SaaS Inbound Marketing: The Expert's Guide to Getting Results in 2019

Kamel Ben Yakoub

SaaS Inbound Marketing: The Expert's Guide to Getting Results in 2019

SaaS Inbound Marketing: The Expert's Guide to Getting Results in 2019 By

Trying to do inbound marketing for your SaaS business without having a strategy in place is like driving fast through heavy fog; you can do it, but it isn’t recommended!

A well-planned strategy will help you make the most out of your marketing endeavors and will drastically improve your results.

If you’re looking for a guiding star for your SaaS marketing efforts, keep reading.

In this guide, we’ll explain every aspect of inbound marketing for any SaaS business and show you how to play to WIN!

When you KNOW what your goals are and HOW to achieve them, you’re marketing budget will see much higher returns.

In this guide, we’ll be discussing the following four areas:

  1. What is inbound marketing?
  2. SaaS content creation
  3. Content promotion and distribution
  4. Improving your content’s conversion rate

Want to learn more? Let’s get right to it!

1 – What is inbound marketing?  

Before we show you the tools, techniques, and strategies that will help your SaaS business implement an effective inbound marketing methodology, it’s worth discussing what inbound marketing is so that we all start off on the same page!

Inbound marketing is a methodology for creating valuable content and experiences for potential customers and attracting them to your business. Inbound marketing differs from outbound marketing as it focuses on solving people’s problems and forming connections, instead of interrupting them.

While inbound marketing isn’t exactly the same aspull marketing, the concepts are broadly similar. The goal of inbound marketing is to attract, or ‘pull’, customers towards you with attractive content and offers. The opposite of inbound marketing is outbound marketing, orpush marketing, where you place your business’ content, advert, offer, or message in front of as many people as possible.

Why use inbound marketing?

Many SaaS businesses rely on inbound marketing after pushing up against the limitations of outbound marketing methods. More people than ever are using ad-blockers and most internet users have developed ‘banner blindness’, meaning that they automatically filter out advertising.  

Trying to side-step these hurdles with aggressive outbound marketing tactics such as un-skippable YouTube adverts or influencer marketing can actually be counter-productive; no-skip ads just generate brand animosity and people can sniff a paid-promotion a mile away.

This is where inbound marketing becomes very appealing. It focuses on the path of least resistance; providing value and establishing trust and a relationship with people. The end goal of converting the audience to customers is the same, but inbound marketing is more of a gentle pull than a push.

Inbound marketing usually takes place on:

  •         Your website
  •         Your social media platforms
  •         Third-party publishing platforms (Medium for blog posts, YouTube for videos, Spotify for podcasts, etc.)
  •         Search engines such as Google

Inbound marketing could take the form of:

  •         Blog posts
  •         Articles
  •         How-to guides
  •         Explainer videos
  •         Tips and techniques
  •         Advice
  •         And more!

The overriding goal can be summed up in one word: conversion.

You want to use inbound marketing to:

  •         Convert readers to leads
  •         Convert leads to prospects
  •         Covert prospect into paying customers
  •         Convert customers to advocates

How?

The most common approach is to offer free trials and/or product demos.

Since giving away free demos or trials is second nature to almost all SaaS businesses, inbound marketing and SaaS go together like peanut butter and jelly.

2 – SaaS content creation

Content creation for a SaaS business has to be more than simply pumping out a few blog posts and social media updates and hoping for the best.

You need to build a content marketing strategy if you want to see results.

A strategy encompasses the following five stages:

  1.   Get to know your ‘ideal customer’
  2.   Conduct keyword research
  3.   Develop a content action plan
  4.   Choose a content framework
  5.   Create a content marketing calendar

Here’s what to do.

  1. Get to know your ‘ideal customer’

The best framework for discovering your ‘ideal customer’ isjobs-to-be-done. This time-tested framework helps explain why customers make the choices they do.

Follow this framework and you’ll learn the various social and emotional dimensions that influence people’s decision-making processes.

You’ll gain an insight into what makes them tick and how you can create content that they truly value.

So, where should you begin?

