Updated: November 7, 2022
Introduction – Targeting customers when your customers are other businesses
Like most of us, B2B customers prefer researching products and services online. A business to business audience survey by Clutch reported that the overwhelming majority of respondents (nearly 90%) discovered new content from search engines. The majority of those searches occur on Google.
If you’re targeting businesses who provide products and services to other businesses, then your online content – website, landing pages, blog posts, etc. – needs to show up in search results. Yes, SEO is an important part of that picture. Yet, for many companies, this means advertising with B2B Google Ads (formerly Google AdWords). That’s because search engine marketing (SEM) and SEO work together to get your business in front of key people and businesses where they look for relevant content.
But advertising on Google in the B2B space is challenging. The high level of competition for a limited portfolio of keywords drives up cost per clicks (CPCs). It can also be difficult to attribute the true impact of paid search to your bottom line because business to business products and services tend to have a long sales cycle that includes multiple touch points along the way.
This combination of challenges when using Google ads for B2B lead generation can spell lots of trouble for marketers in the form of high CPCs and poor ROI. The good news is that there are some very effective strategies you can implement to avoid waste and generate high-quality leads from paid search.
In this guide
- What is B2B lead generation?
- What are B2B Google Ads?
- The difference between B2B lead gen and B2C lead gen
- How to craft an effective SEM strategy
- How to create ad copy and landing pages for lead generation for B2B
- Establishing goals and setting up tracking
- Some final thoughts on Google Ads management
What is B2B lead generation?
Before we explore how your business can use Google Ads to generate B2B leads, let’s dive deeper into what we mean when we use those terms.
What is a B2B lead?
B2B leads are any company or person on behalf of a company that contacts you with potential interest in doing business with your company. In other words, it is a potential purchaser.
What is lead generation?
In business-to-business marketing, lead generation refers to the effort of attracting the interest of other businesses or individuals at other businesses with the goal of turning them into clients. In other words, lead generation involves gaining other business customers and increasing sales.
It differs from targeting other audiences because for business customers, the buying cycle is much longer and involves a purchasing committee of up to 10 people. Consumers purchasing cycle is much shorter (typically seconds) and usually involves just one or two people.
How to generate leads for B2B
Generating, nurturing and capturing B2B marketing leads takes strategy, planning and effort. Furthermore, there are many marketing tactics you can use for capturing the attention of prospects. The most common lead generation methods to attract businesses are:
- Event marketing
- Email marketing
- Content marketing
- Search engine optimization (SEO)
- Search engine marketing (SEM) with B2B ads
- A combination of two or more of the above methods
The last item on the list is important. Effective lead generation and integrated marketing strategies work best when you unite your efforts across multiple marketing channels. It’s particularly effective to combine SEO, SEM and content marketing, e.g., your company product and service website landing pages and your blog. Google Ads can help boost your SEO and generate leads from your blog posts, webpages and other online content.
What are B2B Google ads?
Now that we’ve discussed lead generation, let’s examine the most effective way to reach business buyers where they look for solutions – online. Google Ads is a digital advertising solution that allows your business to advertise its products and services on Google Search (GSE), YouTube and other websites. Until several years ago, the single online solution was split into two services called Google AdWords and AdWords Express. There isn’t a separate solution that’s specifically for business customers. However, you can use Google Ads to target B2B audiences.
Paid search or SEM and online targeting involve setting specific advertising goals, including increasing the number of business leads your organization earns. SEM ads, provide you with the flexibility to target specific business to business audiences with relevant keywords.
Advertising on SERPs and display networks is also referred to as PPC which stands for Pay Per Click. PPC advertising involves creating digital ads where you pay for just the clicks it receives. Other common marketing goals might include increasing website visits or persuading prospects to call a member of your sales team. With PPC you can set budgets and start, stop or pause campaigns anytime.
There are many options for targeting buyers online. Some Google Ads examples include:
- Search ads
- Display ads
- Video ads
- Retargeting ads
Your company can use any type of campaign to attract other businesses as prospects as part of its Google Ads strategy. For the best results, your efforts should focus first on search ads. These advertisements appear on search results pages (SERPS). Remember, most B2B buyers use GSE to find business products, services and solutions.
You can also use retargeting ads on the platform’s display network to generate B2B leads. Your prospects will see your ads as they visit other sites across the internet. Retargeting ads are good for remarketing to audiences who have already visited your website or a landing page, or who have already downloaded an eBook or white paper from one of your content marketing campaigns.
The difference between B2B lead gen and lead generation for other audiences
In a recent blog post, we illustrated a typical B2B buyer’s journey as a funnel that contained multiple stops along each stage of the journey from awareness through purchase. The typical consumer buyer or customer journey is more linear for most types of products and can happen in minutes, even seconds.
We’re bringing the buyers’ journey up again because it plays a crucial role in B2B lead gen and your Google Ads strategies. Moreover, understanding it improves your targeting and lead prospecting by helping you identify the right keywords to bid on in your SEM campaigns.
