Digital marketing for SAAS – a short guide for 2021
Lately, I’ve been having these endless “digital marketing for SAAS” loops where I am listening to an audiobook, reading an article, or watching a seminar, and then I hear or get a great idea. I reaffirm, for example, that I should be writing more blog posts. Then inevitably I conclude that the blog post needs promotion, so I remember that I should post more on social media, and send out more newsletters. I should post more videos on YouTube. I should post more images on Instagram. I should tweet more. I should be more active on Facebook, LinkedIn, and … where else? This leads me to other various promotions and sales strategies, tactics, and conversion optimization, because inbound marketing can only get you so far. This builds up to a staggering amount of work, which ultimately leads either to burnout or delegation. I’ve tried both and delegation is better, so in my endless loop, my mind chooses delegation.
Delegating your digital marketing for SAAS
Delegating means different work, such as finding talent, hiring, firing, managing, leading, motivating, inspiring, and rewarding. All this also results in more bookkeeping, accounting, email, communication, time management, and so on. At this point I can imagine everybody feeling a sense of overwhelm. One thing I learned from one of Tony Robbins’ seminars is a strategy called “chunking.” You chunk different actions and tactics into same category, and all of a sudden you have to control two or three categories instead of 20–30 actions. This is much more manageable for your brain, so the overwhelm dissipates, and you are again able to take action. The way you chunk all these online marketing strategies is by writing them down, which is a process that helps to get them out of your head! One example that works well in explaining how this works is with driving a gear-shift car. (To all Europeans, this is a normal car that doesn’t have automatic transmission. To all Americans, cars with automatic transmission are rare in Europe.) When you first start learning how to drive, you are overwhelmed with the clutch, brake, gas pedal, gear shift, rear-view mirrors, road, pedestrians, other cars, and traffic signs. I can go on and on. A few months or years later, all this has one name in your head: driving. Not only that, but sometimes you even “zone out” while driving, and then after a few moments you realize you weren’t paying attention to the road! In conclusion, you just have to do it often enough, and you’ll get there.
For the sake of this blog post and sharing the knowledge, let’s go through some of those actions that we do repeatedly at WhoAPI. Before jumping into it, have in mind that I am still learning and would love to read any advice or tips you have on this matter!
At WhoAPI we take blogging seriously and we’ve had our blog since the day of our website launch. Last year we even redesigned it, and added a mobile version so that people reading on their mobile phones have easier access. There are several types of blog posts you could write, and it’s nice to have a little variety. Something we always avoided on our blog are those “this is what I did today” kinds of posts. We always try to provide value. Here are some of the things we’ve covered in the past:
These are our top three categories, and most of the posts inside those categories we consider our pillar content. For example, we conducted research on four-letter dot-com domain names that was a huge success, where Slate and Reddit sent us 30,000 visitors in a single day, and kept sending thousands of visitors over next few years. At one point I got the idea of compiling and finding the biggest domain expiration flops that have happened. I found several of them, but I decided on a “Top 5” format, and pushed others into notable mentions. That post had 5500 hits in the first week after it went viral on Twitter, and over 14,000 hits since it was published. Our two infographics (top 1000 domains and top 1000 .me domains) weren’t that successful, but they did attract thousands of visitors to our website, and gave us visibility in the industry, especially after notable industry websites like TheDomains shared them. Interviews, on the other hand, are my favorite, and although I don’t do them as much as I used to, they are definitely a great form of creating great pillar content and it helps you reach the rockstars of your industry. We had barely started our company and I was able to reach out to some of the most influential and successful experts in the domain industry. I was able to interview Paul Stahura who founded domain name registrar eNom in his garage and NameJet, a leading domain name auction platform. He is now actively involved in the Not-Com revolution with his company Donuts, handling more than 300 domain extensions. That is not a typo; those are 300 top-level domains. I’ve interviewed world-class domain investors like Rick Schwartz, Rob Grant, Mike Mann and Frank Schilling, another behemoth in the Not-Com revolution with 30 domain extensions and counting at Uniregistry.
