Tech Bound #38: How Blinkist pushes subscriptions with content marketing

8 min read
Hey friends,
I wrote a thing: “A better approach to keyword research for content marketing”. I stopped following the regular keyword research process a while ago. I don’t understand how we expect to be competitive with our content when we all use the same approach to keyword research? So, this is a little intro to how I approach it with a free spreadsheet. I’d love to hear your feedback, whether good or bad. Apart from that, I got some cool stuff coming up that I can’t yet shout out – be on the look-out!
Case study

Growth case-study: Blinkist

Blinkist is a German company and one of Europe’s fastest growing startups. It was founded in 2012 and now has 50K monthly downloads. The mission is to help people to become lifelong learners with a book-summarizing app that allows reader to consume books in 15 minute summaries (text or audio).

I picked Blinkist for this week not because they’re German, but because they do some cool stuff with Content Marketing. And they just raised an $18M series C.

I’m not talking about their cool podcast “Simplify” that had guests like Seth Godin. I’m talking about the Blinkist magazine, which revolves around living and working smarter. It’s a real editorial magazine that fits well into the mission. It feels authentic.

Most of the magazine’s content is editorial, just a fraction is salesy. According to Sandra Wu, Content Marketing Specialist at Blinkist, top-of-the-funnel content works best. It has much fewer CTAs and focuses on the information. You also need sales content, of course, but it’s much less frequented.

To make sure the content resonates, Blinkist built personas from user research. For every piece of content they create, they ask themselves whether the personas would like it.

For promotion, Blinkist uses Taboola and Outbrain. I have to say that I personally am not a big fan of the two because I’m not convinced of the traffic quality. But I’m happy to stand corrected on that opinion ;-). Blinkist also pushes content to Facebook look-a-like audiences, which is not necessarily “normal” in content marketing, but seems to be cost-effective and generating traffic.
Holger Seim, the CEO, confirmed that paid is a vital channel for the company:
Our engine of growth for Blinkist is paid acquisition. We do see word of mouth, but we need to fuel that, we need to pour fuel on the fire to make word of mouth happen and grow at a certain pace.
Notice how he points out that organic growth, a strong indicator for product-market fit, came first. Seim also confirmed that in an interview.
I’m always veeeery careful with paid as a (primary) growth channel. Andrew Chen’s recent Tweet storm on the addiction to paid marketing comes to mind. It’s very tempting to just buy users, but you can hit a point of diminishing returns later on and if you’ve never built out organic growth channels the cost is high. Rather grow organically first and then add paid later on. Either way, you should make sure that you pay not more than one third of your customer lifetime value (LTV).

Blinkist is the biggest fish in a market with,, Getabstract. In a greater sense they also compete with Audible, Goodreads, and Scribd. It’s important to point out that Blinkist uses human writers to curated the books, not machines. That “human” mindset is reflect in their marketing approach with all the content they produce.

What I like a lot about Blinkist’s content marketing approach is that they run a lot of a/b tests to iterate on headlines, intros, images, videos, CTAs, etc. When content is so vital, you need to understand what your audience likes.

Blinkist personalizes onboarding by allowing users to pick and chose their main interests, so that they get book recommendations that are interesting specifically to them. Same with Email: refining on the optimal onboarding Email is so important! Those are two great ways to improve activation, a part of the Growth Funnel that’s often forgotten. To measure retention, Blinkist looks at 28 day and 8 month activity and at engagement on a MAU basis (+ DAU/MAU to figure out stickiness).

