Search Marketers Pack ‘Em In at BMA Gathering

It was a packed house last week at the BMA Minnesota monthly breakfast meeting to hear three local B2B pros talk search marketing. Clearly there’s interest in what can seem like a mysterious black art. (relevant infographic from Webmarketing123 below)

The local BMA team has the balance right here with two marketers sharing real-world experiences and one consultant-side specialist to go deeper into the science. In this case we had Nina Hale bringing the consultant perspective, paired with Heather Hayes, interactive marketing supervisor at Stratasys, and Craig Berdie, search marketing manager at 3M.

Hale observed that paid search marketing and natural SEO are great complements to each other. We all like the credibility and lower cost that comes from great natural search placement. On the other hand, when people click on those search results, we can’t control as well where they go, while with paid – while more expensive – we can set up campaign-specific landing pages to track ROI and optimize campaigns more effectively.

I found it interesting that Hale believes B2B buyers don’t want to see B2B ads on Facebook. I’m not sure it’s true. I would say, however, that you probably do need to be promoting a different kind of content to be effective in that more consumer-oriented “entertainment” environment. I believe it’s less effective for straight product or service promotion but could be quite effective for promoting engaging thought leadership content. But of course, that’s not as lead-gen-oriented, and thus the ROI is harder to assess.

All that said, Hale notes that having a good social presence – even without a huge number of followers or a lot of engagement – is quite important to the search engines. At this point, it’s probably the primary reason to consider a Google+ presence.

Hayes then shared the Stratasys approach. Stratasys makes 3D printers, ranging from lower-cost desktop models to huge systems that can “print” pieces several feel long. (disclaimer: Stratasys is a public relations client of ours) She talked about the need to balance keywords that generate lots of clicks with keywords that convert to leads, which is a great point.  A click is not an end in itself.

The other key part of Hayes’ effort besides the science of keywords is a detailed multi-channel content calendar. This builds in discipline to generate consistent content and also ensures that the content is aligned with the keywords. She confirmed what Hale said about the value of having a good social presence, claiming that engineers (her target audience) don’t engage well on social media but they effort improves their search results. She did note correctly that younger engineers use these channels more. (I saw that last year with our work with IEEE.)

The final presenter was Berdie from 3M. That company has really stepped up its commitment to search optimization, and in fact, they have an SEO Council in place to serve as a center of excellence.  Berdie observes that SEO was “once seen as shady” and is now seen as “a legitimate practice.” They get C-level support now because they have been disciplined about detailed analysis about which pages are getting exposed to search and how they are doing. Because they are able to show a significant potential financial pay-off, they are getting some funding and staffing increases to expand what they do in search. They expect every piece of content they produce to consider keywords.

All of the panelists said personalized search presents a new challenge. Personalized search refers to the way companies like Google give you personalized results to your search queries. Just because your company is listed first when you search on key terms yourself doesn’t mean the same will happen when your neighbor does it. Personalized search reduces access to information about how your search efforts are doing. For instance, Berdie says he has no access to information for the approximately 30 percent of searches on Google from logged-in users. On the other hand, the whole point of personalized search is to improve the relevance of the searches people do. That means that search should be working better. But it’s harder to track and assess.

I’d like to see more collaboration between folks focused higher up on the marketing funnel – like myself – and those farther down – like most marketers in lead gen roles. It’s great to see how we can benefit each other by producing the most compelling content that generates lots of engagement and conversation but that also motivates the right people to take action and move towards purchase interest. A healthy marketing communications program is carefully balanced across these phases.

SEO Captures Biggest Share of B2B Digital Marketing Budget

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Aaron Pearson

Aaron Pearson is a senior vice president in the technology practice of Weber Shandwick, a global communications firm. He is also an adjunct instructor at the University of St. Thomas Opus School of Business, where he teaches a master’s course in communications technology. His B2B experience includes industries such as healthcare, manufacturing and agriculture, as well as functional audiences from IT to HR.

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