One of the topics that come up in my conversations with other founders and marketers…
Content marketing has become very popular in the last decade. But for all that growth, there seems to be more noise and lower quality than ever. What we’re seeing is an influx of spending and a massive increase in content creation, but a lack of content marketing strategy.
Content is a significant investment in your marketing. It also takes time to pay off, which is where many SaaS companies get into trouble. Unlike paid acquisition channels, you can’t turn content on and off. It takes months, even years, to build momentum. If you’re going to spend that much time working on a blog, you better have a content marketing strategy.
How to Develop a Content Marketing Strategy
A blog is only as good as the content marketing strategy behind it. Here are the questions you must answer before and during—these are essential to earning traffic and proving that your company’s investment is getting them a return.
- Who Will You Write For?
- What Will You Write About?
- When Will You Publish?
- How Will You Earn Traffic?
- How Will You Support the Business?
- Content Marketing Tools
1. Who Will You Write For?
Your target readers should be living, breathing people, not fictitious personas. Target readers should be people you know and trust, people that you’d be honored to have reading your blog.
It’s important to use real people and not fictitious personas because it affects your approach to creating content. Creating content for “SaaS Sally” is very different than writing for your friend Ty Magnin who runs marketing at Appcues. You’ll hold yourself to a higher standard if you’re writing for real people. Fictitious personas also tend to reflect the average, not the median. This means you risk writing for a person well outside the stated demographics.
Be thoughtful about the personas you create. “Reaching decision-makers” is a trope. Every content marketing strategy aspires to reach the C-suite. But consider that software is often adopted by a collection of people:
- Leader: sets the strategic vision, holds team accountable
- Implementor: the people using and setting up SaaS tools
- Researcher: the person tasked with learning about various tools and capabilities
Reaching readers in the C-suite is hard, but it’s actually not good enough. This is why you need to create content for the entire payscale—anyone who could be involved in the research, buying or using of your tool needs to be addressed. We think of this on a spectrum from very tactical to very strategic.
Tactical readers need information, comparisons, instructions and best practices. Strategic readers need models, frameworks and principles. Your blog needs a variety of tactical and strategic content to be comprehensive. For a more complete breakdown of writing tactical and strategic content, check out our guide to creating reader personas.
Remember that your ideal reader is the one who buys your product. It’s easy to get distracted by pageviews and newsletter subscribers, but the goal of a SaaS blog is to drive business growth. Identify your ideal reader and serve them well.
- Moz: Personas: The Art and Science of Understanding the Person Behind the Visit
- Buffer: The Complete, Actionable Guide to Marketing Personas
Topic ideation is something to be systematized. But first, let’s layout a framework to help you understand the best way to choose topics.
Your blog is not a publication, it’s a growing library of information. There are many reasons you need to adopt this mindset, but here’s one guiding principle that should be enough reason on its own.
- Blogs that act like publications create series of standalone posts on different topics. They are hesitant to cover the same topic more than once.
- Blogs that act like libraries create hubs of related posts. They have the freedom to cover the same core topics over and over again.
This strategy pairs nicely with another content marketing strategy essential, which is that people should primarily discover you via search. Since readers aren’t checking your site each time you post something new, you can write about the same thing for weeks in a row. No one will care since they are finding what they need, when they need it via search engines.
Most of your topics should be driven by 1) keyword research and 2) sales and support feedback. Use keyword research to identify entry points for new readers. Keywords should be top and middle of the funnel, meaning they serve searchers who are looking for information and education. Create content for the bottom of the funnel by talking to your sales and support teams about what prospects and customers are having trouble with. This process helps you address the entire lifecycle, from awareness through purchase.
- Top of Funnel: Use keyword research to address high-level topics, introduce new readers to your brand.
- Middle of Funnel: Use keyword research in addition to sales and support feedback to tie problems to your specific solution.
- Bottom of Funnel: Use sales and support feedback to write directly about your product.
Here are examples of each from Wistia:
Top of the Funnel: Shooting Video with an iPhone
This post introduces anyone interested in shooting better video with an iPhone to some really useful tips. Many of the people who find this post won’t be ready to buy Wistia, but some will be doing research for a work project and will remember this resource.
Middle of the Funnel: Using Video with Marketing Automation
This post is textbook middle of the funnel content. It inserts the product directly into a conversation about a broader and highly relevant topic (marketing automation). It’s thorough and insightful, with just the right amount of sales pitch.
Bottom of the Funnel: Get Better Organized and More Productive with the New Wistia Trello Power-Up
Product updates are a great way to educate existing customers and nudge prospects. When you’re targeting the bottom of the funnel, don’t be shy about addressing your product.
To wrap up, don’t forget these two rules about topic ideation:
- Write about the same core topics from every angle.
- Serve the entire lifecycle, from top to bottom.
