How to build a resilient B2B SEO strategy in 2023
By Rebekah Mays
If you’re a digital marketer, I’ll bet you’re a little overwhelmed right now.
Let’s recap just a few of the things going on:
- ChatGPT arrived on the scene in November, with no signs of AI slowing down.
- Microsoft, Google, and other search engines are racing to incorporate AI into their search engines. (Google is now inviting new users to try out Bard.)
- Oh and NBD, there’s a looming recession. Tech layoffs are affecting your peers, maybe even you and your team.
It’s enough to make anyone want to live off-grid in a hut somewhere and, like, grow your own squash. (Not just me, right?)
But let’s say you DO want to keep your job and your general place in society.
If so, it’s in your best interest to figure out what the heck to do about SEO and content marketing for your B2B brand.
So how can you create a strategy that will actually get your company new leads and clients this year?
And how can you create something that’s resilient and won’t crumble like a gingerbread house underneath a toddler’s angry fist every time there’s an update in search?
With a *resilient* SEO strategy, we can tackle all these things.
Table of contents
What's the purpose of SEO?
Before we get into the tactics, we need to get back to the purpose of SEO, which has been corrupted by sleazy SEO tactics over the years.
Search Engine Optimization is all about improving the quantity and the quality of the traffic to your website.
When done right, SEO is a powerful channel for building brand awareness and a healthy pipeline of leads for your B2B brand.
SEO is often used to capture people in “top-of-the-funnel” research mode.” But what’s cool about SEO is that it’s not just an awareness-building channel.
Depending on the size of your brand and how large your audience is, you can also use SEO to:
- Help people choose brand instead of your competitor (comparison queries)
- Help people buy your service (buying queries)
- Help people use your service once they’ve bought it (success queries)
All this is to say that SEO can help your business make more money in so many ways. 🤑
What I love about SEO and content marketing is that it’s not just a money-making tactic, of course.
It’s also a way to be generous with your audience by providing them info at their specific moments of need.
A resilient SEO strategy is more important than ever
But given all the things happening in AI and search, is SEO still relevant in 2023? Or is it “dead?”
It’s true that SEO is changing … and we won’t fully know what lies in store for SEO until we see how what happens with widespread use of Bing’s AI-powered search and Bard.
Still, the latest data we have is that search itself is a resilient channel for brand research.
As of Q3 2022, 48.2% of users aged 16 to 64 use search engines as their main source of information when researching brands. Social media trails search at 43.1%, according to the Digital 2023 Global Overview Report.
So even with everyone using social media, search is STILL beating social media as a brand research tool.
This means that if and when AI chatbots become an integral part of daily life, organic search as a brand distribution channel doesn’t automatically end.
With widespread use of AI-powered search, the number of “zero-click” searches may skyrocket, since AI will give users quick answers to their questions.
This will probably mean the end of low-intent, low-conversion traffic you don’t want to be targeting anyway.
But high-intent, high-conversion traffic is a different story.
If your job depends on you making an informed purchase (hello, B2B buyers!), then you’re going to keep digging for information on search and other channels.
So organic and paid search may be a viable distribution channel a year or two from now … or they may not be. We just don’t know.
What I *do* know is that we’d better make sure any SEO we are doing makes sense in light of these changes.
Enter the “resilient SEO strategy.” What’s that, you ask?
A resilient SEO strategy applies SEO principles to increase the visibility of your content, in a way that strengthens your overall brand and marketing funnel.
That way, even if you suddenly lose your search traffic, you still have valuable brand assets you can feed into other marketing channels.
We’ll explore how to make the technical, content, and link-building aspects of your SEO strategy more resilient in this guide. Buckle up!
Technical SEO that actually matters
For a lot of folks, technical SEO is like a black box. They have no idea what’s in there, and they don’t really want to look inside…
But the idea behind it is simple.
Technical SEO is about ensuring that search engines and users can find and access your site. By applying technical SEO practices, we remove roadblocks and make it easy for people to find and interact with your content.
At the same time, it’s easy for SEO agencies to go overboard with technical SEO, especially when it comes to smaller B2B websites.
(We’ll define “small” as a site with less than 1,000 pages.)
We don’t want to waste time and money fixing thousands of little warnings, only to have all this work count for nothing in a year. Instead, we should prioritize the technical SEO that overlaps with user experience and accessibility.
In other words:
Old Way: Lots of tedious technical work that only applies to SEO.
New Way: Prioritize the technical SEO work that overlaps with user experience and accessibility.
Enterprise sites with 50,000 pages will need more technical work due since they are far more complex. But the principle is the same — prioritize the work that will make the biggest difference for the performance of your site as a whole.
For a resilient technical SEO strategy, focus on the following:
1. Make sure people can find your content through correct indexing
This is the most fundamental aspect of technical SEO. Submit your sitemap(s) to Google Search Console, and use GSC to check whether your most important web pages are indexed.
If search engines don’t know your content exists, your audience probably doesn’t, either. Related to this, you also want to keep your sitemap up to date, and only contain the pages that should be indexed.
2. Make sure 301 redirects are set up properly
Use 301 redirects to direct traffic to the most updated, new versions of every page on your site.
