Researching keywords is relatively easy in a popular B2C market – where data is plentiful and vocabulary is simple. But how do you find search intent in the rarefied world of B2B tech? That’s what Emily King from Bluefruit Software wants to know:
“It’s one thing to know what you call your product or service, but it’s another to know what your potential audience is actually using in their searches. So how do you find this out?”
Such an important question needs a very special guest… so we went straight to the top: Andy Crestodina from Orbit Media. Andy literally wrote the book on SEO and content marketing, and we’re thrilled to have him on the podcast.
And we don’t just have Andy’s sage advice for you. In this month’s episode, we’re joined by guest co-host Ruth Connor, Content Marketing Specialist at B2B Marketing and Propolis. You’ll also hear a copywriting pro tip from UX writer Fiorella Rizzà, and there’s news of an exciting challenge to mark the 10th anniversary of this podcast.
You’ll find a full transcript of this episode at the end of this post.
Want to find the right keywords for B2B tech? Here are Andy’s five tips:
1. Embrace the B2B niche
Writing for smaller companies that focus on niche B2B tech has opportunities in search that some of the bigger companies might miss.
Andy explains: “If you don’t have super-high domain authority, that’s a benefit because it pushes you towards key phrases that are less popular – but much more targeted. The niche is where the fun is: you can find phrases that a small number of people are searching for, but they’re thrilled when they find you. The click-through and conversion rates are high. It’s an enormous opportunity.
2. Prioritise the bottom of the funnel
Andy recommends targeting the key phrases that indicate strong commercial or transaction intent – the person who has their wallet out, but just needs a bit of help.
“Start by optimising your homepage,” he advises. “That’s the page for which you have the best chance of ranking. Next, optimise your service pages. Those pages have strong intent; the visitor is looking for help – they need a service or a product.”
3. Empathy is the ultimate search marketing skill
Andy suggests the ultimate source of keywords is your own audience.
“If you get asked the same question two or three times you should be answering that question in your content,” he says. “We listen out for the topics that our audience really, really cares about. We put plans in place to publish on those topics. And then, as we’re publishing, we look for keyword opportunities.”
4. Target key phrases for which the best answer is very long and detailed
The number of searches for which the click-through rate is zero keeps growing because Google’s Featured Snippets are so informative.
According to Andy: “We should all be looking for opportunities to write content that is keyword focused, but also where the answer to the question is deep and long with details.”
5. Don’t just rank high; be interesting
The days of fooling search engines with low-quality filler content are long gone. “You’re not doing SEO if you’re not sincerely trying to make one of the top 10 pages on the internet,” Andy proposes. “You have no right to rank if you made another medium-quality piece.”
“But also, as you do this, don’t forget to inject your own voice; say something that’s provocative or counterintuitive. Put people into your articles and include contributor quotes from people with interesting ideas.”
Further reading (and watching)…
- If you’d hear more from Andy, he publishes fortnightly on the Orbit Media blog.
- Andy’s book, Content Chemistry, is now in its 6th edition. (If you’re in the UK, and like booksellers who pay their taxes, Blackwells stock it.)
- Here’s Ruth’s nomination for the best B2B content ever: Vital Stats 1 by Earnest
Here’s what you can expect in this episode…
1:59 – Ruth Connor explains why the BBC is a role model for content atomisation
5:11 – David McGuire poses Emily King’s question to Andy Crestodina
13:54 – Ruth and David discuss personas and the importance of talking to customers
23:49 – UX writer Fiorelli Rizzà shares a copywriting pro tip
24:15 – David McGuire announces a new challenge to mark our 10th anniversary
Got a question? We’ll find the answer.
To get your burning B2B content questions answered, just send us a voice memo at firstname.lastname@example.org. And if there are any other thoughts you’d like to share, you can find us on LinkedIn, or Twitter @radixcom.
How to listen:
- You can download the episode here (right-click and select “Save As”)
- Or you can subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts
- Alternatively, add our RSS to your preferred podcast player
- Thank you, Andy Crestodina, for sharing so much SEO wisdom.
- Cheers also to Fiorella Rizzà for this month’s copywriting pro tip.
