Why do you create content?
Most marketers will say they’re doing it to:
- build brand and market their business
- attract their target customers
- generate leads organically
You’re probably creating content for the same reasons. But are you seeing results that are worth the investment you’re putting in?
In this article, you’ll see the type of content that attracts:
- 5,000+ product sign-ups per month for Databox
- over 500,000 potential customers per month for Asana
- 1,000,000+ potential customers per month for Zapier
Here’s the secret: they’re all using what we’ve internally termed “T-shaped content” (T-content).
Table of Contents
What is T-shaped content?
“T-shaped content” (T-content) is the term we’ve (internally) coined to describe any piece of content you create to help your business and audience at the same time — one side of the T helping your audience, and the other helping your business.
Before we go into how SaaS companies are using “T-shaped content” to drive results, let’s see how it’s different from the traditional, everyday type of content.
How is T-shaped content different from traditional content?
T-shaped content fulfills the original purpose of content marketing for any business; traditional content doesn’t.
Here’s what that means: the original purpose of content marketing is to drive value for businesses and their audiences at the same time.
But as we’ve all seen these past few years, that’s hardly what’s been happening.
For instance, most of the content we see on search engine result pages (SERPs) don’t deliver the goods they promise in their headlines.
In fact, I ran a small experiment to test my hypothesis by using a LinkedIn poll to ask my network what they think about the content they get through a Google search:
This is obviously not a comprehensive scientific study, but 46% of the ~70 responders said they were “somewhat satisfied” and 14% said they were “not satisfied at all” with the content they see on SERPs. This means most of the content or articles they see on SERPs didn’t entirely satisfy their intent for search.
This also means that the businesses creating the high-ranking articles these poll responders see are probably not getting satisfactory business results from them — because if their content doesn’t satisfy the searcher’s intent, they’re unlikely to follow any CTAs in the article or even engage with the business itself.
In the end, all that content is not fulfilling the original purpose of content marketing — it’s neither driving value for the businesses that create them nor the audience(s) they’re targeting.
This is how T-content is different from most traditional content pieces: it provides value for both your business and your audience without sacrificing one for the other. And that’s what content marketing is all about.
Now let’s get into how SaaS companies are driving big results by creating content that is truly T-shaped.
How B2B SaaS companies are driving BIG results with T-content
Databox — 5,000 product sign-ups per month
“We get 5k+ sign-ups per month for our free product, all from content marketing.”
That’s what Databox’s founder Peter Caputa shared when I asked him to describe what their ROI from content marketing looks like.
And when you see how the Databox team structures their content (I’ll show you a sample in a bit), you’ll understand that 5,000 sign-ups per month isn’t a surprising number.
They’re very intentional about making their content truly T-shaped, creating and optimizing their articles to educate and delight their readers while also making sure it drives product sign-ups.
Peter put it like this:
“We have two main types of content we produce: long-form blog posts that are very educational and high-intent product pages that feature something our product can do. To ensure this traffic converts, we often use calls-to-action in our blog posts to drive traffic to the high-intent pages. For example, here’s a blog post about SaaS growth rates that features a call-to-action that suggests the use of a free SaaS dashboard from us.”
It’s a powerful lead gen play — and we use it for our clients, too. For instance, we have a SaaS client in the solar industry whose product helps contractors determine the number of solar panels they can place on a roof.
We helped the client plan out an initial six-month content strategy focused on attracting target customers to the business. One of the articles we helped them create was about how to sell solar panels. We chose this topic because we knew the people searching for this information on Google were mostly solar contractors or solar marketing/sales people.
Plus, since they’re looking to learn how to sell more solar panels, they’ll likely need our client’s product since it’ll help them fulfill the same goal.
Of course, as a content agency, we aren’t solar experts ourselves. So, in order to create relevant content for this audience, we did thorough research, watched interviews by solar experts on this topic, and collaborated with the client’s internal experts, drawing from their industry experience to create content that’s relevant to solar contractors.
