The State of B2B Content Marketing for SaaS in 2021
We’ve seen a lot of changes in our daily lives since the beginning of 2020, and that includes how we search for, consume, and interact with content.
For businesses whose revenue partly depends on content-based channels, some content marketing strategies that have worked well in the past may no longer be effective now.
The content landscape has changed.
Search engines have changed.
The way people make buying decisions has changed.
So how can you and your company keep up with these shifts and retain the strategies that work?
While it’s difficult to answer this question in a nutshell as content consumption varies from industry to industry, I explored this within the B2B SaaS space.
This report is especially relevant to you if you are in marketing, sales, customer success, or RevOps in a B2B SaaS company.
How This Content Marketing Report Was Created
In the middle of 2021, with the assistance of RevGenius, we created a selection of B2B SaaS companies of interest.
We reached out to their marketing experts for their newest and battle-tested insights on content and SEO.
Who We Asked
Through LinkedIn outreach, the RevGenius community, and Help a B2B Writer, we gathered insights from marketing executives at various B2B SaaS businesses from all over the world.
These businesses came in different sizes, from startups to large multinational companies. They provide SaaS products or productized services for several sectors, including healthcare, logistics, finance, electronics, marketing, and even solopreneurs.
More specifically, we surveyed decision-makers involved in marketing and RevOps at those companies. Their job titles include those in marketing at the manager, director, VP, and executive levels.
Questions We Asked
In this survey, we asked each respondent a series of questions, including, but not limited to, the following:
- In terms of content strategy for your company, what’s working well this year?
- What’s not working as well as it used to?
- What types of content or formats do you find the most effective in generating revenue?
- In your opinion, how has the SEO game changed in the past few years?
- Where do you see SEO going as we enter the latter half of 2021 and beyond?
- What are some content marketing failures or “lessons learned” that helped your content strategy evolve to what it is today?
We also surveyed our respondents about which types and formats of content they deem to be working well for their business growth initiatives.
In the rest of this piece, we lay out some insights — along with some context and interpretation — marketing experts had to share about the past, present, and future of content marketing and SEO.
SaaS Content Marketing: What’s Working and What’s Not
In this section, we share what’s been working and not working for marketers at B2B SaaS companies.
What’s Working for Today’s SaaS Content Teams
If you ask ten different marketers what works for them, you’ll likely get ten different answers. That’s the nature of marketing and human psychology — different tactics work for different people in different contexts.
However, we can find some common themes that may help shed some light on the way forward for B2B content marketers, mainly for SaaS businesses.
1. Updating and Repurposing Old Content
In the world of content marketing, it is all too tempting to churn out new content.
While this sometimes works — especially when new content has been carefully and strategically targeted, this being done en masse by millions of companies leads to content saturation and information overload in many industries.
Valuable opportunities can be found in updating, refreshing, and repurposing previously published content, even articles just a couple of years old.
Nick Le, a Marketing Manager, uses this strategy for his company, Snappa. When asked what has been working for him, Le explains: “Repurposing old content that was previously ranking so that it is updated and optimized for current search engine queries.”
Emma Hardy, the Content Marketing Manager at streamGo, agrees: “Don’t neglect your older content and focus solely on creating new. Going back through existing content and adding new statistics, quotes or images is always a great exercise for any website. Assess, improve, amplify.”
Plus, you’re not limited to updating old blog posts into new ones — you can always repurpose both old and new content into different formats, including podcasts, videos, reports, and downloadable lead magnets.
2. Combining Branding with SEO
While content is so tightly intertwined with SEO, content doesn’t necessarily have to hit traffic goals and conversion KPIs alone.
Content can also be used to increase brand awareness, create trust, and build communities.
When asked what’s most important to him in his marketing strategy, Tom Bangay, the Director of Content at Juro, said that community building for branding purposes is just as crucial as keyword-based content.
Gail Axelrod, the Director of Content Marketing at Whereby, further expands on the importance of branding: “Whereby has a very strong brand point of view, and we’ve used that to differentiate our content and draw readers to the site.”
As challenging as it may be to combine different strategies, it doesn’t have to be an either-or proposition.
Combining branding with SEO can give you a powerful advantage over competitors that seem to be well ahead of you in terms of search rankings and domain authority.
“We’ll combine our branding approach with traditional SEO content strategies using keywords related to our product and category. At the same time, we’ll continue to build our brand with content with the end goal of creating not just another B2B SaaS blog, but a media offshoot for the company covering the best practices of remote and hybrid work, productivity, leadership, and meetings,” explains Axelrod.
3. Being a Trailblazer and Creating New Categories
With so much content out there amid shortening attention spans, it sometimes pays to stand out and develop new categories or keywords that branch out from existing high-volume keywords.
