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How SEO at Emerging Companies Is Like Skipping Stones

February 13, 2017 | By Barbie Mattie

  • Search engine optimization (SEO) is a good source of organic growth that many emerging b-to-b companies underuse
  • Most emerging b-to-b companies use some form of SEO and/or search engine marketing, but it’s not a high priority
  • Emerging companies are 94 percent less likely to enhance search skills than companies with $50 million to $250 million in revenue

Skipping stones is something that just about everyone has tried their hand at one time or another. It involves throwing a small, flat stone into a body of water in such a way that it bounces or “skips” across the surface. The objective is to get as many skips or ripples across the water before the stone eventually sinks. It’s something pretty much anyone can attempt, but it takes the right stone and the right technique to truly master the activity.

Search engine optimization (SEO) is a good source of organic growth that many emerging b-to-b companies underutilize. Most emerging b-to-b companies include some form of SEO and/or search engine marketing (SEM) in their marketing mix, but it tends to not rank high on the priority list. According to SiriusDecisions data, while emerging companies are 17 percent more likely to add search personnel, they are 94 percent less likely to enhance search skills and 46 percent less likely to invest in social management technologies than companies with $50 million to $250 million in revenue. I realized that to get the maximum value out of SEO, organizations can take an approach similar to skipping stones:

  • Choose the stone. Selecting the right keyword universe is like picking the right stone. Many emerging company marketers have no keyword universe or don’t have it integrated into their strategy and tactics. For organic and paid search activities, a smart keyword universe aligns and amplifies digital engagement around an audience-centric lexicon (the vernacular used by potential buyers when discussing needs, initiatives and challenges) to ensure the content resonates with the buyer. When doing keyword research, explore target, alternate and competitor keyword phrases, rankings and search query volume. To facilitate on-page SEO success, conduct an audit of every Web page to ensure the content aligns to buyer needs and buying stages (see The SiriusDecisions Content Inventory Tool”). Make sure page titles, descriptions, images and internal links are optimized, URLs have the correct structure, navigation is user friendly, there are no typos or grammatical errors, content is up-to-date, calls to action are relevant and the page is easy to read.
  • Get a (good) grip. It’s important to have a grip on the basics of SEO success, and there are four different factors that impact b-to-b Web site search rankings. The first is to ensure the quality, quantity and freshness (identified through metadata and content tagging) of content. This can be achieved as part of your SEO audit, or through the results from a redundant, outdated and trivial content elimination exercise. The second factor is the user experience from a site design and usability perspective: Is the content layout straightforward? Is the content easy to consume? A good user interface is achieved through the Web site architecture, navigation, buttons, calls to action, forms, layout and visual design. Third is the authority and popularity of the site, determined by how many links point back to your company’s site. Search engines assign more credit to sites with a good quantity and quality of backlinks. Backlinks from education and non-profit sites are helpful in establishing site credibility for search engine ranking. Fourth is the indexability and crawlability of the Web site architecture, which includes navigation, information architecture, URL structure, metadata, alt tags, anchor text, redirects, canonical tags, etc. 
  • Give it your best throw! Merriam-Webster defines a ripple effect as a situation in which one event causes a series of other events to happen; this is exactly what b-to-b marketers should aim to achieve when crafting a search strategy. Search could be the stone that causes the ripple effect. However, before executing SEO as a tactic, the organization must understand its importance within the context of the broader campaign activities (reputation, demand creation and sales enablement). Prioritizing SEO as part of the marketing mix (if deemed influential to the target audience) allows for broader reach at less cost than most other tactics; this also brings the fortunate side effect of driving increased focus on content strategy and messaging. Best-in-class marketers use a persona-based search strategy (key personas, their search intent and the search channels), which increases Web site traffic and improves buyer engagement. 
  • Follow through. Our data shows that SEO is one of the top two technologies that emerging companies plan to invest in over the next two years (business intelligence is the first). Because SEO technologies can exhaust the limited resources at emerging companies, a more formal SEO process needs to be implemented and enforced to support organic growth and maximize the use of SEO technology. If hiring SEO specialists isn’t an option, then it’s critical to upskill marketers on the latest SEO techniques to stay ahead of the competition. To gauge the success of search, one way is to measure the impact SEO had on the Demand Waterfall®.  The goal is to determine if organic search sources resulted in more leads, opportunities and closed/won deals. For further guidance on SEO, read the brief “Tactic Deep Dive: Search Engine Optimization.”

Barbie Mattie

Barbie Mattie is Senior Research Director of Emerging Growth Strategies, at SiriusDecisions. She is a sales and marketing professional with more than 20 years of experience in all facets of b-to-b and b-to-c, including market analysis, sales strategy, global go-to-market strategy, full lifecycle campaign development, execution and measurement. Follow Barbie on Twitter @BarbaraWMattie.