How to Produce Compelling Content That Delivers
Content creation represents a key activity for most marketing professionals. The playbook is pretty well understood - create compelling content and use it as a means to attract new business.
However, the reality is that in most instances the execution is poor, meaning that content fails to deliver on its potential. How do I know?
Firstly, by dint of my role as a SaaS marketing consultant, I engage with a lot of B2B SaaS businesses on a regular basis so I frequently get to review content performance. Secondly, I have been writing B2B content for many years and have paid close attention to what is perceived as best practice to help ensure my content gets read.
This short article aims to offer insights for two key groups.
Those working in a marketing function (B2B SaaS)
Those leading B2B SaaS companies who want a quick and easy way to evaluate the ability of their content lead beyond ‘just writing’
Before I begin, it is worth noting the process I am about to explain is not exhaustive. I am sure there are other elements that could be added in to help ensure success. Please add any other ideas into the comments below.
1. Define Your Target Persona
A great starting point is to have real clarity as to who you are writing for. Most B2B marketing professionals are ultimately looking to drive awareness with the purpose of generating leads. Having a good understanding as to the challenges of these ideal customer profiles (or personas) will help ensure you are crafting content that addresses those challenges and helps them do a better job. Content that aims to educate tends to fare well so if you gain a reputation for content that helps your target audience perform better in their roles you will attract the right types of people to your site.
2. Create a Keyword List
When writing content it is important to recognise that you need to think about Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) to ensure that your content can be found by those you want to find it. A good content strategy will start with a list of keywords i.e. words people would use in Google to find you. Ideally, this keyword list is 2/3 words long per keyword and represents an exhaustive list of words you want to be found for.
Say you want to be found for “AML Checks” - then this would be one of your keywords.
You would then create a dedicated page for this e.g. https://www.northrow.com/aml-checks which would be optimised i.e. the phrase “AML Checks” would appear in the H1, and also the meta title and meta descriptions.
Anytime you mention ‘AML Checks’ on one of your blogs on the site you would then link back to the AML Checks page by linking on the exact phrase AML Checks. To ensure you are doing this properly you can then run this search in Google site:northrow.com “AML Checks” which should give you a list of all pages on your domain (in this instance on the website NorthRow) where you mention AML Checks. This is known as internal linking and represents a key stepping stone neglected by most.
It is also worth noting that depending on your content management system there will be different places you can edit this (in WordPress it is best to use a dedicated plugin called Yoast).
Of course, SEO relies on a lot of other factors ranging from domain authority to quality (and quantity) of backlinks (links from other sites to you) but without these initial keyword steps your SEO strategy won’t deliver.
“When considering SEO, make sure that you evaluate the user intent for the keyword. Since the Hummingbird update, Google can (and does) analyse and discern the reasons why someone is using a specific phrase.” Pawel Grabowski, Smashing Copy
Two Last Points:
1/ Avoid URL structures that are not optimised (aim for short URLs with the target keyword near the front):
2/ If the search terms are very competitive and you are late to the party you may need to spin up some Google Ads initially to have some presence for these keywords. If the keywords have purchase intent you’ll likely find the competition are competing heavily on these terms also.
Use: Ubersuggest to help you draw up a list of keywords (as well as to assess the search volumes for the keywords you are targeting, and to assess which ones competitors are using).
Read: SaaS Keyword Research: How to Find The Right Keywords To Drive Traffic and Signups By Pawel Grabowski
Read: Internal Links for SEO: An Actionable Guide by Joshua Hardwick
Read: How To Do Keyword Research for SEO — Ahrefs’ Guide by Tim Soulo
3. Create an Editorial Calendar
Once you have clarity as to who you are writing for, and what topics you want to broadly write about it is time to start fleshing the plan out. Content comes in many guises; from blogs to white papers to case studies to guest posts. Again a great starting point is to think about the challenges your target buyers have and to write content that helps them achieve their goals. Some content can be for those at an early stage of their buying journey, other content for those that are late on.
