Our Methodology: Creating Content That Drives Sales And Ranks Organically
Most SEO agencies take this approach to content creation:
- Find a topically relevant keyword with high volume, low difficulty.
- Send a brief for that keyword to a freelancer to write.
- Publish it and wait.
This process usually does drive traffic. And most agencies will happily show you that traffic for these relevant keywords is steadily growing.
However, it rarely produces conversions, and after several months of working with the agency, many clients churn because they don’t actually see an ROI from their SEO/content marketing efforts.
There are a few reasons why this process doesn’t work:
- Optimizing for traffic volume targets awareness stage buyers: As most agencies report on traffic, they typically prioritize high volume keywords over high purchase intent keywords. As there are naturally more people in the awareness stage than in the purchase decision stage, higher volume keywords often correlate with lower purchase intent. As a result, your posts typically didn’t drive conversions.
- Blog posts are written by freelancers and lack subject matter expertise: People don’t buy your product just because they landed on your website. They only buy if you can communicate how your product solves their problem. Unfortunately, you can’t expect a freelancer to accurately articulate your customer’s pain points (which they’ve never experienced) and then demonstrate how your product solves those problems better/cheaper/faster than the competition (especially if they’ve never demoed the product).
- Aging blog posts decay, lose rankings, and eventually contribute to bloat: If you don’t update your content, you’ll lose rankings for those critical keywords. It also negatively impacts the rest of your new content because it pulls down the average engagement of your blog posts, which is a negative signal to search engines. As a result, websites with many blog posts with poor engagement have a hard time ranking new content.
- Some posts rank, and other posts fail. Sure, you might have some blog posts that rank well, but there are probably plenty of others that aren’t ranking. While we can’t promise rankings, many posts fail because the website lacks the topical authority for specific keywords.
I built my Three Pillar process to fix these problems, and it has consistently helped SaaS companies drive revenue from their SEO efforts – not just traffic.
In fact, I used this method to drive 22% of eWebinar’s total revenue. I also used it to 5x Exploding Topics’ pipeline revenue from organic blog traffic.
In this post, I’ll describe how my Three Pillar strategy solves these problems and how I execute it for clients.
Here are the three pillars:
- Target high purchase intent keywords with subject matter expert content.
- Refresh high value content and prune irrelevant content.
- Build topical authority (if the website struggles to rank for critical keywords).
Let’s jump into it.
Pillar #1: Produce Expert-Level Content For High Purchase Intent Keywords
There are naturally more people at the top of the funnel in the awareness stages than at the bottom of the funnel in the purchase decision stage.
So prioritizing keywords exclusively based on monthly search volume often means you’re targeting people higher in the awareness stages.
As a result, you probably won’t see many conversions from these blog posts simply because these readers aren’t in the purchase decision stage yet.
Unfortunately, any agency reporting on traffic is incentivized to drive these awareness-stage readers who aren’t yet ready to buy.
Sure, you can nurture awareness stage prospects and bring them down to the purchase decision stage. Still, it’s a lot cheaper to simply target and convert people who have already made it to the purchase decision stage, as they require less nurturing/education and therefore are cheaper and faster to close.
To drive home this point, check out the conversion stats from a client I worked with last month.
You can see that blog posts targeting bottom of the funnel (high purchase intent) keywords drove 92% of the 56 first-touch conversions:
It’s also worth noting that many of these bottom of the funnel keywords had less than 20 monthly searches, further proving the theory that traffic doesn’t always correlate with conversions.
Benji Hyam of Grow and Convert introduced me to this concept of reporting on conversions rather than traffic.
He came on a podcast I used to host and explained how they use pain point SEO to write content about the pain points the SaaS product solves and then work backward to match a keyword to that pain point.
I eventually signed up for their course, where they teach members how to execute their exact process. I still think they have a great process, so I’ve adopted a modified version of it for my own client work. Here’s a brief overview of the process I use today:
- Customer research
- Identify pain point or product focused keywords
- Interview an expert
- Write the postTrack conversions
Below, we’ll discuss each of these steps in more detail below.
Customer Research – Identifying Pain Points Your Product Solves
People won’t buy your product just because they landed on your website.
They’ll only convert into customers if they understand that your product solves the problem they’re researching.
This means that to drive conversions, you need to:
- Attract prospects that a.) have the problem your product solves and b.) are willing to spend money to solve it.
- Show those prospects how your product solves their problem better, cheaper, and faster than the competition.
Most content marketing agencies have a basic understanding of the problems that their customers face, but they don’t understand the product or customers well enough to understand why they choose your product over the competitors.