Start by timetabling a user research session with anyone in your business who has direct contact with your customers. Reps from the sales development team, account management team, and client support team should all be present.

As your team members to discuss the ‘pain-points’ your customers are experiencing, then research these areas in further detail by:

  •         Interviewing current and past customers
  •         Sending outreach emails and surveys
  •         Studying customer service chat logs

Based on what you learn, you can begin to develop a ‘pain-point’ driven content marketing strategy.

  1. Conduct keyword research

Many SaaS companies focus on a volume-driven keyword strategy; they create content around keywords that seem to generate the highest levels of interest.

While this approach may produce content that gets a high number of likes, shares, and views, it may not help your business generate leads, and when you aren’t getting enough leads, you won’t meet your business goals.

That’s because a volume-driven keyword strategy isn’t addressing the ‘pain-points’ experienced by your ideal customers. The solution is to conduct pain-point-focused keyword research.

Conduct keyword research using the ‘pain-points’ that you identified during your user research sessions. This will ensure that the content you create will be highly relevant to your target audience.  

  1. Develop a content action plan

Each piece of content you create should have a clear aim and should help support a specific business goal. This information should be stored on a content action plan.

Common business goals may include:

  •         Increasing organic traffic
  •         Increasing lead generation
  •         Increasing the quality of leads.

Once you are clear about your goals and the content that must be written to support each goal, create your content action plan using cloud-based spreadsheet software such as Google Sheets. This document will show the business goals for every item of content you plan to create.

  1. Choose a content framework

Even if you link content to specific business goals, it’s not enough to simply pump out content that addresses your ideal customers’ pain points; you need to choose a content framework that helps optimize the content for search.

For most SaaS businesses, the topic cluster approach is ideal. The topic cluster framework helps you avoid the biggest trap that most SaaS businesses fall into; releasing new content that competes with competitors’ and your own previously published content.

Here’s how it works.

The topic cluster framework – previously known as ‘siloing’ – is a system for organizing your content that helps search engines ‘understand’ how each piece of content relates to your other content. This approach helps you focus your content around a specific topic and establish your brand as a trusted source.

A ‘cluster’ is a group of four or five blog posts or articles that relate to your chosen topic.

  •         The main piece of content is known as the ‘Pillar page’. This focuses on your main keyword.
  •         The other pieces of content are known as ‘Cluster content’. They focus on different keywords related to the content on your Pillar page.

However, these pages must be ‘linked’ to show search engines that they are related to each other.

The Pillar page should have:

  •         A link to your landing page or website
  •         Contextual links to each of your Cluster content articles

Each of your Cluster content articles should have:

  •         A link to your Pillar page in their first paragraph
  •         Links to the other Cluster content articles

The topic cluster framework helps improve the SEO of your content and helps search engines understand how your various pieces of content relate to each other.

  1. Create a content marketing calendar

The fifth step of content creation is developing a content marketing calendar. A calendar can be part of your content distribution plan (we’ll discuss that below), part of your content action plan, or a separate document.

A content marketing calendar lays out the details of each piece of content you produce including its purpose, where it’s distributed and, more importantly, when it is released.

A content marketing calendar helps you avoid randomly posting content that gets lost in all the noise online. It creates regularity and helps encourages regular readership of your blog and other content through a consistent release schedule.   

Most SaaS content marketers use a cloud-based spreadsheet such as Google Sheets for their content marketing calendar. This means that all information is shared in real-time will all employees.

Your content calendar should include the following information for each piece of content.

  •         The Topic Cluster it belongs to
  •         The type of content (Pillar content or Cluster Content)
  •         The headline
  •         The keyword(s)
  •         The URL of the article (when published)
  •         The online channels the article will be shared through (company blog, social media, etc)
  •         An outline
  •         Associated images

Try to plan at least one month ahead, to give yourself time to respond to any changes as they occur. Your employees need time to respond to edits and make changes. For example, if your marketing team notices a software trend emerging, they can suggest a change in the content focus. You can always push back previously written content for a later date. 

3– Content promotion and distribution

Creating content is only half the challenge – promoting and distributing it correctly is the other half.

