B2B SEO: 4-Step Strategy for CMOs & Founders [for 2021]

Georgios Chasiotis

Georgios Chasiotis

Can B2B SEO help you acquire new customers and grow? Can it help you achieve that in a cost and time efficient way? Most B2B Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) and founders would answer “no” to this question. After all, SEO isn’t a proven channel and it takes time for you to see a return on your investment (ROI).

In this guide, we’ll be trying to give a realistic answer to our question, based on our experiences so far working with B2B companies in different industries, along with data on the subject. We also share our four-step framework that businesses can use when implementing an SEO strategy that targets other businesses. 

Note: If you’re not at beginner level when it comes to B2B SEO, please skip sections one and two and go directly to the third section, where we break down our four-step SEO strategy for B2B companies.  

Table of Contents

What is B2B SEO?

SEO stands for search engine optimization and — in simplistic terms — it’s a digital marketing strategy that can help you get more visibility on the search engine results pages (SERPs) for the terms that your business is interested in. Like any other marketing activity, B2B SEO aims to help you acquire more users and customers for your business.

This is based on the assumption that — as in most cases — before becoming your paid users and customers, people are searching for topics and solutions that are relevant to your business. 

At this point, when someone is still a searcher on a prominent search engine like Google, you can get right in front peoples’ eyes by applying B2B SEO strategies, like the ones we’re going to see later in this guide.

By optimizing your search engine rankings and controlling the way your company is presented on the SERPs, you have more chances of driving traffic to your website and thus, start developing a relationship with your potential customers. 

To put that into perspective, let’s use a very simple example. Let’s assume that you’re running the marketing efforts at your company and you’re looking for a tool to help you with creating presentations for your team and the senior management inside your company. 

We could further assume that the term you’re going to use when searching for that solution online is “presentation software”. As you can see from the screenshot below, the first organic result on the first page of Google comes from Visme. 

Disclaimer: Visme is one of our clients, thus we’ve decided to use it in this example. 

Image Source: Google

According to Ahrefs, this page — which obviously has ‘presentation software’ as its target keyword — ranks for more than 1.4K organic keywords and brings in more than 18.1K organic visitors per month, each month. 

In addition, we can see that Ahrefs estimates the value of that traffic at $27.5K, which means that many of the search terms the page is ranking for have commercial value. Clearly, this isn’t a page that just drives organic traffic, it’s also driving traffic that’s translating into revenue. 

The user intent here is — for the most part — commercial, and thus we can assume that most of the search traffic on that landing page goes on to sign up for Visme. Even though that’s an oversimplified example of how SEO works for a B2B website, it can help you understand the importance of SEO for B2B brands.

A question here is probably: “Ok, but how is that different from B2C SEO?”

The answer is that the buyer journey for B2B companies is more clearly defined. It’s easier to identify the problems of B2B buyers, define the solutions you can provide to those problems, and communicate them in the best way possible through your B2B marketing strategy.

This doesn’t mean that the job B2B marketers have to do is easy. If it was easy, then most of us would probably be doing another job. Competition in the B2B space is extremely high and, in many cases, writing a high-quality blog post or acquiring a few backlinks from authoritative websites won’t help you move the needle. 

Let’s take a look at the term that we just used as an example, “presentation software”. According to Ahrefs, this term is hard to rank for and has a cost-per-click (CPC) of $6.

This means that there are many websites and businesses that target the same term and that there are also advertisers bidding on the term through Google ads. In fact, if you take a closer look at the profile of the websites ranking at the top of organic search for our target term, you’ll notice two things:

  • Some well-established brands appear in the SERP
  • Most of the web page and homepages ranking at the top have links from many referring domains

More or less, that’s something that you see in most B2B search queries with commercial intent. Competition is high and companies are ruthless when it comes to beating one another on the SERPs. In addition, taking a look at the SERP for that same term for the last six months, we can clearly see that there are constant changes between the websites that rank at the top. 

