If you talk to content marketers at SaaS companies (both in-house and other agencies), almost everyone will tell you that you need to focus on top of the funnel content first.
Because most marketers assume everyone starts at the top of the funnel and slowly makes their way down the funnel via nurturing and more content.
The logic typically sounds like this: “Well first, the customer needs awareness: They need to know about the problem. Then, they need to consider different options: Look for solutions. Then they’ll convert: Sign up to try your solution.”
Yes, in theory, every single customer for any product goes through these stages.
But here is the big fallacy marketers fall prey to: Marketers think their company needs to be the one to educate all potential customers at every stage of the buyer’s journey, starting at the top. This is not true, and it results in a huge waste of resources on content marketing that does little to help get trials or demos.
In reality, unless your SaaS business is truly creating a completely new category (which is extremely rare, as we argue below), other companies and individuals have already educated a large number of your prospects on top of the funnel topics. These prospects already know why they need to invest in your category, who the big players are, and how it would help them. These educated prospects are not at the top of the funnel. They don’t need top of the funnel content. Yet they are the best prospects you have.
Another way of saying it is that most SaaS businesses sell to advanced customers — people who have been in their industry for years. They’re not starting from a knowledge level of zero. And therefore, most top of the funnel content (which usually covers introductory level “why this is important” or “ultimate guide to this niche” topics) is below their knowledge level — they already know all that stuff.
Therefore, we think a more effective SaaS content strategy should prioritize middle and bottom of the funnel topics to capture people who are already actively searching for a solution to their problem.
How This Concept Would Be Applied to Our Business
Let us venture outside of SaaS for a hot minute to share an example of this thinking that hits close to home.
We, Grow and Convert, have two products: a content marketing course for people who want to become really good at content marketing, and a content marketing agency for companies that just want to hire us to do content marketing for them.
At no point have we tried to rank for the term “content marketing,” despite that keyword having the highest search volume in our space.
Why? Because who really searches for broad terms like that? Someone who has never heard of content marketing before? Someone researching the topic for a college paper? Ranking for that term would serve our business little direct value, because our best customers for either product already know what content marketing is and have very specific problems related to it. The only term from the image above that indicates someone would have a need for either product is content marketing agency.
If we ranked for any of the other keywords above, we’d have to collect emails (because very few, if any, of the readers of those topics will be ready to buy), nurture those people, and hope that at some point in the future, they’d be ready to buy. This is the way most people approach content marketing for SaaS companies.
What we do instead is identify pain points and topics that indicate someone is already looking for a solution, then we create content to rank for those terms and direct them to the main product-related call to action we’d like them to take (sign up for a free trial or demo). When you write bottom of funnel topics, you can go directly for the sale instead of pushing people to an email signup because the topic indicates someone has intent to buy your product vs. some of the broad topics that have no product intent.
Similarly for most SaaS companies, there are keywords and topics that indicate someone is looking for a solution such as your product. We think you should prioritize those topics and keywords first before ever focusing on the top of the funnel.
In this blog post, we’re going to back up the above argument with real client data. This is to (hopefully) convince you that SaaS companies should focus on bottom of the funnel content first and work their way up the funnel later — as opposed to how most companies do things, which is the other way around. Then we’re going to introduce you to our Pain Point SEO process to help you identify these high-converting keywords, we’ll share our process of how to discover them, and then we’ll show some examples of companies using this process to get results quickly from content marketing.
As a reminder, we teach this process in detail by applying it to various companies (including SaaS) in our content marketing course. 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 and other members give feedback. We also get on live Zoom calls about once a month and dissect members’ actual content strategies and brainstorm ideas on how we’d form content strategies for their businesses. You can learn more and join here.
Top of the Funnel Content: Why It Has Minuscule Business Value (Compared to Bottom of Funnel Pieces)
To further illustrate the point above, let’s look at an example of a real SaaS company and what they rank for.
Pipedrive is a SaaS product that positions themselves as a Sales CRM and Pipeline Management software. (We have no business relationship with them, they were just a well known SaaS company that came to mind for this example.)
If we look at some of their top rankings in Ahrefs, they rank #1 for terms such as “sales tactics,” “sales presentation,” “challenger sales model,” and “sales meeting agenda.”
Now you may be thinking, “That’s great! They rank for a ton of these sales-related terms, and they sell to salespeople. This will bring in the right customers.”
But the problem is those topics have nothing to do with their product — which is a sales CRM that helps with pipeline management.
If someone comes to their blog to read an article on “sales presentations,” what does that topic have to do with a CRM? Does the fact that someone Googled that term indicate they have a need for a CRM?
