How A Content Marketing "Home Run" Jump Started Our Company
It took us 6 months to get to $5k MRR, and then only 4 more months to 5x that to $25k in MRR.
What drove customer acquisition and awareness around our product to drive growth? You're reading it.
Our blog was the biggest reasons for our initial revenue growth at StatusPage.io. We had occasional, but massive content marketing home runs that have driven huge numbers of sign ups and shares, for a product that people probably wouldn’t otherwise seek out or know that they needed.
Not every post takes off. But the ones that we do strike sweet take off, really fly, hit the bull and win a steak (#bullcity).
The Power Of Content Marketing Home Runs
It’s may seem dramatic, but a single blog post can literally change the trajectory of your business. Here’s why.
Once you’ve written your article, it can be read by an unlimited number of people. A single article could easily pull an extra 100,000 people to your site. Compare this to sales -- one sales rep can only contact a fixed, much more limited number of people.
You’d potentially have to spend thousands in advertising to see the same effect. For a mostly bootstrapped company like ours, we simply don’t have the capital on hand for that to be an option. There are few ways that a couple of hours of labor can turn into thousands in MRR growth like having a content marketing home run.
The Power Law of Content
These content marketing home runs provide massively outsized returns, and we’ve seen how content marketing follows the power law, not unlike in venture capital investing. A small number of posts generate the vast majority of huge, disproportionate returns.
Two years ago we wrote an article about how we got from $0 to $5K MRR. Even though it's two years old, it still generates a sizable portion of our traffic (10% of all the traffic in 2015). This isn't a total outlier either. In fact, just a few of our articles account for the vast majority of all our traffic.
20% of our blog posts (9 out of 47) have accounted for 78% of the lifetime traffic to our blog (that Pareto guy was on to something). If you dive deeper into those 9 posts, you'll find that 3 of them account for 51% of the total. And one of them accounts for a full 32% of the traffic that has ever come to our blog. It's hard to overstate the value of a piece that truly resonates with your audience and just takes off.
Content Helps People Find You
Finally, content marketing home runs work because they bring people to you who would never search for your product on their own volition.
When we created StatusPage.io, there were no other companies that existed solely to help people create their own hosted status page. When you're "inventing" a market, no one is going to be searching for your product because they don't know it exists yet! So in the early days, SEO and SEM were more or less out of the question...the search volume just wasn't there.
Check this out: Google Trends for “to do list app” vs “server status app” It's rising, which I guess is a good thing. But not a lot of people wake up in the morning desperate to find just the right server communication tool for them.
No, people scour the web for good stuff to read. Things that interest them. Things that speak to them. We wrote for our audience, not about out product.
That's the whole point behind our 'startup journey' blog (with separate dev and product blogs to keep things topical). We wanted to give people something to read that they could learn from, along their own journey.
This idea has served us exceptionally well. If you can put something on your site that people actually want to read, engage with and resonates with them, then it can pay you back for years to come, especially for niche products that aren't easily found intentionally.
How to Hit Home Runs with Your Content
In knocking the ball out of the park with a few of our posts, we’ve learned a thing or two about how to generate content that has the potential to be a hit.
Solve a Deep Burning Pain
Our friend Alex at Groove has a great post on what makes great content. Here's what he said:
“What we’ve found is that generally, the posts on this list have one of these two characteristics:
- They challenge one of people’s Three B’s: Behavior, Beliefs or Belongings
- They solve a problem that’s a deep burning pain for a lot of people”
For us, we’ve seen that challenging one of those Bs is a really good way to hit a double via controversy, but to hit a home run you have to do #2 - solve a deep burning pain and deliver a ton of value.
We do this through sharing our learnings and experiences as we solve our own problems. The two best examples are how we got to 5k, and how we increased our conversion rate by 311%:
5 Steps to $5,000 in Monthly Recurring Revenue: Our first post that blew up. It tries to answer a serious issue that every single startup will have - how to get started. There are certain people for whom this is the most important thing in their lives right now.
These early stage founders are looking for every conceivable hack to get to that 5k marker. We knew that there are developers out there either starting or planning to start their own company and product, who would crave that kind of information. If we can help them through our experience of growing to that first 5k, then that's a win-win.
How We Increased Our Conversion Rate By 311%: Our second most highly trafficked post. The post talks about a problem that every single entrepreneur out there has: how can I turn more of my traffic into paying customers?
Could you imagine tripling your conversion rate? It's funny...even though I'm posing this hypothetical question to you, I notice my brain kicking into gear, racing over all the ideas I have to do this again for my own company. This topic is pretty much the definition of a deep burning pain.
Conversion rate is so central to the success of a company that it's hard for startup founders to NOT read things like this, hoping to gain some insight that will help their own business.
