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Content Marketing 23 min read May 14, 2019

Toggl's Tips And Lessons On Using Content Marketing To Boost Organic Growth

Picture by: Natalya Soroka
This post is a transcribed version of speech Mart Virkus from Toggl made on SaaS Nation conference. We caught him up after the conf to ask some additional questions about their content marketing strategy. Enjoy :)
Elena, Editor.
Toggl's Tips And Lessons On Using Content Marketing To Boost Organic Growth 16261788117667
Mart Virkus
Chief of Marketing at Toggl
Before we get into the content marketing part, let's start with some bad news. And the bad news is that the content marketing market is pretty mainstream these days. Everybody's doing content marketing, which means that people are starting to feel slightly tired of all the content.
And to make matters worse big brands like Facebook are actively limiting your organic reach so that you have to pay more and more to reach your audience because Facebook's trying to make money. We understand that, but promotion is getting more expensive as well.

So content marketing is not easy given those circumstances, and that's depressing.I'll try to make it a little bit more fun ;)

Content we create

Here's the stuff we create with our content team. The most successful content project we have is creating colorful comics and infographics. They're usually aimed at software developers, web designers, and people who work remotely. So we create these comics for people working in fields that might need time-tracking software. We keep that goal in mind when we create these drawings.
Toggl's Tips And Lessons On Using Content Marketing To Boost Organic Growth 16261788117667
I draw these things myself, so this is something I used to do, but now we're doing them for work as well. And it's not just me; everybody in the company contributes to this because I'm not a software developer, so I don't know any good jokes for programmers. So I have to go to Toggl programmers, and they tell me what's funny, and then I write it up.

We've also recently started experimenting with outsourcing artists. We went to Reddit, picked out some comic artists whose work we liked, and started paying outside artists to deliver comics for us. Making these comics takes a lot of time, so we want to see if we can speed up the process and scale up the production using freelancers. So it's a little bit early for results as we only started doing it. Outsourced comics can cost between $400 to $1,000, so we'll see how many sign-ups and traffic we get from those.

Here's another fun project, it is called the "Unicorn Startup Simulator." It's a game you can play in your browser, and it lets you simulate being a startup CEO. The game's goal is to reach a billion-dollar valuation or die trying.
— I see that you even featured your startup simulator on Product Hunt. Did it help you to get target traffic and leads? Share some results, please.
— Someone else posted it there, which is kinda cool! The Unicorn Simulator brought in about 180,000 visitors in the first two weeks - Product Hunt accounted for about 3,000 of those. But I bet being featured helped create some positive word-of-mouth, so the effect of being featured on PH is probably bigger than just the direct link clicks.
Toggl's Tips And Lessons On Using Content Marketing To Boost Organic Growth 16261788117668
— Your comics and the startup simulator you created are great. As I see, most of the content you create is entertaining. Can you share any other ideas of viral content?
— Thanks! We love experimenting with different creative projects - some have worked, others have not.

Ideas alone are cheap, though committing to creativity is more important. The key is to take a chance on something that sounds good and just run with it. Simple stuff that's well executed beats an elaborate idea that never sees production every time.

Not everything we do works out, but if we never tried, we'd be nowhere - and that's bad.

Impact of content on SEO

It's sort of a fun experiment with content we did, but you know, creating comics and fun little games is just the tip of the iceberg. Life's not all fun and games; it's not just about drawing comics. When you're doing content marketing, the strategy side is pretty important; you need to have a bigger underlying strategy. So this is obviously what Toggl's content marketing model looks like:
Toggl's Tips And Lessons On Using Content Marketing To Boost Organic Growth 16261788117669
I would say the most important part for us is SEO. It forms the foundation of everything we do. Toggl already ranks well for the keywords that are relevant to us, but it's important that we keep fighting for those keywords. We have an SEO manager working for the company, and her job is to do keyword research basically, figure out what words we need to rank for more, and then produce, i.e., landing pages aimed at those keywords and get more traffic coming in.

We also hire freelancers from Upwork to help us write more articles because it doesn't always make sense to hire a full-time position in your team. If you need project-based work, we recommend hiring freelancers, but pay them well. Don't hire cheap freelancers because then you get what you pay for. Good writers cost about 10 cents per word, and that's what we're paying right now for content writers.

Here's an example of how important SEO is:
Toggl's Tips And Lessons On Using Content Marketing To Boost Organic Growth 16261788117669
The red line over there indicates the date (it was last year) when we hired the SEO manager to start doing more systematic SEO work. Since we hired her, our search traffic and keyword rankings have steadily increased. It's starting to strength trend upwards.

But SEO, by the way, is a long-term challenge. So if you're looking to invest in SEO, remember that success will not come overnight. It might depend on how new your site is or your already popular. You might have to wait very long before you see any results. Google's very smart, and thus it's tough to fool Google into thinking you're more popular than you are.

Content matters, but sharing matters more

The second important thing is promotion. We use Facebook and Reddit for that, and we have a dedicated person whose main responsibility is ensuring we have content going out to social media every day. Her job is also to use the Facebook ad manager. Content very rarely works if you don't share it.

