September 2016 Feature

Three Ways to Elevate Partner Search Page Ranking

Help partners make it onto those all-important customer short lists!

by Hobart Swan

Brad PetersenAs vendors take steps to improve their partners’ online presence, one important step they can take is to help partners improve their search engine ranking. But the approach many vendors take to accomplish this complicated and rapidly evolving task may, in fact, ensure that their partners don’t rank at all. In this article, we address three common mistakes that can affect partners’ search engine ranking:

  1. Vendors locking partners out of search marketing campaigns
  2. Vendors thinking only in terms of “last click”
  3. Vendors not providing the right content to drive search traffic

To help us explain the intricacies of search engine marketing (SEM), we talked with Brad Petersen, Senior VP of Global Business Development at MatchCraft. An eight-year MatchCraft veteran, Brad currently focused on expanding the company’s presence in the technology partner-marketing channel. Before we discuss common search marketing mistakes and how to correct them, we’d like to offer a short history of MatchCraft. Its corporate background gives an indication of how fast search engine marketing is evolving.
History of MatchCraft

MatchCraft was initially was founded more than 15 years ago to create an on-line exchange for display ads such as buttons and banners. The idea was to create a place where publishers and agencies could post their display ad inventories, and where media buyers could then bid on and buy these ad units.

Following Google’s transformation of the online revenue model, MatchCraft dropped its media-exchange platform and focused singularly on search. It soon discovered that search engines, including Google, had a problem: they couldn’t always deliver all the local traffic its small-to-medium business (SMB) customers had purchased. To help meet this demand, Matchcraft further sharpened its focus to local search. Today, MatchCraft provides local search, display and social technology to help SMBs in more than 30 countries increase their online traffic.

Now, back to those three mistakes.

1. Vendors Locking Partners Out of Search Engine Marketing Campaigns

As we have said many times in this newsletter, the B2B buyer’s journey has changed. In the past, buyers used to reach out to companies for product or service information. Today they do most of their information gathering online, with the vast majority of them relying on search engine results. The importance of ranking high in search results led the major search engines to enable companies to purchase the most promising keywords. For example, the company that purchases the search term “firewall” (and that has optimized its content strategy to meet all of the other criteria search engines consider) will appear as the top website link on the results page for buyers who have searched for “firewall.” And that is all well and good for the company, but it can have unintended consequences.

“A lot of vendors,” Brad says, “have this view that if they let their channel partners use the same search strategy, the partners will end up competing with the vendors themselves.” If, for instance, the vendor prevents its channel partners from bidding on the keyword “firewall,” the vendor will top the list—but every other search result on the page will belong to its competitors. In an even worse-case scenario, if competitors are allowing their partners to do this kind of search marketing, then the competitor’s partners’ websites will appear high up on the list as well. This will push the vendor’s partners so far down the results page that buyers will never see them.

“Wouldn’t it be better,” Brad says, “if your direct marketing efforts put your site at the top position, and then the remainder of the page was filled with your partners’ sites? One way or another, whether buyers come to your site or your partners,’ they will end up looking at the solutions you offer.”

2. Vendors Thinking Only in Terms of “Last Click”

Vendors that grasp the importance of search engine marketing for themselves and their partners often make the mistake of bidding on only those keyword strings B2B buyers are likely to use at the very end of their online research. Instead, Brad says, they should think about the entire buyer’s journey through the steps in the sales funnel—through all the searches they will use to get to the solutions they seek.

“The idea is that buyers will typically start their searches with something generic like ‘firewall,’ ‘firewall solutions,’ or ‘what to know about firewalls.’ At some point, they might run across an article that influences them to say, ‘OK, now I’m going to do a search for Brand X’s firewalls.’”

At this point, they have identified the specific firewall vendor and specific firewall solution that best suits their needs, and type in a very specific search term such as “Brand X Firewall Model 123.”

“This is what is referred to as the ‘last click.’ The buyer has done all of his or her online research, and this is the last click they will make before calling the Brand X tech to conduct the purchase.”

To maximize the chances that they or their partners will get that call, Brad says vendors need to bid on keyword strings that reflect questions that go through B2B buyers’ minds at each stage of the journey from awareness to consideration to decision.

3. Vendors Not Providing the Right Content to Drive Search Traffic

When vendors decide to add search marketing to their MDF program, Brad says, there’s more to it than just uploading content that’s in their inventory. Take, for example, a company that runs an email campaign to pull people to a landing page for a specific product or solution.

“The prospect gets an e-mail that talks about all the reasons why the vendor’s latest innovation is important. The email might provide a short user’s story, or an explanation of why this solution is so much better than the competition. The prospect reads the email then clicks through to a landing page that has a brief summary of the solution. But the landing page is really all about getting the prospect’s name and email in exchange for access to a piece of related content.”

The mistake some companies make is to run a search campaign that links buyers to the same landing page it uses for email campaigns or other marketing programs.

“How people get to a landing page from search is very different from how they get there from email. In search, you don’t get that paragraph of information. There is no customer story or value proposition. What you usually get is an ad with just a sentence or two like, ‘Looking for a viable firewall solution? Click here.’ ”

To create successful search campaigns vendors need to create different landing pages that contain content the prospect would have received in the email. Vendors need to think about how content used in one type of marketing scenario will need to be adjusted for search engine-marketing: what new content will need to be created; what form should it take; how the keyword string will be integrated into the URL, the title, the body copy.

“It’s not as easy as just saying, ‘Hey, let’s just add search,’ and then automatically linking the search result to existing content. It’s about rethinking the whole strategy of how pieces of content can be put together to fit the specific search context.”
Teamwork and Third-Party Services

With online search becoming B2B buyers’ preferred research method, vendors must move quickly to improve both their and their partners’ search techniques and strategies. This would be a challenge even in an unchanging world. It is made harder still with the major search engine companies routinely changing their search algorithms to thwart attempts to cheat the system.

Vendors with budgets in the hundreds of thousands and millions can work with digital marketing agencies to build successful keyword/paid search strategies with their partners. Vendors with budgets in the hundreds to thousands of dollars range can look to companies like MatchCraft for help navigating this complex terrain and building campaigns that are right-scaled for their partner ecosystem.

By inviting their partners to participate in their search marketing programs, choosing keyword strings that anticipate prospects’ questions across the buyer’s journey, and creating content designed for specific search environments, vendors of all sizes can help their partners get the high ranking they need.