The Three B's
The reality is, not every post is going to deal with that deep burning pain. You can't swing for the fences literally 100% of the time. A consistent publishing schedule is important and sometimes you're going to have to settle for a double. Here's a few of our own that came from challenging one of the B's:
We Tried Building A Remote Team And It Sucked: Our post on how remote working hasn't worked for us is an example of how we look to challenge people's beliefs through our own experience. Remote working is the supposed way-of-the-future. That was what we thought when we decided to work on opposite coasts. But we found there are massive issues with it. We wanted to start a conversation, with proponents and opponents, about the potential drawbacks of remote working for future teams.
The Growth Hacker Movement Is Poisonous: Growth Hacking is the new Rock n' Roll. It has suddenly become all the rage. We wanted to challenge the belonging people had to this cause. We used specific examples we had come across to show that all this special hacks were useless, and what you really need to belong to was the world of good product.
Riff Off What Already Works
The best predictor of success is past success. If you write something that really takes off, expand on it with a followup piece a few months down the line. You know the topic and format resonate well with your audience because you've seen it happen before!
We did exactly this with our $5K to $25K in MRR blog post. The 0 to $5K in MRR blog post worked so well that we copied the format and wrote a new post with lessons we learned reaching this next milestone. It's the third most popular blog post we've ever written.
The Content of a Good Personal Story
If you go and search for “how to write great content” you'll get some good advice, but it will all be the same — some vague notion of doing your research, creating engaging content, and making it unique.
You should do all that stuff. But what will set you apart is to write something personal, that only you can write, that you’re an expert in.
Conquering this psychological hump is vital. If you’ve had a problem, it’s probable that many others like you have had it too. Your personal experience will contain unique insights into the world your in. Have other people started up a downtime communication service? Sure. But have two brothers? Have they then expanded, gone through YC and moved to different states, working remote?
We don't position ourselves as some kind of super-awesome startup gurus, “follow us to startup success” people who can teach you all the secrets. These aren't secrets. They are just things we've learned. You might need to make the same mistakes on your journey to get the proper lesson, but if we can spur you along then we think that's kinda cool.
What we do have is experience. Experience of taking an idea from nothing and turning it into something. That is where our value lies. We share that. We make sure to give concrete, actionable advice on how to do/not do what we have done.
Sometimes that means being willing to share more than we are comfortable with. When we wrote about how remote working wasn't for us maybe it wasn't a great idea to tell people we were unhappy, unproductive, and struggling with our work-life balance. But it was the truth. A truth we think people should know if they are thinking of taking the remote work route.
The twist is that writing these posts also add value for us. Not just in the drive traffic, get users way, they also make us think about our own experiences more closely - what we did right, what we did wrong, where we're heading. Whenever we sit down to write a post it makes us re-evaluate StatusPage.io and makes us a better company going forward.
Leverage Networks to reach your audience
Anytime we asked our early customers where they heard about us, the answers were always along the lines of “You guys wrote that post on reaching $5k in MRR, right?,” and “I honestly can’t remember, but I may have seen a post of yours on HN.” That’s the power of leveraging huge networks and the content marketing long tail.
We built our product for ourselves, so it made sense to share our content online where we hang out online, and that’s Hacker News. That’s where developers like us live online, and if you hit the front page, you can reach a massive number of developers with your message.
To Make This Work, You Need Overlap...
This might sound obvious but a lot of people miss it. Your audience has to be the people buying your product, or at least overlap with them. Developers are the people who will use StatusPage.io.
Most people who visit our site aren't ready to become customers. That's fine. We aren't looking for some incredible conversion figure. But we do want them to become customers eventually, whenever the need arises. By writing a blog that is informative, that people want to visit just to read, that puts the name StatusPage.io in their heads.
Every website has a pretty severe outage eventually. And when that happens to our readers, they'll think of us (the ones that wrote that blog post about hating working remotely or how they took a side project and turned it into a 25k/month business) and hopefully decide that now is a good time to become a customer and use our product.
Ultimately, people read our posts because we are them.
Tons of devs sitting at a screen right now working on someone else's company are actively dreaming about starting their own—planning it in their head, waiting for just that moment to jump ship.
Our posts talks about exactly how we did that. From building a product from scratch, to the minutiae of running a company, to growing it into a successful business. This is of universal interest to people wanting to start their own SaaS. You can't BS this stuff - people will know. Developers can read about our journey knowing we are the same as them, and that if they follow some of our advice, their journey might be a little less painful.
Here’s Where You Can Start Today
Challenge people. Solve their pain. Use your experience to write content that actually matters. Don't try and write what everyone else is doing - just write about yourself, your problems, and your solutions. There are enough people out there like you for this to be incredibly helpful to them.
People want to read a good story, and that's a story that means something to them. Content marketing is a great tool for getting the word out about your product, but only if you've got a story to tell that resonates with your audience.
Go to where that audience is. If you are an obscure SaaS, people are going to have trouble finding you organically. Go and reach out to the people who might use your service and start talking to them. Engage. They may not use you know, but you are planting that seed in their mind.