Too often, B2B technology companies fall into the trap of using search advertising (SEM) primarily as a means of capturing prospects in the latter stages of the sales cycle, i.e. those potential buyers actively shopping for a solution.
However, search advertising needn’t just be about finding people ready to buy your product. In fact, using search in this way not only limits the much larger potential of search as an effective lead generation vehicle, but can also result in extremely high Costs Per Click (CPCs) and Costs Per Lead (CPLs) because, as keywords, solution types (e.g. CRM, Change Management, ERP, Security Appliance) are the terms most competed for, and thus command the highest bids.
That’s why I was intrigued to receive a copy of a report recently published by Google and TechTarget, the result of a joint study examining the search habits and online media consumption of more than 2,200 IT decision-makers worldwide, and how that activity compared to the actual purchase process within their respective companies.
You’ll find a link from which to download a copy of the report on the TechTarget blog here. What was particularly eye-opening for me was the insight into the types of search queries IT professionals use as they go through the different stages of the purchase process. Not only does this provide some potentially invaluable guidelines for how to structure keyword lists, ad copy, offer strategy, and landing pages, but it also validates that search can be just as valuable as a means to engage with prospects early in the decision process as it can be a means of capturing their attention when they’re ready to buy. (One could also argue that engaging with prospects earlier in the sales cycle enables a marketer to influence purchase criteria in a way that isn’t possible when you enter the process as part of a short list or “bake-off.”)
One of the complaints many of our tech clients make is that “no-one searches for what we do.” Typically, these are companies that are forging new ground in very nascent product categories, so there is no equivalent term of, say “CRM Software,” for them to rely upon. Instead, these companies must be more creative in their use of search as a means to identify prospects facing the problems and challenges that their technology solves. This report shows how such an approach is not only possible, but should be a key part of any technology company’s search strategy, regardless of their category.
Key takeaways for me included:
* 97% of those surveyed use the Web to research business tech purchases, with search engines (65%) by far the most popular source of information. Most surprisingly, 72% reported using online video (YouTube, vendor sites, content sites) for the same research.
* Logically, search terms related to issues and opportunities feature heavily in the awareness phase of research, however in the decision phase, terms related to “solutions” are used much less frequently than those relating to product comparisons or reviews, and even brand phrases (the complete report includes examples of all these.)
* 53% use search to discover vendor solutions they were not previously aware of, and 67% are willing to click on the link of an unfamiliar brand (confirming that search, for a lot of smaller companies, is the great leveler – i.e. brand equity, or lack thereof, isn’t the advantage or hurdle that many companies think it is.)
For more information on this topic, see our free white paper: “Top 10 B2B Paid Search Mistakes: Why Your Google Campaign Isn’t Working And What To Do About It.”
You wrote “One of the complaints many of our tech clients make is that “no-one searches for what we do.” Typically, these are companies that are forging new ground in very nascent product categories, so there is no equivalent term of, say “CRM Software,” for them to rely upon.’
I hear this complaint a lot as well, but in almost every case I find that the vendor with this complaint has taken an existing concept (on purpose, or by accident) and is calling it something else to avoid either stiff competition or because the mainstream term includes features that their product doesn’t have. One example that comes to mind is the former client that insisted that what they did was “Software Asset Management”. Well, in the IT space, the mainstream terms are “IT inventory” or “IT Asset Management” and there are a slew of good products that do this – it’s an established category that has been around for decades. They were adamant about referring to what they do as “Software Asset Management” even though we presented them with loads of data that suggested the other terms would work better for their campaign. Not surprisingly, the results of the campaign were dismal.
That was a painful experience. Nowadays I always ask clients “If someone were a good fit for your product or service and chose not to buy your product or service – other than doing nothing – what would they buy?” This usually helps me identify which is the real marketspace and competitive landscape we are cometing in. Then we can get down to the business of generating leads and inquiries.
Jonathan, you make some great points. In the context of a search campaign, I would hope that the company in your example would at least be open to registering “IT Inventory” and “IT Asset Management” as keywords, even if those terms aren’t the precise way they choose to describe the product. However, as you and I know from experience, categories can be a VERY sensitive topic in high tech …