Over the past five years running our agency, we’ve noticed several key flaws with the way most B2B businesses approach content marketing. Namely:
- They focus content efforts on “top of funnel” topics (i.e. topics that aren’t directly related to the product or service they sell).
- They write beginner level content for their advanced B2B audiences.
In this article, we’re going to explain how our approach to B2B content marketing—which we’ve discussed extensively in case studies like this one and this one—works to generate actual leads and customers for our clients, instead of just traffic.
Below, we share:
Note: If you’d like to learn our content strategy and apply it to your business, we teach everything we do and give personalized feedback in our content marketing course and community. If you’d like us to do content marketing for you, then feel free to fill out the form on the bottom of our work with us page. And if you’d like to join our content marketing team to write the style of content described throughout this post, check out our job opportunities here.
Why We Focus on Bottom of Funnel, High-Purchase Intent Topics First
Typical digital marketing logic says you must guide every prospect through the stages of the “buyer’s journey,” generating brand awareness with your target audience at the top of funnel “awareness” stage, and nurturing them down the funnel to the purchase or “conversion” stage.
Most B2B companies apply this same logic to content marketing, thinking of content as a tool specifically for earning attention at the awareness stage. They produce things like white papers, infographics, “ultimate guides,” and webinars. And then they promote their content through social media platforms and email marketing, hoping to entice prospects to buy over time.
Outside of the most revolutionary, category-creating products and services, almost every B2B business already has a group of people who are at the purchase stage, looking to solve their problems with a product or service like yours.
So, our perspective is, why spend a bunch of time and money creating content for people at the top of the funnel who will either a) never end up converting because they weren’t in the market for your product in the first place or b) take months or years to convert?
In our experience (as we’ll demonstrate in graphs below), this method generates way more leads because readers are actively looking to solve a problem or make a purchase decision.
We’re not saying that top of funnel (TOF) content is bad or that you should never create it—just that from a B2B content strategy perspective, it should be prioritized later on because there are tons of leads to be had by ranking for bottom of funnel (BOF) keywords first.
Lead generation is the lifeblood of B2B marketing. There are people ready to become leads but you need to show up for the BOF terms they are searching for.
How Our B2B Content Strategy Works in Practice
So how do you, in practice, identify these BOF, ready-to-buy keywords? Obviously, you need to know what your target customers are likely to Google when they’re in the market for your product. To do that, you need to learn as much as possible about your customer, specifically:
- Who your ideal customers are (verticals, sizes, job titles, etc.)
- What pain points they’re trying to solve
- The ways in which your product or service solves those pain points differently or better than competitors
- What competing tools or processes they have tried before
- And more
To learn this, we start with interviewing multiple customer-facing employees in our client’s companies (typically sales teams, product teams, founders, etc.).
We then use that knowledge to inform our keyword research, selecting specific SEO keywords to target with individual pieces of content per our Pain Point SEO strategy.
To make this more concrete, let’s look at some examples of a) categories of keywords we commonly prioritize and b) examples of specific keywords we’ve tackled for B2B clients.
A. Keyword Categories We Prioritize for B2B Businesses
Bottom of Funnel Product and Service Keywords
The first category of keywords we’ll often target are terms that indicate people are searching for the exact type of product or service our client sells. These terms have the highest buying intent because they’re not even about pain points, it’s just people Googling for a solution (e.g. “small business accounting software”)
For example, with SaaS businesses, that’s terms like:
- Use Case + Software
- Top/Best + Use Case + Software
- Use Case + Tools
- Industry + Software
- Industry + Use Case + Software
For service businesses, the same types of phrases apply if you just substitute “service” for “software” or “tools.”
These are the types of terms that businesses would typically optimize their website homepage or product landing pages for. However, the benefit of targeting these types of terms with blog content is that you have more room and flexibility to satisfy search intent with different content formats.
For example, you can tackle these terms with list-style posts that often outrank home and product pages in search engines. Whereas, no brand is going to include a list of competitor products on their home or product page.
We’ll share examples of how we approach these keywords below.
