June 10, 2021
The key challenge B2B content marketers at SaaS startups face?
Proving that content is not only worthy of being a powerful lead gen machine in its own right, but also delivers strong ROI.
Budgets are tight, teams are small, and there’s the pressure to generate results - in a B2B marketing discipline that often takes time to bear fruit.
So, how do you do it?
Start by tracking the important things.
Then you’ll be able to show how content is a key player in the sales, marketing, and wider business function.
We’re speaking from experience. Our Content Manager, Joe Barron, began as a one-man team in 2018. By 2020, he had content contributing $88,270 in annual revenue.
Scroll or use the menu below to flick through Joe’s tips about how you could do the same 👇
Doubling down on SEO got Cognism to a historic 13,535 unique blog views in April 2021.
How did we get to this point? Well, we set goals. 🥅
“As the old SEO joke goes, the best place to hide a body is on page 2 of Google. There’s even a big traffic drop off from ranking at #3 versus ranking at #10 on page 1.”
“So our goal is always to get to #1 for our target terms. The top spot is where people click, so we really made getting there the focus of our strategy. I have that in mind for every SEO page we publish and every optimization I make.”
Next, we created a plan. 📆
In order to achieve our SEO goals, we followed these 3 strategies:
Choose keywords that are relevant to your business and have a high search volume but a low keyword difficulty. Using this method means you don’t need a ton of backlinks to rank high quickly.
How do you find those keywords? Joe said:
“Technology is absolutely vital to SEO. If you’re not investing in it - and that’s not just money, but time - your SEO will be DOA.”
“The SEO tool we swear by at Cognism is Ahrefs. It’s a huge player in the SEO space for a reason - the features and functionalities it offers are best described as fearsome! From keyword research to rank tracking, it’s all there in one place - and the data is presented in a clear and actionable way.”
“Ahrefs are also masters at content themselves. If you have a question about the tool, chances are they’ve published a blog or YouTube video answering it. Best of all, their content provides value no matter what stage of your SEO journey you’re at - it’s helpful for both beginners and seasoned pros. Even if you don’t buy the tool, I recommend following their blog and YouTube channel.”
Now back to Cognism’s content!
As a sneak-peek into how Ahrefs drove Cognism’s SEO strategy, take a look at this screenshot of their keyword explorer, for the term “B2B lead generation”. Note the keyword difficulty vs. global volume.
What if you haven’t got access to a paid tool like Ahrefs?
“One free tool I used in the early days of Cognism was Neil Patel’s Ubersuggest. The tool was different but the mission was the same - finding relevant keywords that you’d have the best chance of ranking for quickly.”
Once you’ve discovered the high-volume, low-difficulty keywords you’re after, you need to create website pages that are fully optimized for them.
Here are Joe’s on-page SEO tips:
Here’s an example of this SEO page strategy - a page specifically optimized for the keyword “B2B lead generation”.
The next stage of this plan is to build a content calendar based around your target keywords. Joe told us:
“What you need to do here is use your primary keyword as a springboard to discover others that match it. Those others will become your weekly blog titles. Think of your keyword strategy like a tree - the primary keyword is the trunk and the roots, your secondary keywords are the branches and the leaves.”
“Go back to your SEO tool and conduct more research around your primary keyword. So for example, in Ahrefs, you can use the keyword explorer tool to find other keyword ideas and questions based around a term like B2B lead generation.”
Here’s a screenshot of this feature:
“If you look at the questions, you can see a few there that are very promising. Which B2B lead generation methods work best? How to use LinkedIn for B2B lead generation? Those could become blog titles.”
“The keywords you could also rank for are also well worth looking at. You could create blogs around keywords like sales leads and B2B sales - as we’ve done at Cognism!”
“Again, if you don’t have the SEO firepower of something like Ahrefs, there are some free tools available. One that helped me a lot in the early days of content planning was SEO Hero. It’s not super-powerful, but it is a useful ‘economy option’.”
“Simply plug in your primary keyword and it will throw up a long list of secondary ones. I used the secondary keywords from this in blog titles throughout 2018-20.”
Alternatively, if you can’t find relevant high-volume, low-difficulty keywords, focus instead on low-volume, high-resonance keywords. This technique is known as pain-point SEO.
Joe explained how this works:
“Start by listening to sales calls with your customers or talk to customers directly (if you’re interviewing them for case studies, for example). Listen out for the questions that customers ask or the pain points they’re looking to solve.”
