illustrate in this blog for years — that outbound calling campaigns (done professionally) are powerful and productive in B2B marketing.

I started the interview by mentioning to Leeann how I regularly see posts on LinkedIn or on blogs that calling, especially cold calling, is dead (along with direct mail, email and everything else marketers did before social media).

She then related a story of a sales call she had made to a CEO to sell her company’s outbound calling services. When she got him on the phone, he said, “I don’t want to do it because calling doesn’t work.” Her response made for rather a “duh” moment when she replied, “I just called you and you’re the CEO of your company. If our outbound calling services didn’t work, we wouldn’t be able to stay in business.”

I then immediately asked, “Does it always work?” She responded, “In 12 years, I can count on one hand programs that didn’t work. In each case the problem was primarily oversaturated markets.”

So here are two of the 12 years of case studies she shared. She asked me not to name the actual companies because we’re including specific data from their campaigns.

Case Study #1 involved making calls to physician practices and medical testing centers on the part of a leading provider of healthcare technologies. During the process of the campaign, the client sent regular call reports with input on leads so the direction of the calling message could be shifted as necessary.

Engagement: 90 days

Goals: Determine if there was enough demand to support a sales force focusing on a non-hospital market for their products, and also to generate incremental sales.

Calling List: Provided by the client


  • Conducted 675 hours of calling in 3 months, making a total of 9112 calls
  • Reached 2047 individuals, with 22% of reached prospects resulting in conversations
  • Generated 161 sales-accepted leads, i.e. leads that were validated by the sales team as workable, with 7% of the conversations resulting in qualified leads
  • Created a pipeline of over $5.5 million in sales in the 90 days, based on a typical sale of $150,000
  • Total campaign cost: $29,722
  • Total cost per qualified lead: $134; sales qualified leads were defined as having the name of decision maker, a company with a stated need, budget, and time-frame to purchase

Case Study #2 was for a company selling a cost-saving financial technology tool marketed to CFOs or VPs of Finance at companies with $1 billion or more in revenue. The B2B prospects were at companies where one would think it would be difficult, if not impossible, to reach a decision maker by phone. These included Nike North America, Sony Music Entertainment, Verizon, Dell Computer, Southwest Airlines, Motorola, Whole Foods and the list goes on.

Engagement: 12-month program

Goal: Set up five to 10 appointments per month for individual sales people, including managing the sales person’s calendar, sending out Outlook® meeting invites, getting confirmations and updating the sales person’s calendar. These additional steps were all necessary, as sales people were on the road non-stop traveling to appointments.

Calling List: Obtained by Business to Business Marketing to match the client’s selected criteria.


  • Made 29,078 calls
  • Calls resulted in 332 appointments — meeting and often exceeding the monthly goal
  • Made 914 presentations, of which 17% turned into appointments
  • Client did not share actual sales data; however, they tracked results and, in over a year of working with them, the client reported that a total of only 17 appointments were not qualified

Leeann says that, even when callers are reached and are not immediately productive, the call can still be used to gather important information such as the name of the decision maker. She recalled one prospect that was spending $100,000 a quarter to send out a fancy mailer and getting nothing. B2B Marketing suggested that the company let B2B call in advance of the next mailing to find out why. The calls revealed that 50% of data was wrong. The company had been wasting half of their budget.

She said, “We generate 70% of our business from cold-calling.”

There’s virtually no limit to the options available in this channel:

  • List building or list clean-up
  • Lead generation
  • Appointment setting
  • Event attendance confirmations — advanced calling has proven to increase attendance by 20% to 30%
  • Research
  • Nurturing
  • Following up leads from trade shows — post-event follow-up
  • Qualifying SEO leads, customer touch
  • Upselling and cross-selling
  • Marketing new offerings
  • Just keeping in touch with customers

I can hear some readers responding to this blog with, “We don’t have the money or time to make thousands of calls to get the results we want.” But that’s not the point of these examples. The point is, B2B decision makers can still be reached via phone and it’s still well worth the effort to include calling in the marketing and sales process.

About Business to Business Marketing: Business to Business Marketing has been conducting outbound calling for complex business-to-business offerings since 1999. Their second division MedContacts specializes in outbound calling for companies selling products to the healthcare market.

B2B marketing: How B2B marketers can maximize open rates.

My colleague, James Pennington of Anderson Direct Marketing, a full-service direct marketing agency, was recently helping a B2B marketing client build their marketing strategy for a new product. In the process, he related this story, which some readers may not find amusing. Yet it’s true.

