18 Lessons Learned In Leveraging Event Marketing For B2B SEO

Here’s a painful truth: for B2B marketing success in fast-growth environments, inbound marketing only plays a small role in the process. Outbound marketing efforts, like event marketing, often play a much more significant role.

In fact, according to a study released last year covered by InsideSales.com, event marketing was the second most effective B2B marketing tactic in generating leads and driving brand awareness.

Ask your fellow B2B event marketer what the budget typically is for hosting a booth at a “significant” industry trade show. I’ll bet the fees are well into the five figures, possibly six figures depending on the significance of the show.

Event marketing is a significant part of the B2B marketing budget and thus, an important point of emphasis in the broader B2B organization’s marketing initiatives.

In the wake of Google algorithm changes, the collaboration between event marketing and SEO can become a critical component in driving third-party awareness (i.e., inbound links). Trade Show participation is an ideal way to meet industry influencers in real life, get a better understanding of important trends and topics, and get first-hand exposure to the sales process.

We’ve had our share of event marketing experience in the recent past. In this column, I want to highlight lessons learned, and best practices we’ve realized along the way in aligning B2B SEO needs with event marketing participation.

Preparation Is Key

It’s naive to assume you can walk into a trade show or conference and effectively accomplish communication strategies designed to bring about SEO-centric link initiatives without preparation.

This is especially true when working with clients in industries in which you’re not fully entrenched, and also important if you plan on developing content (i.e., through interviews and discussions) for your blog or website.

Here are five key steps we’ve identified in the preparation process.

  • Identify Publication Targets: Based on attendee registrations and exhibitor lists, put together a short list of priority individuals and organizations to meet.
  • Create Preliminary Questions: If you plan on developing interviews or other content assets, make sure to come prepared with ideas and topics to discuss.
  • Send Introductory Emails: Once your target list is established, look to social networks such as LinkedIn and Twitter for ways to reach out pre-show for preliminary introductions.
  • Support With Social Media Activity: Introductions are more likely to be successful if you engage your prospects in social platforms. For example, we create lists of potential trade show attendees in Twitter pre-event, monitoring for opportunities to communicate and engage.
  • Review Event-Specific Marketing Collateral For Link Opportunities: Don’t forget easy wins, especially if your organization’s participation includes presentation or sponsorship. As illustrated in my previous column, the screen capture below highlights a potential link opportunity found in this conference’s community section.

Event / Conference Participation

At The Show: Stay On Your Toes

Expect the best, plan for the worst, and prepare to be surprised.” You never really know how conversations, meeting schedules and proposed “commitments” will play out at a conference. If you’re attending with the goal of catching exhibitors and sponsors, remember the reason they’re really there: to generate leads.

Helping you with your SEO initiative is a very distant second (or third or fourth or fifth…) priority.

  • Prep For Roadblocks: Your schedule of conversations is almost never going to go as planned. Customers, management priorities and event schedules create conflict so always have an option B or C ready.
  • Ask To Record Conversations (Audio, Video Or Both): For interviews specifically (not casual introductions, that would be weird), this way you have a backup of information. It’s important to prep interviewees as to why you’re recording them so that they don’t get scared off.
  • Restate Answers: A practical way I try to retain interviews is by restating answers back. This can be especially important when discussing topics I’m not as familiar with (i.e., new or complex industries).
  • Fall Back On Previous Interview Conversations: Particularly when navigating events in industries you’re less familiar with, fall back on conversations about trends and topics others have stated. This helps spur on interviews that might run dry or lack enough content at the start.
  • Look For Alternative Content Development Opportunities: You might come to a conference with interview ideas or specific blog topics but also find new opportunities, as well. For example: for one client’s trade show, we ended up getting them a radio interview with one of their partners as well as cross-references in another organization’s social media program.

Content Marketing Example

  • Listen To The Social Stream: Keep up with the conversations happening around you on Twitter and other social platforms. This helps add depth and support for interviews scheduled.
  • Share Through Social Media: Don’t just keep up but participate in social media conversations where possible. Hopefully, this helps bridge a few connections that need to be made while walking the show or attending networking events.
  • Don’t Forget To Get Business Cards! You’ll need notes on who you talked to and why. Make sure to collect the right contact information for further follow up.
  •  Be Courteous & Respectful Of People’s Time: I stated this previously, but can’t understate its importance. We’re all attending a conference for leads and business and this is especially true for exhibitors. It’s important to thank everyone for their time and stay out of the way of direct sales opportunities.

Don’t Rest Just Because The Show Ends

Trade shows are fast-paced, adrenaline-draining events. I myself am guilty of missing the “afterglow” of the event and failing to follow up in proper fashion from time to time. If you’re building content and link opportunities for your SEO strategy, it’s important not to take a break after the show ends. Follow through is critical.

  • Draft Content While Your Memory Is Fresh: You might not be ready to complete final drafts for client review but it’s important to review collected information immediately, drafting notes and observations that will help complete assignments in the very near term.
  • Send Follow Up Correspondences: Thank people for their time, connect in relevant social platforms, and try to maintain communication for the long run.
  • Reassess Communications For Ongoing Opportunities: When you get back to the office, make sure to investigate your new connections’ experience and background. There might be more than immediate SEO value in this new network. For example, for one trade show event we participated in, we’ve created an opportunity for our client to appear as a regular columnist in two high-quality, industry-specific publications.
  • Review, Evaluate & Report Performance: I could probably write an entire column on how to do the reporting for this type of initiative, but in summation: productivity metrics, traffic metrics, SEO-metrics (like inbound links), and specific examples all help build the story as to why a B2B SEO’s presence at an event marketing initiative was so valuable to the organization.

Twitter Example

As my colleague Stacy Thompson indicated in a previous post referenced for one industry-specific conference where we conducted interviews, our team “came back with enough material to publish a whopping 10 comprehensive and collaborative posts” that in turn drove dozens of links and social mentions for our clients.

Obviously, it’s not always practical for the B2B SEO professional to jump on a plane, book a hotel reservation, and get to the latest industry conference. Budgets come into play, too. Stay on top of what’s happening regionally to find new opportunities for outreach.

In the Boston area, we keep up with industry happenings through Boston Tweetup, Meetup.com, the Boston.com event calendar and a range of industry specific publications. Demonstrated success locally can lead to bigger opportunities down the road.

Have you experienced success in generating SEO opportunities through trade shows and event marketing programs? I’d love to read your feedback and perspective via comments below.