In September of 2017, a few months after announcing we were starting our agency, Leadfeeder signed with us as our fourth client.
At the time, our content marketing strategy was heavily based on stories. These were growth stories, marketing stories, business stories and narratives where people had done things of interest to the target customer. Here’s a sample of headlines.
Examples of a story-based articles that we created for Leadfeeder
We’d promote these articles in communities, where stories like these do really well in terms of getting shared and driving traffic. The hypothesis was that if we got the right target audience on the site, we could contextualize the call to action (CTA) of the article to relate to the post, and some portion of the people would convert. For example, like this from the Mindvalley YouTube growth story pictured above:
The strategy worked well to build traffic quickly and we saw conversions come in from these story articles (and we still do).
But a few months into our engagement, Leadfeeder’s CEO Pekka Koskinen challenged us on the long-term viability of the approach.I remember him saying something to the effect of “How are you going to grow traffic and conversions long-term? Why isn’t there any focus on SEO?”
We had already started seeing some signs that scaling traffic long-term would be challenging. Every month using this story-driven approach, we were effectively starting from 0 traffic because we had no base of organic traffic to build on.
These interview-based stories were not driven by SEO at all. Yes, we may have thought of a keyword we could target after a piece was fully written, but it was almost always an afterthought. We’d prioritize topics based on what we thought would resonate with our client’s customers or if we thought the story would generate a ton of traffic.
Our hesitation around a more SEO-focused content strategy was based on feeling like most of the SEO content was bad (i.e. written for search engines instead of people) and we didn’t consider ourselves “SEOs” in the technical sense and didn’t want to portray our agency as something that we weren’t.
But, based on the CEO’s urging, and that the data was clearly showing us that building compounding traffic without SEO was going to be next to impossible, we decided to give it a shot.
A few months after we created our first post targeting an SEO keyword, we started to notice that it was ranking on the first page and driving more conversions than anything else we had created previously. So we decided to double down on this SEO approach (what we would later call Pain Point SEO) to see if we could replicate the performance of that first post.
Over the next 1-2 years, we doubled down on pain point SEO and the results kept getting better and better. Two and a half years later, traffic from just our blog posts alone grew to between 23,000 – 28,500 monthly pageviews, of which between 17,000 – 21,000 were from organic sessions. We scaled the trial signups that were directly attributed to our blog posts to over 225 signups a month. This made up about 12% of their total monthly signup volume.
The shift in strategy that led to these results was not easy. It came with lots of hesitations, doubts, and additional changes to our process, including in content promotion. The following story shares the original content strategy, the “Aha” moment that led to us creating pain point SEO and how we shifted strategy to achieve these results.
The Early SaaS Content Marketing Strategy — Why Did We Focus on Top of Funnel Stories?
Why did we initially focus on top of the funnel (TOFU) stories for a SaaS product?
First let’s make sure we’re on the same page regarding top, middle, and bottom of the funnel. We define TOFU content creation as content that doesn’t have purchase intent for the product or service, but is still appealing to the target customer. It’s mainly meant to drive awareness of the brand from that target customer. Whereas middle of the funnel (MOFU) content has some purchase intent and bottom of the funnel (BOFU) is indicative of someone ready to make a purchase decision or at least TRY the product. We’ll explain more on what these mean below.
So for Leadfeeder, who targets sales and marketing teams at B2B companies, our TOFU content was growth, marketing, and sales stories of other B2B companies– many of them well known as per the screenshots above.
Here are links to those articles:
- How ConvertKit Grew from $98k to $625k MRR by Doing 150 Webinars in 1 Year
- Case Study: How Typeform Used Beacon Content to Drive 500k+ Views and 2k+ Backlinks
- Why Drift Coined “Conversational Marketing” — A Term That Disrupted an Industry
- How Mindvalley Added 235,000 Subscribers (in 6 Months) by Treating YouTube like a Search Engine
#1 – Stories Paired Perfectly With Community Content Promotion
This brings us to the first, and biggest, reason we produced so many story-based articles for clients back then: Stories work wonderfully at driving short term traffic. They paired well with our promotion technique of that time: community content promotion.
People would share the articles in communities and on their social media accounts and we’d get an initial surge of traffic. Oftentimes the company we wrote about would share the article with their audience as well because the story made them look good.
Here’s a graph showing traffic growth in the first ~5-6 months of our engagement with them. Notably we generated this traffic with $0 of paid promotion.
If we had done a pure SEO-based approach, we’d not likely get 3000+ pageviews in the first month from less than 3 articles without significant paid advertising or an equivalent PR or influencer promotion approach.
#2 Our Mindset Shift on What Defined “Good” Content
Second, we had a (arguably elitist) view that these pieces were simply “better” content than what most companies were pumping out on their blogs. To be honest, we still think this is true from a purely entertainment or enjoyment perspective. What would you rather read, one of the growth stories above or a list post of lead generation tools?