- And of course thanks to to Ruth Connor – our excellent guest co-host.
Podcast editing and music by Bang and Smash.
Transcript: B2BQ&A 110 – How can you find the right SEO keywords for niche B2B content?
Emily King: It’s one thing to know what you call your product or service, but it’s another to know what your potential audience is actually using in their searches. So how do you find this out?
Ruth Connor: That’s a brilliant question. Let’s ask Andy Crestodina from Orbit Media.
David McGuire: Hello listener, and welcome back to B2BQ&A, the podcast where we go in search of an answer to your question about B2B content writing. We’re back for a new season, and this is Episode 110.
Ruth: Wow, Episode 110. That feels pretty special.
David: 10 years.
Ruth: That’s incredible. That’s incredible. Well, in a few moments, we’re gonna hear from Andy Crestodina, the CMO and co-founder of Orbit Media studios, and all-round B2B SEO colossus. He’ll take a stab at answering this episode’s question: “Just how can you find the right keywords when you’re working in a super geeky B2B niche?” Or nitch as Americans would say.
David: They do, they do.
Ruth: Plus we’ll hear a copywriting pro tip from Content Designer and UX writer Fiorella Rizzà and we’ll reveal details of a new search to find the best B2B content of all time.
David: Before all that though: Who are we? Well, my name is David McGuire. I’m Creative Director at Radix Communications, a B2B writing agency. And our guest co-host for this episode, I’m delighted to say, is a consultant, B2B tech marketing director, and the resident content marketing expert and trainer for B2B Marketing and Propolis. It’s Ruth Connor! Ruth, welcome.
Ruth: Thank you very much, David, I’m really delighted to be here.
David: As a content marketing expert yourself, where do you find inspiration for content marketing?
Ruth: That’s a great question. And this is something I used to talk a lot about with my team. And we’d always look to actually the BBC and shows like Strictly Come Dancing, Line of Duty, and, more recently, Happy Valley. And that’s because I think the team at the Beeb do a great job of something I’m really passionate about when it comes to content marketing – which is recycling, reusing, and repurposing.
So, taking that big piece of hero content and turning it into loads of different spin-off pieces of content. And I think they do a great job in some of those shows. I think you know you’ve kind of cracked the content marketing nutshell when you find people producing their own content because they’re so passionate about those shows. And I think the last few weeks on social media and Happy Valley just shows the strength of the sentiment for those shows.
David: Wow. So if you’re in search of B2B marketing inspiration for your content, look to Happy Valley, look to Strictly and the way that they atomise things. That’s an amazing thought to start us off on this episode.
Before we get on to answering this episode’s question, though, Ruth, would you mind performing your first official duty as co-host, and telling the listener how they can get in touch with us?
Ruth: I’d love to David. Listener, if you have any comments or suggestions you can find Radix on LinkedIn (radix-communications-ltd) or Twitter (@radixcom).
Or if you want us to answer your question on a future episode, record a quick voice note and send it by email to: email@example.com.
David: That is perfect. Thank you so much.
Ruth: Now it’s time for the B2BQ&A for this episode. And our question comes from a very familiar voice.
Emily: Hi, B2BQ&A. This is Emily King from Bluefruit Software. I just had a question about how to effectively find out which keywords your target audience is using in their searches.
So, it’s one thing to know what you call your product or service, but it’s another to know what your potential audience is actually calling it and what they’re using in their searches. So, how do you find this out?
David: How lovely to hear from you again, Emily. Listener, in case you didn’t know, Emily actually started this podcast almost exactly 10 years ago. And for that, we’re endlessly grateful.
But anyway, let’s get on with Emily’s question, which speaks to a bigger point. How can you make SEO work for you when you’re dealing with niche B2B audiences and subjects? And do you reach a point where talking to your customers is better than doing digital research?
To answer we have an SEO and content marketing expert whom I’ve wanted to have on the podcast for basically as long as I can remember. Orbit Media CMO, Andy Crestodina publishes such helpful well-researched advice on digital content, I just knew he’d have something interesting to say here.
So I asked him Emily’s question: How can you find the right SEO keywords, when you work in a geeky B2B niche?
