Why Your B2B SEO Content Strategy Needs Thought Leadership
Why Your B2B SEO Content Strategy Needs Thought Leadership
Updated Jul 26, 2022
Thought leadership and search engine optimization (SEO) have long been considered at odds with each other in terms of B2B SEO content strategy.
But when used correctly, this powerful duo can make you a visible, trusted resource in your industry. That leads to increased sales of your products and services and a more robust bottom line, fulfilling the very purpose of why your company invests in marketing.
Learn how B2B brand leaders are using thought leadership and SEO in tandem to connect with their customers and amplify their best ideas.
What Is B2B SEO?
SEO is the process of driving relevant organic traffic to your website through search engine rankings, and especially through Google. SEO is one of the oldest disciplines in digital marketing, but it’s long suffered from a reputation of generating stale, boring content as people stuffed keywords into an article for the sake of placement.
While keyword stuffing still occurs, content based on SEO has become more varied as search engines like Google became smarter. Now, Google uses factors like expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness (EAT) to determine rankings, not just keywords. This means that content creators that rely on SEO to craft content can be a bit more creative with their writing while using the keywords that allow them to rank higher on search engine result pages (SERPs).
While SEO ranking factors (relevant content, mobile-friendliness and website speed, among others) are the same for B2B and B2C companies, the goals of SEO differ. B2C companies use SEO to sell their products or services to the public. B2B rankings target executives and decision-makers looking to make meaningful business decisions for their companies. B2B SEO requires precise targeting, qualified traffic and the best answer to sophisticated search queries.
The goal of B2B SEO strategy isn’t to get the most clicks onto your website. Rather, you want to attract the right prospects to your website and leave a lasting impression on them. B2B SEO, done correctly, can connect you to the decision-makers and leaders who want to learn more about your business or product.
B2B SEO also provides a window into what topics your ideal prospects are searching for online and how they ask questions. While B2C business prospects may use general search terms, B2B prospects are often looking for information on behalf of their company or client. This distinction matters for B2B content production because you can make intelligent guesses about what your ideal prospects want to know, what they care about and how they ask about those topics.
What Is B2B Thought Leadership Marketing?
If B2B SEO tells you what to write, B2B thought leadership tells you how to write it.
A B2B thought leader is an expert sought out by your consumers, peers and others for recommendations and to offer an authoritative opinion on a company’s services and products. Becoming a thought leader is about understanding what people in your industry are talking about, from pain points to solutions. This role requires you to stay informed so you can contribute relevant, helpful viewpoints on industry questions or topics.
The trick to B2B thought leadership is standing out from the crowd. You might start by researching what other industry leaders and experts are saying. Form an opinion, then create a different spin on the topic or approach it from an angle that’s not being covered.
Compare your content to your competitors’. Can you pick yours out of a lineup? If not, you have a thought leadership problem.
What makes your company different from the competition? How is your product or service different, much less better? Why should your prospects and customers listen to you — or trust you?
Most of all, be authentic. Today’s consumers are savvier than ever about the brands and companies they choose to invest in. This is especially true of Generation Z, where expertise, trust, safety, community and authenticity are all must-haves when this younger generation examines brands. Developing an authentic voice for your thought leadership content can go a long way in building relationships and trust with your audience.
How Do B2B SEO and Thought Leadership Work Together?
B2B SEO and thought leadership are the perfect partnership — like peanut butter and jelly.
Creating a thought leadership concept is the first piece of the strategy. Then, SEO leads that strategy to get your ideas out into the world.
Both components are required for a successful content marketing strategy. SEO enables your content to rank so that your ideal target audience can find it. Thought leadership makes your content memorable, keeping that audience engaged and compelling them to learn more about your company, products and services.
Keywords Unlock Creativity
B2B SEO can be a technical process full of keyword research and trying to understand how the algorithms work. Content creators can undoubtedly feel at times like they’re being forced to write to the machine rather than to the audience. That is a challenge, but as Flow SEO’s Viola Eva points out, “you need to marry your SEO content with branding, a unique voice and thought leadership.”
Just because you’re focusing on certain keywords doesn’t mean you’re restricted in the opinions you can express. The target audiences for B2B brands are sophisticated and experienced buyers. Unlike a casual B2C user, they are often familiar with the products and industry jargon that rank highly as keywords. A generic article that doesn’t offer value won’t excite them about your brand, much less move them down the sales funnel.
That’s where thought leadership comes in. Following the best practices of B2B SEO gives you a solid framework. They outline what your content should cover and some of the design specifications. But these best practices don’t generate great, inspiring content by themselves.
