B2B Content: How to Create High-Performing Content in Complex Niches (+ Examples)
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“No, I definitely will not speak at your event.”
The man on the other end of the phone was adamant.
As much as I wanted the landmark kudos of securing one of the generic pharma industry’s most elusive c-levels as a speaker at my event, one thing was clear:
It was never gonna happen.
Patent-free pharmaceuticals may be an extreme example, but the truth is every B2B market has its share of complexities. And in my former life as a producer of elite B2B events, I thought I’d seen it all. But then, I entered the wonderful world of content marketing.
As content creators, it’s our job—strike that, it’s our duty—to dive headfirst into the nuance, get our fingernails dirty and deliver real answers to B2B readers.
And that ain’t easy.
Where do you even start? What parts of your current content strategy need to change? Do you need video? You definitely need a podcast, right? Oh, you’ve *got* to start a podcast. What about ebooks? Four blogs a week? Or one skyscraper blog a month?
Then there’s my personal favorite:
How the heck do you write about topics you know nothing about?
There are literally hundreds of questions and, to make matters worse, there are hundreds of answers for each and every one.
So, here’s what you do.
You turn each shiny new tool or strategy over and over in your mind. Maybe you even raise the idea in your next standup, or swap notes with other B2B marketers in whatever Slack-based group you default to when the going gets tough.
Until you look up one day and realize you’ve wasted hours chasing your tail—hours that could have been spent creating content that drives quality traffic and leads.
Isn’t it time to stop spinning your wheels and launch the B2B content strategy that makes the most sense for you?
Lucky for us, the B2B content marketing community is way more generous with their knowledge the generic pharma community (it’s a time to market thing ?♀️).
We’ve collated deeply practical insights from a select group of rockstar marketers to uncover their exact tactics for creating high conversion B2B content. But don’t do it because they said so. Do it because it makes sense for your particular niche.
Sound good? Good. Let’s dive in!
Download Your 2020 Content Calendar Template
Plan all your B2B content on one calendar with this simple-to-use template:
What Is B2B Content Marketing? Everything You Need to Know in 2020.
As with the vast majority of marketing lingo, there are probably a million ways to define and interpret the term ‘B2B content marketing.’ We like this clear and simple definition from Wordstream’s Dan Shewan:
“As its name suggests, B2B content marketing is the art of using content to expand your business's audience, strengthen and develop brand affinity, and ultimately drive leads and sales by appealing to other businesses.”
Done right, B2B content marketing is truly an art form. But if you’re here on the Coschedule blog, chances are you already know the basics.
I’m going to assume it’s safe to skip the generic advice to create a documented strategy and buyer persona. You’ve read the CMI blog. You’re on Hubspot's mailing list. You know the drill.
In today’s age of AI, automation and ironically named chatbots, the real question is:
What does high-octane B2B content even look like anymore?
The answer to that question depends on a bunch of different factors, including:
- Your unique industry or niche
- The prevailing content formats in that niche
- Your willingness to try something new in order to stand out among the noise
And there is plenty of noise.
According to a 2018 report by the Content Marketing Institute, 91% of B2B marketers are actively using content marketing to reach their audiences. If you want to skyrocket your brand to the front of the pack, you’re going to have to take some risks.
Disclaimer: We are NOT knocking a documented content strategy or buyer persona. If these assets need a facelift (and they probably do), this post by content superstar Sonia Simone and this deep dive by marketing strategist Sonia Thompson will help you get your B2B content game back on track. Sonia’s unite! ✊?
6 B2B Content Marketing Examples that Actually Work
Alright. Now that we’re clear on what B2B content marketing is and why it’s harder to do than ever before, let’s take a look at some proven ways to crack this nut.
As you read through these expert tips, keep in mind that you should never abandon a strategy that’s already working. Hopefully, you’ve been keeping tabs on which of your B2B content assets are performing best right now.
If you haven’t already, take a minute to gather that info and have a quick think about why that piece outperforms the rest. Ultimately, the right tactics for you will be the ones that enhance your best work, without taking a forklift to your existing marketing workflows.
#1. Use Advanced Research for High-Conversion B2B Content
“In B2B, it's really easy to get stuck between ‘meh’ content that targets high-volume keywords and engaging, brand-building content that has no distribution channel,” says Derek Gleason, Content Lead at CXL.