- Backlinko: Keyword Research for SEO: The Definitive Guide
- Ahrefs: How To Do Keyword Research for SEO
- McKinsey: The consumer decision journey
3. When Will You Publish?
It’s impossible to write too much, but it’s easy to publish too much.
“A lot of content marketers worry about not publishing enough,” says Podia CMO Len Markidan, “but the truth is that publishing too much is a more dangerous mistake. Write something that your readers will love, and then give them time to enjoy it, share it and hunger for more. This lands at the very top of the list of ‘things I wish someone told me when I started.’”
Remember the publication vs. library framework? Well, publications also sometimes get into the habit of publishing too often. The result is typically shorter, less valuable pieces of content. This is not ideal.
The ideal publishing schedule is relative to your budgetary constraints. Still, it’s difficult to scale publishing volume without sacrificing quality no matter how much money you can afford to spend. As a general rule, publish as often as you can without dropping your quality standards. There’s no use publishing content that won’t get read.
Here’s are publishing schedule templates you can use depending on your budget:
Remember that a good content marketing strategy is all about compounding growth. Level 1 may not seem like much, but will result in 52 articles per year. Brian Dean grew Backlinko to 100,000 monthly uniques with just 35 posts. Level 3 will get you 153 posts in a year, but it doesn’t guarantee traffic. Don’t publish more if that time or money compromises time spent doing solid keyword research and great promotion and distribution.
- Airtable: How to build a content marketing pipeline
- CoSchedule: How To Use A Content Marketing Editorial Calendar To Save A Ton Of Time
- Neil Patel: 5 Simple Steps That’ll Help You Determine How Often You Need to Blog
Here’s the golden rule of content marketing strategy: compounding growth is the only growth.
Don’t invest significant time in non-recurring acquisition channels. When it comes down to it, organic search and your own email list are the only channels you can count on.
You should be thinking about organic search from day one and everyday thereafter. It’s essential that you gain traction in search engines if you want to grow your audience. Here are a few things to think about:
- Internal linking: Go on Wikipedia and observe how they link all of their entries together. Apply the same strategy to your own site by linking to and from related posts. This helps search engines contextualize your site and reduces bounce rate.
- Technical SEO: Your site structure, navigation, meta descriptions, canonical links—it all plays into your rankings. If you don’t have an internal SEO resource, hire a consultant to make sure you aren’t working harder than you need to.
- Content Saturation: If you’ve been in the habit of publishing too much, consider deleting or refreshing old content. Pages that live on your site and don’t get traffic can hurt your rankings. And if you do decide to remove pages, do so carefully.
- Content Length and Depth: Most research says that longer posts rank better. That fits nicely with the idea of publishing less often but does require plenty of writing. Brian Dean recommends a minimum of 1,900 words per post.
Organic traffic compounds faster than email, meaning it should be the primary source of growth. But email is a medium that you have complete control over. It’s not a channel for new reader acquisition, but it is an excellent way to drive traffic to middle and bottom of the funnel content. Here’s a template for email that most SaaS companies can use:
- Weekly Content Newsletter: Get readers in the habit of hearing from you each week.
- Regular Product Updates: Let people know about product updates. This is a good way to tie education to your solution.
- Free Email Course: This is an underrated way to capture email addresses on top of funnel posts. These can be short—three to five emails in a series—but should be comprehensive.
- New Subscriber Welcome Series: Let new readers know about your product, what it does and how it can help them.
- Free Trial Onboarding Series: Use a blend of help docs and content to get people going. They should feel well-equipped and inspired.
- Recurring Emails: Weekly or monthly usage emails. These are a great opportunity to use content to help people make progress in areas where they are lacking. (Example: “You haven’t created a new campaign in a while, here’s some inspiration from our blog.”)
- Retention Email Series: Highly targeted emails for users who aren’t engaging in the product. Use a blend of content, questions and help docs to get them going again. Test these emails early and often.
There are, of course, other ways to get traffic but they tend to be fickle and temporary. Should you invest at least some time in things like social media, communities and guest posting? Yes, but never take your eye off organic search.
- Moz: Clean Your Site’s Cruft Before It Causes Rankings Problems
- Backlinko: On-Page SEO: Anatomy of a Perfectly Optimized Page
- Pat Flynn: Email Marketing Strategies (Professional bloggers like Pat are way better at driving traffic with email than most SaaS companies. We highly recommend his work.)
5. How Will You Support the Business?
Content marketers need to get very used to the phrase business objectives. Traffic is great. Email subscribers are great. But those things cost you money. The only thing that makes you money is recruiting more paying customers.
There are plenty of popular blogs out there that don’t drive business growth. A comprehensive content marketing strategy includes monetization. Here are four things that absolutely cannot be overlooked as you start, grow and run a blog.