So, to foreshadow a bit, a key part of shifting our strategy away from this TOFU story-based content was shifting our definition of what good content is from “what’s more enjoyable/impressive/fun to read?” to “what gets the most leads and sales for the business?” This philosophical shift was non-trivial. We had a lot of pride in the type of content we produced and being “different” from everyone else (we still do). So this shift was met with some resistance internally.
But what won out in the end were results. We knew that the ultimate differentiator of our agency was our ability to produce leads and sales, and our willingness to be held accountable to do that and openly track and report on that as a key goal of each engagement.
#3 Stories Got Conversions Too
Speaking of results, what complicated things further is that these story-based articles were also driving product signups even though many of the blog posts didn’t have anything to do with the SaaS product. This actually continues to be true to this day. For many of our clients, story based articles of companies (sometimes their customers, sometimes not), when done properly, contribute non-trivially to the monthly leads we can attribute to our efforts.
So it wasn’t like this top of funnel strategy was failing. It was legitimately working. In fact, compared to results most clients were getting with content before we started working together, it was working really well.
But what spurred the change was being faced with questions around how we could continue to improve results month over month long term.
The Questions That Spurred A Shift in Our B2B SaaS Content Strategy
It was around March 2018, after months of these results that their CEO Pekka challenged us about these results. His challenge had two parts (1) Will this grow traffic and leads long term? (2) Why are we writing stories about other companies on our blog? Both points were valid.
Devesh and I huddled internally after the call, re-examined our content strategy and started to discuss what other approach we could take. After looking at the model comparison tool in GA which measures conversions, we started to notice something that was interesting. Aside from all of the stories that we created, we had also written two blog posts that had started ranking for SEO keywords and were driving a ton of conversions.
What was especially interesting is that these posts weren’t even in the top 10 from a traffic perspective, which meant their conversion rates were much higher than anything else (like 10X higher).
How did these bottom of funnel, effectively “Pain Point SEO”, posts exist when we were almost exclusively doing top of funnel stories? We thought about this a lot while writing this case study and the answer seems to be a combination of testing and luck. To our credit, even back then, we were testing different tactics in our process: promotion tactics, content types, etc. And when you do that, sometimes you manufacture your own luck: i.e. one of your tests works.
This was one of those times.
Testing doesn’t mean random guessing though. We had reasons for producing these posts. Namely, our process has always been user research heavy, and one of the questions we always ask is “What other options/tools/companies are you evaluating or considering?” That led to us producing comparison and list based posts for a previous client that we noticed were converting amazingly well. We tested that again for Leadfeeder.
So we can call these “accidental Pain Point SEO” posts.
Here’s what we saw:
Posts 1 and 3 were these “accidental Pain Point SEO” posts. The key insight is what they were ranking for: They were both ranking for keywords that had really high purchase intent:
- a product comparison (“X vs. Leadfeeder”)
- a list of products in a category (“X tools”)
This is equally critical to notice– they did not get much traffic. The story based posts got a lot more traffic (at that time), but had way less conversions than those two posts. In fact, the product comparison keyword “X vs Leadfeeder” showed zero monthly search volume in Ahrefs or other SEO tools — and yet it generated so many monthly signups.
We had a critical aha moment that ultimately led to our pain point SEO strategy: We could oftentimes get better content marketing ROI by publishing posts that go after lower volume keywords (even down to showing no search volume on major SEO tools) as long as the buying intent of those keywords was incredibly high.
This has led to us now prioritizing content ideas by their buying intent. There are occasional exceptions, but as a general rule we now prioritize the most bottom of funnel, highest buying intent keywords or topics first, then when we begin to exhaust them we move “up funnel” to mid-funnel (typically “how-to” style posts on topics related to the product) and top of funnel topics.
Doubling Down on Pain Point SEO to Scale Leadfeeder’s Conversions
After stumbling into the learning around pain point SEO, we doubled down on the strategy.
There were seven content creation frameworks that we came up with for high purchase intent blog posts:
- Comparison posts (blog posts that compared Leadfeeder to other known alternatives)
- Category tools posts (blog posts that helped customers discover a set of tools within a category)
- How-to blog posts (teaching someone how to solve a problem manually using some complicated method that could be done way easier using the product)
- Alternatives posts (when someone is searching for an alternative product because the current product they’re using doesn’t do what they need)
- Product Use Cases (showing up when someone was searching for a solution that Leadfeeder solved- ie. visitor identification)
- Stories about why the product or company was built (it shows the thought process about how the pain point the company identified was solved and how they approached building a product to solve it)
- Case studies about how someone solved a common pain point using the product
For example, here are some of the blog posts that we wrote after the shift in strategy:
The Story Behind Building the Best Visitor Identification Software for Marketers and Salespeople (story with purchase intent)
Over the next 8 months we produced content that went after keywords that had purchase intent and that were within one of the frameworks above. When doing content ideation for Leadfeeder, we’d prioritize the topic ideas by buying intent first and then by search volume. Ideally we’d move on topics that had both intent and search volume, but there were many ideas that we pursued that didn’t show any volume in any SEO tool but that we knew had purchase intent if someone was searching for it.
