B2B Keyword Research: A Step-by-Step Guide [2024]

B2B Marketing
Last Updated: November 15, 2023 12 min
Justin Berg
Justin Berg

Founder of Rock The Rankings

The success of B2B businesses depends on attracting the right audience, and keywords play a crucial role in driving targeted traffic to your website.

With an overwhelming majority of online experiences beginning with a search engine and over half of website traffic coming from organic search, it’s essential to have an effective keyword strategy in place.

However, navigating the complex world of keyword research can be challenging, leaving businesses struggling to find the right balance of relevance and competitiveness.

In this article, we will explore the importance of keyword research in the realm of B2B SEO and provide a comprehensive guide on how to build an effective keyword strategy for B2B marketing success.

What is B2B Keyword Research?

B2B keyword research refers to the process of identifying specific words and phrases utilized by business-to-business (B2B) buyers during their search for products or solutions that address challenges within their organization.

The Purpose of B2B Keyword Research

1. Recognizing the Audience’s Needs

B2B keyword research is essential in understanding the requirements and desires of the target audience.

Aligning your brand, product, and messaging with the audience’s preferences is crucial.

B2B keyword research also helps identify the stages of the buyer’s journey, enabling better understanding and catering to their needs.

2. Better Understanding the Competitive Landscape

Keyword research offers insights into the competitive landscape of your brand.

Comparing keyword rankings between you and your competitors allows you to understand your position in the market.

3. Guiding Your Content Marketing Approach

Content marketing is an effective way to build trust, educate, drive traffic, and generate inbound leads.

Focusing on the appropriate keywords, as per B2B keyword research, enables the creation of relevant content that addresses the audience’s questions and assists them in achieving their objectives – while positioning your business as an industry thought leader.

4. Steering Your SEO Endeavors

Last but not least, an efficient B2B SEO strategy helps generate high-quality leads with better conversion potential.

Proper keyword research is essential for running a successful SEO campaign that appeals to both search engines and B2B buyers.

How to Plan Your B2B SaaS Keyword Strategy

1. Focus on The Customer

The vast majority of your keyword research should be customer-driven.

Knowing your customers inside out will allow you to pinpoint exactly what they are searching for, and to build content that serves them at every step of their journey.

Understanding your customers comes from proper customer analysis, and includes:

  • Conducting customer interviews: What’s an easier way to know your customers and what they’re thinking, than to simply ask?
  • Record sales interactions: By recording sales interactions, you’re building a goldmine of marketing research where you can then analyze for common pains and problems to actually go and build your keyword research and content around.
  • Analyzing social platform data: Figure out where your customers spend their time online – and spend time there as well. Communities and groups on platforms like Reddit can be another goldmine for proper keyword research, and understanding exactly what your customers are looking for.
  • Reviewing product review platforms like G2 or Capterra: Leveraging online review platforms for insights can be very telling. Analyze your competitor’s reviews, as well as your own, to better understand your customers

2. Analyze Competitors

If your competitors are spending marketing dollars, they probably just saved you some time and money.

Which of your competitors has a strong online presence when it comes to search rankings and content?

A good starting point is to examine your competitor’s website to discover their successful high-traffic keywords and how they position content.

Tools such as Ahrefs will allow you to analyze all of the search rankings for a given domain, and pull back which pages and keywords they’re ranking for:

  1. Analyze Competitor Keywords:
    • Use Ahrefs’ Site Explorer to input a competitor’s domain.
    • Navigate to the “Organic Search” section and then click on “Organic Keywords” to see a list of all the keywords that the site is ranking for.
  2. Filter and Sort Keywords:
    • Apply filters to narrow down the keyword list to what’s most relevant for your strategy (e.g., volume, keyword difficulty, position, etc.).
    • Sort by search volume, position, or by the keyword difficulty score depending on what’s most important for your strategy.

3. Focus on Search Intent

The vast majority of businesses miss this seemingly one little thing, but when missed, it will ruin your complete keyword strategy.

When conducting keyword research, you must ensure that your content aligns with users’ expectations.

Additionally, you should be aiming to answer the query with content that matches the SERP intent.