Changes in positions for keywords with low search volume may not have an impact on revenue — and may be of low business value in general — but, changes in high-volume keywords can definitely have an impact on your bottom line. Thus, as you’ll understand, when it comes to those high-volume terms, it’s important to maintain your rankings and constantly try to extend your visibility. 

Even though we’re going to discuss that latter on in more detail, B2B SEO employs various activities such as the following: 

  • Content marketing
  • Keyword research
  • Optimizing your existing content
  • Optimizing the user experience
  • Content creation
  • Link building
  • On page SEO, e.g. implementing schema markup
  • Technical SEO e.g. crawl budget optimization

Based on the lifecycle stage of your company, e.g. scaleup, you may have to consider different activities that you need to focus on. More on that later… 

For now, let’s try to understand what makes B2B SEO important in today’s competitive landscape and why, and even if, you should consider it as part of your B2B marketing strategy.

Is SEO Important for B2B Businesses?

The short answer to this question is this: it depends. SEO can be as important as we want it to be. At the same time, it can work better in some industries and for some specific verticals. Last but not least, SEO doesn’t work and isn’t recommended for all companies, or at all lifecycle stages. Thus, we say that whether SEO is important for B2B businesses heavily relies on three factors:

  1. It is as important as  your company considers it to be and by what degree you can commit time and resources to it.
  2. If SEO is working — or has worked in the past — for other companies in your niche.
  3. If the stage your business is at can justify an investment — both in terms of financial resources and time — in SEO tactics and an overall SEO and content strategy. 

Let’s try to further analyze each of these factors and see how they can affect the importance of SEO for your business. 

Factor #1: How important you consider SEO to be

According to a 2019 study by SparkToro, “less than half of Google searches result in a click.” 

Image Source: SparkToro

This number by itself could be an indication of how little value businesses in general, and content creators overall, can expect to get out of Google. However, evaluating whether Google — and search engines in general — can be a trustworthy growth channel for your business just by looking at this metric, is an oversimplification. 

According to 2018 data provided by Jumpshot, from a post on SparkToro’s blog, Google brings more than 55% of all web traffic to all websites. That makes Google the best source for referral traffic, with the second highest referrer – Facebook – bringing in almost 10x less traffic than Google. 

Image Source: SparkToro

Of course, other prominent search engines like Yahoo and Bing make it to the top of this list, but obviously with much less referral traffic directed to sites on the web from their properties. 

From this, we could say that the data here draws a clear picture: click-through rates may be lower due to featured snippets and Google’s owned properties, but SEO is still the biggest driver of referral traffic on the web.

Going back to our first factor, SEO is as important as you consider it to be. There are various case studies from companies that committed themselves to SEO and saw big returns. One of the most prominent examples is Ahrefs, a software-as-a-service (SaaS) company that offers a suite of SEO tools. 

Taking a look at Ahrefs’ organic traffic, we can see that the company’s organic visibility — the number of keywords the company is ranking for — has been growing since 2017 onwards. 

The same thing applies to the company’s organic traffic — as is estimated by Ahrefs itself. 

The obvious question, of course, is: does the increase in search rankings reflect in the company’s revenue? In other words, how are rankings connected to the company’s growth through its bottom line? 

According to a 2019 story on Medium by the company’s CMO, Tim Soulo, the growth in the company’s organic traffic — and more specifically the growth of the company’s blog — has reflected in the revenue growth as well and the company has seen more than 65% growth YoY, for three consecutive years.

Image Source: Medium

Ahrefs’ example is one of dedication, hard work, and consistency. The folk at Ahrefs don’t just commit themselves to creating relevant content or high-quality content that resonates with their audience. I’d say that they took blogging to a whole new level by publishing great content pieces consistently for more than three years now. 

The most important part? It works. In the same way it’s worked for Ahrefs, it‘s worked and is still working for many other businesses, regardless of whether they’re a SaaS or not. 

