The Essential B2B Guide to SEO

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It can be difficult to know where to start with B2B SEO. This guide gives marketers an introduction to SEO, providing an overview of the search marketing landscape in 2016 and equipping you with a basic understanding of SEO so that you can identify your own website’s SEO requirements, engage in conversation with a search marketing provider and assess their ability to optimise your website.

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The internet: it’s a big deal. In fact, it’s been a big deal for a while now. It’s the number one source of information, the most active marketplace, and the largest marketing platform around. An entire generation has grown up not knowing what life without it is like. Tippy-tapping away on their Twitters and smartboxes, Whatsapp-ing each other messages in their indecipherable teenage vernacular. Go ROFL on someone else’s lawn.

Still, despite all these X-treme, totally radical technological advances, the humble website is more important than ever. This is because where the public face of your company is concerned, it’s basically the centre of the universe: it’s your shop window, it’s the thing you’re pointing to on social networks, and it’s a Gatling gun in your business development arsenal. Of course, if you remember the brochureware websites of yesteryear – the age of the dial-up tone and Titanic making more money than most small economies – you’ll remember that it wasn’t always this way. A website was something optional, something you stuck on a business card and in an email signature: a resource for people who already knew who you were.

These days, if most of your site visitors are people you already know, then it’s a major red flag (on fire, atop the mast of a pirate ship, which is firing grapeshot right at your company HQ). This is because a bunch of people – sometimes a couple thousand, sometimes millions – are looking for what you’re offering every month. But if your website isn’t easily accessible and visible in a search engine, they won’t know you’re offering it, and they’ll get it from your more web-savvy competitors, regardless of how blatantly inferior, more expensive, and questionably hygienic they may be. In fact, research shows that if your site doesn’t show up on the first page, it probably won’t gain any traction with searchers. Ideally, you want the top two positions – it’s optimal from a web traffic and lead gen POV. Check out these stats:

  • 94% of B2B buyers search online before purchasing a product or service
  • 71% of searches result in a page one organic click.
  • The first five results account for 67.60% of all organic clicks.
  • Positions six to ten get only 3.73% of clicks.

Essentially: high = good, low = bad. In this respect, SEO is the precise opposite of limbo. With fewer clicks come fewer opportunities – so it’s smart to get as close to the top as you possibly can.

What is SEO?

SEO is actually a pretty simple concept. The most important thing to understand is that Google wants to return the best possible results for its users. This basic idea should inform every aspect of your SEO strategy.

Google – or rather, its spiders – looks at elements of every webpage (by this, we mean your homepage or any other page on your site) to understand what it’s about. It includes roughly 200 “ranking factors” to establish the page’s authority – i.e. structure of the URL, the content of the page’s text, links from other sites to yours – and ranks it in terms of relevance to a user’s query. If somebody looks for life-size celebrity cardboard cutouts, for example, and you have the dubious honour of running the internet’s best page on life-size celebrity cardboard cutouts, you’ll be pinned right to the top of page one.

Bing and Yahoo do come into the equation to some extent, but considering the overwhelming majority of searches are on Google, they’re very much extras to its leading man – it’s the network everyone pays attention to. Besides, SEO rules apply across all three!

ndeed, it’s possible to ‘optimise’ a web page to help Google get a better idea of what it’s about. These fall into two categories: on-site factors (i.e. stuff you can do on your website) and off-site factors (i.e. stuff you can do online but away from your site). Striking the right balance with both of these things is essential.

On-site Optimisation

Successful on-site optimisation consists of three simple things: keywords, architecture and content. Get these right, and you’re well on your way to SEO success!


To get found by your audience (and to pass muster, as far as Google’s spiders are concerned) your website needs terms your target audience is searching for. This seems fairly self-explanatory – after all, if you’re selling fishing rods, you’re not going to make a webpage about real tennis or lobsters or whatever – but it’s not. Your audience won’t always find your site through the most obvious route – either because they’re searching for you using different terms entirely, or because the most obvious route is hypercompetitive.

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So one of your very first priorities should be to do some keyword research to help you decide which terms should take priority for your business – and allow you to create content and pages that will boost your rankings for them. Google’s own Keyword Planner is a particularly useful tool, and Soovle’s autocomplete suggestion software provides a great way to finish certain search thoughts (it’s also kind of entertaining to just type in ‘how’ and see what kind of messed-up stuff people are putting into Google these days. You’re welcome for that little time waster!).

Once you’ve got your keywords, it’s important to make sure they’re put in the right place. For example, if you want to rank for ‘life-size celebrity cardboard cutouts’ (seriously, how did you get into that industry?) then you want to have it in the page’s URL – i.e., in the page title (H1) and in the text of the content itself.

