Top 10 Mistakes to Avoid in B2B Keyword Research24 min read

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Top 10 Mistakes to Avoid in B2B Keyword Research

As SEO has matured as a marketing discipline, professionals are armed with an array of tools, both free and paid, designed to hone their keyword research skills. Yet, despite this arsenal at their disposal, a significant challenge persists: the majority of these tools are tailored for the B2C market, leaving B2B marketers to navigate a path less supported. This skew isn’t surprising, considering that the bulk of searches on Google and other platforms stem from individuals seeking products and services for personal use. The algorithms, the insights, and the strategies—everything is predominantly built around the B2C buying cycle, often overlooking the intricacies of B2B interactions.

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This inherent bias towards B2C creates a unique obstacle for B2B marketers. The tried and tested blueprint that guarantees success in B2C scenarios often falls short in the complex landscape of B2B transactions. The reasons are manifold: the longer decision-making processes, the multiple stakeholders involved, and the specialized and often highly complex nature of products and services, to name a few. These differences necessitate a distinct approach to keyword research, one that understands and adapts to the nuances of B2B marketing.

Our aim with this post is to shine a light on the most common pitfalls encountered by clients and their SEO agencies during keyword research for B2B companies. By identifying and understanding these 10 Mistakes to Avoid in B2B Keyword Research, we hope to guide you through navigating the B2B keyword research terrain more effectively, setting the stage for a deeper exploration into each of these critical missteps.

1. Overlooking the Importance of Understanding the Business, Product, and Customer Journey

One of the foundational errors in B2B keyword research lies in a lack of deep understanding of the business, its products, and the intricate customer journey that characterizes B2B markets. This challenge is uniquely pronounced in B2B compared to B2C, where marketers can more easily empathize with the consumer’s perspective, often having firsthand experience or a close acquaintance with the target audience’s needs and desires. In contrast, B2B products or services frequently cater to specialized industries or sectors, making it harder for generic SEO agencies or even in-house marketing teams that operate in silos—away from product development or service delivery departments—to fully grasp the nuances of the products they are promoting.

The complexity increases when considering the decision-making process in B2B transactions, which often involves multiple stakeholders, each with their own set of criteria and concerns. Unlike B2C purchases, which are typically straightforward and involve individual decision-makers, B2B purchases require aligning the interests and information needs of a diverse group of influencers and decision-makers within a business. This multifaceted decision-making process necessitates a comprehensive understanding of who these stakeholders are, what drives their decisions, and how they navigate the buying journey.

Strategies to gain the necessary understanding of the Business, it’s Product, and Customer Journey

  • Deep Dive into the Business Ecosystem: To overcome this challenge, it’s crucial for SEO professionals to immerse themselves in the client’s business ecosystem. This involves going beyond surface-level understanding and engaging with different departments to gain a holistic view of the products or services being offered.
  • Identify and Understand the Decision Makers: Developing personas for each type of decision-maker involved in the purchasing process can provide insights into their unique concerns, preferences, and information-seeking behaviors. This helps in tailoring the keyword strategy to address the specific needs and pain points of each stakeholder.
  • Map the B2B Customer Journey: Crafting a detailed map of the customer journey, from initial awareness to the final decision-making stage, allows for the identification of critical touchpoints where targeted keywords and content can effectively engage each stakeholder. Understanding that this journey is more complex and elongated in B2B is key to selecting keywords that resonate with the audience at each stage.

By addressing these challenges head-on, SEO professionals can significantly improve the relevance and effectiveness of their keyword research, ensuring that it aligns with the specific needs and decision-making processes of B2B buyers.

2. Ignoring Categorized Search Intent (navigational, informational, commercial, and transactional)

A common oversight in B2B keyword research is neglecting the categorized search intent behind queries. Search intent can be broadly classified into four categories: navigational, informational, commercial, and transactional. Each type of intent represents a different phase in the customer’s journey, from seeking information to making a purchase. Understanding and optimizing for these varying intents is crucial, as it aligns your content strategy with the user’s needs at each stage.