When planning your content, there are several points to consider.
Who can write the content will depend on how technical the solution is.
Should the writing be outsourced? Ideally not, but leveraging the support of an external professional writer can be key particularly for time-pressed leaders.
There is an increasing preference for ‘long-form content’ i.e. detailed content written by domain experts or those with some knowledge of the space being written about. Why?
Content represents a key pillar for most B2B marketing teams and as a result, the amount of content being produced has continued to explode. Hence, it is getting more difficult for content to ‘cut through the noise’. The easy option is to outsource content to the most junior person, but this is rarely effective. A better strategy is to push the company leaders to contribute to the process by them either writing themselves or by working with a dedicated writer who can interview them and generate the content from there.
“Know the goals for each piece of content. Is your goal to build search engine presence, build buzz about your business/product, to generate leads, etc.? You'll structure the piece differently in each case. For SEO, you'll focus on factors like keyword relevancy, user intent, etc. For buzz, you'll create more catchy titles and so on but might put less focus on keywords. For authority, you'll state bold opinions”. Pawel Grabowski, Smashing Copy
4. Decide Where to Publish
Before you start to write your piece you need to decide where you plan to publish it. Your own website’s blog is a natural starting point but if you are a new startup with low traffic volumes that may not be ideal. Many publications take guest posts so it may be worth starting with a publication that was created for the exact same target audience you defined in Step 1 and seeking to get published in that. Other areas you may want to consider publishing on include Linkedin and Medium.
Again this decision will largely be shaped by your own context - where can you get access to the biggest audience possible? Of course, the assumption here is that the content quality will be high. After all, 3rd party publications want to ensure any content promoted offers value and is not self-promotional.
For example, I have recently published a blog on Intercom’s site - gaining access to a much larger audience than I could ever manage via my own blog.
Finally, there is nothing to stop you publishing content in a few different places, however, you should add a link at the very end that signifies where the original post was published so as to avoid ‘duplicate content’ issues with Google.
5. Produce the Content
When it is time to produce the content it is best to use a platform like Google Docs to draft it so it can be shared with others for feedback and comments. Ensure that the content contains at least one of your target keywords and a link back to the dedicated page for the keyword. Ensure there is a clear structure, there are plenty of examples and that the text is exhaustive in terms of the elements needed to address the question.
Long form content is definitely preferable, as a signal to Google that it is thorough, but also to the reader as a signal that the writer has invested into the process (i.e. is focused on quality rather than quantity).
Use: A free tool like Grammarly to run an extra check on spelling (use the free browser-based version rather than downloading it).
Use: An app like Otter.ai to dictate notes
Read: The Content Marketing Playbook by Hiten Shah
6. Ensure Foundations Are in Place Before Publishing
If you are publishing on your own site it is worth ensuring you have the basics in place before you publish. These include a Yoast install if using WordPress, as well as Google Analytics and Google Search Console. You should also run some site speed tests using the tools listed below to ensure that you are running a fast site as otherwise, this will hamper your ability to generate traffic. Finally, it is worth ensuring your site is mobile friendly as Google is increasingly pushing mobile and thus having a responsively designed site will help ensure you won’t be penalised from a ranking perspective.
Use: GTmetrix to test speed
Use: Pingdom to test from the UK and US
Use: Google PageSpeed Insights for additional insights
7. Post-Publication Checklist
Once you have published it is important to run a few checks before you commence your ‘amplification push’.
Firstly, take the new URL and add it to Google Search Console, requesting an index so that it gets indexed.
Secondly, see if you can generate some backlinks. Are there are other sites where there are people actively looking for help with the topic you are looking to address? If yes, feel free to add a comment where appropriate e.g. Medium and GrowthHackers are easy options to gain backlinks from.
Quora is a good example of a site where you can post answers to related challenges people are having e.g. this search shows a number of questions you could answer and link back to this post for example.
