A Bottom-Up Approach to SaaS Content Marketing & Creation
July 23, 2022
A Bottom-Up Approach to SaaS Content Marketing & Creation
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Have you ever read anything along the lines of: "How ONE article generated $100M for our SaaS business"?
At this point, you probably thought: “Oh, I'd love that for MY business. How do I go about that?”
Well, that's what we'll look at in this guide: how to create a cutting-edge content marketing strategy for any SaaS business.
But I don't want you to waste time by regurgitating what you've already read elsewhere: to define your goals and metrics, map your funnel, do keyword research, create content, measure conversions, and then rinse and repeat.
That stuff isn't helpful.
It's probably as good as me telling you to"just do it the right way."
Instead, I intend to show you how to do it the right way.
The #1 Problem with SaaS Content Strategies Today
Do you know what’s the #1 issue with how SaaS companies envision their content strategies?
They focus on the wrong type of content.
You see, most SaaS companies I talk to say they've been producing dozens of pieces of content but aren't seeing any results."
Take WriterZen, for example (I have nothing against them, I'm using their tool all the time, including this very moment. ).
They're a new player on the "SEO Content Optimization" block, similar to SurferSEO or Frase.
And here they are, producing content like "What Is SEO? An Easy Guide on Search Engine Optimization."
Let's stop and think for a second.
Who reads this type of content?
Who googles "What is SEO?"
I can tell you that almost none of these people will buy from WriterZen - they just aren’t part of the right audience.
This type of content is called "Top of the Funnel Content." In this case, I'd argue it's even out of the funnel, but that’s a topic for another day.
This is a mistake so many SaaS companies make: they focus on content that has no chance of converting.
They spend money, energy, time, and resources on things that are bound to drive little revenue.
This probably happens because SaaS marketers think they need to "guide" people through the buyer's journey.
There are a few issues with this approach:
- If you’ve achieved product/service market fit, you probably already have enough people looking for your product, or at least looking for something similar, to ignore top of the funnel content entirely.
- Even though people need to be "educated" or "guided" during their journey, not all of it needs to happen on your website. Users visit a large number of websites before coming to yours. You're better off leaving the high-level education to others and focusing on reaping the benefits.
- Even if this type of traffic ends up supplying sign-ups or downloads, you're going to have a very hard time turning these people into buyers, let alone long-term subscribers.
So, what should you do instead?
It’s simple: focus on Bottom of the Funnel content.
In other words, write about what keeps your users up at night.
The best part is that most SaaS founders already know that.
They just go with the flow.
With that said, the next question you’re probably asking yourself is: what’s the BOFU/MOFU content for your company?
Trust me, that's quite an easy problem to solve.
Let's see how.
They Ask, You Answer: The Bottom-Up Approach to SaaS Content Marketing
Now’s the time for the best piece of advice you'll find in any content-marketing-related piece of content.
Read "They Ask, You Answer" by Marcus Sheridan. Here it is on Amazon (this is not an affiliate link - I hate them too).
But before you read it, here’s the gist of the book:
- Answer every question your prospective users/customers are asking in your content
- Answer them with honesty and transparency
- Focus on building trust with your content, and nothing else
- Ignore keywords and search volumes for the most part
- Talk about everything people need, even if you’re not comfortable doing so:
In other words: users come first.
Not buyers. Not customers.
In other words, you should approach your content marketing strategy bottom-up, not top-down.
Right. Thanks, Vince. But how does that help me design my strategy?
Bear with me for a few more paragraphs (short ones, in true 2020s web copywriting fashion).
You have a few exercises at your disposal to help you design any content strategy:
List 5 to 10 customer fears and address them.
Here’s my example. My customers have a few obvious fears:
- Getting ripped off
- Not getting results
- Working with an unreliable provider
- Spending more money than they could have
Here’s how I can address them on my website or social media:
- Get customer testimonials, preferably video ones, as a means of reassurance
- Create case studies to explain how we got results
- Show examples of when we failed, and explain why (this will help people tremendously)
- Be transparent about pricing, and how much our project cost.
