Almost a year ago, we talked about the concept of original content in a webinar we did with ProductLed. The feedback we received from the audience was extremely positive. This helped us realize that many content marketers believe something is missing from their content strategy.
We worked on our ideas and tried to make them more specific and develop them further. A few months ago, we felt ready to present the progress we'd made in a webinar with Superpath. The feedback we received was, once again, tremendously positive.
That was all the validation we needed to understand that companies out there need Original Content. In this post, we'll introduce you to the concept of Original Content in the hopes that it will help you create better content marketing.
What is Original Content?
If you’re in the world of content marketing, then you’ve probably heard of original content.
As a baseline, original content refers to any type of content that’s unique and offers a perspective that hasn’t been published online in precisely that way.
Don’t let the term scare you off; you don’t have to reinvent the wheel to create original content, but you can utilize various techniques and content formats which we’ll cover further on.
However, before we dive deeper into original content and its importance, it’s useful to talk about the two other content types that should be part of a content marketing strategy for SaaS companies:
- SEO content
- Product-focused content
Editor’s Note: We don’t subscribe to nor believe that the term SEO content is right. We just use it for simplicity purposes to describe the type of content that’s created for a search audience. In other words, content that’s created with the goal of getting visibility and traffic from a search engine like Google.
To begin with, we’re certain that SEO content is something you’ve heard of and most likely use as part of your content marketing strategy.
It’s a content type that almost every SaaS—at least the ones that invest in content marketing—uses and rightfully so, since it has been proven to work.
It consists of content that’s made for a search audience in order to attract targeted organic traffic.
This means applying various techniques that will make a piece of content friendly for search engines, so that they promote it to the right searchers.
For instance, here’s an example of SEO content from SEMrush:
Image Source: Semrush
It’s built around a target keyword (how to get backlinks) which has a good amount of demand from searchers…
…and various on-page SEO principles have been put in place.
Ideally, a small part of the organic traffic generated will convert into free trials or demo requests, depending on what the offering is.
The main objective of the piece isn’t to generate leads or customers but rather to help the website (in the example above, SEMrush) get organic visibility and traffic.
What we saw above is an example of informational content since it simply aims to provide readers with information on a certain topic.
The content formats that are included in this content type and you should be aware of are the following:
- Commercial - Tier A
- Commercial - Tier B
- Linkable Assets
Is SEO content the only content type you should be using as part of your content strategy?
Truth is it’s more complicated than that since this isn’t a simple binary question.
Here at MINUTTIA, we believe that a content strategy should be diverse and consist of other content types as well, just like product-focused content, which we’re briefly going to explain now.
Product-focused content (AKA product marketing) is a type of content that aims to educate readers on a specific product or service—how to use it, its benefits, features, and anything else that’s important to know about it.
In a nutshell, product-focused content has the goal of communicating the value of the product to prospective and existing customers and the general audience.
Here are the content formats that are included in this content type:
- Product updates
- Help Center
- Customer stories
- Case studies
- How-to guides
- Product ROI reports (how the product adds value to users)
To give you an idea, Oberlo (fun fact: a Shopify company) has published a guide on how to use Shopify:
Image Source: Oberlo
It falls under the “how-to guides” format we mentioned earlier and it frankly can’t get more product-focused than that.
Does product marketing bring in as much organic traffic as SEO content?
Usually not, but that’s not its goal and it shouldn’t be your own goal either if you decide to invest time and effort in such content.
Its purpose is to educate customers and help them best utilize a brand’s product.
Both of the content types we just mentioned can produce great results, but the truth is they’re missing a few things, such as:
- They’re typically not linkable
- They tend to not be shareable
- They don’t help you become an authoritative figure in your space if that’s something important to you.
This is something that original content can help with.
As we mentioned earlier, original content consists of content that’s unique and demonstrates “out of the box” thinking, one could say.
Its main content formats include:
- Data storytelling
- “Invented” concepts
- Personal storytelling
- Contrarian content
- Network-based content
- Trends & events
We’ll cover these in detail later on and also provide you with an example for each one.
Now that we’ve briefly seen what original content is and how it compares against the two other prominent content types, let’s dive deeper into the reasons why we strongly believe it should be a part of your strategy.
Why Should Original Content be a Part of Your Strategy?
To understand why original content should be part of your strategy, we have to take a step back and discuss the four content marketing dimensions.
Here are the four dimensions you should take into account when it comes to content marketing for your company:
They all play a role in the content types and formats that are most suitable for your company.