For example, one of our clients — Respona, a link building software — has seen a 919.8% keyword growth within nine months of actively employing content and SEO strategies.  

Evidently, SEO can work, but only in the context of being truly committed to it and consistent with your efforts. 

Factor #2: If SEO is working for other businesses in your niche

Even though SEO is a great channel of referral traffic and can be a great driver of growth for your business — which, unlike some social media channels, isn’t restricted to a pay-to-play platform — you have to validate it, or let others do it for you, before investing in it. 

What does that mean, exactly? Let’s take a look at the competitive landscape for online design tools. Some of the most prominent players in the category are:

  • Visme
  • Canva
  • Venngage
  • Prezi
  • Piktochart

Let’s see what Ahrefs shows us regarding the organic performance of each of these sites.

1) Visme

2) Canva

3) Venngage

4) Piktochart

5) Prezi

As it’s easy to understand, websites in this vertical get a lot of traffic from search engines like Google. This shows us that:

  1. a) SEO, in this case is a very important growth lever 
  2. b) competition when it comes organic search is definitely intense
  3. c) businesses are actively using SEO as a growth channel, which means that we can use it as well. 

The last point is the most important one; other businesses that came before us have validated the fact that — in this category — SEO can, indeed, play a key role in growing your business. 

Of course, this analysis is oversimplified, since we have to take into account many other factors in our evaluation. It’s enough, though, to help us understand whether we should consider investing in SEO. 

In the same way, it’s important to evaluate the importance of SEO in your industry or vertical, to understand if it’s actually worth investing time and resources into. Getting inbound traffic through organic search may be good, but the game in your industry may not be played this way. 

There may be other channels, e.g. affiliate marketing, that are the most prominent and cost efficient when it comes to acquiring customers for your business. 

To put that into perspective, let’s check out one more example. One of the most prominent keywords for one of our clients, LearnWorlds — one of the fastest-growing online course builders in the world — is “how to create an online course”. As you can see below, this term has an estimated global search volume of 2.1K per month. 

At the same time, the main branded term for our client, “LearnWorlds”, has an estimated monthly search volume of 2.5K per month. 

This doesn’t indicate that SEO in this industry isn’t important. It could be an indicator that building a powerful and strong brand may be equally as important, because users may be very interested in the brand before making a purchase or conducting any kind of monetization behavior. 

Note: Obviously, for LearnWorlds, organic search has been an important driver of growth, since the company has managed to achieve 123.7% organic growth in just nine months working with us. 

Another case where SEO may not be the best investment of your time and resources is when you’re entering a new category. Let’s take conversational marketing platform Drift as an example. 

When Drift started back in 2016, no one was searching for the term “conversational marketing”. Thus, trying to invest time and resources and working to optimize your pages around that term — or variations of the term — would have been useless.

Within four years, Drift managed to make the term popular and create a new category around conversational marketing. According to Exploding Topics, the term has seen a 819% increase in demand in the last five years. 

Image Source: Exploding Topics

Even still, the demand for the term wouldn’t have been enough to feed Drift’s hypergrowth if it wasn’t for the brand that Drift has managed to build. Thus, it’s obvious that when starting a new category, SEO isn’t the best channel to help you grow. It may be in the long-term, but it definitely can’t be before you find a product-market fit (PMF). 

All these should be considered before deciding whether it’s worth it investing in SEO initiatives for your B2B business. Always validate SEO as a channel that can work — or has worked for other companies — in your industry. 

Factor #3: If you’re in the stage to invest in SEO

Whether or not you’re at the stage to invest in SEO is another — often overlooked – factor when it comes to evaluating SEO as an acquisition channel. We could say that, in general, SEO isn’t a good investment,, both in terms of money and time, if you’re at an early stage.