The Marketing Director at The Predictive Index, Erin Balsa, shares a peek into her strategy:
“We are category creators, and we’re focused on category growth, plus fueling demand for our blue ocean product. Everything we do with content ties back to that. We recently launched V2 of our talent optimization certification, and we’re having early signs of success.”
The Senior SEO Manager at ClickUp, Jeremy Galante, uses carefully curated content that focuses on competitor queries.
“We’ve had a ton of success with creating content around Excel and Google Sheets. Then we position our product as an alternative to create project visualizations our users are looking for,” says Galante.
4. Niching Down
The advice to “niche down” is quite familiar among solopreneurs and freelancers, and in some cases, this is also sound advice for larger businesses.
Marquis Matson, the VP of Growth, SEO at Sozy, is a strong proponent of niching down when warranted.
“For each of my clients, which spans across many different types of industries, niching down has been the easiest way to rank for content quickly.”
The best strategy Matson has found is to first clearly define the niche, and then cover all imaginable topics within that niche — no matter what the search volume may be for each topic or keyword.
Matson admits that to niche down successfully, your strategy needs to stand the test of time: “This was challenging because the first six months felt like nothing was working. Then, once everything settled into place, rankings and traffic multiplied.”
Niching down does not mean we have to pick a topic and only write content about it forever. We can only say so much about one topic. Instead, defining your target buyer persona and focusing content towards that persona, albeit with various topics to keep them engaged, can be very effective.
5. Long-Form Content Still Works
With people’s shortening attention spans, you might think that short-form content works better than long-form.
However, that hasn’t exactly played out like that. In some contexts, such as quick and inexpensive purchasing situations, short-form content with prominent calls to action would be more effective.
However, in B2B SaaS, where high-ticket products and services are becoming more and more complex and thus require longer sales cycles involving multiple decision-makers, long-form pieces are actually more effective in generating leads and nudging them through the sales cycle.
According to Bart Plateeuw, an SEO consultant with six years of experience in SEO, content strategy, and digital marketing, such content can take the form of in-depth guides, white papers, and sales enablement pieces that provide value and are actionable.
What’s Not Working in B2B SaaS Content Marketing
With a flurry of search engine algorithm updates Google rolled out the past two years, some strategies content marketers and SEO experts have used in the past are no longer working as well as they used to.
To be sure, it’s not just Google’s algorithm updates that changed the game. People using search engines have fundamentally changed the way they search for the information they need, and it is my personal opinion that Google was merely reacting to that.
1. Paid Advertising
Many marketers have noticed that paid advertising has been losing its punch in recent years. This is especially true on platforms that constantly change their advertising platforms, such as Facebook and to a lesser extent, Google Ads.
Ad spend has been increasing every year even as conversions dwindle. As Nick Le says “paid social media ads aren’t as effective for our business as they used to be.”
Ninad Pathak, Content Marketing Manager at DelightChat, agrees that the increasing cost per click does not help when offering products and services that require longer sales cycles.
This implies that paid advertising may work better for high-volume, low-price B2C products compared to high-ticket B2B.
2. Broad and Commoditized Content
It’s not just your imagination — content has been becoming saturated in many niches, where too much content has been published about the same topics. When many write similar content using the same keywords, topics, formats, and storylines, that content becomes commoditized.
A great example of commoditized content is the “listicle,” which is an article with a numbered list with titles starting as “The Best 20 Places to…”, “Top Ten CRMs for…”, and any other title that indicates that a list format is about to follow.
Gail Axelrod, is keenly aware of this phenomenon: “Content marketing in general has become a complete commodity. When I started in content more than a decade ago, you could write a decent enough article and expect it to rank. Now, there’s so much legacy content out there that you’re just not going to beat no matter what.”
Dan McLean at Vendasta Technologies agrees that getting organic traffic is “highly competitive and a real challenge to stand out.”
Does that mean we’re out of luck if hundreds of other companies have written about the same topic you were planning to write about?
On the contrary, there are still ways to get organic traffic even amid content commoditization.
“While you still need to go after keywords and topics relevant to your business, you need to use content to differentiate your brand and drive awareness. Think multimedia — podcasts, video, audio, print, and such,” says Axelrod.
Finally, if your company has a strong brand and high domain authority, it becomes much easier to rank for broad top-funnel content that has been covered before.
3. Gated Content
To gate or not to gate?
This debate is bound to elicit strong opinions from either side. While still essential and in some cases necessary to collect and track leads, gated content may be less effective than it used to be.
Erin Balsa shares her experience with gated content: “When I started at The Predictive Index, we were gating everything from case studies to ebooks. But putting ebooks behind a BOFU gate strategy does not work anymore. Sure, you’ll get a boatload of leads, but the conversion rate will be low. So we abandoned that a while ago.”
This may vary from industry to industry, buyer persona to buyer persona, so the only way to know for sure is to try gating a piece of content for a short time in an A/B test to see what works for you.
If you decide to un-gate your content, you might need another way to collect leads.
