A lot of B2B brands are discovering the powerful influence of account-based marketing (ABM) strategies, but is it enough? Columnist Nate Dame outlines why ABM needs SEO, and how they're better together.

Account-based marketing best practices have come into their own in recent years. Audiences expect more personalized, targeted brand interactions, and account-based strategies deliver, aligning marketing and sales to close bigger accounts with better outbound communications.

But what happens when your proposal gets passed from its intended audience to another decision-maker? What happens as it hops from one desk to another, and each touch has new and different questions or needs? Do they reach out to the name on the back page, or do the reach out to Google?

Consider that many B2B purchasers won’t speak to a salesperson until they’ve done their own research first. Outbound campaigns deliver social posts, marketing emails and targeted ads each with the goal of driving decision-makers deeper into the funnel  but they may not be enough.

B2B decision-makers conduct an average of 12 searches before visiting a specific brand’s site, according to a Google/Millward Brown study conducted in 2014. If your digital marketing efforts are so focused on ABM that SEO gets shelved, outbound campaigns could drive decision-makers directly to your competitors by inspiring a search-based research cycle that delivers few brand results. To stay top-of-mind throughout the research process  and everywhere information is sought  marketers must learn to use SEO and ABM together.

1. SEO expands ABM outreach

Multiple decision-makers are involved in most B2B purchase decisions. Those decision-makers include both executives and individual contributors. While a good ABM campaign targets individuals at many levels of an organization, the individual contributors are often tasked with researching solutions  and that’s when outbound strategies are no longer enough.

Unlike executives, individual contributors will use whatever system, software or service is purchased, so they’re invested in doing the necessary research to find the best option. Thought leadership pieces and content that’s focused on high-level benefits will only scratch the surface for these decision-makers. They want to know how the purchase will satisfy specific needs and resolve specific pain points.

When conducting research, individual contributors turn to search to seek detailed product information: how-to guides, reviews from their peers and implementation documentation. If your brand doesn’t show up in search results for relevant queries, it may never land on their list of recommended solutions.

To expand outreach and connect with these decision-makers, brands must conduct keyword and user intent research, create content that speaks to the needs and pain points of the individuals who will be using the product and optimize that content for search  the medium where detailed research is being conducted.

2. SEO keyword research provides a map of buyer journeys

An effective ABM campaign delivers the right content at the right time to key contacts at target accounts. But how do you actually know what information each persona is looking for at every stage of his/her journey?

Google has been asking similar questions for years, which is why SEO keyword + user intent research can provide a map that details what content decision-makers are looking for at different stages of the buying journey.

SEOs and marketers can compile a list of relevant keywords, search for those keywords, and reverse-engineer organic search results to determine audience, user intent and position in the buyer’s journey:

  • Results for introductory content that’s focused on high-level benefits suggest that the people searching for that term have a learn-know intent, are executives and are in the “awareness” stage of their journey.
  • Results for tutorials and how-to guides suggest that people searching for that term have a learn-do intent, are individual contributors and are in the “exploring solutions” stage of the journey.
  • User review and product comparison results suggest that users still have learn intent but are trending toward purchase intent. Users searching for relevant keywords are likely individual contributors, and they’re in the “comparing vendors” stage.
  • Results that populate sales pages or pricing tables suggest that the intent is purchase, the audience is the C-suite, and users are in the final stage of the purchase journey and ready to convert.

This research can be used to form a map of the types of information different decision-makers are searching for during different stages of the buying journey.

The outcome isn’t just useful for SEO and inbound campaigns  it’s highly effective in planning outbound campaigns as well. It details what content key contacts should receive, in what order, based on historical interactions. If a key contact is interacting with content that falls in the awareness stage, the next communication from your brand shouldn’t be a demo offer. The user isn’t yet ready to make that decision.

SEO insights help brands guide users through the buying journey by delivering the right content to the right audience at the right time, keeping key contacts engaged throughout the journey.

3. SEO analytics provide invaluable data on outbound ABM campaigns

SEO analytics provide detailed insights about site visitors and their actions that are useful for more than just inbound marketing. Analytics data is invaluable for outbound ABM campaigns as well.

Google Analytics goals allow marketers to build a personalized landing page for a specific target account, deliver the URL for that page to key contacts through ads, emails and social media, and track visits to that page. Marketers can then mine Google Analytics for data about those visits:

  • Determine which channel drove the most visits. Focus future efforts for that account on the highest-performing channel.
  • Discover how long visitors stayed on the site. If only seconds, revise content  it’s not engaging key contacts.
  • Track what other pages visitors viewed. Identify what questions decision-makers still have to determine what content/offers they might like to receive next.
  • A/B test campaigns. Before releasing a campaign to all targeted accounts, send it to a single account and track its success or failure. Replicate successful campaigns for other accounts, and eliminate the waste of sending unengaging communications.

SEO analytics allow marketers to learn from data, engage in constant improvement and refine campaigns and initiatives to find the best approach for every client in a target account list.

With Google Analytics, all campaign data both inbound and outbound is housed in a central system, so there’s no need for marketers and SEOs to mine data from multiple systems to develop valuable insights.

ABM and SEO: The perfect pairing

The best practices of ABM are primarily focused on outbound marketing, but marketers can increase engagement, expand outreach and develop proven strategies by partnering SEO and ABM efforts. SEO allows ABM marketers to identify the right audience, its needs and its position in the buying journey  and make sure brand content is visible everywhere audiences are conducting research. 

A simple place to start is with SEO analytics. Create goals in Google Analytics to track which campaigns and content are the most and least effective. Expand on effective campaigns, and analyze why ineffective campaigns are failing, by conducting keyword and user intent research and revising initiatives based on new SEO insights.