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What It Is, Why Use It, and How to Get Started

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What It Is, Why Use It, and How to Get Started

A few years ago, I worked at ReferralCandy, a referral program SaaS company. 

The ReferralCandy blog was popular. We were publishing tons of content and getting significant traffic. But none of our content mentioned the product or any of the product’s features. 

Looking back, I think it was possible—at least in my opinion—to consume every article on the blog and yet still have no idea what ReferralCandy did. 

Don’t get me wrong. This is not an indictment of my previous workplace’s content marketing strategy. In fact, if you consider the timeframe, it wasn’t even “wrong.” Back then, the prevailing sentiment was that content wasn’t supposed to “sell,” only educate. 

Many companies were doing the same thing—creating content, generating tons of traffic, yet failing to promote their products or features.

But this all changed after I watched Tim’s Blogging for Business course.

I discovered product-led content.

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What is product-led content?

Product-led content is content that helps the reader solve their problems using your product. 

This is not a hard sell. It’s not an aggressive pitch either—we’re not pulling people to the back of the room to buy our products like a personal development seminar. Instead, it’s done naturally by strategically weaving your product and its use cases into the narrative of your content. 

Here’s an example of how this works. We recently published a list of ways to get backlinks.

Under each tactic, we explain how you can find different link opportunities and prospects you can pitch. But to do that, you need a tool like Ahrefs. So, as we explain each step, we also show the reader how to use our tool to execute them.

Example of product-led marketing on the Ahrefs blog.

And this is how we naturally insert our product into the problem-solving narrative. 

What is not product-led content?

Not every piece of content you create around your product is product-led content. 

Some content, like help articles, product-related announcements, and landing pages, has other purposes like directly promoting your product. This is not product-led content. 

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Why is product-led content important?

Below are two reasons why product-led content is important.

1. Acquire new customers

A big issue for potential customers is that they usually have no idea how your product works or how it helps solve their problems. This is especially true for software.

This is compounded by the fact that many companies do not mention their product in their content. So, even as prospects are consuming content, they still end up in a state where they know nothing about what the company sells. 

They may often even have to watch a demo video to figure out how everything works. That’s all fine and dandy, but given that demo videos are usually generic, they may not understand if and how your product works to solve their particular set of problems. 

However, if you create product-led content and it ranks high on Google, customers actually seek out solutions to problems themselves and might start to see how your product solves their issues.

This makes it easier for them to decide if they want to work with you. It also keeps your brand top-of-mind since they know everything about how your product works. Later on, when they decide to buy, familiarity with your product helps them convert to a paying customer.

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2. Retain customers

Even if customers have bought your product, they may not fully utilize it. 

Product-led content helps continue their education and ensures your customers use your product to its full potential—keeping your customers happy. 

Is product-led content right for me?

Content marketing is ultimately a marketing channel. Its goal is to help you acquire more customers and retain them. 

So, while content marketing is about creating great content, you should also be mindful that it should help promote your product. 

Think about it: If your product can truly help someone out with their problems, you’re doing them a disservice by not letting them know.

Furthermore, by not daring to pitch or mention your product in your content, you’re also signaling to your audience that your product is not good enough to solve their problem. 

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How to create product-led content

Ready to get started with product-led content? Here’s how to create it. 

1. Know your product really well

There’s no way around it: To create excellent product-led content, you have to know your product inside out. And this isn’t just for product marketers. All marketers should know their product well. 

You should know your product’s features, use cases, and how it solves your target audience’s problems. 

Put simply, you have to eat your own dog food.

For example, many years back, the Shopify marketing team famously created multiple case studies on how they used their own ecommerce platform to set up a business and start selling products. (And they actually made money!)

Excerpt from the Shopify case study.

At Ahrefs, new marketing team members are expected to complete our academy courses (especially the Certification course.) Plus, they don’t actually join the marketing team directly. They work in our customer support team for at least three months before “graduating” to the marketing team. 

Not only does this ensure that everyone on the team interacts with customers directly and understands their pain points, it also turns all of us into Ahrefs experts. 

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2. Find topics with search traffic potential

The content you create will not get readers right away. It has to be promoted. And while there are many ways to promote your content, SEO is the channel we focus on. 

For as long as your content ranks high on Google, you’ll be able to get traffic continuously over the long term. 

How do you do this?