In terms of backlinks, there is no doubt securing backlinks is getting harder. However, if you can secure a small number it can help e.g. perhaps they curate a weekly newsletter and are willing to consider including your post.
“The top performing articles by major SaaS companies generated backlinks from just 9 referring domains”. Emily Byford, ConversionXL.com
Use: Google Search Console to index the new content
Read: SaaS Content Marketing: 5 Proven Strategies to Earn Links by Emily Byford
8. Amplification Strategy
The focus on this article so far has been on content creation. The reality, however, is that more time needs to be spent on promoting the content compared to publishing it. Channels to promote incl:
Social (Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin)
3rd Party Newsletters
For example, I recently attended SaaStr Europa, a leading SaaS web conference in Paris. I captured my learnings from the event in a blog entitled: Key B2B SaaS Lessons from SaaStr. It has had over 1000 views in the past 30 days largely by dint of me promoting it after I published it. The following gives an indication of some of the views by source:
You may think 1000 views is not much (particularly when the readership numbers will be lower), and you’d be correct. However, when you write about niche topics like B2B SaaS it is getting increasingly difficult to drive meaningful numbers of readers to content. If I had not put pushed this content to my network the number would have been a lot smaller. The post will also have gained additional views on my blog and in Linkedin. The readers are also going to represent my key buyers in terms of personas so the audience composition is as important as the numbers.
9. Measure and Report
In many ways, this is the key part, and what prompted this article. Ultimately you want to ensure that the content you write gets as many readers as it possibly can. Most pieces of B2B content conclude with a “call to action” so based on standard conversion levels the more readers the more will click through (representing leads from the piece).
Source: The State of SaaS Content Marketing by Emily Byford (2019)
Ideally, organic traffic i.e. non paid is responsible for the majority of your traffic - after all, content helps bring down the cost of acquisition compared to paying Linkedin or Google to source attention. The traffic should be good quality as the reader will have read a piece relative to their needs and then acted.
You also want to measure unique visitors and average time spent on page as proxies for how engaging the content is. It will be necessary to apply some Filters in Google Analytics to filter out bad traffic (perhaps bot traffic as evidenced in part by traffic that stays less than 5 seconds). You could also filter out traffic from your own companies IP address.
Read: The Very Best Digital Metrics For 15 Different Companies! By Avinash Kaushik
Read: Does Your Content Achieve Its Maximum SEO Potential? By Pawel Grabowski
Use: SEMrush to monitor content performance
Use: Google Analytics to track performance of the individual blogs
10. Repurpose Content
Content can come in many guises. Hence, it is worth thinking about ways to reuse/ repurpose it. If a piece really resonates you can look at creating a podcast on it. For example, I wrote a post last year on Medium entitled A Simple Sales Methodology for B2B SaaS Startups. It has proved very popular with over 33,000 views already (which is a lot given it is a B2B topic) and I have repurposed it in a Podcast interview.
You can also ‘ungate content’ whereby content that is gated (often case studies and white papers) can be republished as a blog a number of months after the gated piece first appeared, enabling you to enjoy SEO benefits from having indexable content as well as the gated piece (where you ask for some basic business details in return for facilitating access to the content).
You are probably tired of reading this. Your immediate impression is likely to be that - this is really hard work. I’m afraid that it is. There is no other way around it. Of course, you can produce content and just hit publish without going the extra mile on this stuff. Chances are that not too many people will notice. However, in an increasingly data-driven world there is a greater focus on impact rather than output. Either your content strategy delivers results or it doesn’t - and if it doesn’t, your tenure is likely to be limited, and thus thinking beyond the production, and viewing content holistically, following a playbook like the above will help ensure that you are focused very much on the impact of your work. After all, with an estimated 4.4 million blog posts being published every day (Source: Worldometers) wouldn’t you like to increase the odds yours gets read?