SEO or SEM, Which Works Better for B2B Lead Generation?

blog author
Chris Murvine
CEO | Founder

Should your business focus on acquiring leads through an SEM strategy or focus its efforts on improving SEO for lead generation?

For B2B lead generation, the answer isn't always cut and dry. To get to the bottom of what will be the most effective strategy for your business, you'll want to evaluate the pros and cons of both SEM and SEO against your business goals and the search landscape you're trying to break into.

Read on to explore both strategies and why it may be beneficial for your company to put both into practice.

B2B Search Engine Marketing (SEM) guarantees real estate in high value areas, even on crowded results pages

You can push your website to the top of Google’s search results page by running a pay-per-click campaign through Google Ads. This gives you the chance to essentially "rent," one of the top search engine results pages for any keyword.

In recent years, Google became more aggressive in placing paid ads. One of its recent changes resulted in the possibility of up to four text-based ads showing up on the top of search engine results pages.

Previous results page layouts -- which usually included space for just two paid results -- ensured organic results would show up within the user's range of sight. Now, that's not the case, and paid ads eat up the best spots by Google search engine results page heatmap analysis standards. This is even more apparent when it comes to searches performed on a mobile device.

This means that for some keywords, you'll never be able to appear in a desirable place on a search engine results page -- even if you follow SEO best practices and end up with a number one organic ranking position.

Take a look at how hard it is to find the No. 1 naturally ranking result through all the paid ads:

Google SERPS

While the screenshot above doesn't represent every case, it's worth testing to see if the keywords that are important to your business produce results pages like this one.

If they do, you may want to consider a B2B SEM campaign to ensure your website shows up in a place where a good chunk of searchers will see it.

B2B SEO works best for more specific keyword phrases

The previous example uses a generic keyword: “buy content”. Less generic keywords, like say, "benefits of buying content" or "cost of buying content" tend to have less competition and less crowded search engine results pages.

long tail keywords

If the keyword ranking difficulty is light, it might be easier to grab one of the top organic spot with a B2B SEO campaign. And the chances of other companies bidding on longer-tail keywords is also less.

There are many ways to evaluate whether you can earn rank for a particular keyword. This Moz.com keyword research guide will be a useful starting point for anyone focused on finding target keywords.

Your goal will be to target these keywords (and their close variants) by publishing website content that addresses questions your customers might have that also uses those keywords. Focus on being informative, so your website serves a purpose.

If you're consistently publishing website content that 1) uses low-competition, high-volume keywords and 2) is highly relevant to potential customers, you're well on your way to earning search rank through a B2B SEO content marketing campaign.

Another opportunity to use SEO to position your content at the top of a Google SERP

Google is striving to become a one-stop shop for searchers. You've probably noticed featured snippets - short answers that quickly answer your search query being displayed right on the search engine results page.

As these featured snippets and answer boxes become more prevalent and accepted in today's search and answer culture, what can businesses do to make sure they are represented and aren't pushed even further down the search results page?

The answer is simple. Consider the questions that searchers would ask that would bring them to your website. Then make sure those questions are answered on your site. The key is writing a concise and informative answer.

A few ways to do this could be adding to your FAQ page by including more general questions people might be searching for. Or if your company is regularly publishing blog articles, include a question and answer section pertaining to that particular topic. Not only does that position your post to be picked up for a featured snippet, it also quickly provides information to visitors who don't have time to read an entire post.

One caveat to featured snippets - as Google's goal is to become the one-stop shop, they're focused on providing the best answer to a searcher's query. It would not be surprising to see a dip in traffic to a particular page or your site in general if you can find success with this strategy. Don't worry too much though, as traffic to your site is not always the best metric to track.

While many searchers may find the answers to their questions in the featured snippet, others will still need to learn more and will click through to your page. They see that Google trusts you as the best answer, which can provide you with an immediate boost in trust as well.

The takeaway:  B2B SEM works quickly, but B2B SEO has more long-term potential

While most businesses can stand to benefit from both SEO and SEM, not as many businesses are in a position to capitalize on both.

One consideration in the SEO vs SEM debate is your marketing goal.

If you're hoping to build out a strategy that can help your B2B generate leads for months and years to come, SEO is probably a better option because the content you produce today could potentially bring visitors to your site for a long time.

But if you're under pressure to produce a lot of leads in a hurry, SEM is probably a more attractive option because it works right away.

If you have both short- and long-term goals to hit, a mix a both is probably best.

Combine SEO with SEM for Better B2B Lead Generation

Ultimately, there is room for most businesses to use both SEO and SEM as a strategy to obtain B2B leads.

B2B search engine marketing can be used to drive traffic and leads in the short term, while simultaneously building organic ranking strength for less competitive keywords via search engine optimization.

Want to learn more about fitting SEO and SEM into a broader B2B inbound marketing strategy? Grab our free eGuide to doing just that.

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