And these are just a few ideas!
But you can see that by listing a few main customer fears, I was able to come up with a few types of content:
- Different types of testimonials, preferably real-world ones
- In-depth case studies where I highlight the exact process to get results
- A case study where I highlight a project that failed, and why
- A pricing page with pricing estimates, and a detailed look at how the industry prices SEO services, and how we price projects compared to the industry’s average.
Death to Keyword Metrics In SaaS Content Marketing
You may have noticed that I haven’t mentioned keywords yet.
This is a consequence of the bottom-up approach: we do NOT start with keyword research.
Instead, we start with topics and find keywords that fit them.
Most SaaS companies start the other way around.
They (or the freelancers & agencies they hire) start by dumping keyword ideas in their favorite SEO tool.
Then, they (kind of) clean it up and prioritize keywords based on volume and difficulty.
Search Volume, Keyword Difficulty & the Prioritization Mayhem
Ok, let's focus on Search Volume and Keyword Difficulty for a moment.
If you're familiar with any SEO tool, you know that these tools love these two metrics.
- Search Volume is the number of times a specific keyword is searched per month
- Keyword Difficulty represents how "difficult" it is to rank for that keyword.
For Search Volume, tool creators usually start with data from Google Keyword Planner, as Ahrefs describes in this article.
For Keyword Difficulty, SEO tools use another metric: the "Domain Authority" metric (they all have their own version of it - DA, DR - I can't even name them all).
That "Authority" is determined by the amount and the quality of backlinks pointing to the domains ranking for the query.
The more authoritative ranking domains are, the higher the keyword difficulty.
I don't want to go too much into detail here, but that can cause very weird situations.
Imagine a scenario where Google doesn't really know which websites to rank because it can't find any content that matches the intent.
Before you say that this never happens, trust me: it happens all the time. Google says 15% of queries have never been searched before.
What Google does in that situation is pretty logical: if it can't find any content, it shows content from authoritative websites.
That's how you end up with long-tail keywords showing up as highly difficult to rank for when they're really not.
Keyword Difficulty means very little. It's just a snapshot of how many links are pointing to the domains ranking for a query.
Links are definitely important, but they're not the only factor. If you build better content, you can rank without that many links.
On the other hand, Search Volume isn't really that useful either, for a few reasons:
- It's a relative metric, not an absolute one. A keyword with the Search Volume of 10 isn't really searched 10 times a month - but it's searched 10 times less than a keyword with a Search Volume of 100.
This means that Search Volume should always be considered within a specific topic, never as an absolute metric. (No, this isn't how people use it, I know, but that's just how it is).
- It (kinda) tells you how much something is searched for, not how relevant that search is. Our previous "What is SEO" example is quite relevant here: this isn't good traffic. It isn't traffic that generates revenue.
Knowing all of this, you can see how prioritizing content ideas based on Search Volume and Keyword Difficulty doesn't sound like such a good idea anymore.
The days of "going after high-volume low-difficulty keywords" as a basis of your SEO strategy are gone.
Especially for SaaS companies.
So, what should you do instead?
Focus on search intent.
The answer is quite simple: focus on the intent of the query.
Try to answer these few questions when considering a topic:
- Does the person typing this fit my Ideal Customer Profile (ICP)?
- What are they trying to get out of their search?
- What led them to search for this and what do they need to do to find it?
- How can I help them do that?
This will help you determine how that topic or keyword is actually related to your product.
But how do you get these topic ideas?
I'm glad you asked.
Start with User Research - Do NOT Skip This Step
Yup, I'm going to say it again: you need to know your users.
SEO & SaaS content marketing should always start with a user-centric approach.
Users first, keywords last.
As we already established, Search Volume and Keyword Difficulty are vanity metrics - they don't do anything for you.