You also don’t have to do a full-blown interview for a blog post! You could ask several experts in your industry the same question and then post their answers. That way, you will provide tremendous value to your readers, it won’t take much time, and you’ll have a better chance of getting a comment from that high-profile person within your industry. I did that at the start of 2016 and was able to compile amazing advice from domain industry leaders. Another potential advantage of doing this is the possibility of one of those experts sharing that post on their social media profile. That’s a huge boost for your brand and can potentially mean thousands of people flocking to your website. I’ve also interviewed startup founders like Mitch Wainer from Digital Ocean, Marko Kovac from Repsly, Tomislav Bilic from Inchoo, and Joel Gascoigne from Buffer. And, I’ve interviewed Isaac Saldana from Sendgrid and Bart Lorang from FullContact.
Don’t get me wrong – each time we did any of these revolutionary types of posts called pillar content, I had to send a hundred emails and messages, and ask for social media shares. More on that a little later. When I send those, many don’t even reply, some reply but don’t do anything, and a few people give positive responses and help. That’s just the way it is with digital marketing for SAAS.
Other categories we have on our blog:
- Walkthroughs, tutorials
- Thought leadership
We didn’t have runaway success with these categories, although some were able to attract a few thousand visitors. Like the time when Google hit the news channel with the story of selling google.com to someone for $10 – we jumped at the opportunity and explained exactly what happened. We’ve reported from some of the biggest conferences in our industry like World Hosting Days and NamesCon, ICANN meeting and we also try to educate our readers on how exactly they can use our tools and APIs with the benefit in mind! Sometimes we even add videos into the mix!
A couple of times I was able to get a pat on the back from industry experts for a great post that didn’t really get much attention but was definitely considered great. These posts don’t have an immediate return on investment, but it’s definitely great if you can have a few of those. For me personally, they were: What every website owner needs to know about their website and 26 questions you have to answer correctly to get funding for your startup. The second one ended up becoming an ebook: 26 Fundraising Questions for Startups. Who knows, maybe the first one will too… someday.
So that about sums it up for our blog. And by now I am beginning to hope this post can create as many waves in the community as the ones I’ve mentioned here.
Research supports your digital marketing for SAAS
Research really deserves a separate category because it’s definitely not your typical blog post, and doesn’t fit easy in the blogging category. You could outsource a blog post for $25 a pop, and there you go… content! Research, on the other hand, is different, and it’s different for every company. It’s a great way to enter education-based marketing or inbound marketing! If you pick the right title, you can catch a lot of eyes, and even convert them to becoming your clients today or in the future. Not to mention you have leverage over your competition. If you were comparing two identical companies with the same product, same price, and the same functionality, and one of them published several research results, which one do you think would be more capable, trustworthy and passionate about the topic?
Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t lead any of our research campaigns because I wanted to appear trustworthy; rather, I lead them because I am a fanatic about these things, and I want to share my findings with the world. Sometimes I share stuff for free and later find out that somebody else is charging for that same piece of knowledge, but that’s the price you pay. I would exchange a little money for trustworthiness and passion on any given day, because those things can’t be faked or bought.
Each time you ask yourself, “I wonder if…,” and you go on a wild goose chase, that’s proof that you are living and breathing your business. Expand your research; ask for help; interview people on your way; use your products, services and experience in the process; and report your findings on your blog, or in a video, or in a white paper or an ebook. If you are wondering about something, I guarantee you that someone else in your industry, even potential clients, are wondering the same thing. People will appreciate if you satisfy their hunger for knowledge. Satisfying someone’s hunger for knowledge increases your likability, and remember what Jeffrey Gitomer says: “If they like you, and they believe you, and they trust you, and they have confidence in you… then they MAY buy from you.”
