Are You Being Difficult? How the Hidden Work in Your Onboarding Emails Kills New User Engagement (And What You Should Do About It)

Have you ever tried to take apart a high-end file cabinet?

We’re talking about the kind built with such thoughtful design that it makes a room look like the after shot on an HG-TV home makeover showinstead of the dingy unfinished basement before shot.

If you have, you know that taking apart a cabinet like this one is no easy feat.

You have to pull out the drawers, crawl inside, and poke and prod all afternoon.

After 3 hours of guessing, you might give up. Or you might press on until you finally crack the code on how it’s builtand then marvel at its brilliance.

You either walk away defeated. Or you finish your project and exclaim that the designer behind it is actually a genius.

What does high-end furniture have to do with your SaaS app?

You may have built the best, most genius, most user-friendly app that completely blows all of the other apps out of the water.

But if you hide your app’s brilliant usability behind opaque instructions, you might lose your new users before they even have a chance to get started.

How do you bring your app into the light? You need to get rid of the hidden work in your onboarding emails.

Hidden work is the work you unintentionally create for your new users when you send them onboarding emails that don’t give enough information for readers to do what you’re asking them to do.

Onboarding emails that eliminate hidden work are the difference between new users giving up on your appand declaring that it’s actually genius.

If you’re already sending triggered emails to free trial users based on who they are and how they use your app, great. If you want anyone to actually stick with you, your onboarding emails need to clear a path from your new users’ inbox to the task you’re asking them to accomplish. Any resistance you add decreases the likelihood your new users will engage with your app both nowand every time you ask them to do something in the future.

According to a study published by Nobuhiro Hagura, Patrick Haggard, and Jrn Diedrichsen out of University College London, we decide whether we’re going to do something based on whether the task at hand seems easy AND based on whether we’ve faced resistance when we’ve performed similar tasks in the past.

we demonstrate that the motor cost involved in responding to a visual classification task is integrated into the perceptual decision process. Our everyday perceptual decisions seem to be solely based on the incoming sensory input. They may be, however, influenced by the preceding history of physical cost of responding to such input. The cost of our own actions, learned through the life-long experience of interacting with the environment, may partly define how we make perceptual decisions of our surroundings.

What does this mean for you?

It means that if the first few interactions new users have with your app feel like work, you’re risking two unwanted outcomes:

  1. Your user decides to do nothing today.
  2. The next time they see your name in their inbox, they might already be programmed to think that your app = work, and so they decide to do nothing again.

Eliminating Hidden Work: The 3 Questions Your Onboarding Emails Need to Answer for Your Readers

No matter what you do, you can’t reduce the amount of new user work to zeronor should you.

In fact, Nir Eyal’s research on habit formation suggests that the work customers invest upfront in learning to use a new tool increases the likelihood that using it will become a habit over time. When we invest our time or other resources in something, we value it more and are therefore less likely to walk away from it. Behavioral psychologists and economists call this the endowment effect.

That’s why your goal isn’t to eliminate all work from learning to use a new app. Instead, you need to make sure you’re eliminating the hidden work that you create when you don’t give your readers the ability and motivation to act. According to BJ Fogg’s Behavioral Model, ability and motivation are 2 of the 3 ingredients your new user needs to complete a task. The third is a trigger.

Your email tool sends the trigger. Your email copy provides the ability and motivation.

To make sure you have all 3 ingredients in your onboarding strategy, your email copy needs to answer these 3 questions for your new users.

Question #1: Where do I do this?

Imagine you’re lost in the middle of the woods. You meet a fellow hiker and ask where the closest shelter is. He replies, Oh you just go find the trail and follow it. It’s simple!

Only you don’t know whether you should head north or west. You don’t know if it’s a 10 minute walk or a 2 day trek.

If you’re stuck in the woods, you keep going’re lost in the woods! But if you’re learning a new app, you might give up. You might try a competitor’s tool instead. You might decide that learning the app is more work than the problem the app solves.

Your new users can and will give up when things get difficult. That’s why you need to provide a crystal clear path forward for your new user to complete the task at hand. You can do this by joining the conversation happening in their head.

Your reader is asking, Where do I do this?

Your onboarding emails need to say, Go here to do this.