You should be talking to people instead in order to understand:
- What problems they're trying to solve
- The overarching "jobs" they're trying to do
- Why they want from your product
- Why they are using your product
- Why they're considering switching (if that's the case)
- Why they're sticking with you.
In order to do that, you can focus on your customer touchpoints:
- Sales - They know your prospective customers and what people are looking for in a new product: the jobs they have to do (this article is great if you want to learn more)
- Success - They know why people are sticking with you, how to improve the tool and what feature mean the most to them
- Support - They know what features people want, the features they are missing, and how the product helps them day to day.
In other words, you need to figure out what keeps people up at night.
So, the following question is: how do you get in people’s heads and figure it out?
How to Lead a User-Research Call
I won't go into too much detail here as we already have an entire article about user research for SaaS companies.
But to give you an idea, here’s what you need to do: just keep asking why.
This isn't new - it's a method called the “Five whys”.
It's a great method to uncover the root cause of the issue.
And this is what we need: to identify the root cause of the problem so we can ideate content.
Let me give you an example.
Just yesterday, I was on a call with a prospect of mine and I explained this method to him.
Luckily for him, I was using his product, so he could try the technique on me!
His product is a Virtual Workspace for remote teams called KosyOffice (see, you can earn a backlink from a discovery call!).
So, here’s how it went:
Him: Why did you sign up for Kosy?
Me: "Because I felt like it would be a good way for my team to feel more connected, and I wanted to give it a try."
Him: Why do you want your team to feel more connected?
Me: "Because we're 100% remote, and I want them to be part of the company. I want them to subscribe to what we do and feel like part of a team."
Him: Why do you want them to feel like they're part of the company?
Me: "Because I want them to be more productive and not feel stuck, and I want them to see me as a leader and not just a boss. We tried team-building activities in Zoom, but it's not easy."
Him: Why do you need more productivity from your team?
Me: "It's not necessarily that I need more productivity, but as a remote service business, it's hard to know when people need a hand or when they're spending too much time on something. The virtual workspace could help start small, 5 minutes conversations."
That discussion took less than 5 minutes.
In less than 5 minutes, he can ideate so much content:
- How to help remote teams feel connected
- Remote team productivity
- Remote leadership
- Remote teambuilding
- Remote service business
- Teambuilding in Zoom
Those high-level topics can then be flushed out - not yet exact articles.
Turning Content Topics Into Actual Content: A Rigorous Approach to SaaS Content Creation
Once you’ve ideated content topics, you need to turn them into actual content.
This is where keyword research comes into play.
Sample SaaS Keyword Research
Let's take remote team building.
There are already really good content ideas:
- Remote team building (it can be a Hub page with lots of insights and expertise)
- Remote team building activities /ideas (a listicle-type article with the product in mind)
- How to build a strong culture in a remote team
But let's take it a step further.
We know that our user (that's me!) mentioned Google Meet.
So, we can perform the same research using Meet, Zoom, Gotomeeting, etc.
I run a search for "team building" in Semrush and used the "Include" filter to add tool names, making sure to click the "any" button:
And I got mixd results: people seem to be looking for Zoom only.
Well, that sounds weird to me.
Why aren’t people looking for Google Meet?
So, I decided to run a quick Google search.
People who are searching the term “team building” are actually looking for games and activities in Google Meet, Zoom, etc.
Back to Semrush.
At this point, you're probably thinking: "Yes, but that's quite remote from the product itself" (see what I did there? I'm a dad, after all!)
Yes, you’re right! This is where prioritization comes in.
You need to focus on BOFU topics first, so that zoom activitites thing is probably not the top priority.
But still, that’s content you can create at some point.
Out of one conversation with one guy (a pretty bright one for sure, but still), we got lots of content ideas.
Imagine repeating that with 10 sales calls, 10 support calls, and 10 success calls.
The results are simple: endless content ideas that your users will LOVE.
Prioritizing Content Ideas for SaaS Companies
At this stage, we still need to keep two things in mind:
- We want to make sure we only write one piece of content per search intent, and
- We want to be able to prioritize content ideas based on revenue and BOFU/MOFU/TOFU, not based on vanity metrics.
