When COVID struck in early 2020, B2B marketers rapidly found themselves adapting to the 'new normal'. With most field marketing and events on pause, B2B marketers found themselves doubling down on the digital channels, or exploring for new channels to drive awareness and lead generation.
In our 2020 end of year trends report, we had further confirmation of the increasing investment in SEO with 39% of our members saying SEO was the channel that had become most important for them since COVID began.
The reality is that we've known for years just how big a role organic search has played within B2B research and purchase journeys. Even all the way back in 2015 Google shared research showing that 71% of B2B researchers start their research with a generic search. More recently, The Chartered Institute of Marketing shared that 74% of 21-40-year-olds are involved in making buying decisions. The evidence is clear: a growing proportion of B2B research and purchase decisions begin with a Google, as younger and more digital native profiles begin to play a bigger role in decision making units.
And so with this piece of SEO focused research, we wanted to dive deeper into how B2B marketers in the world's leading SaaS & Tech companies are thinking about and investing in SEO. The research shines a light on how B2B tech & SaaS companies are approaching SEO, what they are investing in and whether they are able to measure the impact of SEO.
SEO matters more than ever before
"81% of B2B tech marketers believe SEO has become a more important channel in the last 12 months"
It comes as no surprise that the majority of B2B tech marketers surveyed believe SEO has increased in importance over the past year.
There are many factors at play here; most obviously COVID. Engaging customers via your website offers a digital alternative to the face-to-face events that B2B tech marketers once relied so heavily upon. Making sure those customers can find you in the first place requires an SEO strategy.
We can't ignore the inevitable shift to an almost totally digital marketplace, which places so much weight on search as a means for B2B tech buyers to start and continue their purchase journeys.
73% of those who said SEO hasn't increased in importance work with SEO specialists on their strategies, so it's likely that the B2B tech marketers who answered 'no', already had a significant focus on their SEO strategies prior to the past year.
"Over a quarter of B2B tech companies have increased their investment in SEO over the past year"
Given our survey revealed SEO's increasing importance, it makes sense that B2B SEO budgets are broadly remaining the same or increasing to meet this heightened focus.
Over a quarter of those surveyed claimed their budget has increased, and around 68% claimed theirs has remained the same. These figures are a reflection of B2B tech companies' continued prioritisation of search as a marketing channel.
As more and more B2B tech companies focus on SEO, the search sector gets more competitive. Finding SEO experts, internally or externally, is not always easy. Are budgets staying steady to keep up with the demand for in-house or external specialists needed to meet SEO objectives?
Defined SEO strategies
"Less than half of B2B tech marketers have a defined SEO strategy"
Despite the increasing importance placed on SEO over the past year, only 49% of B2B tech marketers have a defined strategy.
According to the research, 51% do. Defining a strategy is a good start, but even more important is ensuring that it meets your over-arching marketing and business objectives.
Should B2B tech marketers who agree with the great importance of SEO be defining their strategies to better meet those objectives?
"I am actually quite surprised that only half of B2B tech marketers have a defined SEO strategy in place. SEO is a long term effort. Therefore true success can only be evaluated over time.
In order to understand performance, a strategy should set the foundation and detail how defined targets will be achieved. This is crucial to understand how effective optimisation efforts are and more generally to align SEO with the overarching company strategy and business goals.
A good strategy should also consider different aspects of SEO and where the greatest impact can be made. We see from further responses that 82% of marketers focus on content. While this is very important the technical foundation should not be neglected as this determines how well (and how frequently) Google will crawl, index and surface your content in search results. Having a sound technical setup and site architecture is the foundation of successful content SEO.
In some industries and fast-paced companies with frequently changing priorities defining a long term strategy can indeed be tricky. This is especially true in the ever-changing world of SEO. But a good strategy doesn’t need to cover several years. A high-level annual plan with a quarterly rolling short term strategy can be equally beneficial.
In summary, a good strategy will lay the foundation for short term tactics. It is crucial to align SEO objectives with overarching business goals. It will enable performance monitoring and understanding of how well targets are met.
In most cases, a well thought out strategy also supports getting buy-in and budget for SEO campaigns as well as getting people on board with what SEO is looking to achieve."
"Lead generation is the main objective of SEO for two thirds of B2B tech marketers, with brand awareness the main objective for just one third"
Lead generation has always been at the forefront of B2B tech marketers' minds. The proof is in the stats, as a large majority of those surveyed do SEO for lead generation purposes more than for brand building ones.
This result is further evidence of general short-term pressures that exist in marketing and digital channels in particularly. Performance drives digital marketing, and it makes sense that most marketers view SEO as a performance led channel.
However, the B2B tech marketers we surveyed are correct. SEO done well can be an inbound engine that keeps high quality leads converting constantly whilst at the same time building a brand.