For example – if you’re building an article to try and target the keyword “project tracking app” you’re going to need to build a listicle-style piece of content that showcases multiple solutions, as well as their best features, pros and cons, pricing, and so forth.

If you attempt to build another page type to rank for this keyword, you’ll likely fail – simply because you’re not meeting the SERP intent.

Understanding The Top, Middle, and Bottom Funnels

What is Top-of-the-Funnel Content?

Top-of-the-funnel (ToFu) content aims to attract a wide audience by raising awareness about their pain points and introducing potential solutions.

Readers often use long-tail keyword search queries to explore symptoms, identify root causes, and discover possible solutions.

Examples of ToFu content include:

  • Podcasts that educate audiences on niche-specific topics
  • Blog posts addressing trending issues or pain points
  • Forum and message board discussions related to industry trends

Such content should be trustworthy, educational, and shareable, allowing the reader to learn about their problems and available solutions.

What is Middle-of-the-Funnel Content?

Middle-of-the-funnel (MoFu) content focuses on encouraging visitor engagement and promoting them towards becoming leads.

By establishing expertise and providing in-depth, informative content, MoFu content helps the buyer explore suitable solutions to their specific needs.

Examples of MoFu content include:

  • Webinars that discuss industry-specific challenges and their solutions
  • Comparison articles highlighting the advantages and benefits of various options
  • Comprehensive guides that help users analyze different alternatives

To appeal to the right audience, MoFu content should address precise problems and provide relevant information.

What is Bottom-of-the-Funnel Content?

Bottom-of-the-funnel (BoFu) content works to convert a user’s interest into action, nurturing their curiosity into paying customers.

Examples of BoFu content include:

  • Case studies showcasing customer success stories
  • Product demonstrations and tutorials
  • Testimonials from satisfied clients

BoFu content often targets short-tail keywords (two or three words) directly related to your product or brand, requiring high-quality content to compete in search results.

The B2B Keyword Research Process in 7 Steps

Step 1: Understanding Your Market

To begin your keyword research, delve into your business niche and examine how your target audience perceives your products, services, and brand.

Identify topics that can serve as the foundation for your overall SEO strategy.

The best way to gain proper insights into your industry and niche:

  • Interviewing current customers: Collect customer perspectives and opinions, asking them how they perceive your brand, services, and products.
  • Seeking feedback from potential or lost customers: Gather impressions about what they like or dislike about your products or services to understand and enhance their experience with your business.
  • Exploring online forums: Utilize platforms like LinkedIn, Quora, and Reddit to find questions people ask about your industry, which can help generate keyword ideas.
  • Using reviews for the Voice of the Customer (VoC): Examine SaaS review platforms like G2, Capterra, SoftwareAdvice, GetApp, and other sources where customers write about your products to understand their sentiments.

Step 2: Generate a Seed Keywords List

The second step involves creating a list of seed keywords, which are basic terms that connect to various topics your target audience searches online.

This list forms the foundation for your entire keyword research process.

Think like your target audience and select the most commonly used keywords to build your list.

Start by building this out based on your initial research in Step #1.

Step 3: Analyze Competitors’ Keywords

Examine the keywords your competitors use and rank for to save time and effort.

Identify your top competitors via Google search, utilizing your seed words.

Also, analyze competitor PPC campaigns to understand their high-converting keywords, giving you a broader perspective on how they attract potential buyers.

Step 4: Select the Most Relevant Keywords for Your Objectives

Filter your potential keywords list to find the most relevant and useful terms.

To identify keywords well-suited for your ICP, compare them based on search volume, trends, cost-per-click, and keyword difficulty.

Adjust your list accordingly.

Step 5: Categorize Keywords by Search Intent

Being aware of search intent is crucial in keyword research. To optimize the influence of search intent, categorize keywords into groups based on similar intents. There are five primary keyword intent groups:

  • Informational: These searches focus on obtaining general information about a product or issue, often containing words like “how,” “where,” or “when.”
  • Commercial: Users are prepared to purchase, but are still comparing options. Keywords usually include words like “best,” “compare,” “reviews,” and others.
  • Navigational: The searcher is attempting to locate a specific web page and may use a brand name, web page name, or URL.
  • Transactional: Users ready to make a purchase and typically include words like “price,” “cheap,” or “buy.”
  • Local: Searches aimed at finding the best local service provider, typically followed by “near me” or a location.

