Semrush B2B Content Marketing Strategy Briefing from Head of Growth Anna Lebedeva
The Semrush content marketing team has been using B2B content marketing as the lead generation channel for many years. And they do entirely with in-house resources.
The irony is that Semrush promotes it’s SaaS SEO toolkit platform to SEO consultants and content marketing agencies to guide their keyword research and competitive analysis.
I sat down with Anna Lebedeva, Head of Growth Marketing at Semrush and she opened the playbook into their B2B content marketing strategy.
Her goal is to position Semrush as the best way to automate the optimization-based part of content marketing. The value, she says, is offloading the the quant work to Semrush and focus on creative content marketing, collaborating with coworkers and developing new business.
Table of Contents
- Is Content Marketing Indispensable for Global B2B Marketing?
- What are the Best Ways to do B2B Content Marketing?
- How Do I Find Topics for B2B Content Marketing?
- How to Do Curated B2B Content Marketing
- Is Content Marketing Overtaking Digital Marketing?
- How To Generate B2B Leads with Content Marketing
- Sales Funnel Optimization for B2B Marketers
- What is B2B Content Marketing?
- B2B Customer Journey Mapping
- What B2Bs Blog About
- One-to-One vs One-to-Many Marketing
Global B2B Content Marketing Strategy
Anna is responsible for driving worldwide demand. B2B content marketing strategy is not one size fits all.
She localizes her approach to each market. And she starts by reviewing local blog posts and other types of B2B content marketing to see what resonate.
By starting with a media audit in the local language, she sees what topics are popular. She uses Google Translate to get the gist of what’s people are saying that market.
The SEMrush blog publishes posts in 7 languages.
She’s interested in seeing, at high level, what the topics are so she can tailor her content creation for each audience.
Then, she tries to get a sense of how knowledgeable the majority of B2B marketers are in that geographic area about search engine optimization. That way, she knows who to create relevant content for.
B2B Content Marketing in Brazil
In Brazil, digital marketers are great at the process of high quality content creation. They know how to develop rich buyer personas and generate engaging content for their ideal customer profile.
But when it comes to the more technical aspects of SEO, they’re a little less experienced. She entered the Brazial market with content marketing oriented material.
B2B Content Marketing in Northern Europe
In Northern Europe, like Scandinavian countries and Germany, digital marketers want technical information. And this makes repurposing B2B content developed for English speaking audiences, who are more interested in qualitative information, ineffective.
You can’t just translate content developed for the US and UK into Scandinavian languages or German because these audiences demand quantitative back up. She focuses on creating technical content for Northern Europe.
B2B Content Marketing in Australia
When SEMrush creates content that specifically addresses the Australian market, instead of just repurposing content for the US and UK markets, Aussies appreciate it. Most marketers just rehash their English language B2B content created for Australia and New Zealand.
Anna says Australia is the most appreciative market she’s developed, probably because they’re so far away geographically from everyone else. When content marketers develop material specifically addressing their needs, they absolutely gravitate to that provider.
In many niche B2B categories, Australia is an under served market. Whereas the US is developed and mature with respect to digital marketing and SEO, Australia is a bit more nascent.
That’s not say Australia doesn’t have its share of digital marketing thought leaders says Anna. There are a number of top SEOs in Australia.
But for most part, digital marketing is much less evolved in Australia than it is in the US.
B2B Content Marketing in the US
The US is the most advanced digital marketing market. She didn’t say this, but my guess is its more a result of the US leading the global IT industry. Although with China taking the lead in the artificial intelligence industry, we could see that lead dwindle.
Purchasing decisions happen faster and sales cycles are shorter in the US than anywhere else in the world. That’s why it’s the leading economy, Anna says.
In comparing the US to Australia, Anna says the US digital marketing industry is mature and very competitive. If you’re looking to start a digital marketing agency, she says Australia’s the market to go to because there’s much less competition.
From a global audience standpoint, Anna says basic introductory “101” and “How To” content performs best for SEMrush.
What are the Best Ways to do B2B Content Marketing?
Competition for traffic is fierce online.
So unless your content is the best content, it’s not going to rank on page one in search results.
And if doesn’t rank on page one, no one is going to see it.
