Quick: What do ground-penetrating radar, hydraulic tie-rod cylinders, and third-party PPC software platforms have in common? Not much, really—but all three are examples of B2B (business-to-business) products that B2B companies can sell via PPC advertising.
PPC is a system that offers B2B companies the ability to capture leads fast and efficiently. Your target market is basically raising its hand and saying it’s interested in your product or service, and it does so by typing in search keywords on Google or Bing. The beauty of it is, they’re looking for you – instead of you standing around a trade-show booth for ten hours at a time asking people what their biggest business challenges are and hoping their needs match up with what you offer. That’s what makes PPC a form of inbound marketing. If you ask me, PPC is much more appealing than a trade show, dealing with people who are schlepping around bags of swag and smelling like last night’s rager went a bit too long. It can also be far more cost-effective.
In this guide, we’ll touch on B2B market characteristics and how they relate to PPC, and then we’ll review some real-world PPC tips to help you crush it in your own B2B paid-search campaigns. I’ll refer to my own experiences with ground-penetrating radar, hydraulic cylinders, and software along the way to add some context.
(Full disclosure: there are, of course, exceptions to some of the examples I use because PPC is not just a science—it’s an art.)
B2B professionals already know their audience is smaller than the B2C audience. This is because they’re targeting other businesses, not the mass population. As a result, you’ll see keyword search volumes are lower in B2B than in the B2C space.
For example, there are more searches for “shoes” in a day (shoot, probably in an hour) than there are for “ground-penetrating radar” in a year. This means that in B2B, you’re targeting a unique subset of the overall population—this is market segmentation within market segmentation, several times over.
Your B2B buyer could be one of many people from various departments at a company. It may be the end-user, the CEO, someone from IT, or a company accountant—and you have to design your PPC campaigns (keywords, ad copy, landing pages, etc.) with this in mind.
B2B buyers tend to do a lot of comparison shopping too, especially if we’re talking about expensive purchases, long-term contracts, and possible ongoing relationships. Thus, you need to provide a lot of buyer-oriented information, like case studies and white papers, in your PPC campaigns, as opposed to the “hot deals” that drive immediate transactions in the B2C world.
Finally, the sales cycle is generally longer in B2B—in fact, it’s often three to six months or more. So your PPC return on investment will often come months down the road. Just tell your boss PPC is an investment in the future—because it is!
At its core, a B2B PPC campaign is just like a B2C one. You have campaigns, ad groups, keywords, and so on, just like B2C—but you’ve got to keep the market characteristics in mind.
The previously mentioned examples—ground-penetrating radar and hydraulic tie-rod cylinders—are actual clients I’ve worked with. My reaction when I got the accounts was probably similar to yours: What the what?
For those types of clients, and really any B2B PPC situation, you’ll have to dig in and conduct some serious research to run a top-notch B2B campaign. Why is this? Because even though you might understand your market, applying it to the PPC channel is a different matter, one that’s full of pitfalls.
An example of this is my client in the hydraulic cylinders business. Through the course of my research, I learned there are tie-rod cylinders and there are welded-body cylinders. My client sells only tie-rod cylinders, but when I looked in the account he set up (and had been running for a few months, spending thousands of dollars), I noticed he was getting clicks for welded cylinders, too.
Had I not bothered to do some research, I would have assumed “a hydraulic cylinder is a hydraulic cylinder” and not caught this wasteful spend. As a result, I made sure to add “welded” as a negative keyword and called out “tie-rod cylinders” in the ad copy to avoid the shoppers looking for welded-body cylinders, pre-qualifying clicks and saving the client some dough along the way.
The takeaway is this: Even though you understand your market, be aware that Google and Bing do not, and they’ll try to match you to as many types of keywords as possible. So stay on top of your search query report.
Research takes some time, so if you’re looking for a way to outline your strategy, check out an article I wrote last year for more tips on researching a new client.
Now that you understand the market and who your buyers are (right?), you can address the keywords themselves.
Keyword research and match type strategies are essentially the same for B2B as they are for B2C. One caveat, however, is the preponderance of acronym searches in B2B. The acronym “GPR,” for example, gets four times the search volume of “ground penetrating radar.” Whatever your industry, find out what words the customers are using.