It’s a massive leap for someone to read an article on sales presentations while on a CRM website and then think to themselves, “You know what, I’m actually in the market for a new CRM software; let me sign up.” You’re relying on chance: The article is about sales, so maybe by chance some people reading it will also need a CRM right now. The topic of the article itself is doing you no favors in helping find or filter people who do need a CRM right now.
What’s worse is that Pipedrive doesn’t rank for many of the keywords that do indicate that someone would be looking for a solution like theirs.
For example, they don’t rank for the terms “salesforce alternatives,” “pipedrive alternatives,” “automatic call logging” (a feature they highlight in the video on their homepage), “call logging software,” and a ton more high-intent keywords.
Their competitors do rank for these terms though. So Pipedrive is missing out on the opportunity to capture business from prospects who are literally looking for the exact use cases their product solves or alternatives to their competitors.
Pipedrive is even bidding on many of these keywords in Google Ads, which indicates to us that these keywords likely do drive business for them — yet they’ve chosen to prioritize top of the funnel keywords over topics that indicate someone is searching for their product.
We should note we mean no harm to Pipedrive, and this problem is not unique to them. It’s ubiquitous in SaaS, which is why we’re discussing it in this depth.
But Doesn’t Top of the Funnel Content Still Have Long-Term Benefits, Even if You Can’t Measure It?
Now, some arguments we typically get for going after these top of the funnel terms and keywords are: “These types of articles are great thought leadership,” or “You can’t measure the impact of someone reading one of those articles and telling their colleagues about it.” Therefore, “We know they work; you just can’t measure it.”
Well, I have two counterpoints to that.
First, most of the articles written on these top of funnel terms are what we like to call “Google research papers.” They’re farmed out to freelance writers that have little to no direct experience on the topic, and those writers Google around on the topic, jot down what others say, and largely regurgitate the same information in different words. The pieces technically cover the topic, but they have no originality. They’re not provocative. They take no interesting or unique stance.
Take Pipedrive’s #1 ranking for “sales presentation,” which we showed above. Let’s look at the table of contents of the article:
Remember: Who is the decision maker in a sales-driven organization on which CRM to use? Experienced sales executives. Is teaching them what a sales presentation is “thought leadership”? Or look at the third bullet point: “What to bring to your sales presentation.” Do experienced sales teams not know that?
When we look inside these sections, they just cover extremely basic information, such as mentioning that most sales presentations include a sales deck.
This is not thought leadership. Yet SaaS company after SaaS company produces articles like this and expect it to drive business.
Second, you can measure whether people who read top of the funnel content eventually convert later (even if they close the browser, or convert weeks or months later)! Most content agencies or marketers don’t do this, but we do it religiously (and have written about it in detail here).
So there is no need to hand wave and say, “It’s generating business, I swear; you just can’t see it.” The measurement isn’t perfect, and you can’t measure every single lead that comes from content, but it gives you a lower-limit estimate of the actual amount and is a great indicator as to what topics drive a majority of the volume.
We can look and see how much business top of funnel content generates versus bottom.
For example, the chart below shows the difference in conversion rates between top of funnel articles and what we call “pain point SEO” topics, our term for topics that indicate buying intent (aka mid or bottom of funnel). The highlighted articles are pain point SEO topics, and the unhighlighted ones are top of funnel topics that have no product buying intent but are loosely on the topic of this company’s industry (like “sales stuff” for Pipedrive above). Look at the difference in the conversion rates.
If what we can measure on the conversion side shows such a massive difference in product conversion rates between top of funnel and mid or bottom of the funnel topics, what makes you think the unhighlighted articles would magically result in a huge amount of conversions from people being impressed by your content and sharing it with others?
Now, let us be clear: We’re not saying the top of the funnel has absolutely no place in marketing. We are making an argument about priority in content marketing: Why would you produce top of funnel content that doesn’t have product intent prior to owning all of the keywords and terms that do have product-buying intent?
We believe in a “bottom-up” approach to the funnel: Focus on direct product-related and Pain Point SEO terms first, and work your way up the funnel to terms that have less buying intent.
Taking this approach, you’ll get results much faster than you would if you were taking the top-down approach.
The Spectrum of SaaS Companies: How Much Bottom of the Funnel Is There?
Now, a common question we get at this point is, “Okay, yeah; that makes sense, but what happens if there aren’t a ton of these buying-intent keywords for my product?”
Related objections are “We’re reinventing the way people do things in our industry,” or “We have some new technology that doesn’t exist,” or “We’re trying to create our own category, and as a result, there aren’t bottom of the funnel, buying-intent keywords for us, such as ‘sales crm software’ for Pipedrive.”