Visualizing our change in content strategy. Each rectangle is a single article.
How did these purchase intent, pain point seo, posts do? Below is a plot of signups per month for Leadfeeder from our content alone (note they have many other sources of signups in addition to our content). We started intentionally implementing pain point SEO posts in the spring and summer of 2018.
In May we tested a couple posts on the topic of marketing automation, namely building a marketing automation stack and integrations. Neither of them generated many signups long term (later we’d publish a post about marketing automation tools that did work). Then in June 2018, we published a how-to post describing how to do what Leadfeeder does manually, without the tool, which has generated over 100 signups to date.
Then in July and August we really started ramping it up and published almost exclusively Pain Point SEO posts and never really looked back.
Here are the signups per month attributable to our posts (via first-click and last-click attribution). It correlates well to the timeline of us starting to produce pain point SEO. Conversions start to increase in December 2018, a few months after we started publishing Pain Point SEO posts regularly. The time delay to see the conversion increase is due to it taking time for the posts to rank in the search engines and get enough traffic to make a sizable impact on overall signups per month.
After December, conversions increase linearly, month over month, for over a year.
We’re really proud of these results. We’ve seen conversion and analytics data from a lot of different companies by now and a steady increase month over month in conversions from content like this is extremely rare.
As for traffic, we did see an initial dip in overall traffic to our blog posts.
This is expected as the pain point SEO posts are not very promotable in communities and we didn’t yet have a good alternative promotion strategy (as explained below). But eventually it picked back up, aided largely by a technical SEO fix of moving the Leadfeeder blog from a subdomian (blog.leadfeeder.com) to a subfolder (leadfeeder.com/blog/):
From there, SEO traffic and conversions really started to accelerate as we continued to identify new topics that we felt could drive conversions, and they ranked with greater and greater ease.
Now a little over a year later, monthly organic traffic has grown to over 21,000 visitors and monthly signups have doubled to over 215 new signups per month directly attributable to content (Here is our article on attributing leads to content marketing — Note that even first click attribution is a lower limit estimate, meaning the true number of leads “from” content is likely higher).
How Do You Promote These SEO Posts?
As we mentioned towards the beginning, stories were a natural fit with the community content promotion technique. So when we shifted to pain point SEO posts, we found it a lot harder to drive immediate traffic to them.
Lists of tools, product comparisons, and other bottom of funnel posts like that don’t do well in communities. Pain point SEO posts like these are meant for Google. They’re meant to show up when the right person is asking for that exact information, not to be casually read like a magazine style story while browsing Facebook or Reddit.
The immediate traffic that communities used to provide is really useful though because it gets the post in front of people (before you have to wait for Google to rank it). This leads to people naturally linking to it, which accelerates the rate that Google will rank it.
It so happens that around this time (Fall/Winter of 2018) we were noticing an overall lack of effectiveness of community content promotion as detailed in this post published in November 2018. This was only compounded by the switch to Pain Point SEO posts.
At the end of 2018, we started testing different promotion techniques (as detailed in this article) and we ultimately settled on paid Facebook promotion and link building for SEO as a winning combination, which we use to this day for every client (we discuss thoroughly in this article published in early 2020).
In short, we get initial traffic now with paid Facebook promotion of our articles. This ad spend comes out of our own budget, not our clients. We test both cold audiences, lookalikes and retarget visitors that have been to their site and send traffic to our articles.
This initial surge of traffic replaces what we used to get with community content promotion and naturally builds some links to the pieces, and they begin to rank. We then do link building, via a link building agency we partner with to further improve rankings of certain posts that are doing well and showing conversion potential.
This new content promotion or distribution strategy has fixed our content-promotion mismatch. Pain point SEO posts, which are more utilitarian, get early traffic from Facebook and longer-term traffic from organic search.
What We Learned from Working with Leadfeeder
Our work with Leadfeeder over 2.5 years highlights a lot of learnings from our side:
- A shift in content strategy
- A shift in promotion strategy
- A doubling down on using leads to measure success
That’s why we felt like this case study would valuable to other content marketers. There’s rarely a straight line to get results. It takes constant testing, iterating and doubling down on what works.
Now when we implement a content strategy for other SaaS companies, we lead with pain point SEO as the main strategy because we’ve shown that this is the fastest way to accelerate traffic and leads (for multiple companies beyond just Leadfeeder). Starting with pain point SEO from day 1 with clients has been great in terms of getting conversion results really early.
We’re grateful for clients like Leadfeeder that balance trusting us when we try different strategies and push us to continue to improve.
Questions? Comments? Let us know below. We’ll get back to you 🙂