Seventy-seven percent of purchasing decisions start on Google. If you don’t get found there, you can’t be considered. And you can’t make the short list.
I remember one time getting a call from a guy who said he’d pay me anything if I could get him to rank first for the phrase “language translation.”
I searched it and Google Translate come up first.
Then, I checked out his site. It was a chains of schools that taught people to speak English as a second language.
I told him if he wants to rank first for “language translation,” he needed to build a better site that Google Translate.
But that’s not why he called. He liked his website and didn’t want to change it. He just wanted to come up first for “language translation.”
Needless to say, as much as I’d like to be paid anything, I didn’t take the job. Becuase that’s not how search engine optimization works.
You can’t pour some special sauce on your existing website and make it come up first. You have to actually improve the quality of the content (text, images, video, layout) on your website.
It’s all about having the best content for that search query. Develop the best content for a search term and you’ll come up first.
It’s a lot work. But it’s worth it. Becuase organic traffic is more qualified and converts at a higher rate.
How Do I Find Topics for B2B Content Marketing?
Ann and the SEMrush B2B content marketing team use Quora extensively to see which problems are trending.
I like to use Reddit as well, myself.
She also likes following the Twitter accounts of SEO industry thought leaders. When it comes to questions around SEO, the SEMrush Twitter account maintains lists to see what experts are talking about.
If experts are talking about similar topics, that means those topics are popular.
And they also use their own tool, SEMrush to see what people search for. There’s a topic research section where you can actually see which questions people are asking Google.
They also invest a lot in talking to their customers. They go to industry events and schedule customers meetings. She calls customers on the phone. And Anna says this is one of the most important inspirations for their content marketing program.
But across the board, she says entry level SEO content always performs the best. They publish mostly 101 guides and how to tutorials to help new customers utilize and be successful with their products.
For SaaS companies, keeping clients is as important as getting them. To circumvent churn, she focuses on publishing a ton of content for new SEOs to drive product utilization.
These are articles about the basics of SEO and content marketing. And the basic of digital marketing in general.
How to Do Curated Content Marketing
Eighty percent of the posts that run on the SEMrush blog are written by outside experts, most of who are customers. They write expert opinion pieces that appeal to advanced SEOs. The other 20% are product oriented articles by their SEMrush content team.
So the SEMrush content team invites experts to write some of the posts. And SEOs seeking the implied endorsement of an article on the SEMrush blog submit posts on their own as well.
The experts and unsolicited authors don’t get paid to write for the SEMrush blog. But they get the visibility of an article they wrote on a high profile site. And they get a link from the SEMrush blog back to their website.
Links from one site to another are called “back links.”
All the back links from the SEMrush blog get tagged with a “nofollow” reference. That tells Google not to associate the linked to site with the SEMrush domain.
No follow links have less value from an SEO perspective, but they’re still valuable.
But even though guest contributors don’t get any link authority from SEMrush.com, they still get published on a prestigious blog, and that has value. Plus, these are valid links that drive qualified traffic.
From the guest contributor’s perspective, writing for the SEMrush blog is an earned media tactic. The more prestigious the site they publish on, the more credibility they earn.
The prospect of earning a post on the SEMrush blog is enticing enough that they enjoy a steady stream of submissions.
In the early days, SEMrush earned the attention and admiration of online influencers, almost by accident. Today, there are B2B influencer marketing agencies that identify and engage online influencers for their clients.
There’s even an influencer hierarchy framework which ranks influencers by reach.
The ranks go from null (less than 1k) to nano (1-10k) to micro (10-50k) to mid-tier (50-500k) to macro (500-1M) to mega (1M+).
Since B2B marketers cater to smaller audiences, they typically what to know how to find micro-influencers in their niche. There are even influencers discovery and monitoring SaaS platforms out there.
When it comes to influencer marketing, SEMrush got lucky. They had a tool online influencers liked and talked about. So they first gained traction through earned media.
Earned media is usually considered trade and mainstream media, but I put influencers in this category too. They have pretty much replaced them.
Trade media got hammered by the migration of ad dollars to PPC, and online influencers filled the void.
In many industries, online influencers are serving in the same capacity as trade media used to. Becoming an influencer is part of the B2B content marketing game.