“I was attending a social media presentation in which the speaker spent time bashing traditional direct mail marketing by stating the fact that 44% of direct mail was not opened and got tossed directly into the trash. After hearing this statement, I raised my hand and asked, ‘Does that mean that 56% of it does get opened? That seems pretty terrific to me. What’s the open rate on email?’ The presenter answered 10% and there was some serious buzz kill in the room.”

In the B2B marketing world, direct mail marketing is still the most effective channel for generating leads and it is still cost-effective for companies selling higher priced products with long buy cycles.

Although it has a valuable place in integrated marketing, email marketing typically cannot produce the lead generation, open rates and response rates of direct mail.

Here are a few of those stats:

  • Prospecting emails to fresh lists typically get open rates of 9%-15% and click-through rates (CTRs) of 2.8%-3.2%. Marketo views open rates of 16%-20% as top performers. The average CTR per Marketo is 2.1%-5% with 5.1%-10% viewed as top performers.
  • A newsletter to a B2B house list is getting open rates of 18%-22% and CTRs of 3%-11%. This is consistent with MarketingSherpa‘s 2010 Email Marketing Benchmark Report in which 1,500 survey respondents reported an average open rate of 23% for B2B newsletters and an 11% CTR.
  • Follow-up emails to webinar or event attendees get an open rate of 31% and CTR of 55%.

B2B marketers looking to maximize open rates and fill their pipeline with qualified leads might want to include the still very powerful and productive direct mail marketing channel.

B2B marketing content that disappoints.

One of our favorite genres in my Netflix-viewing household is action films. Like all films, however, to be memorable they need to contain more than action. They need characters one cares about so that the action has meaning.

It continues to amaze us how many of the films we get are disappointing. Regardless of how much action these movies contain, the characters do not resonate, the plot is weak or meaningless, the script is poor, and the acting is often amateurish. Fortunately, for movie makers, there are plenty of viewers out there who will pay to see action for the sake of action, so the movies that disappoint us are still money-makers.

That’s not true for B2B marketing content.

Regardless of the form in which the content is delivered — white paper, video, podcast, guide, interactive form — it must satisfy multiple criteria or it will not be a money-maker. It must add value, be well written, and be formatted in a way that is inviting and doesn’t diminish readability. If the content does not deliver what has been promised, or adds no value to the prospect, it reflects poorly on the B2B company that promoted it.

Adding any one of these seven elements to B2B marketing content ensures that it will have value as a lead-generation tool.

  1. Ideas and usable take-aways on how to do something better
  2. Insight into what’s happening that could affect future practices
  3. Introduction to new ways of doing things
  4. Case studies of how peers are handling challenges or critical issues
  5. Checklists or assessments that help prospects determine how well they are handling a task or challenge
  6. Benchmarks or standards being achieved in a given industry
  7. Ways to calculate ROI or other metrics

Offering content is a solid way to generate leads for B2B companies. Unlike action films, however, content for the sake of content doesn’t cut it.

Great B2B content deserves greater B2B marketing.

As a B2B marketer trying to pay attention to what other marketers are doing, I see so much stuff that it’s hard to really grab my attention, but someone did today and I’m excited to share it with you.

It’s not a new idea, but I rarely see it used — and in this case it was done so very well. The offer is educational content. There’s nothing new or exciting about that. What was so well done, though, was how they got me to download it.

The sender was Symantec, which now owns VeriSign. The B2B content offer was a white paper on “Best Practices and Applications of TLS/SSL.”

The email grabbed me at the subject line by saying, “Take the trivia challenge. Get an 8GB USB.”

Sorry, but that’s a temptation I can’t resist — the challenge even more so than the flash drive. The headline in the email tempted me further with, “Think you’re smart about online security? Prove it.” How could I say no? How could anyone in IT not take this opportunity to prove to themselves, once again, how much they know?

After completing the challenge (I missed only two answers, which is probably pretty good for a non-techie), I receive a second email inviting me to download the white paper. The gift incentive made it more agreeable to fill out the short “who am I” form required.

The design was upbeat, the message short and clear, plus the campaign included an opportunity to generate an immediate inquiry by stating, “If you have any questions about online security, feel free to contact us at 1-XXX-XXX-XXXX or 1-XXX-XXX-XXXX, option 3.”

I don’t know how this campaign performed, but from my perspective, it followed most best practices. It effectively used the strong B2B marketing tactic — interaction. B2B marketers who can get their prospects “involved” in an activity with them and their brand are one step closer to building a connection and a relationship. It’s good marketing.

Where B2B marketing personas meet the road.

Knowledgeable B2B marketers know that the better lead generation or nurturing content and messaging focuses on the needs and interests of targeted individuals, the more successful it will be. That understanding has produced the need to create prospect personas.