For B2B companies without an e-commerce component, focusing excessively on transactional keywords might seem counterintuitive. Such keywords typically indicate a readiness to purchase, which, without a webshop, might not directly translate to online sales. However, this doesn’t render transactional keywords useless. Identifying a high volume of transactional search queries could suggest an opportunity for the business to expand its digital presence through an e-shop, potentially increasing its market reach and sales channels.

How to incorporate Categorized Search Intent into your keyword research

  • Assess the Strategic Fit of Transactional Keywords: Before dismissing transactional keywords, evaluate the company’s strategic position and market offerings. In some cases, adapting the content strategy to include or even prioritize these keywords can capture late-stage buyers, guiding them towards offline conversion paths or lead generation forms.
  • Prioritize Informational Keywords for Upper Funnel Reach: Informational keywords are invaluable for building upper funnel visibility, attracting users at the awareness or learning stages. These keywords should be rich in relevant, high-volume, but low-competition topics that can drive significant traffic to your site. Crafting content that addresses these informational needs positions your company as a thought leader and trusted resource in your industry.
  • Balance Keyword Strategy Based on Business Maturity and Goals: The prioritization of search intent categories should also consider the business’s maturity and marketing objectives. For companies heavily invested in search engine advertising (SEA) and performance marketing targeting lower-funnel, business-critical terms may offer immediate returns. This approach strategically captures users closer to the decision-making stage, complementing broader digital marketing efforts.
  • Content Format and Strategic Positioning: Be mindful that different search intents may require variations in content format. Transactional intents, for example, are best served by product pages or e-commerce platforms, while informational intents may be better addressed through blog posts, guides, or whitepapers. Always align content formats with the strategic positioning of the company in the market, ensuring that every piece of content serves a specific purpose in the customer journey.

By carefully considering categorized search intent in keyword research and content strategy, B2B marketers can more effectively match their offerings with the diverse needs of their target audience at every stage of the buying process.

3. Ignoring Uncategorized Search Intent

In the realm of B2B SEO, there’s a nuanced layer of keyword analysis that often goes overlooked: uncategorized search intent. This concept delves deeper than the broad categories of navigational, informational, commercial, and transactional intents, asking a more specific question: “What are users predominantly looking for when they enter keyword X?” The term “uncategorized” distinguishes this analysis from the general categorizations provided by leading SEO tools, which can sometimes mask the true nature of a keyword’s relevance to a company’s marketing strategy. Recognizing uncategorized search intent is crucial for avoiding pitfalls such as poor quality scores in PPC campaigns or lackluster organic ranking progress.

Consider, for example, a B2B company like Markforged, a leading supplier of industrial 3D printers. In the process of keyword research, the term “3D printer” might emerge as a high-volume target, seemingly ripe for SEO and PPC efforts due to its significant search interest. Yet, a closer examination of the top organic search results, particularly within image searches, reveals a disparity. The prevailing user intent behind “3D printer” searches leans heavily towards the consumer market, specifically targeting inexpensive, small-scale 3D printers for home use. This mismatch between the keyword’s apparent potential and the actual search intent can lead to misallocated marketing efforts, where the content created and the advertisements targeted do not resonate with the intended B2B audience.

Strategies to Navigate Uncategorized Search Intent in Keyword Research

  • In-Depth Intent Analysis: Beyond leveraging SEO tools for keyword categorization, conduct a manual review of the search results for key terms. This includes analyzing organic listings and image results to gauge the dominant user intent, ensuring alignment with your B2B focus.
  • Competitor Contextualization: Examine the competitive landscape for your keywords. If the top results are predominantly B2C offerings or unrelated to your industry’s specific use cases, this signals a need to refine your keyword strategy to better match your target audience’s intent.
  • Long-Tail Keyword Optimization: To circumvent the broad appeal of high-volume keywords with mixed intent, focus on long-tail keywords that more accurately describe your products or services. These longer, more specific phrases often reflect a clearer intent that aligns with B2B.
  • Intent-Specific Content Creation: Tailor your content strategy to address the nuanced needs revealed through uncategorized search intent analysis. This might involve creating more specialized content that speaks directly to industrial applications of 3D printing, rather than competing directly with consumer-focused content for broader terms.

