B2B lead generation: How we used SEO to rank on Google and generate organic leads
When you’re selling to businesses, there’s one thing you always know: they don’t make whimsical purchase decisions. Credibility and value matter more to them than flashy marketing and fantastic taglines. This makes B2B lead generation one of the hardest challenges you’ll ever tackle.
This also makes SEO a great channel for tackling this challenge.
SEO, short for Search Engine Optimization, is a set of tactics you can use to optimize your content and convince Google to rank your webpages above everyone else’s. The rationale is pretty linear: you rank higher, more people find you, and you do more business. Ranking on Google’s page one is a seal of authority from the world’s no. 1 search engine—it tells people that your voice matters, your business is credible. Now how you rank higher is a mystical balance between content creation and distribution. “Mystical” because there’s no blanket rule to rank on page one, only hacks that have worked for other businesses.
This blog is about what’s worked for us.
If you haven’t heard about us, Freshsales is a cloud-based sales CRM. We didn’t enjoy juggling multiple sales tools to manage our business, and we realized many businesses were stuck with the same problem. So we built a CRM that brings together phone, email, reports, lead profiles, deal pipelines, automations and integrations in one out-of-the-box package.
When we launched in June 2016, we knew we were joining more than 300 players fighting for market share in the CRM software business. Plus we’re a SaaS CRM, which means we had to make peace with high churn rates. We had to quickly find a reliable lead generation channel without breaking the bank, and we turned to SEO.
I’ll start with what everyone talks about first when they talk about SEO: keyword research.
Keyword research and density
Keyword research is to B2B lead generation what market research is to business in general. You cannot win leads if you don’t know the language they use and the needs they have.
Both tools let you check search volumes of keywords. It’s not about only targeting keywords with high search volumes. It’s about picking the right keywords for your business. A keyword like “CRM software” has a search volume of 121K, which means competition is looking at it as well. On the other hand, a keyword like “crm for startups” has a search volume of 320. Both keywords can be targeted, depending on what the goal is.
For our website, we used Ahrefs to choose the keyword “sales CRM.” Why did we pick this? A combination of several factors:
- We wanted one term to identify us across the 100+ pages on our website. Freshsales is a sales CRM at the end of the day. Nothing defines us better.
- It’s also an important keyword in the CRM space, and our competition ranks for this keyword.
- It has a relatively lower search volume, giving us a better chance of breaking into page one on Google.
We revisited our content across the website—every time we used “CRM” in the copy, we reminded ourselves to use “sales CRM” instead.
Keyword stuffing wasn’t our goal, though.
We followed a simple benchmark to monitor ourselves: the 0.5–1% rule.
If a page had 500 words, “sales CRM” would be mentioned 5 times, give or take a couple of instances depending on the narrative. The keyword had to be an organic part of the narrative, and if it didn’t fit into a particular context, we didn’t think twice about leaving it out.Maintaining keyword density is NOT keyword spamming. It’s about letting Google know that your page is about a certain topic. Keyword density makes it easier for Google to understand the content—and the context—of your page. #Keywords #SEO #LeadGen Click To Tweet
The image below is a grab from Freshsales’s exhaustive all-features page, which quickly lists all the features in Freshsales. The page stands at 2,000+ words. “Sales CRM” is featured 20 times here, excluding a mention in the footer.
By optimizing our website around one keyword, we’ve achieved goal one of SEO: stay at the top of Google’s SERP (search engine results pages). Over the last 9 months, Freshsales has stayed in Google’s top 5 search results for “sales CRM.”
This exercise reminded us about something. We could do extensive keyword research and maintain density in each page, but if we weren’t putting out useful content, Google wouldn’t care. And that would make our B2B lead generation efforts null and void.
Which brings me to the next focal part of this blog.
Creating useful content
You can create useful content online if you successfully answer one question: what are people searching for?
The answer to this question revolves around four touchpoints:
- Think from the searcher’s point of view.
- For the search term you’re targeting, look at page one on Google and find out what those ten search results are talking about.
- Use a tool like Ahrefs to give you a network of related search terms around your target keyword.
- Use these insights to create an exhaustive, long piece of content.
We realized why these four points are crucial when we put out a webpage in February this year.
“What is CRM?” has a search volume of 56K per month. More than 150 million search results show up for this term. Prime property, tough to break into, high on returns.
We spent time imagining what people would expect from a page that answered this question. In fact, what kind of people would visit this page? It wouldn’t always be businesses figuring out what a CRM means; it could also include entrepreneurs who have no idea about any kind of sales tool. So our content had to appeal to the most elementary demographic in that mix.
We then took the help of Ahrefs for keywords around this term, started writing the page, and kept iterating based on inputs from our designer and web developer.
We published the “What is CRM?” SEO page on February 6th, 2018. As of May 31st (excluding June because we’re still in the month), this page has grown at an average of 413% in terms of product signups. I can’t reveal exact numbers, but we’ve hit three figures in product signups—from this page alone, in just about 4 months.
And the reason why this page is helping us in the B2B lead generation game is its position on Google. I’m typing “what is CRM” on Google as I publish this blog, and the webpage ranks at number 4 in the United States and India, and at number 5 in the United Kingdom. And unexpectedly, this webpage also ranks at no. 4 for the highly generic “CRM” keyword, which has a search volume of 1 million.
Optimizing for mobile and desktop
For B2B lead generation, creating useful content is only one half of the journey. Because Google isn’t only reading what your website says.
It’s also analysing how it looks.
Your webpages may look amazing on desktop, but if they’re not optimized for mobile, Google believes your page is not the best option out there.
“Not optimized for mobile” includes a number of things: page load speed, alignment of text, resolution of images, and how animation looks on the smartphone’s screen.