This means actually linking to the in-app page where users can do the thing you’re asking them to do.

Unfortunately, onboarding emails frequently fall short of this goal. Take a look at this email:

I’ve drawn red outlines around all of the places where this email asks its readers to do something without showing them where to do it.

This email asks its readers to do at least 8 things in at least 3 places (it’s hard to tell for sure), but there is not a single link or screenshot to make it easy for readers to do anything at all. When you force a reader to figure out where to go next, you create work. When you create work, you create enough resistance for users to give up and do nothing.

The Fix: Point your reader to their next click

When I began but didn’t finish the signup process for a free trial of Privy, I got this email.

Instead of telling me all the different things that I’ll be able to do with Privy, this email is focused exclusively on getting me to complete the setup processand it shows me exactly where to click in this email to make that happen.

The button is clearly labeled and centrally positioned. If I’m unsure how to install Privy code on my site, I can click the link that matches my platform and get more instructions.

Not only does this email show me where to go next but it also gives me support links easily marked so I know which one is right for me.

Question #2: How do I do this?

The new Customer Engagement Automation tool (CEA) from Kissmetrics gives you the analytics to help you figure out what people are doing and whether they might need helpbut analytics alone don’t close sales. It’s up to you to combine analytics with copywriting to send emails that make it easy for readers to do what you’re asking them to do.

When I signed up for a job posting app, I got an email with the subject line: Would you like to post a job on [platform name redacted]? Unfortunately, I opened it and saw that there were no instructions on how to actually post a job.

This email pulls a bait and switch. The subject line asks if I want to post a job, but the body copy doesn’t show me how.

Sure, it might be helpful to show me how to write job descriptions, but writing job descriptions and posting job descriptions are not the same thing.

Maybe one day I might need help making my post public instead of a draft, but that’s not the messaging I need to hear before I’ve actually posed the job description.

Since I still haven’t posted a job I need someone to show me how to do that first.

The Answer: Provide all of the info on HOW to complete tasks in the email (or one clear click away)

One of my all-time favorite examples is this email from video hosting and analytics company Wistia.

It’s a powerful tool, but you can’t do anything with it until you upload your first video. Fittingly, this onboarding email doesn’t say, Hey, having trouble getting the analytics on your videos? before I’ve uploaded my first video.

Instead, it says: Here is step 1. Just do step 1. Here’s a link to do it, here’s a video that will show you how to do it, and here are some links for support if you need it.

This email asks me to do just one thing, shows me how, and gives me ways to get help if I can’t get it done on my own.

Just how powerful is eliminating the hidden work of figuring out how to do something? This email and the other 7 in its sequence (authored by the team behind Copyhackers and Airstory) generated a 350% lift in paid conversions for Wistia.

Question #3: Why should I bother?

Someone at book club last week brought up webinars. The conversation went like this:

Friend 1: I had to do this webinar for work.

Friend 2: Uuuuugh webinars. I hate them so much.

Friend 3: Oh I love webinars! I love chatting in the margins. I love the buzz.

You can offer training through webinars, help articles, live demos, on-demand demos, or support videos. But whatever support medium you choose, you’re guaranteed to choose a medium that feels like work to some of your new users.

If your new user isn’t signing in because they don’t know how to use your app and the only support you offer them is with webinar invitations, then you’re asking them to do workand increasing the likelihood they’ll bail.

Additionally, scheduled training forces your reader to consult a calendar in order to learn from youand context-switching gives them a chance to decide not to come back.

You might have really great stuff in your webinars! But if you don’t explain what’s in it for your reader, it feels like work. And if it feels like all work and no gain, your best prospects won’t do it.

The Fix: Focus on the outcome, not the delivery

The truth is that a webinar is a big commitment and you won’t keep everyone. 60, 30, or even 20 minutes is a lot of time to give up. But even small amounts of time and seemingly small asks can be just as inconvenient to your readers without the right context.

Anne commented on another Kissmetrics copywriting post and she’s right: even simple CTAs sound like work.

To overcome the objections that your readers will inevitably have to taking you up on your offer of support or the small task you ask them to do, your email copy shouldn’t position the medium or the task you’re asking users to complete as the benefit.

Instead, you should answer one of the biggest questions on your readers’ minds:

So what?