Let’s break things down.
Dimension #1: Stage
Roughly speaking, a company’s stage can be divided into three categories:
- Early-stage: A company doing its first steps
- Product-Market Fit (PMF): A company ready to start growing after finding its PMF
- Growth Stage: A growing company looking to scale and accelerate its growth
It’s important to mention that each of these stages has different content types and formats that are suitable for it, so making the right content choices is important.
To begin with, in your early stages, every visit to your website matters, so having product-focused content is important in order to grow your user base and, therefore, your business.
At that stage, every visit matters and thus communicating your product’s value efficiently is crucial.
This means that customer stories and case studies are ideal because you want to showcase and prove the value of your product on each new visit.
On the other hand, investing in SEO content at such an early stage isn’t something we recommend.
SEO is a long-term game that isn’t going to get you customers the next day, which is why other content types are most suitable for early SaaS companies.
When it comes to original content though, you can always share personal stories about your entrepreneurial journey so far (personal storytelling) that will also allow you to create a stronger relationship with your audience, or invest in network-based content for efficiency purposes, both of which offer flexibility.
Assuming you’ve moved on from the early stages, product-market fit is a whole different story; after all your product is more mature and you’ve found its best use cases.
Here, when it comes to product-focused content, you can create “how to” guides because you’re at a point where it makes sense to explain how your product works to new users, as well as publish updates, stories, and case studies, in order to keep utilizing your new visitors.
Unlike before, here you can invest in SEO content, such as in pieces with commercial, informational, and job-to-be-done search intent.
Original content in this stage has quite a few options which include:
- Data storytelling
- Contrarian content
- “Invented” concepts
- Network-based content
- Trends or events
All of these will allow you to do things differently from your competitors and make you stand out.
The next stage is when you’re an established brand that’s way beyond the growth stage and you want to accelerate things and grow even faster.
Here, you want to make sure that your existing customers are educated; meaning that product-marketing formats are essential in order to prove your value even more.
After all, especially when you have a large customer base, Help Centers are important for customers to find answers to any questions they might have.
At the same time, you need high volumes in everything you do; thus you need scalable ways of acquiring customers (e.g., through a product ROI report).
When it comes to SEO content, you have to go all in to attract targeted traffic that will accelerate your growth.
In any case, at this stage, you have the knowledge, resources, and foundation required to scale things up when it comes to organic search.
Once again, original content shouldn’t be missing from your content strategy.
In this stage, in particular, you should have all the resources you need to create high-quality surveys, data storytelling, “invented” concepts, and more unique pieces of content in order to prove your authenticity and credibility in your industry.
The reason we don’t suggest contrarian content in this stage is that larger companies aren’t as willing to risk saying something “controversial”, unlike smaller companies.
The bottom line is that original content should be a part of your strategy at any stage of your growth; its various formats provide you with flexibility and make you stand out from the crowd.
Dimension #2: Competition
Another aspect you need to consider when creating content is your competition.
What’s going to help you get a better understanding of how content and competition are correlated, is the “Curve of the Diffusions of Innovations” theory that we’ve modeled based on the three content types we’re examining in this post.
In general, it’s no secret that although product-focused and SEO content can provide a great deal of benefits when done right, you wouldn’t exactly be classed as “innovative” if you invest in those types.
The reason is that their content has more or less become saturated and becoming a leader or authority through those types is challenging; this is why you’d be considered as a late majority according to the curve above.
Especially when it comes to product-focused content, for instance, you basically have to compete with other search results on features; considering the market is saturated and competitors can easily copy you, it’s a lost game.
In SEO content as well, the competition is really intense; when it comes to SaaS, gone are the days when the level of commoditization was low.
Here, you don’t only have to factor in your direct business competitors but also your search competitors which can include affiliates, review sites, and more.
However, when it comes to creating original content, although you might not be classified as an innovator or even an early adopter, you’re still in the early majority.
Because most companies don’t invest in original content. If we look at it from a competition point of view, this type can produce better results than product-focused and SEO content.
This is another reason why we suggest that original content is a part of your strategy since it offers access to an unsaturated space.
Dimension #3: Objectives
As you already know, content marketing needs to have a specific scope to serve.
In general, there are five objectives that every piece of content can aim to achieve.
However, not all content formats are suitable for every objective; you need to pick the right ones based on the objective and type.
To be precise, when it comes to generating revenue, although it's different for every company, product marketing and SEO can play their role through certain formats (like case studies and commercial content respectively), just like original content with “invented” concepts and contrarian content.