Individuals and brands are creating content at a mind-boggling rate.

Consider these stats:

  •         Every second, on average, more than 6,000 tweets are tweeted on Twitter
  •         Facebook generates over 4 petabytes of data each day. 
  •         Instagram users publish almost 50,000 posts per minute.

That’s a whole lot of content, and, if you’re a SaaS business looking to cut through the noise and build brand awareness, these numbers should scare you.

To grab people’s attention, you need to support your high-quality content with a killer distribution plan.

A sound distribution plan will put your content in front of people who need it and give you leads to convert into prospects, and, from there, to paying customers.  

But while most SaaS businesses know how to get content right, comparatively few know how to nail distribution.

Common approaches like dumping links on forums, spamming followers on social media and running random ad campaigns aren’t smart.

To drive brand awareness, generate leads and open doors, you need a solid distribution plan. 

What is a content distribution plan?

A content distribution plan is a strategic document that helps guide your strategy for distributing any content you produce. It can be integrated with your content marketing calendar or can be a separate document.

Having a distribution plan stops you from randomly posting content and helps you attract an audience, build brand loyalty and convince people to take whatever action you are aiming for, whether that means reading one of your ebooks, booking a software demo or signing up for your newsletters.

When stripped down to its bare bones, a distribution plan states which channels and avenues each piece of content you produce should be distributed.

And guess what?

It’s not all the same!

Many SaaS businesses distribute all their content in the same way, then wonder why they don’t see results!

You can’t use the same distribution strategy for all your content types;

A blog post requires a different approach from an ebook or LinkedIn article.

A long-form article requires a different approach from a blog post.

In it’s simplest form, a content distribution plan lays out which approach you’ll use for each type of content.

Let’s look at an example: a blog post.

What do you think you’ll do to distribute your blog post?

If you’re stuck for ideas, try these:

  •         Promote is on social media (your company’s Facebook page or Twitter account)
  •         Put a link to it on your website.
  •         Announce it in your newsletter.

But what else could you do?

  •         Post it to Medium
  •         Ask to guest post it on another site
  •         Use a free service such as Lumen5 to convert the post into a video and post it on YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook.

Now, take a minute and evaluate how different this plan might be from promoting an ebook.

The same major distribution channels (Facebook, Instagram, YouTube) would still be in play, but what you do with the content should be quite different.

You obviously wouldn’t post an ebook on Medium.

And you probably wouldn’t convert it into a video; Lumen5 is awesome for making short videos from blog posts – but for a 50-page ebook? That just wouldn’t work.  

So that’s step one: create a content distribution plan and detail exactly how you plan to distribute each type of content you produce.

How do you know if the plan is working?

It’s quite common for teams to create top-notch content, distribute it well and then fail to generate the kind of leads they were expecting. So what gives?

When it comes to measuring success, you need to be clear about WHAT you want to measure.

  •         Blog post page views?
  •         Unique visitor numbers?
  •         Email open rates?

If you’re unsure which metrics to monitor, the best approach is to match your business goals with the right key performance indicators (KPIs).

If you want to increase brand awareness, page views may be a helpful KPI to measure.

If your goal is to increase lead conversions, email open rates may be a more helpful KPI.  

Measuring the right analytics will show you where to focus more of your efforts and will reveal the type of content that’s important for your audience.

Here’s a simple 5-step strategy for organic content distribution that will help you evaluate the effectiveness of your plan as you go:  

  1.       Begin by publishing content to your site or blog and send a campaign email to your email list (if you have one). Use your historical email states to see when you have the highest open rate and send the email at that time.
  2.       Share your content on your channels (Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook page, etc)
  3.       Distribute your content on relevant forums by sharing links (eg: Facebook groups, Slack groups, forums).
  4.       Wait a few days for analytics data such as comments, shares, and states, then choose the right KPIs for analytics. Focus on the channels that are proving fruitful.
  5.       Don’t be afraid to experiment with different channels and tactics for getting your content out there and getting your brand noticed. You could email big publishers or editors who report on your content topic and suggest a repost.

Should you use paid promotions?

