Most explanations of B2B SEO strategy are completely overwhelming. It sounds nearly impossible to rank on page one and the tactics to get there are incredibly murky. 

Back in 2016, when I was first getting into B2B marketing, I walked away from most search engine optimization presentations, articles, and online courses with the general impression that SEO was a risky marketing strategy with little upside. If I wanted to improve my clients’ rankings, I needed to find keywords relevant to their audience, sprinkle them into their content somewhere, wave a magic wand to fix their technical SEO issues, and then spend 90% of my time begging people to link back to the client’s website. 

Luckily, I now know there’s no magic involved, and it’s a lot simpler than I used to think. (Note, just because it’s simple doesn’t mean it’s easy, but it does mean it’s a lot more systematic, explainable, and repeatable than I thought at the beginning of my career.) 

To take you from where I was in 2016 to where I am now without putting you through 50+ hours of online courses, dozens of Q&As with SEO thought leaders, and 2+ years of hands on experience getting my clients onto page one for dozens of target keywords, I’ve distilled everything a CEO, marketing executive, or digital marketing manager needs to know about SEO for B2B companies down to one sentence. 

Here it is:

To improve your website’s rankings in Google, you must create content that is likely to rank in the top 3 positions for the keywords your target audience is searching when they’re looking for what you sell.

Of course, it’s a loaded sentence. In fact, I’ve crammed three crucial aspects of SEO strategy into this sentence:   

  1. Create content that is likely to rank in the top 3 positions
  2. For the keywords your target audience is searching 
  3. When they’re looking for what you sell

Ever heard the saying that marketing is about putting the right message in front of the right audience at the right time? 

The same rules apply to SEO. 

To improve your website’s rankings in Google, you must create content that is likely to rank in the top 3 positions for the keywords your target audience is searching when they’re looking for what you sell.

It’s really that simple. 

But now I’ll break down how it looks in practice. Here’s what I’ll cover: 

  1. Right message: How to strategically create content that is likely to rank in the top 3 positions
  2. Right audience: How to find the search terms that your target audience is typing into google 
  3. Right time: How to prioritize the search terms you go after to show up when your audience is ready to buy

How to strategically create content that is likely to rank in the top 3 positions 

In this section, you’ll learn how Google decides what to show at the top of search results AND how to create high-quality content that Google loves (aka SEO copywriting).

Google (and any other search engine algorithm) is looking for the absolute best single web page (NOT website! Crucial distinction) that it believes will answer the searcher’s question. So if the searcher types “crock pot” into Google, Google understands that the vast majority of people searching that term want to buy a crock pot, and it returns all the landing pages and blog posts it can find that it thinks are most likely to help the searcher buy a crock pot. Much lower in the results, it may show you pages that include things like crock pot recipes, articles about how amazing crock pots are, or how to wash your crock pot, especially if the authors of those pages tried to optimize for the phrase “crock pot” — but they’ll never show up at the top because they don’t match the searcher’s intent.

Another quick example: if the searcher types “car mechanic madison”, Google understands that the searcher needs the services of a car mechanic and wants to find real live local businesses who are open today and can help them now. Google isn’t going to return courses to become a car mechanic, or helpful articles about how to become a car mechanic, or fun facts about car mechanics.

To create content that Google is likely to rank in the top three positions, you have to do 3 things: 

1) Match search intent. (That’s mostly what I just explained, but there is a little more to it.) 

2) Make your content better than the top 10 results. 

3) Complete the on-page SEO checklist. 

I’ll dig into each of these next. 

How to match search intent

An absolutely crucial skill for matching the intent of the searcher is empathy. You have to put yourself in the mind of the person searching and ask yourself what you think was going on in their mind and what they’re trying to find when they searched that phrase. 

Most searches fall into one of three categories: 

HUH? Mode

The searcher just heard an unfamiliar phrase in a meeting or a conversation, it made them feel dumb, and so now they’re Googling it. This is often the case for simple keywords with a ton of traffic, things like “content marketing” or “inbound marketing” or “home equity loan.” 