Content is still king
Clearly content still reigns supreme when it comes to driving SEO results. It makes sense in B2B tech & SaaS, with companies often providing products & solutions in niches where educational, long form content can make the most impact to their rankings.
Google's updates in Core Web Vitals place more focus on page experience for the user, including loading performance, interactivity and visual stability. The technical aspects of SEO have never been more important to consider, but the majority of B2B tech & SaaS companies don't have hugely technically complicated websites, so this is not a surprise.
The least chosen option was link building. Many SEO experts believe that external links are the most valuable aspect of SEO because search engines view them as third-party votes for your website. At the same time the Digital PR industry has been growing rapidly recently.
Ultimately it seems B2B marketers generally see the best ROI from investing in quality, SEO driven content above all else. But let's not forget that great content should in itself turn into links being built.
In-house SEO vs agency or freelancer
"28% of B2B tech marketers rely on third parties to help with their SEO strategies"
It's no secret that there's a lot of moving parts to SEO, and doing SEO well can be a full time job for at least 1 person. The reality is that once a SEO strategy is defined, some third party support is needed to drive things forward.
With agencies and freelancers being able to provide higher level of specialism, experience and expertise, it's not a surprise that those with defined SEO strategies turn to agency or freelancer support to scale their SEO efforts.
Attributing leads, pipeline and revenue back to SEO means upfront investment in third party support can be measured and justified.
Despite the majority of them keeping SEO in-house...
"Less than a third of B2B tech marketing teams have dedicated in-house SEO expertise"
We now know that 72% of B2B tech companies do not use third parties to help with their SEO strategies.
But at the same time 68% do not have an in-house specialist, which means most B2B tech marketing teams are relying on their own generalist expertise and potentially missing out on really capitalising on the potential of SEO as a channel.
Is generalist part time focus on SEO enough to compete for a spot at the top of the first page of search results?
Measuring the impact
"Nearly half of all B2B tech marketers struggle with measuring the impact of SEO as a channel"
Attributing value to certain channels can be tricky, particularly in B2B when buyer journeys can be lengthy and considered. But without attribution, B2B marketers wouldn't be able to prove their success to secure budget and buy-in from the C-suite. When it comes to SEO, 44% struggle to measure the impact of their strategy. Interestingly, majority of those who have a defined strategy can measure the impact of their SEO and unsurprisingly, the majority of those who work with agencies can measure the impact of SEO.
This is a challenge that can be in part solved by MarTech and carefully planning analytics and attribution. Marketing automation tools can help B2B tech marketers to implement attribution models and see every touchpoint a customer has had before conversion, all the way through to sales, including organic searches.
Impact on the wider business
“Most B2B tech marketers (61%) can’t connect their SEO strategy with business outcomes"
This statistic further demonstrates the challenges of attribution when it comes to organic search for B2B Tech & SaaS companies.
When the correlation between higher search ranking and boosted business growth is clear and measurable, it's obvious that SEO has high value in a B2B tech marketing strategy.
Proving the direct link between higher ranking and more leads, pipeline and revenue is a challenge B2B tech marketers need to overcome to demonstrate the ROI of, and continue to scale, their investment in organic search.
Although everyone usually answers ‘yes’ when asking if they would like their website to be optimised for search, a long term investment is often harder to gain budget for internally when it comes to SEO.
This is because of the apparent disconnect between the SEO work and its impact on real business outcomes like revenue growth. Fortunately this can be fixed fairly easily by defining some simple conversion goals and the correct analytics configuration. This is essential for not only selling SEO into the wider business but also showing how it can improve the bottom line of a company.
A supportive website and CMS
“Half of all B2B tech marketers’ feel their website & CMS are not supporting their SEO strategy"
What's an SEO strategy without a fully supportive website and CMS? A challenge.
B2B tech marketers might generate the best content in their field, but without a supportive website to host this content, it will not rank as well as it should. Technical SEO is more important with recent Core Web Vitals updates, whilst marketers need to be empowered by their CMS - being able to publish, optimise and measure content quickly and flexibly.
A website can be more than just a shop window. It should be a fundamental part of the engine that drives inbound leads and generates results.
The biggest SEO challenges
“The three biggest SEO challenges for B2B tech marketers are technical SEO (38%), link building (21%) and content creation (21%)"
The three biggest challenges mentioned are all extremely valid ones.
However, 91% of those who claimed technical SEO as their biggest challenge focus on content creation. Technical SEO can be difficult to conquer without in-house or external specialists' know-how, but perhaps B2B marketers could dedicate more of their focus to overcoming this challenge.
Furthermore, 100% of those who said link building was their biggest challenge primarily focus on content. Link building can be difficult without PR and a strong existing brand, but perhaps B2B tech marketers would find this component easier if they adjusted their SEO focus.
The other challenges mentioned were resourcing SEO work, understanding of value and technical requirements, SEO strategy and consistently testing new ideas.