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What Industrial SEO Teaches Us About Search Marketing

7 min read2023-08-31
Grant Hendricks

I didn’t always do SEO. In fact, there was a time where I was largely skeptical of the process. When I started my marketing career, I did a little bit of search marketing here and there. But my first role was as a copywriter, then a sales support team member, then an advertising manager. In the years since, my role’s continued to evolve to adapt to the changing tides of online marketing. And over the past several years, that’s required adding SEO to my toolbox. It’s just too essential to avoid.

In the early days, I made a lot of mistakes. That’s bound to happen. Part of the learning process, right?

Today I want to share with you what I learned, in the hopes you’ll make fewer mistakes than I did! Without further ado, here’s my top five lessons from working in B2B industrial SEO. May they serve you well.

“Obvious” keywords won’t get the job done

So your business sells model planes. That means your target keyword is “model planes for sale”. Just write about that. Boom. SEO solved. Next?

Of course that’s not how it works in practice. One of the lessons I’ve learned managing SEO for niche industrial clients is that the effective keyword strategy means going way beyond the obvious.

If we view SEO through our customer’s eyes, we realize that our top purchasing intent keywords aren’t bloggable. What value does a blog post about “model planes for sale” have for our customer? They want to arrive at an e-commerce store for model planes, or get directions to their nearest hobby shop.

Now, we can optimize the website for that purchasing intent keyword, but once we hit the limits for that keyword, we have nowhere to go… unless we get a little weird with it.

First we have the easy answers for expanding the model planes topic. “2023’s best model planes buying guide”. “5 great model planes to build with kids”. These are good, but likely competitive topics. They aren’t terribly specific, and make for pretty obvious marketing fodder.

What if we get deeper? What are the pain points that our customers experience? Maybe modeling glue is really finicky. We could write about the best brands of modeling glue, new kinds of applicators that are more precise and easier to use. Maybe we know that model plane builders tend to be older adults. Are there topics about making the hobby easier for people with impaired vision, arthritis, or other age-related ailments?

Provided your website does a good job of pushing people from blog content to purchasing pages, newsletter sign-ups, or other valuable actions, we can extract a lot of value from “purchasing intent-adjacent” content. Get away from the obvious, and add value for users by understanding their needs.

Lead gen can improve… even when volume drops

What’s the number one metric for SEO?

If you said clicks, page views, or website traffic, that’s the popular answer. It’s also wrong.

For B2B companies, it’s lead gen. Plain and simple. Leads attributed to organic search should be the primary goal pursued by every industrial SEO campaign. Everything else—click volume, click-through-rate, search impressions, even search rankings—are used by SEOs to optimize lead generation. For business owners and sales managers, they’re nice-to-knows at best.

That’s because not every click, nor each user, is created equal. Barely making the first page for an insanely competitive keyword can provide much more value to a business than getting the top spot for a low-competition informational keyword.

I’ll give an example. A former client worked with an SEO agency to increase website traffic, and traffic went up, big time. But the biggest increase in traffic was to a handful of articles focused on DIY repair. The articles they published actively undermined their business by teaching potential customers how to complete the repairs themselves. The client effectively paid an agency to teach their customers not to purchase from them.

Conversion data revealed that these pages never generated a single lead. Not one recorded conversion, despite tens of thousands of clicks. Literal negative value.

An SEO agency focused on your profitability may make changes that actually decrease your traffic volume while improving lead generation. Replacing irrelevant but high traffic content with low traffic, ultra-high intent content, for example.

SEO reports can feel like a shell game, where the objective keeps getting shuffled around. Keep your eye on the prize: how is SEO affecting your business goals? Everything else is window dressing.

It’s dangerous to make assumptions about your audience

One of the interesting things about SEO is that it’s (largely) untargeted, outside of keyword selection. Sure, there’s some targeting baked in by language selection, writing style, or location-based content (”best hvac company Detroit”). Regardless, SEO content can reach anyone on the web who searches your target term and clicks your listing.

As a result, unexpected users visit your website. We’ve had clients reach potential customers in entirely new and unexpected regions as a result of search engine marketing. And not just reach them—close them!

I can think of specific examples: Colombia, Lebanon, the United Kingdom. Places they’d never targeted before where they found valuable new customers. SEO can actually inform other marketing activities, passively reaching people you’d never profile as a high-value prospect.

Your competitors suck at SEO (but so do you)

An SEO article wouldn’t be complete without an audacious claim, so here it is.

Particularly within the industrial sector, one of my biggest lessons was that SEO is not as competitive in this sector as it is in many others. Industrial and manufacturing companies often deal with niche topics that only their competitors and customers use. Perhaps as a result, most industrial websites just don’t take SEO seriously. They’ve never had to.

Until you, their competitor, decides it’s time to try something new.

The truth is, in almost every industrial SEO engagement we’ve ever done, the client’s starting from the ground up. That’s ok! I’ve learned that industrial SEO involves a lot of fundamentals before it ever gets that strategic. There’s a laundry list of technical issues to fix for most clients, followed by tons of content best practices to implement, conversion tracking to be set up, reports configured…

If you’re an industrial company embarking on an SEO journey for the first time, you can expect a long road of preparation and clean-up before your SEO performance really takes flight… but once you do, it’s entirely possible to own your niche outright on Google.

5 hours of thinking beats 5 hours of writing (almost) every time

Despite all the best-laid plans of marketers and the businesses they serve, generating winning SEO content can feel like gambling. Even following every best practice, some articles just don’t win—at least not immediately.

It can be tempting to view SEO as “content roulette”. The more spins you bid on (articles you publish), the greater the chance that one of them hits big. So, dedicate all resources to content production, targeting your top keywords. Go, go, go!

This attitude is understandable, but not very effective. Let’s go back to the roulette analogy. Spending all your resources on content production is like bidding on ten different numbers each spin. You could win big, but every spin costs so much that breaking even, let alone profiting, becomes difficult.

Investing that time and energy into planning and strategy means a lot less content gets out the door, but the odds of that content winning are far higher. It’s more like you’re counting cards at the blackjack table. Sure, you can’t guarantee wins, but if everyone else is playing straight, you’ve got a significant—and profitable—advantage.

So if you have five hours to spend on your SEO this week, try spending four of them on research, analysis, and generally understanding the issue. Find the right content gap, choose the right keyword, and publish one article—not five.

In the end, that’s the care and attention that produces content your customers want and need. More consideration equates to better quality, which is what the SEO game’s all about.

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