Case Study in SaaS Marketing: How Help Scout creates content that works
Why it matters?
I remember I discovered Help Scout’s blog and resources center a few years ago and I instantly became a fan. Their content is simply inspiring; carefully polished, beautifully designed, and useful, even for those who are not working in the Customer Support niche. I was surprised to rediscover them recently from a slightly different perspective. It seems they rank really high on great topics from their industry, and that helps their business a lot. It’s the perfect win-win situation everyone is looking for so I decided to dig a little deeper and uncover their “secret”.
For this I teamed up with Devin Bramhall, Help Scout’s Director of Content. She was more than kind and helped me understand how they manage to deliver high quality content that’s both delightful for their audience and for search engines.
For those who never heard about this brand, Help Scout is a Help Desk software. From an SEO perspective, targeting the “help desk software” topic is absolutely challenging right now. There are a few great, well-established products that already rank really high there.
I looked for the most searched for keywords on this topic and here’s what I found out: Help Scout is definitely present, but “not quite there yet”, if you know what I mean. You can see exactly how each website ranks for the most relevant 2 keywords in this topic (highest volume).
Once we start looking at other topics, we see a completely different picture. Customer Service, a highly relevant topic for their target audience, is a territory evidently conquered by Help Scout.
I ran this analysis using SEOmonitor on a wide range of topics made out of keywords that someone in the awareness stage would use.
The situation is somewhat similar: Help Scout outranks its competitors every time. Some topics that clearly bring a lot of value to the company haven’t even been approached by competitors.
This clearly highlights that fact that the company pays a lot of attention to the SEO side of content: they pick the right topic, optimize for the right keywords, create an amazing on-page experience, and so on.
And their visitors seem to enjoy it as well.
On average, their visitors spend around 14 minutes on the website (SimilarWeb). This high level of engagement is also impacting their performance in SERP.
Suggested reading: If you want to learn more about how website engagement rates impact organic rankings, I highly recommend this study published by Larry Kim.
So what’s their BIG secret?
Well, I hope I’m not disappointing anyone at this point, but there’s no secret behind their success. They pick great topics, create in-depth articles, optimize the content and the page for higher conversions, and search engines reward them with great visibility.
Surprising or not, there’s one more thing they excel at, aside from strategy and tactics: the process they follow. I believe a great part of what makes their ideas work is the way they implement them, measure and learn from their results.
It’s all about the process
As far as building a growth machine goes, Brian Balfour has a great explanation: “stop looking for tactics first, and start focusing on establishing a growth process”.
So my conversation with Devin focused more on finding out who, how and what they use to turn their ideas into traffic and conversions sources.
At a first glance, their workflow seems pretty “standard”. The key here, as Devin herself emphasized it throughout our conversation, is that they invest in perfecting every step of the process.
There’s something worth mentioning about each step of the process.
Buyer persona profiles
Buyer Personas (also referred to as marketing personas) are usually created using a combination of data and educated guesses, representing the “ideal customer”. From a content perspective, they represent a blog’s readership.
Help Scout in particular has 3 different Buyer Personas and they provide the touchstone for their creative process. Having seen how well things work once you have a clear persona in mind, Help Scout even developed a “Persona” for their own company that answers to the questions: “Who are we, as a brand?”. I’ll tell you more about this a bit later.
What’s worth mentioning here is that they went above and beyond in describing their personas. Aside from demographics and background, their entire team is well aware of Heidi’s (The Support Manager) feelings, aspirations, challenges, professional goals – what she reads, how she talks, the things that customers like about her.
Content research and development
The Content team’s work process looks very much like an editorial flow. Devin’s team uses Trello to organize their activity from topic pitch, to drafts, editing and release.
If you take a look at any of their articles, you’ll notice they put a lot of heart and effort into delivering high-quality, useful materials. One of their go-to sources is Jstore. If an article refers to a technical aspect, it’s sent to a specialist for validation and final iterations.
1. Style Guide
In the end, nothing gets published before it’s checked against Help Scout’s style guide and gets a final review from an external proofreader. The style guide is often neglected, but Help Scout has everything written down and can be checked (and learned) by anyone joining their team.
Help Scout is working with an external editor. When you’re reading your own words over and over again (trust me!), most certainly you’ll miss a couple of things. You can find people through UpWork, or you can hire Ahna, Neil Patel’s editor.
Once the content is ready, Help Scout’s internal SEO specialist takes over the optimization process and the Growth Team makes sure the page is ready to assist visitors to further convert.
The design is another important element in the overall success. Check out their blog and you’ll notice you can immediately spot product updates from other content pieces. Their visual style is unique, and functional.
Steven Rayson, CEO of BuzzSumo also emphasises on the importance of a great visual style when building a brand.
So what does colour have to do with anything?
Process is key, but it doesn’t have to repress creativity and innovation. In order to grow, you have to take a risk, once in a blue moon.
For Help Scout, that means writing for the people who read their blog, not their buyer persona. Heidi is a person, not a “persona”. She’s interested in a variety of topics, not only the one directly linked to customer support.
That’s how this article was born: The Psychology of Color in Marketing and Branding. So although this topic idea might sounded a bit “risky”, compared to the rest of their content, Help Scout, as a brand (as described in their own “persona”), likes to take risks. And so far, it paid off.
10.000 shares. Not bad at all.
What works for Help Scout, probably won’t work for you
Brian Balfour wonderfully summarized the only growth strategy that will work for you: “You need a process that is going to uncover the unique combination of things that works for your product, your audience, and your business model.”
There is one key lesson here, and it can be applied for any “how to” article: take everything you read as inspiration, not prescription – this article included. Implement what you find to be valuable for your team, and be ready to iterate fast.