It’s the proverbial B2B content marketing rock-and-hard-place scenario.
Many B2B sites don't have strong social media followers, famous founders, or big paid budgets to promote content. The good news is, you don’t need all of that to launch a highly relevant B2B content strategy.
“When, at CXL, we decided that we want to do some of that ‘brand building’ content, I spent a good bit of time researching what people were sharing in that space before pitching any topics,” explains Derek.
Here's the exact process Derek used to narrow down his topics:
- Identify the sites. Derek scraped a year or two's worth of posts from sites like Hacker News and Sparktoro, which are good indicators of what the marketing community finds interesting. He also looked at link and sharing data in Ahrefs and Buzzsumo, with the link data weighted by site (to keep big sites from edging out smaller ones).
- Then, he manually "coded" the top performing posts to identify four or five themes that the top posts had in common. These themes included things like "piggybacking off existing brands" (i.e. if you're going to write about a company, make sure it's a company that people have heard of; even a mediocre write-up of Apple's marketing strategies is likely to get more traction than amazing insights about a company no one's heard of.)
- From there, Derek chose three sample topics for each theme that blended the learnings from research with what was most relevant to their brand (i.e., data-driven marketing). He then pitched those topics to the rest of the team and they made a joint decision on which ones to green light.
According to Derek, the benefit of this approach is that you do research once but end up with research that could inform dozens of projects.
“If you're starting from scratch, research should include (1) your site, (2) competitor sites, (3) and industry sites. I basically skipped the first two (since I'm already familiar with those) and went straight to the third option. But if you're taking on a new client, I'd do all three.”
This tip is for you if:
- You feel like you’re throwing B2B topics at the wall to see what sticks
- You want to lock down your content calendar for the next 3 to 6 months
- You don’t mind doing a little legwork to make your content shine
#2. Share Your Company’s Experiments
“In the world of B2B, there’s a massive amount of content being created nearly every day. And while a lot of B2B content is useful, a lot of it is pretty, ugh, bad…”
Ben Johnson and the team at Proof are all about the TAFO method. (You know, ‘test-and-find-out’.)
For Ben, the only real way to know for sure that your content actually gives value to readers is to start sharing the insights you’re discovering at your own company.
“Being transparent isn’t dangerous, it’s actually a strategic advantage many companies are using to outpace their competitors,” says Ben.
According to Ben, these results-focused insights are immensely valuable for two simple reasons:
- They’re original
- They provide more meaning to readers
“For instance, if I was to tell you that a way to grow your business is through personalizing your call to action examples, you might find that interesting. But if I was able to tell you how we used personalized calls to action to increase demos by 54%, you’d likely find that case study way more compelling,” challenges Ben.
Why is that?
Just to make things extra meta, here’s an example of how BuzzSumo shares its unparalleled data insights with its business readers. Hey look! This one’s on B2B content. Read the full article here.
“Readers love getting access to the data they don’t have internally—or that they can then use to take action on their own website.”
Here’s a basic framework you can apply to add more compelling data to your own initiatives:
- Describe your business challenge: Explain the thoughts you had around wanting to run an experiment in the first place. Maybe you weren’t getting as many free trials as you wanted, perhaps you launched a new company initiative, or there could have just been an idea you wanted to try out. Describe your thought process, and you’ll have a more coherent piece.
- Talk about how you designed an experiment: In this stage, you’ll want to discuss why you designed an experiment in the way you did. Describe your hypothesis, how you segmented your audiences and the minutiae of getting everything working properly.
- Share the results of the experiment: After the experiment concludes, you have a plethora of data in your hands. Screenshot your Google Analytics or Amplitude dashboards to make it easier for readers to understand and verify the results you reached.
- Provide inspiration for your readers to take action: At this point, you should have proven to your readers why they should try what you’re suggesting. The next step is to give them a little assistance in getting started on their own. Suggest ways they could follow your lead or add variation to your process.
Every week, Ben and his team share some kind of CRO or other in-depth experiment on their blog to give readers an inside peek at what they’re learning.