There are various reasons why SEO may not be worth the time and financial investment for an early stage company. Some of the most prominent ones are:

  • At this point, you probably can’t allocate budget to SEO — even if you’ve secured a seed investment, SEO isn’t your priority
  • You lack authority in your industry because your target audience don’t know you yet, and therefore getting visibility on the SERPs won’t make a difference
  • You may have to pivot and completely change your strategy and so may not be able to see your SEO strategies pay back
  • Your website has a low domain authority, which means that, most likely, you won’t be able to be competitive on the SERPs
  • People don’t know or trust you yet to help them overcome their problems and pain points, meaning presenting yourself as the solution may not be the best thing to do
  • You’re not as interested in getting in users at scale; you’re interested in getting users who can help you validate your ideas and get value out of your product
  • SEO isn’t guaranteed and, at this point, you don’t have the luxury of investing in a channel with a, usually, hard-to-prove ROI
  • Your product hasn’t matured yet and since it’s most likely human-assisted and not product-led, SEO may not be the best strategy to invest in

Thus, as is evident, being at a very early stage without having found a PMF isn’t the best time to invest in SEO. You still can do it, of course, but you have to be realistic about what results you can expect from SEO as an acquisition channel. 

There are examples of companies who’ve managed to get organic visibility relatively fast, but these cases are very rare. An example here is Rand Fishkin’s SparkToro, which has a DR of 80, according to Ahrefs.

The interesting thing is that the website started getting attention only in early 2018, but has grown exponentially since then.

Within less than two years, the authority of the website has grown to levels that other websites have yet to reach after many years of investing in SEO and trying to satisfy the algorithms. 

Of course, in the above example, we don’t believe that getting a high authority was the intention of the founders. We could assume that one of the reasons why this growth happened is due to the fact that Rand Fishkin is one of the most inspiring and well-known figures in the SEO world and the attention the website gets is only the outcome of his extremely successful career so far. 

This means that, unless you’re an influencer in your industry and can draw attention to your new company’s website — and then capitalize on that attention to create momentum — you shouldn’t consider SEO as an option for acquisition. 

You should have strong indications of PMF first, keep your customers or users engaged with your products and services, and then decide about investing in a channel like SEO for your B2B business. 

Author’s Note: There are always exceptions to this, but what we’ve covered so far regarding factor three applies to most cases. 

On that note, we’ve covered the three factors you should consider when evaluating B2B SEO as an acquisition and growth strategy for your business. Next, we’re going to present our four-step strategy for effective B2B SEO.

Four-Step Strategy for Effective B2B SEO

This guide isn’t about hacks or quick wins. At the same time, with so much information out there, we believe it’s not necessary to share conventional B2B SEO strategies such as how to do keyword research or build internal links to get higher rankings. 

The following strategy is a general framework for companies that seriously want to evaluate SEO as a growth channel. Let’s delve into the four steps you need to take to implement a successful SEO strategy for your business.

Step #1: Validate SEO as a growth channel

The first step that you need to take is to validate SEO as a growth channel. This is connected to the second factor that we saw in the previous section. Some questions you need to be able to answer are:

  • Are people searching for services/products like yours on search engines?
  • Does SEO play a key role in the industry/vertical your company is in?
  • Have other companies, including competitors, used SEO to grow?

For example, let’s assume that you’re considering creating an email marketing tool. Email marketing is one of the oldest marketing channels. This means that a) there are many companies before you who’ve validated that there’s interest for email marketing services and b) competition in this space will be really intense. 

From an organic standpoint, you can be confident in saying that you’re entering a market where SEO has been validated as a growth channel. 

We can see that from modern email marketing software like Moosend,

As well as from some of the oldest email marketing tools like Mailchimp.

Organic search has played a key role in many email marketing software companies’ growth. Thus, hypothetically, this could be a growth channel for you as well. 

This validation-though-SEO approach is the first step to a successful B2B SEO strategy. You can perform this type of validation in two ways:

  1. By trying it yourself
  2. By taking a look at competitors and category leaders

The second way is obviously easier and doesn’t require as many resources as the first one. However, the second one is preferred as it usually allows you to grow faster. 