To get traffic from Google, you have to target topics people search for. You also have to look for topics where your target audience wants solutions to problems, i.e., looking to learn, not buy. (After all, if they’re looking to buy, then you’re no longer creating product-led content but simply a sales or landing page.)

Here’s how to find these topics:

  1. Go to Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer
  2. Enter one or a few keywords relevant to your business
  3. Go to the Matching terms report
The Matching Terms report in Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer.

Generally speaking, topics where people are looking to learn usually contain question modifiers such as why, how, what, etc. 

Let’s switch the tab to Questions to see these. 

The Questions report in Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer.

Here, we see around ~195,000 topics that we could potentially target. Eyeball the list and pick out those that are relevant and have traffic potential (look at the TP column.)

There are also plenty of informational keywords that do not contain a question modifier. While 195,000 keywords is plenty to target, you can look for more by eyeballing the entire report to see if there are potential topics without modifiers.

For example, doing this shows us a few topics that we could potentially target, such as “SEO course” and “SEO checklist.” Neither contains any question words. 

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Potential keywords for us to target with product-led content.

Recommended reading: Keyword Research: The Beginner’s Guide by Ahrefs

3. Prioritize them using ‘business potential’

Creating product-led content is an art. You have to naturally weave your product use cases into your content through smart copywriting and yet not look like you’re “overselling.”

The trick we use at Ahrefs is to focus only on topics that our product can solve. This way, we don’t look like we’re unnaturally shoehorning our product—we’re simply offering the best solution to that problem. 

How do we do this? We use a ‘business potential’ score. 

The Business Potential scale we use at Ahrefs.

By prioritizing topics that score a “2” or “3,” we make sure that mentions of our product are natural. 

Recommended viewing: How to Prioritize Your List of Content Ideas

4. Create product-led content that ranks

With a list of high business potential topics to target, it’s time to create product-led content that ranks in Google for those topics.

The simplest way to get started is by following the steps in this video.

Don’t forget that your goal here is to create product-led content. So, wherever possible—and as naturally as possible—include mentions of your product within the content. Show your readers—with screenshots, GIFs, and videos—how to execute particular steps with the help of your product. Teach them explicitly how to solve problems using your product. 

Targeting high business potential topics makes creating product-led content easier, but naturally weaving your product into the narrative depends on your copywriting skills. 

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Remember not to oversell either. If your product isn’t a good fit for a particular point, don’t force it. You want to be confident about what you’re offering, but not to the point where you’re bordering on lying.

Finally, ranking your content on the first page of Google will require you to acquire links. Learn how to do that in this beginner’s guide to link building or watch this video.

Sidenote.

If you have existing content already targeting high business value topics, update or rewrite them to include your product. 

Product-led content examples

Looking for successful examples of how companies have used product-led content? Here are three to be inspired by.

1. Ahrefs

Alex Birkett, the co-founder of content marketing agency Omniscient Digital, writes:

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Ahrefs is the king of Product-Led Content. Actually, you know that whole Product-Led Growth trend that is buzzy right now? Where a bunch of marketing-first SaaS companies changed nothing about their strategy or go-to-market and suddenly called themselves “Product-Led?”

Well, Ahrefs truly is one of those rare creatures who I truly consider product-first, and not simply because they have employees who want to be thought leaders and ride an emerging wave.

Alex Birkett

If you’re wondering how we used content marketing to grow our SaaS to 8-figures ARR, then this very article is basically a start-to-finish guide on how we do product-led content. 

2. Zapier

If we plug Zapier’s blog into Ahrefs’ Site Explorer and go to the Top pages report, we can see that the articles sending them the most traffic are “best [topic] apps”-style blog posts:

Pages sending the most traffic to Zapier, sorted by estimated monthly organic traffic in Ahrefs' Site Explorer.

Guess what? Zapier allows users to connect the different apps they use to automate workflow. 

So, if we click on one of these articles—for example, the one on best to-do list apps—we see that Zapier has featured many to-do apps that they integrate with. Not only that, they even featured the specific “zaps” you can connect using the app they mentioned:

Example of product-led marketing from Zapier.

And it goes on for every other featured app on the list:

Example of product-led marketing from Zapier.

This is a perfect example of how you can naturally mention your product in the content you’re creating. 

3. Beardbrand

Is product-led content for SaaS companies only? I don’t think so. Sure, SaaS companies typically have tons of features and use cases, making them easier to promote in content about a wide variety of topics. But B2C e-commerce companies can do product-led content too.