These can be legitimate concerns (but for most companies, the “inventing a category” objection is overblown, as we’ll argue in a second). The key is to remember that our bottom of funnel first strategy is about prioritization. Even if your product doesn’t have a ton of bottom of the funnel keywords, you should still go after them first. There’s no excuse not to.
But from a pure search-opportunity perspective, how limited are these high conversion intent keywords? Well, companies fall on a spectrum on this issue. Let’s share the two extremes first, and then we’ll meet in the middle.
“Lots of Competition” End of the Spectrum: You’re in a known category, and you have a known solution (i.e., the Pipedrive CRM example above). CRMs have been around for a long time, and everyone in sales knows what they are. Here you have plenty of bottom of the funnel terms, and you can (and should) spend a long time knocking them out before moving to top of the funnel topics.
Now, we sometimes get pushback from companies that we chat with who say, “Well, my product is different. We have an AI to automatically add contacts to a CRM … ” (or something to that effect). They think just because they have some competitive technology advantage or they position themselves differently that they need some unique approach.
This isn’t true.
Your customers would still search for a CRM or specific use cases that a CRM solves for from a search perspective. The body of the content should highlight the differentiators, and so should your trial and demo — but this doesn’t change the content strategy, specifically topic prioritization.
For more on finding these opportunities, read our post on Pain Point SEO, or join our course and community where we share our strategy and process to do this through written and video case studies (we’ll also answer questions specific to your business).
“Brand New Category” End of the Spectrum: You’re truly creating a new category. This is extremely rare in our opinion. In this case, creating top of the funnel to educate people on your category, why it’s important, and why they should invest in it, makes a ton of sense. But — and this is a big “but” — these companies come around once in many years.
An example of this would be Coinbase when they first started. Most people barely knew about cryptocurrency or Bitcoin then, so there wasn’t a ton of search volume, nor alternative products that they were competing with. It was an entirely new technology then, so people needed to be educated on the topic.
Other examples would be: You were truly the first CRM, you were the first marketing automation software, or you were Uber inventing ridesharing or Airbnb popularizing the sharing economy when it came to rentals.
Again, we want to emphasize: These examples are really rare. To be in this category, you can’t just be inventing a new thing. You have to be inventing a new category, meaning you are inventing a new thing and aren’t replacing an existing behavior or solution that people search for online; you are truly creating a new behavior.
Lots of SaaS founders and marketers think they’re here, but they’re not. Even Airbnb, if they had started with an SEO-based strategy, could have ranked for hotel-related terms, or Uber could have done the same with taxi-related terms.
For most companies, you’re likely somewhere in the middle. You might be in a category with a few other players, you likely have some technological or unique way of doing things that differentiates you, and in this case, there are likely some bottom of the funnel terms you can go after that indicate the customer is literally looking for your solution right now (such as the “salesforce alternative” we mentioned earlier). But there are also tons of mid-funnel terms that have high conversion intent that you can rank for. This is the pain point SEO sweet spot. In order to do this, you need to find the pain points your target audience has and then pair those with SEO keywords. Let’s discuss how to do that next.
SaaS Content Marketing:How to Identify “Pain Point SEO” Keywords That Your Best Customers Are Actually Searching For
Identifying keywords that have high conversion intent starts with knowing what the top pain points are that lead your customers to purchase.
When you know what your customer pain points are, you can back into what keywords are more likely than others to drive conversions. We call this process of identifying these keywords pain point SEO. These pain points are specific, not general. (To go back to the Pipedrive example, think, “Getting more of my sales reps to update the CRM” rather than “sales tips.”)
The more specific, the more the topic itself will filter for people who are like your best customers and have the exact pain points your product solves for and thus are likely to convert.
Step 1: It All Starts With Customer Research
We want to figure out two things here: who are their best customers, and what are their pain points.
This article on our site will share our process for conducting customer research to figure who your best customers are and what their pain points are.
Step 2: Building A Bottom-up Content Strategy off of Your Customer Research
After you’ve identified who your best customers are and what pain points they have, then you’ll use that information to back into what keywords and topics to target to drive conversions quickly.
There are two posts on our site that go into more depth on how to do this:
- Pain Point SEO: How to Produce SEO Content That Drives Conversions
- Content Ideation: Ways to Come up with Content Ideas That Convert
In our course, we go further and literally do this process for four different real companies, including SaaS; we interview their founding team, ask our customer research questions, and then come up with pain point SEO ideas in a spreadsheet, which we share. We breakdown all of this in detailed screencasts to show what we’re doing and why.