Most importantly, it needs to be in the title tag – the blue underlined result that shows up when you enter a Google search. This is Google’s primary indicator of relevance to a query. To do this you should add it to the right part of your content management system (frequently shortened to ‘CMS’ – the software that manages your web content. Think Wordpress, Joomla, Sitecore, etc.) or ask your web developer to do so on your behalf.


A well-built website should have a logical structure that allows search engines to crawl it quicksmart. This will help Google to understand the importance of certain parts based on their prominence – think of it like a pyramid with multiple levels, but no dead pharaohs or insufferable tourists.

Remember: Google’s commitment to great user experience is borderline fanatical, and one of the big reasons why it’s still on top of the pile today. So if your site isn’t optimised for mobile you’re going to have a rougher time of SEO than you need to – especially in light of Google’s 2015 ‘Mobilegeddon’ update (not their coinage, but illustrative enough of its impact). In a more general sense, Google will make certain logical leaps to determine the quality of your site; like, for example, how long people are spending on your site. If they’re moving on after one page, their spiders are going to assume that your user experience sucks harder than an industrial vacuum cleaner and punish you with poorer visibility in search results.

Accordingly, a slow-loading website is a major no-no. Google is so insistent on this that they’ve even provided a free tool you can use to test how fast your site responds – both for convenience and, one assumes, so you’ve got no excuse!


Content is probably the most important part of on-site optimisation, and it’s instructive to remember the earlier point about providing a good user experience.

Because the truth is, poor or irrelevant content can be as much a turnoff for Google as a slow-loading site or one that isn’t mobilefriendly – not to mention your users. Don’t spam pages with ‘life-sized celebrity cardboard cutouts’ over and over again: this will alienate the weirdos who come to your page to buy them, and search engines are, as a rule, wise to this trick anyway. Use keywords in a natural and relevant way – and don’t forget, Google’s smart enough to understand synonyms as well. It’s a common misconception that SEO leads to clunky content writing: it may be true if you’re doing it incorrectly, but it certainly doesn’t have to be the case. If anything, SEO helps keep your content focused, on-topic, and interesting to your prospects!

If the above is kept in mind, and you provide fresh, relevant content on a regular basis, you’ll see higher engagement, lower bounce rates, happy search engines – and happier users.

Off-site Optimisation

A great site is no good if Google doesn’t know about it. You need to alert them to its existence – and, more importantly, its value – as soon as it’s ready. Use Google Webmaster Tools to register your site and submit a sitemap containing your pages: this will ensure the search engine crawls them all.

Off-site optimisation requires some thought into your company’s linkbuilding and branding strategies. The better your work in these areas – as well as the on-site stuff you did earlier – the more authoritative Google will consider your site to be. Among the most important of Google’s ranking factors is links pointing to your site. In days gone by, unscrupulous SEO agencies could easily build poor-quality links to their clients’ sites. Google, understandably, was more than a little irked by this, and started dropping the hammer on them. Good linkbuilding is tough; it requires a creative – but metrics-driven – SEO agency with a proven track record.

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Seriously, don’t even think about it

When you’re caught cheating, or counting cards in a casino, you’re thrown out; Google responds with similar force when it thinks a website is trying to trick it. And, as is also true of casinos, in the long run, the house always wins. Maybe you’re a genius SEO con-man: maybe you’ve genuinely come up with a way to beat it. It won’t matter. Your victory will inevitably be a short-term thing: Google will almost certainly update its (increasingly complex) algorithms to accommodate your tricks at the first opportunity. Its reputation depends on it.

Trying to defeat Google is like trying to fistfight the sun: you’ll waste a lot of energy, and you’re liable to get horribly burned in the process. For example:

  • When it was discovered that links counted in search engine rankings, some smart Alecs decided to indulge in a spot of link-farming: building vast networks of sites that all linked to each other in order to rack up huge numbers of links to their own webpages. Because this was detrimental to user experience – it pushed irrelevant sites right up the search rankings – Google responded by penalising sites in their updated algorithms (this is why Penguin – which you can find out more about in our glossary – exists).
  • People realised keywords in copy were a critical variable in most rankings. So they decided to flood their sites with keyword-packed text – often irrelevant to the site itself. Some webmasters even packed their sites with invisible text (black writing on a black background, for example) or in tiny, imperceptible writing. Google didn’t update their algorithms to ignore this tactic: again, they updated them to actively penalise them. Overnight, these SEOs were rewarded for their deviousness with terrible, terrible rankings.