However, we’ve got to mention that original content is better at generating revenue in the long term, rather than the short term.
Brand value can be increased through case studies and product ROI reports when it comes to product marketing, and pretty much every SEO format since you want to get online attention.
In this case, original content offers a lot of flexibility; you can utilize all of its formats to increase your brand value, such as via surveys and data storytelling.
The same thing applies when you want to educate and support your audience, with the exception that events and trends aren’t the best fit for this objective.
As for the last two objectives (thought leadership and amplification), what we’ve noticed is that SEO and product-focused content can’t really help you here.
You can surely utilize some formats, like linkable assets and product ROI reports, but most content in these formats isn’t optimized to get online attention.
On the other hand, original content can cover the need to become a thought leader and establish yourself as a credible source in your industry, as well as provide you with something that you feel confident amplifying online, by utilizing every single one of its formats.
Dimension #4: Distribution
Creating content requires a great deal of time and effort, no matter its type or format.
But after you’ve published it, who’s going to see it?
This is where content distribution comes in and allows you to get your content in front of as many people as possible, or even better, the right people.
Once again, each content type has its own distribution methods with some being more limiting than others.
When it comes to product-focused content, the best way to distribute your content is through your own media.
This can include your email list, social media, YouTube channel, and any other channel you have control over.
SEO content can best be distributed through organic search.
Social media and outreach are also options, but in the first case the engagement can be very limiting and the second case hardly produces any results because outreach is now heavily transactional.
Original content is a whole different story when it comes to distribution as it offers a wide range of effective methods.
To be precise, you can utilize:
- Your social media channels (people like to see unique approaches)
- Email outreach
- Facebook groups and Slack communities with your target audience
And other communities like Growth Hackers and Indie Hackers.
Once again, we see quite a noticeable gap in content distribution, between SEO and product-focused content on the one side and original content on the other side, with the latter being able to fill that gap.
Overall, we would say that as your SaaS company matures, you have to do more than SEO content.
Competition in the SERPs is fierce; most topics are saturated and the results can be quite limiting.
For now, let’s dive even deeper into original content and see how you can utilize its different formats.
Original Content Formats
Even though we briefly saw what formats original content consists of, here they are once again
We’ll try to explain each and every one of them, as well as provide you with examples for you to get a better understanding of what original content is all about.
Format #1: Surveys
The first original content format we can talk about is surveys.
Surveys are great because not only do they showcase your experience and level of research on a matter but they also act as linkable assets; meaning other sources tend to link back to them more easily.
Plus, they’re more shareable and contribute to establishing you as an authority in your field.
A great example is one from SEMrush, which conducted a survey on how search-savvy Americans are.
Image Source: Semrush
From the title itself, you’re intrigued to indeed find out the answer because this content doesn’t give the answer to something you can find elsewhere with a simple search query.
It presents findings from its own research, sample, and methodology, which is what makes this content unique.
This piece of content has actually attracted 67 backlinks as of today, Thursday, July 14th, 2022, which isn’t bad at all for a single piece of content.
Plus, a great deal of those backlinks have a relatively high DR, proving that you don’t have to heavily invest in link-building efforts to attract good backlinks; original content like surveys can effectively act as linkable assets.
When it comes to content distribution, we mentioned earlier that social media is a great channel to distribute original content because people tend to engage with unique approaches.
This is the case here as well since the survey received a great deal of attention on Semrush’s LinkedIn account, generating almost 300 reactions and 60 shares!
Image Source: Linkedin
However, the benefits of surveys go even further.
They’re great for triggering discussions, uncovering important insights that people find valuable, comparing results, and even helping people in their decision-making.
Don’t let the effort surveys require scare you off since you don’t necessarily need a big sample size to conduct one; as long as you choose the right audience and ask the right questions, there will be a valuable outcome.
Plus, different tools like Pollfish can help you run your survey; you don’t have to do all the work by yourself.
Overall, a survey is a content format that is not only unique but also provides you with credibility since not everyone is willing to invest time and effort in conducting one; this can also give you a competitive advantage in the eyes of your audience.
Format #2: Data Storytelling & Data Studies
Data storytelling is the ability to effectively tell a story with data.
This form of content can be used to put data studies and insights into context through narratives and visualizations.
Not only is this content as unique as it gets but it adds a human touch to your data insights and makes complex information more digestible.
In the following screenshot, you can see an example of a data storytelling content piece, which is a study conducted by Zyppy.