301 redirects pass 100% of “link equity” (aka SEO street cred) from one page to another, so they’re a powerful tool in your technical SEO toolbox if you need to remove old or underperforming content.
3. Fix broken pages with external links
Don’t hit web visitors with a “page not found” error. Instead, direct them to a relevant alternative resource using 301 redirects, as mentioned in number 2. This is mainly relevant for pages with existing traffic and external links to your site.
4. Make sure visitors are accessing the secure version of your site
Insecure websites freak your visitors out and compromise their personal information. Make sure you have a secure version of your site available.
In your control panel, you can “force https redirect” so people don’t access an insecure version of your site, or use a plugin to get the job done.
5. Check headers are probably formatted for SEO and people who use screen readers
Proper use of headers is crucial for SEO, but it’s also an accessibility best practice. By using headers correctly, you make your page both SEO-friendly and more accessible.
For each page, you should have just one H1 header, multiple H2s to organize subheadings, and other sub-headings as relevant.
6. Set up structured data like FAQ to help Google serve your content in an appealing way to visitors
It’s debatable how much of an effect structured data has on rankings, but you can use structured data like FAQ to increase the chances of Google showcasing your site info as a featured snippet.
The technical gist
If your eyes glazed over with all this technical jargon, don’t worry.
The bottom line is that any technical SEO work you do for your site should also strengthen your site’s user experience and accessibility. This is especially true the more time-consuming or costly the work is.
Most small B2B websites don’t need months and months of technical work to whip them into shape. So don’t hesitate to get a second opinion if some of the work your agency is recommending seems excessive.
Content: Why it's so important to be helpful in 2023
Now we get to the fun part … content marketing! (Cue the confetti.)
This is where we build lasting assets for your brand — assets you can repurpose in all kinds of ways.
When it comes to creating a resilient content strategy, the first step is to stop creating bad or even mediocre content “for SEO.”
This kind of content isn’t bringing us much new business anyway … and it’s the kind of content that will become useless with any big SEO shake-up.
Here’s the litmus test I like to use:
If SEO didn’t exist, would I still create content like this for my brand?
If the piece helps your audience, serves a purpose beyond just “traffic,” and uses SEO principles to reach more people, then you’re on the right track.
To sum up:
Old way: Creating content “for SEO”
New way: Creating content for your audience and marketing funnel, and using SEO principles to reach a broader audience.
1. Quality & audience relevance are more important than ever
“Quality” is debatable and relative, but to most marketers, quality content means:
- It’s engaging & easy to consume
- It’s substantial (not fluff)
- It’s relevant for the audience
- It’s helpful for a particular audience
- It’s so good the audience will share it
- It’s built on E-E-A-T principles (experience, expertise, authoritativeness, trustworthiness)
The highest quality content is a mix of all that stuff.
In a time when mediocre content is easier to create than ever before, your content HAS to be “quality” if you want it to rank in organic search and bring in new business.
To help you deliver quality, don’t write for an audience that isn’t yours. Stick with your prospective or current clients and make the best possible content you can for them.
2. Prioritize keywords and topics that serve your ideal audience
Keywords are a core part of SEO, but they aren’t the whole story.
Rather than obsessing over search volume for a specific keyword, ask yourself if it even makes sense to go after that keyword and create content around it.
Can you instead use a tweaked version of the keyword to create more relevant content for your brand?
For instance, on a recent project for a niche B2B client, I advised against going after high-volume keywords that wouldn’t bring them their target clients.
Instead, we used the high-volume keyword as inspiration for more niched content that would double as sales enablement tools.
Use keywords as windows into the language and mindset of your prospect.
Go after them when they make sense for your audience. Ignore them or tweak them to better suit your purposes when they don’t.
3. Use AI to make your writing better and scale your content creation – not worse!
Should you use AI to scale your content production? It depends.
If you’ve found a way to use AI to make your content better and more consistent, then by all means, go for it.
But if your content kicks butt and is generating lots of revenue for your brand, don’t jump on the AI bandwagon too quickly.
In an ideal scenario, AI can help you create a solid first draft of your content. In other cases, AI will mainly be a helpful tool for ideation — for example, creating customer personas and organizing topics.
Whatever you do, don’t use AI to create generic, unreadable content that does nothing for your audience or brand.
This mediocre content won’t even rank now … and in an AI-content saturated world, it’s definitely not going to be remarkable.
4. Make sure your SEO content serves a real marketing purpose
As we’ve said, if you want your content to be resilient, you should not be creating content that’s “just for SEO.”
Any SEO content you create should be both a traffic-generating tool and a marketing asset you can use in some other way.
This might include content that builds awareness of your brand for social media, nurtures leads via email, serves a purpose as sales collateral, or something else.
As an example, check out this piece from BBMG, a B Corp I worked with last fall.
I advised them to create additional content around queries that were relevant to their brand and specifically the term “regenerative brands.” The team then created an article titled “What is regenerative branding?” that explains their ethos and gives relevant examples of leaders in this space.