The idea is to create content people like, and earn influencer in the process
Is Content Marketing Overtaking Digital Marketing?
SEO and B2B content marketing are definitely a mainstay component in digital marketing. But without shared, owned, earned and paid media strategies, content marketing is ineffective.
Armed with a product influencers liked, SEMrush focused next on PPC or paid media. They had cash from sales and paid media was predictable.
They knew that if they spent X amount of dollars they’d drive Y amount of sales. And they’d do it in the short term.
Third was their investment in owned media, in this case the SEMrush blog. Today, it’s among the most influential digital marketing sources in the world today.
Once they blog was established, shared media grew naturally from there. Digital marketers shared and discussed their content on social media.
So for SEMrush it was online influencers first, paid media second, owned media third and shared media fourth. And last but now least, they circled back to shared media and added a formal public relations component to get press.
Anna says that until you’ve got customers and traction, don’t expect to get press. Journalists need to be able to qualify you for coverage based on something over then yourself.
Reporters need other sources to make sure what you have to say is worth writing about. Unless you’ve established your reputation through owned and shared media, a press release but itself isn’t going to cut it.
So no, content marketing is not overtaking digital marketing. It needs a to woven into a sequence of digital media marketing programs which I outlined in details here.
How Do We Generate B2B Leads with Content Marketing?
You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make her drink.
By answering questions your buyers have and optimizing then for search, you lead the horse to water.
But unless you can solve there problem with a product or service you offer, your content marketing strategy in misguided.
You can blog about consumer oriented topics and lure a herd of horses. But if you don’t have anything to sell them, your efforts are not commercially smart.
I advise B2B marketers on content strategy, which is why I’m writing this blog post.
I have an innovative program where I provide clients with guidance, supervision and resources to execute owned, shared and earned media strategies.
If I didn’t, I’d be wasting my time writing this blog post. This is an example of B2B content marketing. And my owned media channel is this blog.
Plus, this post is written from an interview I recorded with Anna for the B2B Lead Gen Podcast.
So this article is actually derivative content from my B2B Content Marketing Strategy episode.
For those who would rather read than listen, I am repurposing the audio content as a blog post. And to serve you the reader, if you want to check out the podcast, and Google as well with the anchor text.
If you’re still reading this, you see I’m delivering value by telling you how SEMrush handles their B2B content marketing. I’m not telling you about me and what I do. I’m not selling. I’m educating.
Sales Funnel Optimization for B2B Marketers
SEMrush has more than 5M users, so they have cash and can afford paid media.
In terms of which paid media channels convert best, she says nothing beats Facebook re targeting. Facebook has nailed psychographic profiling, so it’s easy to re target Facebook users with the right profiles attributes.
Twitter doesn’t even come close. Their conversion rates pale by comparison.
Maybe Elliott Management hedge funder Jesse Cohn has a point when he says Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey should focus on just running one company or resign.
But when it comes to sales funnel optimization, SEMrush drives traffic with paid media.
Anna’s one-two punch starts with text ads on Google and moves to retargeted display ads on Facebook to seal the deal.
She likes text search ads. And display for retargeting. Together.
It works wonders, she says. SaaS is not an impulse buy. It takes them around 15 impressions to get a horse drink.
She uses owned, shared and earned at the top of the content marketing funnel, and paid at the bottom to drive revenue conversion.
What is B2B Content Marketing?
If you’re new to B2B content marketing, search engine optimization and B2B content marketing go hand in hand. It’s not enough to create engaging content. Your typical customer profile has to be able to find it easily through Google search.
When you’re thinking about what to create content about, the idea is to create information that answer questions people are searching for answers to.
You want to create content that will help answer their questions and solve their problems when they search online. If you think about it, that’s why we search. We’re looking for something we don’t know.
People are looking for answers to questions. They’re looking to solve their problems.
In the B2B world, those problems are also called pain points.
B2B content marketers don’t guess what those pain points are.
They use digital marketing tools like SEMrush to research the questions their potential customers are searching and create answers designed to get found.
In my book Social Marketing to the Business Customer with Paul Gillin — the very first book on the use of search and social for B2B marketing — we profiled a company killing it in the B2B content marketing space.
