How to Do Keyword Research for Niche B2B
Any amateur SEO marketer will tell you that “a keyword with more search volume is better than one with less search volume.” However, this basic principle doesn’t always apply, especially when targeting a highly specialized audience.
When conducting B2B keyword research, you can throw the novice B2C playbook out the window in favor of the more advanced guidelines provided below.
First, Why Do B2B SEO Keywords’ Needs Vary From Those of B2C?
It’s important to recognize the nuances between B2B and B2C searcher behavior to ensure you reach the right audience with the right messaging.
- Your audience may be even smaller than you realize. Let’s say you sell HR software that creates a dashboard in which employees view payroll, request time off, etc. Your ideal target audience isn’t the junior HR associate with minimal influence. Neither is it a college student researching a paper and Googling “What is HR management?” You want to target decision-makers, like the head of HR, and those who would influence the decision (like an IT director).
In such a scenario, you’d want to examine potential target terms in conjunction with your marketing personas to determine who is most likely to conduct the search. After all, when we compare two terms like “hr compliance definition” versus “virtual onboarding programs,” it’s obvious which is more fitting for senior-level professionals.
- Keyword research will be more challenging. All keyword research tools have limitations; because B2B targets niche audiences with terms that generally have less search volume than B2C, you may find the software’s blind spots more glaring. This proves especially true if you’re conducting B2B keyword research for non-U.S. countries. To counteract this, layer multiple tools into your keyword research processes, such as Google Search Console, Google Ads, and Semrush. These various tools can help fill in each other’s gaps.
- Describing complex products using searcher-friendly terms may be more challenging for B2B. The business world is infamous for over-embracing acronyms and coining new terminology to convey the groundbreaking nature of a technology or service. However, this can sometimes lead to a disconnect between a brand and its own audiences, as they may have two entirely different word preferences.
If torn between brand-specific verbiage and industry-standard terms, almost always target the latter. After all, the point of language is to convey meaning (to both search bots and users), and word choices that create confusion fail this fundamental.
Relevance Should Be the Top Qualifier for a B2B Keyword
Because B2B audiences are naturally smaller than B2C, you can generally expect lesser search volume for your targeted terms. Don’t be so quick to dismiss a search phrase that has only 20 monthly searches if you’re confident that those 20 searchers directly align with your ideal customers. After all, 20 qualified visitors will always bring more value than 2,000 unqualified visitors.
While there’s no exact science for determining a term’s relevance, consider who else ranks for the search query. Google consistently tests its search results to determine the ideal experience for searchers based on CTR and other behaviors. If your competitors appear within results (rather than B2C stores like Amazon), chances are that the term pertains to your audience.
You can also leverage PPC to glean keyword-specific data (which is unavailable in full for organic search). If the related PPC ads fail to earn clicks or meaningful on-page engagement, the terms probably don’t relate to your offering and audience as much as you may have thought.
This isn’t to say that search volume is entirely unhelpful. Use it to compare terms of equal relevance to gain insights into your audience’s chosen vernacular or hunger for different content themes. But don’t use search volume as the only factor in your keyword research.
Seek Out Long-Tail Keyword Theme Data
Many keyword research tools will show the estimated search volume for singular terms. While the individual search volumes may be minor, the term could represent a swelling iceberg of similar phrase variations that, when combined, are mighty.
Take the search term “onboarding new employees remotely,” which has a small but respectable 140 estimated monthly queries. As this table pulled from Semrush suggests, there are 172+ related phrases with a collective search volume of 18,500.
The main takeaway? Consider the search demand of themes rather than isolated words when determining B2B content topics.
Find Measurements of Quality Beyond Generated Leads
With few exceptions, the B2B sales cycle tends to be significantly longer than that of B2C. Therefore, don’t expect that a site user visiting through an upper-funnel search term will convert in the same visit. Instead, consider these KPIs as substitute ways of measuring SEO user quality:
- Asset downloads: Depending on your specific industry, these could be datasheets, eBooks, templates, etc.
- On-page clicks and scrolls: These let you know if readers further engaged with long-form content or immediately bounced.
- Average time on site: Unqualified site visitors will find out quickly that your content doesn’t apply, causing them to exit right away.
Be mindful that low engagement can also be a symptom of the landing page design, so we suggest you dive deeper into both possibilities before concluding that the subpar engagement metric is due to keyword quality.
Ways to test out the UX are through A/B testing, collecting qualitative feedback from focus groups, or varying on the on-page design and determining the results. On the other side of the coin, you can get more keyword-specific engagement data by enlisting the help of PPC.
Another way to create a fuller picture of your SEO’s value is through attribution modeling aside from last-click attribution. Alternatives include:
- Last non-direct touch attribution
- Position-based attribution (in which the first and last interactions get the most emphasis)
- Linear attribution (in which every point of contact receives equal weight)
Think About the Searcher’s Expectations When Using the Query
With regard to page optimization, marketers discuss ranking factors like title tags, headers, and more. What many neglect to consider is whether the on-page experience aligns with the searcher’s needs based on their expected stage of the user journey.
For example, people searching for traffic attribution best practices are seeking unbiased guidance rather than a product-specific, conversion-heavy page. Alternatively, if they Google the phrase PRM with Salesforce integration, they know precisely the type of solution they need and want to learn about specific products with options to convert.
Anticipating searchers’ intentions and aligning the page experience to meet their needs is a part of SEO. This impacts landing page choice, the order of talking points, and the positioning and selection of calls-to-action.
While the intention behind some search terms may be obvious, others may seem more mysterious or be inconsistent between different searchers. This is where testing using Google Analytics and Ads data may shed additional light.
Embrace Long-Form Content in Ways Specific to B2B
Study after study says the same thing: Website users want quick headlines, catchy visuals—and little else. The one exception may be B2B audiences, who are more likely to invest in lengthy videos and articles. With this in mind, long-form content has become the standard SEO tactic for many industries. Failure to keep up and produce in-depth materials may leave your SEO strategy far behind that of your competitors.