In the same article on the buyer’s journey, we referenced a Forrester study that “unfunnelized” the business to business buying journey, making it look more like a pretzel than anything linear. That’s because the length of time a business sales prospect spends from awareness to decision is much longer. It takes approximately six to twelve months, sometimes up to 19 months for a lead to go from the top of the funnel to a sale at the bottom of the funnel. Moreover, unlike other types of purchasing, B2B buying decisions are made by a decision committee that consists of gatekeepers, influencers and key decision makers. The typical buying group in any target organization is made up of six to 10 people and each person has considered four to five pieces of content as part of the decision-making process.
As you can see from the Forrester image, the buyer’s’ journey starts out with search and discovery. The web – as a touchpoint – appears throughout the funnel, culminating with your company website at the beginning and again at the very end of the buying cycle.
When targeting keywords in your paid ads, you’ll want to reach your buyers at the start and at the end of the funnel. Choosing the right keywords (and filtering out the wrong ones) will be key in achieving this. But keywords aren’t enough. You’ll need to create high quality content in the form of landing pages, blog posts, eBooks, whitepapers, case studies, etc.
How to craft an effective SEM strategy
So, what is the secret to using b2b targeting with Google Ads? Besides publishing useful information for your target audience, you need to start with the foundation behind most digital marketing campaigns, keywords and building a keywords list. If you already have a keyword list, it’s a good idea to analyze it, add new keywords and remove those that don’t perform.
Building a B2B keyword list from scratch.
If you’re building a keyword list from scratch, start by creating a customer persona that identifies who your buyer is and what problem they’re trying to solve. You may even have some of this information on hand already. Your sales force can be a great resource for informing this part of the discovery process. Alternatively, your content strategy team may have already created detailed, fact-based personas and messaging you can use.
Once you have everything you need to think like your target customer, create your preliminary list of keywords. Be careful not to guess on what an actual customer search query would be. For Google Ads, employing keywords that are very specific isn’t a good idea. Getting too granular reduces the chances your ads will appear in the SERPS. For example, don’t use a keyword phrase that reads:
Where can I find technology to manage my business contracts?
Try keywords such as:
Once you have your preliminary list, there are wealth of online tools that can help you research keywords and expand the list. Here are a few we love:
Google Keyword Planner
The keyword planner provides keyword search volume, competitive information and suggestions to advertisers. You can gain access to the tool by first creating an account (even if you don’t launch any ads). Next, when performing your company’s Google Ads setup, make sure to use Expert Mode. If you keep it in the default, Smart Mode, you won’t be able to access the keyword planner tool. Some of the data is quite granular and includes estimated CPCs and level of competition for each keyword.
Sample of results from Google’s keyword planner for the term “industrial cleaning services”
Third party tools
A few of our favorites include Semrush, WordStream, and this keyword tool that provides some limited free data for multiple websites and platforms including GSE, YouTube, Amazon, and Instagram (among others). Although designed for SEO, you can find keywords other tools miss by using Keyword Studio. Most of these tools get their keyword estimates from Google, but some have aggregated their own internal data to help inform the results.
Sample of Google results from Keyword Tool – a third-party keyword tool
Refining your existing B2B keyword list
Once you’ve created your keyword list and have been running your ads for a while, or if you’re one of the thousands of marketers that are already running a paid search campaign, there are a few things you can do to refine your list and stop the flow of money going to unqualified clicks.
Use negative keywords
You can add negative keywords to your Google account to prevent your ads from showing for specific keywords or phrases. Negative keywords vary widely by industry and product. For example, if you sell business insurance, you may add some other insurance products as negatives (e.g., life, health, car, boat, etc.)
There are some common negative terms that can help B2B marketers weed out unqualified clicks right from the moment of launch. These includes terms that job seekers, investors, and information seekers (as opposed to buyers) may look for. Examples are:
- And many, many more
You may also want to add your competitors to your negative keyword list, though some companies prefer to bid on competitor brands to try and capture a similar audience (caution: bidding on competitors’ brand terms can be expensive. If you decide to bid on negative keywords as part of your digital strategy, track the performance of those terms closely).
Google provides a report called the Search Term Report, which can help you further weed out unqualified keywords. To access this report, do the following:
- Log in to your account.
- From the “Overview” page click on “Keywords” in the left navigation.
- Click on “Search Terms” at the top of the screen.
Image Source: Google Ads
The search term report displays a list of the keywords that triggered your ads even if you’re not directly bidding on them. In this report, keywords you’re bidding on are flagged with a green check mark and the term “added.”
It is a best practice to go through your report once a week, limiting the data to the previous week’s date range.
In the above report, the advertiser may want to add the term “coach” as a negative. Alternatively, they may want to actively bid on this term if they have a program aimed at training financial coaches.
If you spend one to two hours per week reviewing your search term report, adding negative terms and adding new long-tail positive terms, you’ll definitely reduce wasted ad spend and get more qualified clicks.
How to create ad copy and landing pages for lead generation for B2B
We spent so much time on keyword selection and refinement because it’s the best way to get qualified traffic to your website product and service pages – your money pages – and qualified traffic = qualified leads.
It’s all about the leads!
Ad copy for Google Ads
While keywords and building your lists of keywords is critical, it’s no good without the right ad copy. It’s a good idea to hire a copywriter or PPC specialist who knows how to craft content that generates clicks and gets people to click through to your website or a landing page. There are specific guidelines for each type of ad, including character counts and image sizes. You also want your copywriter to understand the difference between writing ad copy for text ads vs retargeting campaigns as part of your remarketing strategies. Creating copy for paid media on search engines involves becoming Google Ads certified and is a different skill from writing longer types of content.
How to convert clicks to leads using landing pages
Once a user clicks through to your website or a landing page created specifically for your ad campaign, the next ideal scenario is that they will reach out to you in some way. That typically means filling out an online form or calling to speak with a sales representative. Sometimes it can even mean a direct sale from the website.
To this end, it’s beneficial to create a specialized landing page that is relevant to the user’s query and includes a single call to action accompanied by an incentive. If you’re advertising more than one product or service, you should create a landing page custom to each one of them.
Udemy’s landing page for the term “financial training course” is a good example of a highly focused landing page. It contains relevant keywords in the heading and description at the top of the page, a video preview of the course, up-front pricing information and a very clear call to action beside a list of the product benefits. This is a page made to convert.
Establishing goals and setting up tracking
All B2B paid search campaigns should have at least one clear goal associated with them. Tracking goals will help you optimize your paid search campaign and assign value to your paid ads. They also help you determine which of your strategies are working and where you need to make changes to garner better results.
The goal should be the focal point of your landing page, but you can also track secondary goals based on the various actions you want users to take on your website. These can include (but are not limited to):
- Lead forms (contact us, free demo requests, etc.)
- Phone calls
- Webinar signups
- Email newsletter signups
- Video views
- Whitepaper downloads
Most goals can be easily tracked in Google Analytics (GA). Advertisers can also create goals directly in Google Ads and generate a tag that can be added to your website code or implemented with Google Tag Manager. You can also add a tag or pixel to your landing pages to help you with your remarketing efforts. To set up a remarketing tag by hand, you will need to know your conversion ID and conversion label from your account. It’s a complicated process and best for advanced users or specialists. However, there are automated options you can activate in the admin section of your GA account by selecting “remarketing.”
You can also retarget buyers with dynamic remarketing to retarget individuals who have already visited your website. The platform also has the ability to retarget people who’ve interacted with your company’s videos, with customers on your email lists or with remarketing lists for search ads (RLSA).
There are many third-party tools that exist to help you track phone leads and provide the ability to listen to every call so you can assess lead quality. One of our favorites is Call Tracking Metrics, a tool that you can integrate with GA so that phone calls are tracked as goals.
Some final thoughts on Google Ads management
The key to overcoming the challenges in generating leads from B2B search campaigns, is making sure that every visitor counts.
You may be spending as much as $15 per click or more, so it’s important to minimize unqualified clicks as much as possible. Here are a few settings you can implement (or test) to achieve minimal waste.
Whether you’re targeting a global audience or a local one, every campaign can benefit from geotargeting. Remove poorly performing locations from your campaign and increase bids on locations that have performed well historically. You can also add geographic qualifiers to your keywords to get better visibility for your preferred locations (e.g., industrial cleaner in Stamford, CT).
Ad scheduling enables advertisers to control exactly when their ads will appear. You can limit ads to just weekdays between 9 and 5 (for example), or make sure your ads don’t run at all on certain days or just go offline from 3 a.m. to 5 a.m. Make sure you’re testing which days and times garner the best results and the most return on your lead prospecting efforts. Then, schedule your ads so they appear on the exact days and times when your target audience will most likely be online.
Use smart bidding
If you’re not confident in your ability to schedule ads yourself, Google has advanced technology that does the job for you. Their smart bidding feature uses machine learning to automatically optimize your campaign for conversions (or conversion value). You need to have conversion tracking enabled to use smart bidding. Advertisers set a target CPA or return on ad spend, and the platform’s massive AI brain takes it from there, adjusting your bids and ad delivery so that your ads appear in front of the most ideal users during the most ideal time of day and in the most ideal locations.
Using Google Ads for B2B lead generation is challenging but not impossible. It does require that you implement some of the more advanced targeting and optimization features that Google offers its advertisers and that you pay attention to your campaigns after launch.
A successful B2B paid search campaign is one that has clearly established goals and a way to track these goals. Remember, too, that paid search is just one component of a comprehensive digital marketing strategy. For your search campaigns to be as effective as possible, your company’s marketing strategy needs to be integrated. That means aligning brand messaging, sales, content, and everything in between to achieve a common goal.