Bottom of Funnel Comparison Keywords
A second category of keywords we look at are comparison keywords. This includes terms such as:
- Your Brand vs. Competitor Brand
- Competitor Brand vs. Competitor Brand
- Competitor Brand + Alternatives
Like the product and service keywords discussed above, these also indicate that people searching are in buying mode. They’re on the market, doing research to understand the differences between competing products and which one will be best for them.
If you can show up in search results for those terms, explaining the specific ways in which your product or service is different or better than those competitors, you can see well above average conversion rates from that content.
Now, as we described in our case study on scaling content, there isn’t an infinite number of these BOF keywords to go after. The number available varies from business to business but at some point, if you want to scale content, you need to begin targeting what we think of as mid or top of funnel keywords.
The key is to be intentional about which mid and top of funnel keywords you choose. When we reach this stage, the following two categories of keywords are often where we look to next.
Mid/Top of Funnel Pain Point Keywords
A broad third category of keywords we target are pain point keywords: search phrases that indicate someone has a problem that your product or service solves. This is the bread and butter of our Pain Point SEO technique.
- “How-to” phrases: Keywords where people are looking to understand how to do something that your product or service makes easier.
- Template and checklist keywords: When people are looking for spreadsheet or checklist templates to solve a pain point that your product or service solves more efficiently (particularly relevant in SaaS content).
- Direct pain point phrases: Keywords where someone types in a specific pain point that your product or service solves (e.g. “who is visiting my site” or “keep track of staff holidays”).
While these types of keywords don’t explicitly indicate that someone is looking for a product or service, they do indicate that people searching are aware of a specific pain point and are actively looking for information or resources to solve it.
The key is to keep these keywords as closely related to your product as possible. So instead of “how to manage employees” for HR software, which is extremely general and HR software would only be one small aspect of that topic, a keyword like “how to manage employee payroll” or “how to manage employee PTO” would be a lot better (assuming your product helps do those two things) as they are much more closely related to features that (hopefully) your HR software has.
As a result, there is opportunity to show them how your solution can work to solve their problem, and therefore some portion of readers will likely convert—much more so than other top of funnel topics that show no indication that searchers have a pain point your product can solve (e.g. “industry trends”, “tips to do X”, “ultimate guide to Y” etc.).
Mid/Top of Funnel Consideration Keywords
Finally, certain keywords indicate people are in a research or consideration phase, on the border of entering the market for a product or service.
- How much does it cost to do [X thing your product or service does]?
- When to use [product or service category]?
- How can [product or service category] help me?
- What are the benefits of [product or service category]?
These types of terms can also convert well when content is created strategically.
As a simple example, we had a client that offered book ghostwriting services to entrepreneurs, and we created a post on “how much does it cost to ghostwrite a book.” In the post we walked through all the steps, monetary costs, and costs of time and effort it takes to self-manage the ghostwriting and publishing process. And by portraying how much work is involved for readers to do that on their own, we made a compelling case for why many entrepreneurs would benefit far more from using a service like our client.
Now, with these categories and types of content in mind, let’s look at some more examples of specific keywords we’ve gone after for B2B clients while using this strategy.
B. Examples of Specific Keywords We’ve Tackled for B2B Clients
When we started working with Geekbot, a Slack app for running asynchronous standup meetings, we first targeted BOF keywords like:
- Daily standup software (Use Case + Software)
- Standuply alternatives (Competitor + Alternative)
Only once we exhausted their BOF keyword opportunities (they had ~20 of them) did we move up the funnel, targeting terms like:
- Standup meetings waste of time: This keyword indicates frustration with the traditional method of running standup meetings in-person or via video call. Geekbot solves this problem, so we present Geekbot as a solution.
- Daily standup Excel template: This keyword indicates they’re looking for an asynchronous, text-based way to “run” daily standups, instead of actually having a live meeting. This is also exactly what Geekbot does, except even better than an Excel sheet, so while we include a downloadable Excel template to address the searcher’s intent, we also discuss Excel’s downsides, and argue why Geekbot is a better option.
- Daily standup questions: The searcher is looking for beginner-level information like “What are typical questions that get asked during a daily standup?” While we answer this question, we also find natural ways to tie in the product, thus increasing the conversion rate.
