Reaching a B2B audience from paid search ads can be tricky. B2B campaigns often suffer from a variety of common challenges including highly competitive and expensive keywords in industries like finance and marketing, a smaller keyword universe with lower search volumes (thus driving up prices even more) and B2B vs. B2C keyword “crossover” which results in attracting unqualified clicks.

B2B conversions can also be hard to quantify compared to B2C conversions because it can difficult to tie leads to revenue.

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In this post we’re going to review some of the key challenges of B2B SEM campaigns and discuss how B2B marketers can navigate around the most common obstacles and get the most from their paid search ads.

Key challenges with B2B audiences

Search plays an integral role in reaching B2B buyers, with 62% of B2B buyers saying that a web search was one of the first resources they used when starting their buying journey.

Even though B2B buyers are clearly using search engines to research products and services, paid search in the B2B space suffers from many challenges, as noted above. Here’s a summary of what you’re up against:

  • Long sales cycle – The average sales cycle for B2B varies, but can be as long as 12 months for some companies. This makes it difficult to properly attribute a sale to the appropriate source even when tracking is in place.
  • Highly competitive keywords – Depending on the industry, B2B keyword inventory can be incredibly expensive. Wordstream reports that the average cost per click (CPC) for B2B terms is over $3, while most B2C terms range from between $1.50 and $3.00 (the exception to this is “Consumer Services” Finance and Legal – though legal also includes B2B terms. It’s not unusual for some finance and legal terms to exceed $10 per click or more!)
  • Lower inventory than B2C terms – B2B terms generally get less searches than B2C terms. There just aren’t as many people searching for “database hosting provider” as there are searching for “waterproof boots” (for example).
  • Complexity –The complex nature of B2B products and services in certain industries such as technology, health care, and telecommunications can make keyword targeting and ad copywriting particularly challenging.
  • B2B vs. B2C keyword crossover –A common issue with B2B search campaigns is a phenomenon known as “keyword crossover.” This happens when the keyword you’re targeting is used by both B2C and B2B searchers. An example of this is the term “cleaning service.” A company that provides industrial cleaning services to businesses might bid on this term and end up attracting consumers who want someone to clean their residence.

The benefits of using SEM for B2B lead generation

Although the challenges can seem daunting, paid search has huge potential for B2B companies. The high value per sale of many B2B products and services can net an impressive ROI from search even when CPCs are high.

Additionally, since many B2B campaigns focus on lead generation rather than direct sales, paid search is a great way to get new prospects into the sales pipeline quickly.

Even if people don’t convert on your landing page, they may end up exploring your website and signing up for an email newsletter or reaching out via your contact form. Once they’re in your sales database, you can start to build a relationship with that prospect.

A word about keyword selection

One of the most important steps in creating a successful paid search campaign for a B2B audience is keyword selection.

Even if you have a live campaign or a set of keywords ready to go, it’s helpful to do some research to determine exactly what your audience is searching for.

Google’s Keyword Planner is free and available within the Google Ads interface. This tool helps advertisers discover new keywords and get search volume and keyword forecasts. To access the tool, do the following.

  1. Log into your Google Ads account
  2. Click on the “wrench” icon at the top right of the screen
  3. Select “Keyword Planner” from the drop down menu

A guide to using Google Ads

There are also some (paid) SEM tools that can be helpful for advertisers who want to dig more deeply. Most of these tools provide some level of competitive information which can be very helpful when researching new keywords.

SEMrush and Spyfu are two examples of keyword intelligence tools. You can test them out to see what kind of information they provide, though the results are limited unless you subscribe.

A guide to using Google Ads

Tips to minimize unqualified clicks

Since one of the biggest challenges with B2B paid search campaigns is competition (leading to high CPCs), followed by unqualified clicks, we’re going to review some ways you can reduce clicks from unqualified searchers.

  • Be as specific as possible

Keywords - It’s important for B2B marketers to be extremely specific with keyword selection, ad messaging, and landing page creation.

Ads - Ideally, you’re only going to bid on keywords that are relevant to your business or product, but this isn’t always straightforward (see “cleaning service” example, above). That’s where your ad copy comes in. You can weed out (some) unqualified clicks by directing your messaging to businesses rather than consumers.

Landing pages - Your landing page is your last line of defense in weeding out unqualified visitors, though we realize that by the time someone reaches your page, you’ve already paid for the click. Even so, you can minimize the drain on your sales team from unqualified leads by having your landing page do some of the work for them. A good landing page should reference the keywords you’re bidding on, but also clearly speak to your ideal customer and make it obvious that what you’re selling is aimed at businesses, not consumers.

  • Use advanced settings to avoid wasted clicks

Geogargeting - Even if you’re targeting a global audience, you will likely want to set up geotargeting to ensure your ads only appear where you’re sure to get viable leads. This is particularly helpful for advertisers with limited budgets (which is most of us). You can also exclude locations that don’t have a good return. This is a very flexible feature since advertisers can exclude locations in a variety of ways including country, zip code, city and more.

Ad scheduling – e.g., restricting your ads from appearing during certain times of the day or days of the week (or both), is another way to reduce waste in your account. While not relevant for all advertisers, it can be very beneficial for certain companies.

Negative keywords – adding negative keywords to your account is another way to minimize wasted clicks. There are some common keywords that you can add right off the bat (e.g., “free”) and others you may discover as performance data accrues within your campaign. Google’s search term report is a great resource for discovering words to add as negatives as well as long-tail terms you may want to add into your keyword portfolio.

Optimization - The final word

We’ve only scratched the surface of what can be done to help minimize waste from B2B paid search campaigns. The bottom line is that when it comes to search, nothing is written in stone.

Whether you’re about to launch a campaign for the first time or you’ve been running Google Ads for years, there’s always room to optimize and improve the quality of your paid search leads.

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Ryan Gould

Ryan Gould

Vice President of Strategy and Marketing Services

An expert search, social and content marketer, Ryan leads Elevation Marketing’s digital strategy department, helping brands achieve their business goals, such as improving sales and market share, by developing integrated marketing strategies distinguished by research, storytelling, engagement and conversion. With proven track record of energizing brands, engaging audiences and managing multidiscipline marketing teams, Ryan is a respected expert in achieving consistent results through creative design, thought-provoking narratives and innovative problem solving.