SEM for B2B – Best Practices and Ad Types to Use in SEM for B2B

SEM for B2B – Best Practices and Ad Types to Use in SEM for B2B

​SEM for B2B is a different space than consumer marketing. Here, we’ll discuss some of the tactics and ad types you can use today in SEM for B2B.

SEM for B2B (business-to-business companies) is a bit different than what marketers normally think about when they discuss search engine marketing. Specifically, many marketers consider SEM to primarily be a B2C (business-to-consumer) space. Marketers at B2C companies post ads for their product, hoping that their prospective customers click on the ads, go to the landing page for that product and ultimately make a purchase. In addition, SEM for B2C companies typically has a relatively short latency period between the initial search and the purchase decision. Shoppers performing a search for a specific brand, style, size and color of running shoe most likely have their credit cards at the ready.

In this article, we’ll cover:

  • The basics of SEM for B2B (and differences from SEM for consumer companies)
  • The importance of brand keywords for B2B search marketing campaigns
  • B2B top-funnel tactics and basic mechanics
  • Specific tools and tactics for mid-funnel B2B search marketing campaigns

Ready? Let’s get started.

The difference between SEM for B2B vs. B2C

In contrast, SEM for B2B involves a purchase journey that can take weeks or months and contain multiple touches that can take place both on and off the web. For your campaigns in SEM for B2B to be successful, you must show each visitor an ad that’s most relevant to where they are located in the conversion funnel.

When running B2B search marketing, you need to know what buying stage your prospective customers are in. Are they are in research mode looking primarily for information about potential options? They’re more likely to be receptive to top-of-funnel messaging that fulfills their information needs without using a hard sell to pressure them. Or are they further down the funnel and doing price or feature comparisons as they prepare to make their choice? These prospects may be more receptive to messaging and content that will help them make their purchasing decision, such as customer success stories that specifically show why your products or services are the best fit for their business needs.

Bringing customers into your SEM for B2B funnel: Important considerations

First, when running SEM for B2B campaigns, you must incentivize your visitors to enter your conversion funnel when they visit your website. Generally, you can help that process along with some kind of gated offer, such as a free white paper report or webinar signup, which gets sent to your visitors after they fill out a lead capture form. Alternately, for companies that offer an online service, you might instead drive visitors to create a free account, through which they can test a limited-functionality version of your services, or a full-functionality account for a limited time.

To use SEM for B2B to market effectively to prospective customers that have entered your conversion funnel, you must segment these prospects into at least one “upgrade” AdWords Audience. (You can then further segment depending on the unique conditions of your own conversion funnel or specific business needs, such as for lead scoring and qualification).

This segment of prospects who have successfully entered your conversion funnel have passed through the very top, and should no longer be shown any top-funnel “sign up” ads. Instead, now that they’re further along in the funnel and are more familiar with your brand, they should only be shown ads that speak to the features and benefits of converting. Considering the length of a B2B conversion funnel, you may need to create a diverse series of ads for AdWords. This will help your B2B search marketing campaigns be in continual communication with these prospects across different touchpoints in their conversion journey, across your various SEM for B2B campaigns.

Types of Mid-Funnel Ads Used in SEM for B2B:

Brand Campaigns in SEM for B2B:

Another thing to keep in mind when running SEM for B2B campaigns: Once prospects have entered your conversion funnel, they will still do relevant Google searches with core vendor-based and brand keywords. This is done either by prospects who are checking out the competition, or who are furthering their own research into specific features or pricing.

To maintain contact with your prospect, you need to continue to show up on Google search engine results pages (SERP) when your prospects make those relevant searches – including searches that include your brand terms. Your competitors are already aware of this fact and including your brand terms in their B2B search marketing campaigns. That’s why it’s important to own your brand terms for mid-funnel prospects who are now aware of your brand but are still researching their options.

Remarketing Lists for Search Ads (Search Retargeting) in SEM for B2B:

In these cases, you also need to show messaging and a landing page experience that reflects the proper funnel stage in your B2B search marketing campaign. Again, after signing up for an offer or two, your prospects can be considered mid-funnel, rather than top-funnel, and they presumably already have some knowledge of your offering.

A common error when running B2B search marketing campaigns is to not vary messaging – for instance, repeatedly surfacing the ads that insist that prospects download the white paper they already downloaded. To avoid surfacing the wrong message and potentially alienating your future customers with irrelevant messaging, we recommend having a series of varied messages to use in Remarketing Lists for Search Ads (RLSA) campaigns to ensure your prospects always get a fresh experience when they happen upon you.

Google Display Network Retargeting in SEM for B2B:

We’re all familiar with the text and image ads we see on websites as we surf the web. When running SEM for B2B, your strategy for display should be aggressive and diverse…without oversaturating your prospective customers with the same (and potentially irrelevant) message. We recommend that every feature/benefit/case study page on your website be considered for mid-funnel retargeting for Google Display Network (GDN). Also, if relevant to your own specific goals, you should also consider prominently featuring upsell/upgrade ads that send prospects to your paid conversion page as well.

GDN: Display Responsive Ad in SEM for B2B:

In terms of specific tactics to use in SEM for B2B,  we’ve recently found that Google’s new Display Responsive Ad offering seems to perform exceptionally well in the GDN mid-funnel. These ads combine a relevant, Facebook-sized image with text messaging, and they get shown frequently if they appear in your account.

Video ads (full pre-roll video and bumpers) in SEM for B2B:

Mid-funnel video can also be very effective when used in limited doses in your SEM for B2B campaigns. These ads are shown as pre-roll ads before YouTube videos. Because of the way YouTube makes a distinction between “impressions” (which is what YouTube calls pre-roll video ads that are not viewed past 30 seconds – and for which YouTube does not charge advertisers) and paid views that go past 30 seconds, there’s potentially very strong return on investment here.

For your B2B search marketing campaigns, we recommend you use diverse messaging if your budget allows. We also recommend using varied video lengths and formats. (Videos that are much longer than 30 seconds may not do as well, however.)

When running SEM for B2B campaigns, we’ve also found that Google’s new 6 second bumper video offerings can also be quite effective. It should be noted that video is rarely going to be a direct-response channel for B2B. Your clickthrough rates and conversion rates from video will be extremely low. However, video has been shown to be a strong conversion influencer when your prospective customers finally decide to make their purchase decisions.


It’s important to remember when running SEM for B2B campaigns that for many B2B businesses, some (or much) of the sales process can take place off the website. In order to properly attribute your marketing efforts, you should also be recording and attributing non-web and offline interactions appropriately. Many leading B2B businesses integrate their CRM databases to track interactions in digital channels such as AdWords. However, a predictive advertising solution can algorithmically attribute all click data to your marketing funnel to pull clearer, data-driven insights that can directly drive stronger campaign performance.

Andrew Park is a content marketing manager at QuanticMind. A UC Berkeley graduate and lifelong Bay Area resident, Andrew has done tours of duty in editorial, PR and marketing, and now works with the QuanticMind team to communicate the importance of data science and machine learning in digital advertising.

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