Pawel Grabowski on Getting Measurable Results from Content Marketing

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Today, I’m talking with Pawel Grabowski, the founder of UserMagnet.io, a done-for-you content marketing service for B2B SaaS companies. Pawel is an experienced SaaS copywriter with over 5 years of professional experience who has written hundreds of blog posts, guides, ebooks, and other lead generation assets. 

In our chat, we cover everything from common content marketing mistakes to using the 80/20 rule to prioritize your promotion strategy, but where we really dive in is how to get measurable results from content marketing.

Pawel shares the process he follows to help B2B SaaS startups grow their user base and generate leads through a targeted content strategy. If you’re tired of not getting results from your content, then this episode is for you.

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Topics covered:

  • What companies do wrong with content marketing (2:04-5:27)
  • How Pawel works with new clients seeking his services. (6:06-10:54)
  • Looking at KPIs to measure results. (14:16-17:30)
  • What exactly is a “content upgrade”? (19:07-20:16)
  • What does a user want out of content? (21:08-22:31)
  • The 80/20 rule and how to promote content. (25:04-27:16)

Resources mentioned:

Pawel’s Talk at Digital Olympus: Make Your Content Easier to Promote
Pawel’s podcast episode featuring Drifts’s Dave Gerhardt
Benji Hyam of GrowAndConvert.com

Where to learn more:

You can find out more about Pawel by checking out User Magnet, particularly Pawel’s podcast, which is chock full of great interviews and content from leading SaaS content marketing experts.

Transcript:

Andy: Pawel, thanks for coming on the show today.

Pawel: Thanks, Andy, I’m stoked to be here.

Andy: So let’s just get right into it. Content marketing has been a buzzword for years now, so I’m sure every SaaS founder out there has at least heard of it by now, and many of them are experimenting with it. But a lot of founders out there aren’t really getting great results from their content marketing. So let’s just start things off, what do you see as being wrong with the way most startups – especially SaaS startups – are approaching content marketing?

Pawel: Oh, we’re starting with the negative. I tell you what, I’m actually going to twist it around, because the thing is I’m actually very positive about content marketing in the SaaS space, particularly over the last year, things have been changing. So yes, maybe not all SaaS companies achieve great results yet, but the great thing is that practically all of them now do content marketing. It’s no longer this thing you know you should do but you’re so afraid to do because you don’t know how, etc.  

As you said, most SaaS founders know about content marketing, they know what it is, they know how it works, they’re fully aware of the whole inbound process. They might not know the technicalities of the strategy, but there’s a great awareness of content and how helpful it is and how it can deliver results. So there are technicalities that companies get wrong sometimes, and we could list them, like maybe working off assumptions instead of targeting real user problems, and questions working off assumptions as in, “I think I’ll create content about this because I think my audience would appreciate that.”   

Andy: Just making guesses like that without actually really knowing.

Pawel: And I think this would be the #1 thing I would pinpoint as one thing companies do wrong, they start off on assumptions. And the other thing, funny enough 2 days ago I wrote an answer in Quora on a similar question, and one of the things I said was “ignoring your current users”. I think this is a massive mistake companies make with content. So what I mean by that is when companies start to planning the content strategy, they research the potential users, the people they should attract and introduce to the app and somehow get to try it out and sign up and become users.  

The trouble is that your potential users are almost like these mythical creatures, you don’t know them. I was actually talking to a prospect yesterday and her company is based in central London, so I said to look out through the window – this is central London, I don’t know how many people live here, like 15 million – and try pinpointing your potential users. You can’t point out your potential users. You can make guesses about them and use a data driven approach to find out, but these are all assumptions.

However, you have an amazing insight right at your fingertips. It’s like your acre of diamonds and these are your current users. Now these are the people you can approach anytime, you can call them, email them, use an intercom to message them, whatever. The other thing is, they represent your target audience, they signed up and pay you, they use your app. And using various apps you can actually select people who are your “best users”, people who use your product to the full extent and have been with you for quite a long time, and you can say these are satisfied users.  