“Then, publish blogs that answer their questions and solve their challenges. At the very least, this'll help you build trust and authority with your audience, and at the most make your prospects choose you over your competitors.”
“A practical example: if a common question among your customers is: 'how does this product feature compare to your competitors?' - create a page comparing the 2 tools! This has been a highly successful SEO play at Cognism, as we’re now ranking organically for terms (e.g.: “ZoomInfo alternative”) that other companies pay top dollar for.”
Choose keywords relating to the product/service you’re selling, then split them into four groups: informational, navigational, commercial investigation, transactional.
This will help you cover all stages of the buyer’s journey.
When you’ve worked out your keywords and blog titles, it’s then a matter of continuing to publish quality content.
Here are Joe’s tips to help you at this stage:
“A calendar will focus your mind on your priorities and get you used to hitting deadlines. Take the secondary keywords from your research phase and think up interesting or thought-provoking titles around them.”
“Technology can only take you so far here. Creativity is hugely important too. Look for your own angle, something that will make your content stand out from the rest.”
“Study the blogs of your immediate competitors and the pages that are already ranking on Google page 1 for your target keywords. Ask yourself - what can you do differently? What can you do better? What unique take can you bring to the table?”
“Never underestimate the power of consistency. Get into the groove of publishing blogs on the same days of the week, every week.”
“If you get this right, then you’ll build an audience that will return to your site week-on-week. It’s great for growing that long-term readership and brand loyalty.”
“The golden rule is around 5 internal links per blog, but it could be more depending on the length of the blog. Only include them if they’re relevant to the blog topic.”
“One thing in content is that it can be hard to keep your team informed about your internal links, especially when you start scaling and new keywords are added. I counteract this by updating my team with our target keywords monthly, and following up more regularly with emails notifying them of new SEO pages they can link to.”
“We also have a shared content marketing guide - an internal playbook with a list of all our target keywords and the corresponding website pages.”
“Search for websites that aren’t direct competitors but have good domain authority. The backlink sweet spot is 60-70, as these sites tend to be authoritative but still approachable.”
“You can try for sites with higher authority, as obviously a backlink from one of them is worth a good deal more. The only downside is that the more authority a website has, the harder it usually is to get your content featured there.”
“When you’ve found some promising sites, look over their blogs and see if there’s a place where your content could fit. Approach their content manager or marketing head with some of your titles - Cognism’s Chrome Extension is really useful for finding contact details via LinkedIn.”
“Every industry has thought leaders and influencers - people who bring their own audience with them. The best content marketers act like journalists, going out and interviewing these people and using their knowledge in blogs and whitepapers.”
“The best way to get big influencers to contribute to your blog (or vice versa) is to engage with the content they create, wherever they create it. In B2B, the number one place for that is LinkedIn.”
“By doing that, you build a relationship with them. Later on, it won’t seem random when you suddenly fly into their DMs asking them for a favor.”
Mark Kilens, VP of Content and Community at Drift, wrote more about this for his LinkedIn content marketing guide - a must-read!
Joe’s final thoughts here:
“You’ll get top rankings on Google if you publish quality content that’s relevant to your audience, that’s optimized for your target keywords, and that matches search intent.”
Keep scrolling 👇 for more content insights - including how to measure the success of your content.
In 2020, Cognism increased unique page views by 286%, our average time on page increased by 0.44% and our bounce rate went down by 13.67%.
On top of that, Joe’s content team generates as many as 45 SQOs per month.
So what’s behind this success? Joe says:
“You need to measure the results produced by your content. This is, I think, where a lot of content marketers fall down. It was certainly one of my worst pain points when I started at Cognism - publishing lots of content, but not having much clue of how well it was doing.”
“It requires a change in thinking that’s perhaps alien or unusual to a lot of content people. Most people in content are artists - they’re writers, designers, filmmakers. To really succeed at it, you have to become a scientist, and a data scientist at that. You have to track your metrics frequently and be guided by what they’re telling you.”
“It’s daunting at first - I’m very far from a ‘numbers guy’ - but my advice is to just get used to doing it.”
“Select your metrics and track them weekly. Block out time in your calendar specifically to do this. Create weekly and monthly reports you can show to your manager and internal stakeholders. Interpret what the data shows - it’s one thing to say ‘this has happened’, the next step is to go beyond that and say, ‘this is what we should do because of it.’”
We made Joe’s monthly content report available for you to download - click 👇 to get your copy.
