The Powerful Step-by-Step Formula To Winning at Product-Led Content Marketing

This article was first published at Search Engine Journal.

Product-led growth means that your company’s strategy for finding and converting new leads and customers is focused around your product.

Your growth comes from customers loving your product (and talking about it), and not from ebook downloads or organic page views. Instead of focusing on the three main funnel stages (top of funnel, middle of funnel, bottom of funnel), you focus on the business potential of each marketing activity.

Product-led growth and marketing are on one end of the spectrum: Focused on business potential and the bottom of the funnel.

On the other end of the spectrum, we all have them: These SEO articles that bring in a majority of our traffic but never convert. 

Many SEOs have joked about Hubspot’s articles. Like the one about the shrug emoji or the one about writing a resignation letter. Whilst these articles rank in the top 3 and bring thousands of visitors every month, the conversion to a marketing qualified lead for their marketing automation software and CRM is probably poor.

With these articles comes a focus on vanity metrics. Yes, even organic traffic can be vanity if the traffic is not qualified.

So, in this article we want to discuss the opposite. We talk about generating qualified traffic that is ready for conversion.

The benefits of this approach are:

  • Positioning your tool or software as the irreplaceable solution to your customer’s problems.
  • Educating prospects on how to use your tool and which benefits they can expect.
  • Supporting acquisition by qualifying prospects. The pieces improve the awareness level and understanding of the users.
  • Improving retention as you educate existing users on how they can use your tool creatively.

We want to talk about business potential, finding your content core and how you can make your customers issues and problems the heart of your content marketing strategy

Understanding Product-Led Growth

Companies that became known for a product-led growth strategy are Slack, Dropbox,Typeform, MailChimp or Loom.

Dr. Fio Dossetto defines product led-content marketing as:

Content where the product is woven into the narrative to illustrate a point, solve a problem and/or help accomplish a goal.

Product-led content marketing sits at the intersection of content marketing, product development and customer success.

Bear in mind: These are still blog posts and pillar pages. We are not talking about a sales page optimized for conversion. 

In the SEO space, the company that became known for product-led growth and content marketing is Ahrefs. CMO Tim Soulo says:

All we care about is business potential. To assess the business potential of each keyword and topic, we’ve developed something we call the Business Potential Score. And we only try to target topics where our product is an almost irreplaceable solution to the problem.” 

The three levels of the business potential score are:

  • Your product is an almost irreplaceable solution to the problem.
  • Your product is helpful but the problem can be solved without it.
  • Your product is barely relevant to the problem.

As you might have guessed the “shrug emoji” piece is barely relevant to Hubspot and the problems it is trying to solve. So, let’s look at some examples where content marketers got it right.

Enticing Product-Led Content Marketing Examples

The SEO tool Ahrefs has an article on “keyword research”. The article explains the process in detail and gives many creative ideas on how to find new keywords.

But of course, they illustrate the process with their own tool. It is the perfect combination of an educational helpful article and highlighting one of the main use cases of the software. The tool is woven into the narrative very smoothly.

Of course, Ahrefs is not the only tool to do keyword research with (irreplaceable) but they highlight how effective you can be when using it.

Coschedule is using a similar approach in their article about “annual content calendar”. You could create a content calendar in a spreadsheet (and they show you how) but they also highlight the challenges that Coschedule can solve better than a spreadsheet (messiness, different views, ownership, deadlines).

Similarly, Thrive Themes show us “how to create a landing page” – by using Thrive Themes.

If you are ready to reap the rewards of product-led content, follow us along for a step by step process.

Product-Led Content Marketing Step-By-Step

The process to create a product-led piece of content looks like this:

  1. Research problems and issues
  2. Define your content core, a concept we will cover below
  3. Evaluate the business potential of each idea
  4. Outline the article and weave your product into the narrative
  5. Choose a Call-to-Action

Let’s dive in!

  1. Start with the problems and issues

Your product exists because you are solving a problem in your target market. So, the buying journey of your customers always starts there: Their problem.

Most potential customers will be problem aware. They know that they want to increase employee engagement (Slack), share files online without producing duplicate versions (Dropbox) or build a landing page without knowing how to code (Thrive Themes).

As they start researching, they move from being pain/problem aware to solution aware (internal communication tool, cloud file storage, WordPress page builders) and finally to product aware (Slack, Dropbox, Thrive Themes).

To start with product-led marketing, brainstorm the problems and issues that your customers have. There are several techniques that can help you to do this:

  • The SEO classic: Do keyword research and figure out search volume as a proxy for interest in the market.
  • The customer-focused one: Start doing customer interviews and analyze your support tickets to find common issues.

At this stage of the process, every idea is a good idea. We want to collect as many content ideas as possible without filtering ourselves too much. We will refine the ideas in the upcoming steps.