In my personal opinion, white papers are basically just a different format, a different output of research. Sometimes the topic is more complex, or bigger to grasp, and you need a different format to cover it. You can dig a hole with your hands, with a shovel or with a bulldozer. You can tweet something, post a blog post or write a white paper. Obviously, a bulldozer is harder to operate than a shovel, so you have to pick your format. But don’t be fooled into thinking you can become a thought leader and expert in your industry by operating solely with a shovel. You need to expand and grow your skills, and show what you are made of. I wrote three white papers in Croatian back in 2010 for a hosting business I sold in 2011, and I have been postponing a white paper for WhoAPI for too long. Back in September 2016 I finally published a white paper for WhoAPI, and this time in English. Domain Disclosure: Dirty Dozen. As you can see, the white paper download is behind a landing page, which I’ll explain later.
You need to promote your white papers with social media, direct mail, newsletters and blog posts. Here’s an example of a blog post where we highlight one small portion of our white paper. Once published, this blog post was later boosted with one of our vides, also on the topic of unplanned domain expirations.
As you can tell by the “Dirty Dozen” title, in our white paper I wrote about 12 topics. One of those topics was domain expiration. So I wrote a blog post about common reasons why domain owners fail to renew their domain name. And then when the blog post was published, at the bottom it contained a call to action to download the white paper, which actually led to the landing page. Also, we treated this blog post as any other and promoted it via our social media channels and newsletter. I also emailed two dozen people and let them know it had been published.
Infographics are often a result of some form of research. They are a great tactic for digital marketing for SAAS. We have created two infographics so far, and each time there were at least four people working on them: someone to direct the entire project, someone to create the graphics, someone to get the data, and often someone was hired for Excel crunching, copy-pasting and similar. We didn’t want to create a low-value infographic, and we wanted to utilize the data we are able to provide with our tools and APIs. Once you put all that together you get a small project that takes about a month from idea stage to promotion stage. Although this material is free, and infographics are known to go viral, like with white papers, you still have to sell people that this is something they should focus their attention on. And by now I hope that it’s obvious to everyone how attention is becoming a scarce resource.
This brings us to social media. With the level at which social media is ingrained in our lives, it’s easy to get someone’s attention on social media. The only problem is that everybody is trying to do it, so every day it becomes harder. Every day there’s another leader with a huge following that’s fighting for your attention, or competing against you for your clients’ attention. There was a good chance I was fighting for your attention on social media with this post. Here’s little Goran trying to teach you about the importance of domains and online marketing. But at the same time, someone with a beach, a cake, a fitness program, SEO software, your mum and who knows who else were also fighting for your attention. That’s how hard it is. You are not just up against your competitors, you are up against everybody. So you really have to make your content stand out. Post smart content, post often, interact, and keep an open line between you and your community. For some businesses it’s Facebook; for others there are Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, YouTube, and Snapchat. If you are starting to think digital marketing for SAAS is hard, welcome to the club.
With social media you have to be careful that you actually do the work, and try to get attention with your content, instead of spending time and attention on other people’s content. This is somewhat hard to achieve because people will see that you are online, and will try to reach out to you to get your attention when in fact you can’t give it to them because you are working.
Another mistake people often make is to push exactly the same content on different platforms. Although I recommend testing and seeing for yourself, usually this doesn’t work well, especially if you post automatically. This way you have butchered content with a URL to a different platform. If you post an image on Instagram and automatically push that on Twitter, the image won’t appear on Twitter (at least in November 2016). On Twitter you will get a part of text and a url to Instagram, and … how is that supposed to appeal to anyone? How is that supposed to influence anyone?
Yes, there’s a lot of work in social media, and that’s why I personally have these endless loops I mentioned at the beginning of the post, but bear with me – we can get through this. For example, I’ve been considering using Buffer lately. I am hoping this will be an affordable help in managing all the social networks where we post content often (Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram). If anyone is already using Buffer or a different service, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section.
The inbox is still the quintessential marketing location. It’s definitely nowhere near efficiency, or should I say conversion rates, since the early 2000s, but it still dominates other marketing forms. You can “land” in the inbox with direct mail (more on that shortly), but you can also stay in touch with a newsletter. At WhoAPI we started sending newsletters using Mailchimp back in June 2014 with a small list of 427 subscribers. For a while we were sending our newsletter once per month. As our list grew, and since we were able to get sponsorship from Sendgrid (in late 2015), we started sending our newsletter twice per month (mid-2016). There are many different theories and best-case scenarios, but more and more I am thinking about increasing the volume to one newsletter per week.
