Most brands view content marketing as a channel for improving their organic visibility and driving more traffic to their websites.
With these overarching goals in mind, they proceed to produce tons of useful content that educates visitors on niche topics — but — often shy away from mentioning their product or any of its relevant features. Their presumption? Content isn’t supposed to “sell,” only educate and/or entertain.
Sure, if you’re adopting this approach, it serves the purpose of improving your brand’s visibility and credibility. But ultimately, what good is this boost if it doesn’t really translate into more conversions (free trial sign-ups, demo requests, etc.)?
That’s where product-led content enters the scene.
In this guide, you’ll learn what product-led content is, why you must pivot your content strategy to a product-led approach, how to create effective product-led content, and some great examples you can emulate.
- Product-led content is a type of content that focuses on showcasing the value of your product (without promoting it explicitly) and how it solves specific pain points for your audience.
- Benefits of product-led content include improved conversion rates, reduced churn, and better product awareness.
- To create engaging product-led content, start by understanding your audience’s key pain points, and then think about how your product fits the bill as an ideal solution.
- Ahrefs, Zeda.io, Hotjar, etc. are some great examples of product-led content done right.
“Content” comes in many formats and sizes: quick blog posts, long-form guides, eye-catching infographics, explanatory videos, etc. In order to not appear promotional, these pieces may not mention the product at all, or do so at the very end as a call to action.
Furthermore, knowledge base help articles, feature announcements, and landing pages that directly promote your product also constitute content.
But none of these pieces are product-led.
As a definition, “product-led content” is content that puts your product at the center of its narrative to showcase how it can help the reader solve a problem or complete a task.
The product-led approach is about thoughtfully and naturally plugging your product’s relevant features or use cases into the flow of your content piece so it appears as an obvious solution worth trying.
It is not a hard sell and is different from direct-response copywriting. It doesn’t appear blatantly promotional or salesy (like an ad) but rather, educates the audience about a problem and potential fixes while highlighting your product as just the right solution they need.
Ahrefs, one of the most well-known SaaS tools in the SEO space, is an exemplar of a product-led content strategy. For instance, in the article below on “15 Quick SEO Wins (To Improve Your Rankings)”, they perfectly blend topic education with product education.
The article never explicitly says that Ahrefs offers the best or the only tool for the job, but it smoothly intertwines Ahrefs as a neat solution (and how to use it) to achieve the outcomes. And that’s been their approach to blog articles since inception.
In an analysis of their content strategy, Tim Soulo (CMO at Ahrefs) shares:
“I noticed that a lot of people, when they sign up for Ahrefs, they sent me emails that said ‘I read your articles. I saw how you use Ahrefs for this, and this made me sign up.’ My theory is that people don’t sign up for your tool and then learn how to use it. My theory is that people first learn how to use your tools, and they sign up because they know how to use your tool.”
The above email from an Ahrefs customer sums up what product-led content is all about. Now, let’s look at how it helps gain and retain users for your SaaS.
In terms of ROI, good content that drives tons of traffic but doesn’t drive direct interest in your SaaS product essentially means earning nothing more than some goodwill from your audience. They may or may not revisit your website in the future, find out about your SaaS product, and choose to convert.
The product-led approach addresses this, and can benefit your business and bottom line in a number of ways:
Potential customers who go through your product-led article not only get actionable advice on their problems but also a strong idea of the product’s value and benefits.
When your audience sees the product in action, as part of valuable content that’s primarily focused on helping them tackle something they struggle with, they are more likely to gain confidence in your product and company as a whole. At the same time, the content helps reduce the friction in understanding your product, all of which adds up to greater odds of the reader signing up for a trial or demo.
Customer retention is a continuous process. A sign-up does not guarantee that the user will use your SaaS to its full potential or even stick around for long.
Minimizing churn requires consistent efforts in educating customers about how to get the most out of your product and its latest feature updates.
In this regard, product-led content can play a crucial role with its problem-first, value-add approach. It helps users discover new ways of using your product and different aspects of the product via engaging blog articles, which helps prevent them from churning or switching to competitors.
Product-led content sits well across all stages of the marketing funnel, right from the top of the funnel. It doesn’t only target problem-aware prospects who are closer to a conversion, but cold website visitors as well.
This means if your content is well-optimized and ranks well on Google, prospects seeking tips and how-tos for their problems will immediately get to appreciate how your SaaS serves people just like them.
Product-led content simplifies their decision-making process about whether your product is just the solution they need. Furthermore, even if they’re not ready to give it a spin just yet, it keeps your brand top of mind since they have a good understanding of how your product works. When they eventually decide to sign up for a SaaS, the familiarity bias can nudge them into coming back to your website and converting into a user.
As with regular content, you can plan product-led content in a variety of formats, with the most effective ones being:
Also, product-led content is still essentially search-driven content (incorporating keywords and on-page SEO best practices) where you need to align your piece with the expectations and intent of the reader. In fact, product-led articles aren’t that different from your regular SEO articles except that the focus of the piece and optimization will change.
To plan each piece in a product-led content strategy, validate each topic idea by asking this: “Can we revolve this piece around our product?”. If the answer is “no,” it’s not product-led.
Here are a few steps and best practices for creating engaging product-led content that doesn’t come across as promotional or pushy:
Your marketing team is typically engaged in exploring topics and keywords with traffic potential. They must already have a good understanding of your brand’s target buyer persona.
To create effective product-led content, however, you need to shift your focus toward researching the most common pain points, snags, and frustrations prospects face in your industry. The target readers for this should ideally be toward the top of the funnel: looking to learn, not buy. (Because if their intent is to buy, then creating a landing page makes more sense.)