As you can see in this graph, the lion’s share of conversions have come from the BOF articles we’ve produced for Geekbot:
However, as we point out in our case study, they still receive a nontrivial number of conversions from top of funnel articles which make continued efforts to scale content worth pursuing.
When we worked with Leadfeeder, a lead generation software that shows B2B businesses which companies are visiting their website, we targeted terms such as:
- Best Visitor Identification Software (Best + Use Case + Software)
- Lead Generation Tools (Use Case + Tools)
- Sales Intelligence Tools (Use Case + Tools)
As we worked our way up the funnel, we targeted terms like:
- Who Is Visiting My Website?: This keyword indicates searchers have the exact pain point that Leadfeeder solves, making it a perfect opportunity to present Leadfeeder’s solution. In the post we provide a detailed walkthrough of how the product helps users see who’s visiting their site.
- How to Get More Leads: This keyword is obviously not as targeted as BOTF terms above, but “leads” is generally specific to B2B, so at least the audience is right. It also indicates a pain point of not having enough leads—a problem that Leadfeeder’s tool can help solve, which we presented in the post.
- How to Find Decision Makers In a Company: While this keyword isn’t specific to website visitor identification, it indicates an audience that’s very likely to be in B2B sales. By providing a thorough explanation of how to find decision makers in a company using LinkedIn Sales Navigator, we provided valuable content to the right audience, while finding ways to incorporate how Leadfeeder’s product helps you see which companies are visiting your website—which is a complementary feature to what they’re Googling.
As discussed in our case study, by using this approach, we were able to scale Leadfeeder’s signups to over 200/month:
In many cases, businesses like Leadfeeder would have focused their content marketing efforts on loosely related topics like “sales training tips,” “CRM best practices,” “sales funnel automations,” or other “thought leadership” topics you’d see on a site like HubSpot’s sales blog.
Instead, by going after terms where searchers indicated they had intent to buy or solve a problem Leadfeeder helped solve, our content had significantly higher conversion rates and allowed us to scale product signups from content much faster.
Since we’ve worked with Circuit, a delivery route planning software, we’ve prioritized keywords like:
- Apps for Delivery Drivers (Another BOF keyword format: “Apps for industry/target customer”)
- Route Dispatch Software (Use Case + Software)
- RouteXL vs Circuit (Competitor vs Brand)
As we’ve worked out way up the funnel, we’ve targeted terms like:
- Shortest Route for Multiple Destinations in Google Maps: This keyword indicates someone is trying to understand how to achieve in Google Maps what Circuit makes much easier for you. In the post we discussed the limitations of Google Maps for route optimization, and showed how Circuit works to provide a better solution.
- What Makes a Great Delivery Experience?: Most people searching this term are likely trying to understand how to provide a great delivery experience to their customers. For this post, we surveyed 275 people who regularly receive packages and asked them what makes a great delivery experience. Then we presented the results in which 40.8% of respondents selected “deliveries being on time” as the most important thing—and bridged that into an explanation of how Circuit’s product enables that.
- How to Be a Faster Delivery Driver: This keyword indicates searchers have a key pain point that Circuit is built to solve. In the post we discussed best practices for delivery drivers, including the optimization of delivery routes where we presented Circuit as a tool for doing exactly that.
Following this strategy, at the time we wrote our case study for Circuit, we had increased organic traffic 1484% and conversions 313%.
While all three company examples we’ve presented in this section have been B2B SaaS (who have historically made up a significant portion of our client base), we’ve also worked with B2B service businesses such as other marketing agencies, the book publishing service we mentioned above, and others. And through those experiences, as well as our experiences doing content for our agency, we’ve discovered some key differences in content strategy between these two types of businesses (which we’ll discuss next).
Subtle Differences in Content Strategy for B2B Service Businesses vs. B2B SaaS Businesses
In our opinion, service businesses are the hardest businesses to do content strategy for because compared to B2B SaaS businesses, they have some unique challenges to overcome through their content.
First, the costs of a service tend to be much higher and there are typically more decision makers involved, which adds friction and time to the sales process.