Some experts say that if you are not getting complaints about sending too often, you are not sending enough. Some experts say that if someone unsubscribes from your newsletter, he was definitely not going to buy anything from you anyway. Some experts say that the inbox today is being bombarded so much that you have to appear at least once per week if you want to be seen, let alone influence your readers. Some people think that newsletters are just spam and that people unsubscribe at the first opportunity. I’ve sent and read a lot of newsletters, and read a lot of books, ebooks, and white papers on this topic and I’ve analyzed dozens of campaigns for dozens of companies. All I can say is that there’s a little bit of truth in all that. Everybody is looking for that silver-bullet advice, but I hate to break it to you: you have to test what works, analyze results, and make changes. Sure, some days like Tuesdays and Thursdays work better. For some companies, Sunday also works (people are catching up on email). Nine a.m. Eastern time is great, unless you are a local business in Australia. One call to action works better than several options. The first sentence after the subject is very important because Gmail users can read it without opening the email. People read email often on their mobile devices. I could go on and on. There are a lot tricks, but it all boils down to what works for you. We have surpassed 10,000 subscribers, and I can tell you that even I am sometimes surprised and shocked by some of our campaigns. But that doesn’t mean I will pass on the opportunity to appear in your inbox, and try to grab your attention and teach you a thing or two about website monitoring, current trends in domain names, and so on.
Direct mail and marketing automation
Remember chunking from the beginning of this post? The great thing about chunking is that once you set up a certain tactic, like writing blog posts and promoting them on social media and newsletter, a few months (or weeks) later, you can start adding other tactics in the mix. Something I’ve done recently is marketing automation (upgraded autoresponder technology). The way it works is basically each time someone signs up for your service, you can email this person saying hello, offering help, sending an intro message, and so on. In the following weeks you can follow up automatically by sharing a story about your company, your service, a problem you think your potential client might be facing (he signed up, so obviously something bugged him enough to look for a solution), and so on. Maybe you have never used this to reach out to your potential clients, but I am willing to bet that you have received some of those emails. The thing that’s changed recently is that now you can send a different set of emails depending on the response or lack of it from the recipient. If the recipient clicked on a link inside your email, you can send him a different email than you would if he had not clicked or even not opened your email!
So, for example, you could set up this type of marketing automation to target anyone who signed up for your service, or with anyone that downloaded a white paper or ebook from your landing page. We are using GetResponse because they have marketing automation, a landing page generator, an autoresponder and webinars. (Webinars we have never done, but would like to try it in the future, so please share your thoughts in the comment section.) So far we are happy with GetResponse, and although we are not using all their tools, we are happy with the results for the ones I just mentioned.
[Add-on : 9th November 2016.]
For example, one individual that signed up on WhoAPI, replied to an automated email we sent with GetResponse. One week later he upgraded his account to a paid $499 account. Maybe he would have done this without the automated email, but if you are running a business I am sure you know how great the difference is between “maybe” and “absolutely positive”. All I know is Steve from England replied, we exchanged few emails and he ended up paying more than our yearly subscription at GetResponse.
Also I would like to mention a couple of tools we have been using recently. Boomerang allows you several important actions with your email. You can “boomerang” it away from your inbox, and tell it when to come back. More importantly, when you are sending or replying to an email, you can instruct it to appear again in your inbox if there was no reply from the recipient (which is great for follow-ups). And also, you can send emails at a later date (if you want to prepare them on Sunday and send them on Monday) if you don’t want to appear weird sending emails at 4 am. This year they introduced Respondable, a feature that detects keywords in your email and grades how likely your email is going to get a response and other valuable info.
The next tool that was launched recently is If No Reply. They allow you to send an entire sequence of emails at once! Think of it as an autoresponder inside your Gmail. You send one email, with several contingency emails. Meaning, if the recipient of the first email doesn’t respond, the system will automatically send a second, a third, a fourth… email that you write in advance. If you get a response, the sequence is broken, and you have established communication.
