From a search engine optimization perspective, one of the biggest differences between B2B and B2C is the purchase cycle. B2B customers move through the sales funnel far differently from a B2C audience. Knowledge of this is paramount if your SEO efforts are to succeed. Here’s why.

Perhaps the biggest way B2B marketing and SEO differs from its B2C counterpart is in the sales funnel. The core process by which B2B customers research, evaluate, and finalize their purchase decisions is fundamentally different. If you’re to have any success optimizing your B2B site for search, you need to understand this.

Only armed with this knowledge can you effectively carry out keyword research and on-page optimization.

Recognition of a Problem (Awareness)

The first step in a B2B customer’s journey is an awareness of a specific problem or need that your product portfolio can address. At this point, your customer isn’t usually searching for a specific product, service, or brand. They’re looking to better define and understand the challenge facing them, and their search terms will usually reflect that.

Content marketing is invaluable at this stage of the journey. The more pieces you can publish around specific issues, pain points, and trends relevant to your industry, the better. Provided your advice is sound and not one protracted sales pitch, you’ll likely find yourself on a sales lead’s radar based on thought leadership alone.

The Search for Information (Interest)

As a B2B customer moves further down the sales funnel, they begin researching specific products and vendors. They examine the feedback each prospective vendor has received online, review the specific features of each vendor’s offerings, and start making note of vendors that may suit their needs. Ensuring you provide comprehensive information about your portfolio on your website is imperative for this stage, as is addressing negative reviews.

Establishing a Vendor Shortlist (Consideration)

Their research complete, a B2B customer’s next step is to establish a shortlist of vendors that they might be willing to work with. At this point in the sales funnel, the importance of SEO starts to fade. A lead generally will not be searching for your brand on Google if it made the cut – they already know about you at this point.

As such, while there is some value in researching keywords for the consideration and intent stages of the B2B buyer’s journey, it pales in comparison to brand awareness.

The Evaluation Process (Intent)

We’re getting towards the end of the funnel now. At this point, stakeholders begin a process of elimination. They start reaching out to vendors for product demonstrations and contract proposals.

At this point, whether or not a lead proceeds to the end of the funnel is down to the quality of your sales team and the quality of your product.

Final Transaction (Purchase)

Finally, the customer begins deploying their solution of choice. At this stage, your business should aim to assist them with deployment as much as possible. If installation ends up being too much of a challenge or you don’t provide them with enough support as a vendor, they could still switch to one of your competitors – unlike with most B2C transactions, moving a B2B customer through the sales funnel does not guarantee a sale – not until implementation is finalized.

Closing Thoughts

The sales funnel for B2B purchases is a lot more top-heavy than that for B2C purchases. Much more of your traffic will stem from awareness and interest than from anything below – moreover, a B2B customer’s search terms will be far more logical and informational in nature. Brand reputation is still important, of course.

But what matters most is that you’re able to demonstrate not just what your products can do, but what you know about your customers and their needs.