Find 5-10 problem-related content ideas this week by using one of the techniques.

  1. Define Your Content Core

The term content core was coined by Garrett Moon from Coschedule in his book “10x Marketing Formula”.

The concept is focused on connecting your content ideas to the value propositions of your business and products.

“Your content core connects the dots between what your customers care about and what you have to offer them. Notice that I said “what your customers care about,” and not “what your audience cares about.” There’s a difference. Because if you’re going to get really good at generating leads and converting traffic, you have to intimately understand the customers who are already paying you.

So, the purpose of the content core exercise is to understand the confluence between what you do and what you need to talk about. Here, you’ll go beyond traffic, eyeballs, and audience building and into creating content that gains customers.

Visually, it’s best represented by two overlapping circles. Sitting side-by-side, the circle on the left represents the content your audience cares about. The circle on the right represents the value you provide as a business. The place where the circles overlap is the content core, and is the bullseye of your content strategy. This is content that aligns with your audience’s interests while simultaneously generating demand for your product or service.”

For this, write down the features and value propositions of your product. Now, compare your content ideas from Step 1 with the values propositions.

Is there a way to naturally weave the features and value propositions into the article? Make a simple “Yes or No” note for each article idea.

  1. Evaluate the Business Potential of Each Idea

For this step, let’s focus on those articles that you selected for your content core.

We want to further assess how well this article can support your growth.

Remember, the scale for business potential from Ahrefs?

  • Your product is an almost irreplaceable solution to the problem.
  • Your product is helpful but the problem can be solved without it.
  • Your product is barely relevant to the problem.

For each idea, select the importance of your own tool. BTW: It is not about getting this 100% perfect. Of course, there will always be edge cases and this scale is very subjective. The goal is not to spend too much time picking the right business potential.

The goal is to separate these content ideas where your product is irreplaceable from the ones where you are barely relevant to the problem.

We are refining your content core and prioritizing your content calendar. Our top priorities will be the ones where your tool is a unique and irreplaceable solution to the problem.

Add priority score to your content ideas now. This should take less than 5 minutes.

  1. Outline the Article and Weave your Product into the Narrative

When creating a content outline for my clients, I include the following information:

  • Focus and supporting keywords
  • Content type and estimated word count
  • Headline outline
  • Internal linking recommendations
  • Best-performing website on Page 1 for comparison

For a product-led article, you will want to focus on how to weave your product into the narrative.

This is best done by refining your headline outline. 

Here are a few tips:

  • When in need of examples, make sure to match your target audience. This is why my agency Flow SEO always talks about marketing managers of software companies.
  • When explaining a principle or concept, always add a use case that is relevant to your customers.
  • When creating a step-by-step process, make sure to add screenshots, videos and examples of how this can be done using your tool.

Make sure that you are not switching to purely promotional sales copy when doing this. This is not your sales page and the article must meet search intent and be relevant to your audience.

Long-form sales copy is not what we are looking for here.

You will want to create an educational article that is genuinely helpful but make sure to highlight that this can be achieved easier, faster or more effectively when using your tool. Let the features and value propositions speak for themselves.

Garett Moon says:

The promotional trap is creating a constant barrage of promotional content that fails to connect with your audience’s needs, pains, and interests. The danger with this “me-centric” content is that it adds little, if any, value to an audience. This will fail to generate traffic; and no traffic means no conversions.

Start a content outline for your article with the highest business potential.

  1. Choose a Call-to-Action

Product-led content is a great opportunity for in-line CTAs (sometimes also called native advertising). Who will read a CTA that does not pop but that is purely part of the copy? Well, the person reading the copy!

Make sure that your articles have one in-line CTA as well as a pop-up or buttons after the first and last paragraph. 

These CTAs should always lead to your product. No, white paper or ebook or template. 

Make sure the CTA leads to the feature or product that matches what you talked about. In their keyword research article, Ahrefs links to their “Keyword Explorer” feature. It would not make sense to send people to a general sales page or the “Backlink Checker”.

A CTA works if it congruent to the article and the problem that you just highlighted.

Add a note to your content outline about what CTA to use now.

Summary

In short: Product-led content marketing is your opportunity to support acquisition, educated prospects, increase retention and get qualified conversions that drive revenue.

Make your product part of the story and focus on your customer’s issues to implement product-led content successfully.

Happy ranking!

This article was first published at Search Engine Journal.

Author: Viola Eva

Viola is passionate about digital entrepreneurship, flow, and mindful marketing. As a marketing consultant and SEO, she has worked with clients ranging from individual digital entrepreneurs to software companies to multi-national corporates and government institutions. She is a speaker, educator, and specialist on all things SEO.