The question that arises here is: what are some cases when SEO can’t be validated as a growth channel? Even though there isn’t a definitive answer, based on our experience working with clients in different industries and verticals, some prominent cases are:

  • When you’re creating a new category — like Drift did with conversational marketing
  • When you’re operating in an industry where most of your prominent competitors are growing through other channels, e.g. affiliate marketing
  • When you’re operating in a mature industry that’s extremely competitive and you don’t have the financial resources for content and SEO, e.g. SEO software

If your business falls into any of the above categories, you still can invest in SEO, but we’d recommend investing your time and resources into other activities that could help you attain growth. Let’s move on to the next step. 

Step #2: Set priorities based on your lifecycle stage

The second step in any successful SEO strategy for B2B companies is to set priorities based on your company’s stage in the business lifecycle. Companies in different lifecycle stages need to invest time and resources in different activities. 

Let’s put that in perspective by separating B2B companies into the following categories:

  1. Early-stage companies
  2. Companies that have found a product-market fit (PMF)
  3. Scale-ups and companies at later stages

In the following table, you can see the activities you should invest time and resources in based on the category your company belongs to.

Author’s Note: There are other actions and prominent activities companies should invest in based on their lifecycle stage. These happen to be the most prominent ones and the ones we recommend to our clients. 

Step #3: Start implementing your strategy

After setting priorities based on your company’s lifecycle stage, it’s time to start implementing your strategy. To do that, you have to decide on one very important aspect of SEO: whether you’re going to outsource all or  part of the SEO activities you want to prioritize, or if you’re going to build a team of full-time equivalents (FTEs). 

This is something that we’ll examine in the next section. For now, let’s understand some activities that are related to SEO and that we generally recommend outsourcing:

  • Content creation: Primarily for blog and guest posts. If there’s product involvement in the creation of content, e.g. if you’re referring to your product, we’d recommend that you hire an in-house writer that’s capable of learning your products and services better. Apart from that, and support-related content which applies to SaaS companies, most of your content creation needs can be outsourced.
  • Link building: This can be outsourced to a trusted link building agency. It’ll save you hours of link prospecting, manual outreach, and managing communications.
  • On-page optimization: This can be outsourced and managed entirely by a trusted vendor. If you have a website with many pages, meaning thousands of pages, you can have someone managing the process and junior FTEs working on tedious tasks that don’t require a high level of expertise.
  • Keyword research and content briefing: This can be outsourced entirely. There’s no need to use in-house resources for keyword research or for preparing content briefs for the content you create, even if you create the content in-house. Read our guide on content briefing to learn more about the process.
  • Technical SEO: If you have a big website with a complex architecture, we’d recommend hiring an in-house team, since it’s possible that you won’t get the attention that you want and deserve from an agency or consultant. This isn’t definitive, of course, but we’ve seen it happen on multiple occasions.

Disclaimer: The link building agency we’ve linked to in this section is one of our partners. We recommend based on our knowledge of the quality of the backlinks they build for B2B companies in competitive industries.

We may be a bit biased based on the fact that we’re an agency, but we believe that the perfect combination for implementing an SEO campaign includes both in-house employees and outsourced vendors. 

We understand that many companies have negative biases towards agencies, and truth be told, they have every reason to. However, we believe that taking the best of both is a smart business decision. 

There’s more on your options when it comes to implementing an SEO strategy in the following section. For now, let’s move to the last step of the process.  

Step #4: Scale your efforts

Scaling your SEO efforts is essential after a certain point. This applies mostly to companies in their later stages. You can scale your efforts in various ways:

  • By scaling your link building efforts with original studies, industry reports, and other types of linkable assets
  • By scaling your organic traffic with landing pages, e.g. templates, specifically for SEO
  • By going upmarket in terms of content production; after a certain point you’ll have covered most of the terms that are relevant to your business

Scaling your efforts is an essential part of the process. It’s something that we see more often with companies that have already had a big success with SEO. 