In order to continue proving that your blog is generating leads, you need to ensure you’re measuring:
The important metrics to track are:
You can find all of these on Google Analytics. Here’s a screenshot of the platform, for Cognism’s most popular blog of Q1:
“All of these metrics are information that’s pointing you in a certain direction. For Cognism, we published blogs on cold calling scripts. We realized they were super-popular and a big theme that resonated with our audience, so we went on to create more cold calling content like blogs and whitepapers. They’ve gone on to become some of our most popular pieces.”
“Your metrics are telling you what themes and topics are going to help you generate leads, so go and do more of it.”
“Another example - if you look at the screenshot above, you’ll see our most-read blog of Q1 was on the B2B sales process. We saw it was gaining huge amounts of traction organically, so we expanded it into a downloadable whitepaper.”
“This is where your strategy becomes scalable - you use your blog as a testing ground for the topics and content pieces that’ll bring in SQOs and revenue.”
“At Cognism, we try to put out one whitepaper per month, on top of all of the blogs we’re writing. Your blogs are where you’re building your audience and brand awareness, but your whitepapers and eBooks are where your lead gen will really thrive.”
Speaking of eBooks, Joe told us about the big rock content strategy:
“This is something we do every 6 months at Cognism. We publish weekly blogs and monthly whitepapers that build up to become much larger, more definitive eBooks. The blogs become chapters in the eBook.”
“It’s a very efficient strategy, as you’re still doing the day-to-day job of growing your audience, getting blog views, generating leads, but more importantly, you’re building towards something bigger that’s going to generate more leads and generate more revenue for your team.”
And how do you track the success of whitepapers and eBooks?
The two big metrics to look at are:
“For this to work, you need UTM tracking set up across your content. You also need to be confident with creating your own, content-based tracking links.”
“If all that’s in place, you can create Salesforce dashboards that display the SQOs and closed-wons that your content produced. The data you’ll get is priceless - you’ll be able to directly link specific content pieces back to revenue. That’s how you prove to the organization that what you’re doing is worth it.”
Joe’s top tip for tying content to revenue is around the issue of awareness.
“You have to be very transparent in communicating your targets to your team. Everyone in content knows the number of leads, SQOs, and revenue they’re bringing in.”
“This is huge in aligning marketing in general, but particularly content marketing.”
“Knowing what your goals are will allow your team to see the bigger picture and they’ll work harder to get you there.”
“Cognism’s marketing department has a mantra, which is simply: make sales easier. I’ve instilled that thinking into the content team here and the work we do.”
“So as a team we’re not just working on content for the sake of getting more blog views etc. We’re working to get leads for sales to close. This needs to be at the forefront of your thinking, if you want to ensure that content is constantly contributing to revenue.”
Cognism’s content team is aligned to our wider marketing team in a very strong way.
“There’s a lot of interaction between the different marketing teams. We help each other out, our strategies all align, and we’re constantly communicating with one another.”
“Communicating and sharing what you’re doing is the most important part of aligning your teams. This has been a particular learning curve for me as a manager, especially when everyone’s WFH. You can’t stay in a silo - you almost have to act as a ‘hype man’ and get the wider team excited about what your team is doing.”
So how does the content marketing team manage relationships with the sales team?
“Often your SDRs will come to you asking for content to be created. We found that the content they were looking for already existed, but they just weren’t aware of it or simply didn’t have the time to find it.”
“So we addressed these silos by strategically communicating with our salespeople - posting useful links to a shared revenue team (marketing and sales) Slack channel, and sending out a weekly email of top content for the week.”
“Making your content visible in this way can make a huge difference. Again, it’s all about providing materials that’ll help your salespeople get deals over the line. The key is to ensure it can be found where they can easily see it.”
“Success in content is not down to any one thing. It’s a combination of everything at once. There’s so much you have to stay on top of. The trick is to create a process that can be scaled and repeated by others.”
“The word I keep coming back to - and this was very much impressed upon me by other content marketers when I started in this industry - is quality. Make sure everything you do, everything you publish, is as good as it can possibly be. Don’t accept anything less than the best.”
“Now I’m no longer a one-man-band. I’m managing a team of exceptional content marketers and every day I’m asking them, and myself: what can we do better? How can we take that blog, that SEO page, that video, to the next level?”
“If you focus on quality and make that your guiding light, then you’ll find that everything else - SEO, blog views, revenue - everything just follows on from that.”
For even more of Joe's content marketing insights, get the playbook 👇