Google’s motto, for a long while, was ‘don’t be evil’. By no means does this mean it’s a soft touch. When Google thinks it’s being messed with, it responds promptly, brutally, and utterly without mercy.

Play the long game

Realistically, SEO is going to take up a lot of time: time you’re probably wanting to spend on clients, other marketing stuff, or general business-critical activity. It’s not as nebulous as people might have you think, but it is a marathon, rather than a sprint (except better, because you don’t really get anything for doing a marathon besides sore legs). You can’t think of it as a one-off thing: it’s an ongoing process that needs constant refining and a reliable stream of fresh content to keep up with changing search trends, algorithm updates, and competitors’ attempts to muscle in on your favoured keywords.

Getting SEO right

You’ve got the basics down – congrats for making it this far, by the way – but now you’ve got to get to grips with the key elements of a successful SEO campaign in 2015. Why? Because again, SEO changes a LOT. This field has been around for over two decades, and it hasn’t sat still since: algorithms are changing constantly, and a strategy that worked last year may not do it today. In time, the information contained in this very eBook could be entirely irrelevant: useful only as a historical snapshot of what SEO looked like at this moment in time.

Still, here are five ways to do it right for the next year, at least. You may need to outsource some of this – again, it’s very time-consuming – but understanding it will allow you to appoint a consultancy that can make the right campaign and get the right results.

With all that said, it’s still worth keeping some time-honoured SEO rules in mind.

  • Check your meta data, alt tags and header tags.
  • Do your keyword research before writing concise, engaging, keyword-rich content that demonstrates value to your visitors. Keyword research is an exhaustive subject and probably worthy of an ebook in itself. If you want to read more about it, then the Moz blog is a good place to start – here’s Moz’s starter for ten on keyword research.
  • Make your website easy for users and the search engine spiders to navigate and find – a Google My Business map listing is essential if you’re a small business with a localised offering – with limited resource to invest in online SEO it’ll be the fastest and cheapest way for potential customers to find you.

There are of course many more basic, best practice elements to a successful SEO campaign – get acquainted with all of them!

Analyse insights and trends

Where SEO is concerned, there’s no such thing as analysis paralysis. Tools like the keyword planner and Google Trends provide a distinct opportunity to keep up with hot B2B topics and popular search terms. Analysis of the data these tools provide can give you some idea of what you should be writing about – and how you can increase your web traffic. Again, Soovle is a life-saver, and Buzzsumo is useful too.

Search engines increasingly punish sites with thin content (Google’s Panda update is particularly mean about this) so you’ll want to feed them new, optimised, and rich material on a regular basis. Employ those analytics tools to maximise your SEO value and you’ll be well ahead of your competitors.

Publish fresh content regularly

There’s value in your old stuff, but it’s worth repeating: a reliable stream of fresh content is your best way of maximising your organisation’s SEO value. Like the liquid metal T-1000, Google is getting stronger and stronger: it’s updating constantly to ensure its users only get the most relevant search results for their queries. As Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman of Google, once scarily remarked, they basically know what we’re thinking about.

Thanks to Google’s recent updates, those B2B websites that update their content regularly with the latest news, insights and information on their businesses will fare well. It’s not quite as simple as including bundles of original new content. It should also be of value and interest to your reader. Content that isn’t engaging or valuable will lead to higher bounce rates (people clicking on your site, not liking what they’ve found and then leaving immediately), which the search engines will notice. This will potentially lead to ranking demotion if it persists.

Go social

Look, it’s 2015. The case for social media has pretty much been proven: if you’re not on it, you’re probably annoyed that everyone around you is. And yet, many B2B businesses are still hesitant about it, entirely unconvinced of its value and effectiveness to their marketing strategies.

Well, distasteful as it may be to have to incorporate phrases like ‘favourited your RT’ into your mental glossary, if you’re not getting on board with social you’re more or less doing it wrong. It offers B2B marketers international exposure, and a great way of organically building high-quality links and referral traffic to your website. Just think about how many major newspapers are putting out articles that basically consist of collected Twitter updates these days!

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Social networks provide marketers with a captive audience of hundreds of millions of people worldwide - unparalleled brand exposure and opportunities for word of mouth referrals.

But remember – social media is about building trust and sharing valuable knowledge, not selling. You might have a terrific product, but people don’t want to hear about it on Twitter. They go on Twitter to ask questions, broadcast their fascinating opinions, and laugh at pictures of cats with large amusing words written over them. It can help you sell, but you should never appear to be on there for that exclusive purpose.

