Optify Measures the Current State of B-to-B Online Marketing

Optify logoEach year Optify, a developer of digital marketing software for business-to-business marketing professionals, analyzes web behaviors to develop a “benchmark” report on B-to-B marketing.

The annual Optify benchmark report is interesting in that the findings are developed not from surveys, but from actual web activity. 

Optify’s most recent report, released in early 2013, was produced using data gleaned from more than 62 million web visits, ~215 million page views and ~350,000 leads from more than 600 small and medium-sized websites of B-to-B firms.

Optify used its proprietary visitor and lead tracking technology to collect and aggregate the data.  U.S.-based B-to-B sites that garnered between 100 to 100,000 monthly visits were included in the research.

There are many interesting findings – enough to chew on so that I will cover them in several blog posts.  In all likelihood, some of the findings will confirm your perceptions … while others may be a tad surprising.

Web Traffic

As in business-to-consumer web marketing, there is cyclicality in web traffic in the B-to-B world.  But according to Optify, it’s almost the polar opposite:

  • Higher traffic:  January through March + September and October
  • Lower traffic:  Summer months + end of year

Source of Web Traffic

Optify found that the overwhelming amount of B-to-B web traffic comes from two main sources — organic search and direct traffic.  Other sources – particularly social media – are a good deal more peripheral:

  • Organic search:  ~41% of web traffic
  • Direct traffic:  ~40%
  • Referral links:  ~12%
  • Paid search:  ~5%
  • Social media:  ~2%

Lead Conversion Rate

Optify defines the “conversion rate” as the percent of web visitors who submitted a query or filled out some other type of form during a single visit.  Using this definition, Optify found that the average conversion rate was around 1.6%. 

But the best sources for lead conversions differ from the most prevalent sources of web traffic:

  • E-mail source:  ~2.9% conversion rate
  • Other referral links:  ~2.0%
  • Paid search:  ~2.0%
  • Direct traffic:  ~1.7%
  • Organic search:  ~1.5%
  • Social media:  ~1.2%

Page Views per Web Visit

Optify found that the average visitor viewed three pages on the website during their visit.

… But Big Variations

Optify found a good deal of variability in web activity.  To illustrate this, it has published findings broken out by medians and for percentile groups as follows:

  • Median visits per month per website:  1,784
  • 75th percentile of websites:  4,477
  • 25th percentile of websites:  339
  • Median page views per website visit (monthly average):  3.03
  • 75th percentile median page views:  4.04
  • 25th percentile media page views:  1.80
  • Median lead conversion rate (monthly average):  1.6%
  • 75th percentile median conversion rate:  3.3%
  • 25th percentile median conversion rate:  0.5%

There’s much more in the Optify report that’s worth reviewing … which I’ll share ina follow-up blog post.

The Confluence of “Mature Marketing” and B-to-B MarComm

Conference attendees, mature marketing and B-to-B buyersIn recent years, a seemingly endless stream MarComm literature has been published focusing on how to communicate effectively with different target groups. 

Whether it’s seniors … baby boomers … Gen-X or Gen-Yers … minority populations … B-to-B or technical audiences, marketers have all sorts of helpful advice coming in from all sides.

The more I’ve been reading this material, the more I’m seeing confluence rather than divergence. 

For example, there’s a high degree of commonality between marketing to “mature” consumers and B-to-B audiences.  The overlap is huge, actually.

Consider these aspects of crafting strong MarComm messages that make good sense for both B-to-B and mature audiences:

  • Sticking to the facts about products or services.  Both audiences tend to make judgments and decisions based on “information and intelligence” rather than “emotions or peer pressure.”
  • Providing lots of content.  “More is more” with these audiences, which tend to be far more voracious in their reading habits and appreciate the availability of copious information.
  • Avoiding “hype” in MarComm messages.  These audiences have “seen it all” and aren’t easily bamboozled.
  • Avoiding “talking down” to these audiences.  They are experienced people (and experience is the best educator); they have good instincts, too.
  • Designing communications so that these audiences will stick around and absorb what marketers have to say.  This means avoiding small type, garish colors and gratuitous design elements … not to mention the slow-loading graphics or animated visual hi-jinks that pepper too many websites.

