Content marketing facilitates every part of the customer buying cycle, increasing conversion at critical points, compounds in performance over time, but is particularly expensive to execute and requires patience. This blog posts clearly sets out 11 reasons why every founder should start content marketing. And 8 reasons they shouldn't. As always, I've included specific examples and actions with each point.
Two important stats about content marketing
- 47% of buyers viewed three to five pieces of content before engaging with a sales rep [DemandGen]
- 82% of marketers who blog see positive ROI from their inbound marketing [HubSpot]
✅ Content marketing for SaaS startups: why
1. It's free (if you write it yourself) and performance compounds over time
Content marketing may be a slow burn but its performance compounds over time. Time and time again startups have demonstrated and shared how their content marketing has created a growing channel of visitors, leads and business enquiries from organic search engines like Google and Bing.
If you're prepared to be patient, organic search is a free source of traffic can be one of your top performing channels. In fact some businesses have built success off just one incredible, evergreen blog post or YouTube video.
2. You can collect leads with gated content
Otherwise known as a lead magnet, slapping an email collection form over an eBook or other download is a proven, tried-and-tested technique to generate email leads. Although these people might not yet be ready to buy, content marketing can continue to engage them until they're at the right stage. More on that below.
To gate content you'll probably need a landing page. Here's a guide to the leading landing page tools.
Bonus! You can also enrich and qualify your leads
Each time an existing lead downloads a new asset from you, you can enrich the data you hold about them. Hubspot use a technique called progressive fields. If I already hold information about the lead's email and name, they will be only asked to submit new information, like company size or industry.
3. Helps you understand your customers and your business better
Writing isn't a skill all founders feel they have. But through the practice of regularly publishing content you will both improve the quality of your writing, and more importantly, how you understand and express your own thoughts.
By putting content 'out there' you'll also generate feedback that will challenge, educate and gratify. Being tested on your ideas and assumptions will make your own thinking more rigorous and open up new opportunities you may have neglected.
Research for content marketing also helps improve your understanding of your service's ecosystem, potential buyer, and the broader industry.
4. It can help you engage potential customers and influencers
If you're struggling with cold outreach to potential customers, content marketing can help. In fact, soliciting feedback or opinion for the content you're creating is an easy way to speak to and engage potential customers and influencers of your buyer persona. This is stage 1 of building relationships.
- Pipedrive's blog post asking sales experts to discuss the hardest part of selling
- Mio's annual round-up of unified communication influencers [see case study below]
- Encharge.io's 11 SaaS Startups (Like You) Share Their Best Onboarding Emails
How to: a simple guide
- Plan a blog post curating opinion from leading experts in your space about upcoming trends, events or other industry news.
- Email or send the relevant expert a message on LinkedIn asking them to contribute.
- Create, publish and distribute the post.
- Share the link with them when the post is published and @mention them in all social posts.
- This is the first stage of building a relationship with them.
Bonus! Case study: Mio's influencer infographic
By Dominic Kent, Director of Content Marketing at Mio
Mio was already being found by potential customers through organic search content but lacked a channel for “in industry” contacts. For example, analysts, resellers, and journalists weren’t writing about our product as much as we wanted.
In 2019, we created an influencer infographic with the intention of raising our brand’s profile to people inside the industry. We generated 3,000+ unique pageviews with zero-budget marketing and zero content promotion. The majority of people featured were delighted and shared the infographic on their social media channels and websites.
I then reached out to each of the 50 we featured and asked if we could guest post on their site. A good percentage obliged and a guest post calendar was created.
We killed three birds with one stone:
- Overnight, we became known to the people that give brands like ours coverage.
- We were exposed to a wider audience we wouldn’t be when producing run-rate content.
- We built relationships for guest posts, contributor quotes, and promotion of press releases and social media posts.
5/ Helps you build trust and authority
What better way to demonstrate you know what you are talking about then by sharing things you've learnt that allow you to start and lead online conversations about topics relevant to your potential buyer? Content publishing can do this for you.
In fact, like podcasts and videos, longer form writing can engage the user for several minutes. This puts you in a unique position to gracefully pitch your product to a deeply engaged and trusting visitor. Something you can't achieve in a short promotional video ad or Facebook status update.
According to Edelman's Trust Barometer report 2020, company technical experts, academic experts and 'a person like me' are considered 3 of the most credible sources of information.
