The typical SaaS startup runs a blog, but the majority of these blogs fail to produce leads, while a select few do tremendously well. What separates the winners from the losers in this industry?

Here are a few key insights you’ll need to consider if you want your blog to convert leads.

Keyword Choice

If you want to make keyword research work for you instead of against you, you need to keep the following in mind:

  • Everybody is using the Google Keyword Planner and the most popular phrases in your industry have already been claimed. You aren’t likely to break through on those top phrases, as a startup.
  • The goal of your content should be to build an audience, which means earning subscribers, which doesn’t necessarily have all that much to do with attracting an enormous number of visitors to your blog.

The most popular way of doing something is seldom the “right” way of doing something, and keyword choice is certainly not an exception to that rule.

The keywords you choose should lead naturally into your lead assets: mini-products that people will sign up with their email address for. You know the drill: e-books, whitepapers, videos, and training courses.

This industry has gotten hung up on popularity. The smart inbound marketer, the one who wants to take leads on a journey from browsing blog posts to paying for a SaaS, is interested in getting leads to sign up for a lead magnet within a few minutes of reading that blog post.

And that means you need to change the way you think about keyword research. You should identify highly specific problems, with highly specific solutions, that people will be willing to join an email list, to see the solution too.

And you should be writing blog posts targeting those people, with those highly specific needs.

The key to successful marketing is relevancy. When you can offer somebody the perfect solution to the problem that they are dealing with at that very moment that is when you have their attention.

And that is what you should have in mind when you are doing your keyword research if you want to stay ahead of the game.

Audience Research

Writing blog content that blows your audience away requires one thing above all else: the ability to understand their needs.

Audience research is about peaking behind the keyword to see what people really want to know.

What questions are they asking for in forums? What nagging question seems to be continually evaded by the other major pieces of content? What is the elephant in the room that nobody seems to want to talk about? What are people leaving negative reviews on Amazon about?

Go where your audience is and find out where they are confused, and where they are unsatisfied. Collect all of the questions people have in relation to your chosen keywords and compile them together. From the SEO perspective, the impact on long tail is enormous. As far as your audience is concerned, the content will speak to them in ways none of the others can pull off.

Audience research is not hard, but it takes extra time and effort, and most of your competitors aren’t taking those steps. Be better than they are.

Topic Research

Your audience research will lead you to questions you won’t find in keyword tools, and because of that, you will often find yourself in a situation where searching for those queries won’t lead you to blog posts dedicated to answering them.

This is a good thing. It means there is a gap in the information market and you are there to fill it.

But it also means that research isn’t going to be easy.

That’s why you need to take the extra steps and:

  • Speak from your own personal experience
  • Open up Google Scholar
  • Email professionals and experts
  • Break down the question logically and answer it using your applied thinking skills
  • Attempt to solve the problem yourself until you have identified the solution
  • Skim a book on the topic
  • Search for solutions to related problems and apply the results by analogy
  • Merge concepts from varied disciplines

And so on.

You have innumerable ways to accomplish your goal here: the end game is that you have to put in the extra effort to actually solve a problem for your visitors, as opposed to copying somebody else’s solution from the internet.

I am not claiming that every word you write needs to be part of a completely original thought. I’m merely saying that research is about more than seeing what others have written about the subject and reproducing what they have put together. It is about using your applied thinking skills, pulling from various places, and distilling things in a way that makes it all easier for the reader.

The best blog posts are the ones that you yourself will refer back to, for guidance.

Lead Generators

You might have noticed above how important I think lead generators are.

The principle goal of your blog should be to build an email list, and that is next to impossible without giving readers an incentive.

Of course, a good lead generator also has a natural connection to signing up for your SaaS product.

In deciding on a lead generator, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What problems do people want solved that are related to the problems solved by my SaaS product?
  • Which of those problems the SaaS product can’t solve?
  • What can I build that will help people solve those problems?
  • Of the things that I could build to solve those problems, which are more valuable than a blog post?
  • Of those, which of them can be naturally connected to blog posts that are, themselves valuable, but that serve as a lead into the lead magnet?
  • Of these potential lead magnets, which one most naturally leads into signing up for a free trial for my SaaS?
  • What is the most natural way to encourage a lead from the lead magnet to the free trial, and will this be more natural for some lead magnets than others?