So, how do you keep track of all of that? Yup, you guessed it: it's spreadsheet time!
Create a simple spreadsheet with:
- Your main keyword
- Its volume (to compare it to others)
- The "Pillar" it relates to (think of them as the main business topics related to your product)
- The other keywords you want to target in the same article.
We need to make sure we’re never covering the same search intent twice.
For example, "Zoom meeting activities" and "Zoom meeting ideas" are the same intent.
We know this because the search results are very similar.
In this case, we need to group them and address both in the same article.
I could go on and on about this, but you get the idea.
It's an endless thing: you'll always find new topics to write about.
How much content do SaaS companies ACTUALLY need?
Another misunderstanding about SaaS content marketing has to do with the amount of content needed to be successful.
A lot of companies (and still, a lot of SEO and content marketers) think that they need to write a lot of content.
Some people think that they won't be successful unless they have hundreds of pieces of content on their website.
Fortunately, this couldn't be further from the truth.
If your targeting is right, and if you have the right positioning, you only need a handful of content pieces to generate revenue.
A few dozen articles about what keeps your ideal customer up at night will do the trick.
Does that mean you should stop there?
Of course not.
But you shouldn't think that you need 100 articles to get revenue.
It's like thinking that there's no point in jogging if you can't run a marathon.
It makes no sense.
What’s important is to promote your content, though.
There are a few ways SaaS companies can promote their content:
- Slack communities
- Organic social media traffic
- Paid social media traffic
- Third party websites (link building)
How to Source, Hire and Manage Writers for SaaS Content Creation?
We've covered a lot of things so far, but we haven’t got to the hardest part yet: SaaS Content Creation.
This is what most brands actually struggle with the most: the execution.
You can have the best plan in the world, but if the execution is subpar, then the result will be subpar.
Let's face it: SaaS Content Production (like any content production) is really HARD.
In order for your content to drive conversions (and revenue), you need it to convey expertise and trust.
In other words, SaaS companies cannot succeed with what we call "Search Engine Regurgitation".
Search Engine Regurgitation is when a writer who doesn't know anything about the topic, goes online, researches a few things, then writes an article about it. At a high level, it looks like the article is ok. However, w you look deeper, it's just random fluff designed to rank.
This is the opposite of what you want.
Take the article you're reading right now.
Do you think a random writer could write this?
Do you think I could go to a writer, tell them to write about "SaaS Content Marketing and Content Creation", and end up with what you are reading?
Chances are you're still reading up to this point because you can feel that I know what I'm talking about.
I'm not saying random stuff.
The most important pieces on your website should be written by someone who knows the topic very well.
Founder, co-founder, marketing exec, product owner - you name it.
So we're left with 2 problems now:
- Knowing how to write
- Knowing in detail what to write.
Knowing How to Write SaaS Content
The solution to this first problem is quite easy: hire a professional writer.
But Vince, you just told me not to!
That's true, I did.
But see, I'd rather have you actually publish content than think "I'm going to do it", and never do.
My opinion is that you can hire writers for articles that do not require a lot of expertise.
In our previous example, content such as "zoom meeting ideas" can probably be handled by a writer.
"How to build a strong remote team culture", on the other hand, would probably be a total disaster.
There are pros and cons to both solutions:
Whatever you choose to go with, remember this: do not publish any content without it being reviewed by an SME.
The review is a great time to add expertise to a piece of content. The more you do it, the better.
In the table above, you can see that both solutions have a common disadvantage: they need guidance.
In our system, that comes in the form of a brief.
Let me walk you through it.
The Secret to SaaS Content Production: Writer Briefing
Handing out a content topic to a writer without briefing them is a recipe for disaster.
That is true whether the writer is in-house (an SME) or a freelancer.
Doing so will leave you with a worthless piece of content that doesn't have the right intent and is full of fluff - no good.
The solution is to produce a detailed content brief and outline.