In terms of providing value for the business, we just needed to make sure we placed the product properly in the article.
So here’s what we did: We shared five guidelines for getting started with selling solar panels and once you’re about 30 to 50% into reading the article — which in this case is #4 of the five tips we wrote — we presented the readers with a CTA that told them how our client’s product could help them sell more solar panels (the same reason they’re reading the article). Here’s what it looks like:
And we do this with almost all their content where it’s possible.
The best part? We optimized their content to rank and drive organic search traffic — so that’s where most of the traffic to their content comes from, meaning their content is showing up just when potential customers (solar contractors) are looking for it. This particular article, for instance:
- has driven about 18,000 visitors in 5 months,
- organically drives ~1000 visits per month,
- has generated/influenced ~20 leads in the past six months;
See the screenshots of these results:
- 18,000 visitors in 5 months
- ~1000 organic visits per month
- ~20 leads in the past six months
To put this in perspective, if one T-shaped article has generated 20 leads in 6 months — all things being equal:
- five other articles like = 100 leads;
- twenty others like it = 400 leads;
- thirty posts like it = 600 leads;
and so on… you get the idea.
This is how your content works when it’s T-shaped, providing value for both your audience and business simultaneously. If you’d like us to help you do something similar with your content marketing, view our content services here.
Note on the different types of conversions in the screenshot above:
- First interaction conversions: People who first found your business through a blog article but converted on a non-blog page
- Linear interaction conversions: Visitors who read at least one of your articles somewhere along their journey to conversion
- Last interaction conversions: Visitors who convert into leads right from the blog article they’re reading.
Asana — attracting over 500k potential customers per month
Asana is one of the most popular project management software companies in the world right now. But not only are they crushing it in terms of the popularity of their product, they’re also doing amazing work with their blog content.
As of the time of this writing, over 500k potential Asana users read their blog every month.
You’ll notice I didn’t write “500k visitors.” Yes, that’s deliberate.
Because Asana isn’t just attracting half a million visitors to their site every month; they’re deliberately attracting potential customers.
And you’ll notice this in how they select their topics. They almost entirely focus on writing content that attracts their potential customers (project managers).
It’s a pristine example of a business that’s publishing content that is T-shaped. And in this case, what that means is their content is:
- educating people about project and team management
- helping Asana attract well over half a million potential customers per month while also promoting the product’s relevant features
This approach is very similar to the one we’ve taken with another SaaS client, to whom we’re attracting over 10,000 qualified visitors (i.e. potential customers) every month.
They’re selling software products for email marketing, website building, and marketing automation — so we’re simply using search-optimized content to attract people from search engines who are most likely in need of our client’s products to solve their problems or achieve their goals.
The result? 15,000 potential customers (and counting) per month.
But how do we know these folks are potential customers?
Because they’re actively looking for content on topics like the ones below:
- Top [product category] tools — AKA bottom of funnel content
- How to solve [a problem our client solves] — AKA middle of funnel content
- How to do [something our client’s product does] — AKA middle of funnel content
- What is [something our client helps with] — AKA top of funnel content
And by publishing content about these topics, we’re driving actual potential customers (product users) to them instead of just traffic. (Learn more about our content marketing services here.)
Zapier — pulling over 1 million potential customers every month
Zapier’s T-content approach is similar to what Asana and Databox are doing.
Like Asana, they intentionally create content that attracts their potential customers — and that’s typically SaaS product users (think email marketing software users, ecommerce software users, etc).
Zapier creates lots of content that appeals to this specific audience in order to draw them to the Zapier website:
And like Databox, Zapier actively pushes for product adoption in their content.
For example, in their article about URL shorteners, they have at least four non-intrusive “Try Zapier” CTAs that readers will see before they get to the bottom of the article.
The first trial sign-up CTA appears on their sidebar when the reader is about 30% into reading the content:
The second trial sign-up CTA appears right under the first URL shortener they recommended in the article:
Their third CTA shows up on the right side of the screen. It’s non-obstructive and clearly communicates a tangible benefit for the reader.