List out the pain points, and then turn them into topic ideas that enable you to emphasize those problems while providing solutions tied to your product offering.
For instance, let’s say your SaaS product’s target user is a busy sales manager finding it tricky to track their sales reps’ performance. Their problem might be “I have a lot on my plate and I need a quick and easy way to track how my team is doing in terms of their weekly targets.”
You might choose to frame your content pieces around how an intuitive sales dashboard can ease performance tracking. If your SaaS product offers this feature, then you can weave this into the narrative naturally.
For product marketers, a prerequisite to creating effective product-led content is to know your SaaS product like the back of your hand. Its unique value proposition(s), features, benefits, use cases, edge cases — everything.
For example, Ahrefs requires its new marketing team members to complete their academy courses.
Plus, they must work in the customer support team for at least three months before moving up to the marketing team. This ensures that all marketers have direct interaction with customers and thus, a deeper understanding of their pain points. It also helps in transforming all marketers into Ahrefs experts, which empowers them to talk about Ahrefs’ tools in their content smoothly. No wonder their marketers are masters of product-led content.
As mentioned at the beginning of this chapter, product-led content is meant to drive organic traffic just like regular search-driven content. After all, traffic is a prerequisite for driving interest in (and potentially, sign-ups for) your product.
For that, prioritize those pain-point-based topic ideas in terms of:
1. Traffic potential
Enter the primary keywords from your topics into Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer. Then, head over to the Matching terms report.
Typically, topics with an educational intent begin with “what”, “why”, and “how”. They can also contain phrases such as “best practices”, “tips”, “strategies”, “examples”, etc.
To answer such question-based queries, switch to the Questions tab.
Sift through the keyword results to find relevant ones with high traffic potential (TP) and preferably low keyword difficulty (KD). Export them into a spreadsheet.
2. Business potential
Given the premise of product-led content, after nailing down topics that address audience pain points and have traffic potential, it’s time to finalize them based on their business potential — i.e. how naturally and effectively can you weave your product into the piece.
Again, Ahrefs, the pioneers of product-led content marketing, have an easy scorecard for this:
Pinpoint topics that score “2” or “3”, and put them on your content calendar. And that’s that.
Now, by comparing the value props of your product against these content ideas, you can create outlines and highlight the sections where your product’s features can be plugged in naturally. This leads us to the next point…
The best product-led content reads and flows so naturally that you don’t realize you’re being pulled into the product.
It’s optimized for the right keywords (so it ranks), pain points (so it solves specific problems), and product features (so it drives business) — all at once.
Aim for a copy that portrays your product as a bridge between the problem and the solution (or at least, partially). Wherever relevant, include annotated screenshots, walkthrough GIFs, and videos to demonstrate the steps readers can take using your product to get things done.
Remember the fine line between sounding salesy and genuinely helpful — if the copy feels awkward or your product mention looks shoehorned, it may mean you’re not aligning the right feature with the right topic. Head back to your calendar to find the best contextual fit for that feature.
Product-led content isn’t rocket science, but doing it right is a bit of an art. And crafting good art requires inspiration.
We’ve discussed Ahrefs as one of the finest examples of product-led content, now let’s take a quick look at some other great examples. We’ll cover two instances from our own experience working with SaaS brands as their content partners — you could call it “service-led” content 🙂
Zeda.io is an all-in-one SaaS product management toolkit that enables product teams to plan, build, and iterate products efficiently.
In our content marketing campaign for them, we centered each article around solving product management issues while naturally plugging in their product’s walkthrough GIFs throughout the content.
For example, in this educational piece on “How to Build An Agile Product Roadmap”, you’ll find GIFs that illustrate how Zeda.io helps product teams easily create and collaborate on agile product roadmaps.
Sunsama is a digital daily planner app that helps busy professionals take control of their schedules in a sustainable way. It’s a SaaS tool designed to improve productivity and reduce burnout.
Similar to Zeda.io, in our content campaign for them, we kept the pieces focused on educating readers about a problem and how to solve it while mentioning Sunsama in a friendly, non-intrusive way.
For example, in our article “How ‘Productivity’ Tools Decrease Your Productivity at Work”, we dive into four ways how productivity tools do more harm than good, and how readers can solve this problem with an app that reduces distractions and burnout. In each section, we showcase Sunsama’s prowess with contextual GIFs and feature mentions.
Hotjar is a popular web analytics and user feedback SaaS tool that helps website owners understand how visitors interact with their site, via heatmaps, visitor recordings, and surveys. It helps brands improve user experience, conversion rates, and overall website performance.
Their blog content is packed with product-led articles, such as this one on shopping cart abandonment. It’s a great piece that deep dives into the why of eCommerce shopping cart abandonment and provides actionable fixes along the way that the reader can implement.
The fixes naturally include things like using heatmaps, exit-intent surveys, and session recordings — Hotjar’s key product offerings.
In fact, the “Feedback” button you see on the right side of the screenshot is also “Powered by Hotjar” — talk about being product-led.
Going the product-led route may not always be possible in your content strategy. And of course, not all content needs to promote your brand or product.
But, whenever possible, naturally mentioning your product as the perfect-fit solution into an actionable piece of content is sure to help you drive more conversions from your content marketing.
If you do it right, that is. We hope this guide will help you do just that. Now you know what product-led content is, why it’s worth the effort, and how to craft it correctly.
And if you need help in creating high-quality product-led content for your SaaS, we’re just a couple of clicks away.