6/ Helps you position your business and product
Blog posts help with brand positioning – both where a product sits in the market and what the brand identity of that company is. So focusing on who you are vs your competitors, your product, your ideal buyer, and your philosophies and values is imperative. Your content's tone of voice, imagery and design can help demonstrate who you are and help buyers make their decision.
ConvertKit have played with this by creating a blog post focusing on why you shouldn't switch to them. Although quite quirky, it creates a great framework for highlight what they do uniquely.
With content marketing, simply being helpful and building audiences is not enough. Your blog content should always circle back to your product, messaging, branding and positioning, and address the relevant pain points that your offering solves.
7/ Can be used at all stages of the buyer funnel to impact decision making
In SaaS there are multiple stages of the user buying cycle. Traditionally these are awareness, consideration, purchase/close (or similar) Potential buyers need to progress through these stages before they become customer. Content can help move them through every stage of this funnel, as follows:
Awareness (top of the funnel content)
The potential customer learns about you
- Social posts
- Blog posts with broad appeal
- White papers / eBooks
- Public speaking
- Surveys and results
Consideration (middle of the funnel content)
The potential buyer is considering you and other solutions
- Blog posts more deeply focused on one topic
- Implementation guides
- Vs pages
- Knowledge Base articles / videos
- How-to webinars
- Product specs
Purchase (bottom of the funnel content)
The potential buyer has their credit card out
- Case studies
- Setup guides
- Onboarding emails
Are you using content at every stage of the buying cycle?
8/ Keeps qualified leads engaged
So you have a qualified buyer but they're not ready to buy yet. You've paid to acquire them already. Content marketing can continue to maintain the relationship and open up a sales conversation when the time is right - for example during renewal, when their problem becomes more pressing, or when there's an issue with their current provider or process.
It's more cost effective to maintain the relationship then acquire the potential buyer multiple times.
Email, social posts and blogs are particularly powerful tools to maintain a relationship with a lead.
When to re-engage
- Don't re-engage, stay in contact and always nurture and add value
- Major product announcements
- Pricing discounts and offers
- Trigged by their request, or renewal date
- Major industry news or insights
- Flagship content like eBooks
- Changes to pricing
- Changes to product positioning
9/ Can boost paid performance with content
Directly Driving user demos through paid ads can be extremely expensive. Cold leads rarely convert immediately. Although, as mentioned above, there is an established buying cycle, you may be able to increase sign-up conversion with a single piece of content marketing - like a strong blog post - before the sign up flow.
How do you know if it works?
- Track the performance of your email leads generated from content marketing
- Segment all sign ups based on marketing channel and measure outcomes
- Analytics tools like heap allow you to compare the conversion rate of people who have and haven't viewed your content marketing. Does viewing 5 blogs before entering your sign up flow increase the rate of conversion?
10/ It's shareable ♻️
Your startup might not yet have hit product market fit, where your users are regularly referring colleagues and friends to sign up.
But if you create notable content it should generate social sharing and word of mouth, building your audience and data on your pixel for re-marketing.
Using unique content formats and ideas can increase the share-ability of your content. But it may also decrease its search performance. Of course, ideally we could create really shareable and SEOd content, but it's not always what happens.
So make shareable content part of your strategy.
Another benefit of shareable content is that with the right promotion it can return results more quickly than search-optimised content.
6 examples of unique content marketing formats
- Perkbox's checklists, reports and ebooks
- (My) Notion Board with 100 ideas for your first 100 users
- Unbounce's landing page examples directory
- Canva's expert-lead design school courses
- Transferwise's BIC/SWIFT code checker (could also be considered engineering as marketing)
- Geckoboard's directory of company dashboards
View my complete list of content marketing format ideas here.
11/ You can constantly iterate, refine and re-purpose
Content marketing not only compounds in search performance over time, but regularly refining and re-working your content can help generate an even better ROI. The point is, content marketing isn't a one-off campaign that spends and ends. Instead you can see increasing returns from small refinements.
This is also because your content performs better as more sites link to you, building your back-link profile. At a certain point, all articles on your blog will start to perform better in organic search results.
You can also re-purpose valuable content into new formats. Take your best performing blog post and turn it into:
- A downloadable checklist
- A YouTube video or live stream
- A podcast
- An eBook
- A course
- An infographic
- A presentation for an event
⛔️ Content marketing for SaaS startups: why not
1/ It's (very) expensive
The creation of content marketing is frequently time consuming and costly. Briefing, commissioning, writing, building and promoting just one blog post is at least several hours work and more likely several days'.
