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Is SEO Overrated in B2B Lead Generation?

By John McTigueJul 11, 2011

I'm posing a question here. You can examine your own data the same way I'm going to discuss here and draw your own conclusions. No one doubts that you must perform effective SEO practices to have a chance of being found in a search. The question is, does it really drive qualified sales leads to your B2B website? If so, how effective is SEO compared to other lead generation tactics?

analyzing seo results and their effect on lead generationI'm looking at data from  several of our B2B inbound marketing clients, who shall remain nameless of course. I'm analyzing website traffic and leads since they were first recorded for each site using the HubSpot inbound marketing platform. You could probably do this with any marketing automation software. My criteria is at least six months of operations and at least 15,000 visits over time.

Now, I'm breaking leads down into their sources, organic traffic (from search engines, not paid search) vs. other sources (direct traffic, social media, paid search, e-mail, etc.). I'm further analyzing the organic traffic. If a lead came from a brand keyword, such as the company name, website, product or employee, I'm not counting it as an SEO-based lead. We can debate about whether or not that's a fair criterion, but my view is that brand name searches are the equivalent of direct traffic. If you're typing in a company's name in a search, you might as well be typing it in the address bar of your browser. Few companies need to work much at all to rank #1 for their own name as a keyword, so it's hardly an exercise in SEO expertise.

Now for a few results:

Company Traffic Leads Tot. Organic Brand Non-Brand % Non-Brand Conv. Rate
 A  102857  2034  338  166  172  8.46  0.17
 B  54946  1013  208  65  143  14.12  0.26
 C  16627  313  113  61  52  16.61  0.31
 D  32241  315  116  12  104 33.02  0.32
 E  73882  303  113  95  18  5.94  0.02
 F  59869  376  100  92  8  2.13  0.01
 G  18755  315  86  17  69  21.90  0.37

Lead analysis for seven B2B companies based on total historical results since the beginning of lead analytics using the HubSpot platform. Brand leads are from brand keywords, such as company name. Non-brand leads are all other organic leads. Non-brand % is the proportion of total lead sources from non-brand (SEO-related) keywords. Conversion rate is the conversation rate from visits to leads for non-brand organic sources.

Some observations:

  1. First, this is by no means a representative sample of anything, it's just an exploration of data that raises some questions.
  2. The proportion of leads attributable to SEO (the non-brand leads), is all over the map, but the average is about 15%.
  3. Overall visit-to-lead conversion rates for SEO keywords are quite low, well below 1% across the board.

Discussion

One might well conclude from these preliminary (and statistically insignificant) data that SEO doesn't do a very good job of generating leads. That conclusion, of course, flies in the face of convention. The working assumption by online marketers has always been that successful SEO strategies almost always increase both traffic and sales leads. What is usually hidden or ignored in SEO analysis is that a large proportion of results often comes from branded searches, not strategic keywords that are the target of on-page optimization and link building efforts. I hope that we can start a conversation here and that you will share some of your own analysis. I would raise the following questions:

  • Is SEO less effective for B2B marketing than it is for B2C?
  • Is branded search the dominant player in B2B SEO?
  • Should we focus most of our efforts on other things, such as content marketing and social media, and let SEO take care of itself?

Final thoughts:

Don't get me wrong. I'm not advocating abandoning SEO in any way. That would be foolish. In marketing you need to cover all of the bases, because you never know which aspects of your marketing strategy will take off and which ones will stagnate. The question is about resources. How much of each tactic should you employ to get the best results? I'm only raising the possibility that SEO might be less effective than we usually think, and it might not deserve as much attention in B2B marketing as we often assume.


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The Author

John McTigue

With over 30 years of business and marketing experience, John loves to blog about ideas and trends that challenge inbound marketers and sales and marketing executives. John has a unique way of blending truth with sarcasm and passion with wit. You can connect with John via LinkedIn, Twitter and Google Plus.
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