Starting with bottom-of-the-funnel content

It’s December 2020 and Jon Yongfook just crossed the $8000 a month mark.

In an Indie Hacker update, Jon reflects on his progress building Banner Bear (a tool that helps you auto-generate images for your social media marketing) and wishes he’d spent less time building features and more time writing better tutorials for the features that already exist.

“As founders we think that our UI is intuitive or that people fully understand what our apps can do, but they just don’t. You need to show them, again and again, through blog posts, API portals, videos, etc – the more the better.”

Content marketing is an enormous fish to tackle. As someone struggling with the overwhelming question of where to start, this post will explore why creating product tutorials as a content strategy for search engine optimization makes a lot of sense.

Nobody knows how any of it works

Part of the problem with search engine optimization as a growth channel is that everything operates inside a black box. Beyond a very broad set of guidelines, nobody knows how things get ranked on Google. Ranking mechanics decide the fate of whole industries. The combination of lucrative information and nobody knowing how anything works create fertile ground for speculation.

Search engine optimizations are almost impossible to test. The confounding variables make running controlled experiments futile. 

If someone does manage to magically number crunch some valuable insights, no one will listen to them till they’ve implemented it. And changes take months to propagate.

Plus if there were a chink in the armor, it’d probably get fixed once it starts getting exploited. And we’d have no way of knowing.

To top it all off, our benevolent dictators over at Google move the goal posts and change how everything works on a daily basis.

Rolf Dobelli has a great story in the art of thinking clearly that captures what’s happening here. A million monkeys speculate on a stock. After a week, half the monkeys win, and the other half lose. 20 weeks in there’s just one monkey left, who is now a billionaire. The media goes into a frenzy, they want to know the monkey’s principles for success, what kind of bananas she eats, her sleep schedule, something, anything that resembles a recipe.

And we all fall for it.

Sites that rank well like to talk about the kind of bananas they eat and what helped them get to the top, and the internet recycles and regurgitates their bullshit all day long. But there’s no way to know if what they’re focusing on has anything to do with what actually matters.

The tricky bit is figuring out what not to do

I spoke to several SEO experts on GrowthMentor, a platform where you can get access to active professionals in different fields. These are people walking the walk and making a living from ranking businesses. They all emphasized very different aspects of the vague guidelines Google has laid out. I’m certain all the information was valid,and worth paying attention to, but which bits do I pay attention to first?

Half of an entrepreneur’s job involves ruthlessly prioritizing what to do next at the expense of all the other things you could be doing. The key is understanding what not to do. For example, I know we need to tighten up our technical SEO. We also need to write more content. Should the content be aimed at the top of the funnel or lower down? We definitely need to optimize our existing content. Internal links are super important too, they seem to be getting a lot of attention lately. Oh, and we have to get started on the backlink building front.

Understanding the relative importance of each part of the game, in different contexts, is what’s important.

Why bet on a bottom-of-the-funnel content strategy

Jon Yongfook runs a similar kind of business to ours, and he was at a similar stage of growth when he wrote his Indie Hacker update. These are both excellent signals to pay attention to.

The best part is Jon got the insight from listening to a podcast interview with Tim Soulo of Ahrefs. Tim’s argument centers around the idea that the signup process is not the beginning of the conversion funnel. Ideally, people should know how to use your product way before they sign up. Content that walks people through solving a specific problem with your product helps achieve this. By the time people sign up, they already know your product can solve their problem, and they know exactly how to use it.

I guess this approach applies best to highly technical products. Like Ahrefs, our product leans towards the overly complicated. We get so much shit for our UI not being pretty enough.

The fact is, we were one of the first Twitter thread makers on the market. We’ve been helping people write Twitter threads back when Twitter only let you publish 140 characters. We’ve had time to add loads of features, which clutters the product up.

We have tried to simplify things and it has helped, to a degree. But we’re talking about a tiny improvement in conversion. Cosmetic changes involve a massive amount of effort and the return on investment is not proportionate. Prioritizing whitespace is fighting a losing battle for us because it’s only a matter of time before we add new features and clutter everything up again. There is only so much simplifying you can do when your product is complex.

Tim’s approach to all of this sounds appealing because it’s based on educating people about the product before they sign up. We need to up our design game, but that’s a big fish and till we figure it out, we can continue to invest our energy in building wicked features and developing kickass product tutorials that show people how to use them.

I don’t know what the ideal format for our bottom-of-the-funnel product tutorials will be. I’m guessing we’ll have to try a few different approaches out. Ahrefs has a “blogging for business” course on their platform that goes into detail on what they did and what worked for them. Banner bear also has a whole section of product tutorials that I’m studying and taking notes on. Chirr App will need to develop its own format but these are solid foundations to build on.

Feeding two birds with one scone

Whether or not investing in bottom-of-the-funnel content turns out to be the right direction for us, it’s a direction I’m happy to invest in. Mostly because these kinds of product tutorials also help with recurring customer support issues. This is all basic informational architecture that we should be investing in any way, regardless of its impact on our search rankings.

You can only do so many things with your time as an entrepreneur. Deciding what to focus on and what to ignore is the hardest piece of the puzzle. Given that nobody knows how any of this works, the fact that it’s something we should be doing anyway, and that there is some evidence to suggest this is a sensible content strategy for a product like ours, I think starting with a bottom of the funnel content makes sense.

Being able to make a move that tackles multiple problems is rare, so I’ll take them when I can.

If you have questions, comments, or thoughts, please let me know here.

I realize this post didn’t cover what bottom-of-the-funnel marketing is. This is partly because I’m in the middle of figuring that out for myself. This post was more about why it makes sense for us to start at the bottom. I’ll be updating the post as I go. You can sign up for email updates in the footer if you want to be kept in the loop.