For example, I worked with an accounting software company that had a unique feature that made it super easy for multi-entity companies to automatically consolidate all of their entities. So even though there are tens, if not hundreds, of accounting software solutions, the best customers were CFOs of multi-entity companies that were currently using spreadsheets to manually consolidate multiple entities.
So instead of creating content for generic keywords like “how to close the books” or “best accounting software” (keywords a small biz CFO might search for) we went after much more specific keywords like “best multi-entity accounting software” and “how to account for multiple entities,” as that’s the main pain point/feature CFOs purchase our accounting software to solve.
However, without a thorough understanding of the product and the customer, we probably would have targeted generic accounting keywords and attracted small business CFOs who aren’t a good fit for the product.
To uncover these insights, here are some questions we interview the customer success and sales teams to understand:
Once we understand who the ideal customer is, we dive into the product and how it solves those pain points by asking these questions:
We also do a full product demo and ask to see case studies to fully understand its value.
Once we have this information, it becomes much easier to both identify the highest value keywords and craft a blog post showing how your product solves the ideal customer’s specific pain point.
Identifying High Purchase Intent Keywords
There are two main types of high-purchase intent keywords:
- Product focused keywords
- Pain point focused keywords
Product focused keywords convert well because these searchers are already solution aware and actively looking to purchase a product like yours. This means they’ll close quickly.
Here are the product focused keyword frameworks:
- Competitor Comparison Posts (Example: Freshbooks vs Quickbooks)
- Competitor Alternative Posts (Example: Freshbooks alternatives)
- “Automation” Keywords (Example: Automated Twitter scheduler)
- “Best” List Posts or product-focused posts (Example: Best CRM Software or just CRM Software)
This was a strategy that we took with Upcoach, a coaching platform we worked with, and these keywords made up the majority of the blog’s total conversions:
During the customer research process, we also discovered that most people were just using an assortment of different apps tied together with Zapier to run their coaching programs, so we also created blog posts for keywords like “best coaching apps,” and even individual tools they may be using like “coaching CRMs.”
These also turned out to be some of our highest converting keywords, because we could show searchers looking for various apps that they actually don’t need to buy any of the apps if they just use our all-in-one coaching platform.
Here are a few examples of posts we’ve written using these product-focused formulas:
- The 6 Best Executive Coaching Software Platforms
- The 6 Best CRMs For Coaches
- ClassTag Connect vs Blackboard: Which is Best For Family Engagement and Communication?
Pain point keywords can be a little trickier to identify as there isn’t really a set formula for these keywords.
However, there is a process you can use to identify them.
I call it Reverse Keyword Research.
Most people start the keyword research process by opening a keyword research tool, finding a list of topically relevant keywords, and then selecting the one with the highest volume and lowest difficulty.
The problem with this is that you often end up targeting keywords with high volume that are topically relevant but have very little purchase intent.
Instead, the Reverse Keyword Research process begins with analyzing customer research notes.
To get started, identify the most common pain point your highest value customers face that your product solves.
Then, Google a variation of that pain point.
For example, going back to the accounting software I worked with, its key differentiator was that it made it super easy for companies to automatically consolidate all of their entities. So I started with the pain point “how to automate accounting for multiple entities.”
As you can see, this phrase has zero search volume.
So to find a keyword to match the pain point, I’ll click on the top ranking post and see what keywords it ranks for.
Sure enough, there is a closely related keyword (“accounting for multiple entities”):
I would then repeat this process for all the top pain points that VIP customers purchase the product to solve.
Interview A Subject-Matter Expert
You can rank in search engines by hiring a writer to search around on Google, compile an article that’s more detailed than everything that currently exists in the SERPs, and then hope that your domain authority is higher.
But if your goal is to convert blog post readers, you’ll need to craft a blog post that:
- Resonates with your ideal prospect’s key pain points.
- Demonstrates how your product solves those pain points (ideally, better/cheaper/faster than competitors).
- Emphasizes the benefits of life with the product and shows case studies and proof of how it has helped others like them solve the same pain points.
Unfortunately, you can’t really expect a freelance writer to magically know the intricate details of your VIP customers’ pain points, how your product solves them, and how it’s different from all the other products on the market.
To solve this problem, we interview experts on your team (e.g., sales, product developers, customer success, etc.) for each keyword we select.
During these interviews, we present the keyword and ask about:
- The pain points this specific searcher might be experiencing (and misconceptions they may have regarding the topic)
- An overview of how the product solves these problems
- Specific case studies to support the argument
- The main benefits of using the product to solve these problems
This may sound similar to the customer research interviews we did at the beginning of the engagement, but those interviews tend to be much broader. These interviews are specific to a single keyword and help us accurately position the product as a solution to that searcher’s problem.
