Alastair Kane Search Marketing, Search Marketing Partner 1200 627

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10 August 2022


Table of contents

  1. What is Content?
  2. What is Content Marketing?
  3. Why is Content Marketing Important for SaaS Companies
  4. Owning the SaaS Buyer Journey – Covering all Touchpoints
  5. A B2B SaaS Content Strategy
  6. A Journey of 1000 Miles Begins With a First Step

What is content?

Content is obviously a very broad term!

In regard to this blog however, content can be thought of as any digital asset used by a business in the marketing of its products and services to prospective customers.

So take content to mean:

  • Video
  • Blog posts
  • Podcasts
  • eBooks
  • Social posts
  • White papers
  • Landing pages

And any other business assets that provide the information needed to help buyers make purchase decisions.

What is content marketing?

The Content Marketing Institute defines content marketing as follows:

Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.

There are a few words I believe deserve unpacking further, in this definition.

  • Strategic. Content needs an underlying strategy to ensure that it delivers value to the business. This could mean value in terms of traffic or leads, but ultimately content needs to help drive a desirable business outcome e.g. organic traffic.
  • Distribution. Content needs to be seen by the right audience in order to deliver value to a business. This is why content distribution is vital for successful content marketing outcomes.
  • Consistent. Writing a few blog posts now and then won’t deliver results. In fact, I would go as far to say that producing the occasional piece of content is actually a waste of time and effort. If consistency isn’t possible, allocate resources to an alternative marketing strategy.
  • Clearly Defined Audience. Having a clearly defined audience is the first step in any content marketing strategy. Without first defining the audience, it will be impossible to attract prospective customers and deliver ROI.
  • Drive Profitable Action. Any marketing strategy needs to lead to a profitable outcome for the business and content marketing is no exception. The question of how each piece of content will help deliver a business’ goals should always be front of mind.

Why is content marketing important for SaaS companies

Today’s SaaS buyers have completed a large proportion of the buying process by the time they engage with a sales rep.

In fact a Gartner study suggests that over 60% of the SaaS buyer journey occurs with no vendor interaction.

This trend is only likely to increase in the future as Millennials and Gen Z become increasingly involved in B2B sales decisions.

Already, 44% of Millenials prefer no sales rep interaction in a B2B sales process.

So with less emphasis on rep interaction in the SaaS sales process, it falls to content published on digital channels, to provide the information needed in the purchase journey.

If you’re a B2B SaaS business without a content strategy in place, now is the time to get started!

Owning the SaaS buyer journey – covering all touchpoints

It is no secret that the SaaS buyer journey has become more complex in recent years.

There are numerous touchpoints on and off the website and a number of stakeholders involved in the purchase process. According to Gartner, the typical buying group for a complex B2B solution involves 6 to 10 decision makers.

A B2B SaaS content strategy therefore needs to infiltrate as many touchpoints along the journey as possible.

In order to achieve this degree of reach, it is necessary to publish content on external websites in addition to your company site.

Brand content needs to be visible across owned, earned and paid channels, to ensure prospects are reached wherever they happen to be consuming their content – both via search and other channels.

What is owned, earned & paid content?

Owned content

Owned content includes anything owned by the brand such as the business’ website, blogs, podcasts, white papers, company social channels etc.

Earned content

Earned encompasses content on third party websites. An example might be a product comparison on a review website such as G2 Crowd.

Earned content is difficult to acquire but it will be very effective at driving conversions as it’s considered trustworthy and is often consumed in the later stages of the buyer cycle.

Just think of your own purchase behaviour and how reading reviews has helped you make that final decision to buy.

Paid content

As the name implies, paid content is published on channels that require a payment. Google Search and Display Ads, affiliates and social content ads are examples of paid content.

Categorising content in this way enables us to bucket different types of content clearly, to ensure the strategy provides reach across the entire buyer journey.

The content strategy discussed below will cover all areas that a potential SaaS customer will visit on and off a business website.

Meeting the prospect at all the relevant touchpoints, with content that helps them, is key to building trust and influencing purchase decisions in your favour.

A B2B SaaS content strategy

Below I have outlined an 8 step B2B content strategy for SaaS companies that covers everything you need to consider from the initial research phase, to creating and publishing, and finally distributing and measuring performance.

Let’s dive in!

Conduct persona research

All successful marketing starts with a deep knowledge of customer pain points.

In order to understand the topics that will make up your content strategy, you firstly need to have a clear idea of the challenges the target prospect seeks answers to; and these will relate to the product or service being offered.

