2021 Guide to B2B Content Marketing

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With trade shows and conferences canceled due to the COVID-19 global pandemic, we see crystal clear why B2B content marketing is important.

If you relied on pressing the flesh, it’s time to reassess.

Use this 9-Point Guide to B2B Content Marketing to build a strategy and get started.

B2B Content Marketing tops the spending lists at most companies.

B2Bs that managed to sit the content marketing revolution out by overcompensating with aggressive direct sales tactics have found themselves between a rock and a hard place.

With almost all business being transacted virtually these days, digital marketing is now the only viable way of finding and pitching qualified leads.

According to the research, if your goal is to make the shortlist, B2B content marketing is the most popular approach.

What is B2B Content Marketing?

The definition of B2B content marketing is the use of digital content in a variety of formats, to engage, educate, inform, nurture and convert prospective business buyers into qualified leads.

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As buyers, we use caller ID and spam detectors to filter out unsolicited sales pitches.

We filter out cold pitches from brands we don’t want to hear from.

Since buyers use organic search to filter the web, search optimized content is a great way to get pulled through the filter.

But you need text to optimize. And that’s what online content is. It’s a way to get discovered and considered.

Getting found when buyers search has become the single most important B2B marketing channel.

For most B2B companies, unless you have good content for buyers to find, you won’t even get considered by potential buyers.

In this article (inspired by Gaetano DiNardi), I explain why B2B content marketing is important, how to build a B2B content marketing strategy, how much time it takes to do it well and how to rank for competitive keywords.

I included plenty of B2B content marketing examples, got into the nuts and bolts of content marketing and included popular B2B content marketing formulas to help you improve your efforts in 2020.

Table of Contents

  1. Why B2B Content Marketing is Important
  2. How Long Effective B2B Content Marketing Takes
  3. How to Rank for High Traffic Keywords
  4. Nuts and Bolts of B2B Content Marketing
  5. How Content Marketing Helps Buyers
  6. 11 Critical Digital Marketing Skills/Specialities
  7. 5 Common “How To” Content Marketing Formulas
  8. 4 Ways to Check Keyword Competition
  9. Finding and Filling B2B Content Holes
  10. Conclusion

1. Why B2B Content Marketing is Important

The great thing about researching B2B purchasing decisions online is not having to deal with pushy sales people.

We tend to think that when we shop online, we’re not being sold.

We think we’re searching and sifting through information and getting educated on our own.

But the truth is, we’re still being sold. But we’re being sold through online information, aka content, deliberately produced to engage us at different stages of the buyer journey

It could a white paper, webinar, blog post or service page. But on a more generic level, it’s all online content of some sort.

It’s noaccident the content we’re finding, downloading and consuming, content to make purchasing decisions. Marketers created that content.

Google calls the online research we do to get educated the Zero Moment of Truth.

It’s the first phase of the customer journey.

You research products before you buy “…whether you’re buying a big jet engine or a refrigerator,” says Beth Comstock, former GMO of GE.

In fact, 71% of buyers use the internet on a daily to make business purchase decisions.

For business-to-business marketers, this means treating the web like a giant call center, says Jim Lecinski, managing director US Sales at Google.

In the video, Lecinski and Comstock talk to FedEx and WW Grainger marketing execs about why B2B content marketing is important.

Today, B2B marketers create content to find, nurture and qualify us for a discussion with a sales person. So content marketing is essentially presales.

We’re still being sold. But we’re being sold to more passively through content.

Once you realize content marketing is important, there’s lots of great content online about best practices.

On the other hand, figuring out how much time and energy to invest in your content marketing efforts is a much more difficult question.

For content marketing tips, check out my interview with Robert Rose of the Content Marketing Institute.

2. How Much Time Should I Invest in Content Marketing?

Decide how much time to invest in content marketing by reading web pages that are ranking for the keywords you’re targeting.

The amount of time it takes to create better content is how much time you need to invest.

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Search the phrase you want to rank for. How fresh are the top ranking web pages?

Are you seeing outdated content ranking on page one of the search results?

Evaluate the author. Have you ever heard of them? Are they well-known or unknown?

Content written by a non-native English speaker could have been outsourced to an offshore firm.

Maybe the writer knows more about SEO than the topic covered of the post. If so, that’s a signal that you may be able to rank fairly quickly.

If the author lacks authority or expertise in the subject, that’s another opportunity signal.

If you are bona fide subject matter expert, and you create useful content that’s also search optimized, you’ve got a good chance of ranking.

Whenever you see a lot of weak content that’s ranking high, that’s a definite opportunity.

3. How to Rank for High Traffic Keywords

If you compare B2B vs B2B SEO, your first thought is probably that B2B keywords are much less competitive than B2C keywords.

They’re tougher to find, but B2B has its share of competitive keywords too.

Competing against credit cards, loans, debt consolidation or other competitive sectors is as tough as high-traffic B2C keywords.

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The overall authority of the brand has a lot to do with it as well. If it’s a known brand, it’s going to much easier, than if it’s a brand that isn’t particularly established online.

