What is the role of buyer personas in B2B SEO?

In this Digitally article, we look at how and why your understanding of buyer personas is the starting point for successfully growing your B2B business using search engine optimization (SEO).

Key takeaways: What is the role of buyer personas in B2B SEO?

  1. B2B SEO is about helping your business to be found by prospective customers when they have a clear need and are expressing this need through the terms they use in a search.
  2. To be able to accurately target these search terms businesses need to have a clear understanding of who the buyer is, what the buyer needs, and how they are like to express this need in a search.
  3. The B2B buying cycle is complex and involves multiple stakeholders each with their own characteristics.
  4. Developing buyer personas helps understand how the stakeholders in the decision-making process can be targeted.
  5. One of the simplest ways to differentiate between stakeholders is by the level of expertise they have in the subject matter.
  6. The differing levels of expertise between stakeholders provide B2B vendors with an early opportunity to segment their audience using the search terms they use.
  7. Experts will use specific and technical terminology, looking for specific capabilities.
  8. Novices will use broad and generic terms, aiming to develop their understanding.
  9. The level of expertise will also signal how far along the buying cycle a prospect is. B2B buyers develop their understanding as they refine the vendor shortlist.
  10. The types of terms targeted by a page will tell you what kind of content is most likely to appeal to the visitors of that page.

What is the role of buyer personas in B2B SEO?

Before you begin search engine optimization, you need to understand your market and your buyer personas. In B2B successful SEO isn’t about rankings. It’s about attracting the right audience, at the right time so you influence their buying decision in your favor. SEO is most effective at delivering business growth when someone with a clear need finds your content and that content answers their question well enough that they come back to you with future questions.

The complex B2B decision-making process

If you work in B2B you will probably agree that it’s a very different animal to B2C. B2B is typically about selling high-value products and services, to small, often niche markets. The buyer will often be spending large sums and they need to ensure that the solution will meet their business goals. Unlike consumer purchases, the B2B purchasing decision will be made by a team. The larger the purchase the bigger the decision-making team. Even where the purchasing team has made a decision there will often be a final stage of approval and sign off. That approval will likely come from someone who will never use the product you are selling, they will instead have a keen interest in costs and return on investment.

Thinking about your buyer personas before starting B2B SEO

When thinking about search engine optimization it’s critical you think about the behaviors of your B2B audience. The decision is being made by a team and there will be multiple personas you will need to consider.

  • Who is involved in the purchasing/procurement process?
  • How influential are the people involved in the purchasing process?
  • What expertise do they have in the problem you are solving?
  • Will the same people be involved throughout the decision-making process?
  • What kind of information are they likely to need?
  • What format are they likely to want information in?
  • How detailed does information need to be?
  • How many stages will there be in the procurement process?
  • At what point are they likely to contact vendors directly?
  • Who makes the final buying decision?
  • How much does the purchasing team influence the decision maker?

The list of things you need to think about will be extensive but these are just a few. We’ll explore some of these questions to help you understand the role personas play in the B2B search engine optimization process.

  • Who is involved in the purchasing/procurement process? – Procurement team will comprise multiple people from across an organization. Knowing what their roles are will help you think about what kind of content they will search for.
  • The more influential someone is in the decision-making process, the more you need to ensure that they find you in search, and when they do, that you are meeting their information needs.
  • What expertise do they have in the problem you are solving? – Buyers often fall into one of two categories those who are already experts in a particular product or solution, even before they start a buying journey, and those that are relative novices who will become experts by the time the decision is made. If your target audience are already experts, you can focus on very specific keywords. If your audience needs to build their understanding, then you need to start with broader keywords around the challenges the business is trying to solve. However, make no mistake that even the novices will become experts. They are deciding on behalf of the organization and their job is at risk if they make the wrong choice.
  • Will the same people be involved throughout the decision-making process? – Different people join and drop out of the decision-making process. After all, a B2B decision-making process can take many months. The end users and their immediate managers may start the buying journey, but by the end of it, multiple other teams could be involved.
  • What kind of information are they likely to need? – Different teams involved in the decision-making process will need different information. The end user will look for features and benefits, the IT department will look for compatibility with their network, finance will look at costs and the ultimate decision-maker may look for the business benefits. Each of these types of informational needs will cause very different search queries and as a result different content requirements.
  • What format are they likely to want information in? – Content can come in very different formats. Short articles, long white papers, technical data sheets and case studies. Some of your buyers may be more influenced by videos others may want PDFs. When thinking about search engine optimization you also need to understand what type of content your audience will be searching for and whether they will find it on your website.
  • At what point are they likely to contact vendors directly? – Vendors are contacted increasingly later in the decision-making process. You need to identify at what point you are likely to be contacted and ensure you are meeting the information needs of your audience when they are doing their own research. If your buyer is searching for specific information prior to contacting you and your competitors are providing that information and appearing in the search results, you will likely fall out of the short list if your content can’t be found.
  • How much does the purchasing team influence the decision maker? – Although many B2B buying decisions involve multiple people, it often comes down to a single decision-maker who will sign off. It’s important you understand how much influence the wider team has on the decision. If your decision-maker is likely to do their own research, then you need to deliver the answers they are searching for. If the wider team has little influence on the final outcome, then it may be more efficient for you to target decision-makers in your B2B search engine optimization. I’ve worked in organizations where the procurement team and the decision-maker have had opposing views on what the ideal solution would be, and the decision is made regardless of what the wider team recommends.

Understanding buyer personas in B2B SEO is your starting point for success

SEO is no different to any other strategic activity, you need to know your audience and cater to their needs to influence their behavior. This separates businesses that are investing in search engine optimization and seeing great results from those who are seeing little impact. Understanding your audience and developing their personas,  is the starting point for SEO that delivers B2B business growth.