There's an old Chinese riddle "if a tree falls in a forest and no one's around to hear it, does it make any sound?" It's the same with content if you write a great piece of content, but you don't share it with anybody. It doesn't exist. Promotion should be a big priority for you. And here at Toggl, we spend a lot of time on promotion. We spend more time on promotion and SEO than creating high-impact, popular content pieces.

I think that's probably the smartest insight I can give you today. We mostly use two promotion channels:

  • Reddit for organic traffic

  • Facebook ads to reach specific audiences


As I said before, Reddit is something we post our comics and infographics. That's a great place for getting viral traffic. Reddit overall is a perfect place for sharing your content because you get to keep all the traffic so most of the time.

If you post a link there, the traffic comes to your site. So, you get to bombard users with messages about your product. But be careful with Reddit because it can backfire badly when the Reddit community senses that you're trying to sell them something and you're not being sincere with your content efforts.
— You use Reddit for different goals like content promotion and searching for outsource artists. Are there any other ways this huge community may be useful for marketing?
— Sure, if you're big enough, hosting a Reddit AMA can be a great way of connecting with your users (unless you have a horrible reputation).

But more importantly, Reddit represents a wealth of knowledge on virtually every topic in the world. If you're thinking of launching a product or are in the early days of trying to find a product-market fit, I think Reddit communities are great places to go in and validate people's needs and pain points, to talk to them or even to ask them for opinions on your ideas.

It's a gold mine for market research, for sure.

Facebook ads

This presentation is about organic growth, but I would say it's very difficult to do content marketing today without spending anything on Facebook. It's becoming sort of inevitable. On the upside, Facebook has very good targeting options, so you can target people in very specific ways. It's a good tool for reaching your audiences, not just reaching your existing ones.

I'll give you an example of why sharing and promotion is important from our experience. So, back in August, we were thinking about what to do with our signup numbers. Our sign-up numbers were stalling, and we weren't getting the growth we were hoping.

Thus, in August, we were thinking about how to get our signups and traffic up. In September and October, we came up with the plan. We decided to invest in Facebook Ads, and we hired a person whose job was to do that. We basically didn't create any new content this autumn. Instead, we took all the existing content we had produced over the past two years and a little more. We took everything that was even remotely popular or even remotely successful. And then we scheduled it over a period of two months, it was a super tight sort of schedule. And we agreed to spend Facebook money on promoting each and every one of those so it would reach new audiences. We wanted to see if we could milk our own content without putting in the effort of printing new stuff just by paying Facebook a little bit of money.

Results from regular content sharing:
50% increase in weekly organic traffic;
4x increase in people going to Toggl after visiting the blog;
4000 extra signups per week;
Brand awareness?
The plan was to spend $7000 over two months on Facebook promotions, and we only managed to spend about $800 of that budget. Because it turned out that if your content has good quality, Facebook drives your cost per click down pretty significantly. It's quite difficult to spend a lot of money on Facebook.

We're still scheduling because it works quite well. We've managed to maintain those good levels and I think in terms of cost we're currently across all our content, not just the comics. We're spending, on average, about $0.5 per click, which is, you know, nice.
— What other channels have you tried besides Reddit and Facebook ads? Why did you decide to use these two main ones?
—Facebook is simply the most popular social media network out there. Instagram (and more recently Snapchat) has been hyped as the next big place for marketers, but we're not convinced they would work for SaaS marketing (yet). Facebook has a more mature audience, offers good targeting options, and has relatively low ad costs. Since driving traffic to our site is our main goal right now and not gaining social followers, Facebook works better for that.

We are experimenting with Instagram and our comics, too, but it's too early to offer meaningful insight into how it will work out. We also use Twitter, but more for communicating with our existing users.

Reddit is a great source of direct traffic, but as it's a community-moderated platform, you'll want to ensure your content doesn't come across and that your content meets the people's expectations. The Reddit community tends to have a very low tolerance towards brands trying to exploit the platform for advertising purposes, so you need to make sure whatever you're showing them is made with good intentions - and is worth their time.

Brand awareness is also important

I think we also got a lot of brand awareness while doing this thing. The brand awareness is a very difficult concept because brand awareness is not something you can measure. We're not just reaching new audiences with our content, but our existing users are reacting very positively to what we're doing. Brand awareness is not a metric you should be following. It can't be a goal because it's basically immeasurable. But it's a really nice side effect, and it's a really nice reason for doing content.

The reason I think brand awareness is important and content is important is that products aren't really special anymore. Toggl is a really good time-tracking tool, but at the end of the day, we're just a time-tracking tool. That means a new startup can come out of the blue at any moment. They can do something fundamentally better than us, and they might steal a significant chunk of our user base. Or one of the big tech companies might come up with a competitive offering and sort of pull the rug from under your feet, and then you're like smackdown.