Learning Mode

The searcher is looking for detailed instructions about how to do something. Some examples might be “how to peel a dragonfruit” or “how to make home-made pizza” or “how to grow my social media followers” or “how to file quarterly taxes.”

Buying Mode

This searcher is actually in the market to buy something (or at least find a free product). They’re searching for specific products, either by brand name or at least with a list of features. Examples: “web analytics tool” or “high neck line swim suit” or “fractional staffing company.” 

Most of the time, your intuition is enough to identify the category for a search term, but to double check that you’re right, you need to look at what Google is showing on the first page of results. In technical terms, this is called looking at the SERP, which stands for Search Engine Results Page. You don’t need any fancy tools for this, just open an incognito page in your favorite web browser, type in the search term, and look at the results. If products and services come up, the searcher is in buying mode. If How To articles come up, they’re in learning mode. If “What is XYZ” articles and “Ultimate Guide to XYZ” articles come up, they’re probably in HUH? Mode. 

How to write better content than the top 10 results

The first step to creating a superior piece of content than your competition is to actually read the competition. Read the top 10 results, and ask yourself what they do well (you’ll do this too) and what’s missing? If you were the person searching that term, what questions would you still have? Make a list of both the good and the bad, and build your outline around that. 

Second, look at the user experience of the top 10 results. If the website is really crappy to navigate or the fonts are ugly or the pictures are out of alignment, all of those could be reasons a searcher would get frustrated and go back to Google. So make sure your user experience is better (mostly just follow UX best practices, include a table of contents with anchor links, a simple header image, etc.).

Finally, match the knowledge level of the reader. Grow & Convert, an awesome SEO agency and creator of a great content marketing course, has written a lot about this, and I highly recommend exploring their blog if you want to dig into it further. But to sum it up, it means you don’t want to waste time explaining stuff the reader already knows, and don’t write clever anecdotal leads. The reader is trying to figure out as fast as possible if your article will answer their question, and they will sniff out unauthoritative crap instantly, no matter how cute your first sentence is. 

Complete the on-page SEO checklist

If you know anything about SEO, this is probably the one part of SEO you’re most familiar with and have heard the most about. There are lots of great resources about on-page SEO so I won’t go into detail. 

In short, this is where all of the long lists of related words and phrases come in. For the Google algorithm to understand what your page is about, you have to include the target keyword in the slug, in the headline, in the first 100 words, in the metadata (meta description and title tag), and then include all of the other supporting phrases that a tool like Clearscope or Surfer SEO will tell you to include. (These are sometimes called LSI keywords.) You should also add as many relevant and useful internal links as possible.

It’s the last step. It’s crucial, but it won’t make up for skipping the first two steps. (Unfortunately, a lot of SEO content writing services only do this step.) 

How to find the search terms that your target audience is typing into Google 

In this section, you’ll get a crash course on Keyword Research

Keyword research is one of my favorite parts of the SEO process. It feels like sleuthing. And I love pretending to be Jessica Jones.

You can use a variety of free SEO tools, like just looking at the “people also ask” section of Google, and Ahrefs’ free keyword generator tool (where you can get 150 results for free without even signing in), but to do this efficiently, I highly recommend a paid Ahrefs account. 

But before you use the tools, the first step is an interview! 

Talk to the people who know your clients best. For b2b businesses, this might be your sales team, your customer service team, or the CEO. Before you get any further, make sure to ask them if your target audience is likely to use Google to look for your products or services. Sometimes, the answer is no. If so, congratulations, you can stop reading this article. 🙂 But if your site already gets a any amount of organic traffic for keywords other than the name of the business, it’s likely that you’ll see a decent return from your SEO marketing efforts

If your target audience is the Googling type, then ask them what phrases would they use to search for a product or service like yours? What pain points do they have that are urgent enough that they’d be likely to hire a service or buy a product like yours to solve it right now? Are the searchers likely to be the decision-makers at their company, or are they the end-users of the product (or are they both people at the same time)? Understanding the different buyer personas will help you find more relevant keywords in the next step.