One of the best places to start is interviewing existing customers you’d like to win more of. Persona research seeks to answers questions such as:

  • What are the key goals which you are trying to achieve in your role?
  • What are the key challenges you are encountering in your role that you are looking to address?
  • When looking for answers to questions related to your work, which digital channels do you use? (Google, Social Media etc)
  • What other businesses did you choose to work with before becoming our customer? Why did you choose us over our competitors?
  • Who in your organisation was involved in the buying process?

For a full list of questions I use to build a picture of a client persona see here.

These questions aim to elicit insights into the unique challenges that the prospect has that leads them to becoming a customer.

The information obtained in this step will go on to lay the foundations for keyword research, further along.

Create an editorial mission statement

An editorial mission statement is the rudder that steers the content strategy.

It ensures that everybody in the business knows who the target audience is and how the content being created will benefit them.

In short, a mission statement should aim to address these three things:

  1. Who is your audience
  2. How will the content help your audience be better at their jobs
  3. What content formats will be best to address points 1 and 2

The information obtained in the persona research you’ve already completed will provide the insight needed to create an editorial mission statement.

Once an editorial mission statement has been confirmed, you can be sure that everybody involved in the content and marketing teams, and the wider organisation, understands the reason for the strategy and what it is aiming to accomplish.

Keyword research for SaaS

You will now have developed a detailed picture of the audience you are trying to reach with your content.

This information will direct the keyword research process for your SaaS product.

The aim of this process is to obtain a library of keywords that list all the terms that are relevant to your prospects.

It is worth noting that not all the terms will be relevant to the specific SaaS product.

Therefore each keyword will have varying levels of intent depending on how closely aligned to the SaaS product it is.

For example if the SaaS product you are trying to promote is account software for small businesses, we may also find that employee motivation is a key topic of interest to the target audience (who in this example is the CEO/Owner of a small business).

So although the topic of employee motivation would be good for attracting the right audience, the intent would be low as this is not what your business provides.

Small business accounting software on the other hand would signal strong buyer intent.

Organising the keyword list

You then need to organise the keyword list into categories that help make the data usable for creating your content strategy.

Firstly, you will need to understand how difficult each keyword would be to rank for and the traffic generating potential of each term.

This information will help pinpoint any quick win opportunities.

For instance, keywords that are highly relevant, have high search volume and low ranking difficulty would be at the top of your list.

But more importantly, it’s important to categorise each keyword according to the stage in the SaaS buyer journey it falls into.

This will allow you to see the level of buyer intent for each keyword and give you an idea of what to prioritise first.

Ideally, focusing on high intent keywords initially is your first priority, as these are the terms that have a better chance of meeting business goals, such as driving demo requests.

Below are example categories, to help organise keywords according to buyer intent during the process of buying business accounting software.

  • General knowledge – relevant to audience even if not directly related to the SaaS product eg how to motivate employees
  • Problem research – directly related to and solved by SaaS product eg how to manage payroll effectively
  • Competitor interception – searches for competitors indicates high intent eg Xero, QuickBooks
  • Solution alternatives – alternatives to the SaaS solution eg how to hire an accountant for your small business
  • Solution terms – eg small business accounting software
  • Comparison – identified brand now trying to compare eg Xero vs Sage
  • Brand – searches for your brand represent highest intent

Visually, we can view this as a SaaS keyword funnel, with high intent, lower volume keywords, at the end of the funnel.

We can then assign content types to each keyword category and know exactly what the content priorities are for targeting the high intent part of the funnel.

Keyword CategoryContent TypeContent TypeIntent Level
General KnowledgeOwned (blog post)Low
Problem ResearchOwned (blog posts)
Owned (case studies)
Earned (3rd party/digital PR)Medium
Competitor InterceptionPaid (Google PPC)Medium
Solution AlternativesOwned (blog postEarned (review sites)Medium
Solution TermsOwned (product pages)High
ComparisonEarned (review sites)High
BrandOwned (homepage)Paid (Google Display)High

In addition to separating out the keywords into the above categories, it also makes sense to identify quick win opportunities i.e. high search volume, low competition keywords.

The output of this keyword organisation process, is a spreadsheet that will look something like this.

Columns B and C are colour coded red, orange and green to indicate the level of opportunity. And column E shows degree of intent.

So a perfect keyword would have a combination of low difficulty (green), high monthly volume (green) and high intent.

Organising the keyword data in this way will help prioritise where content resources should be directed.

Conduct a content audit

A content audit enables you to assess where the business currently stands in terms of content.

Specifically, it will enable you to identify how well current content aligns with your target audience’s pain points.

You may also discover content that is relevant and is already published which can be refreshed and used in your content strategy.

Some key information to look for during a content audit:

  • Look over your persona and keyword research. Any content that isn’t relevant should be removed.
  • If you decide to remove content, ensure any incoming links are redirected. Otherwise you will lose link equity to the website, resulting in a loss of organic visibility.
  • Consider repurposing content that is relevant so that is can be used in your forthcoming strategy
  • Identify gaps in your content. There will likely be many if the business has never had a content strategy in place.