It's getting easier to make products as it's getting cheaper and cheaper. So, I think content can help you stand out from the crowd. This is a really good quote by Alex Turnbull, who's the CEO of Groove, which is a helpdesk tool. BTW, if you want to read a great blog or a really good example of serious content marketing, then the Groove blog by Alex Turnbull is a right place for tips on growing your startup. A couple of weeks ago, he did an interesting blog post where he basically said that if you're selling SaaS, you're selling a commodity.
If you're selling SaaS, you're selling a commodity.
Alex Turnbull, CEO of Groove
And the point was exactly that if you're selling SaaS, you're not special. You're just one of the many products, and anytime somebody can just swoop in, take customers by doing something slightly better. Groove and Alex Turnbull are using content because it helps them build meaningful relationships with their followers. Their existing users are big fans of their writing, creating an extra layer of loyalty from the users. If you're giving your users something special besides the product, you're making them more loyal. I think that's a good, important point to keep in mind.

Three things to do before getting into content marketing

By the way, this is called the clickbait title; never use those. People don't like them anymore. They were very effective two years ago, not so much anymore. Let's back to three things to do before you start doing content marketing.

#1: Make sure your product works

Yes, I said that products are commodities these days, but even if your product is a commodity, it needs to be a great commodity. If your product doesn't work and you're spending money on marketing and getting signups, what's the point if your users leave right after signing up? Invest in your product first, make sure it works, and then start thinking about getting more customers.

Also, for Toggl, having a great product is a really good marketing tool. We did a survey a few months ago where we asked many paying users how they found Toggl. To our surprise, personal recommendations were the second biggest growth driver in paid users.
Toggl's Tips And Lessons On Using Content Marketing To Boost Organic Growth 16261788117670
Almost you know as important as Google and SEO. We knew it was big, but we didn't know it was that significant. The thing is paid users, the decision-makers who want to pay money for your service, they're not gonna read your comic, no matter how fun it is. They won't say, "I like that comic; thus, I'm gonna pay these guys a lot of money." They want reassurances, so they ask friends, and their friends tell them: "Yes, I've used that service, it works. You should do it too". For paying users, having a good product is crucial.

#2: Make sure your strategy matches your goals

So, for Toggl, our goal right now is to drive as much traffic from relevant audiences to our site as humanly possible. And for that purpose, the comics and infographics work pretty well. But again, if we want to go after higher-paying teams and bigger decision-makers in these conservative business verticals, comics are probably not the way to go. In this case, a better idea is to do an e-book with an email signup form. You might get fewer less traffic but higher-quality leads. Think about what your goal is before you start doing things.

For example, earlier this year, we wrote an e-book called "Out of office," which is a guide to remote work. Most of our companies are completely remote, so our employees work from around the world from their homes. That's why we decided to do an e-book based on our expertise.

As a result, people really liked it, but we only got 11,000 visitors to the e-book site in five months. Although we got signups and the conversion rates were pretty okay, there was nowhere near enough for the needed volumes. For us, it didn't work out for new users that much. But if you have a sales team, you can slap this email signup form on it and collect the leads, and you might not need a lot of traffic to convert people using salespeople. Toggl doesn't have a sales team, so it didn't work for us.
— At Toggl you don't have a sales team. Thus, your marketing team has to drive your visitors through the marketing & purchase funnel from the awareness stage to the purchase stage. How do you organize this process?
— Toggl is built for scale, so the idea has always been to maximize signups and to remove all friction from the signup process - and then help people find their way to the paid plans and more advanced features and benefits once they're in the app. That is the role of our product/user engagement team.

The marketing team - or the "traffic team" as it's called internally - is focused almost single-mindedly on things that create traffic for the public website. It's important to focus on fewer activities rather than overstretch yourself over too many responsibilities. A big challenge for us is how to reach potential paid-tier business users in a more direct, targeted manner - and how to do that in a scalable way.

Lastly, thankfully, we have a great product, and the users get the simplicity and value quickly. Plus, even if they don't upgrade themselves, they still greatly help us by introducing Toggl to other users and businesses. Big thanks to all the Toggl people out there for that!

#3: Don't go cheap

People don't want more content. They want better content. I don't just mean money. I also mean effort. So, if you're going to do content marketing, keep in mind that there's a lot of stuff out there, and people's attention is completed. There's so much content out in the world that the last thing people need is another site to visit. That's why you must ensure you're investing in your content efforts. Be prepared to invest in sharing and promotion.

As I've already said, content promotion is the most important thing for us. The content creation comes second. Promotion can go a long way if you have someone on your team who's very good at managing, customizing, and testing audiences, driving your acquisition costs down. If you have people working on content, also make sure you pay them because basic needs are important. If you pay people, they'll be happy, while happy people do good work. If you don't pay people and don't show that you appreciate their work, they will do bad work. So make sure you appreciate the people you hire from the outside to do content or the people working in your team. You gotta be happy with the content you create. You gotta be enjoying the process of making it. Because if you're enjoying the process of making it, and if you're happy with what you're producing, chances are your audience is going to be happy as well.
Here's the final thought I want to leave you with: if you're asking people to look at your content, or to read your content, or watch something you've made, you're asking them for the most valuable resource they have — their time. So don't waste their time unless it's funny, then you can waste their time ;)
The opinion of the guest post authors may not coincide with the opinion of the Serpstat editorial staff and specialists.

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