Thankfully, the right SEO approach can actually be liberating. You can’t go outside the box if there’s no box. Keywords impose limits, yes, but they define the problem and let you focus on exploring what’s possible within those constraints.
As Viola advises, “Don’t be afraid to speak against industry truisms, voice a strong opinion or share stories.” You might tell customer or employee stories, interview experts from your organization or the industry, or share key statistics.
Quality and Specificity Are the Goals
You want your brand to rank highly in search engines on important keywords that are being searched for by best-fit prospects and buyers. Likewise, you want your thought leadership to intrigue, inspire, change minds and drive purchasing decisions.
In both cases, sheer quantity of content is not what you want. This is different from the strategies many consumer media brands have taken, where the goal is pageviews across text, video, tweets, etc. That content model is driven by advertising and eyeballs, but B2B lead generation is playing an entirely different game.
Take the time to research the best keywords, even if they seem too niche for the average person. Dig deep to create powerful content (text, video and more!) that addresses problems and opportunities facing prospects in your industry. Those issues may never be covered by the local paper or trend on social media, but your prospects are desperate for insights and answers.
B2B SEO strategy is about getting granular and detailed, and B2B thought leadership is no different. Embrace this opportunity to be the smartest voice in your niche.
Thought Leadership Ties Into Business Outcomes
B2B SEO is first and foremost a business activity, designed to attract people who are interested in your products or services and offering them content that adds value and furthers the relationship. Thought leadership is a powerful way to put B2B SEO into effect, provided content teams keep sight of the larger goals and loop in their colleagues.
“To produce thought leadership pieces that generate business,” says Erik Samdahl, vice president of marketing at the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp), “it takes proper coordination between marketing, sales and product teams to determine where demand is and what will at once provide value to the reader while also leading the reader back to the source: your company.”
The culmination of this teamwork and thought leadership is a call to action. It’s in the name: Thought leadership means you’re leading your audience somewhere. There are many sites trying to rank highly for your keywords — be the one that not only ranks highly in Google but leaves a lasting impression on your target audience.
While B2B SEO and B2B thought leadership can certainly exist without the other, together they form a potent combination that can take any content marketing strategy to the next level.
Examples of Thought Leadership and B2B SEO Working Together
The Betterworks website is an excellent example of thought leadership. Thought leader John Doerr, who created and coined the term OKRs, or objectives and key results, makes a bold claim at the top of the page. From there, readers can scan the page, reading all the content or just the sections that interest them. It is much more compelling than a wall of text.
From an SEO standpoint, this specific page structures the entire website. Everything that relates to OKRs starts on this page. If you want to go deeper into specific topics, explore OKR templates or read more Betterworks thought leadership on the subject, all subsequent pages come from this page.
All the specific terms about implementing OKRs, common challenges people have with this concept, and other main topics of interest also come from this pillar page. This type of page helps boost your search engine ranking and strengthen your SEO while showcasing your brand’s expertise and depth.
Coursera wanted to reach a key audience of buyers within Fortune 500 campaigns. The online learning company used all the principles of good marketing in its lead-generation strategy, including the use of multiple channels and a paid leave service.
The engine driving that lead-gen campaign, however, was content. Before Coursera could pique the interest of these Fortune 500 buyers, it had to show that it had the expertise and knowledge to be worth their time. Fortunately, Coursera had internal thinkers and outside partners it could leverage to create thought leadership content in a variety of formats, including blog posts and long-form articles.
Without a strong SEO presence, Coursera’s marketing campaign would have faced steeper odds. And without a strong, multifaceted thought leadership engine, any prospects who did find Coursera could have easily been left wanting, dashing the company’s hopes of securing them as customers.
Thought leadership and B2B SEO: Choose Both
Many longstanding beliefs about SEO and thought leadership are outdated, if they were ever true. High-quality B2B SEO strategy is a thoughtful practice that long ago moved past keyword stuffing. Thought leadership is a must-have even for smaller companies and can directly influence business outcomes.
Thought leadership and B2B SEO aren’t enemies; in fact, a successful B2B SEO content strategy combines the best of both disciplines to drive business outcomes.
Thought Leaders Are Market Leaders.
Ready to see how content marketing can drive growth for your firm? Schedule a brief consultation and learn how our framework can help you:
- Develop your reputation for thought leadership.
- Fuel your account based marketing with differentiated content.
- Strengthen your employer branding by telling the stories of the people who power your company.