Either way, direct mail, autoresponders, newsletters or marketing automation, are a great way to improve your digital marketing for SAAS.
I created landing pages with some success a couple years ago with Unbounce, and recently with GetResponse. I’ll focus on the one I created last. As I mentioned earlier, we created a white paper about domain names (Domain Disclosure: Dirty Dozen) and we wanted to make a deeper connection with someone that might download and read it. So we set up a landing page on a subdomain, domainnames.whoapi.com, and listed several key benefits to our readers with a clear call to action to download the white paper.
Once the visitor fills in the details, and clicks the yellow button, he is then able to download the white paper. His name and email are added into the GetResponse system, and depending on your sequence, he is then emailed once per week on the topic we wrote about. You could use landing pages for a much harder sell than a mere white paper download, but those need much more traffic to show any conversion. It’s hard to expect anyone will buy something from you on their first visit, so you need to focus on building a relationship. Great Internet marketing expert Frank Kern calls this “stacking the cool.” You need to stack so many cool benefits that the potential client has no choice but to purchase something from you. Gary Vaynerchuk wrote a book called “Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook” explaining how you have to “give, give, give” to your potential clients, and then “ask” for their business. Ding, ding, knockout! Stack the cool!
Conversion rate optimization
With every webpage, and especially every landing page, you need to optimize everything in order to increase conversion. There’s no digital marketing for SAAS, without CRO (Conversion Rate Optimization). Since there are a lot of stats you can learn from, if you see that a particular title or button color or list of benefits isn’t generating the type of conversion you were expecting, change something! Depending on the landing page software, there are a lot of metrics you can see there, but there are also tools like CrazyEgg, where you can see a heatmap of where your visitors click/navigate, and how far down they scroll. Hint: almost 50 percent of visitors never scroll past the first screen (called above the fold), which is why one-screen landing pages convert better.
Conversion rate optimization (CRO) is very important because website visitors and attention aren’t easy to find. Especially if you are sending paid traffic to your landing page! Here’s some math.
1000 website visitors + 5% signup conversion = 50 signups + 5% conversion to a $9 paid package = $27 revenue
1000 website visitors + 10% signup conversion = 100 signups + 10% conversion to a $9 paid package = $90 revenue
By doubling our conversion in two key areas, we tripled our revenue! Marketing budget remained absolutely the same because the cost of bringing 1000 visitors remained the same. CRO doesn’t necessarily mean just changing the color of your button or your title. It can often mean removing or adding a process on the signup, follow-up email, follow-up phone call, social media post, direct mail, creating a workflow, publishing a video, anything you might think would bring someone closer to the signup (both free and paid) in an automated way without creating new cost.
Another thing to have in mind with calculations like the one above is LTV or CLTV (client lifetime value) and CAC (client acquisition cost). I know some people call this “customer,” but I call my customers clients. So let’s add LTV and CAC into the mix. This is especially important for SAAS businesses like WhoAPI due to the subscription nature.
1000 website visitors ($0.50 CPC) + 10% signup conversion = 100 signups + 10% conversion to a $9 paid package = $90 revenue (LTV $108)
Cost = 1000 x $0.50 = $500
Revenue = 10 new clients with $9 package = $90 during the first month (total revenue LTV x number of clients = $1080 explained below)
Let’s say, statistically, clients cancel their subscription for some reason after 12 months. That would bring us to the LTV of $90 x 12 months = $108 per client. Now we are able to conclude that those $500 brought us 10 clients with $90 in the first month, and a total of $1080 if the LTV doesn’t change during those 12 months. Ideally CRO also includes increasing your “LTV,” which is perhaps the most important number in the entire equation! In a perfect world you would calculate your LTV as a cohort, but for starters it’s great if you even have any kind of LTV. Speaking of the perfect world, there’s a service that does this automatically, and I’ve been meaning to start using it. It’s called Chartmogul, any thoughts?