As part of your B2B keyword research, organize your keywords in these groups, which will help develop content that addresses questions at various stages of the buyer’s journey.

Step 6: Compile a List of Pertinent Topics & Priortize

After grouping your chosen keywords by search intent, create a list of related topics for each search intent category.

  • Is your company relevant to this keyword/topic?
  • Does the keyword accurately represent your business or solution?
  • Do the top-ranking sites for the keyword resemble your website?
  • Do you have the necessary domain rating or backlinks to compete for the keyword?

Step 7: Link Topics to the B2B Buyer’s Journey

The B2B buyer’s journey maps out how a user discovers a new brand and ultimately makes a purchase.

Establish where your keywords and relevant topics fit in this journey to determine which KPIs and CTAs to use for your content at each stage.

The CTAs will vary, focusing on informing the audience in the early stages and guiding them through the buying process later on.

The Challenges of B2B Keyword Research

Challenge 1: Identifying the Appropriate Audience

Different audiences exhibit diverse search behaviors, making it crucial to adopt the right keyword strategy for the target audience.

Ensuring that you provide solutions to issues your audience is searching for is essential in attracting right-fit traffic. It is common for the end-users of your product or service to not be the same individuals holding decision-making power.

Understanding and catering to the interests of both stakeholders can lead to success in acquiring new business clients.

Challenge 2: Limited Search Volume

Focusing on specific keywords that generate high-quality leads and increase revenue is essential, even if they appear unimpressive when it comes to search volume.

Take monthly search volume metrics with a grain of salt.

Attracting high-intent traffic to your site is significantly more valuable than luring large volumes of unrelated traffic.

The Best Tools for B2B Keyword Research

1. Google Search Console (GSC)

Google Search Console is a free suite of tools provided by Google for website owners to monitor and optimize their site’s online presence.

One of its essential features is the keyword research capability for existing pages and content on your website.

Google Search Console should be an integral part of your keyword research strategy, as it provides data insights based on users who have already visited your website via Google.

2. The SERPs

Analyzing search engine results pages (SERPs) can provide valuable information for keyword research, often going overlooked.

By examining SERPs, you can identify the following:

  • Common questions related to specific keywords
  • Top-performing content
  • Search intent

The SERPs should be another integral part of your research strategy, and driving the angle that your content takes, as well as ensuring that you’re meeting the SERP intent of a given keyword.

3. Ahrefs

Ahrefs offers a comprehensive SEO platform with tools for keyword research, rank tracking, and much more.

As a B2B marketer, Ahrefs can be an invaluable tool for conducting keyword research:

1. Keyword Discovery

Utilize Ahrefs’ Keyword Explorer to uncover a vast array of relevant keyword ideas based on seed keywords, which are crucial for B2B markets to target industry-specific terms.

The tool provides valuable data on keyword difficulty, search volume, and clicks data, which can help prioritize the keywords most likely to drive targeted traffic.

2. Competitor Keyword Gap Analysis

Analyze the Search Engine Results Pages (SERP) to identify which keywords your competitors are ranking for that you are not.

This feature gives insights into the strategies of competitors, allowing you to find gaps in your own strategy and opportunities for improvement.

3. Find The Most Popular Content in Your Niche

Ahrefs’ Content Explorer can be used to search for popular articles on specific topics, giving insights into what content is performing well in your industry.

It’s especially useful for identifying high-performing content in terms of social shares and organic search traffic, which can inspire your content strategy.

For building out competitor analysis, and reviewing keyword opportunities in your space, Ahrefs should be the final core piece of your toolset for conducting proper keyword research.

Final Thoughts on B2B Keyword Research

Effective B2B keyword research is crucial for planning and implementing successful SEO campaigns.

Without targeted keyword research, content creation may lead to lower-quality traffic, less relevant leads, and higher bounce rates.

Properly investing your time and efforts into keyword research when developing your digital marketing strategy will yield results.

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