A content audit is a fact finding mission to establish what can be used, what needs to be deleted and what needs to be created from scratch.

Topic cluster content strategy

A topic cluster strategy is a method of grouping similarly themed topics within a website to improve organic visibility.

This strategy was first outlined by Hubspot in 2017 and involves ranking for topics rather than individual keywords.

It works by having a long form content page that targets a topic relevant to a business.

This long form content page is called a ‘pillar page’ and it discusses the topic from a very top level perspective.

The pillar page is linked to and from a number of blog posts called ‘clusters’. These take an in depth look at the subtopics of the main topic.

From a site architectural view, we get something similar to a content hub (pillar) and spokes (cluster blogs).

Benefits of topic clusters

Because of the way in which related content is internally linked to each other, the topic cluster model provides benefits to organic visibility.

The main benefits of topic clusters are:

  • Improved Site Architecture – content on the website is better organised using topic clusters.
  • Google Can Easily Discover Content – having a good site architecture with related content linked together in an organised way, makes it easy for search engines to find content.

Topic clusters for SaaS content strategy

Topic clusters work well when targeting topics that have high search volume and have enough depth to provide several related subtopics that will form the cluster blogs.

The keyword research you have already undertaken will provide you with ideas for broad pillar page topics and long tail keywords that can be used for the clusters.

Going back to our example, a SaaS business selling business accounting software, a possible topic cluster might look something like this.

This will give our SaaS business a good chance of getting page 1 visibility for a highly relevant topic, improving brand awareness to their target audience in search.

Topic clusters may not be the right tactic for your business, but it is worth a mention here as it has proved very successful for many of the SaaS clients I have worked with.

Putting together a content calendar

A content calendar is much more than a guide to find out what content is being created, by who and for when.

An effective content calendar is the bridge which connects strategy to reality.

Not only does it outline the content production timeline, it should also provide information regarding where each piece fits in the buyer journey, the method of conversion for the content and the goal for the content.

I have included a link to an example content calendar you can download here. It will hopefully provide an idea of the level of detail to include.

I would recommend planning content in quarterly batches.

At the end of each quarter, content performance should be measured to understand what worked and what didn’t.

SaaS content distribution

Up till now we have only considered what needs to be done to research, plan and produce content.

Now that your marketing machine has fired up and is churning out content, the next step is to ensure that the right people see it.

Distribution is the megaphone that amplifies your content, ensuring it reaches the people which matter.

Your prospects.

Where to distribute content

There are an overwhelming number of digital channels which can be used to distribute content.

It is therefore important to focus on those in which your prospects are active.

What channels are these?

Refer back to your persona research of course!

This will provide you with the information you need to start formulating a content distribution plan, to get your message across in the right places.

For B2B businesses, these might include:

  1. Linkedin
  2. Email Newsletters
  3. Twitter
  4. [Other Social Media Channel]

Your prospects will also consume content on so-called ‘non-B2B’ channels – Facebook, Tik Tok, Instagram et al.

After all, B2B buyers are actual people that have lives outside of work!

However, each channel will require a different approach. Content that works well on Linkedin, for example, will need to be adapted to perform well on Tik Tok.

Measuring content marketing success

Without measurement, how will you know your content is delivering on the goals you’ve set?

Analysing content performance each quarter provides a feedback loop. Valuable information is gained that can be used when planning the next quarter’s content.

If your business has a small content team, this insight will ensure that limited resources are channelled towards activities that have the best chance of driving the business towards its goals.

What content marketing metrics matter?

What you measure depends entirely on the content goals you’ve set. These in turn will be linked to the goals of the business.

For example, if the goal of the business is to build an email subscriber list, a relevant content metric will be the number of subscribers acquired.

Here are some further example goals along with metrics to track:

GoalExample Metrics
brand awareness for topickeyword rank, ad impressions, traffic
sales pipelineleads generated
website engagementtime on site, bounce rate, pages viewed
social engagementshares

Whichever metrics are being tracked, it is important that everybody involved with the content strategy knows why they are important and how they relate to overall business goals.

This, of course, is the reason we have an editorial mission statement in place!

A journey of 1000 miles begins with a first step

Implementing a content strategy is a long term investment in your business and its benefits will only materialise if you are patient and consistent.

But as long as you have a good strategy based on research and data, success will come.

Only 43% of B2B marketers have a documented content marketing strategy.

So if you’re in the majority that don’t, the likelihood is that your content isn’t pushing towards the goals of your business as much as it could be.

And if content isn’t driving your business towards a desirable outcome, I would encourage you to ask why it is being created in the first place.

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