This tip is for you if:
- You have a direct line to your product and/or data science team
- There’s a ton of skepticism and content fatigue in your niche
- Your leadership team is an open book
#3. Publish First, Optimize Later
Let’s be honest, in the game of B2B content marketing, there is a real need for speed.
According to Mailshake Marketing Strategist, Mark Lindquist, speed and quality are NOT mutually exclusive.
“When it comes to SEO and building organic traffic, there's a false dichotomy B2B content marketers have between speed and quality,” explains Mark. “The conventional wisdom says that on the one hand, unless you're in an industry with a few super-high volume keywords, you need to publish enough articles to rank for enough keywords to have any kind of meaningful organic traffic. If you only create a few articles per year, you're just never going to move quickly enough to make SEO a serious customer acquisition channel. On the other hand, though, you can't churn out 10 mediocre articles per week and expect any of them to rank.”
Google's algorithms don't always rank the absolute best article on a topic first, but they're ace at keeping the bad content out of the top 10.
“What's worked for us at Mailshake is splitting the difference,” says Mark.
Here’s how that breaks down:
- Once you have a topic you want to rank for, create something that's good enough to be in the mix of the top 10
- Then, start promoting and building links to it
- Next, take your most promising content and update it with relevant insights from interviews with practitioners
- Keep promoting and building links to that content
“This allows us to move quickly; create content at a healthy clip (at least 5 articles per month), get it indexed by Google, build some links, and see which of them starts showing signs of life,” explains Mark. “The goal is to genuinely make it the best resource out there, something that someone in the field would read and feel like it was written by an expert who spoke their language.”
As a major bonus, this approach makes your B2B content more attractive in the eyes of the all-seeing Google, it makes it easier to build links to the article, and makes it more likely to convert visitors who hit the site.
It’s a win, win, win.
For example, after Mark and his team penned this article on relationship selling, they noticed it was getting traction for its target keyword. They scheduled an interview with sales expert Amy Volas on how to build relationships with prospects, then went back and updated the article based on what they learned in that interview.
The result? A big jump in rankings and a better quality article.
Since then, Mark and his team have used this exact strategy to grow the Mailshake blog to hundreds of thousands of visitors per month.
This tip is for you if:
- You can’t find writers capable of covering complex B2B topics at an advanced level
- You already have a network of expert influences and/or customers you can tap into
- Come rain, sleet or hail, you’re dead-set on meeting your deadlines
#4. Personalize Your Website Experience
Adam Enfroy is a total force.
As a digital marketing pioneer, he’s led an agency team, managed e-commerce marketing for six national brands, then moved from Michigan to Austin, Texas to take on a major role at a large tech startup.
Adam has taken everything he’s learned about digital marketing and combined that with his passion for studying human psychology. And what’s one trait that every human being has in common? The desire to feel understood. Even when browsing a website.
“Every visitor that hits your website should encounter a unique experience based on how they found you. Whether they’re searching for a single business solution or looking for a how-to guide to on a broader topic, your B2B audience needs personalized content just for them,” says Adam.
According to him, in addition to customizing the content of your articles and blog posts based on search intent, you should also personalize the other sections of the page—namely sidebars and exit intent pop-ups.
“If a user is engaged with your content for more than 90 seconds, they might be interested in your offer. At that point, you can serve them a personalized exit intent pop-up, unique to the content they’re searching for.”
For example, when a user searches and finds Adam’s article on webinar software, he provides a long-form guide on the 15 best options. And if they intend to leave the article (moving their mouse within 20% of the top of the screen), he shows them a final offer before they leave, like this:
With this method, they’re given the final option to choose this software that they may not have chosen otherwise.
“Alternatively, if they’re reading a long-form blog post of mine like my post on how to start a blog, I might serve them a more generic offer to join my email list,” says Adam. “Either way, you need to personalize offers based on the individual pages your readers visit. This provides a better user experience and boasts higher conversion rates than a single broad message.”
And the numbers don’t lie. Based on customer service statistics, 48% of customers are likely to engage with your site after a good experience rather than a poor one.