Andy Crestodina: If you’re in a B2B niche, especially a small one, you actually have big opportunities in search that some of the bigger companies might miss. So, it’s exciting to do SEO in a micro-niche for B2B. Niche companies tend to be smaller, which means in a way they have a bigger challenge because they don’t have super-high domain authority and difficulty ranking.
That actually is a benefit, it just pushes you towards the less competitive, longer tail, less popular – but also much more targeted – key phrases.
So it’s not a problem that you’re a smaller online player when you’re in a niche, when you’re targeting the more specific phrases, you can’t target the big general phrases. But those phrases are not as valuable as it might seem anyway, because you know less about the visitor; the visitor does not have strong intent.
People who search for single words or the business category, very hard to convert them, because they’re less likely to have a specific need to look for a specific answer to need a specific service.
So the niche is really where all the fun is, in B2B keyword research. You can find phrases that a small number of people are searching for, but they’re thrilled when they find you. The click-through rates are high, the conversion rates are high. So, it’s an enormous opportunity.
And it’s something that the big companies will often miss. So there’s plenty of blue ocean in those longer three-, four-, or five-word key phrases that others fail to catch or to target, and that you can really target and win what might just be a trickle of traffic, but they’re very passionate, very engaged visitors.
David: How hard is it to find out among that ocean of key phrases, which are the ones that your audience, in particular, are really interested in?
Andy: Every key phrase equals intent. So when you think about the true story in the life of the person who just typed that on their keyboard – and it’s happening right now, as we speak all over the world – the more specific the key phrase, the more you know about their information needs.
So if you think about keywords as being intent, you can target key phrases and therefore intent, that is at different stages in the person’s process, as they consider options. Some key phrases are simply information intent queries, they’re looking for an answer, they want to solve their problem themselves. They’re not at all interested in buying or becoming a lead event for anything.
Other key phrases indicate strong commercial or transaction intent. They’ve got their wallet out there ready to go, they know they need help, they’ve given up on every other option they need, they need help, they’re raising their hand, they need a service. So I would always prioritise beginning your keyword research and content, content marketing and conversion, copywriting and SEO, with the bottom of the funnel.
Start by targeting the key phrases that indicate the person really needs help. And those are generally going to be not content marketing; typically, they’re like service pages. Start by optimizing your homepage, as that’s the page for which you have the best chance of ranking.
Next, optimize your service pages. Those pages have strong intent, the visitor is looking for help they know they need, they need a service or a product. The problem with using software and tools to do your keyword research for you is that they don’t really know or care what your audience is looking for. They don’t know you; they don’t know them.
Sometimes, what you might think of as a blockbuster key phrase, like “Hey, we rank really high for this, you know, ‘What is the sales tax in this geography?’” Like, great, that person just wanted a quick answer. They’re never going to convert, they’re never going to convert!
David: And is there a role for maybe interviewing or talking to real customers, or maybe even talking to your salespeople to get a view of the questions that real people ask, and how they kind of map to intent?
Andy: The ultimate source of keywords is your audience. And there’s lots of ways to get that. One of them is, of course, talking to people. And if you get asked the same question two or three times you should be answering that question in your content.
But when I do that – and when we all do that (and we all should) – search is not your primary concern. Because once you write this article, you can literally send it to exactly the person who asked you the question.
Who needs Google? – you’re already talking to this person.
So, what we should do is listen for the topics that our audience really, really cares about. Put plans in place to publish on those topics. And then as we’re publishing look for keyword opportunities.
Some will have keyword opportunities; some will not have keyword opportunities. If you write the thing that your audience really loves and wants and you give it to them, but there wasn’t a keyword related to it, you can publish it an adjacent topic that does add the keyword that links to this great piece you made. But yes, I think empathy is the ultimate marketing skill.
There’s other sources of empathy, such as if you have a site search tool, and people are searching for a phrase – that’s a source of empathy. And then sometimes, of course, the keyword research tools, and Google itself will tell you what people are looking for related to your topic or your industry works like a charm.
David: Are there other opportunities or trends with search at the moment that are particularly relevant to B2B tech?