So whatever problems they have, you can safely assume your target potential users will have, too. They’ll experience similar problems, is what I’m trying to say. So by targeting your current user’s challenges they’re facing – not challenges with your app – challenges or problems your app tries to help them overcome. You automatically create content that’s relevant to your potential users, these people you can’t reach because you don’t know who they are.

So I think that’s a huge, not problem, but a huge mistake companies make in their strategy planning in research. They focus on potential users and try to guess what would engage these people, instead of asking the people they already engage.  

Andy: So I think this is a good transition into the way you work with clients. Because at User Magnet marketing, specifically for B2B SaaS companies to help them grow their audience and get high quality leads. And you have a set process of this is how when a new client comes on this is how we work with them.   

Pawel: Yes.

Andy: And going through that process would help a lot of listeners.It will show them that if I’m re-evaluating my own content marketing or just planning a new effort from scratch, this is a way we could do it. So why don’t we start off with that. When you’re working with a new client, what do you do, what is the first thing you do when they’re coming on board with your services?

Pawel: Well the first month we spend on research, entirely on research. And one of the new things we’ve introduced recently is we now require any new client to allow us to message their current user base.  

Andy: Interesting.

Pawel: With a simple question. And the client sends the email and we don’t have direct contact with their user base, but we write the email. And it basically asks about the challenges the user experiences in their business, etc. It’s a simple email where you hit “reply: and say, “I have challenges with x, y, and z.” So that’s one thing, of course that’s a lengthy process, it’s doesn’t take a day where we send the email and wait for the data to come back. So during the rest of the month we research the markets that we, ourselves, have never worked in. So we learn everything we can about the market, we assess the competition, that’s a big thing.

Andy: What kind of things are you looking for in the competition, what are you trying to see what they’re doing? Is it just the type of content they’re creating, or is there more to it?

Pawel: Yeah, we look at everything, content related of course. So we would try to reverse engineer their strategies, see what they do, what topics they target, how well they write content. We assess the content’s quality and basically we first compare how what the client’s been doing so far stacks up against the competition.

Andy: Ok.

Pawel: And we’re looking for ways to overcome the competition, of course. We’re looking for maybe approaches and things they don’t do, etc. So it’s more like our competitive research, you could probably call it comparison between the client and the competition.  

Andy: You’re not looking to just copy them, you’re looking to see what they’re doing.

Pawel: No, the opposite, quite the opposite. The whole idea of this research process is to find a unique hook for our client that’s going to work for their target audience, and it’s going to differentiate them from the competition.

And a great example is the SEO niche. There is so much competition there. There are so many SEO apps, and at the same time you have big publications like Search Engine Watch, Search Engine Journal, and so you really need to find a hook and almost carve a niche for yourself. Break through with content. If you start publishing just generic SEO advice, it’s not really going to work.  

Andy: There’s millions of articles out there about it.

Pawel: It’s not going to work. So you really have to be super specific and find a hook for the content. So that’s what we do the first month, we learn as much as we can about the market, the target audience. There’s a questionnaire the client has to fill in to brief us in on their audience and their business.

At the end of this process, we present a report – it’s usually quite lengthy, 20 pages long – it sounds intimidating but it really isn’t. We go through it in a short 20 minute presentation and the client can go through it on their own time if they want to. And the report ends with our recommendations and initial strategy, and that strategy includes topics for the first 8 weeks. And this is the important part. So the first one is the research concludes with the initial strategy.

Andy: I see.

Pawel: At the end of month 2, then we start publishing. At the end of month three, we look at the data we now have that comes from our work, and we refine the strategy. So it’s almost like the first two months are us testing what works and doesn’t, and analyzing and identifying what worked really well and doubling down on this and stop doing things that just didn’t work.

Andy: I think that goes back to a lot of what you were talking about with saying one of the biggest flaws in content marketing programs is being based on assumptions. And even with what you’re doing, you’re creating a hypothesis. But the difference between an assumption and a hypothesis is that you’re testing it. You’re saying that from our research, this is what we think has the best opportunity to work. But after that first month, we might learn a lot that says something entirely different.