Here are some steps to customize your exit-intent pop-ups for a B2B audience:
- Sync an email opt-in software like OptinMonster with your website
- Create a dedicated offer and only run it on certain landing pages, not all of them
- Track your analytics and click-through-rates within the platform
- Adjust your messaging and CTAs accordingly to improve your metrics
- Showcase different offerings in your articles’ sidebars based on the page your reader is on
- Use a VPN to ensure your personalized content is working right across different market segments and geographic locations
- Customize your website footer based on recommended articles with a software tool like Proof
With more personalized content outside of just your blog article content, you can engage more readers and generate more leads.
This tip is for you if:
- You already have a solid library of quality content
- You can’t trace a single lead back to your content
- Your traffic is great but your bounce rate needs work
#5. Identify Search Intent Gaps to Skyrocket Organic Visits
Marijana Kay is a freelance writer, SaaS marketing enthusiast and Host of The Content Love Podcast.
Unlike many content writers who rush to tick keywords off their briefs, Marijana focuses on understanding the search intent behind a target topic or keyword.
After that, she simply identifies the gap between her target reader’s intent and the top ranking content currently winning in the SERPs.
“We were targeting a highly searched term (around 40,000 monthly searches), and SERPs were indicating a fractured search intent,” says Marijana. “We made a call to create a ‘what is [topic] and why you need it’ type of guide that went in-depth on all of the search intent aspects we found in SERPs. This included the definition, types, features, and step-by-step processes involved. This guide is now ranking on page 1 for more than 600 keywords (often only beaten by Wikipedia!) and brings over 8,000 organic visits monthly.”
Here are the exact steps to follow to replicate these results:
- Bring up page 1 of SERPs for main and related keywords you're targeting
- Look for patterns in search intent through results. Is it generic (i.e. definition), how-to (recipe/tutorial), focused (i.e. emphasizing a feature, like fast, low cost, etc.), list (top/best), or something else? Is it fragmented (i.e. no recognizable pattern)?
- Based on this, you'll see whether to focus on a single search intent, a dual one (meaning you need two separate pieces of content to cover both), or build an ultimate guide since search intent seems to be fractured.
- To make this strategy work, identify ways you can take this topic deeper and add to it in a way that is hard to copy, like a unique insight, experiment, your own statistic, etc.
Marijana’s tip is a great example of how you can go above and beyond the skyscraper approach to achieve incredible results, simply by considering the formats your target audience prefers and directly tackling any questions that the current content has left unanswered.
This tip is for you if:
- Your blog content isn’t performing
- You’re pumping out too much blog content on the wrong topics
- You don’t want to spend hours researching keywords
#6. Use Guest Posting to Establish Credibility with Cold Leads
Nico Prins is the Founder of Launch Space, the super innovative startup behind the Chrome extension that saves you mad cash on your favorite software tools.
Like many of us, they also sell content marketing and SEO services to a range of companies—a job that’s getting harder and harder by the minute. In fact, by a study co-sponsored by Clikz and Wix, 50% of the agencies surveyed mentioned an increase in competition as a major business headache.
“To establish credibility, I have been creating content for several authority sites in my niche. For example, I co-wrote a guide to Search Console for Mangools and wrote an article on what makes a good backlink for Serpstat. I have also written for sites that potential leads find impressive. An excellent example of such a website is Hubspot. Together, these headline articles form a sort of online CV.”
When Nico conducts cold outreach seeking new clients, he simply references the relevant headline sites he’s written for. Because his name is now linked to other big names in his B2B niche, it becomes way easier to make money blogging, either selling services, or through affiliate marketing.
“The end goal of any B2B marketing strategy is to secure sales,” says Nico.
It’s a simple concept, sure, but as the buffet of content marketing options (not to mention tech) grows larger and larger, it’s one that bears repeating.
This tip is for you if:
- You or your sales team engages in cold outreach to B2B leads
- You’ve worked with a big-name brand in your niche
- No one’s heard of you yet
B2B Content Formats: Which Ones Do You Really Need?
Alright, now that we’ve laid a few practical B2B content plays on the table, let’s talk formats.
These days, it seems like everyone and their growth-marketing cousin has a strong opinion about which formats are best. Problem is, few of us stop to think about which formats work best for our specific B2B audience.
Here are some questions to help you narrow it down.
Question #1. What Content Formats Dominate Your B2B Niche? Why?