By prioritizing an understanding of uncategorized search intent, B2B marketers can more effectively discern whether a keyword is genuinely suitable for their advertising and content strategies. This approach not only enhances the alignment between search terms and the company’s offerings but also mitigates the risk of poor performance in both organic and paid search initiatives. Through careful analysis and strategic application of these insights, B2B companies can navigate the complexities of search intent, ensuring their marketing efforts reach the right audience with the right message.

4. Ignoring Content Competitors in your gap analysis

A critical yet often overlooked aspect of B2B SEO strategy is the consideration of content competitors during gap analysis. Typically, businesses might focus exclusively on their market competitors—those with similar products or services—especially when gathering insights from in-house teams. This approach, however, can miss a crucial dimension of the competitive landscape, particularly in industries where digital marketing maturity is still developing. In such scenarios, market competitors might not have fully leveraged SEO to establish topical authority, leading to a misleading analysis if one only considers these entities.

The gap analysis, a tool used to identify content opportunities and areas for improvement by comparing your content to that of your competitors, can fall short if it fails to account for content competitors. Content competitors are entities that compete for the same online space and audience attention, despite not offering competing products or services. These can include publishers, educational institutions, industry bodies, and even content platforms that cover similar topics or interests relevant to your target audience. Their presence and performance in search results can offer invaluable insights into how to structure your content strategy to gain topical authority and visibility.

Strategies to Identify and Leverage Content Competitors in Gap Analysis

  • Broaden Your Competitor Definition: Extend your analysis beyond direct market competitors to include any entity that produces content which ranks for your targeted keywords. This will give you a fuller picture of the content landscape and reveal opportunities that might have been overlooked.
  • First-Mover Advantage: In niches where digital marketing maturity is low, being the first to develop a comprehensive SEO and content strategy can provide a significant competitive edge. Use the lack of established topical authority among market competitors as an opportunity to become the leading voice in your industry.
  • Diversify Content Inspiration Sources: Look to content competitors for inspiration on topics, content formats, and engagement strategies. Publishers, universities, and industry bodies often produce high-quality, authoritative content that can inspire your own content creation efforts, helping you to address gaps in your niche.
  • Collaborate and Co-Create: Consider partnerships with non-competing content creators to co-create content. This can help tap into their audience, build credibility, and share valuable, authoritative information that benefits both parties and their audiences.

By integrating content competitors into your gap analysis, you not only gain a more comprehensive understanding of the SEO landscape but also uncover rich opportunities for content creation that resonates with your audience. This broader perspective enables B2B companies to craft a more effective SEO strategy, positioning themselves as thought leaders and authority figures in their industry. Recognizing and acting on the opportunities presented by a less digitally mature market can set the groundwork for long-term success, driving visibility, engagement, and ultimately, conversion.

5. Ignoring Search Console Data

One of the subtler, yet significant, missteps in B2B SEO strategy is the underutilization of Google Search Console data. This oversight is particularly critical for businesses operating within niche industries, where conventional keyword research tools may fall short in providing comprehensive and relevant data. The intrinsic value of Search Console lies in its ability to offer insights directly from Google’s perspective, showcasing how a website is actually performing in search results, including the queries driving traffic, the geographical distribution of searchers, and the search positions of different pages.

Search Console's data is pivotal for several reasons in fine-tuning your SEO strategy

  • Global Insights: Unlike many SEO tools that may focus on specific countries or regions, Search Console provides a global view of your site’s performance. This worldwide perspective is crucial for B2B companies aiming to reach an international audience or to understand their global search visibility better.
  • Discovery of Long-Tail Queries: B2B industries often deal with specialized topics for which broad keywords may not capture the full intent of searchers. Search Console helps in identifying long-tail queries that, while individually may have lower search volumes, collectively represent a significant traffic potential. Clustering these terms and addressing them through comprehensive content can dramatically enhance your site’s search visibility and relevance.
  • Diversify Content Inspiration Sources: Look to content competitors for inspiration on topics, content formats, and engagement strategies. Publishers, universities, and industry bodies often produce high-quality, authoritative content that can inspire your own content creation efforts, helping you to address gaps in your niche.
  • Leveraging Existing Credibility: Perhaps most importantly, Search Console reveals the areas where Google already recognizes your website as a credible source. Expanding your content efforts in these areas can be an effective strategy, leveraging your existing authority to rank for related topics more easily. This approach can serve as a foundation for a multi-stage keyword strategy, allowing for strategic content expansion based on proven areas of strength.