Take Beardbrand, for example. Beardbrand sells beard products like beard oil. And if we plug Beardbrand’s blog into Ahrefs’ Site Explorer and go to the Top pages report, we can see that their most-trafficked pages are beard-related (duh!):

Pages sending the most traffic to Beardbrand, sorted by estimated monthly organic traffic in Ahrefs' Site Explorer.

Clicking through to their article on the best beard styles, we see that they have naturally and creatively mentioned their products wherever possible.

For example, one of the beard styles is the “scruffy beard.” Rather than simply explaining what it is and moving on to the next point, Beardbrand expertly mentions how you might need a conditioning product (aka theirs) to relieve the itch:

Example of product-led marketing from Beardbrand.

The same goes for another beard style—the Verdi—where you might need a beard trimming scissors (and Beardbrand mentions they have one too):

Another example of product-led marketing from Beardbrand.

It’s not a hard sell. It’s done gently and naturally. Beardbrand simply mentions that they have the perfect product for the beard style you want. 

Final thoughts

Content marketing isn’t just for branding. It can be a customer acquisition channel too. 

Create product-led content that naturally promotes your product as the best-fit solution to the problems your customers are facing. 

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Any questions or comments about product-led content? Let me know on Twitter.



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7 Data-Driven Content Strategy Tips For Improving Conversions

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7 Data-Driven Content Strategy Tips For Improving Conversions

There’s an old maxim in the marketing world, “content is king.” This has been true as long as search engine optimization has been around, and probably dates back even further in the world of general marketing.

But as simple as that adage is, it leaves a lot of room for interpretation, namely what kind of content?

In those early SEO days, it meant identifying your keywords and jamming them into pages anywhere they would fit.

But modern digital marketers are smarter (not to mention that strategy doesn’t work anymore).

These days, successful content starts with a plan that’s backed up by numbers, a data-driven content strategy, if you will.

But what exactly does that mean?

In simple terms, it means developing content using an approach built on user information. This can include information like demographics, survey answers, consumer preferences, etc.

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You probably don’t need to be told why this is important, but just to make sure there’s no doubt, let’s be clear: Using a data-driven content strategy helps you decide where to spend your time, effort, and money.

In other words, you have finite resources. You don’t want to waste them on people who aren’t likely to convert.

A data-driven content strategy allows you to tailor your marketing campaigns to generate the best ROI.

For the purposes of search engine and PPC specialists, it can help you decide which keywords to go after, ensuring you’re targeting the right audience.

Sounds simple enough, right? All you need to do is pop open your content research tool and look for commonalities, right? Sorry to burst your bubble, but there’s a bit more to it than that.

But never fear, that’s why you’re here.

In this helpful guide, we’ll give you a step-by-step approach to developing, implementing, and optimizing your very own data-driven content strategy.

Ready to get started?

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1. Set Your Content Goals

The very first thing you need to decide is what you’re hoping to accomplish. You can’t be all things to all people, so you need to make some choices.

Do you want to increase traffic? Are you looking to make sales? Do you want more leads?

Determine what your content goals are and identify the channels best suited to meet them. Once you’ve done this, you can establish your key performance indicators (KPIs).

Be sure to keep this in mind while you’re creating content.

Everything you add to your website or campaign should serve a purpose. If you’re not sure what it’s doing, your audience won’t know either.

2. Define Your Target Audience

Now that you know what you’re trying to achieve, it’s time to figure out who to go after to make it happen.

Comb through the demographic data and other information you have access to. Spot commonalities that occur across many or some of your targets.

Many marketers find it helpful to create customer personas. Using your data, imagine a typical person for each of the various roles you’re targeting.

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For example, you may have a prospect persona, a lead persona, a buyer persona and a repeat persona.

Put yourself in the shoes of these imaginary people.

What type of language resonates with them? What is their highest level of education? Do they want professionalism or personability? Why are they on your website? What do they hope to accomplish with your help? Be as detailed as you can.

Many marketers even give them a name. For example, if you were creating personas for your plumbing supply company, you may have:

Lead Larry – 45 years old

A mid-career plumber, Lead Larry owns his own one-man business. He makes $75,000 a year. He went to a trade school and his work van is 6 years old. He’s looking for a way to reduce overhead and find cheaper parts than his local supply company. He values hard work, honesty, and professionalism.

Be as creative and detailed as you like, just remember this isn’t a fiction-writing exercise. You’re creating personas based on your typical target, so keep your persona in line with who they actually are.