Andy: Well, there’s a risk and a threat in search right now that we should all be aware of, which is, as I alluded to a minute ago, none of us should be targeting phrases for which there’s just a short, simple answer.
The number of searches for which the click-through rate is zero keeps growing because Google gets more informative on its own platform. So we should all be looking for opportunities to write content that is yes, keyword focused, but also, the answer to the question the visitor is asking is deep and long with details, because Google’s search results are so informative. Click-through rates to websites are on the decline.
So, target key phrases which give up the I. Remember years ago, we used to publish glossaries? Remember this SEO strategy? We’re like, “Oh, I’ll make a big glossary and answer, you know, tell everyone with the top…” No, that doesn’t work at all anymore. No traffic at all.
So, target key phrases for which the best answer is very long and detailed and 2000 words and you can’t get it in a Featured Snippet.
David: Any final tips for the audience of B2B tech marketers when they’re thinking about keyword research or optimising their content? While we have a world expert with us, the audience would be upset with me if I didn’t ask.
Andy: The ultimate in the best advice is: when you’re publishing a piece of content related to a search, that you literally make a sincere attempt to create the best page on the internet for that topic.
You’re not doing SEO if you’re not sincerely trying to make one of the top 10 pages on the internet. You have no right to rank if you made another medium-quality piece.
But also, as you do this, don’t forget to inject your own voice; say something that’s provocative or counterintuitive. Inject it into this keyword-focused piece that’s going to touch on all the related topics and semantic SEO and subheads and detail, but put yourself in there and throw in some strong points of view.
Search is, of course, library science. It’s an information retrieval technology. But your reader has a brain with an amygdala and can feel emotion.
So if you want to be memorable, and not just a lovely Wikipedia for your industry, then don’t forget that some of the best results from digital come from differentiated voices, strong points of view, Op-Ed. You know, the counterintuitive prediction or perspective of voice. Put people into your articles and include contributor quotes from people with interesting ideas.
Don’t just rank high, be interesting – and have fun.
David: Andy, thank you so much. If the audience want to hear more from you, more of your points of view and your wisdom, where can they best find you?
Andy: I write an article every two weeks at orbitmedia.com. So orbitmedia.com/blog is where you find the main source of my stuff. I put it all together into a book called Content Chemistry.
And also LinkedIn would be my best social media platform. You can connect with me on LinkedIn. The blue button that says Follow? You can skip that and go down to Connect. You know how that works. But yeah, anyone’s welcome to reach out anytime. I’m happy to help however I can.
David: Thanks, Andy. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard so much clear, valuable advice in just a few minutes.
Ruth, you’re an experienced marketing leader, as well as a content marketing expert in your own right. You must have enjoyed that, right?
Ruth: I thought it was great. I thought it was super helpful. And I think what really kind of my takeaway is: when you’re working in a niche tech sector, some of the more generic pieces of advice you get around keyword research just aren’t that helpful, because they don’t cut the mustard for the space you work in.
But Andy got straight to the point of giving us some really helpful pointers as to how we could get started.
One of the things I do think we should also mention, though, is first off Andy talks about both the fun and opportunity for those B2B marketers working in niche tech sectors. And truthfully everybody needs fun and opportunity in their role. So I thought that was a great starting point from Andy.
David: Yeah, absolutely. And as a marketer yourself, do you find it difficult to know, kind of search terms, and use the research as a starting point for good content? Where do you go to?
Ruth: That’s a great question, and I always start with the customer.
Because I really believe that nothing interesting happens in the office. And what I mean by that is marketing teams need to get out there and speak to their customers, speak to their client-facing colleagues, to maybe sit in on meetings, go to trade shows with them, ask the Client Advisory Board, ask the user group, wherever you can get in front of customers, and get a real sense of how they talk about the challenges or pain points or issues that they face in to really understand the language that they use.
I’m picking up on something that Andy mentioned, I also feel that those conversations and those bits of insights really give you the topics that your audience is passionate about and care about. And I think there’s a lot to be said, for producing really helpful content. And I think if you start by listening to what the customer has got to say, tap into the knowledge and insight of your client-facing teams, really unearth these topics that you can tell the audience care about, I really believe when you come to publication, just like Andy said, you can add in the keywords, you can make it a bit more SEO friendly during the publication stage, but it’s all got to start with some customer insight for me.