Incorporating Search Console data into your SEO analysis ensures a more nuanced understanding of your website’s search performance and uncovers opportunities that might not be visible through standard keyword research tools. For B2B companies navigating niche markets, these insights can guide the development of a targeted, effective SEO strategy that aligns with actual search behavior and preferences. By bridging the gap between generic keyword data and the specific, often unique search queries relevant to your industry, you can better cater to your audience’s needs, driving more qualified traffic to your site.

6. Don't cluster your keywords

A nuanced yet impactful error in B2B SEO strategies is the reluctance to cluster keywords. In the context of B2B markets, where competition for search visibility can be less fierce than in B2C spaces, the opportunity to target a broader array of related keywords within a single content piece is significant. Keyword clustering allows businesses to capture a wider range of search queries, potentially increasing their visibility and relevance across a spectrum of user intents. This approach contrasts sharply with the more narrow focus often necessary in highly competitive B2C environments.

The practice of keyword clustering involves grouping similar or related keywords together, forming a cluster that can be targeted through a single, comprehensive piece of content. This strategy acknowledges the overlap in user intent across a set of queries and leverages this overlap to maximize a page’s visibility for multiple search terms.

Strategies for Effective Keyword Clustering

  • Leverage SERP Similarity Tools: Tools like SERP similarity analyzers provide valuable insights into the likelihood of ranking a single piece of content for multiple keywords within a cluster. By assessing the similarity of search engine results pages (SERPs) for different queries, these tools can help gauge the feasibility of a clustered approach.
  • Analyze Competitor Keyword Footprints: Examining the keywords for which the most visible URLs in the current top 10 for your main target keyword are ranking can offer insights into potential clustering opportunities. This analysis can reveal the breadth of topics and queries a single piece of content might effectively cover.
  • Manual Review and Customization: While automated clustering tools serve as a useful starting point, the expertise lies in manually reviewing and refining these clusters. Tailoring the output of these tools to better fit your unique understanding of your industry and the specific nuances of your target audience’s search behavior elevates your keyword research from merely operational to strategic.
  • Balancing Broad and Specific Queries: In B2B contexts, the ability to rank for a broader set of keywords presents an opportunity to capture both specific, long-tail queries and more general, high-volume terms. This balanced approach can drive a diversified traffic stream to your site, catering to users at different stages of the buyer’s journey.

By embracing keyword clustering, B2B marketers can effectively broaden their SEO strategy to encompass a wider array of search intents and user needs. This approach not only enhances the site’s visibility across a range of relevant queries but also positions the business as a comprehensive resource within its niche. Keyword clustering, when executed with a thoughtful consideration of SERP similarities and competitor strategies, represents a sophisticated technique for maximizing the SEO value of content in the B2B sector.

7. Too much focus on high volume keywords

A common pitfall in B2B SEO strategies is an excessive emphasis on targeting high-volume keywords. While these keywords can be attractive due to their potential for significant traffic, they often come with downsides such as increased competition and lower click-through rates, especially if a competitive ranking is not achieved. This focus can lead businesses to overlook the strategic value of less competitive, more niche keywords that may be more directly relevant to their target audience.

Prioritizing high-volume keywords without considering their relevance and the realistic chances of ranking for them can result in inefficient use of SEO resources. It can divert attention from opportunities to connect with a more specific, potentially more engaged audience through lower-volume, but highly relevant keywords.