And I like how you framed that as this is the “initial strategy”, but we’re going to keep learning, we’re going to keep adjusting it, And it seems like that difference, that constant learning attitude, is what really helps set a content marketing strategy apart from competitors.

Pawel: It does, and we do it every three months. The funny things is, we never had a client where we didn’t change the strategy. And I don’t mean that in a negative way that the assumption or the hypothesis was wrong. It means that we’re learning, we never stop learning.

So we put out the first month of content and we analyze the data, it always comes down to the data. And then we adjust and every two months we send new recommendations of here’s what we should do, here’s the direction we should take. So we’re constantly testing new approaches, and sometimes these things work, sometimes they don’t work so well so we try something else.

Our goal basically is to help our clients meet their goals – whatever these goals are – to grow the audience, generate leads, etc.  

Andy: Before we get into the KPIs, I want to ask, when you’re adjusting/testing/learning and making all these changes, is that primarily to the topics that you’re covering, is it to the way you’re presenting it, what sort of adjustments are you usually making?   

Pawel: Primarily topics.

Andy: Ok.

Pawel: Primarily topics. Also format. So types of headlines that work for one audience might not necessarily work in another. And we constantly improve emails, we also send emails on behalf of our clients. We generate leads to action, approaches to action, lead generation. So this is a whole bunch of stuff to watch and processes that you can optimize, but it all starts with topics, of course.

We kind of work in two ways with clients. We have two monthly packages. In one we focus on  growing the audience, there’s no lead generation involved. And the other adds that lead generation element where we also create lead magnets and calls to action to optimize, etc.  We optimize those calls to action for the highest conversions, etc.

Andy: Interesting. And I think that actually transitions pretty well into your next step, which is how do you actually measure it. What do you need to do to make sure that you're actually getting the results? Because you can say you’re testing, but if you don’t have a way to know it’s working or not, you actually can’t really learn. So how do you define KPIs to actually measure results?

Pawel: KPIs stats basically depend on your goals. If you want to grow traffic – which many self startups in the early stages focus on – so then you’re looking at overall traffic growth month to month, unique page views, engagement – like social sharing, comments – etc. So this is the basic stuff.

Then when you get to leads, of course you measure the number of leads. But we also look at form impressions, conversions in total, and conversions per form or per call to action, conversion rate, etc. The number of leads is one thing, and it’s a fantastic metric. Today we’re recording and it’s the first of December, I actually just finished sending my monthly reports to clients. It’s a great feeling when you send a report and day how many leads we generated for you this month. But for us that’s not the only indication of success or indication that we’re going in the right direction.

So form impression, how many people have seen the form. If you’re using the in text calls to action or content upgrades, then we also look at clicks on the call to action that display the popup with the form and the opt in. That basically tells us that our call to action may have worked, but the next step didn’t etc.

Andy: Right. Because you could be generating a ton of leads, but if that sites getting a lot of traffic, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re getting as many leads as possible if your CTAs are not optimized.

Pawel: Exactly. So again, these are the metrics when it comes to lead generation. Of course we track emails, we send email blasts notifying our client’s lists about every new content that we create for them. So we look at their standard email metrics, list send, list growth, open rate, conversion rate. So this is what we normally look at, and then there are some things we normally do to also help with actual traffic to user conversions.

So for example we create calls to action and then content for clients. So during the initial strategy  planning and revisions, we try to map as close as possible topics to the buying cycle for people that would be interested in this topic, and then match the call to action to that. So that comes down to lead magnets that we create, but also those calls to action that could potentially generate action sign ups. And so we also measure the success of these strategies.

Andy: Interesting.

Pawel: There’s a whole lot of stuff to look at.

Andy: There really is. And that’s the thing, it’s like so many variables involved and so much to do that oftentimes it's easier to just not look at any of it. And that’s one of the other big problems I see is that a lot of startups are doing content marketing and doing the work, but they don’t really know if it’s actually working.    

Pawel: It is kind of scary to look at. Like you said, my report to clients could say that we generated so many leads, but when you actually look at the conversion rates, there’s nothing. So there's a problem somewhere.