As well as being valuable for readers it’s also relevant to what the company does in terms of its capabilities since it helps you with the optimization of your title tags.
Image Source: Zyppy
This is actually a great example that brings us back to our content marketing objectives, and revenue generation in particular, since the study is tightly correlated with the product and what it offers, thus allowing readers to convert to customers via the right CTAs.
In terms of performance, the piece has attracted over 1K backlinks from over 400 referring domains…
…which is really impressive considering the whole website only has 14.6K backlinks.
Once again, don’t be scared by the amount of data; you can conduct your own studies with smaller sample sizes as long as you present something meaningful, relevant, and unique.
Data studies are a kind of format we’ve taken advantage of here at MINUTTIA too, such as our study on alternative keywords for SaaS companies.
Despite “only” analyzing 102 alternative keywords, they were highly targeted so they were enough for us to gain valuable insights and present our findings in a clear and visually appealing way.
We believe we’ve managed to put valuable information out there that our target audience will find useful because it's tailor-made for its interests.
In our opinion this is what should matter the most; make sure that whatever you uncover is valuable and your audience will resonate with it, even if your dataset is quite small.
Format #3: “Invented” Concepts
An “invented” concept is when you’ve come up with a methodology, framework, or process that you use and that works.
Why not share it with your audience?
That way, you’ll not only show your experience on a certain matter but you’ll also establish yourself as a leader since this is your own concept and might inspire others to use it; meaning that you’ll be an authoritative figure in their eyes.
All you have to do is give your concept a name and clearly present the information.
Just look at the following example to get an idea of what we mean:
Image Source: Ahrefs
Ahrefs has developed what it calls “The middleman method”, which is a technique that helps you attract more links to important pages.
What’s interesting about this piece of content is not only that it’s original and valuable but also that the pages that link back to it (410 to be precise) use relevant anchor texts like:
- The intermediary method
- The intermediary technique
- The intermediary methodology
- The intermediary approach
This is a strong sign that people have adopted the concept and refer to it by its name or close variations of it.
In a nutshell, when you own a methodology and you give it a name, after you’ve published and promoted it then this format is a great way to gain authority and links.
Also, even if people already know about your method, by giving it a name you make it easier and more compelling for them to refer to it.
As you can imagine, publishing “invented” concepts can’t be done on a weekly or even a monthly basis, but if you’ve got a methodology or process you can talk about, then authority, mentions, and links are some prominent benefits you’ll gain.
Format #4: Personal Storytelling
Personal storytelling is pretty self-explanatory; it refers to a piece of content that describes one of the writer’s personal experiences.
It’s a great way to connect with your audience and share stories that will resonate with it.
A good example is from Groove:
Image Source: Groove
As you’re probably wondering yourself from the title, why would somebody walk away from a deal like that?
It's something that intrigues people due to the fact that it contrasts with what most would do.
That’s all great but the question is, “Does the content perform?”
The answer is yes; 1,906 shares and 82 backlinks from 67 referring domains means the piece attracted a lot of online attention.
One of the most important things about this piece of content is that it resonates with a large part of Groove’s audience, and this is something you should keep in mind too when creating such content.
People love stories but are they ones your audience will be interested in?
In the case of an SaaS like Groove, its audience consists of many startup founders, so it makes sense for them to resonate with the story we saw above and come closer to the company.
Groove knows that very well, so creating more of such storytelling content is a good tactic.
Image Source: Groove
Just like previously, the content above also performs well, generating 1,900 shares and attracting 75 backlinks, many of which have quite a high DR.
As you can tell, personal storytelling works, but don’t just do it for the sake of it; if you have a story to tell, make sure your audience will resonate with it before you publish it.
Format #5: Contrarian Content
Contrarian content is a piece of content that contrasts with what most people think or believe, thus intriguing them to learn more about that content.
For contrarian content to work, you truly have to be unique.
Not only regarding the content itself but even the title.
Ideally, both have to be something people don’t expect to see that will intrigue them to continue reading because they’re out of the norm.
For example, almost everyone out there claims that coding is a useful skill to learn so why is TechCrunch supporting that people shouldn’t learn how to code?
Image Source: TechCrunch
You’ll have to read the article for the answer, but the point is that content that contradicts what most people believe is more likely to get attention.
This is a practice we followed ourselves.
Who would've thought that we’d create content on how SEO can hurt your brand?
We actually have a good reason for that which you can find out yourself but the title alone intrigues the average reader, especially when someone is aware that we’re a content & SEO agency.
The tricky part about this format is that you really need to know your stuff.
