This lessons learned series is part of our live SaaS resource list we're building while launching a new product.
Upscope content is largely blog posts and articles. Even focusing on just one area is an intense learning experience. Writing and getting blog posts to rank on Google needs SEO, copywriting, research and a lot of patience.
What one thing did we learn about doing content marketing was most important and why?
It takes 6 to 9 months for some content to reach page 1 of Google.
Oh... and that's IF you added the right keywords to the title and wrote great content that was relevant to the user's intended search and that content is better than the others.
The time taken is painful but did mean we could trust the process.
We could write good relevant copy and it would eventually pay off one way or the other and while it was climbing to the top of Google rankings it could still be linked into our existing posts to help it rise. Note: We didn't do any backlinking into 3rd party websites, we only linked internally on our blog. Backlinking is another way to speed up the rise, we just used a simple topic cluster strategy that we outline further below.
Overall, the hardest feeling is writing blog posts that disappear into the abyss. Writing good content can always pay off in the long run.
What dumb assumptions did we make about content marketing at the very start of our SaaS journey?
We assumed SEO was bullshit.
There are a lot of bullshit companies providing SEO services but SEO itself is not bullshit. The right keyword in the title and in the text helps an article rise at a faster rate.
Google is not yet God. Google is a machine making the most of the data it is given. Clearly telling that machine that our article is relevant to the user's search helps Google rank that article.
As a result, tools like SEMRush to find the right keywords are very important.
What's the one thing we did that made a big difference?
We went to proof based content.
There are millions of opinions out there. Everyone is churning out content and we believe there are 2 ways of knowing if the content is going to be good before reading it.
1. You know the author.
2. The post is evidence based.
We previously did write down opinions on various subjects but everyone is writing opinions and often without being qualified to write them.
What do we have that's proven to be true?
Either our own experiences as a company or the experiences of other companies. That's what we did. We either wrote about our own experiences and/ or gathered the experiences of other companies. If you look through our blog you'll see most posts are evidence based.
This blog post is part of a series which is also focused on proof. It includes our experience and all our assumptions about a product we are building live now. Once that product is launched you'll see which of those assumptions were right.
What did we waste the most time on which we regret?
We did some gimmicky types of content which took a week or more to make and which 'could have gone viral' but only say 1 in 10 got views in the 10,000s. That did help but the overall maths and emotional requirement of it was wrong for us. Spending months doing something which is not necessarily evergreen and only 1 in 10 works, leaving 9/10 a waste, is painful.
Do we regret we didn't find our current strategy sooner? Yes.
Could we have found it sooner? Not necessarily.
There is logic behind building the 'could go viral' posts but that takes a lot of work or a lot of luck and depends on your product more than anything. You might have in-built distribution or you might have something unique about your product which gives you an edge making it the smart thing to do.
What would we advise someone to do if they were starting from scratch?
Advice on content is a little dangerous. Our initial chaotic marketing worked 'well enough' to get people onboard in the early stages. Our later more structured approach fit our needs of occasionally writing posts to target certain keywords.
We can only give the advice we'd give to ourselves which is that there's too much bullshit out there so stick to evidence based content and go deeper into it. We can aim for the holy trinity of "valuable, simple and fun" but often end up with valuable and simple. For our new project we also aim to add 'fun'.
There is also such as thing as a 'founder to market fit' on top of a product market fit. We would advise creating content using a process you enjoy or on subjects you enjoy. They don't always have to be directly related to your product because if you love writing about them that makes it easier to write, easier to read and will bring people to the main page anyway.
What's the "Just do this" structure for content marketing?
This is what we'd have given to ourselves as the "just do this" strategy. We'd want to get on with writing content and we'd want to start with one simple structure without months of research or second guessing ourselves.
What instructions would we have given ourselves?
Use a hub spoke strategy (also known as topic cluster strategy) so that you can write freely and everything you write will be part of a bigger strategy.
Here's how it works:
Let's say the "hub" is Bitcoin.
Your central hub is made of one long page about bitcoin e.g. "21 things to know about bitcoin". You write a paragraph about each point. At the bottom of each paragraph or linked within the paragraph is a link to a page that goes into more depth.
Those linked pages are your spokes.
Why do this?
You get to write about everything you know related to bitcoin and you have an easy structure to put it into. If your writing is good then someone will click on a spoke and then go to the hub and then go to another spoke and this all tells Google that your content is good and also relevant to the keyword.
What should the title of the main hub and each individual spoke be?
Use SEMRush or Ahrefs to find out which keywords people search for related to your topic. Find out the exact words they search for and make sure hub and spokes contain those words. There is more to it than this but this is the minimum. Finally, read the following on copywriting so you get the "on-page" copy working to a specific structure too.
Finally, don't talk shit, do evidence based posts e.g. "How 5 companies did X" or "Statistics from Y" or "Results of interviews with Z". Real data based on real events. Do great research and communicate it clearly. Also, include your own company's experience within that list so you get to talk about your product without bluntly advertising or selling it.
If we had a magic wand how would we use it to improve our content marketing?
We'd have every single one of our customers submit a huge testimonial including a breakdown of what their original problem was, how our product fixed it for them, how they implemented our product, how they measured the benefits, how it made people feel.
We'd then tally up the metrics, key benefits and industry specific advantages.
We'd turn it into a giant portal of information and point all our ads and landing pages to it.
It's an incredible amount of work to do this stuff. Clients have to be persuaded to discuss this information and it's really hard to go into depth and get clear metrics. It would be great to wave a wand and have it done.
How will we use our experience for our new product?
Writing content is great but the competition for that content is only getting stronger. We have to constantly fight to maintain a top position in Google against competitors who might have 100X the budget.
We want what every 2nd time founder says is the priority: distribution built into the product.
We want the holy trinity of simple, valuable and fun. It's so enjoyable to be able to aim for fun if we've done the work in making it simple and valuable.
Hate SEO? So did we until we had targets
Sometimes you just want to get on with writing so you need a structure that works. The topic cluster strategy does that.
How sales people who run a SaaS company do content
It's fascinating that a successful tech company built by sales people sends drip email campaigns linked to blog posts hardly talk about their own product.
The 10 step process to sales copy that worked
Really good video on the exact thinking and writing process to create great sales copy. There's a summary of the points within the comments. (The second comment at time of writing).
Strategic sales narratives
Storytelling is brought up again and again but rarely do we see precisely how it can be used within content or sales decks.
How many views on your posts do you need to make sales?
Nobody really clarifies this in the early days so it's easy to underestimate how many people have to come to your site for you to make a sale. Yes, it differs by product but seeing a typical example helps.
The guide to writing online by David Perrell
David has written a long succinct post on the why, what and how of writing online including where to start and how to distribute content and what not to do. There's no real fluff in this guide, it's condensed knowledge.