So it is frightening – even for us – this is the moment of truth. That’s the beauty of content marketing and digital marketing in general, you have all this data. It is frightening to look at it because it tells you the truth about what you’ve been doing. But hey, that’s how you learn.  

Andy: Exactly. So I want to talk a little bit about the content itself. Are you focused primarily on blog content?

Pawel: Yes. Blogs and content upgrades and obviously emails. When we email our client lists about any new content, we write custom emails for that.   

Andy: And for listeners who aren’t familiar, what exactly is a content upgrade?

Pawel: A content upgrade is an additional material – typically in the form of a PDF document – that, as it’s name suggests, upgrades or enhances the content of the post. So it’s a lead magnet, you use it to generate leads. Typically readers and visitors have to submit at least their email or name and email in order to get it.

You could refer to them as ebook, but there is a main difference between what we traditionally understand as ebooks and content upgrades. Ebooks work universally on the website, so you can create little calls to action anywhere, from any blog post, even loosely related to that topic. Content upgrades work only with the content they expand. The usual format for content upgrades are checklists, additional advice not included in the post, or even a PDF version of the post itself, results lists, etc.

Andy: So if I wrote a blog post on How To Launch A Podcast, the content upgrade could be something like a PDF of a checklist of all the things you need to make sure you have in place before you launch your podcast.

Pawel: Exactly, that’s exactly what it is. So then anybody who’s interested in launching a podcast go in and read your content, and at the end you say here is a checklist if you want to go and do it so you’ll never miss a thing. And that’s it. They click on it and they can type in their email and download the checklist, etc.

Andy: So what is your philosophy on the content itself? I know there’s the skyscraper technique and all these different strategies where it’s these 10,000 word megaposts that have everything possible inside of them. How do you think about content, what do you think the user actually wants?

Pawel: What they want is actionable advice. I don’t subscribe to the theory “ten times content”, whatever other theories there are. I believe the content should answer specific questions that your potential users have. That’s it.

I was recently talking to Benji Hyam from Grow and Convert on my podcast, and we were talking about the same thing. And I said that one of the thing that drives you nuts is the discussion about the content length. And SEO aside, I’m sure there is a valid argument there. Your content should basically be as long as it takes to answer a question. We were discussing how you could actually write technically 5,000 words just answering the questions, “what time is it?” Technically, you could.

Andy: Because you could cover all of the time zones.

Pawel: You can say the time zones, the impact of time zones on your perception of time, the history of time, the clocks, whatever. But would it really provide value to your audience, that 5,000 word long post? No, it wouldn’t. Be specific, find out what specific question your audience wants you to answer, and do that. If it takes 3,000 words to do it, then write 3,000 words. If it takes 1,000 words to do it, then use 1,000 words.   

We recently launched a new content section on our website, a Q&A.  It’s just a small section where we answered most common curated questions we hear. Every so often these answers are 200 words long. But right now this is the most shared section of our website. The engagement is incredible so I get tweets from people saying it’s fantastic and provided them with all the information they wanted.   

Andy: It does what is says on the tin.

Pawel: It does what it says on the tin, and these posts are probably 200 words long, that’s it. It just goes straight to the point. It’s a very specific question and this is the answer. That’s it.

Andy: It’s something that when people get so caught up in SEO with these little checklists of what they need to do.

Pawel: And this stuff is important, don’t get me wrong.

Andy: It is important, but at the end of the day you need to answer what the user is asking.

Pawel: You need to answer and you need to find out that specific question, that’s the key. Once you find out the specific question, answer it and that’s it, and you have perfect content. If you try to extend it, it just doesn't work. So that’s my philosophy, answer the specific questions and your users are going to love you for it.  

Andy: Exactly. It’s always just put the user first and actually think about what they want. Not just think about, but figure out what they actually do want.