Second, there’s generally no equivalent of a trial or demo for service businesses. Customers have to commit before they can really see the value you can add, requiring you to establish a deeper level of trust in prospects through your content.
Third, service business customer pain points are often much more specific and nuanced, requiring you to express a deeper level of expertise compared to SaaS or B2C content. (This specificity and nuance also means lower search volumes for keywords, lower traffic, etc.)
As a result of these challenges, the goal of content marketing for a service business is different. In contrast to SaaS, where the goal is to simply help potential customers discover a product that can help them solve a problem they currently have, the goal of content marketing for a service business is to build trust and show that you’re the best resource to solve a company’s problem prior to them ever reaching out.
In our experience, the best way to do that is to sell the strategy of their service and use detailed case studies to demonstrate the validity and effectiveness of that strategy (similar to what we’ve historically done on our blog, or even this exact post).
In the future, we may write additional articles or case studies on service business content strategy. If this is something you’d be interested in, let us know in the comments!
Other Articles for Carrying Out a B2B Content Strategy
- Customer-Content Fit: A Framework for Producing Content That Attracts Customers: This article discusses the problem of misalignment between the topics B2B marketers choose to write about, and the topics that would actually appeal to their advanced B2B buyer personas. It shares a concept we coined “Customer-Content Fit” that helps fix this.
- Content Ideation: Ways to Come up with Content Ideas That Convert: The biggest determinant of whether a blog post will convert is not the call-to-action (CTA) that you place inside of a post, but rather the idea behind the blog post itself. This article covers tactics to brainstorm content ideas including specific questions to ask to people in your company (i.e. sales team, customer service team, CEO and founders, etc.), how to elicit feedback from existing customers through email, how to find ideas through online communities and your Adwords account, and more.
- SEO Content Writing: A 5-Step Process You Can Follow: This article shares how we define SEO content writing differently than most SaaS marketers, and lays out our process for repeatedly creating valuable content that ranks in organic search and drives leads.
- The Specificity Strategy: How to Turn Generic Posts into Stand Out Content: People always say, “Write great content.” But when you look around online, the typical blogging done by B2B brands isn’t advanced enough for their audiences. This post explains this problem and how to produce more effective content by using specificity.
- Why Your Content Needs “Originality Nuggets” to Be Effective: This article explains a concept we call “Originality Nuggets,” which we define as little bits of originality that make a piece of content unique from others, and thus worthy of being shared or linked to. This piece discusses why we created this strategy, how it’s different from our specificity strategy, and provides examples of how originality nuggets look and work in practice.
- Why Fully Outsourcing Blog Writing to Freelance Writers is Flawed: This article discusses a key challenge of creating high-quality content—finding great writers—and our take on how to solve this problem.
- Content Distribution Strategy: Why We’re Doubling Down on Paid Promotion and SEO: This piece covers the shift we made from community content promotion to focusing exclusively on paid promotion and SEO. We discuss our approach to generating short term traffic to articles via Facebook ads, as well as long term traffic via SEO and building backlinks.
- Most Companies Measure Content Marketing ROI Incorrectly. Here’s Why (and How to Fix It): This article explains our 4-step process for measuring ROI from content marketing campaigns. We cover how to define a KPI that aligns with actual business goals (not a vanity metric like organic traffic or overall website traffic), how to set up Google Analytics, how to calculate the number of leads per month needed to hit breakeven on your spend, and how to track progress.
- Content Marketing Attribution: How to Measure Content Performance: This article explains the different attribution models that are needed to measure content performance accurately in Google Analytics.
Get Help on Your B2B Content Marketing
- Questions/Comments? If you have any questions or comments about what we’ve discussed in this post, please let us know in the comments section below.
- Our Content Marketing Course: Individuals looking to learn our agency’s content strategy and become better marketers, consultants, or business owners can join our private course, taught via case studies. We include several details and examples not found on this blog. Our course is also built into a community, so people ask questions, start discussions, and share their work in the lesson pages themselves, and we, along with other members, give feedback. Learn more here or watch our video walkthrough here.