If you try to create contrarian content just for the sake of it, without having in-depth knowledge of the topic, rest assured that readers will notice and many won’t hesitate to call you out.
So before you give this format a try, make sure you really know what you’re talking about and exactly who your audience is.
Format #6: Network-based Content
Network-based content is content that’s based on using a network of connections.
In a nutshell, you utilize your connections to create a piece of content that can be used in different content formats.
What does this mean?
Creating interviews, webinars, podcasts, and more, where you and your connections can give value to your audience.
After you’ve published the content in a certain format (for instance audio for podcasts) you can then turn that into other formats, such as articles and social media posts.
For example, UserPilot runs a video podcast series, interviewing various founders.
Image Source: Youtube
The podcast is then turned into a written format in the form of a blog post in order to maximize the awareness the piece of content can get.
Image Source: Userpilot
After all, why stay in one form of content when you can repurpose it into more?
Another reason why network-based content works is because the person you’re creating the content with can then share it with their own network on LinkedIn, Twitter, or even their email list if they have one.
Therefore, you get a great amount of awareness from various channels, as well as your own.
Format #7: Trends & Events
When we say trends or events we refer to content that’s based on something that’s emerging right now (e.g., a trend) or a noteworthy event that we can somehow connect with what we’re doing as a company.
In other words, taking advantage of something that’s time-relevant and your readers will find useful, can be a great original content opportunity.
In the case below, Rippling (an HR and IT SaaS) pitched an investor using a Loom presentation and signed a deal that helped the company reach a high valuation.
Loom saw this as a great chance to demonstrate the value of its product in a great article that also combines storytelling.
Image Source: Loom
In other words, Loom took something positive that happened for another company—partially due to its product—and created a great piece of content around it.
Well one reason, as we mentioned, is that they found a great chance to showcase their product’s value; helping a company achieve something great means you can potentially do the same thing for another one, so the objective of generating revenue is also possible to achieve through such content if it gets in front of the right people.
Plus, Loom gained a great deal of authority since the content helped it be seen as a credible and valuable product in its space.
This doesn’t mean that the trend or event needs to necessarily be related to you, since you can always position yourself about something of general interest, but if you’re associated with it and believe people will get value out of it, then we strongly suggest you act fast and get your content piece out there.
Original Content Isn’t Easy
Original content may be good in helping you reach many of your content marketing objectives, but the truth is it’s quite challenging to nail.
First of all, you should be aware that original content is harder to scale.
What we mean is that you need to set the right expectations in your mind before setting off to create original content.
Don’t expect it to drive great amounts of organic traffic; this is a main goal of SEO content since it’s created for a search audience.
When creating original content, you have to be willing to see slower growth but you’ll enjoy other benefits such as links and authority.
What’s more, keep in mind that original content is a top-down, bottom-up, and company-wide process.
To put it another way, original content has to be in your company’s DNA.
An additional reason why original content is challenging is the fact that the investment is usually higher compared to other content types.
After all, let’s face it, anyone can write SEO content that pushes prices lower but not anyone can create a high-quality piece of original content in the formats we talked about earlier.
As we mentioned, you need to know your stuff in order to create original content and in some cases also conduct thorough research, for surveys and data studies for example.
This requires time, people, and sometimes money to use the right tools that will allow you to conduct your research.
This leads us to the next “difficulty” of original content which is the fact that you can easily get called out, which is why you need to know what you’re talking about.
Especially for some content formats, like contrarian content and “invented” concepts, expect that some people will question you and raise their concerns, even if you indeed know your stuff.
Unfortunately, people tend to not like different things and new approaches; that’s OK, as long as you accept and expect that.
The last challenge of our list is something we’ve more or less covered; when creating original content, attention won’t come straight away. It’ll take some time but it’ll eventually come.
As you continue building your authority, results will come faster.
Overall, original content comes in many shapes and sizes and is a multi-dimensional process that can provide you with a variety of benefits.
There are definitely challenges but, in our opinion, it should be an integral part of your content strategy.
Let’s wrap things up with some final words.
Now Over to You
Original content has its limitations and it's definitely not easy to do. However, in a world of infinite content, we believe that the way to stand out from the crowd is through original content.
Of course, original content can’t work as a standalone content format for your company’s content strategy. You need content that’s created for a search audience and you need content that communicates the value of your product.
However, if your goal is to make a difference, you need original content as well. Now you know what original content is and how to do it right. If you do, chances are we’ll find, read, share, and link back to your content. Good luck!