They are great B2B content marketing case study.
B2B Customer Journey Mapping
Indium sells solder paste. You know, the stuff they use to attach electrical components together on circuit boards.
SEO isn’t just the backbone of their B2B content marketing strategy. It’s the backbone of their entire marketing strategy.
They’ve been so successful with SEO, they stopped advertising and attending trade shows altogether. They blog in several languages including Chinese on their site now.
Indium leverages their knowledge of their unique corner of electronic components manufacturing industry to connect with customers when a purchasing need arises.
They’re not writing search optimized blog posts to rank against the name of their company. Google gives them that one for free.
They’re not writing to rank for simple keywords like solder where the probability of conversion is low.
They’re writing to rank against against low-volume search phrases indicative of an immediate purchasing need.
These are long tail keywords. The legend of the long tail was inspired by Robbie Vann Adibe. I set up a meeting for him with Wired Magazine editor Chris Anderson, who wrote the story.
The Internet removed the boundaries of time and space imposed by retail. So the bottom 90% of products became more lucrative than the top 10%. The concept of long tail essentially redefines the concept of what’s popular.
In the world of SEO, that means don’t worry about ranking for the board, high volume phrases. Focus on ranking for specific, low volume phrases that may not have much search volume, but are more likely to result in a conversion.
It’s great to rank first for shoes if sell every kind of show under the suns. But if your a company like Allbirds, and you only sell Merino wool shoes, it’s much better to rank for Merino running shoes. Even though the search volume for that term is lower.
Smart B2B content marketers focus on answering very specific questions. And their objective is to come up in top search results when people search those problems with a variety of different terms and phrases.
The objective is to help customers make smart purchasing decisions by anticipating their needs and making sure they find answers when they search. Not by shilling or marketing or publicizing.But by sharing genuinely valuable content.
What B2Bs Blog About
Here are some headlines from the Indium blog.
- Wave soldering flux deactivation temperatures explained.
- Will Multiple Reflows Damage My Solder Joint?
- Using Integrated Preforms For Solder Fortification
These headlines don’t interest most people. But those that it does usually purchase solder paste by the truck load.
It’s a small audience because it’s a market with a small customer base relative to customers for consumer products.
You can probably also start to see why B2B content marketing is actually easier that B2C, because it’s less competitive.
Not as many people are search for solder paste as Nike Air Max 1 or Florida Vacations. So it’s much easier to get found because there’s less competition.
Marketing One to One vs One to Many
If you have the resources, it’s more cost effective to answer questions on a blog than over the phone, since blogs are one to many.
A blog gets you in front of everyone who searches that question, whether it’s during business hours or not.
Offering business customers access to the information they need to qualify your products on a self service basis speeds up the customer journey.
It’s also a practical way to accelerate the sales cycles, since prospects don’t have to wait for an email or a returned call.
Now that we’ve got the B2B content marketing 101 primer out of the way, let’s get back to the conversation with Anna.
As I said, she’s been running growth marketing at SEMrush for the last 4 years. So she has a ton of real world B2B content marketing experience.
I Suck at Algebra
Algebra was a very traumatic experience for me.
I used to sit at my desk with tears in my eyes, trying to get ready for Algebra 2 tests in high school. I hated algebra because I struggled to understand it.
My brother Jamie used to tutor me. He’s the math guy. I’m the English guy.
On the other hand, I get geometry.
For some reason, geometry was easy for me, cause I understand spatial relationships. They make sense to me because they’re practical. Numercial equation are not.
I tell you this because even if you’re not a numbers person, you can learn the Basics of SEO. And it’s a huge part of content marketing.
Everyone does social because it’s fun but too many digital marketers overlook SEO and it’s where you’ll get your best traffic.
If you still haven’t learned the basics, my class is free (and fun I’m told) so you have no excuse.
If you want to learn the Basics of SEO, I have a free online course. It covers everything you need to know.
You’ll learn keyword discovery, citation indexing, mobile SEO and more. And remember, I suck at math. So if I can learn SEO, you can to.
If you want more on content marketing strategy, I also have an article on content marketing tips from Robert Rose.
And if you want to hear from Semrush, I interviewed their CMO Olga Andrienko on voice search optimization.