5 Ways to Drive Content ROI (And NONE Are SEO)

Content marketing and SEO often go hand in hand. Mention the ROI of a content program, and most people will assume you’ll be talking organic traffic, engagement, and conversion.

But SEO is not the only way a content marketing program can drive growth. In this piece, I’ll outline five other ways to add value with a content program – especially if you’re a B2B startup with a limited marketing budget.

Background: The Problems with SEO for B2B Startups

First, let me say that search engine optimization is hugely important for any website. If you’re going to the trouble of building a website, it is absolutely worth putting in the extra effort to optimize it for search. (Not sure where to start? Try these SEO basics.)

But notice that I’m talking about your entire website here, not just your content program. Content is one part of SEO, just as SEO is one part of content marketing. If your SEO strategy starts and ends with keywords, you’re probably not going to see much ROI.

The reverse is true, too: if your entire content strategy is focused on optimizing for search, you’re probably not getting the most value you can from your content.

That’s because SEO is a really indirect way to derive value from content.

Think about it: you’re writing content to make your site perform better in search with the hope that people using search engines find your website, visit it, and then decide to sign up for your newsletter (or whatever).

That’s becoming less and less likely, for a few reasons:

  1. The search engine we’re all optimizing for is a business in and of itself. And increasingly, the content most “optimized” for that engine is the content that keeps people on Google (with answer boxes, maps, rich snippets, and so on – see Figure 1).
  2. There's a lot of bad and mediocre content out there. Most of us have already signed up for too many newsletters that provide too little value. Trying to get someone to sign up for one more is a big hurdle.
  3. Not everyone is using Google to search! Recent data shows that nearly 40 percent of Gen Z goes to TikTok to start searches. Google has dominated search for more than 20 years, but it may not forever.

Figure 1: a Google results page with lots of answers that don’t require a click

The second problem with SEO: it’s slow. The conventional wisdom says to expect SEO results within three to six months of launching a program – an eon in startup terms. And that timeline assumes you’re going all-out on content and SEO, meaning you have at least one FTE dedicated to each.

For many B2B startups, that’s not feasible.

More to the point, though, it doesn’t make business sense. If you’re selling consulting services to IT decision makers at insurance companies, for example, you’re not playing a numbers game. You need to get the right message in front of the small group of people who make up your prospective client base.

And content marketing is a great way to do that. But the strategy shouldn’t be to win the SERPs. Here are five non-SEO content marketing strategies to try instead.

1. Blog + Monthly Email

How it works: Write blog posts that speak to the concerns of your target audience. Promote your latest post(s) monthly to a carefully curated email list.

(For more detail, check out our case study on our client who’s seen success with this approach for more than a year.)

Why it works: This approach is almost the opposite of the SEO “spray and pray” model. Rather than aiming to bring visitors into the site via content, this strategy aims to nurture qualified leads already in your network.

Try it:

  1. Build an email list of qualified leads. If you don’t yet have one, past and current customers are a great place to start.
  2. Make sure you have a deep understanding of your audience and what they care about. This will dictate what you write about on your blog.
  3. Write excellent blog content. The goal is engagement. You want people replying to your emails and forwarding them to people in their network. You can track all this engagement and then decide whether and how to engage with people who are reading and sharing your work.

2. Sales Enablement Content

How it works: Your sales team makes a list of all the things they wish they had to share with clients – from case studies to infographics to explainers to insights from the CEO. The content team creates those assets. Salespeople use them to supplement conversations and to have a reason to follow up.

Why it works: Sales enablement content does what it says: it enables the sales team to do their jobs better. Whereas an SEO-focused program prioritizes content to meet the needs of hypothetical potential leads, a sales enablement program prioritizes content that actual warm leads need today.

Try it

  1. Ask your head of sales to crowdsource ideas for content that could support ongoing conversations.
  2. Collaborate to prioritize the most important content.
  3. Set up a recurring meeting between sales and content to keep the content pipeline full.
  4. Create the content, share it with sales, and publish it on your website.

3. Blog + Internal Website Promotion

How it works: Launch a blog to showcase thought leadership from company leaders. Rather than hoping people find it through search, create a feed on your highest-traffic page (often the homepage) to highlight the latest posts.

Why it works: Lots of startups have decent traffic to their homepage or careers page but struggle to drive traffic to their blog – often because they don’t have the resources for a robust SEO program. Featuring posts on the homepage is a simple, free way to promote your content to the audience most likely to engage with and be impacted by it.

Try it:

  1. Check out some websites using their homepage to feature their latest blog content. (My recs: Andreesen Horowitz, Azumo, Firmspace – see Figure 2)
  2. Level up your headline game. In this format, headlines and summary content will be your main tool for piquing interest and getting people to your thought leadership. 
  3. Schedule time with your website team to discuss adding a blog feature widget to your website.

Figure 2: The Andreesen Horowitz homepage, featuring a feed of recent blog posts

4. Blog + LinkedIn Promotion

How it works: You publish blog posts bylined by thought leaders in your organization. Those thought leaders then share the blog posts on LinkedIn.

Why it works: Many people in leadership positions at B2B startups have robust LinkedIn networks. Sharing their content on this platform gets it in front of people with a decent likelihood of caring about and interacting with it, which increases its visibility and drives credibility and awareness for your startup.

Try it:

  1. Get your thought leaders on board.
  2. Write great content. For inspiration, check out my tips on how to write better, faster.
  3. Work with your thought leaders to write LinkedIn posts. One way to think about this: the post should contain enough info to spark a conversation on LinkedIn and to signal to the post’s target audience that they can find more on the blog. Even if you don’t drive much site traffic, you’ll start conversations.

5. Long-form Social Media Posts

How it works: Instead of publishing their thoughts on a company blog, your startup’s thought leaders publish them straight to social media, either as long-form LinkedIn posts, LinkedIn Pulse pieces, or Twitter threads. (Or, I guess, TikToks, if that’s where your audience is!) 

Note: you don’t want to do a straight lift-and-shift blog content to social media. Check out this helpful Animalz piece on how to write a Tweetstorm for more.

Why it works: It’s always easier to communicate with someone where they are than to convince them to leave. And if you present compelling information often enough, you’ll build a reputation for yourself and your startup among potential clients.

Try it:

  1. Identify the social platform where your potential clients are most engaged.
  2. Plan your argument as you would for any blog post or article.
  3. Draft your piece for the social network’s format, with the help of an experienced ghostwriter if necessary.
  4. Publish (from your thought leader’s personal social network account).

For Content Marketing ROI, Think: Post + Promote

The underlying formula for all of these is to write something and then promote it to your target audience. Appearing in search results is a great way for B2C brands to accomplish that. But for B2B startups – especially those in niche industries and those trying to reach higher-level decision makers – the first page of Google isn’t the most valuable place to be.

Stuck on how to get your key messages to people who could benefit from hearing them? I’d love to talk it through with you. Seriously. Let’s gab.