Make a list of phrases from the interview, and then get creative to try to expand the list of possible search queries to include stuff the interviewee might not have thought of. Use the “people also ask” section of Google, or Answer the Public, or look at the similar keywords that Ahrefs suggests.

Take that list, and plug it into any keyword research tool to figure out how much search volume there is per month for each keyword, and the relative difficulty of ranking for each keyword (in Ahrefs, this is KD, or Keyword Difficulty). (The free keyword generator works just fine for this part.)

Make a list with a modicum of organization. It doesn’t need to be fancy. It might look something like this: 

Sample keyword research spreadsheet shows four columns labeled Keyword, Volume, KD, and Thoughts.

Now you have a keyword list, but a keyword list is not the same thing as a content strategy. That’s next. 

How to prioritize the search terms you go after to show up when your audience is ready to buy

In this section, you’ll get a primer on Keyword Strategy. 

You’re almost there, hang with me! 

A lot of SEO agencies build their strategy around the goal of increasing website traffic, so they prioritize the keywords with the highest traffic. But that strategy is unlikely to lead to an ROI for most B2B companies because the keywords with the highest traffic have both the highest amount of competition (meaning it’s unlikely you’ll actually be successful in ranking on page one) AND the least amount of buying intent (meaning it’s unlikely that someone who finds your page in the search engine will become a buyer). 

Instead, if you’re trying to use organic search to actually grow your business, you should prioritize your list based on the buying intent first, the difficulty second, and the search volume third. 

To be fair, some SEO experts would fight me on my prioritization of low difficulty above high volume, but I like to get small wins first, even if they come from low-volume keywords, and tackle the more challenging B2B keywords later, after I’ve built some confidence that the site is capable of ranking in Google search

Let’s look at my one sentence again: 

To improve your website’s rankings in Google, you must create content that is likely to rank in the top 3 positions for the keywords your target audience is searching when they’re looking for what you sell.

Does it make sense now? It only took me 2,169 words to explain it, but I hope you’ll agree that at the core, SEO is pretty straightforward! 

Final Thoughts: What about technical SEO and link building

Ok, I’d be remiss if I didn’t quickly cover the other two elements that most SEO campaigns will need in order to succeed. Those are link building and technical SEO. I’ll give you a quick overview of them, but I’m guessing that if you’re reading this page, you don’t have any intention of becoming an expert in either of these things, and you don’t have to. 

Link Building

There’s a ton of ways to go about doing link building for a B2B website. There are entire agencies dedicated to creating legitimate backlinks for you. For most people, this will be a required part of their SEO efforts (and I include it in my full service SEO content writing retainer). 

There are also a bunch of other ways to build backlinks. A few of them are: 

  • Create accounts on all of the free directories and social media accounts
  • Join your local chamber of commerce (and any niche chambers for affinity groups, like the LGBT Chamber or the Black Chamber
  • Get coverage in your local newspaper 
  • Pay for sponsored content in news outlets

Technical SEO 

Technical SEO refers to a wide variety of settings related to your website’s structure and code that make sure Google can find your content. 

If your website was built by a competent web designer, it’s probably good to go from a technical SEO standpoint, with only a few tweaks. When I work with a client, I bring in a technical SEO expert at the beginning to do an audit, and we’ll work together to fix anything they recommend fixing as early as possible during the engagement. And then, in most cases, we’re good to go. I monitor the client’s performance to make sure nothing weird happens, and if anything does, we tackle it together to make sure nothing is getting in the way of their rankings. 

Hire me to create an SEO strategy and generate content that lands you on page one

I wrote this article because so many companies that I talk to are intimidated by SEO and really don’t understand how to leverage it as a growth channel. I hope this explanation cleared up some confusion for you and gave you a better picture of what it takes to rank higher in Google.

My monthly SEO strategy & content creation retainer includes the following services: 

  • Keyword Research & Strategy
  • Content Creation (2 to 4 articles per month) with On-Page SEO
  • Technical SEO Audit & Monitoring
  • Link Building
  • Rank Tracking
  • Lead Generation

If you’re interested in growing your business through SEO, I hope you’ll reach out for a free consultation