None of this is to contend that emotions don’t play a role in driving purchase decisions.  But the reasoning processes that mature audiences and B-to-B buyers use to filter and evaluate MarComm messages are far more consequential than any “creative” aspects of the message platform could possibly deliver.

It would be nice if more marketers would remember this when crafting campaigns that target the “thinking” audiences out there.

What’s the Latest in Content Creation for B-to-B Marketers?

Content creationThere’s an interesting new study just published that gives us interesting clues about what B-to-B marketers are doing in content creation.

The B2B Content Marketing: 2012 Benchmarks, Budgets & Trends study is a joint research effort of the Content Marketing Institute and marketing information resources firm MarketingProfs. The survey found that nine out of ten B-to-B marketers are using some form of content marketing activities to achieve their business goals.

[For this survey, content marketing (also known as custom publishing or branded content) is defined as “the creation and distribution of educational and/or compelling content in multiple formats to attract and/or retain customers.”]

The research found that usage of several content tactics is now quite widespread:

 News articles: ~79% of respondents are using
 Social media (excluding blogs): ~74%
 Blogs: ~65%
 e-Newsletters: ~63%
 Case studies: ~58%
 In-person events: ~56%
 Videos: ~52%
 White papers: ~51%
 Webinars or webcasts: ~46%

When queried as to how effective marketers believe these tactics to be, a combination of traditional and “new” ones were cited with high effectiveness scores:

 In-person events: ~78% view as an “effective” tactic
 Case studies: ~70
 Webinars or webcasts: ~70%
 e-Newsletters: ~60%
 White papers: ~60%
 Blogs: ~58%
 Web microsites: ~56%
 Articles: ~51%
 Social media: ~51%
 Videos: ~51%

The survey also investigated how content tactics are being measured for success. Tracking web traffic stats is the most popular measurement tool:

 Web traffic: ~58% use to measure success
 Sales lead quality: ~49% use
 Direct sales figures: ~41% use
 Sales lead quantity: ~41% use
 Qualitative feedback from customers: ~40% use
 Search engine rankings: ~40% use
 Inbound weblinks: ~30% use

And what is the biggest challenge these marketers see in content creation? It’s the age-old problem of coming up with interesting topics to write about.

More than four in ten respondents cited “producing the kind of content that engages prospects and customers” as their biggest challenge.

Some of the comments heard from survey respondents on this topic sound all-too-familiar:

 “Finding people within my organization to contribute their expertise … nobody outside of marketing seems to see the value in sharing our expertise with the market via content.”

 “Having the discipline and being able to assign sufficient resources to create and manage the right content for the target audience, in a sustainable manner.”

 “The ideas are all there; it’s just a matter of finding time to create and write copy.”

 “Management patience: Management needs to understand that in today’s B-to-B environment, it takes time to engage prospects.”

What about your situation? Are your content management issues the same ones as reported in this study … or are you facing different challenges?

Online Display Ad Effectiveness: Skepticism Persists

Online Display AdvertisingAs the variety of options for online advertising have steadily increased over the years, the reputation of display advertising effectiveness has suffered. Part of this is in the statistics: abysmal clickthrough rates on many online display ads with percentages that trend toward the microscopic.

But another part is just plain intuition. People understand that when folks go online, they’re usually on a mission – whether it’s information-seeking, looking for products to purchase, or avocational pursuits.

Simply put, the “dynamic” is different than magazines, television or radio — although any advertiser will tell you that those media options also have their share of challenges in getting people to take notice and then to take action.

