Optimizing your Content Marketing Strategy to Boost Sales

By: Matt Buckley  |  April 28, 2021

Content marketing and search optimization (SEO) strategies are constantly evolving, which can make them seem like ever-moving targets. To uncover current best practices, we invited John-Henry Scherck, the founder of Growth Plays, to meet with marketing leaders from across Mainsail’s portfolio. John-Henry is a respected industry expert in content marketing and SEO for B2B software companies.

Here are the key takeaways from our discussion.

Map your content strategies to your sales funnel

Just because your content is driving traffic does not mean it’s driving sales. Many marketers mistake the content that drives the most traffic as also driving the most conversions. This is rarely the case due to misalignment between search volume and purchase intent. If you look at your business, you’ll more likely see that 20% of content drives 80% of traffic and 20% of content drives 80% of leads. However—these two groups of content are rarely the same.

To generate content that drives sales, John-Henry recommends mapping out your purchase journey by user intent (solution-seeking, solution-aware, and seeking answers to specific jobs that need to be done), then writing content that targets the solution-seeking stage — the bottom of the funnel.

“Ask yourself what your prospects will be thinking about when they start a search that eventually leads to your product,” explains John-Henry.

Today, the bar for producing impactful content is higher than ever. To create high-quality content that drives sales conversions, keep your Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) and their nuanced needs in mind: who is your target audience? What pain points are they looking to solve, and what information are they searching for? Address (and solve) these concerns within your content strategy, and you’ll empower future buyers to achieve their goals—while increasing the number of conversions from search.

Capture bottom-of-the-funnel search intent with Alternative and Versus pages

A Versus page is a one-to-one comparison of your product to a competitor. Visitors to this page are interested in a sales conversation, so include a chat feature to facilitate that. Ideally, their path from search to sale should require no more than 60-90 seconds.

As an example, John-Henry cited the Versus page for Paddle compared to Stripe. Paddle’s key differentiator is that it serves US businesses with international growth needs. The Versus page communicates that difference immediately and then presents an in-depth analysis of the buyers’ choices.

“The biggest mistake I see on Versus pages is that companies tell you ‘We’re the alternative!’ without allowing the visitor to make the comparison themselves. Visitors don’t want to be sold; they want to make an informed decision,” says John-Henry.

Alternative pages provide a one-to-many comparison. These pages serve as comprehensive buyers’ guides, framed through the lens of the incumbent, to help the visitor build the business case for a considered purchase. Because Google ranks high for long-form content, these pages can drive sales, justify purchases for existing customers and identify and redirect poor business fits to a competitor.

A good example is Heap’s Alternative page, which spotlights its top competitor, Mixpanel, then provides an analysis of eight additional competitors.

In addition to driving initial purchases, Alternative pages can be re-referenced by your product champions, who might revisit the page to compare your product to the competitors, often when building a business case to renew.

A third approach is a hub page at a URL such as “…/compare”, where you can aggregate Versus and Alternative pages. This is a good approach for larger companies or industry leaders. Podia, an online platform for creating and selling online courses, provides a good example.

Align your content and landing pages with your sales motion

Here, John-Henry provides two examples of companies in the Google Sheets integration space that are competing differently for the same category, but have two very different products and sales motions.

For bottom-up sales, focus your content on demonstrating value. Map that content to pain points, use-cases, and product functions for the end user. If visitors are qualified, this content will convince them to try the product. Zapier, for example, is a low-friction purchase decision that offers quick entry points to experience their value on their bottoms-up direct response page.

For top-down sales, focus your content on the sale, helping buyers buy, enabling champions and proving value to various stakeholders. In contrast to the Zapier approach, Tray.io is a higher consideration product purchase, so their direct response page provides a long-form set of tools and content. With this style of buyers’ guide, the consumer can educate themselves on the market and determine if there is a fit.

To rank for category search terms, create deep category information hubs

John-Henry provides two examples of companies that do this well:

On Heap’s page for “What is Product Analytics” readers find a deep dive into Product Analytics, which happens to be what Heap is selling. However, we don’t see the word “Heap” until the penultimate paragraph, “Why is Heap the Ideal Product Analytics Solution?”. The company intentionally presents a compelling article to demonstrate their expertise before posturing their place as a leader. This page ranks well because it’s rich with useful content; it will convert because it follows John-Henry’s rule of letting the buyer make the decision.