You’ll see how we now take the call recording and turn it into a blog post.
The Writing Process
Once the interview is complete, the freelance writer essentially acts as a journalist and uses the call recording to craft a blog post that (loosely) follows this structure:
- Open with the searcher’s pain point and the issues associated with how this problem is traditionally solved.
- Introduce the product as the solution and provide an overview of how it solves the problem, why it’s different from competitors, etc.
- Highlight the benefits of the product.
(Notice that this follows the interview structure I outlined above?)
Let’s walk through an example of how we created a blog post for a pain point keyword.
Example of Writing For a Pain Point Keyword
When I was working with SoftLedger, a key pain point the product solves (and a key differentiator) is its subsidiary accounting consolidation automation feature.
So we targeted the keyword “subsidiary accounting.”
The blog post opens by showing the reader how to manually execute the subsidiary accounting process and we highlight the pain points with this traditional process:
Then, we introduce our product as a solution and provide a product walkthrough showing how our software automates the process:
Again, we show how it automates the process:
Finally, we highlight the benefits of automating the process with our product (improved data accuracy and time savings):
Again, we gathered all of this information on the expert interview call with the SoftLedger team. They told us about the specific pain points, how the product works, and its benefits (according to case studies and talking to customers).
As you can see, it’s a no-brainer for an accountant with multiple subsidiaries to purchase this software because the article clearly demonstrates how the tool will save them time and give them peace of mind that they’re working with accurate data.
This is why our content converts so well.
Example of Writing For a List of Tools/Software
In the example above, I’m comparing our tool to a manual process, so I don’t really dive into why it’s better than other software that offers subsidiary accounting (And, we discovered during customer research that most people aren’t even considering other competing software).
However, if the search intent is a list post of different tools, you’ll probably have to mention your competitors to be able to rank for the keyword.
In these cases where your readers are actively comparing your product to competitors, the key to winning conversions is to highlight your product’s key differentiators and the specific pain points those differentiators solve.
Given that those key differentiators are unique to our product, this argument structure makes it a no-brainer for our ideal customers with those pain points to convert as the competitors’ products will always pale in comparison to our product’s differentiators.
Then, I highlight the aspects of the other tools that would attract customers that are a poor fit for our product.
Let me give you an example of this in action.
I worked with the trend discovery tool, Exploding Topics, and one of the blog posts we created for them was “find trending topics.” A quick look in the SERPs showed that the search intent is a list post, so we knew we’d have to mention competitors.
So we started with it’s three key differentiators:
- Easy to use
- High data quality
Then, I opened the article by discussing the pain points associated with each of those differentiators:
Then, in the Exploding Topics section, I explain how it solves each of these pain points by discussing its key differentiators. For example, you can see below that, rather than just saying it has great data, I explain exactly how Exploding Topics collects its data and how it’s different from most traditional trend discovery tools’ data.
I also explain how we ensure trends are relevant to business professionals and the benefit (you don’t have to manually sift through irrelevant topics):
For each of the competing tools, I discuss how they approach solving those same pain points linked to the Exploding Topics differentiators (data quality, ease-of-use, etc.).
Given that those pain points are key differentiators of Exploding Topics, the competitor’s products will naturally pale in comparison (at least, for our ideal customer) and I don’t have to be biased. For example, here’s how I showed how one competitor, Trend Hunter, collects its trend data:
This information (how Trend Hunter collects trend data) is genuinely useful for people looking for different trend solutions, though it also makes Exploding Topics a no-brainer for our ideal audience. The best part is that I don’t even have to be biased.
You’ll also notice that I highlight how other tools are ideal for people who are poor customers for Exploding Topics.
For example, I highlight that BuzzSumo is great if you’re trying to find current, hot trending topics.
Our ideal customer wants to find under-the-radar trends suggestions, so highlighting this aspect of BuzzSumo helps readers who aren’t our ideal customer find a better alternative solution and helps our ideal customers realize that our product is the best fit for them:
Therefore, the key to creating list posts that are useful to the reader and still convert is highlighting the product’s differentiators and the pain points it solves and then demonstrating how other products approach solving the same pain points.
It’s also helpful to highlight the characteristics of other products that are positive signals for poor-fit customers.
Pillar #2: Consistently Refresh High Value Blog Posts
A common misconception is that having more blog posts will bring more traffic and conversions.
However, the opposite is often true.
One way search engines gauge the authority of your website is by looking at the average engagement/traffic the content on your website receives. So if you have a library of hundreds of old blog posts with low engagement, that content actually pulls down your website’s average engagement.
