Using SEO keywords remains one of the top B2B digital marketing strategies in 2022. Optimizing those keywords is the secret to ranking higher in search engine results pages (SERPs).
Your B2B SEO strategy is a building block for all of your online marketing efforts. If you focus on the wrong keywords, you'll either get no website visitors ... or ones you have a 0.001% chance of earning business from. Either way, you lose.
Below we'll explain how to optimize keyword choice for website success, no matter your organization's size:
What Makes a Well-Optimized Keyword for Your Website?
SEO (search engine optimization) is the process of making your website more visible in search engines like Google through organic (nonpaid) means. The goal is to not just bring more traffic to your website, but also to make it more relevant. (See #1 below.)
One of the easiest ways to write website copy that gets the attention of both humans and Google's ranking algorithm is including keywords your audience uses in their searches.
When it comes to SEO for small-to-medium-sized businesses, three main factors define keyword quality. In order of importance, they are:
- Searcher intent
1. High Searcher Intent
"Searcher intent," in a word, means relevance. Above all, the keywords you choose should be relevant to your business and product, and your customer's pain points.
Targeting irrelevant or overly broad keywords will decrease your traffic quality. This will affect two website performance stats that indirectly -- but immensely -- impact your SEO:
- Average time on page -- the number of minutes (or, in the case of an poorly targeted or written page, seconds) a typical user spends on the page. A low "time on page" means users find your page unhelpful or irrelevant to their needs.
- Bounce rate -- the percentage of visitors who left your site after their first page visit. Much like "time on page," a high bounce rate also means your content isn't meeting visitor expectations. And it means they're leaving before you're able to capture them as leads.
Also, targeting irrelevant keywords counts as a "black hat" SEO tactic. Google does not appreciate ranking for irrelevant keywords, keyword stuffing, and shady link building practices. It will happily sink your rankings for these infractions. Since more than 90% of web searches happen through Google, you'd better keep it happy.
Targeting relevant keywords bring high-quality traffic. These are people who are more likely to become a lead and eventually make a purchase. To see the difference between what a great B2B marketing keyword looks like vs. an unfocused on, consider these examples:
Example #1: The Wrong Persona
Let's say you're a B2B electronics manufacturer that serves OEMs. You make printed circuit boards (PCBs) that go inside gas meters, mining equipment, and construction vehicles. And you want to emphasize that you offer post-sale support.
Bad keyword: "electronics repair." This sounds like a wise choice, right? Nope. This is going to attract a bunch of 80-year-olds who accidentally downloaded a virus and "want their Windows Vista fixed." It could also attract homeowners who want someone local who can fix their air conditioner or TV.
Good keyword: "PCB repair services." Now you're targeting people who need your specific solution. The traffic you attract is far more likely to be a B2B engineer or purchasing agent, not a grandma or a DIY hobbyist.
Example #2: The Wrong Time
Now let's pretend you're a healthcare staffing agency. You match locum tenens physicians (basically, traveling contracted nurses) to needy hospitals.
In this example, you're writing an intro-level, educational blog post about locum tenens.
Bad keyword: "top locum tenens agencies." Down, Fido. Remember the intent of this blog post is to educate, not shill your services. A reader who doesn't fully understand locum tenens staffing yet is probably not ready to shop agencies.
Good keyword: "what is a locum tenens physician." Now you're directly answering a question your next ideal client could be asking Google. Whether the searcher is on the physician side or the hiring side, they're researching a potential massive, career-changing decision. These decisions aren't made overnight, so stick with educational content at first -- and the keywords to match.
2. Low Difficulty
Difficulty is a measurement of how much competition you'll face trying to rank for a given keyword.
Many SEO tools measure difficulty from 0 (easy) to 100 (hard). For example, in SEMrush, targeting anything in the 60s and above can be challenging.
As a small business, you probably don't have the time or resources to fight multinational corporations for the top rankings. That's why we encouraged you above to find keywords specific to your solution. Trying to outrank Nike and New Balance for "men's shoes" is probably unwise.
The solution? Take the road less traveled. Target less competitive keywords. Typically, less competitive keywords will be long-tail, location-based, or directly related to your business's name.
Example: Unrealistic Expectations
Say you operate a precision machining service. You want to write blog posts to educate potential and current aerospace customers, but your website is new and has little SEO traction. Determined to grow your business online, you start by writing a blog post about the pros and cons of machining for aerospace products.
Bad keyword: "CNC machining." This exact search happens 110,000 times per month and carries a difficulty of 71 in SEMrush's tools. Do you really think your little website is going to rank for that anytime soon?
Good keyword: "CNC machining aerospace parts." Now your blog post will be found for the exact issues/opportunities your most-desired buyers are researching. Plus, this longer keyword has "CNC machining" in it anyway -- double win!
3. Monthly Search Volume
Some keywords have little or no competition for a reason: no one is searching for them. It doesn't do you any good to rank #1 in Google for a keyword no one is interested in.
What's a decent monthly search volume? The answer may surprise you.
Refer back to the examples above. Yes, there are 110,000 "CNC machining" searches per month in Google alone. But what good does that do you if you have little chance of ranking for it?
Don't fret if you're a niche B2B or manufacturer and your keyword research turns up a lot of low-volume options. It's better to rank highly for a highly relevant keyword that gets 20 great-fit visitors per month than an unfocused one that will bring in 2,000 monthly visitors your sales team would never work with.
The ideal monthly search volume for a page's primary keyword can be anything above 0, depending on its purpose. Here's a general example of what search volume should look like, based on page type and B2B website best practices for 2022:
- 2,000 and up : Core pages (homepage, About Us)
- 300-2,000: Important secondary pages (Industries Served, Services & Capabilities)
- 10-300: Niche pages (blog posts)
Only consider a keyword's volume after you've confirmed the search intent and difficulty are appropriate.
So ... How to Choose Keywords for Search Engine Optimization?
All three of these criteria are discoverable with your helpful neighborhood keyword tool and a little bit of B2B buyer research.
Most people use Google's built-in Keyword Tool or Keyword Planner (including us, to an extent). Popular free and paid alternatives for B2B keyword research include:
- SEMrush (What we use and most often recommend)
Your Google Search Console will show ALL keywords that you're ranking for, and you can do your own research from there to identify ranking opportunities.
The numbers you get from any of these tools are an approximation -- not an exact science. Seriously, the Secret Service would be proud of how closely Google guards its keyword and search data guarded. Google's secrecy regarding what exactly people are searching for and the engine's algorithms are part of why it's so successful at providing a searcher-friendly experience.
B2B Buyer Persona Research
The relevance of a keyword is hard to quantify beforehand without analysis of past website performance (through an SEO audit) and thoughtful buyer research.
Guessing at target keywords is a surefire way to waste ranking potential. Go back to your buyer persona documentation (or build a persona if you don't have any) to see the:
- Internal workshopping: This should have revealed your stakeholders' idea of the best industries and company types to target, what your competitive advantages are, and what misconceptions buyers have about your products/services.
- Buyer interviews: Your current favorite customers can tell you what issue led them to seek you out, how you compared with other suitors, and even what search terms they'd Google to research your product/solution.
From there, you should have a sound idea of the problem-, industry-, and product-specific keywords you should seek.
Are Your Keywords Well-Optimized?
Hooray! Now you know what makes a good keyword phrase:
- Highly relevant to your product & content
- Not very competitive
- Receives the right amount of traffic for your size & goals
Are you still having trouble distinguishing a strong keyword from a weak one? Don't panic. You can learn where keywords should go on your site by using this SEO checklist. And below there's a free e-book on keyword research for growing traffic and leads ⬇️