By Inka Wibowo.

Although it’s easy to understand the advantages of using Google AdWords in B2C marketing, the benefits for B2B marketing are less clear. While campaign success can be easily quantified in B2C, effectiveness is much harder to measure in B2B.

This is because the journey for consumer buyers is very different to that of business buyers. In B2C, a typical journey will see a B2C buyer recognise a need for a product (informed by their awareness of the solutions that are available), then go on Google to search for it. They see a compelling ad from a retailer which offers it for cheaper/faster than anyone else, click on the ad, and make a purchase – all within a matter of minutes.

Because of this relatively simple buying journey, B2C AdWords success is usually measured by purchase conversion. However, given the complexity of the business buying process, it would be unrealistic to expect this kind of success in B2B. B2B buying involves a greater investment, multiple decision makers, and a lot more time (sometimes months!). As a result, it simply wouldn’t make sense to measure effectiveness by purchase conversion – the majority of B2B AdWords campaigns would be deemed failures otherwise!

At the same time, measuring success on indicators like website traffic doesn’t make sense either. After all, you can attract as much traffic to your site as you like, but what are you paying for if your traffic isn’t ultimately earning you money?

So, what do B2B marketers measure success on? Often, lead submission is the main indicator of B2B AdWords success – so, for example, someone submitting their contact details as a result of clicking an ad. However, because leads often vary in quality, you can’t base success on this alone.

Another thing to note is that B2B lead generation from search engine marketing (SEM) actually decreased between 2011 and 2012 from 25% to 20%, while lead generation from SEO increased from 57% to 59% over the same period– despite ads usually appearing higher than organic listings in Google search results. With B2B buyers growing increasingly wary of the credibility of paid search engine results, it’s clear that achieving a high organic ranking is, more often than not, preferable to getting a higher ad placement.

Despite all this, we believe there is still a place for AdWords in B2B – provided you are clear on your objectives, and rigorous in measuring results against them. In particular, there’s value in using AdWords to:

  1. Complement SEO campaigns –Search engine optimisation can often take months to have an impact on organic rankings, so using Adwords to achieve first-page presence in the interim can be a good way of positioning yourself with the right audience quickly.
  2. To inform SEO campaigns –Because Adwords delivers almost-immediate results, you can use it to test out different keywords, ad copy and landing page variations, and quickly work out what combinations will work best for you in SEO.
  3. To promote assets like whitepapers and webinars – If you have content that would be valuable to your target audience and positions you in the right category, running AdWords campaigns on relevant keywords can help to deliver new leads. Direct the ad to a landing page asking people to register for the asset, and, to identify troubled/qualified leads, ask readers to complete a survey after they’ve consumed the asset.
  4. To promote mature, well-known products in a competitive market –In markets where buyers are already clear on their needs and the solutions available to them, AdWords campaigns can be run on keywords used by buyers searching for suppliers of these solutions. Such keywords are likely to be competitive and will carry higher costs-per-click, so marketers need to be diligent in monitoring the hard-dollar sales return of this investment.

Deciding if and how Google AdWords can be leveraged in your marketing mix will ultimately depend on your business’s unique situation, but be prepared to do plenty of testing and tweaking to identify what works best for you. Doing so will help to ensure that you strike the right balance between SEM and other tactics like SEO, and improve your overall marketing effectiveness.

With thanks to Olivia Bradley, Research Assistant.