Our advice is to hold off paying for content promotion before you’ve mastered organic distribution. This will help you master the art of organic content distribution before testing the waters with paid distribution channels like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google and Amazon.

But if your sales team has aggressive targets to meet and needs leads now…

If you already have content pieces that garnered significant shares and likes, it can be tempting to hit the ‘Promote post’ option on Facebook or Twitter and cross your fingers.

Allow us to show you a better way…

Before you promote a single piece of content, you need to look at the following areas:

Demographic data (company revenue, size, age, location, income and job title)

Psychographic data (blogs, media, software, competitors, and topics)

Competitive data (Competitor keywords and competitor ads)

Here’s what to do.

 

For demographic data, you need to use all the information about your ‘ideal customer’ that we discussed in section two. Who are they? How old are they? Where do they live and how much do they earn?

Use this key demographic data to more accurately target customers in your chosen vertical when setting up Facebook ads or Google ads.

For psychographic data, you can use thejobs-to-be-done framework results that you used to know your ideal customer. Knowing how and why your ideal customers are likely to make the decisions they do is a critical part of getting the most out of paid promotions.  

Competitive data can be gleaned from services such as SEMRush – they can tell you which keywords your competitors rank highly for and which keywords their ads focus on.

By tying together these three strands of data, you can narrow down where to spend your money. This approach will help you choose which content to promote and where based on everything you know about your ideal customer and what your competitors are doing.

Your overall goals should be to find out which content is working and then drive paid traffic to it to boost lead assets and sales.

4- Improving the conversion rate of your content

The main goal of all inbound marketing activity can be summarized in one word: conversion.

Your aim is to convert readers into leads, convert leads into prospects and convert prospects into paying customers.

If you follow the steps in our guide, you should be able to generate plenty of readers from your content.

But how can you improve the conversion rate of your content?  

The answer lies in training. You need to train your readers to buy from you.

How?

People who read your content won’t automatically convert into paying customers no matter how awesome it is or how great your software is. You need to teach them to buy from you.

Although releasing great content helps build your brand and traffic, if you’re always giving away content for free, people will expect services and products for free, too.

It sounds weird, but it’s true; your conversion rates will suck unless you explicitly train your readers to become buyers.  

The solution?

Micro-commitments.

Micro-commitments are small actions that you force your readers to take if they want something from you. This gets them into the mindset of having to give something to get something in return.

Let’s say you’ve written an awesome ebook. Ebooks are known as lead magnets as they generate MASSIVE numbers of leads. But they only generate leads IF you use micro-commitments for your readers to participate in before they get to read the ebook!

Here are some examples you can try:

Instead of giving people your ebook, make them give you their email if they want to read it.

Instead of emailing them the ebook, email them a link that they have to click on to access it.

Psychologically, these micro-commitments will condition your readers to ‘click’ if they want a benefit.

Once you have their email, you’ve converted a reader into a lead. Next, you need to convert the leads into prospects.

Some examples of lead-to-prospect micro-commitments include:

Email sign-ups to receive a free software trial

Email newsletters with links to tutorials about products

Links to free offers related to your software.

If a lead signs up for a free trial or demo of your software, you’ve not only converted them from a lead into a prospect, you’ve trained them to buy from you! They’ll have the mindset of having to give something to receive something in return.

They’ll be much more likely to click on your “Buy” button when they want the full version of your software later on!

The specific micro-commitment you settle on will depend on a wide range of factors such as how easy it is to get value from your software without assistance. But by far the biggest factor is the type of reader you are trying to convert and which stage they’re at in their buying journey.

5- Conclusion

When it comes to SaaS inbound marketing, one thing should be clear: content is no longer king: distribution is. The landscape is tougher than ever and you need a winning strategy to get results from your marketing efforts.

We’re confident that our guide will help any SaaS business get the most from their marketing endeavors and drastically improve their inbound marketing results.

By linking content to business goals, addressing your ideal customers’ pain points and consistently putting out high-quality content, you WILL build a relationship with your readers and realize a good conversion rate.

Be passionate, be consistent and we promise you’ll see better returns from your marketing budget and activities.

Good luck!

 

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