The perception that online display advertising is a “bad” investment when compared to search engine marketing is what’s given Google its stratospheric revenue growth and profits in recent years. And that makes sense; what better time to pop up on the screen than when someone has punched in a search term that relates to your product or service?

In the B-to-B field, the knock against display advertising is even stronger than in the consumer realm. In the business world, people have even less time or inclination to be distracted by advertising that could take them away from their mission at hand.

It doesn’t take a swath of eye-tracking studies to prove that most B-to-B practitioners have their blinders on to filter out extraneous “noise” when they’re in information-seeking mode.

This isn’t to say that B-to-B online display advertising isn’t occurring. In fact, in a new study titled Making Online Display Marketing Work for B2B, marketing research and consulting firm Forrester Research, Inc. reports that about seven in ten B-to-B interactive marketers employ online display advertising to some degree in their promotional programs.

And they do so for the same reasons that compelled these comparnies to advertise in print trade magazines in the past. According to the Forrester report, the primary objectives for online display advertising include:

 Increase brand awareness: ~49% of respondents
 Lead generation: ~46%
 Reaching key target audiences: ~46%
 Driving direct sales: ~41%

But here’s a major rub: Attitudes toward B-to-B online display advertising are pretty negative — and that definitely extends to the ad exchanges and ad networks serving the ads. Moreover, most don’t foresee any increased effectiveness in the coming years.

That may explain why Forrester found that fewer than 15% of the participants in its study reported that they have increased their online display advertising budgets in 2011 compared to 2010 – even as advertising budgets have trended upward overall.

When you look closer at display, there’s actually some interesting movement. Google has committed to a ~$390 million acquisition of display ad company Admeld. And regardless of the negative perceptions that may be out there, Google’s Ad Exchange and Yahoo’s Right Media platforms have created the ability for advertisers to bid on ad inventories based on their value to them.

Moreover, new capabilities make it easier to measure and attribute the impact of various media touchpoints — online display as well as others — that ultimately lead to conversion or sales.

But the negative perceptions about online display advertising continue, proving again that attitudes are hard to change — even in the quickly evolving world of digital advertising.

E-mail early birds? The worm may be turning differently.

Best time to deploy marketing e-mail messages.One of the great benefits of the “online everything” world in which we now live is the ability to evaluate nearly anything about marketing not with hunches or speculation, but with hard data.

A perennial question is what time of day is best to deploy marketing e-mails to customers and prospects. The higher the propensity to open and read these messages, you’re closer to the goal of converting eyeballs to clickthroughs … and to sales.

ReachMail, a Chicago-based e-mail service provider, recently studied a large sampling (~650,000) of the millions of consumer and business marketing e-mail messages it sends out for clients daily in order to determine open rate differences based on the time of day. It normalized the data to account for different time zones.

What ReachMail found was that there are differing peak open rate times on weekends versus on weekdays:

 Weekdays: Peak e-mail open rates are between ~11:30 am and ~2:00 pm.

 Weekends: E-mail open rates begin trending upward at ~11:30 am, but don’t peak until ~4:00 pm.

John Murphy, ReachMail’s president, had this to say about people’s weekday e-mail open rate behaviors: “You would think it would spike in the morning, but they’re looking at work e-mails in the morning. Once they’ve cleared out their inbox, they’re looking at marketing e-mails in the afternoon.”

ReachMail’s conclusion: It’s best to deploy weekday e-mails between 10:00 am and Noon. For weekend e-mails, deploy them between Noon and 3:00 pm.

And this additional tidbit also: Don’t assume e-mails sent during the week will perform better than those deployed over the weekend. “People’s engagement rates are up there on the weekend,” Murphy maintains. “It’s our habit of checking e-mail all the time.”

He’s sure right about that.

How the B-to-B Sales Process is Changing

In my 20+ years in industrial, commercial and other non-consumer marketing communications, I’ve witnessed more than a few “big trends” affecting the nature of the selling process in the business realm.