David: Yeah, and I love that about going to trade shows! I was here like, the listener can’t see, but I was here with my hands in the air like preach, you know, like, just as a younger marketer and a younger copywriter, working on trade shows, even if I wasn’t doing the selling just supporting was so helpful, because I got to hear the conversations that were happening.
And I suppose from that point of view, it’s not either/or, it’s both/and when you work in such a niche market. It’s using those conversations and what you can glean can help you understand where the search intent is in the keyword report and understand what the keyword report means.
And then the other way around, the keyword report can help you understand the language that people are using to address the problems and the questions and the issues that you’ve heard them talk about, whether it’s on a trade show, or writing case studies is another one that I love, because you get to talk to a customer about their thing, and about their challenge and about their world. Like every case study makes me a better writer.
Ruth: Definitely. And you know, David, I think what you’ve just said picks up on something Andy mentioned as well about every key phrase equals intent, and how you’ve got different key phrases at different stages of the customer journey.
So, for example, if somebody’s right at the start of their customer journey, as content marketers, we tend to focus on producing what we call TOFU content. But this is the kind of content that needs to talk about pain points, challenges, questions – those are the kinds of things we need to be thinking of when we’re thinking about our key phrases and our keywords.
If you’re producing middle-of-the-funnel content, rather, I think that’s when we need to see things that relate more to the solutions that somebody might be searching for.
And then when you get to the bottom of the funnel, that’s where it could be more product focus keywords.
So I think Andy made a really good point about thinking around this premise of every phrase equals intent. And those phrases change depending on where somebody is in their journey.
David: I was interested in what Andy had to say about zero search queries and how that changes the nature of the content that people are producing. Is that something that you see?
Ruth: Actually, I hadn’t really thought about this until I heard this in Andy’s advice. And that got me really thinking about that. And that’s something that I’m definitely going to go away and consider a bit more.
David: Yeah, although AI might change it all, again. If, soon enough, ChatGPT gets pulled into Bing, if Google sorts out Bard, you know, you might have these chatbots answering the questions, instead of a list of search results, perhaps.
Ruth: Yeah, that’s true. Actually hadn’t really thought about it from that context. So that’s really insightful.
David: Anything else that stood out for you?
Ruth: Yeah, one of the things Andy mentioned was about the idea of starting with the bottom-of-the-funnel content first, so bottom-of-the-funnel keyword research, content marketing to support the bottom-of-the-funnel stage.
And I would always, always advocate this as a starting point because, ultimately, a very small number of your target audience are active in the market at any one point in time. And I think you need to be if you’re starting out on your content marketing strategy, or you’re revisiting your content marketing strategy, you will always want to prioritise the most commercial-focused activities first, in my opinion.
I think it wins you friends with the sales team. I think it buys you goodwill from your superiors and your stakeholders to then move back up through the funnel to the different stages. So 100% agree with Andy’s point around starting with the bottom-of-the-funnel content first and then working out through the other layers. So you get, you know, to the top of the funnel.
So yeah, 100% agree with that point.
David: Absolutely. You know, I think when content marketing first became an approach, it was so new and so different, everyone almost kind of the product marketing almost became a dirty word. You know, because that wasn’t what content marketing was about.
But, sometimes, the most helpful thing you can write is about your product for someone who’s at that stage of their buying journey. And absolutely, it needs to be included.
Ruth: What do you think about the persona perspective, in this context, in the sense of Andy talks a lot about mapping it to different stages of the customer journey?
But I also wonder if there’s a case for mapping it to different personas in your buying unit. So you know, for example, you might have a C-suite persona, but then you also might have an end-user persona.
And I guess the same would be true, as the customer journey point too, you probably need to think about the personas that you’re writing for, and think about their journeys that they might go on. So your keywords might be different for the C-suite part of your DMU versus the kind of hands-on end-user DMU.
Or are personas old hat, in your experience now? Have people moved on from them?
