Is SEO demand generation?

For many B2B marketers, demand generation is a new buzzword that creates both excitement and confusion. As a CMO and marketing leader, I've had to explain the term in very creative ways and different contexts. 

Let's look into demand generation from the perspective of search engine optimization (SEO) - how are these two terms interlinked, and what can marketers do to drive more demand in search engines?

What is demand generation?

Demand generation is the process of creating interest and awareness for a company's offerings. It's about educating potential buyers about how your product or service can address key pain points - with the eventual goal of helping ideal customers finding value in your products.

Demand generation is a complimentary marketing activity to lead generation. The major difference is that lead generation focuses on the activity of converting contacts to leads and then to customers in a linear way. Demand generation is more focused on supporting the buying journey without a transactional conversion path.

Why is demand generation important in B2B sales? 

Traditionally, lead generation has been the preferred way to drive new revenue growth in B2B products and services. The key challenge for lead generation is that studies have found that only 5% of potential customers are ready to buy at any given moment. 

In contrast, demand generation addresses the needs of the 95% of B2B buyers that are suitable potential customers in the long run. Not only that, demand generation is a less intrusive form of sales, allowing potential buyers to evaluate and compare potential solutions to their problems at their own pace and terms.

why lead generation is important

Is demand generation just top-of-funnel marketing?

Demand generation doesn't align exactly with the "top-of-funnel," "middle-of-funnel," and "bottom-of-funnel" view of B2B sales. The reason being is that the core way demand generation is measured doesn't align with the linear sales funnel used in lead generation. 

In top-of-funnel marketing, the assumption is that educating potential buyers leads in a measurable way down to more transactional steps of the buying process. In many B2B sales cases, the buying journey is done by a number of people, is rarely trackable from one activity to another and relies to a large extent on unmeasurable word-of-mouth. So, while demand generation and top-of-funnel marketing may both involve educating potential buyers, they don't measurably align in terms of aim and outcome.

Using self-reported attribution to measure demand generation

One popular way to measure demand generation is self-reported attribution of any demo requests or contact requests on your website. In practice, this means that you ask high-intent leads in an open-ended way "where they heard about you." The self-reported approach can be very effective to get an understanding of what buyers really consider as the main trigger for demand in a product or service.

Self-reported attribution may differ from conversion tracking data on your website. For example, a website visitor may have come to your website to request a demo by clicking on a branded search term on Google. Your conversion tracking may associate this conversion as "branded search," but the self-reported attribution of the buyer could indicate why they decided to request a demo in the first place. For example, the open-ended question could given an answer like "I heard about this from a friend," or "I read about this in a Gartner report."

Search engines are the #1 demand generation channel

According to new research on self-reported attribution by HockeyStack, search engines are by far the top sources for generating demand. Over 45% of high-intent demo bookers discovered the brand on search engines.

The HockeyStack research looked at over 8000 high-intent buying signals, such as demo requests or contact us form submissions on Midmarket and Enterprise B2B websites.

How high-intent buyers assessed the source of demand in products or services:

  • 45.3% Search engines
  • 19.58% Social media
  • 18.11% Word-of-mouth
  • 0.50% Events
  • 0.48% Ads
  • 0.14% Podcast
  • 0.02% Display ads

The key observation here is that search engines remain supreme in influencing demand in the perspective of potential buyers. While social media comes in a good second place, almost half of potential B2B buyers consider search engines as the top trigger for exploring a solution. 

Interestingly, many popular demand generation techniques, such as display advertisements, events and podcasts are not seen as major influencers of demand in buyer's self-reported attribution. While this may not tell the whole truth in terms of brand awareness, there are many outcomes marketers can take from these results. 

How to generate demand with SEO

Let's go through a few simple ways you can refine your SEO strategy to maximize the amount of demand you generate.

  • Don't create SEO content for traffic, address the queries of real buyers. It's better to focus on low-volume search terms that are really used by buyers instead of going for "top-of-the-funnel" content to drive visibility.
  • Don't create SEO content for search engines, create content to help buyers. Real buyers want answers to their questions, and not generic SEO-optimized content.
  • Interview real buyers and answer their real needs. It's better that you use the kind of words your buyers really use. Interview real buyers to understand how you can create content that better matches their needs.
  • Make an impactful brand impression. Most buyers won't remember what your brand says, but they will remember how you made them feel. Even in SEO-content make sure your brand stands out as original, human and trustworthy.
  • Analyze the whole buyer journey. When you can identify ideal customers on your website, analyze how you can improve their buyer journey. Look at past articles they have read and the type of content that appeals to them on your website.
  • Test and learn. Search engine optimization is not a one-and-done exercise. Actively evaluate how well your different types of content result in high-interest buyers in self-reported attribution. When you find hidden gems, expand on the type of SEO content that really drives interest.

Bottom line

SEO is one of the most important demand generation tactics any marketer can use - but you need to be mindful about how to align your content with the buyer journey.

Remember, that SEO is a long-term game. Investments you make to improving the quality of your content usually stack up over time, and helpful content can drive considerable demand over time.

If you're looking for an efficient way to scale up your SEO playbook, reach out or read up on using generative AI methods in SEO.

Lari Numminen

Lari is a 2-time B2B SaaS Company CMO and marketing enthusiast. He has written extensively on topics such as business process management and the role of artificial intelligence in the workplace.

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