Strategies to Balance Keyword Prioritization

  • Relegate High Volume, Low Relevance Keywords: Keep high-volume keywords on your radar but prioritize them lower in your strategy. This doesn’t mean ignoring them altogether but recognizing where they fit within a broader, more nuanced SEO approach.
  • Focus on Earning Trust with Subtopics: Building your site’s authority and trustworthiness on relevant subtopics can gradually increase your chances of ranking for more competitive, high-volume keywords. By establishing a strong foundation in these niche areas, you signal to search engines your site’s relevance and credibility, which can, over time, enhance your performance across broader terms.
  • Target Long-Tail Keywords: Incorporate long-tail keywords into your strategy. These keywords, which are often more specific and less competitive, can attract a more targeted audience. Although individually they may bring in less traffic, collectively, they can contribute significantly to your overall traffic and lead generation efforts.
  • Monitor Performance and Adjust: Use data-driven insights to continuously monitor the performance of your keywords, including high-volume targets. Adjust your strategy based on what the data tells you about user engagement, conversion rates, and other key metrics. This adaptive approach ensures your SEO efforts remain aligned with your marketing objectives and audience needs.

By shifting focus from solely chasing high-volume keywords to developing a more balanced and strategic approach, B2B marketers can create a more effective SEO strategy. This approach not only improves the chances of ranking for competitive terms in the long run but also ensures that your content resonates more deeply with your intended audience, fostering engagement and conversions.

8. Ignoring Keyword difficulty

A common oversight in B2B SEO strategy is neglecting the importance of keyword difficulty. This metric provides a gauge of how challenging it will be to rank for a particular keyword, based on the strength of the current competitors in the search results. By not taking keyword difficulty into account, businesses risk investing significant resources into targeting keywords for which they have little chance of achieving a competitive ranking, especially in the short to medium term.

Understanding and realistically assessing keyword difficulty allows for a more strategic approach to SEO, enabling businesses to target keywords that are within their reach and gradually build up their domain authority to tackle more competitive terms over time.

Strategies for Incorporating Keyword Difficulty into Your SEO Plan

  • Baseline Assessment: Begin by evaluating the average difficulty of the terms for which your site is already ranking. This provides a realistic baseline from which to plan your keyword strategy, ensuring that you target keywords that are attainable given your current SEO standing.
  • Gradual Progression: Use your baseline as a starting point to gradually target keywords with slightly higher difficulty levels. This approach allows you to build your site’s authority and improve your SEO capabilities systematically, making it more feasible to rank for increasingly competitive keywords over time.
  • Prioritize Achievable Targets: While it’s important to have long-term goals for ranking for high-difficulty keywords, prioritize your efforts on those that are more achievable in the short term. This ensures a steady flow of traffic and leads while you work on enhancing your site’s authority.
  • Content and Link Building Strategy: Tailor your content creation and link-building efforts to support your keyword difficulty strategy. High-quality, relevant content, coupled with a robust backlink profile, can significantly enhance your ability to rank for targeted keywords, regardless of their difficulty.

By not ignoring keyword difficulty, B2B marketers can set more realistic expectations for their SEO campaigns and allocate their resources more effectively. This approach ensures that efforts are focused on keywords that are not only relevant but also attainable, paving the way for gradual improvements in search visibility and overall SEO success.

9. Not mapping keywords to website content types/areas

A pivotal yet frequently overlooked aspect of B2B SEO strategies is the failure to map keywords to specific website content types or areas. This step is essential for creating a cohesive SEO plan that aligns with your business goals and user needs. Without a clear mapping of keywords to content areas, efforts can become disjointed, diluting the potential impact of your SEO initiatives.

Creating a shared vision among clients or internal stakeholders on which website areas will target specific keywords is crucial for success. Starting with product category pages is often a strategic first step, ensuring these critical pages are optimized for the most relevant and strategically important keywords. This focus helps to ground your content marketing efforts in areas that directly impact your core business.

