Online Search Goes Pro With B2B Engines

What is the state of B2B (business-to-business) search marketing? What are the business and technology drivers that make online search an emerging tool for business discovery and procurement?

I put these and other questions to Forrester Research Senior Analyst Shar VanBoskirk and to Bryan Burdick, chief operating officer at ZoomInfo, to explore the fast-evolving power of targeted, semantic-oriented business search and marketing.

Search-driven online marketing is increasingly leveling the playing field for smaller companies to compete against the big boys when it comes to reaching new customers and markets online. B2B search provides a way for small, local advertisers to find the customers and other businesses that are actually looking for the services and products they provide. Any business can refine their procurement processes and expand their distribution opportunities by better exploiting the new breeds of semantic-based business search and associated advertising.

Consumers and ‘Pro-Sumers’

While more product information, market research and detailed business information is available online than ever, general search engines do not always provide the detail, context and semantic benefits needed to find the right business information fast. New vertical search engines are targeting the business consumer, or the “pro-sumer,” and delivering ever more targeted results to the B2B searcher.

Learn more about future trends in B2B search and advertising in this sponsored BriefingsDirect podcast discussion, moderated by myself.

Listen to the discussion (36:19 minutes).

Here are some excerpts:

Shar VanBoskirk: Search works because it catches people at the point where they are raising their hand for information and for marketing messages. So, the guesswork of advertising that search doesn’t apply to was always assuming, “Hey, maybe my user is interested in my product or if I catch them at this time, it looks like they might be really responsive.” Search took all that guesswork away, because it basically said, “I, as a user, am actively searching for more information about something I’m interested in. If you, Mr. Advertiser, can actually give me the information that I want, I’m going to respond to that.”

Bryan Burdick: B2B advertisers are starting to find ways to leverage those same technologies and those same avenues. New avenues are developing. We see new vertical search engines that are really targeting the business consumer or the “pro-sumer,” as the case may be, and delivering even more targeted results to the B2B searcher.

VanBoskirk: We’re now entering the next phase of search and the next phase of search marketing that a lot of marketers haven’t yet prepared for. If we look at the most sophisticated marketers today, they’re very good at understanding the broad suite of keywords that they need. They’re probably purchasing a lot of keywords, and they’re maybe even doing some smart bid management to figure out how much they should be paying for certain keywords, based on the profitability of the traffic that they’re getting from each of those terms.

[New semantic-based search is] creating an increased relevancy in the results. It’s not determined by some sort of magic algorithm that counts how many mentions of a word are on a page or how many links are linked to that page. It has a bit of a learning embedded in it.

[The benefit comes when you can] understand that if this user has searched for these things in the past, we know that this is the type of user they are, or other people have found satisfying results from these types of searches or these types of results. We know that they’re going to be the most relevant for people who are just like them. There’s a lot of evolution that’s happening that we’re going to see evolving in 2007 around figuring out how to increase the relevance of search results.

Customize and Optimize

Burdick: The business-model effects of search engine marketing is the ability to very cost effectively try new things. You can try new keywords, see how they work, get immediate response, understand the ROI, do more of what works and try new things along the way.

VanBoskirk: I always tell marketer clients to think first about their natural search engine optimizations. So, really they should be thinking, “Is the content on my site related to the searches that my users are doing for me, and is it presented in a way that’s easy for Web crawlers to get around?” That’s work that, if you do it once, can pay off for you for years to come.

Then, you can think about some paid search ads that might be really related to the specific, more timely searches or the specific offers and timed programs that you might be running. They should think of all within this notion of, “Who is my user? What are they looking for from me? What is the language that they’re using to conduct that search or to find that information?” You need to understand who those users are, how you can optimize your site to meet their needs, and then look at the paid search ads. It’s the same best practice that works for either a consumer or a B2B marketer.

The community of searchers will weed out the folks who are just not generating relevance for them. They will force search engines, like they are with the big guys, Google and Yahoo, to re-evaluate what they’re doing to determine relevance. If the big guys can’t adjust to it, then a lot of smaller search engines are going to come into mainstream use, simply because the results that they provide are going to be a lot more relevant. It will be the user community that determines that, rather than an entity on high that kind of establishes, “These are the good guys — these are the bad guys.”

Implicit Relationships

Burdick: Our secret sauce [at ZoomInfo] is actually this semantic search model that I was talking about before. In one sense we’re similar to regular search engines in that we have crawlers and spiders that go out on the Web and find information. But, then we’ve got a series of about 15,000 different natural-language processing (NLP) algorithms that can understand the content and then create relationships between the entities, even relationships that aren’t explicitly stated anywhere on the Web.

A simple example would be, we know that this person is the CEO of ZoomInfo. We know that ZoomInfo is located in Waltham, Mass. Therefore, we know that this guy works in Waltham, Mass., even though that content was never stated anywhere. That’s a simple example of what we mean by semantic search that allows us to create these connections between entities.

The net result of that is when you come into something like the, which is our preliminary company search product on the Web. You can do a search for “venture capital,” find all 2,800 companies in the U.S. that are in the venture capital business, and it automatically creates drill downs into different types of venture capital. Were you interested in life sciences or technology or different branches of venture capital, the search engine and the algorithms completely, automatically drive all of that. There’s no human involvement in creating those links.

Dana Gardner is president and principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions, which tracks trends, delivers forecasts and interprets the competitive landscape of enterprise applications and software infrastructure markets for clients. He also producesBriefingsDirect sponsored podcasts. Disclosure: ZoomInfo is a sponsor of BriefingsDirect business productivity podcasts.

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