If you ask yourself these questions, you will start to realize that the question of whether your lead magnet should be an e-book, a video, a training course, a web app, or some other less common offer, will answer itself.

Calls-To-Action

People are visiting your blog for the blog post. That much is obvious, but you wouldn’t necessarily know it from the way that some blogs decide to implement their calls to action.

Whether you are encouraging readers to sign up for your free trial or asking them to sign up for your lead magnet, if you want people to see and use your signup forms, you need to understand the psychology of ad blindness.

Consumers have adapted to web standards and understood how websites are laid out. If they are looking for blog content, they aren’t going to see ads. They have a single-minded focus on reading the content and nothing else.

So if you are placing your calls to action where people expect to find ads, they are not going to see them or use them.

If you want people to see your call to action, there is only one place where they are guaranteed to, and that is right within the content of the blog post itself.

This is one of the reasons why I keep stressing the importance of a natural connection between your lead magnets and your blog posts. Of course the same is true of the connection between your blog post and your SaaS itself.

A signup form placed directly within your blog content is by far the most likely place to pick up a conversion.

Start treating signup forms like links; use them as citations or recommend them as a source of additional information wherever this occurs naturally in your blog posts.

Referral Traffic

Two things influence your ability to bring search engine traffic to your blog more than anything else: keyword choice and links.

I am firmly of the opinion that the links you build for SEO should also be for referral traffic. For one, Google’s guidelines make it explicit that if you wouldn’t use a tactic in the absence of search engines, you shouldn’t use it in their presence. Just as importantly, though, your marketing strategy should be diverse and not rely too heavily on Google. Why say no to referral traffic?

The important thing to understand about links that send referral traffic is that they are links that exist to be clicked.

This statement might sound funny. Don’t all links exist to be clicked? Not really. A great deal of links exist for citation. Those are great too, but if we’re being honest with ourselves, most readers do not click on citation links.

What do they click on?

  • Links in lists of resources.
  • Links on social bookmarking sites.
  • Links from Q&A sites.
  • Links to learn more about something.

These are links that exist in the main content of a site, not in the navigation. They are links that are editorially placed with the specific goal of directing somebody to visit what is on the other end of the link. These are the kinds of links you want to earn.

Two primary methods of earning them follow.

1. Guest Editorials

If you’re reading this, you probably already know what guest blogging is.

To make guest blogging work as a way to drive traffic to your blog, here are some pointers:

  • Your guest posts need to ride a line where they present a problem that your SaaS or your lead magnet is the solution for, but they need to be beneficial for the place you are posting rather than coming across like sponsored content.
  • It should be relatively natural for the reader to finish the post, read your bio, and take an interest in clicking the link in your bio.
  • Your guest posts need to be placed where your audience is, not where your competitors are. In other words, don’t get caught in your industry bubble.

2. Outreach

When you reach out to influencers with the goal of earning referral links, the most important thing to keep in mind is context. As with ad blindness, people have gotten exceptionally good at identifying email spam from the title alone, and certainly from the content of the email. Unfortunately this “spam blindness” can be so hypersensitive that it leads to people dismissing emails that actually are relevant to them.

To get past this hypersensitivity, you need your outreach emails to lead with context that the recipient will immediately recognize as directly relevant to them in a way that cannot be mass-produced. Establishing that context is key to getting a response.

Of course, the recipient also needs a good reason to link to you, and that depends in large part on your choice of recipient, more than the words in your email. Some examples:

  • They have already linked to a similar piece of content by someone else, but your content is better.
  • They have curated a list of resources, and your resource deserves to be on that list.
  • They have linked to you before, and might be interested in linking to you again.
  • They are linking to a page that used to be similar to yours, but now it is broken.
  • They are mentioned by name in your blog post.
  • They have contributed to the blog post.
  • You are providing them with a fact that they would be interested in citing.
  • Your resource is the kind of thing they would like to share with their audience.

If you can think of other reasons to add to this list, that’s good for you. The point is that your outreach efforts will fail if there’s no context for you to contact them and there’s no motivating reason for them to link to you.

The Takeaway

Effective blogs are lead-focused. They are designed from the ground up to guide visitors from visit to sign up and beyond. They are intelligently promoted and are built to appeal to people with very specific needs. It’s time to take your SaaS marketing to the next level.

Pratik Dholakiya is the Founder of Preceptist, a content marketing agency for SaaS businesses.