John-Henry also points to Gremlin: Chaos Monkey which, similarly, presents a deep content dive with links to several additional long-form pieces. Not only does this content library reinforce Gremlin’s mastery of the space—the attractive design and good writing leaves the impression that this company is the unmistakable category leader.

“People want to buy from brands they trust, and work with people they like,” says John-Henry. By authentically educating your buyers, you prove yourself to be a trustworthy leader. Or, equally important, you demonstrate a lack of fit, saving you and your potential buyer from churn.

Other types of free content and tools that can establish you as the category expert include:

  • Downloadable templates that help buyers solve specific jobs
  • Tools that add legitimate value (HubSpot Website Grader, WP Engine Website Speed Test, etc.)
  • Educational webinars

Diversify beyond long-form written content with video

Not every potential customer will read a long-form comparison page. For some audiences, video marketing is more effective. To identify if this might be the case for your product, see if videos appear in queries for your target search terms. If so, Google is indicating that people want to learn about your product through video.

John-Henry recommends approaching YouTube as an “influencer” would, as opposed to treating it as a repository for your marketing collateral. Rather than publishing as many videos as possible, identify a hyper-specific niche and then produce videos that align precisely with that niche, addressing your audience’s most asked questions. He recommends checking out Lumi as a good example.

By intentionally serving as an overly specific, authoritative voice in your space, you can gain trust and, in time, market share.

Tactically, ensure your video content is “bingeable”. Make your videos, playlists and channels well formatted with clear and optimized titles, descriptive thumbnails, and search-optimized tags.

As a bonus, write a post to support each video and embed the video into the post so that both your content piece and your video rank in search.

How to staff SEO and content production

If you have a small marketing team and you’re looking to increase content volume, John-Henry recommends building out a stable of affordable freelancers who can generate high-quality content. Take the time to train and enable this team so they can speak fluently to your audience about your product. Examples of useful enablement tools include a GTM deck, buyer persona documentation, and value proposition and messaging frameworks.

With proper training, every writer should be able to understand your business acumen. They should also be able to articulate the business case for each content piece and tell you how each piece could be used as a tool for:

  • Thought leadership
  • Product marketing
  • Demand generation
  • Account creation

Staff editorial management and content strategy in-house, but don’t expect your already-busy marketing team to find the time to produce content. Additionally, consider hiring a consultant to conduct an annual technical SEO audit, ensuring your backend is up to date.

Writing frameworks to jump-start your content creation

Not sure how to start creating content that will rank well? John-Henry presents two writing frameworks to get started:

Jobs to be Done Framework. At B2B SaaS companies, John-Henry says, “no one is coming to our sites looking for a good time. They’re here because they have a problem that your business may be able to solve.” Define those problems and write about their solutions. Segment your audience and further define their version of their problem, or the exact jobs that need to be done. This content could range from a simple definition to a deep dive into solutioning.

The Two Audience Concept.  Start by writing to the lowest common denominator, or your most general audience, answering basic terms up front and providing approachable content within the first paragraph. Then, transition your article to speaking directly to Audience 2, your ICPs and buyers. Indicate you empathize with their needs and can serve them. This is when you can get fairly direct with marketing your solution, if they have made it this far in your article, they are likely to convert so — feel free to include a product pitch.

The goal of this approach is to make content immediately appealing and approachable to everyone in your market, then address your various buyers’ needs more specifically.

The wrap-up

Thanks to John-Henry for sharing these useful tactics on content marketing and SEO strategies, which can have a huge impact on your business goals.

Remember: the most effective content strategy is one that addresses and solves your target buyers’ problems by providing useful, relatable information and demonstrates how your business can help — without a hard-hitting sales pitch.

Matt is a Vice President at Mainsail Partners. He works with Mainsail’s portfolio companies to implement marketing and sales strategies to fuel growth.
More by Matt Buckley
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