That basically means for every webpage you create, your designers and developers need to create two versions: one for desktop and one for mobile.
That’s what we did.
On our CRM software webpage, we have an important table comparing CRM with spreadsheets and email. The table fits pretty well into a desktop screen, but you had to scroll horizontally to read it on mobile.
Now this isn’t great user experience, especially when you’re swiping every time to read row after row of content.
This is how the page looked on desktop.
For mobile, we didn’t want to shorten the sales needs; they had to remain descriptive. What we could look at was the other three columns—more particularly, their headings. Could we reduce the length of the headings?
Better still, we replaced the headings with icons, like this:
Reading all this, you’re likely wondering if SEO is a highly complex strategy.
SEO is rooted in Google’s algorithms and little details that aren’t always apparent (or appreciated). For instance, it’s hard to imagine how something as simple as a URL can impact SEO in particular (and your B2B lead generation strategy in general). That’s what we’ll talk about next.
The finer details
When you publish a webpage, Google crawls through every part of that page.
Crawling involves looking at on-page and behind-the-page aspects: the URL, page title (for display on search engines), in-page title (called H1 in web parlance), and meta description.
And then Google goes back to the target keyword you’ve used on that page, and sees how all these finer details tie back (or not) to the target keyword.
For instance, if it’s a page on lead scoring, Google first looks at whether the “lead scoring” keyword is present in three key places:
- the page title on Google
- the URL
- the H1 tag
Collectively, these three elements are the first impression you give Google about your page. They’re like your page’s ID card, in a sense. Sure, keyword rules restrain you in terms of language usage, but that’s a small price to pay for a page-one ranking on Google.
But we’re not done with a page’s finer details yet. There’s another important element which is sometimes single-handedly responsible for persuading people to click on your page. And that’s your meta description—those 2–3 lines of text you see below every search result on Google.
A meta description offers readers a brief summary of what they can expect from your page. It’s crisp and descriptive at the same time. The reason why it’s a crucial part of SEO—and by extension, B2B lead generation—is simple: it’s the synopsis your readers need before deciding if they should visit your page.
There are many ways to write the meta description:
- You can pick a collection of keywords to describe what your page is about.
- You can write a conversational snippet to make it read more natural. The snippet doesn’t omit the focus keyword though.
- You can take the main points from your page and put together a summary.
Some businesses don’t write a meta description, in which case Google automatically displays the opening lines from your page. This is not recommended, simply because you’re letting go of rich real estate where you can write fresh, descriptive content. And that’s wasting an opportunity for B2B lead generation.
Remember: Google does not appreciate content duplication, and it does not fail to recognize fresh, optimized content.
I bet you’ve heard of interlinking—the practice of linking pages on your website to one another.
Links are like keywords. They’ve got to be there, but not too much.
Add in more links than necessary, and you’re just spamming your own page (and Google). Miss out on linking to a relevant page in a particular context, and you run the risk of a website visitor dropping off.
Interlinking serves two purposes:
- It improves the user’s experience on your website and increases stickiness.
- It tells Google that a set of pages belong to the same business, upping your website’s recognizability.
This image is an excerpt from our all-features page. Here, we’re looking at how the CRM can help businesses manage deals. We used this space to
(i) link to an elaborate page on the CRM-deal management topic,
(ii) draw attention to the CRM’s Android and iOS apps, and
(iii) keep the conversation going around a different but related topic (reports).
Businesses like to explore related content on a subject before they make a decision. By interlinking your webpages, you hold your website visitor’s interest, supplement their knowledge and take a step closer towards making them your lead. Which is why interlinking was one of the first things we did as part of our B2B lead generation efforts.
Interlinking on its own may not help the respective page to rank higher. But it’s a collective signal to Google about your website, and your domain authority is all the better for it.
Backlinks (or inbound links)
This is perhaps the second most important part of SEO, after content creation.Putting out content is not enough, because everyone is doing it. For Google to place your content higher, your content needs to be acknowledged by other websites—and this happens through backlinks. #B2B #LeadGen #SEO Click To Tweet
What’s a backlink?
When somebody’s website links back to yours, a backlink is generated. These links are earned through commercial agreements between websites, or through an organic process where your page is discovered and linked back to because it is relevant to someone.
Think of it this way: someone is citing you in their work, and you earn credibility in the process.
Earning backlinks directly correlates to the kind of relationships you’ve been able to build with people online. Sometimes it’s about writing an article for someone and including a link back to your website in the article. Sometimes it’s an article they’ve written, and there’s a link to your website. Sometimes, it’s a request from a website to feature your article, without you approaching them. Whatever the scenario, when someone chooses to land on your website from a third-party’s webpage, it’s a clear sign that your B2B lead generation efforts are being recognized beyond your website.
Time to get to the bottom line.
You’re probably wondering, “All this is a whole lot of theory. But what did they get out of it?”
- At the time of publishing this blog, Freshsales ranks on page one for 388 keywords in the United States, 65 keywords in the United Kingdom, and 151 keywords in India.
- Between July 2017 and May 2018 (ten months), our organic leads—and by leads we mean product signups—grew at an average of 9.7% month-over-month.
- On average, organic contributed 61% of total leads to Freshsales in these 10 months.
These numbers aren’t as glamorous as a 25x-growth-in-2-months kind of stat. But this is consistent growth with enough indications of being sustainable. Plus we’re only scratching the surface with these results—honestly, there’s a lot more to be won.
We’re certainly going to tweak our SEO strategy as we keep evolving, but we’ve found our basics. And we intend to build around these principles for the road ahead.
How do you go about your SEO? What are some of the things you do for B2B lead generation? We’d love to know! Tell us in the comments.
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