One of the biggest of these is the approach that customers take when evaluating products and services they might be interested in purchasing. Recent research findings about these behaviors has been published that sheds more interesting light on where things are at the moment.

A survey of ~300 B-to-B managers was conducted in late 2009 by e-Research for Marketing (E-RM) for Colman Brohan Davis, a Chicago-based marketing organization. This survey, which was limited to respondents age 35 or younger, found that only a few of the 13 tools used to research products and services represented “traditional media” – print-based resources, trade shows, or consulting with industry colleagues by phone or in person.

Furthermore, the study found that even these four tactics are losing their importance compared to the use of online social networks, which were exploding in usage.

These survey results reminded me of a comment made by Adam Needles, director of B-to-B field marketing at Silverpop, an e-mail marketing company based in Atlanta. “Somewhere around age 30 to 35, you can draw a line in the sand between people who are used to calling around to get everything and [where it’s been] all about relationships face-to-face.”

In contrast, Needles has this to say about younger staffers who conduct a great deal of the buying cycle online: “You have people whose expectation is that companies should put everything on their web sites; they should be getting real-time feeds and information, and companies should be totally integrated into … the blogosphere.”

Younger staffers tend to be influencers more than decision-makers. But this is not to diminish their importance, as they are the ones charged with conducting the research and drafting investigative report summaries and preliminary recommendations. Ferreting out information through resources like webinars and social platforms such as Twitter and blog posts, while it may seem exotic and less consequential to older colleagues, is not at all foreign to these staffers.

And we shouldn’t forget that today’s “influencer” at a company is very likely tomorrow’s “decision-maker.”

Which gets us back to the ER-M study. One big takeaway from that research was that customers are looking into all the corners of offine and online communications to find the information they feel they need to make risk-averse and “CYA” decisions that are also the successful ones that pay off well – hence building their reputations inside their company.

Tactics like direct mail marketing may seem old-hat or even quaint, but they can still be quite effective, while e-mail marketing, while fast and cheap, elicits resistance from some because they feel inundated with marketing materials that are irrelevant to their needs.

I guess it’s yet more challenging news for already-fractured marketing communications program tactics that continue to be under tight budget constraints.

B-to-B e-Newsletters: Just How Engaged are Recipients?

B-to-B e-NewslettersIn the B-to-B world, marketers are sometimes disappointed with the open rates for the e-newsletters they deploy to their customers and prospects. While some are opened by a large proportion of recipients, it’s common experience for e-newsletter open rates to hover around 20%-25%.

Does this mean that e-newsletters are a poor substitute for B-to-B print media? Unfortunately, it’s difficult to know how these results compare. After all, just because trade magazines are delivered to recipients doesn’t mean that they’re ever read.

It would be nice to compare B-to-B reader dynamics between print and online media, but with quantifiable statistics available for only one side of the equation, that’s pretty difficult.

However, GlobalSpec, the technology services company that operates a vertical search engine of engineering and industrial products, is able to provide us with a few additional clues. It has just published the results of its 2010 Economic Outlook Survey, which queried more than 2,000 U.S. technical, engineering, manufacturing and industrial professionals on a variety of business topics.

As part of the GlobalSpec survey, respondents were asked about their e-newsletter reading habits. And it turns out that more than half of the respondents (~55%) reported that they read work-related e-newsletters daily or several times a week.

Another 30% of respondents reported that they read e-newsletters once a week or several times per month. That leaves only 15% reporting that they rarely or never read e-newsletters.

What’s more, the readership of e-newsletters appears in increasing. In GlobalShop’s 2009 survey, only ~40% of respondents reported reading e-news daily or several times per week. So the increase in activity over just the past year is substantial.

The takeaway news is that more people in the B-to-B segment are “engaged” with e-newsletters than ever before. Whether you’re achieving above or below the 20%-25% open rate threshold is likely a function of the quality of your content … along with how good you’re doing with targeting the right names in your database.