The monthly search volume for this keyword is low, and so some SEOs wouldn’t bother creating this kind of content. However, it’s such a core topic to their brand that they need a strong foundation of content around the term.
As experts in this niche, they also have a much higher chance of ranking for this term than the average business.
And, they can use this content in many other ways besides just ranking for SEO.
The content gist
SEO content should be a part of your marketing plan, not its own little island.
If you follow these guidelines when creating SEO content, you’ll create valuable brand assets you can re-use and repurpose for as long as you want.
This will make you resilient even in the face of major disruptions to SEO as a distribution channel.
Link-building: How to get incredible backlinks in 2023
Finally, we get to link-building.
Link-building gets a bad rap, but I actually love it. When done right, it’s the process of intentionally acquiring links from relevant, reputable sites back to your site.
There may still be some use cases for buying quality links from sites like NoBS and Loganix. Or the less controversial version of this — using HARO to pitch quotes to reporters.
But both approaches are a bit like hunting for a diamond in a mountain of horse manure.
You might get your reward … but you’ll probably feel a bit queasy while you’re doing it.
There’s a better way — one that still takes a lot of work, but feels way nicer and can scale like crazy.
Here’s the idea in a nutshell:
❌ Old way: Buy cheap links from link vendors
✅ New way: Get your brand’s name out there and create hot, linkable assets
Let’s talk about a few of the main link-building strategies for your B2B brand.
1. Create awesome content for your audience
The first way to get solid links is simply to create awesome content like we talked about in the previous section.
If you do this, share your content with your audience, word will get out about your brand, and you’ll naturally get some quality backlinks for your site.
2. Get your brand’s name out there through hustling
But let’s say you want to do link-building more intentionally.
If no one really knows your brand yet, you’re going to have to hustle. A lot.
In the early days of a brand, you’ll want to appear on any podcast or website that’s relevant to your niche.
These might be small opportunities, and it might not make a huge difference in boosting your rankings or revenue. But if you get in the habit of seeking high-quality partnerships, things will start to happen.
As an example, last year in the early days of my brand, I appeared on a few niche websites and podcasts.
I spent some time clarifying my positioning as a content marketing strategist for purpose-driven B2B brands, and I began posting on LinkedIn every day.
About a month later, MarketingProfs reached out to me about coaching some of their pro members.
My name and business are now featured on the MarketingProfs website, since I’ll be participating in some coaching sessions for their Shakeup B2B event. This is hopefully just the beginning of more visibility and strong backlinks for my brand.
3. Get your name out there through strategy
In this case, an opportunity came to me, but there are ways to pursue link-building opportunities more intentionally.
You can use a tool like Sparktoro to find out which websites your audience visits, and then use Moz or another tool to do a quick check on whether their “domain authority” is anything impressive.
You’ll want to prioritize opportunities for sites with a domain authority of about 30 and up.
Then, come up with topics and content that would be a perfect fit for those websites and their audience.
Write content for them if they’re a publisher, participate in an interview, appear on a podcast, partner with them on a webinar, or anything else you can think of.
Don’t get discouraged when opportunities don’t work out. Keep going, and work on building strategic relationships with established businesses and publishers who can help you elevate your brand.
4. Do digital PR to drive backlinks at scale
If you’re ready to drive more than just a few backlinks to your site, consider using digital PR to bring in backlinks at scale.
In this strategy, you create a “source magnet” which journalists and publishers will be eager to cite in their content.
The source magnet you create might be a niche survey, an industry study, or something else that provides unique research no one else has conducted or compiled.
Brian Dean of Backlinko used this strategy to build his brand through content like this incredible piece that compiles an analysis of 11.8 million Google Search Results. He teaches the entire process of digital PR in an excellent free Semrush course.
Digital PR takes a lot of time to do well, but mastering this strategy is absolutely worth it if you want to drive major awareness and traffic for your brand.
The link gist
When you focus on link-building methods that actually strengthen your brand and content marketing as a whole, you’re essentially “AI-proofing” your SEO strategy.
No matter what happens, you’re out there building relationships with real businesses, showing your value, and generating awareness of your brand. And no one can take that away.
Future-proof your SEO strategy
We’ve covered how to future-proof your SEO strategy in the three key areas of technical, content, and link-building. And we’ve shown some examples of B2B businesses doing this right now.
So if you don’t want to wake up tomorrow with zero organic traffic, start making your SEO strategy more resilient.
If you’d like help on this, One Generation offers a projected-based “SEO Strategy Sprint” that covers everything we talked about here.
Of course, at the end of the day, our jobs as marketers aren’t to cling to any one marketing practice, but to adapt and continue finding the best tactics for our businesses.
This is what I plan to do, and so as we see how everything shake out, I may be adjusting my strategies and services so that I’m always doing right by my clients.
If you want to stay up to date about my latest thinking about content marketing for purpose-driven B2B brands, make sure to get on our email list by filling out the form below.
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About the author
Rebekah Mays is the founder and chief strategist of One Generation, a digital marketing collective offering SEO and content “Sprints” to grow traffic and leads for purpose-driven B2B brands. Ready for more traffic so you can make a bigger impact? Get in touch.