On that note, B2B tends to have part and model numbers that sell frequently and get lots of searches. Going back to the tie-rod example, business searchers will use a model number, like “TX-2500 cylinder,” which comes in handy when bidding on exact-search terms and crafting ads.
You can also tie in the specific application for your B2B product or service when conducting research. Append the target market, like the construction industry or farming, to find valuable long-tail terms like “GPR for construction” or “farming hydraulic tie-rods.”
When it comes to bidding and CPCs, they can be all over the board, just as in B2C. Without a doubt, though, there’s more room for “loose” bidding when you’re talking about high-dollar items and services. In other words, B2B typically has higher profit margins, so last month’s dollar increase in CPC isn’t a big deal.
Because we’re talking B2B, think also from the viewpoint of the company who’s looking for you. Their internal nomenclature includes words like “vendor” and “supplier,” so make sure you explore those, along with “companies,” “providers,” and “tools,” in your keyword combinations, e.g., “PPC software vendors” or “GPR suppliers.”
As in B2C, negative keywords for B2B will typically include words like “reviews,” “jobs,” and “free.”
3. Campaigns & Ad Groups
Due to the research-heavy nature of B2B, it’s a good idea to put your keywords in campaigns and ad groups that address the various stages of the purchase funnel—and follow the same strategy with landing pages. At the top of the funnel you have research, followed by consideration, then the commitment (purchase) decision at the bottom of the funnel.
Think in terms of the research stage all the way down to the commit stage, and build your campaigns and ad groups around this. So you might have a research campaign/ad groups, consideration campaign/ad groups, and conversion campaign/ad groups.
The benefits of this are invaluable: You’ll know your campaign and/or ad groups with “vendor” in them are the folks who are at the research phase of the purchase process. Knowing this, in your ad copy it might be best to tout your recent awards or a white paper. Over time, you’ll be able to measure your ROI at the various stages of the purchase funnel and plan your budgets accordingly.
4. Ad Copy
Ad copy presents a major difference in the B2B market when compared to B2C, though best practices are still to be followed. Because of the multiple stakeholders and various stages of purchase, when you craft your ad copy, be cognizant of appropriate calls-to-action (CTA’s) and offers.
For example, in the B2B PPC world, you rarely, if ever, would use the CTAs “buy now” or “order today”—more likely you’ll say “get more information,” or “contact us today,” or “download our free white paper.” The reason behind this is you’re dealing with buyers who need a lot of time (remember that long sales cycle), are just conducting research, and wouldn’t be able to “buy now” even if they wanted to due to their internal processes and the potentially hefty price of your product or service. In addition, they’ll often want to speak to someone at your company, rather than just clicking at “Add to Cart” button as in the B2C world.
Are there exceptions to this? You bet there are—it just depends on the product or service.
If you don’t know who your typical buyer is (is it the CEO? the accountant? the marketer?) then write ads targeted to these groups and measure their performance. Use phrases like “cost-effective,” “easy to use,” “easy to integrate,” “ranked best in class,” and so on to see what resonates with your potential buyer.
Additional ad copy tips:
With the longer sales cycle, it’s imperative that you track your site’s visitors closely with Google Analytics or another analytics software package.
Over that three- to six-month sales cycle, your prospects might come back repeatedly to get more information—so hopefully you’re adding more information to your site regularly. Or, you can try remarketing to make sure you’re regularly stalking, err, I mean, are in front of your prospects on a consistent basis.
What this really means is today’s click costs may not actually be conversions for 180 days or more—so hang on for the long haul.
By now you realize the B2B PPC world requires a long view, especially when compared to the wham-bam world of B2C PPC. It is, however, a highly effective way to get your B2B organization in front of new prospects—and without pulling trade-show duty.
Brad McMillen is a digital marketing consultant and freelance copywriter at Mac Strat in Indianapolis, Indiana. He manages pay-per-click campaigns, performs SEO audits, writes web content, and crafts direct-response copy. Connect with Brad on LinkedIn.
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