I started writing content for Outseta on the same day that we started writing code—this was one of the best decisions I made. Content marketing, much like SaaS itself, compounds—the rewards ultimately go to those that create high quality content consistently over a long period of time.
The screenshot below shows Outseta’s website traffic from January 2017 through mid 2022. Even today, our website traffic is quite modest but the screenshot below reflects that it took almost two years for our traffic to really start growing in a significant way.
Yes, there is certainly some aspect of SEO at play here, but more than anything this is what building an audience looks like—it you’re not an internet guru or someone with a get-rich-quick story to share, building an audience and earning their trust takes time and consistent effort put into creating valuable content.
Content marketing is an investment in brand
In the next lesson we’ll discuss SEO, which I specifically broke out into a separate lesson from content marketing. While SEO and content marketing are deeply intertwined, the truth is I looked at them quite differently as I considered our early marketing strategies at Outseta.
In short, for the first five years that we were in business I never once wrote an article specifically for the sake of SEO. That’s not to say that I didn’t do some basic optimization of our content to make it search engine friendly (clear title tags, meta descriptions, some internal linking, etc), but it is to say that I never wrote any of our posts simply because some target keyword represented an opportunity.
Today there’s about 80 blog posts on our website, and a total of two were written first and foremost for the sake of SEO. Many would call this nuts, but it was quite deliberate and is an example of a trade-off I made early on. My mindset was, 100%, create the absolute best quality content that you can. My intention in doing so was winning an audience—people whose attention I would earn so that each time I hit publish, they'd think “this new post from Geoff is worth a read.” Even today, what Jay Acunzo calls Unsolicited Response Rate (URR)—the number of people who reach out to me unprovoked after I publish something—is how I measure the success of our content more than anything else.
I feel deeply and passionately that "quality" content comes from inspiration, not keyword research. As a result, I never published content on any set schedule—I just tried to make space to write whenever I felt moved to. When I had a topic in mind where I felt like I almost couldn't help myself—I had to put pen to paper—that's when I wrote. And no surprise, that's when I did my best work that resonated most deeply with other founders.
While there’s no question that I left some traffic on the table by not focusing deliberately on SEO and link building early on, the hard truth is this was just a tradeoff. Link building is a time consuming process and with all the other things I had on my plate—sales, support, internal operations—I just simply didn’t have the time to devote to it. And as a bootstrapped company, we didn’t yet have the budget to hire help in this area. I felt that the brand implications were more important that maximizing organic traffic—and I knew that focusing on the quality of our content would naturally garner some backlinks anyways.
I viewed our early content marketing efforts as an investment in our brand—and I still do. I believe that building a meaningful brand is a more important asset to the long term success of our business than just about anything else.
What about content format?
As you consider content marketing for your start-up, another important question to consider is the format of your content—are you going to create YouTube videos? Launch a podcast? Start a Substack?
My advice here is very straightforward—choose the content format that you’re most comfortable with. If none of them feel comfortable to you, just pick one and stick with it.
I chose to focus our content marketing efforts almost exclusively on long form, written blog content. Most of the posts that I’ve written are somewhere between 5-15 pages long.
I chose this format first and foremost because it’s where I’m most comfortable—I was a writing major in college and writing is the format in which I feel best able to communicate my ideas.
Beyond that, there was certainly a bit of bucking the trend in this decision as well. Since we started Outseta, both podcasting and video content have exploded in popularity. Both content formats offer their own unique advantages in connecting with an audience.
But while everyone was running off to launch a podcast or a YouTube channel—and many people were saying blogs were dying—I placed a bet that written content would continue to be valuable. And while video content and podcasts are great for free flowing thinking, written content affords the opportunity to put something more considered, thoughtful, and evergreen out into the universe.
The long form nature of our content was also a deliberate attempt to step away from the masses. As online users increasingly search for quick dopamine hits, I wanted to instead find people that were specifically interested in investing a solid 10-20 minutes with our posts. I knew if I could do so we’d be developing brand affinity—that’s what I was after.
So what did I write about?
The content that I’ve written at Outseta generally falls into one of three categories.
The company updates are straightforward—this is how we communicate important happenings and product updates to our customers. The posts with an emphasis on growing start-ups are probably the most useful to our audience, but without question its been the posts that tell stories from our own entrepreneurial journey that have been read the most.
I think what’s most interesting when you look at these top performing posts is that not one of them even resembles a target keyword that our customers would be searching for when looking to buy a product like Outseta. But again, that was never the intent.
The common themes in these posts are they are overtly transparent, human, and they share some of the interesting practices that we’ve adopted at Outseta that are quite unique to us. These posts may not be what our target customer is searching for, but above all else they are relatable. They’ve helped us build a small but highly engaged audience to whom our brand is meaningful—and when those folks need tools like we provide at Outseta, they know where to look.
I view content marketing as an investment in our brand over an investment in search traffic.
Focus on quality over quantity—unsolicited response rate is a great way to measure quality!
Content doesn’t need to be what buyers are searching for! Our top performing content is simply human, relatable, and relevant to prospective buyers.