The social media press has been having a field day with the NY Times revelation that J. C. Penny used questionable tactics to boost their recent Google ratings. See http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/13/business/13search.html for the details.
This news led me to think more about the necessity and value for a B2B company to be ranked first in Google search. Is it worth the time, effort and expense? There is little doubt about the value of a number one ranking (http://insights.chitika.com/2010/the-value-of-google-result-positioning/) but much of this data is driven by consumer, not B2B products. Nor is there any doubt that B2B buyers are searching for vendors, reflecting the shift in power created by the Internet. But, if there is a motivated buyer, won’t he/she examine the first page of findings? What is the probability that he/she will stop after looking at #1?
A Google search titled “value of Google ranking #1 for B2B” turned up 392,000 responses. While I didn’t examine each one, most were articles or blogs on how to achieve a number one ranking. What I would like to see is a balanced A/B test, showing the ROI for Company A, who achieved a number 1 ranking and Company B, who was listed last on the first page. I don’t think it exists…yet.
That said, what follows is subjective opinion, based on discussions, reading and experience.
- As noted above, power has shifted from the seller to the buyer. Buyers, both consumer and business, are using the Internet to find out about vendors.
- Most B2B buyers will look for a minimum of three vendors for comparison purposes. They may have one or two already in mind, and will look for a third (and possibly a fourth) to help create a truly competitive environment.
- B2B buyers have an inclination to purchase locally. If they can find what they need in their city/state this will tip the scales. Domestic vendors are preferred to ones offshore, unless the price difference makes up for the shipping costs.
- For the B2B buyer, once a vendor is found via search, the key is web site navigation. If the buyer is looking for a specific item, he/she doesn’t want to go through 12 clicks to find it. The landing page MUST BE intuitive to finding product/services. (In other words, scale back the pretty pictures of people, the mission statement and the latest press release on the landing page.)
- In getting to 3-4 vendors, a motivated business buyer will go through the first, and maybe even the second page, skipping listings that are related but that do not answer his search.
Advice to B2B companies:
- A good web site is mandatory…something well beyond placing your brochure on the web.
- The incremental SEO cost to achieve a number one ranking is probably not worth it…but every effort should be made to ensure placement on the first page.
- Equally important is the navigability of your web site.
- Continually testing of your web site as to ranking and navigability is required, goal is best-in-class.
- Going forward, an analysis of your competitor’s web sites is just as important as an analysis of the product, and how it is different from yours.
Search engine optimization gets a lot of attention, some good and some bad. For the B2B vendor the focus of SEO should be that they are listed on the first page and that their web site is well constructed.
What have been your experiences?
RHM – 2/24/2011