And this is why it’s a challenge for a CRM provider like Pipedrive to rank for terms that aren’t semantically related.

Google associates a SaaS company like Pipedrive with CRM. And they’re still relatively unknown outside their specialty.

So if they acquire a company with an email marketing tool, that’s a different topic than CRM.

If they want to start ranking for email marketing terms, it’s going to be very tough.

That’s why companies that get acquired often maintain their original website. They don’t want to surrender their rankings.

Google likes topical, authoritative websites. They don’t like websites that try to rank too broadly.

As any good SEO consultant will tell you, how brand authority aligns to that topical relevance is crucial.

4. How Content Marketing Helps Buyers

To understand how topic focus applies to B2B content marketing, consider this example.

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I specialize in organic B2B growth marketing.

It’s easy to see how B2B growth marketing relates to B2B marketing and B2B lead generation.

But in fact, organic B2B growth marketing is actually a very broad discipline related to a very broad set of topics.

5. Eleven Critical Digital Marketing Skills/Specialities:

  1. Off-page SEO (Technical SEO)
  2. Freelance copywriter
  3. Content marketing
  4. Podcasting
  5. Digital marketing analytics
  6. Mobile marketing
  7. Public relations
  8. Video content syndication
  9. Marketing automation
  10. Email marketing
  11. Social media marketing

In the eyes of a search engine, that’s almost too broad a list to try to rank for. Established, content rich sites may be able to pull it off.

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But it’s going to be far too broad for someone just starting out to try to rank for.

So it’s faster and easier to pick one or two things to rank for and just focus on that.

To decide which ones to go for, consult that data. Use Google Search Console to see which terms you’re ranking that are relevant, but maybe outside the top 10 results. You can also use a content marketing optimization platform to improve your writing.

Cover those bases first. Then go look at new topics you’re not ranking for. That will accelerate your ascent.

6. Nuts and Bolts of Content Marketing

Let’s say you search “best sales tools” and the top result is a post on the HubSpot blog.

And let’s say the page that’s ranking is a round-up post about the 15 best sales tools

Just publish a guest post on a site like SalesHacker with a list of the 150 best sales tools. You’ll crush it.

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Clobber the competition by giving people more options.

You’re more comprehensive.

If you see a search result that has a numbered list, your job is to write up a longer, better list.

If it’s really better, you’ve got a shot at outranking them.

7. Five Common “How To” Content Marketing Formulas

If you’re trying to rank for a “how-to” query like “how to do something,” examine the top results for format.

  1. Step-by-step – Often written to help someone complete a specific process. These posts are very focused and include visual charts or video tutorials. An example might be how to check your meta descriptions with Screaming Frog.
  2. Instructional – Written to help someone make sense of a topic or category they’re new to. This formula can be beginning, intermediate or advanced. Unlike the step-by-step formula, instructional posts are broader. An example is how to run through a list of off-page SEO activities.
  3. Applied – These types of posts focus on how to make use of processes and/or topical knowledge to complete a goal that may be unrelated. An example might be a broad article, podcast, video, webinar or white paper about how to convert web traffic into qualified leads.
  4. Strategic – These types of posts focus more on building the business case for why you should implement a system or technology. Strategic content targets senior business decision-makers, and are popular in B2B content marketing. The goal for this formula establishing the author as a thought leader.
  5. Opinion or commentary – The easiest way to get noticed here is by arguing a controversial position or opinion. But be careful not to fake it. Don’t put a controversial headline in front of a middle-of-the-road post. It will wind up hurting more than helping. Because the content doesn’t deliver on the click-through, and visitor bounces.

8. Four Ways to Check Keyword Competition

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Other things to look for when checking out the competition for a keyword are:

  1. Is the post linear and easy to follow?
  2. Does it have diagrams?
  3. Are there videos?
  4. Is it as easy to follow as Google thinks it is?

Google may be ranking the site because they have good domain authority or keyword density.

But it may not be the best content.

Go to the domain and genuinely ask yourself, can you make better content than this?

If it’s not as easy to digest as it is in the search results, that means you’ve stumbled onto an opportunity.

If you search a term like “sales operations,” you would expect to find information about semantically relevant topics.

Analyze the top results for “sales operations” and look for what’s missing.

If the post doesn’t talk about strategy, that’s another opportunity signal.

9. Finding and Filling B2B Content Holes

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Let’s say you’re evaluating the top-ranking pages on Google for a term like “sales operations.”

You want to figure out how to win a position on page one of search results.

Here’s what to look for:

  • Do they talk about the tools?
  • Do they talk about how to structure a team?
  • Do they talk about the difference between ops and enablement?
  • Do they have video?
  • Is there an infographic?
  • Do they have good data visualization?

These are all potential gaps you can use to outrank them.

Once you find those gaps, your job is to go build something that beats the top results by filling those holes.

By identifying and filling the content holes, you win your position on page one.

Conclusion

How much time you invest in your B2B content marketing depends on what’s already ranking.

How much time it will take you to create better content?

Use the process and formulas in this post to evaluate top-ranking content and to determine which keywords to target.

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