As defined on Wikipedia, “A user persona is a representation of the goals and behavior of a hypothesized group of users. In most cases, personas are synthesized from data collected from interviews with users. They are captured in 1–2 page descriptions that include behavior patterns, goals, skills, attitudes, and environment, with a few fictional personal details to make the persona a realistic character.”

Personas provide B2B marketers with a strong visual “target person” to keep in mind when creating marketing strategies and messaging.

Since personas are typically built through interviews (not real-world testing) they can be misleading. As respected marketing expert Ardath Albee asks in her recent blog post, Can B2B Marketers Become Content Whisperers?, “If one person says so, is it true? How about 10? Or 100?”

Interviews have value, but real-world response to various testing of content and messaging is far more reliable.

The unfortunate fact is that many B2B marketers don’t have a large enough prospect universe to conduct statistically valid testing. Many do not have the bandwidth to conduct extensive interviews or the budget to hire an outside firm to do it for them.

The solution is to trust your knowledge of human nature. Although there may be nuances discovered in the process of building personas, there are still a number of overriding human traits that are consistent within B2B titles, regardless of industry. Individual industries may drive some overarching goals. Healthcare may want to improve patient care. Service firms may want to satisfy customers and build loyalty. But when the rubber meets the road, most people’s motivation to act comes down to very personal needs and goals.

Therefore, B2B marketers won’t go wrong if they build their marketing strategy and messaging on these basic human needs and goals:

Owner of private company
* Make more money.
* Gain respect and recognition.
* Gain market share.

CEO/President of public company
* Increase share prices.
* Produce growth.
* Increase market share.
* Gain respect and recognition.

* Lower costs.
* Minimize risk.
* Get a high ROI on solutions purchased.

CIO/Department or Division Manager
* Increase department productivity.
* Reduce risk.
* Reduce costs.
* Get more done with less effort.
* Meet goals faster.

* Reduce effort involved in doing their job.
* Minimize mistakes.
* Gain respect and recognition.

Take your B2B trade show booth from boring to spectacular.

Guest Post by Daniel Frank

A while back in her post “Four quick B2B marketing ideas for a short week,” Susan reported on adding a photo opportunity at trade show booths to get prospects to interact with the booth sales staff and keep visitors around the booth longer.

As someone who works with an exhibition stand manufacturer, I was glad she wrote about it, as it is a marketing tactic I enthusiastically endorse.

Interactive elements can improve B2B trade show exhibiting results in several ways. The first and most obvious is that they are a great way to stand out on a crowded trade show floor. The example Susan highlighted was putting out a life-size cardboard cut-out of an industry expert that visitors can be photographed standing next to. This cut-out grabs attention and creates buzz.

Other interactive options include such things as games and surveys. These provide other benefits, including enhanced lead capture, visitor education and insight. A great example of this that I saw recently was in a booth run by Npower. This booth offered a free energy health check to anyone attending the booth. They used a touch-screen quiz that required booth visitors to enter some details before answering a series of questions. The participant would then get a personalized report telling them ways they could reduce their energy expenditure. Not only was this a great way for Npower to generate qualified leads, it also educated visitors and gave Npower some new insights into visitors’ energy usage and level of knowledge of industry topics.

When deciding how to integrate an interactive element into your booth, you should, at a minimum, consider these three things:

  1. Objectives: What do you want this element to achieve? The Npower example was great because it achieved several objectives, but may have been a bit of a compromise. Booth visitors looking at a screen is a fairly boring activity compared to the photo-opportunity mentioned above. However, it did generate interest and valuable information for Npower. Step one is to decide what you want to achieve and what image you want to project in the process.
  2. Relevance: Say you have an idea for great game that will bring loads of people to your booth. How relevant is it to your business? Having a lot of visitors is good, but it is far better to get fewer, more relevant visitors. This is another reason the health check was great for Npower: it attracted people who worried about energy expenditure and were therefore receptive to Npower’s solution.
  3. Cost: As with all B2B marketing decisions, cost is an issue. Providing a brilliant video game that is completely relevant to your company and can fulfil all your objectives may cost a fortune to create, not to mention providing the technology on which to run it. It’s a great interactive tool to use if it is cost-effective based on what you hope to gain from making a sale.

Making your booth activities more productive should be a priority when spending money on B2B trade show space. These are just a few ideas on how to make the most of it. If you have more, I’d love to hear about them.
Daniel Frank is a writer and blogger who provides advice on trade show marketing on behalf of Nimlok Display Stands based in the UK.

B2B marketing lead generation dilemma: do it now or do it right.

One of my colleagues in the agency world was recently working with a B2B client who had requested help generating leads using targeted database marketing.