Optimise your website for social: this will allow your audience to share your content easily, enabling you to rack up the visitor numbers, increase engagement, and build top-notch links to your company site. Even better, Google’s now displaying tweets in its search engine results – so if something’s been RT’d and favourited a bunch of times, it could well show up on page one in future!

You can leave your (link) hat on

Again: links from other websites are the most important off-site ranking criteria. You need to be cynical about how you approach linkbuilding: in every relationship, partnership, or association you enter into, ‘can I get a link?’ should be in the back of your mind. Wrote a cool piece for a major trade publication? Ask for a link as though it were your birth right. Joining a new industry association? Offer to get one of your team to write some content about it, include a followed link to your website, and if they don’t include it, email them to ask why.

If you’ve partnered with a new vendor, ask for a link on your partner profile. Get on directory sites like Thomson Local and Yelp. Link opportunities are everywhere, and if you reach out and grab them, your keyword rankings will benefit.

Choosing the right SEO provider

Ironically enough, finding a good SEO agency can be incredibly difficult. This is because they all tend to promise the same things: a position on page one, within the top five results, for every pertinent keyword. If they weren’t doing this, you get the distinct feeling they’d be peddling love potions and all-natural cure-alls.

Search for an SEO Agency in the UK alone and you’ll be given 2.5 million results. You almost definitely don’t have the time to go through all of them. Given the nature of the topic, it’s tempting to just pick the very first one – after all it’s a poor cobbler who can’t keep their children in decent shoes!

But it’s a bit knottier than that. SEO isn’t solely about simply optimising the HTML and keyword content on your site. The Panda and Penguin updates both talk about the importance of original, relevant, and regularly-updated content for websites that want high-ranking positions, so having a good supply of great material will, in 2015 and 2016, be more important than ever. Choosing an agency that can provide this – and a steady stream of high quality links – should be at the forefront of your mind, along with these key questions.

Can the agency produce well written, keyword rich content?

Essentially: does the agency have the know-how and authority to write for the business you operate in and maintain your brand reputation? Using keywords as though they were jigsaw pieces isn’t going to do it. It’s about strategically deploying original content and news to demonstrate that your business can be trusted.

Does the agency have its ear to the ground?

A good agency is an up-to-date agency: one that knows the ‘trending stories’, the hot topics, the hippest lingo – all the relevant, need-to-know industry information that could potentially increase engagement with your visitors and prospective customers.

Does the agency recognise social media's significance to SEO campaigns?

Social media is not just for telling the world about your hangover or how many times you blink and breathe in a day. It’s a channel to share relevant and informative news and updates, making it an important part of your linkbuilding campaign!

How proactive is the agency when it comes to keyword research?

SEO isn’t a one-and-done process. Optimising your site for current high-volume, lead gen search terms (the difference between keywords ‘B2B PR’ and ‘B2B PR agency’ – the former is a term searched for when a user is interested in finding out more about the subject, the second is a term a user looking for an agency searches for – I know which one we’d rather rank for!) is part of the job description: everyone does it.

Finding an agency that makes use of all relevant data – trend reports, social analysis, etc. – to attract a different kind of prospect or find a new, potentially breakout search term? That’s an entirely different proposition.

The ones that will give you lasting success are the ones that will stay ahead of the competition. SEO is an ongoing process – the agency that can deliver real results will be the one that uses all the analytical tools in its arsenal to deliver a continuallyoptimised keyword research strategy.

Will the agency integrate the SEO campaign with other digital marketing and communications campaigns that you've invested your brand and money into?

As fresh, interesting, user-focused content grows further in importance for SEO, it’s essential that the content produced remains consistent with the overall brand message and image presented in your other digital marketing campaigns. Hiring an agency that is familiar with your industry and that can provide an integrated digital marketing and communications service that considers SEO, PPC, social media and PR should be at the top of your business' list.

Keywords are important, but unless they’re surrounded by good, relevant content, they’re essentially pointless. Google knows what users are looking for, and it knows when sneaky webmasters are just hitting C+P over and over again. It’s not yet able to see you when you’re sleeping, and it doesn’t know when you’re awake, but it’s only a matter of time. All your content should be keyword-optimised, on-brand, and onmessage: go for a service that can balance all of these priorities in an integrated SEO, PPC, social media, and PR strategy.


SEO is a rapidly evolving science, and B2B organisations need to ensure they work with providers that can balance technical skills with business insights and the ability to create compelling content. In almost every industry, investing in quality SEO will deliver direct and measurable benefits in the form of website visits and, most importantly, qualified leads. Selecting an agency is a bit like falling in love or finding a good burger place: it takes time, but you’ll know the one when you see it. And it’s pretty much always worth it.

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