Strategies for Effective Keyword-to-Content Mapping

  • Prioritize Core Business Pages: Begin with product category pages and other core business areas, optimizing these for key strategic keywords. This ensures that your most important products and services are visible and well-represented in search results.
  • Balance Content Marketing with Business Goals: While content marketing is vital for engaging users and building authority, ensure that it complements and enhances your core business offerings. Incorporating helpful content on category pages, for example, can be just as effective as standalone informational pieces in driving engagement and conversions.
  • Start with an Executable Plan: Develop an initial SEO strategy that is practical and can be acted upon immediately. This might include identifying opportunities for a glossary of industry terms, or the need for high-quality, professionally reviewed content, especially in fields where trust and expertise are paramount, such as finance, health, or highly technical areas.
  • Adapt and Evolve: SEO is an iterative process, and initial strategies should be revisited and refined based on performance data and learnings. This adaptive approach allows for continual optimization and alignment with evolving business goals and search engine algorithms.
  • E-A-T Considerations: For industries where expertise, authority, and trustworthiness are especially critical, ensure that your content strategy reflects these needs. This may involve creating content that is not only informative but also professionally vetted and authoritative.

Mapping keywords to specific content types and areas on your website not only provides a clear roadmap for SEO efforts but also ensures that all content serves a strategic purpose. This approach enhances the relevance and authority of your site, supports user navigation, and aligns SEO initiatives with your overall business objectives. Starting with a solid, executable plan and being prepared to adapt based on insights and performance will position your B2B SEO strategy for success.

10) Don’t consider your client’s business priorities

A crucial aspect that sometimes gets overlooked in the pursuit of SEO success is the alignment of SEO strategies with the client’s business priorities. SEO professionals, driven by the competitive nature of their field, often focus intensely on achieving top rankings or boosting organic traffic. While these goals are important, it’s essential to remain attuned to the broader business objectives and strategic priorities of the client. Whether it’s targeting volume versus quality, managing capacity for increased inquiries, or scaling product offerings, an SEO strategy must be crafted with the client’s specific needs and capabilities in mind.

Understanding and integrating the client’s business priorities into your SEO plan is not just about improving search rankings; it’s about contributing to the overall success and growth of the client’s business. This approach may sometimes require thinking outside the conventional SEO toolbox.

Strategies for Aligning SEO with Business Priorities

  • Business-Minded SEO: Approach SEO with a business-centric mindset. Understand not just the technical and content aspects of SEO but also how these elements can be leveraged to support the client’s overarching business goals.
  • Creative Solutions: Consider innovative solutions that may fall slightly outside the traditional scope of SEO, such as the feasibility of launching a separate domain for a specific product line, outsourcing content creation to manage workload efficiently, or implementing a chatbot to handle standard queries and improve user experience.
  • Consulting Approach: Especially for enterprise clients, adopt a consulting mindset that goes beyond mere SEO tactics to offer broader market insights and strategic advice. This can include evaluating the potential of new niches or assessing the competitive landscape for low-margin products with high search volume but little competition.
  • Communicating Value: Position your SEO strategy within the context of market insights and business strategy. Demonstrating an understanding of the client’s industry and how SEO can be a powerful tool for achieving business objectives can foster stronger, more successful client relationships.
  • Flexibility and Adaptation: Be prepared to adjust your SEO strategy based on the evolving priorities and feedback from the client. A successful SEO consultant listens to their client’s needs and is flexible in adapting their approach to meet these requirements.

By considering the client’s business priorities and integrating these into your SEO strategy, you not only ensure that your efforts are more closely aligned with the client’s goals but also position yourself as a valuable strategic partner. This approach leads to SEO successes that are meaningful and impactful for the client’s business, fostering long-term relationships and contributing to mutual growth.

Conclusion: Mastering B2B Keyword Research

Embarking on B2B keyword research is a nuanced endeavor that extends beyond the pursuit of high-volume keywords, demanding a deep dive into the specificities of business ecosystems, understanding the multifaceted customer journey, and aligning strategies with the client’s business priorities. Effective keyword research in the B2B domain requires an adept balance between technical SEO skills and strategic business insight, ensuring that efforts are not just about driving traffic but about attracting the right audience that aligns with the business’s core objectives and capabilities.

By avoiding common pitfalls such as overlooking uncategorized search intents, ignoring content competitors, and underutilizing tools like Google Search Console, businesses can navigate the complexities of B2B SEO with precision. Success in this arena is iterative and adaptive, hinging on the ability to refine strategies based on evolving market dynamics and insights, positioning B2B marketers to capture the unique opportunities that lie within the intricate landscape of B2B online marketing.

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