If you are doing any type of CRO it is important that you know and understand all the numbers, and not just “will this title work better” or “what if I put a red button?” Sometimes the CRO is totally off-balance due to a bad product and high churn. If your clients cancel their subscription in the second month and LTV is only $18 instead of $108, the conversion improvement at the beginning won’t help at all! Compare these two equations:
1000 website visitors ($0.50 CPC) + 10% signup conversion = 100 signups + 10% conversion to a $9 paid package = $90 revenue (LTV $108)
1000 website visitors ($0.40 CPC) + 20% signup conversion = 200 signups + 20% conversion to a $9 paid package = $360 revenue (LTV $18)
Although in the second scenario you worked your butt off and made amazing progress on all levels, in the first month it seems you did a great job bringing in a massive $360 compared to just $90 in the first scenario, which means you are actually worse off! In the first scenario total revenue is $1080, and in the second scenario, it’s $720 because all the clients cancel their subscriptions before the third month, where all 40 of them bring $18 each. Yes, you can follow up with a larger audience, but you are still $360 short. Add another zero to this equation, and suddenly your business isn’t growing – it’s dying and you have to fire someone or scale back on your success program or marketing.
You probably knew all this; who am I to lecture you on it? But hey, it’s a great reminder, and we should remind ourselves often about important numbers and KPIs like these.
Search engine optimization
Another great way of bringing in traffic that I haven’t mentioned yet (and that we do at WhoAPI) is SEO. Certainly, if you are after 1000 website visitors, and can’t afford $500 every month to bring them to your website, and you don’t have time for pushing traffic constantly with social media, newsletters, and direct mail, traffic from Google and other search engines is definitely a great push.
You must be thinking, after all this, I have to do SEO as well?! But sometimes SEO just comes naturally. If you create amazing content, and people share it on social media, and Slate quotes your research (which is posted on WordPress where the titles are written in H1 tags, and images have ALT tags with keywords that are relevant), boom – you are halfway there! But the things you need to do when it’s not going your way, that’s an entirely different story and I fear that it won’t fit this giant post. Especially when things are changing so rapidly, and Google keeps updating their algorithm! I can say that some things will probably never go out of style, though:
- Quality, relevant links (Get Wall Street Journal, Techrunch or Forbes to mention your company and link to your site)
- Social media shares (get hundreds if not thousands of people to share your story)
- Great website (on-page optimization, fast-loading website, SSL secured, without virus, phishing, or malware, and with a mobile version)
Digital marketing is getting more and more technical; growth hackers are living proof of it. The fact that you have to install an SSL certificate in your website in order to get a better position on a search engine could give you a headache, but you have to think about the end goal, which is giving the client the very best user experience. This is why we went out of our way to install the EV SSL (extended validation secure sockets layer) not just on our website but also on our admin, our blog, our forum, and our API! Once you provide your website visitors the very best experience, and they stay longer on your website, Google and other search engines tend to notice that and reward you with better positions.
Minimum Viable Campaign
In case all of this sounds overwhelming, it’s because it is. Especially if you lack the resources to complete this. So how do we get started? Well, the subtitle kind of gave it away. Similar to Minimum Viable Product, we should create a Minimum Viable Campaign. Start with something you already know it’s working for you, and use that in starting your next channel. If it doesn’t work, try to get some findings (why it didn’t work), and use that in moving on to the next channel. I know it sounds like “I either win, or I learn”, but it’s hard to create a testing environment where you actually do end up learning something if the campaign or a channel falls flat.
Summary for your digital marketing for SAAS
Sure, there are expensive tools like Ahrefs, Moz and many others to help you track your keywords and position, but if your digital marketing budget is limited, and you realize you also have to spend money on newsletter software like Sendgrid or Mailchimp, and you have to write or outsource content (text + graphic) to freelancers or a digital agency, it can get pricey. Once you add in all that, how are you supposed to find additional money in your budget for CRO tools and marketing automation like GetResponse and CrazyEgg? It’s definitely hard, which is why I might be getting those endless loops when I start thinking about this process. This machine grinds every day… how do you deal with it?