After years of being the fly on the wall at super-exclusive B2B events, I can tell you with 100% confidence that every industry has its own idiosyncrasies.
No two B2B content strategies should be the same. So why do so many B2B content marketers fall into the trap of mimicking their competitors?
Think about it. The way you market to a construction equipment manufacturer will be completely different from the way you’d market to an enterprise CTO. Sure, they’re both B2B but they’re still completely different ball games.
If you really want to understand what content formats are best, starting by breaking free of your digital marketing bias and think about what types of marketing activities your prospect engages with both in the offline and online world. What marketing tactics that have set the status quo for marketing in your niche?
Once you’ve identified those factors, then you’re ready to focus your content marketing and amplify those strategies.
For example, say you’re in a B2B niche where event marketing is the thing, think about ways you can adjust your content to get more leads from your live events.
- Can you create a compelling email campaign to get more foot traffic to your both or presentation?
- Can you offer a free content asset onsite at the event to boost your subscriber list in real-time?
- What’s your follow up strategy? Does your sales team have everything they need to leverage that momentum?
- Why are these formats winning in your market? Do prospects in your niche thrive on face-to-face contact? Or, do they need a deep dive whitepaper to get lost in?
We’ve reached a point in the content marketing hype cycle where too many marketers completely overlook what’s happening offline in the “real” world. But let’s not forget, that’s where your readers live. It’s time to go back to basics.
Sit down with your sales team and find out exactly what they’re doing and what parts of the process could use a little extra content love.
Question #2. Who Else is Involved in the Purchase Decision?
Every content marketer worth their salt knows they are NOT the hero.
You, my friend, are the guide.
The guide’s role is to help transform the hero (who likely doesn’t even know they’re a hero yet) into the type of business champ other people look at in awe. The guide helps the hero become the one and only person, in a long, long chain of stakeholders who can break through the red tape, beat the industry odds, and save the company from impending doom.
Sound dramatic? That’s the point.
Your target buyer wants to be seen as a hero to their employees, customers and internal decision makers—all of whom will be affected by their decision to purchase your product.
It’s up to you to show them you will not let them down.
- Who else is involved in the decision making process?
- Who are the influencers my prospect most respects?
- What does my prospect stand to gain by working with me?
- What does my prospect stand to lose by working with me?
- How can I answer those concerns through content?
If you know your buyer’s CEO will never read a whitepaper but would devour an interview with one of his competitors, get that person on the blog now.
On the flip side, if the IT director would balk at a 3,000 word blog post but share the heck out of a clever 6-minute video, make it happen.
When you give your prospect the tools they need to win over their internal stakeholders you help shrink the notoriously long B2B sales cycle and earn your weight in gold as a content marketer.
Question #3. What’s My Real B2B Content Goal?
We live in a world where terms like ‘linkbuilding’, ‘MoM organic traffic’, and ‘CTR’ are as mundane as a morning commute.
And to be perfectly frank, it’s led to a lot of poor marketing decisions and a lot of crappy content.
In the words of the understandably jaded former agency creative Mark the Copyranter:
“Everybody is underestimating the intelligence of the consumer for the sake of metrics. Which is sad as hell.”
Fact is, most marketers never stop to question whether more traffic is really the goal—and traffic for the sake of traffic simply isn’t an effective strategy. (Despite the fact that no one will question you on it.)
For the record, none of this is your fault. If you came into this field any time after 2003, you’ve likely been conditioned to think in terms of SEO for all (or at least, most) things content marketing.
But that doesn’t always make sense.
Don’t get me wrong. You should by all means, keep Month-over-Month organic traffic as your North Star metric for content, just remember that it’s also important to consider the other sales and marketing strategies in play.
Sit back, close your search console and really ask yourself:
- Why do we want more organic traffic to our site?
- What type of traffic do we want to attract?
- Do we have a plan for converting those inbound leads? Or, is it more about web presence as a pure authority play?
If your target buyer is the type of busy CEO who would never dream of googling a top-of-funnel SEO term like ‘How to X’, you need to change the way you think about that type of content.
That may or may not mean you nix that content altogether. But if it’s a pure brand-building play, you need to make sure you’re communicating it that way.
You also need to consider your true bandwidth.