As a result, your website will be viewed as less authoritative and it will actually be more difficult to rank your new content.
So one way to improve the authority of your website and your overall rankings is to update content targeting your most valuable keywords and prune or 301 redirect content that receives low traffic and engagement.
Here’s a screenshot of a social media management SaaS client we worked with that had a lot of content on the website that was old and outdated.
We updated and pruned a lot of the content, and despite maintaining the same publishing schedule, their average rankings increased and new content began to rank faster. As a result, their traffic (for relevant, high-purchase intent keywords) took off:
I also wrote a case study for Single Grain showing how I helped them nearly double traffic (from roughly 9k to 18k monthly visits) to 42 of their existing posts by simply updating them:
So there are two steps to this process. First, you need to decide if you should update a post or 301 redirect it. Then, you need to decide if it’s a high priority or a low priority to update.
Here’s the decision flow that I use:
Once I’ve sorted the blog posts into the following categories, I triage the high priority updates by looking at:
- The number of conversions the post has produced in the past (and the value of those conversions)
- Where it ranks in the SERPs for the main keyword we’re targeting
A study by Backlinko showed that the top ranking post in the SERPs generate nearly double the clicks as the second ranking post. So if you already have a post that’s converting well, you can double conversions just by increasing its position one spot in the SERPs.
In addition, the good news is that it’s typically much easier to get a blog post to rise one spot in the SERPs than it is to create, publish, and rank an entirely new blog post.
So I would estimate:
- About how many more conversions we could generate by increasing the traffic to the post by increasing its rankings in the SERPs. I estimate this based on how much traffic the top ranking post generates. I’d also factor in the average value of those conversions.
- The feasibility of moving it up in the rankings (based on links/authority/content quality of top ranking posts and how far down in the rankings we currently are).
Note: I mentioned earlier that increasing traffic isn’t a great metric, though the caveat here is that we’ve already discovered that traffic from these keywords converts. So increasing traffic that has already proven to be high-converting is valuable.
For example, if I was working with a sales call recording platform like Gong, this post would probably be my highest priority to update:
The reason why it would be my top priority to update is because:
- The keyword has high purchase intent and fits well with the tool’s use case, so I’m assuming it would convert well (though if I was actually working with them, I’d check the exact conversion rate).
- The feasibility of it climbing the SERPs is quite high as it’s already within striking distance (ranked 6th) and the top ranking posts are of comparable domain authority and have a similar number of linking domains:
Getting past Capterra might be difficult, but you’ll see that even just boosting it into the third position would allow it to see substantial traffic gains. The current Grain post in the third position generates 238 monthly visits whereas the Gong post in the sixth position generates only 52 monthly visits.
So even just that small boost in rankings could yield a traffic boost of roughly 4.5X which would ultimately 4.5X conversions as well.
For example, if the post currently converts at 4%, you’re generating just 2 conversions per month with 52 monthly visits. However, if you increase that right-fit traffic by 4.5X, you’ll generate roughly 9.5 conversions per month.
If each of those conversions is valued at $1,000, you will have just increased your total revenue by roughly $7,500 per month – just by updating that post and increasing its rankings to the third position in the SERPs.
If that was too much math, this graphic should help you visualize how updating posts can dramatically increase total conversions:
Now let’s imagine each conversion is worth $100. Now you can see the ROI of increasing a post even just a few percentage points:
So how do I go about actually updating each post?
I usually update posts using the exact same steps in Pillar #1.
As these are high value keywords, I’m also trying to increase the post’s conversion rate in addition to its SERP rankings. So using the same tried and true method just makes sense.
However, I’ll also do detailed SERP analysis to try to understand specifically what it’s lacking that the top ranking posts in Google include. I wrote an article on content refreshing on Ahrefs, so I encourage you to read that for more detailed information on what I’m looking for when analyzing the SERPs and improving conversions.
- However, here are a few of the bullet points:
- Update outdated information
- Add actionable advice/cut irrelevant detail
- Improve the user experience (add charts, add sticky TOC, etc.)
- Improve searcher intent (in terms of reader’s pain point relevancy/knowledge level and post style)
- Improve final optimizations (optimize for Clearscope, add internal links, improve title, etc.)
Pillar #3: Improve Topical Authority
For many established websites that I work with, the blog posts rank almost immediately for the desired keywords.
However, if you’re a brand new website or have low authority within your niche, you’ll find it very difficult to rank for the desired keywords. Unfortunately, if the website doesn’t rank, it won’t drive any conversions.
Therefore, this third pillar is exclusively for websites that are struggling to rank for the desired keywords due to low topical authority.