In the following section, we’ll be breaking down your options when it comes to implementing a B2B SEO strategy. 

Your Options When It Comes to SEO for B2B

In general, there are two options for applying SEO practices within a company. You can a) build an in-house team of content experts and SEO professionals, or b) you can outsource the whole process, or parts of it, to an agency. 

There is a third option, which is to hire freelancers, but this doesn’t quite fall into our knowledge spectrum and so we can’t provide you with actionable information on what working with freelancers looks like. 

Let’s try to examine and evaluate each of the options we just talked about.

Option #1: Build an in-house team

Building an in-house team of content experts and SEO professionals isn’t easy. In our hypothetical scenario, we’ll assume that you’re based in the US and you want to build a team, remote or fixed location, that’s based in the US. 

Assuming that you want to invest in all the initiatives that we saw earlier, you’ll need to make the following investment per year:

Let’s break down these costs and explain where they come from. 

Payroll costs, excluding benefits and healthcare, in the US

  • Senior SEO Manager: Our source is Backlinko’s 2020 SEO Jobs Report
  • Content Marketing Manager: We’ve used the average of three job search websites – Glassdoor, Salary.com, and Payscale – as our source
  • Outreach Manager: Our source is Payscale for the job title “Content Marketer”
  • Freelance Writer: We assume that you’ll be creating four pieces of content every month and assigned an average of $500 per piece (four pieces * $500 = $2,000 monthly, or $24,000 annually)
  • Analytics Consultant: We assume that you’ll be needing your analytics consultant for two hours per month (2 * $100 = $200 monthly, or $2,400 annually)

Author’s Note: In this scenario, we assume that the content creation, as well any needs regarding tracking and analytics, will be outsourced since this would be more cost-effective than hiring in those resources. In our calculations, we haven’t included the cost of updating content, which is also very important. Also, we haven’t included any other resources that you may need, like someone to help the Outreach Manager with link prospecting.

Technology Stack

  • NLP Editor: Our software of choice is Clearscope – Essentials plan, monthly billing
  • Keyword Research Software: Our software of choice is Ahrefs – Standard plan, monthly billing
  • On-Page SEO Software: Our software of choice is SurferSEO – Basic plan, monthly billing
  • Crawlers & Technical SEO: Our two software of choice are Screaming Frog – paid version, yearly billing – and Sitebulb – Pro version, yearly billing
  • Outreach Software: Our software of choice is Respona – Standard plan, yearly billing

Author’s Note: The prices above are accurate as of October 2020. 

Training/Events

  • Training: Our source is the 2018 Training Industry Report
  • Events: Our assumption is that you’ll be paying ~ $1,000 yearly per employee for industry events like conferences, virtual summits, etc.

With all of that, the cost of building and maintaining an in-house team is — according to our estimations — around $222,043 per year. This number shouldn’t be treated as a benchmark and in no way represents the exact cost of building and maintaining in-house resources for content and SEO. 

We believe that it’s very close to reality though, since our sources are available for anyone to explore and evaluate. 

Of course, there are other drawbacks and disadvantages when it comes to building an in-house SEO team, as well some advantages. 

We’ll see them all a bit later. For now, let’s see what the expected costs are if you decide to hire an agency for your SEO needs. 

Option #2: Hire an agency

Hiring an agency isn’t easy. It’s also important to understand that we haven’t made the above breakdown to show you that hiring an agency is the best option for you. In fact, there are many drawbacks when it comes to hiring an agency as well, and the investment you need to make is, in some cases, close to what you’d pay for hiring in-house. 

What would be the cost to hire an agency instead of building an in-house team when it comes to SEO?

According to a 2018 study by Ahrefs, most SEO professionals charge around $501 to $1,000 per month for their services. We can assume that these services don’t include link building or content creation, but rather strictly SEO-related activities.

Image Source: Ahrefs

Those prices include rates both for freelancers and consultants, as well as agencies, so we can’t say that they really fit the needs of this guide. 

