Lessons From 3 Years of Consistent Content Marketing at ScreenCloud
At our SaaS product ScreenCloud we’ve been “blogging” consistently for three years. Here’s what we’ve learned, and what we’d advise to others looking to set off on a content marketing journey.
Back in April 2016 Mark, ScreenCloud’s CEO, had one job for me: write blogs for ScreenCloud. At that point ScreenCloud was a fairly new company, trying to solve the problem that age-old digital signage companies couldn’t.
Many of ScreenCloud’s potential customers knew what they wanted (put content up on TV screens) but they didn’t know that “digital signage software” was the term they should be searching for.
So we got to work.
Over the next two years, I produced around three blogposts per week. Everything from “What is digital signage”, to more abstract concepts like “5 Key Trends Affecting Hospitality” (one of our key industries) and further down the funnel “How to Get Presentations on Screen Using ScreenCloud”.
Some of the early ScreenCloud blogs.
At the end of those first few months, I remember feeling a slight panic as I reported the blogpost figures. This was the time where social media was just becoming the thing for businesses and it was all about “views”, “impressions” and “going viral” i.e. a lot of vanity metrics.
The blogposts were barely averaging 100 views each and therefore didn’t measure up to what most businesses would have wanted from their content marketing at the time.
Luckily none of the team expected it to go viral. The website was fairly new (one of Google’s ranking signals around authority) and we were trying to answer questions which were low traffic and about capturing those in the awareness stage of their buying journey. We had a theory that by investing in content now, we might be able to reap the rewards later down the line in a maturing market.
Which leads to our first lesson:
1. Content is a long game
As an example, blogpost number 10 that I wrote back in April 2016, is now one of our biggest sources of organic traffic and more importantly: organic trialist sign-ups. Averaging around 300k impressions per month, and 4000+ clicks. That’s a long way from the 100 views or so we were getting each week in the beginning.
Others, have captured the featured snippet for keywords in our industry such as “digital signage strategy”, a key term for those who actually know what they’re looking for and therefore have high buyer’s intent.
Could we achieved a similar level of success if we’d left blogging until 2019? In an answer, probably not. The key was: investing early and investing well. I could keep producing content and building up ScreenCloud’s authority in all related areas over time and wasn’t expected to have a “quick win” like I know a lot of content people are under pressure to do. Was all of the content we produced worthwhile? No, of course not. But we had to go both wide and deep to find what worked. The results have been surprising so I’m glad we didn’t just stop at generic industry terms.
If you have a boss who’s all about the views or being on page one initially, here are some things which may help you to manage their expectations:
- Use Google Search Console to track keyword and page rankings, as you’ll often see incremental increases each month in page ranking and traffic which will help your stakeholders to feel as though you’re on the right track.
- If you already have traffic going to your site (maybe from old SEO or advertising through Facebook or PPC) then you might be better creating a lead-capture ebook as a pop-up on relevant pages. As long as this is a quality piece of content, you’ll likely start to see downloads almost immediately. We use GetSiteControl which is an easy tool if you aren’t yet set up with a proper inbound marketing platform like Hubspot.
- If it’s a brand new website/brand then set expectations that while you’ll likely see some movement after the first six months, it’s going to take anything from 1–2 years to see a real return from consistent content marketing efforts.
2. What worked then, might not work now
Three years of consistent content marketing is a commitment that not many companies make. In my experience, companies either go one of two ways; they have a “blog” that they submit posts to every now and again. Usually written by the intern or Marketing Executive just to show face. Then you have companies who commit to a full SEO strategy, writing blog after blog to build their authority on a topic, but often producing content that’s quite generic and struggles to reach the first page of results.
While commitment to the cause is good, what Google’s looking for, and the way we use the internet as buyers, changes fast.
Even in three years, the SEO strategy that we use to produce high-value content has changed.
One example is that in the beginning we created an individual blog for each key term. Effectively “sewing up” the market. Now, I can see that a pillar content marketing strategy (great guide on that here) is more useful to those searching, and shows a higher level of subject authority. (I wrote here about the sources I use to stay up to date with SEO changes).
This means going back over old content and working out where we have too many individual posts for one keyword. Do you really want to “delete” that blog you spent three days writing? Culling content is something I’ve seen companies struggle with but when you’ve been producing for a long time, it’s kind of essential.
Secondly, it means another huge investment in content. Going back through hundreds of blogposts to edit and change, is a tough order. Do many content marketers have the space and budget to do this? Possibly not but we know how worthwhile this is. In fact, some of the blogposts that we’ve turned into “pillar” blogposts have already moved from page 3, to page 1, in SERP in just a few weeks.
3. Content marketing can plateau
Another lesson I’ve learned from three years of blogging at ScreenCloud is that eventually you will plateau. There are only so many keywords that your buyers will search for and once you’ve covered them all, the only thing left is to keep housekeeping your content and ensuring it’s the best it can be.
Then it’s about brand and education of customers.
One of our new content forms at ScreenCloud — “Screen Hack Friday” which teaches existing customers how to do cool things with their screens.
Again, this is a different approach and one that also needs buy in. The return on “brand” content is less measurable. Basecamp are my favourite example of this. They’ve spent time and effort on their blog Signal Vs. Noise about their company and ways of working. Even writing books about topics like project management.
Did they see an immediate return in trialists and conversions? I highly doubt it. But over time, they’ve grown a brand that people recognise and want to work with, even before they might have a need for it.
Our next step at ScreenCloud is to work on brand-led content. This might be blogging for fun, sharing more insights “Behind the Screens” and generally looking at content that isn’t about SEO.
If you’re about to begin your investment in content marketing today, here are a few things I’d advise concentrating on, based on our lessons from the past three years:
- Invest in in-depth guides — Define the topics you want to become an expert in and invest in long-form, in-depth and amazing guides about them. This is how you get to page one and truly help your audience with what they need to know. In SaaS, a lot of research and buying happens online, so get guides ready for your buyers to find, as and when they need them.
- Answer questions — Think about your buyer first — not what a CEO or Sales Manager wants you to write. I no longer start SEO research with looking at keywords, I look at questions. What do our customers want to know? Think about all stages of the funnel as well, not just conversion. Someone starting out may be looking for “project management tools”, but someone who’s about to convert might want to know “Top 5 features of [your product]”, so cover all bases.
- Get long-term buy-in — You can’t execute a successful content strategy without a substantial period of time to work on it. Get buy-in from someone who gets that it isn’t always about initial “views” and find ways to show progress in the meantime.
- Don’t neglect your brand — It’s great to have an SEO strategy but how are people going to find out about your brand? SEO gets you to a point where someone is adding your tool or business to the pool, but for them to pick you over another agency or SaaS product with similar features/USPs you need a story.
- Review old content — Always be looking to improve on what you already have — spicing up old content may not be sexy but it works and spending a few hours a week on this is often a quicker win than starting from scratch.