84% of B2B marketers are outsourcing content creation. That's why productised content companies like Scribly are becoming increasingly popular. They not only identify search keyword opportunities but create the content (blog posts, ebooks, checklist, ad, and landing page copy) for you based on your business's buyer persona and the brief you provide.
2/ It rarely delivers instant results
Search engines consider a lot of factors when deciding how to rank pages in search results. The details are outside the scope of this article, but the age of the content is a big factor. Broadly you shouldn't expect content to rank quickly in search engines. So if you're looking for new leads yesterday, a 12-month search strategy might not be right for you.
The time it takes to see ROI also means that it's not easy to compare the results of your content marketing work with other marketing channels. Content marketing requires a level of faith and commitment.
Case study: how to get quicker results with content
If you create content focused on share-ability you may be able to generate audiences quickly.
Although these are unlikely to compound over time, they are a good way to get traffic from social channels, online communities and influencers.
As an example, my Notion board with 100 ideas for your startup's first 100 users has now generated 20,000 visits in 12 months without any search footprint.
I used a unique content format (a public Notion board) and shared it within founder communities and Facebook groups. It has also generated me 2,000 email leads.
3/ There's LOTS of competition
And your competitors have bigger budgets, better tools, a longer history of publishing, and more expertise than you. If this is your issue, start optimising for long tail keywords. But be aware the SEO opportunity might require even more effort.
4/ It's not as agile as other channels
Many startups end up having to change direction or pivot their idea to reach product market fit. Unlike your paid performance campaigns that can be re-worked in hours, changing and executing a new content strategy could take you all the way back to stage one.
So you either lose what you've done or have to do some serious repurposing of your content.
5/ Hard to source (good) writers
Not only are good writers expensive and hard to source, you ideally need someone with relevant domain experience which makes things more complicated. Plus content production tends to follow a very different process and culture to other parts of your business. For this reasons many founders find themselves overwhelmed when looking for writers and content strategists to work with.
What you can expect to pay
You can expect to pay £.10 to £1 per word for content.
Of course you can try and use UpWork and Fiverr, but as quality is a very important factor when creating content these platforms may not deliver what you need to grow audiences through content.
Bonus! Tips for finding quality content marketers
A guide by Christina from ContentUK, the UK's largest content marketing community
- Research publications in your niche: Look through respected publications and blogs for your niche. For example, you could browse Search Engine Land if you’re looking for SEO writers. When you spot content that matches the quality and topic knowledge you’re after, note the names of the writers and contact the
- Use a content marketing directory: Save yourself some Googling and use a directory. The content marketing community ContentUK, for example, has a public directory of freelance content writers
- Leverage social media: On LinkedIn search content writer and your sector (e.g Finance Content Writer). On Twitter, follow chats like #ContentClubUK or #copywritersunite. You’ll see a bunch of content marketers having conversations about content marketing who you can DM
- Ask to see samples of their work: Make sure you ask to see samples of a writers’ work before you hire anyone! Particularly for niche content topics such finance. Just because someone can write well about marketing, doesn’t mean they can write about finance.
- Run a pilot: if you’re unsure about a writer, try using them for one piece of work (paid) as a pilot before you commit to more pieces
Of course the cheapest and most effective way to get great content marketing from an expert is to create it yourself.
6/ It's not as measurable
Yes, there are tools and techniques to measure the performance of content marketing into your business's sales funnel. But as content marketing is often less linear than other channels, it tends to me more technically complicated to measure than paid performance marketing channels.
As well as that, most analytics tools are not built for content marketing use cases.
7/ The tools are expensive and confusing
Tools like Ahrefs and SEMRush allow you to identify keyword opportunities and measure search performance over time. They're both expensive ($1000+ a year) and generally considered to be confusing for newbies.
This means there is a steep, time-consuming learning curve. This is another blocker to ticking off content marketing from your to-do list.
8/ There's lots of bad advice
The result of the points listed above is that there is a lot of bad and inconsistent SEO and content marketing advice out there. Lots of are people trying to make a quick buck from naff courses, confusing Facebook Groups and poorly-created guides. Without quick results it's hard to know if you're progressing in the right direction which makes it easier for charming sales people to take your ££££.
Where to turn
First visit authoritative and established sources of guidance relating to content marketing and SEO, including:
👉 What next?
Content marketing is one of the most effective marketing channels for startups but it's expensive and potentially complicated. Armed with the information in this blogpost, you should be a in a better position to decide on your content marketing plans.
👋 Hey, I'm Olly and I am a freelance startup marketer. I share more actionable advice for startups on Twitter.