So what I want to talk about now is what I feel like a lot of times is the missing step of content marketing, and that’s actually promoting the content. Because you can write a great post and put it up, “but if the tree falls and there’s no one there to hear it” thing, it’s like it no one reads it it doesn’t matter how great your content is. So how do you actually promote that content? I feel like it’s something that we talk about, but no one really knows what it means. Do I just spam out a bunch of emails to influencers and ask them to tweet out this content.  

Pawel: No, I don’t think that would work, please don't do that. I’ll tell you what, there's one thing if it’s possible, we could link from the show notes to my presentation, it’s a talk I gave in September this year – the Digital Olympus event – about this very topic of making the content easier to promote or promoting the content. And here’s the thing, my premise for the talk was that everyone knows the “80/20 rule”, that we should spend 20% of our time creating the content and 80% promoting it, but not many people actually consider what they do during those 80%.

And here’s what happens, usually when you put out a new piece of content you have a checklist of things you normally do. So you schedule the social media updates – we schedule updates for us to 30-45 days, we set up a whole sequence of tweets, LinkedIn updates – and it just goes one step where the sequence kicks in and it goes live. So you email the list, and we do that, too. You post the content to Inbound, Growth Hackers, whatever the community side is, you share it on LinkedIn groups, etc. But if you look at all these things, you’ll realize they don’t take up the entire 80% of your time.

So what happens after you exhaust that list, for the remainder of the time, many marketers just start frantically looking for other ways to promote the content. So they exhaust the list and it’s great, perhaps it brought some traffic, but they know they need to do more. Basically use every automated program and look for new ways to promote it.

What we do is we plan the promotion before we create the content, so what we believe in is that it shouldn’t be create the content and then figure out the way to promote it. But plan the promotion, create the content by embedding whatever you have for your promotion strategy into the content, then launch the promotional strategy. By then, everything’s easier.  

Andy: When you say, “embedding it in the content”, what do you mean?

Pawel: So I’ll give you an example, the influencer marketing example. Everybody is talking about influencer marketing. Very often the way it works for people is that they publish content and then they look for anybody who could be interested in this article and send them an email. I get these emails all the time, and usually I ignore this stuff because it’s not relevant. First of all, it looks automated straight away and I’ve probably never even visited the site, it’s just automated software that does it. Maybe it works for some people, I just don’t believe in this approach.

What we do is – and in the video you’ll be able to see the whole process – but just to kind of give you a very quick idea in terms of influencer marketing, we find people who said something valuable in the topic, provided value, we reference them/quote them/include them in the content in a very specific way. Again, you can watch the video to find how we do it.  

Andy: I’m just going to link that up in the show notes.

Pawel: And then we email them saying, “Hey, we referenced you, etc”, more like to notify them and ask if they’d be willing to share the content. And that works great for some of our clients. We don’t include more than 3 people in a post, it’s really in the copy so you explain something and maybe you use another expert’s words to validate your point, etc. But that’s how we use it. And then we ask them to share, and most people see we referenced them as an expert, so they’d be delighted to help.

Dave Gerhardt from Drift – I interviewed him for one of my podcast episodes, he used another strategy where he would take a step back and first email the person saying he found this quote and writing a post, would it be ok to use this. So almost like asking for permission. Then once the person replied “yes”, he included them in the content or let them know about the content then and asked for shares. It’s almost like he prepares the person for what’s going to happen. That’s a great strategy, too.

There are other ways we embed promotion in the content. As I said, it’s all in the video, so maybe we’ll link to that.

Andy: Yeah, I'll link to that. We don’t need to rehash it all here, but the point stands though, that without a string promotion strategy, it’s going to be really hard for your content to succeed. And just kind of putting it up on Twitter or Facebook or LinkedIn, or Reddit or wherever, that’s good you should do that. But that’s not enough.

Pawel: That’s not enough today, no. You have to go beyond that. So these are the basics, the email list and etc. These strategies work and don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying no. So that, but plan something else, plan some other ways you’re going to promote the content, before you do the content. Because then you can actually create the content with those strategies in mind, and it will be just so much easier to promote it.