My colleague began to build a proposed outbound B2B marketing program for the client, which included testing various channels, audiences and offers to let the market determine which combination could provide the most cost-effective and qualified responses.

Midway through writing the proposal, the client shared the fact that he was under gun from the C-suite to produce X amount of incremental sales within six months or his marketing budget would be reallocated. That was disappointing to hear but not unexpected.

It’s one of a B2B marketing director’s biggest dilemmas — balancing the best practice of letting the market determine which are the best marketing approaches against demands from sales and C-level execs for instant performance.

Effective B2B direct marketing best practices require A/B split testing to determine which media, which content or other offers, and which approaches are the most effective ways to generate leads. Building a solid marketing database, measuring responses and conversions (or potential conversions) takes time. This avenue does produce leads and, in the long run, delivers the knowledge needed to maximize response rates and lower cost-per-lead and cost-per-sale.

There’s hardly much time to test a full scope of channels and offers when the bottom-line results need to show up in six months or less. When faced with this dilemma, here are the two options open to a B2B CMO:

  1. Launch a quick lead generation program following industry best practices. B2B marketers with no track record of launching their own programs into their own market should follow the best practices determined by other marketers until they are able to discover their own metrics. One option is to tap the expertise of an agency or consultant with a long track record of solid lead generation. This lets the B2B company rely on the testing results the agency or consultant has accumulated over the years. The other option is to read the books and blogs of trusted, experienced B2B marketers to learn, then use, the practices they recommend.
  2. Conduct two programs at the same time. Run a test program in parallel with a lead generation program. That is, run a best practices campaign, then a small test of email, mailing lists and/or lead generation offers.

The problem with the first choice is that this approach provides no learning. If the program is successful, the marketer has no way of knowing which element, or combination of elements, created the success. If the program is a failure the marketer won’t know what to throw out and what to keep in the next campaign.

Despite the pressure from above, B2B marketers should fight strongly to conduct A/B split testing, even in smaller amounts, while trying to generate leads in the short run. It’s the only way to turn the average response rates available now into spectacular ones in the future.

A few early B2B marketing ideas from Santa.

Children writing lists to Santa aren’t the only ones making wishes this year. We B2B marketers are making many wishes for our marketing to be more effective, less costly, and less work. These are the same old wishes, but, in this volatile economy, the gifts are needed more than ever.

So I went searching for a few B2B marketing Santas that may have left a gift in a blog or magazine article here and there. Here’s what I unwrapped.

Be more effective

Deliver Magazine from the US Postal Service was celebrating its 40th issue with a recap of its greatest moments. One clip included this very sage advice from the “permission marketing” guru Seth Godin. He said, “Happy customers are a company’s worst enemy because they’re unlikely to push you to stay ahead of the competition. Talk with those who are dissatisfied with everything on the market.” Taking this approach is the best way to help B2B companies find out how to improve their products and the effectiveness of their marketing.

Save money

Doing more with less has always been important. These days it’s a survival necessity. Although there is danger in spending too little, the worst danger is not knowing how much you should be spending. Thank Santa for a recent post on the Inbound Sales Network. Their “How Much Should you Spend on Lead Generation?” takes B2B marketers through six calculations marketers can use to set the right spending limit for their organization.

Step 1: Set the Target
Say your company has the goal to do $1,000,000 in new sales during the next year. If you currently have a 10% growth rate in current accounts, this leaves $900,000 needed in new revenue generated in the next fiscal year.

Step 2: Pipeline Size
New Revenue Target / Closing Ratio

Step 3: Average Deal Size
Total Revenue / Number of Deals

Step 4: Total Number of New Opportunities Needed
Pipeline Size / Average Deal Size

Step 5: Lead to Opportunity Conversion Ratio
Number of Opportunities Won / Total Number of Opportunities

Step 6: Cost per Sales Qualified Lead
(Expected Revenue – Delivery Costs – Sales Costs – Acceptable Profit Margin) / Total Number of Leads Needed

Read their article to get all the details. This process helps ensure that every dollar spent on lead generation is justified based on the company’s sales goals. It’s the only way to go.

Lighten the workload

Follow the advice of Rachel Foster in the October 2011 Issue of Chief Content Officer (COO) Magazine. She suggests “Reimagining the Tried-and-True White Paper” by turning it into an interactive video. She says, “Unlike traditional videos, designed to play from start to finish, video white papers makes it easy to jump from section to section and focus in on high-interest topics.” Video white papers allow B2B marketers to track how long a viewer watched and what they watched. If some sections appear to be more popular than others, marketers can leverage that insight into a new piece of potentially effective content.