You may end up with a lower total number of leads, but they may be more qualified with a higher likelihood of moving through your sales cycle, assuming you have effective sales enablement content.
4. Are Testimonials, Webinars, and Podcasts Losing Their Punch?
While it’s important to mix up your content, some types of content seem to be losing popularity over time.
The webinar format was wildly successful when high-speed network bandwidth enabled live video technology. Fast forward to today, it’s far more challenging to get people to sit through a one-hour webinar — and that was even the case during the lockdowns.
That’s when the podcasts took over.
Podcasts tend to be short, 5-10 minutes each, though they can be of any length. Some podcasts can go on for at least an hour. Even so, there are signs of saturation in the podcast marketing channel:
“Webinars and podcasts seem to be saturated as channels so harder to stand out with,” says Kelly Sarabyn at Pandium.
Types of Content That Drive Business Objectives Including Revenue
In the last two years, we’ve seen the emergence of RevOps, and companies are rightly aligning marketing with sales and customer success to measure and drive revenue.
However, not everything is meant to drive revenue.
With some content strategies and tactics, it is difficult to measure revenue. Social media engagement is one example. However, SEO is much more concrete and data-driven, making it easier to connect organic traffic with sales figures.
On the other hand, content marketing can drive other business objectives that are just as valuable, such as building brand recognition, trust, and authority — all of which indirectly lead to higher revenue.
Variety Works Best
Sometimes a combination of blogs with other types of content is the best strategy for specific industries.
Brands can repurpose blog articles into social media content, white papers, ebooks, podcasts, and videos — and vice versa — for use across multiple channels. This does require data-driven insight into where your prospects hang out online and how they search for information related to your product or service.
Axelrod, at Whereby, does not only use blogs and gated pieces like research reports and ebooks, but also uses a combination of newsletters, webinars, virtual and in-person events to drive brand awareness and generate top-funnel leads.
With the many types of content, the main driver of SEO are blog articles and to some extent, videos, how-to guides, and other resource content including white papers and case studies.
It is well understood, however, that blog content is the centerpiece of most content marketing strategies that rely on SEO to some extent.
Why Blogging is a B2B Content Marketing Staple
“Blogging is a top of funnel play that builds trust over time.” – Erin Balsa
In our information-heavy world, most people want to research and gather actionable information before making a purchase decision. This is especially true in B2B, where entire careers, tight budgets, and multiple stakeholders are involved.
Although blogging started as a personal hobby for many people, it has become a vital marketing and revenue generation channel for businesses of all sizes, from solopreneurs to multinational corporations.
Some companies, including DelightChat, have built their entire businesses on SEO and blog content. “While we’ve tried other methods of reaching our customers, the most sustainable one has been our content marketing,” explains Pathak.
Blogging Directly and Indirectly Impacts Revenue
Blogging has both direct and indirect benefits towards revenue generation.
Blogs can directly increase organic traffic, generate more leads, and drive product growth. Search-driven blog content, as Galante says, is the main product growth driver for ClickUp.
“Capturing high-intent search terms through engaging and informative blogs is a reliable and scalable way to generate leads,” adds Bangay.
Not every blog article is meant to drive revenue, however.
There are other intangible benefits of blogs that we don’t see on a spreadsheet.
“Blogging has many indirect benefits such as keeping on your potential customers’ radars and showcasing that you are up to date with the latest developments in your industry,” says Bart Platteeuw.
Ashley Levesque, Director of Marketing at Demio explains this succinctly: “Everything we do fills a purpose. Content like blogs, guides, how-to assets, and checklists are meant to build relationships and drive affinity.”
“Is blog content helpful? Yes. It helps us create brand affinity by sharing our voice, tone, and perspective with our target audience. It helps us establish ourselves as an authority within our industry,” Levesque adds.
At Vendasta Technologies, McLean uses blogs to educate readers in the awareness and consideration stages of their buyer’s journey, thus building brand awareness and elevating his company as trusted advisors and thought leaders in their industry.
Blog Articles Help Readers Solve Problems
When readers land on a company blog, their expectation is that they get valuable and actionable information about their problem instead of company news, promotions, and press releases.
“Blog content is beneficial, especially if there is value-added information. Someone searching for a solution to their problem and finds your blog post creates a major win,” says Le.
Picmaker, a graphic design SaaS, focuses on creating how-to blog articles not only for visitors but also for their existing customers.
“It helps us to both showcase our product and solve actual problems. Our blogs are long, and they give us the option to explain different aspects of a problem or genuine need, including how-to guides on specific features of our product,” explains Karthik Subramanian, the Senior Content Manager at Picmaker.
With the importance of blog content in your content marketing strategy well established, what ultimately matters is how many people you can get in front of your content.
This means you need an SEO strategy to get your content to rank so more people can find it, which is what we will take a look at in my other post, “The State of SEO in 2021.”