Let Readers Know About Your Product
You have to assume that readers do not know there is a software product behind your content. It’s likely that they have 10 tabs open, Twitter notifications coming in and a meeting that starts in five minutes. Make it abundantly clear that they are on a SaaS product site, not just a blog. To do this:
- Consider using a conversational messaging tool like Drift or Intercom to ask questions of readers while they are on your site. (Example: “Is there something about [topic] that we can help you with?”)
- Keep your blog in a sub-folder, not a sub-domain and definitely not on Medium. You want your main site navigation menu on all blog pages. The ideal URL is
- Use author bios to let people know who they are hearing from. A post from “Jessica, head of marketing at SaaS Inc.” inspires more confidence than “Tom, freelance writer.”
- Use product language in the header, footer and sidebar. Don’t be shy about offering free trials, showing testimonials or using social proof to show that people love the product.
- Use contextual calls to action. If a post is about push notifications, use a CTA about push notifications.
Capture Email Addresses
99% of readers won’t be ready to buy now, but many will need your product in the future. This creates an attribution problem that makes measuring content difficult, but it also means it’s vitally important to capture email addresses. You need to establish an ongoing relationship so that if and when the times comes to buy, every reader knows where to go.
- Offer a course instead of a newsletter. People know that newsletters are eternal and that’s a big commitment. Courses have a clear start and end, which makes it easier for people to opt in. Once it’s over, you can transition them to an infrequent newsletter.
- Or just send a newsletter. Courses are an easier entry point for new readers, but good old-fashioned newsletter can still work too. Just make sure you let them know the frequency of emails they can expect ahead of time.
- Use content upgrades for contextual calls to action. Whitepapers, ebooks, case studies—these are great ways to market to readers interested in specific topics. Use them within articles on relevant topics.
Follow Up with Everyone
If you have a sales team, make sure there is a process in place to hand off email addresses. If you don’t, make sure you have good drip campaigns in place to nurture leads. Following up on every single lead is no longer a huge challenge thanks to behavioral email and marketing automation. Put these tools in place and don’t let anyone slip through the cracks.
Agree on Attribution
Measuring content marketing is hard and often a point of contention among stakeholders. Revenue growth from content is a lagging indicator of success since almost no readers will be ready to buy immediately. There isn’t a perfect way to attribute content to revenue, but here are a few things to think about:
- Capturing email addresses makes it way easier to track a user’s path from reader to customer.
- Running a site in a sub-folder as opposed to subdomain makes it easier to attribute signups in Google Analytics.
- Don’t try to make a 1:1 connection between reading a single post and signing up. Shoot for something more holistic, like tracking all behavior in the 90 days leading to the signup.
Scrambling to prove the blog is working is something you want to avoid (and it happens all the time). Agree on the metrics you will measure ahead of time.
- Buffer: How We Doubled Email Signups in 30 Days: Our Strategies to Get More Email Subscribers
- WordStream: 27 Tips on How to Get More Email Signups
- ConversionXL: How to Measure Content Marketing ROI: A Simple 4 Step Process
- Andrew Chen: The highest ROI way to increase signups
- Content Marketing Institute: Understand How Content is Influencing Buyers: A Primer on Attribution Models
With your content marketing strategy in place, you’re going to need tools make it all run smoothly. There are plenty of great options out there, but here are a few of our favorite content marketing tools.
SEO + Research
- Ahrefs – An excellent tool for tracking links and doing keyword research.
- Moz – Track your rankings for target keywords.
- KeywordTool.io – Get tons of keyword ideas.
- AnswerthePublic.com – Get keyword ideas in the form of questions.
- Buzzsumo – Research successful posts with search and social metrics.
- Clearbit – Add data to your existing email list for better segmentation.
Content Creation + Hosting
- Quip – Our favorite tool for collaborative writing.
- SketchDeck – Professional design resources on-demand.
- DraftSend – Create simple presentations that you can embed in your posts.
- WordPress – The best content management system for most SaaS blogs.
- WPEngine – Our host of choice.
- Wistia – The best video hosting platform out there.
- ConvertKit – A tool built specifically for bloggers to send emails and create courses.
- Customer.io – An excellent tool for creating behavioral email campaigns.
- CampaignMonitor – An easy-to-use email tool with beautiful templates.
Promotion + Conversion
- Sumo – All kinds of tools for collecting email addresses on your site.
- Drift – Simple live chat tool for having live conversations with readers.
- Buffer – The industry standard social media sharing tool.
- Airtable – Create an insanely powerful content workflow.
- CoSchedule – Build comprehensive marketing calendars.
- Zapier – Connect all your apps and automate everything.
- Trello – A popular and useful project management tool.
- Teamwork – A robust and powerful project management app.
Analytics + Attribution
- Google Analytics – Easy and free analytics. You can’t be that.
- Amplitude – Tie your product data into your content data.
- Segment – Centralize your event tracking for cleaner data.
Content marketing is an ongoing challenge, not a task to be checked off your list.
Wanna chat? Tweet me @itswilson8