Then there’s a fourth sign up CTA, which shows up when readers scroll about 70% into any blog post. And this time, it comes with a testimonial:
But here’s the kicker: They share ten URL shortener apps in the article, and in each one, they show a CTA that explains how readers can use Zapier with the app they’re reading about.
This way, their product gets exposed to the 1,000,000+ people who visit their blog every month. They’re not only providing education about the SaaS products their readers need, but also driving awareness and demand for their product.
No wonder they hit 3 million users just seven years after their launch.
It’s not uncommon to experience this type of growth when your content exposes your product to bring in hundreds of thousands of potential customers who visit your site every month.
(Author’s note: Get the good stuff below…)
Product-led vs T-content: Any difference?
Product-led content is essentially any type of content you create to promote your product.
T-content, on the other hand, is the type of content you create to achieve any goal(s) you have.
Or, to put it another way, with product-led content, you have two key objectives:
- Create value for the reader
- Promote your product
But with T-content, your objectives are slightly different:
- Provide value for the reader
- Provide value for your business (i.e., product awareness, leads, thought leadership, etc)
This means product-led content almost always helps to drive awareness/leads for your business. And that’s awesome.
But T-content comes with more flexibility; it is content created to suit the different goals you’re targeting at any given time.
It’s a mindset shift from “We want to create content that promotes our product” to “We want to create content that helps us hit the varying goals we have — whether that’s establishing ourselves as industry experts, getting more relevant traffic, or generating leads.”
This means creating different types of content for different goals. For instance, in my examples above, Databox, Asana, and Zapier are all publishing T-content for their business, but they each serve a different purpose.
With Asana, their content isn’t necessarily focused on the product, but on the audience. For instance, they have articles about OKRs, CPMs, and project proposals. These aren’t really product-focused topics for Asana, but they’re audience-focused. They help the brand attract their target audience (project managers).
But with Databox, they’re more product-focused in their content, actively selling their product where it’s relevant within their blog posts.
Zapier takes a similar approach to both Databox and Asana: they produce content that’s focused on their audience and product.
Bottom line: T-shaped content has a broader focus than product-led content. It’s any content piece that delivers value to both your audience and business, where value to your business can be anything from building a reputation in your industry to organic audience acquisition to product sign-ups.
Types of T-shaped content
Your business goes through multiple stages or seasons. And for each stage, you’ll often need different types of content.
There are periods where you need content that helps to build your brand’s position as a thought leader — insightful, opinion-led content about issues in your industry.
There are other seasons where what matters most to you is sign-ups. You need more revenue, and all your marketing and content needs to support that.
T-shaped content can include almost any format, as long as it delivers value to both the audience and business publishing it. T-shaped content can be:
- Product-led content: content that helps your audience AND promotes your product to them
- Thought leadership content: content that helps your audience AND positions you as a thought leader in their minds
- SEO content: content that helps your audience AND drives search traffic to your business
For instance, your primary marketing goal for Q1 to Q3 might be to build or strengthen your position as a thought leader. And maybe during Q4 to Q1, you want to drive more sign-ups for your product.
You’ll need to take different approaches to content creation for each of these goals.
(Author’s note: Get the good stuff below…)
Every true marketing content is T-shaped
Content marketing isn’t the same as publishing. Publishers create content for traffic; marketers do it to drive demand and leads.
The approach is different in these two scenarios.
With publishing, almost any type of content works as long as it drives traffic.
But with marketing, it’s a bit more complex. Every piece of content you publish must be T-shaped, meaning it must deliver value for your audience and business at the same time; that’s what makes it a marketing asset. And “value” for your audience means:
- new knowledge
“Value” for your business means:
- demand for your product/service
- thought leadership
Bottom line: if your content is ever going to give you the benefits you desire, it has to deliver these two values at the same time.
Need help planning, creating, and distributing T-shaped content? See our content services page here.