Growth is glorified in our field, but the hard reality is that many B2B startups don’t have the capacity to handle the amount of leads they generate through content marketing. Before you hit the gas on B2B content strategy, you’ve got to make sure there’s a sales and customer support framework in place to convert those leads. Otherwise, it’s all for naught.
At the enterprise level, many content marketers still don’t know how to communicate their content strategy to their internal teams or clients causing chaos, confusion and more than a little resentment.
Bottom line: Make sure you have a clear goal attached to each piece of content. It will help you make your case for less sexy formats and protect you from being evaluated by metrics that are out of your control.
For example, there is absolutely nothing inherently SEO-ish (yes, that’s a technical term) about this interview for one of our clients in the real estate SaaS space—yet this one single asset scored over 600 positive social engagements and an evergreen score of 1 in Buzzsumo.
Promotion and Distribution: How to Get Your Content Seen by B2B Readers
Okay. You’ve narrowed down your top formats per B2B buyer persona.
Now you need a plan for making sure you get the right eyeballs on your work.
First, Always Do the Baseline Promotion
In this day and age, there’s absolutely no reason you can’t immediately share your B2B content on your brand’s relevant social channels as soon as it goes live.
Even if you don’t use a super sweet automated tool like ReQueue, you still need to do the baseline work of sharing your content and, while you’re at it, tagging any relevant contributors, team members, power users or brand-advocate level customers who would benefit from it.
This instantly creates a sense of community that other people want to be a part of. Over time, that builds up into an awesomely loyal following of qualified B2B leads.
Next, Learn to Love Linkbuilding
“Content without links is like trying to start a fire without kindling,” says Mile Živković, copywriter at Chanty. “We knew early on that we needed high-quality, white-hat backlinks to support our content efforts. The problem is, hiring an agency to get links can be expensive. Even worse, lots of agencies build shady links that do nothing but get you into trouble, instead of actually helping you.”
Boy, preach. ??
Mile decided to do what any marketing pragmatist would do and set out to score links on his own, using a tried-and-true combo of guest posting and co-marketing.
He and the team were already publishing around 100 guest posts per year and they had a set system in place. “However, we wanted to get even more out of it, so we gathered some partners to do co-marketing with. Essentially, we mention our partners in our guest posts, and they do the same for us,” he explained.
Here’s his exact 5-step process, word-for-word:
1. Make Sure You Do a Lot of Guest Posts
This strategy only really works if you’re very diligent about pitching, sending and writing lots of guest posts. As mentioned, we do about 10 per month. The strategy only works if you have something of value to offer to others. In this case, you’re offering your work (the guest posts) and the links that come with it.
2. Carefully Choose Your Partners
Find a handful of partners that you can include (link to) in your guest blogs. These should be companies similar to yours. In our case, we have the following criteria:
- Strong marketing team
- Similar niche, but not competitors (SaaS)
- Great track record with publishing guest posts
Depending on your niche, this can be a relatively easy job to pull off.
3. Create an Agreement
It does not necessarily have to be in the form of a contract, however, a written agreement is a good idea. Make sure to state what you do for the partners and what they do for you. In other words, try to make the deal fair for both sides.
4. Track Your Success
For each guest blog you get published, write down the details – where it got published, the domain authority of the website (DA) and which partners you managed to include and get published. Our practice is to let our partners know immediately when a post goes live, but you can send weekly or monthly reports as well.
5. Scale Up
The more partners you have, the more links you will be able to get with the same amount of work. Moreover, the more partners there are involved, the smaller the chances of your partnership being considered a link-building scheme.
“Using this approach, we’ve been able to build a consistent stream of inbound links (20+ per month) just from our guest posting efforts,” says Mile.
No matter what industry you’re in, it’s always a good idea to put your head above the water and take a look around. Sometimes inspiration from other experts and B2B brands can be just what you need to take your content marketing efforts to the next level.
But before I let you go, I’ll leave you with a few wise words from Tomasz Tunguz, “Ultimately, logic and clear thinking are probably the best tools for setting goals, and motivating an organization properly.”
Beyond any sparkly new tool, tip or insight, logic and clear thinking will always be your best tools for creating a B2B content marketing strategy that really works.
January 27, 2020