A recent eMarketer B2B report indicated that most firms will be purchasing online, rather than selling. Industry analyst Steve Butler stated, "By 2003, between 30 and 40 percent of companies will be selling online, compared to the 80 to 90 percent of firms that will be buying via the Internet."

What this means is that many of these buyers will be searching for information on B2B exchanges and their products and services through major search engines and directories. And it's more important than ever for the exchanges and B2B wholesalers and retailers to ensure their Web sites are correctly optimized for good positioning in search results.

Butler also stated that small businesses had been slow to adapt to B2B and will be playing catch-up. By 2003, 72 percent of small businesses will be engaged in online e-commerce (versus 8 percent in 1999).

It's time for B2B marketers to become aware of how cost-effective search optimization can be for generating leads and sales. While many media plans consist of banner advertising, e-mail marketing, and rich media ad vehicles, search engine optimization is not always included, despite excellent ROI.

Consider the following research:

Nielsen/NetRatings reports that search portals and online communities attract 92 percent of the Web population (95 million users, one out of every three Americans).
The second most popular user activity after email is finding information on search engines.
Consumer online spending is projected at $16 billion for Q4 2001.

All good reasons to include search engine optimization as an integral part of a marketing campaign. In fact, a recent case study in favor of search engine positioning shows that a leading automotive information site attracted 1.3 million visitors from search engines and directories in June 2001, allowing it to out-rank all competition by a factor of 10:1.

What's the Value of Search Engine Optimization?
Search engine traffic is very targeted. That's because potential buyers who find your B2B offerings through search engines are looking for your products and services on their own, so they're predisposed to your marketing message. You can’t find a more qualified prospect than that.

Search engine optimization is a marketing strategy that's earning its place in today's marketing budget. Search engine text links outperformed banner ads by three to one in a study by NPD Group. The study also found more than twice as many respondents recognized companies listed in the top three search positions than those recognizing companies featured in banners ads. That makes search engine text links a powerful branding tool.

How Good is the ROI?
SEO can be cost-effective when compared to other advertising. For instance, it's not uncommon to run a key-phrase banner ad campaign from $2,500 to $35,000 per month, depending on the number of key phrases. A professional SEO campaign with an equivalent number of key phrases will cost anywhere from $1,000 to $10,000 per month.

Another good example comes from Welocalize.com, a software company that landed clients like Cisco, Xerox and MCI WorldCom through its Web site without having to make a house call. CEO Smith Yewell reports 90 percent of site traffic is driven by search engines, with traffic patterns ranging from 5,000 to 10,000 user sessions per month (MarketingSherpa).

Also relevant to ROI: SEO pricing is often café-menu style, so businesses can select only the services they need or can afford. Maybe that's why MarketingSherpa said search engine optimization is "… the ultimate cost-effective, online guerrilla-marketing tactic," stating that it "… generally has the highest ROI of any type of Internet marketing."

Café Menu Services
When you select a provider, you should clearly define the services to be included in your SEO campaign. Here's a sampling of what you might consider:

Complete keyword phrase research
Manual submission: major search engines/directories
Paid inclusion, major search engines/directories
Monthly reporting
Meta tag optimization
Page title/headings optimization
Reciprocal linking/link popularity
Body text edit/copywriting (by page)
Consulting re creation of new pages or alternative text within your site
Consulting re creation of information/gateway/bridge/off-site pages

Who Performs SEO?
Most firms prefer to perform SEO in-house, but according to recent research, this may not be the best option. Here's why:

MarketingSherpa reported that over 90 percent of major U.S. corporate sites are NOT optimized properly despite in-house SEO efforts.
CyberAtlas reported that most marketers spend less than 1 percent of the marketing budget on SEO, even though this marketing strategy can increase site traffic 75 percent or more.

What Are the Advantages of Outsourcing?
You’ll get faster, better results when experts do it for you. SEO experts who focus on submission and maintenance full-time offer a wide range of choices in methodologies and pricing that result in the right SEO strategy for your Web site and industry. SEO is a complex process that requires expertise to maintain long-term results.

SEO work requires a lot of trial and error and has a steep learning curve because of ongoing changes in search engine algorithms. When you outsource, you avoid the resubmission errors that can get you blacklisted on the engines.

Outsourcing versus in-house is more cost-effective because SEO firms can pass on economies of scale after the initial investment of time/knowledge, methodology, development, and technology expenditures. In-house investment by individual Web sites can be substantial and lack cost maximization.

A reputable SEO firm will provide up-to-the-minute options, recommendations and technical advice for Web site changes that improve rankings. Typically, in-house efforts are behind the curve because most instructional material published on SEO tactics is obsolete the day after it's published.

Search engine positioning changes daily. The cost of recurring research and methodology development to maintain listings can turn the tables on in-house profitability. A reputable SEO firm is better prepared and has the flexibility to deal with changes.

What Are the Advantages of SEO?
Case studies based on client server file logs are showing significant increases in search engine traffic year after year. More importantly, in a number of cases, search engine traffic is outperforming banner ad and email marketing campaigns by producing more conversions (e.g., more purchases, more form or catalog requests, more newsletter subscribes, and/or software downloads).

The bottom line: It's wise for agency planners to include search engine optimization in their clients' marketing campaigns. The return on investment goes a long way toward improving profitability, and it's too valuable a marketing tool to ignore.

November 7, 2001

Paul J. Bruemmer has provided search engine marketing expertise and consulting services to prominent American businesses since 1995. As Director of Search Marketing at Red Door Interactive, he is responsible for strategizing and implementing search engine marketing activities within Red Door's Internet Presence Management (IPM) services.

Search Engine Guide > Paul Bruemmer > B2B Marketers Can Profit From Search Engine Optimization