In this "do more with less" era, everyone wants to know the secret sauce for improving B2B paid search marketing ROI. While there are a million and one answers to this question, the single most important thing for B2B marketers to focus on is this - improve the "list".
Whether its search marketing, direct marketing, print advertising, trade shows or other marketing tactic, you're going to see the greatest ROI improvements from better targeting your intended prospect audience. There are three key steps to improving paid search ROI:
1) Understand your target audience and how they use the Internet during the business buying process
We tend to forget that business buying often involves multiple search sessions over time, and that different types of sites are used more heavily during different stages of the business buying process.
Audience research tools like quantcast, Google AdPlanner, comScore or Nielsen//NetRatings are very useful, but you're never going to truly understand how to target your prospects online unless you see the world from their perspective.
Offer to pay them for an hour of their time, visit them at their office, and ask them to walk through finding product or service like yours that they intend to buy, both showing you the steps they go through on the computer and describing what they're looking for. Anyone who's done this will agree - its an amazingly useful experience to really understand both where your company needs to be online and the type of information you need to provide at each step.
2) Take advantage of the advanced targeting options in your campaigns on general search engines
I spoke about audience targeting to improve paid search ROI at the 2009 Online Marketing Summit in San Diego, and asked the 70+ people in room two questions:
- How many of you are currently managing paid search campaigns? (virtually everyone)
- How many of you are using exact match in your Google campaigns? (two people raise their hands)
Nothing against the session attendees - they were obviously there to learn - but this is scary. General search engines help virtually anyone find virtually anything. When you're selling a B2B product to a very specific audience, its critical to take advantage of the advanced targeting options that general search engines provide for their PPC advertisers. These include:
- Match logic - do you allow matches on only your exact keywords, or do you allow broad matches?
- Keyword targeting - average search query length is increasing, so are you using longer keyword phrases?
- Ad copy - people will click on almost anything, but use ad copy to deflect the wrong audience
- Geographic targeting - if you sell regionally, allow your ads to show in only that region
- Day parting - show your ads when your true buyers most active online at certain parts of the day?
- Placement targeting - choose the types of sites on which your ads will be shown
- IP exclusions - while limited, you can prevent certain IP addresses/ranges from seeing your listings
- Demographic targeting - options are very high level today (age, gender, income, etc.) but look for improvements
3) Create campaigns on sites with more targeted traffic
Search marketers tend to do something very bizarre from a marketing perspective - they start with extremely broad campaigns on general search engines and then work like crazy to cut DOWN the campaign to focus on a more targeted audience, rather than starting with most targeted search sites and then expanding to general search engines. Its like running your first print ad campaign in USA Today rather than a niche publication targeting Fortune 500 CFOs if that's who you want to reach.
Remember - business buying is a process, and paid search options exist across virtually every conceivable B2B niche. Beyond the obvious leaders such as Business.com, GlobalSpec for engineering, ThomasNet for manufacturing, Capterra for business software and others, recall your target customer research in #1 above and ask yourself the following to find additional relevant sites:
- What sites do they visit AFTER starting at a general search engine?
- What are the top influencers -- publications, blogs, associations, etc.?
- What sites play a key role in different stages of the buying process -- vertical search/directories, niche shopping engines, product reviews, etc.?
Bottom line: if you want to improve your B2B paid search marketing ROI, you need to focus first on better targeting your intended audience.