What Is a SaaS Content Brief & Outline?
A content brief is a simple document.
- Requested topic
- Target word count
- Tone & voice needed
- SEO Metadata (Title Tag, Meta description )
- Recommended URL
- Keywords to include
- Brand guidelines
- Internal links to add
- Sources for research and/or quotes.
It’s followed by an outline describing exactly:
- Article structure (H2s, H3s)
- Information to include (in the form of bullet points)
- CTAs to add
- If applicable, images to add.
So, what does that actually look like?
Here's what the brief & outline for this article looks like:
You can see that sometimes, the end result differs from the brief, and that's fine.
When writing, I reworked an entire section because it felt better this way.
But I never went in blind.
Before writing, I:
- Researched keywords
- Researched SERP Intent
- Performed SERP Analysis
- Came up with an outline
- Flushed out that outline with bullet points
Briefing is the only way to get great content CONSISTENTLY.
Of course, you ideally need other supporting documents to succeed, such as:
- Brand writing guidelines
- Content Calendar
How to Measure SaaS Content Performance and ROI
Now that we're done with the strategy and production part, I want to talk about how to measure the return on investment (ROI) of SaaS content.
Content ROI is very difficult to measure.
The main reason is that revenue from content isn't always attributed to content.
If someone reads content on your blog, then converts on a Facebook ad, most companies will attribute that conversion to Facebook.
But the first touchpoint was content marketing.
As a result of this, most companies focus on vanity metrics, such as content velocity, traffic, rankings, or "visibility."
None of this matters. The only thing that matters is revenue.
Measuring Content Marketing Success in Google Analytics
We have a full article on content attribution, so I won't dive in too deep here.
Google Analytics has the perfect tool to start measuring content effectively.
It's called the "Model Comparison Tool". You can find it under Conversions - Multi-Channel Funnels:
You are then presented with a lot of different models.
The ones we’re most interested in are First Interaction, Last Interaction, and Linear:
When you select a model, the tool will tell you how many conversions can be attributed to a specific channel based on the goal you choose:
You can then compare two different periods. Don't forget to select the right goals, or your data ll be meaningless.
If you know how much that specific conversion (say, a free tier signup) is worth to you, you can then estimate a ROI for your content marketing strategy.
As an example, let's assume your average LTV is $500, and 3% of your users convert from the free plan to the paid one.
You need 33 free signups to make $500, so the value from one signup can be estimated at $15.
Since the Model Comparison Tool calculates the linear conversion value based on the model, you have a rough ROI.
Compare it for First Interaction, Last Interaction, and Linear to get an idea of how your content currently impacts your sales cycle.
Upcycling Your Content to Make the Most of Your SaaS Content Marketing Campaigns
So far, we've been talking about written content, because I think this is the most important part of any SaaS marketing strategy.
But users aren’t expecting written content exclusively. You ideally need to produce videos, podcasts, images, infographics, social media posts, ads, etc.
I think one of the best ways SaaS companies can produce all of these types of content is by upcycling.
What that means is simply reformatting your content to exponentially increase the amount of available material.
For example, I could turn this article into at least 3 LinkedIn posts.
Oh wait, I have.
Here they are:
This article could also be turned into various different videos, podcast episodes, etc.
The possibilities are endless - you just need to get creative!
Conclusion: 9 Steps to the Perfect SaaS Content Marketing Strategy
I went pretty in-depth in this guide.
I hope it was helpful to you, and you get a better idea of how to approach content creation for your SaaS business.
To summarize, here are the main point of the article: :
- Think bottom-up, not top-down.
- Do user research by talking to people.
- Ditch Search Volume & Keyword Difficulty as prioritization metrics.
- Find content topics first, then think about keywords.
- Write expert, value-added content, not regurgitated fluff.
- Create content in-house or outsource, but always aim for the best quality.
- Quality comes from GREAT briefs (we can help with that).
- Measure results with the right attribution model.
- Upcycle your content to make the most out of your efforts.
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