However, we could assume that if you were to hire an SEO agency right now, you’d pay around $2,000 per month, without any content creation, promotion, or link building. 

According to a 2016 study by Ahrefs on the cost of link building, the average cost of buying a link back in 2016 was $352.92. 

Of course, this price can’t be representative of what applies today – most likely prices have gone up and also the price of a link can be affected by many factors. 

Assuming that you’d pay around $350 for a link though, and you’ll be needing around 10 links per month going to your landing pages, we could expect the investment in a link building agency to be around $3,000 – $4,000 per month. 

Taking into account the prices for content creation that we saw earlier (four pieces * $500 = $2,000 monthly, or $24,000 annually), we can say that a rounded estimation of what you’ll be paying if you were to completely outsource your content and SEO operations would be something like the following:

  • SEO agency: $2,000 per month
  • Link building agency: $3,000 – $4,000 per month
  • Content creation with a freelancer: $2,000 per month

Author’s Note: In the above scenario, we haven’t included creation costs for any landing pages you’ll be needing or any other content that may be important for your website. 

This gives us a cost of around $96,000 per year, taking into account the highest price on the spectrum when it comes to the investment to the link building agency. 

This investment seems to be 56% lower compared to hiring the same resources in-house. 

When it comes to the investment you need to make for an agency or different vendors for your B2B SEO needs, our calculations and hypothetical scenario may be rough, but since we know the industry we’re in very well, we’d say that the numbers we’ve chosen are really close to reality.

Of course, instead of different providers for different SEO-related activities, you can use one provider and get everything you need in terms of SEO from them. 

A lot of the time, this is better and can lead to even stronger results overall. 

Closing this section, we believe that the following table describes very well the difference between hiring in-house and hiring an agency when it comes to your SEO needs. 

With this comparison, we don’t want to show you that hiring in-house isn’t good and that it should be avoided. On the contrary, many businesses have thrived by building in-house teams with a strong focus on growth. 

What we want to achieve is to help you understand that each option has its own advantages and disadvantages and give you a clear view as to how the two options compare to each other.

Also, keep in mind that a hybrid approach — in many cases — can be really beneficial for your company as well. In fact, many of our clients follow this approach and are achieving great results so far. 

If your agency can integrate well with your in-house resources, you can build an amazing team of experts that can work together to help your business grow. Assuming that your choice is to hire an agency though, here’s what you need to pay attention to when choosing the right agency for your B2B business. 

How to Choose a B2B SEO Agency In 2021

Assuming that you’ve chosen to go with an agency for your search engine optimization and content marketing efforts, you need to take into consideration several factors that are important when evaluating your potential partner. 

The following factors are the ones that we believe are the most important when it comes to choosing a B2B SEO agency. There are many other factors that you could take into account, but these are the most prominent ones. 

Factor #1: Process

One of the most important things when it comes to SEO is how you approach it. In other words, if what you’re doing is part of an overall framework or if you’re reinventing the wheel every time you work with a B2B company. 

For us, the process that we follow is one of the most important aspects of our service. We really believe that having a process can create positive results repeatedly, and we can get it done faster and more efficiently. 

This is why one of the first things you should consider when hiring an agency is the processes that the agency has. Remember that you’re not hiring the agency so that they can develop their processes based on your case. You’re hiring them so that they can apply their processes, based on what they know works. 

Author’s Note: Especially if you’re hiring a content marketing agency, make sure to get specific information on how topic ideation, content creation – e.g. infographics – and content distribution  such as on social media like LinkedIn for B2B businesses, is done, so that you know exactly what to expect. 

Last but not least, besides the decision-makers, you also have to get everyone involved who’ll be in direct contact with the agency – points of contact – so that you see how they feel about those processes as well. 

You want to make sure that working with a B2B SEO provider will be really plug-and-play and that everyone involved feels comfortable with how things will be done. 