One thing that immediately jumped into my SEO-trained eye was the footer, in which Blinkist links to all sorts of landing pages like “top nonfiction books”, “top leadership books”, etc. – all important keywords.

blinkist footer

That strategy seems to add up: Blinkist ranks for a lot of keywords, such as “book summaries”, “best psychology books”, and all sorts of book titles. Creating landing pages to sort your input like that can work very well, as long as you groom them.

blinkist organic traffic

As you can see, organic traffic is growing well! In the longterm, I think book titles will be one of the main drivers of organic growth.
Key lessons
  1. Focus on high-quality content and distinguish between editorial and sales
  2. Push content with paid campaigns but be cautious of “addiction to paid”
  3. When using paid, always make sure CAC < LTV!
  4. Find a page format you can scale for SEO

How to create a content strategy for SaaS

Q: “What is the difference between a content strategy for SaaS vs. other companies?
Thanks for your question and, as always, keep ‘em coming!
Before we dive into what distinguishes a content strategy for SaaS with other companies, let’s quickly make sure we’re on the same page.
Here’s the semi-official definition from the Contentmarketinginstitute: “Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.” That’s pretty much the same definition as on Wikipedia, just a bit better formulated. 
The definition of Content Strategy is “Content strategy refers to the planning, development, and management of content—written or in other media.” So, not a big difference.
In fact, the term “content strategy” is a bit outdated and I would argue it’s been replaced by Content Marketing. To cut it short, I would say we’re talking about the same thing.
With that out of the way, SaaS businesses often don’t have a scalable page format like E-commerce or UGC (user-generated content) sites. They rely on Content Marketing to tackle business-relevant keywords. For companies like Drift, Intercom, or Atlassian, content plays a vital role in the business.
It’s worth to write a whole post about it, but let me roughly outline the approach.
Start with creating content for the bottom of the funnel around your product and brand and focus on one generic topic. Let’s take a chat app for example. Start with product landing pages, feature pages, and solution pages (for the problem it solves). Then, seek out a generic topic, such as “live chat software”, find out all the problems and questions users in with it and build out content. Don’t move to the next one until you covered it to the max!
Then you move to the next topic and then you build out thought leadership content, think about a podcast, video strategy, webinars, etc. But if you don’t have a solid content foundation, it doesn’t make sense to diversify. A house has to be build on a foundation!
A good content marketing strategy for SaaS should cover acquisition, activation, and retention. Don’t create content only to acquire users. Think about how you can retain them with content: support documentation, tutorials, knowledge bases, webinars, eBooks, and videos.
Lastly, measure your content in three ways. First, look at organic traffic through rankings. Second, look at engagement through social shares, time on site, and scroll depth. Third, look at business impact through (soft and hard) conversions.
There’s definitely more to say about the topic, but that should give you a rough idea.

Your weekly dose of awesome content

McKinsey:”How innovation is reshaping Europe’s urban environment”
More people are moving to cities and we already see the implications in terms of startups. The scooter hype I covered in Episode #36 is just one example. But also think about Airbnb, UBER/Lyft, food delivery, etc. Add the disappearing borders between work and personal life and there’s a whole new world of startup opportunities.
Teamtreehouse: “An Introduction to Perceived Performance”
Helpful collection of perceived performance stats and optimization. Perceived performance is often forgotten but a great intersection of user experience and technical page speed optimization
Slideshare: “An introduction to HTTP/2 & Service Workers for SEOs”
I have never seen the benfits o http/2 and service workers explained better than in this presentation.
Backlinko: “Voice search SEO”
Brian Dean looked at 10,000 voice search results and checked what they have in common.
The first 5 factors:
– speed
– https
– short, concise answer (roughly 29 words)
– authority
– social engagement
After my personal opinion, Google pulls voice results from the highest ranking results that have the best, most precise answer. That should explain a lot of factors mentioned in the article, but it’s still interesting and helpful to read through.
CognitiveSEO: “Technical SEO checklist”
KDnuggets: “5 tricks when a/b testing is off the table”
“Sometimes a/b testing is not on the table, whether because an experiment is impacted by too many variables or because you don’t have enough traffic.
There are five alternatives:
1. Controlled Regression
2. Regression Discontinuity Design
3. Difference-in-Differences
4. Fixed-Effects Regression
5. Instrumental Variables (with or without a Randomized Encouragement Trial)”
The Blueprint to Not Failing With Content Marketing With Jimmy Daly (podcast)