Andy: I love that, and I really like that you actually interviewed Dave, I actually interviewed him for the episode before this. But I love that tip that he gave you – it’s almost like an 80/20 in itself – the only people that you’re going to be including in the article are people who are already aware of the article and are much more likely to share it. So you don't’ really waste that reference.

Pawel: Exactly.

Andy: That’s really smart. So what I’m curious about is to wrap it all together. We talked a little bit before about the content upgrades. But I wanted to give a few more words about how to actually turn this traffic into customers The content upgrades are how you get the email address from them, And then what do you usually do, is that where you hand it over to the startup themselves and let their sales team do it, do you set up email sequences, how do you handle it once they’ve given over their email address?  

Pawel: We generally hand the process over to the startups. But there are some strategies you could use, and drip campaigns. That’s the first thing. These are great strategies. So an email sequence, as you mentioned, creating an email sequence and sending custom emails, curated emails, etc.

The most important thing – and this is what I’ve noticed many SaaS startups skip or omit – is the final conversion step. So many startups are actually quite good at nurturing the lead, but not as good as converting them to the final user. So almost like if you leave it to the person to go thru the sequence and say they love the sequence so much they’ll go sign up.  

Andy: They don’t make that call to action explicit, they don’t say, “you should sign up”.

Pawel: But I think sometimes users need a little push. And again, it depends on your software. LIke if you’re selling software at 5 quid/month, there is no point really in involving any salespeople. But if you have higher packages, it’s good to maybe create a resource that you’re going to promote to your list. And to obtain that resource they would have to fill in a much longer form providing details that would qualify the person as either sales ready yet or not.      

Drift has a great way of doing it. If you want their ebooks, you have to sign up for their email. There’s along for that you have to fill in, so they qualify you, and I’m sure if you pass certain criteria your name goes to a sales rep. So it’s important to create something like that, some strategy, that’s going to convert users. So don’t just say, “sign up here, sign up here”.

Another thing is of course for smaller software startups is to include calls to action and even emails outlining the benefits of signing up for the smaller plan in the sequence. There’s a lot of things you can do, but the point is to remember about it. Don’t just create content or curated newsletter and almost hope that these subscribers are going to come to your site and convert. No.    

Andy: Don’t leave it to chance.

Pawel: Don’t leave it to chance, encourage it, of course map it to your product, your pricing plans, but create your strategy to actually encourage them to sign up.  

Andy: No, that’s great. Pawel, this was an awesome crash course in content marketing, so I really appreciate that.

Pawel: Thanks very much.

Andy: Before I say goodbye, I want to ask, if listeners want to hear more from you about how you can help other startups with their content marketing, where should they go?

Pawel: Well, our website is usermagnet.io, and there is this good number of bit of content there. And of course you can learn about us and you can check our Q&A’s. The podcast is another place, I host a how called The SaaS Content Marketing Show, the name says it all. So twice a month I interview SaaS founders and SaaS marketers about specific strategies they’ve used to grow their company’s content strategies, of course. So I interviewed Dave from Drift, I interviewed Benji Hyam from Grow and Convert, that show goes live soon. I interviewed Pierre-Michel at Growth Hacker, and many many fantastic people, so do check it out and listen. You can learn a ton from people like Ed Shelley at Chart Moguls, talking about using content to empower customer success, it was a fantastic episode. I talked to Hannah from Receptive about a fantastic strategy she’s using of posting the same content to different channels, and she’s achieved great results from it. So that’s another thing you could try. So you can find the show on iTunes, or you can just go to our site, usermagnet.io, and there’s a tab called “podcasts”, you can listen to the shoes there, too.     

Andy: It’s great, and it’s clear that you clearly practice what you preach. Because if you go to the site it’s not just a sales pitch to sign up for their services. If that’s what you want, it’s there of course, but you provide a ton of resources to help other SaaS marketers out there and other SaaS founders out there to create better content.

So honestly, anyone listening if content marketing is something you're curious about, I suggest heading over there. I’ll make sure to get all those resources linked up in the show notes. Pawel, I just want to say thanks again for coming on the show, I really appreciate it.

Pawel: Thanks, thanks very much Andy, thanks for having me.