Examples of SaaS Companies We’ve Grown Using This Content Strategy
As with every article on our site, we don’t like to say this is a process or strategy you should follow without backing it up with data and case studies.
So we thought we’d share a few different SaaS companies that we were able to grow using the strategy outlined in this post.
As we explain in the full article, in the beginning of working with the SaaS company Leadfeeder on their content marketing strategy, we hadn’t developed this approach yet.
Back then, like everyone else, we also believed that top of funnel stories and topics would be what drove growth for the company. However, after looking through what was converting and trying to analyze why certain posts converted at a much higher percentage than others, we stumbled into this learning: The thing that affects conversion rate the most is the topic of the blog post, and bottom of funnel posts were converting way higher than the rest.
Once we shifted our entire content strategy toward pain point SEO and stopped going after top of funnel stories and topics, both traffic and conversions started to scale quickly.
For the full Leadfeeder case study, click here.
A Client Already Ranking for High-Volume Keywords
Next, here is the landing pages report of another SaaS client that had a solid content marketing operation already in place before we started working with them and thus were already ranking for some high-volume keywords in their space.
The top post, above, in this three-month time span ranks for some high-volume keywords and generates way more traffic than any other post: 21,000 sessions. It also generated a non-trivial amount of account creations: 12%, or seven out of 55. That’s because it’s mid funnel: It’s a “tools” keyword in their space — think “sales tools” in the Pipedrive example at the beginning. (This report is last click only. We’ll look at first click below in a second. Spoiler alert: The conclusion is the same.)
Now look at post #4. This is one, we produced for them. It brought in 1,900 sessions, only 9% of the traffic of the top post they already made themselves. Useless, right? Content marketers that focus on traffic as the key metric would think so, but it generated more last-click signups than any other blog post on their site in these three months. The conversion rate was a whopping 0.52%, when the entire blog was converting at only 0.08%.
We can also look at first-click conversions via Google Analytics model comparison tool to see if the story changes. Note that the difference between last click and first click, as explained in this article, is that first-click conversions count anyone who landed on one of these blog posts and later, within 90 days, came back and converted. Last click only counts conversions that happen in the same session.
(I’ve shown the last two characters of the URLs in both screenshots so you can see which post is which. Post #1 from the top screenshot is post #1 here too.)
In first-click conversions, the high traffic post has more (in fact, double) the conversions: 14 first click. Our post (#4 in the top screenshot) has 11 first-click conversions.
But the conversion rate difference is still astounding. The high traffic post converts at 0.07%, while our bottom of funnel post converts at 0.57%.
It’s even more impactful to see this as a graph:
This is the power of bottom of funnel pieces. They can generate the same conversions with way less traffic because their conversion rate is so much higher than everything else.
Take a final look at the top screenshot of this section, and see how the vast majority of blog posts generate almost no business. This is not an anomaly; this is status quo for almost all SaaS companies. In fact, for most SaaS companies, it’s worse: They have the non-converting blog posts without any of the high-converting ones.
A New Client Getting Conversions From Pain Point SEO Before Even Ranking in Google
As a final example, let’s look at the power of pain point SEO to generate quick results in the early stages of content marketing. This is a new client who we’ve only been working with for 4 months.
Like the previous client, they also have a strong in-house content team that has produced a ton of content, many of which generate conversions.
The two highlighted pieces in this landing page report are one of our early pieces; that is, mid-funnel Pain Point SEO. In other words, it’s not a topic where the reader is looking for the software (e.g., “salesforce alternative” for Pipedrive) but is a mid-funnel pain point that we knew from our customer research their best customers cared about, so conversion intent was still high.
It has generated eight conversions in this timespan (split over two URLs due to ad UTMs), all of which came from paid Facebook promotion of this piece:
That is the same number of conversions as the highest-converting piece on their blog (#1 above). But we’re generating those conversions before the piece even ranks for its intended keyword, strictly from paid social media channels, and by generating only 600 sessions. Note that 600 sessions is not expensive to buy from Facebook — we typically see click costs of $.30 to $.75 for this company.
This highlights the power of finding the right high-converting topics. They can generate conversions without waiting weeks or months to move up Google’s rankings.
Get help on your SaaS content marketing
- Questions/Comments? If you have any questions or comments about anything mentioned above, please let us know in the comments section below.
- Our Agency: You can learn more about working with us here.
- Our Content Marketing Course: Individuals looking to learn the strategy above and become better marketers, consultants, or business owners can join our private course, taught via case studies. We include lots of detail 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 and other members give feedback. Learn more here or see this video walkthrough: