Publishing B2B thought leadership content can have a significant impact on your demand generation strategy. It’s a powerful tool for generating awareness, credibility, brand value and quality traffic.
Over 80% of business decision-makers say thought leadership increased their trust in a vendor organization, according to an Edelman & LinkedIn survey. In contrast, the same survey revealed more than half of the c-suite lost respect for brands who published poor-quality content.
At the same time, data reveals that search also remains valuable in 2018, especially at the top of the marketing funnel. According to DemandGen Report’s 2018 Benchmark Survey Report, search marketing is a top lead generation channel for 50% of B2B marketing organizations.
B2B marketers find themselves wondering whether they should prioritize thought leadership content over SEO-optimized content, or vice versa.
Thought Leadership vs. SEO Content
The concept of thought leadership is often associated with content that delivers a unique point of view, cutting-edge research or extensive experience. More importantly, thought leadership content is ubiquitously associated with quality – it’s almost always content that addresses a topic or question with more expertise or depth than other existing resources.
Michael Brenner, CEO of Marketing Insider Group, writes:
“I define thought leadership as a type of content marketing where you tap into the talent, experience, and passion inside your business.”
Brenner’s decision to highlight “talent” and “passion” is important; expertise matters but years of experience isn’t the only point-of-view (POV) necessary for exceptional thought leadership content.
Within a demand generation organization, the CEO and CMO aren’t the only ones who can build the brand through thought leadership content. Exceptional thought leadership can come from content marketers, developers, sales, customer success advocates, receptionists, or any other individual within the organization who has the requisite insight.
It’s also important to remember that thought leadership isn’t defined by only written content. Sure, writing a full-length, non-fiction book and publishing it traditionally will probably put you on the fast-track to keynote speaking. However, non-traditional demand generation platforms such as LinkedIn, YouTube and even audio podcasts are perfectly viable modes of distributing thought leadership content.
In short, thought leadership delivers a unique, expert POV thanks to original data, expertise, passion and/or experience. It can be technical or experiential. It may be controversial or it can confirm your readers’ existing point of view. It can range from a 600-word op-ed blog post published on LinkedIn to an 80,000-word traditional book. The main point is that thought leadership content is set apart by quality and originality.
The Purpose of Thought Leadership Content
Within the B2B context, the ultimate purpose of thought leadership content is to help prospects and customers overcome their pain-points. Secondarily, good thought leadership initiatives will also support your full-funnel revenue generation efforts by various means, specifically:
- Increasing exposure: Enables your organization to develop an engaged audience.
- Conducting and sharing research: Establishes a position as a source of original, quality insights.
- Entertaining and provoking: By establishing a unique perspective and sharing opinions, thought leadership content can enable a B2B organization to develop brand personality and brand values.
- Improving brand trust: Consistently delivering high-quality content can increase brand credibility among prospects, customers, industry analysts and influencers, and other thought leaders.
- Increasing likeability: It can boost your brand’s “personality” and voice, helping it to better stick out in a crowded space, while also growing the brands of individuals within the organization.
The Role of SEO Content
Let’s make one thing clear: SEO-centric content in 2018 has nothing to do with the keyword-stuffed blog posts that defined SEO best practices in 2011.
Google’s webmaster guidelines offer the primary instruction to “make pages for users, not search engines.” There are effectively no SEO shortcuts in 2018. Today, search engines rely on incredibly complex natural-language-processing algorithms to assess content quality and rank search results. There are no shortcuts to SEO content.
Keyword stuffing, cloaking, heavy linking, deceptive titles and other outdated SEO tactics have no place in an effective B2B marketing strategy.
However, there are some types of blog posts and website content that both search engines and users love. These include:
- Using customer frequently asked questions (FAQs) in blog post titles
- Integrating relevant visuals, such as data graphics
- Improving the user experience (UX) with subheaders and other formatting
- Writing an enticing first paragraph to hook the reader
- Relying on third-party sources and quality data to present a quality, unbiased perspective
The Purpose of SEO Content
71% of B2B marketers start their product or service research with a generic search, according to Google. Offering SEO-optimized blog posts, landing pages and web pages on your website can position your brand to capture the interest of decision-makers who are just beginning to research solutions, converting them to contacts at the top of the funnel.
SEO content isn’t a full-funnel demand generation solution. While it’s a go-to lead generation channel for 50% of marketers, according to the DemandGen Report’s 2018 Benchmark Survey Report, just 18% of B2B marketing organizations use search for later-stage marketing conversions.
SEO content’s value is primarily limited to the awareness stage of the buyer’s journey, but it’s an important one, ranked with websites and email among the top-three lead generation channels in 2018.
Thought Leadership vs. SEO Content: Which Is Best?
If you’re wondering whether to invest in thought leadership or SEO content, you’re asking the wrong question.
Demand generation success in 2018 requires both thought leadership and SEO content, together. The right question is: “How much of each type of content should I invest in?”
As noted before, SEO best practices have evolved significantly over the best decade to favor a very human-focused user experience. So, it’s now much easier to create SEO-optimized thought leadership content.
The key to B2B demand generation success with SEO-centric content is prospect and customer understanding, which happens to be the a primary requirement of good thought leadership. Doing both well is all about positioning your original opinions, insights and POVs (thought leadership) in the context of questions that your prospects are asking (SEO).
A good way to start is by asking yourself:
- “What do my target-account decision-makers type into the search bar when researching solutions for the first time?”
- “What problems are they most curious about, and how do they phrase this problem?”
The questions decision-makers type into search engines can create a powerful framework for creating thought leadership content that’s SEO-optimized.
Further, thought leadership content published on external blogs or in byline articles doesn’t always offer immediately measurable returns, but it can yield powerful dividends over time in terms of awareness, credibility and demand.
By investing in the creation of quality content that answers your customers’ questions at every stage of the buyer’s journey and distributing such resources among a variety of platforms, your organization can build lasting relationships that translate to sales opportunities, customers and revenue.
Investing in B2B SEO and Thought Leadership Content
There’s a place for both SEO and thought leadership content in demand generation strategies in 2018. The best B2B marketers know that SEO-centric blog posts are a powerful tool for both lead generation and extending the reach of thought leadership.