So how do you build topical authority?
The two main factors are backlinks and topical coverage (how much content do you have covering the topic).
Let’s first discuss the link problem.
Getting links from other websites is tricky.
Unless you have a statistic, data, or philosophy that other people want to reference, they don’t have any reason to link to your website.
I know that a lot of people invest in manual link building, but I have a few problems with it.
First, it’s not very scalable. You only earn a link when someone responds positively to your email pitch asking for a link and most response rates are around 1-2%. So if you have a 2% acceptance rate, you’re sending at least 50 emails to get one yes. That’s a lot of emails and wasted time.
Secondly, it’s super expensive. Ahrefs did a study back in 2018 that found the average price of a link is just over $360! If you want to get a link from a DA 50+ website, the average price is just over $600!
In addition, the links you build can be removed at any time (in fact, they probably will be removed in about five or more years if your content isn’t updated).
Finally, buying links is against Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. While plenty of people still do it quite successfully, there’s always a risk.
So for all of those reasons, I’ve never really liked the idea of manual link building.
That said, you still need links to increase topical authority and rank for your desired keywords.
So instead of manually building links, I strive to attract links by creating statistics pages optimized to rank for journalistic keywords.
Basically, if someone is writing a piece and needs data to support their argument, they’ll usually Google a statistic.
For example, they might search “how many people use Facebook?” Then, they’ll link to that post with the answer to that statistic and link to it. As you can see, the top ranking post for this journalistic search has over 300 referring domains (many of which are specifically for this search term):
This is a strategy Brian Dean coined, and I’ve been using it with great success with my own clients.
I start by looking for different journalistic keywords and then create a statistics post that’s optimized to answer those questions. For example, you can see that I optimized the following statistics page for various journalistic keywords:
You’ll also see that the post has picked up quite a few links from high quality domains (followed links from DR 60 and 80+):
I wrote an entire post on the Search Engine Journal detailing exactly how I optimize statistics pages to attract links as there are a few other strategies I use.
However, links aren’t the only way to build topical authority.
Search engines also want to see that you specialize in the topic you’re targeting.
For example, if 90% of your content discusses cats, it won’t trust that you’re an authority on iPhones, and therefore won’t rank you for keywords about iPhones. However, you probably will rank for keywords about cats because that subject is clearly your area of expertise
So while I primarily focus on targeting bottom of funnel keywords for more established websites, it often makes sense to help brand new websites or those with low topical authority to build content for low difficulty, high volume, topically relevant keywords.
The reason being that most bottom of funnel keywords are much higher in difficulty and search engines want to see that you cover an entire topic rather than just fragmented aspects of it.
Once Google starts ranking you for low difficulty keywords, sees that you have content for all aspects of a specific topic, and users enjoy the content (i.e., you have high time on page scores), you’ll earn more topical authority and begin to rank for more difficult bottom of funnel, high purchase intent keywords.
This is the strategy I used for an accounting software client that had a brand new website. As you can see, their traffic increased significantly over time, but more importantly, their rankings for high purchase intent content also increased:
In the early days, we focused exclusively on bottom of the funnel content (e.g., “accounting software for banks”), though this didn’t rank for a very long time.
So we targeted various middle of funnel keywords with high search volume and low difficulty. These were also somewhat pain point keywords as our software automated many of these processes (like intercompany reconciliations, revaluation of foreign currency).
As these posts began to rank, Google saw positive user engagement signals that boosted the website’s topical authority. These pages also began to earn links which further increased the website’s authority.
As a result, Google began ranking our bottom of funnel keywords, like “bank accounting software,” “financial consolidation software,” and “multi currency accounting software.”
In fact, you can see that it’s outranking a DR 87 competitor for the term “venture capital accounting software.”
It also began ranking more pain point related keywords like “accounting for multiple entities,” (which is a key differentiator our software is uniquely positioned to solve) and “eliminating intercompany transactions” (another process our software automates).
However, it wasn’t until we started covering various other topics in accounting (rather than just “best accounting software for X”) that Google began to view the website as an authority in the accounting space and began to rank the bottom of funnel blog posts.
So while most of the content we write is targeted at driving conversions, newer websites with very little topical authority will need to cover more than just bottom of funnel content to be viewed as an authority in the space and begin ranking for high purchase intent keywords.
Want Me To Do Your Content Marketing?
If you’d rather have me do content marketing for you, feel free to reach out and we can see if it’s a good fit.
Otherwise, you can sign up for my email list and I’ll give you detailed, step-by-step instructions to help you execute the entire content marketing process outlined here yourself.3