3. Review Your Competitor’s Content And Do Topical Research

Now it’s time to take a look at what the competition is doing. Maybe they’re just flying by the seat of their pants, but they’re probably putting some effort into their campaigns, too.

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Review what they’re doing and look for what appears to be working.

For example, if they’re blogging, they may have a view counter on the page. If so, what type of blogs are getting the best results?

Look for trends in your industry. What’s everyone talking about? Is there a big trade show coming up? Or a new technology about to be released?

Figure out who you’re competing with for clicks, not just to see what’s working for them, but also to gain ideas for content of your own. Start making a list of things you want to cover.

If there are influencers in your niche, this is also a good time to check and see what they’re posting about.

4. Conduct Keyword Research

Once you’ve settled on what your content should be, it’s time to perform that old SEO staple: keyword research.

Using a tool like Google Analytics, Semrush, or something platform-specific like YouTube’s Search Insights, figure out the type of language your content needs to use.

This will help you in more than just the SEO aspect, too.

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Using keywords in your content demonstrates to your audience that you speak the same language they do. And that doesn’t mean English, it means using the nomenclature everyone in the niche will understand.

Going back to our plumbing supply example, that means referring to a product as a “three-fourths full port threaded ball valve,” rather than a “metal connection thingy.”

Okay, that’s a ridiculous example, but you get the point.

The good thing is that you probably already have a working, if not expert knowledge of this.

5. Create Content That Aligns With Your Goals

If you remember, the very first step to creating a data-driven content plan was to determine your goals.

Now, equipped with everything you’ve done since then, it’s time to create the content that addresses them.

Don’t be intimidated. You don’t have to be F. Scott Fitzgerald to write the kind of content your audience wants. And you’ve already done a lot of the foundational work – now it’s just time to put everything together.

Your content could take nearly any form, videos, blog posts, infographics, case studies, or white papers.

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If you’re not comfortable doing these on your own, it should be reasonably easy to find a writer or videographer in your area or extended network. Just ask your connections for recommendations.

If you’re still not confident in your ability to deliver or you can’t afford to hire someone, don’t worry. We have an excellent piece that will walk you through everything you need to know about content creation.

6. Promote Your Content On The Right Channels

You’ve created your masterpiece of relevant content. Now it’s time to share it with the world. But how do you do that? Do you just post it on your corporate blog and wait for Google to index it?

You could take that kind of passive approach, but this is great stuff you’ve just made. Everyone in your niche will want to consume it. And to make sure you get the eyes you want on it, it’s time to promote it.

But before you go linking to it on Facebook, Digg, LinkedIn, and every other social media platform and aggregator site you can think of, pause for a minute.

When you were developing your user personas, you hopefully received some data about where your targets live online.

Are they regular Twitter users? Do they haunt industry-specific forums? Are you connected to them via Slack or other instant messenger apps?

Find out where they hang out and post away. In most cases, if you’re not sure if your targets use a platform or not, you should just go ahead and post anyway.

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There are some sites where you can be dinged for unpopular content (Reddit, for example), but most of the time, there’s no harm.

This is also a time to start thinking about how you can repurpose your new content.

Do you have an opportunity for a guest blog post on another site? Or, would your new infographic fit perfectly in your next investor report?

If your data-driven content is built on the solid principles we’ve discussed, it will get engagements.

7. Use Analytics To Measure Results

After your content goes live, you can begin measuring your ROI to see what you did well, where you missed the mark, and what could be optimized to perform better.

This is where the KPIs discussed back in step one come back into play.

Some of these are easier to track than others.

If increasing sales or conversions was your goal, you should have data that backs up performance. Likewise, if you set out to improve traffic to your website, you should have the analytics to track that.

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Things like brand visibility can be a bit trickier.

Regardless of what it is you’re using to determine success, you should find the data you need to track performance in Google Analytics.

For a detailed walkthrough of this process, we’ve provided information on exactly how you can measure content marketing success.

A Data-Driven Content Strategy Is A Winning One

Data is a marketer’s best friend. It tells you exactly what works, what doesn’t, and often, why that’s the case.

And a data-driven content strategy is vital for success in today’s hyper-competitive business and SEO environment.

Use the tools available to you to gather data – that’s why they’re there.

Learn to identify what the numbers are telling you and use them to help you craft the kind of content that not only attracts views but gets shares and achieves your goals.

More Resources:

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Featured Image: metamorworks/Shutterstock

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