David: I don’t know, I must admit, I kind of like an avatar more than a persona, for me.
Ruth: Tell me a bit more about that.
David: I’m fortunate in my career to have had enough lives and to have known enough people and enough clients and whatever, that for most sort of what you might call a persona for most job roles, challenges that people are facing, I can normally think of someone that sort of works in that job.
So I can normally write to a person that I have in mind, rather than a persona. And it’s just a bit more, a bit more real.
And it comes back to the point that you were making right at the beginning around getting out to trade shows and meeting people, you know. Doing case studies, interviews, whatever you can do to meet the customer because you might well meet people that map to those personas and makes that more three-dimensional for you. So you can get from a persona to an avatar. You’re like, “Oh, I’m not, I’m not writing for, you know, the CTO and the automotive sector. I’m writing for Janet.”
Ruth: And I think when you give them a name, and you give them an identity that makes it even more real, and I guess if you can base it on somebody that you’ve actually met in a real-world situation, all the better.
David: Before we finish up this episode, we do have a couple more things to share. First, we have this copywriting pro tip.
Announcer: Copywriting pro tip.
Fiorella Rizzà: Hi, I’m Fiorella Rizzà. I’m a Senior Content Designer. And my writing tip is if you need to read it twice, it’s not good enough.
Ruth: Thanks, Fiorella. It sounds so simple, but it’s so, so effective.
Before we go though, David, I gather you’re looking for some of the best pieces of B2B content ever.
David: Yeah, that’s right. As I mentioned earlier, this is the 10th anniversary of the podcast. So, we thought we’d do something a bit unusual to celebrate. And we’ve set ourselves a challenge to find the best B2B content of all time. I mean, it could be a blog post, a video, ebook, white paper, who knows. But the first stage is: we need to compile a long list of contenders.
So, listener, have a think about content that stuck with you, and please send us a nomination, anything you like on social media, or vote at radix-communications.com.
Speaking of which, Ruth… Do you have a particular favourite you’d like to put forward for the list?
Ruth: I do. You actually, so my favourite piece of content is Vital Stats by Earnest. This got shared with me many moons ago on a content marketing training course at the IDM. And they use this Vital Stats video as an example of a good piece of video content. But as the name suggests, it was also jam-packed with loads of really helpful information around how you could make the case for content marketing in your business. And I went back to the business I was in and I used all the stats in the Vital Stats video to make the case for introducing content marketing in my business at the time.
And frankly, I haven’t looked back.
So, when I went to work in earnest, I actually got to work on I think it was Vital Stats 3, and it was a proper fangirl moment for me, because I loved the first two iterations and now it was my job to help champion Vital Stats 3.
So Vital Stats 1 by Earnest is one of my favourite pieces of content of all time.
David: Amazing. I’m not sure I know it, I think I’ll go and look it up straight away. And we’ll absolutely link to it in the show notes so that the listener can have a have a look, get inspired and send us suggestions of their own as well. Thank you for that.
Ruth, if the listener wants to get in touch with you and chat about content marketing. How can they do that?
Ruth: Oh, you can find me on LinkedIn, drop me a message. I love to have a chat with anybody. Always happy to talk about content marketing and help out wherever I can.
David: Thanks for co-hosting. Also, Ruth, you’re an absolute natural. I do hope you’ve enjoyed it.
Ruth: I’ve had a lot of fun, thank you David for asking me. And I think whilst we’re at it, we should also thank Andy Crestodina for his wisdom and super helpful tips.
And Fiorella Rizzà for that copywriting pro tip because that’s what I think we’ll all remember.
And of course, we must thank Emily King for the question that kicked this whole episode off.
David: Yeah, not to mention kicking off this very podcast. Emily, wherever you are listening. I hope you feel that we’ve done justice to your question.
Remember listener, it could be your question that we answer in a future episode.
Announcer: If you have a question for B2BQ&A to answer, email a voice memo to firstname.lastname@example.org. Or find us on social media.
David: I’ll see you next time for another B2BQ&A. Until then make great content and remember, Google can bring you back 100,000 answers. A librarian can bring you back the right one. I’ve never been shushed by Google though. At least not yet.