Factor #2: Investment

The investment is another significant factor when it comes to hiring an agency. In our hypothetical scenario in the previous section we identified a difference in the investment between hiring in-house and hiring an agency. 

This doesn’t mean that the investment in a B2B agency isn’t noteworthy. This is why you have to be very specific with what the investment will be and what deliverables you can expect. 

For example, one of the slides that are included in our pitch deck for prospective clients presents the different types of deliverables a client can expect to see from us,

This is followed by a deep-dive into what some of these deliverables actually look like. By making the deliverables specific and materializing the investment, there is a connection between what you as the client will get and what you have to pay to get that.

If the pricing of the agency you’re considering hiring isn’t based on deliverables but on value added – known as value-based pricing – you should ask for some expectations as to what value you can expect to see from the service provider.

If the pricing isn’t connected to value or deliverables and is instead connected to  billable hours for example, you should still be asking how’s this going to contribute to the overall goals of your SEO strategy, whether that be lead generation or getting visibility for more long-tail keywords, and ask for a tracking system on the billable hours per month.

In any case, the investment and pricing has to be transparent and always connected to a return for your as the client. 

Factor #3: Technology

Technology is very important when it comes to content and SEO. In the example that we saw earlier, you’d pay around $6,636 per year for technology just to be able to perform the basic SEO activities required to execute an SEO strategy. 

Author’s Note: This cost is significantly higher when you’re executing strategies for bigger sites, e.g. at enterprise level, with thousands of pages and more complex site architectures. 

A good and trustworthy B2B SEO agency has to be in the position to clearly communicate the technology stack that powers its processes and how this can contribute to the overall success of your SEO efforts.

You don’t need to know specifically how the agency is using Ahrefs or SEMrush as part of a link audit for example. Yet, knowing what software they’ll be using on your account can help you understand that the data — based on which strategy will be implemented — are close to reality. 

Factor #4: Specialization

Specialization nowadays is essential. Especially when it comes to B2B SEO, it’s always recommended to choose a service provider that has vast experience with B2B companies like yours. 

Besides the obvious benefits of specialization, e.g. more streamlined processes, there are indirect benefits you should consider. For example, if you’re running a SaaS business and looking for an agency, you’d want to choose one that has experience with other SaaS businesses and is connected with blogs and publications within this industry. 

Why? Because those relationships could be leveraged for you as well and help you get the visibility you want faster. Leveraging such relationships, we managed to build over 70 referring domains to the target pages of one of our clients, LearnWorlds. 

Knowing that the agency has an index of partners – especially important for link building – or relationships that can be leveraged for its clients, can help you understand the potential that this relationship could have for you, besides the obvious benefits that we covered earlier.

Factor #5: Case studies

Being able to present case studies is one of the main selling points for the service provider, and one of the factors that’ll affect your decision. Not having enough — or any — case studies is not a good signal for a B2B SEO agency. 

We always recommend asking for case studies that are relevant to your business before you start working with a service provider.

Factor #6: Culture fit

Culture fit is the last of the factors in this section. We believe that being on the same page in terms of culture is crucial, both when hiring in-house and when hiring an agency or outsourcing. 

This is something that both you as the client and the agency has to consider and qualify the other side for. Having a strong culture fit can significantly improve communication, productivity, time efficiency, and deliver better results overall.  

Let’s wrap this up and close with some final thoughts. 

Wrapping Up

There are many ranking factors involved in getting a B2B website — and any other website for that matter — to rank at the top of search engines like Google. Also, in many cases, just ranking on the top isn’t enough since things in the SERPs constantly change. 

This guide isn’t intended to be a playbook with hacks or cool tactics with short-term outcomes, rather it’s a guide to help you make a meaningful decision as to whether SEO is the right channel for your business and, if so, how to do it so that you can meet your or your company’s goals. 

We’ll be updating this guide regularly when we identify changes that have an impact on the way B2B SEO is practiced. Stay tuned and make sure to get in touch with us if you need more information on our approach to content and SEO.