You want your readers to attend a webinar? So what? What’s in it for them?

You want your new users to start a project? Why should they bother?

Your support channels are like your app’s features: your customers care way less about them than you do. They’re much more interested in the benefits of your app and your support. If you want your prospects to respond to your webinar invitation or to do anything else in your app, stress benefits, not features.

How? Focus on the outcomes your readers can expect as a result of taking you up on your invitation.

Here’s an example from Sumo that positions a webinar as a must-attend event:

This email has everything: 1. Specific results someone got in a specific period of time. 2. Growth techniques I won’t find anywhere else (which means if I don’t show up, I won’t get them). 3. Specifics about what I’m going to get from this webinar. 4. Urgency and scarcity.

In this email, the value is the information on how to grow your businessthe webinar is merely the delivery mechanism.

Why Eliminating Work Words Isn’t Enough

I’ll be honest: I planned on writing this post to be all about work words as a follow-up piece to an earlier Kissmetrics post that kicked off this discussion. I thought it would be a great idea to have a list of work words for product marketers to avoid in their CTAs.

I wondered whether the word workflow right in the middle of the CTA might make Zapierwhich is mind-blowingly easy to useseem more complicated than it is.

Sean Kennedy (of Zapier and Really Good Emails) also wondered whether the word Build could also suggest that there may be some assembly required in getting your first Zaps set up.

But it wasn’t long after I started researching and writing this article that I realized a piece on work words in CTAs wouldn’t be enough. So much of the hidden work in SaaS apps happens before the CTAwhich mean that’s where the biggest opportunities to improve engagement are hiding.

While you can and should use language in your CTAs that doesn’t suggest work, that’s only a starting point.

To keep your new users engaged, your onboarding email copy must answer your reader’s questions about where, how, and why they should do what you’re asking them to do.

About the Author: Alli Blum helps SaaS apps build messages that get customers. Want to make sure your emails don’t create hidden work for your prospects? Click to get her copywriting checklist for high-converting SaaS onboarding emails.

10 Lessons Digital Marketers Can Learn from HBO’s Silicon Valley

Do you like to binge-watch a TV series?

I don’t do it often. Hardly ever, in fact. But yep, I’ve done it before. For me, it’s one of life’s simple pleasures.

Every once in awhile, I’ll find a series totally binge-worthy.

It can make you a little crazy, especially if you spend the better part of the night glued to the TV.


But it’s pretty friggin’ enjoyable.

One series in particular that’s binge-worthy is HBO’s Silicon Valley.

If you’re unfamiliar, it’s about a team of young IT entrepreneurs who launch a startup called Pied Piper.


The show chronicles their successes and failures along the way.

It’s super funny and perfect if you’re at all entrepreneurially inclined or just like to geek out on tech.


But I also think there are some golden lessons digital marketers can take away from the show.

After all, even though it’s a comedy series with some wacked out episodes, it does have a lot of truth in it.

I’ve spent a lot of time in Silicon Valley, so I can relate to what’s going on in the show.

The show is legit.

Whether you’ve been at it for years or are new to the game, you can learn something that’s practical, even from a comedy like this one.

Here are 10 lessons to be had from HBO’s Silicon Valley.

1. Being flexible is a huge asset

You’ve probably heard the statistic that eight out of 10 businesses fail within 18 months.

While this stat is debatable (The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports 50% of all new businesses make it to their fifth year and one third make it to their tenth year), many businesses do in fact fail.

But if you’re flexible and nimble, you can switch up your game plan to account for change and unexpected curveballs along the way.

In the show, the team’s initial idea was to create a music app for songwriters to ensure they weren’t infringing on any copyrights.

But after getting feedback, they quickly realized this idea wasn’t going to fly.

What did they do?

They took a completely different approach and developed a compression cloud solution, widening their demographic significantly.


Just like in the show, adaptability in businessis incredibly important in real life.

It’s not always who’s the smartest or who has the most financial backing.

Sometimes, success comes to those who are most able to adapt to change, making the necessary adjustments.

If it’s clear a particular digital marketing technique isn’t working, you may need to change your direction to get the results you’re looking for.

2. Don’t burn bridges or make enemies

Erlich Bachman is a funny guy.

But he’s also quite crude at times.


He has a bad habit of pissing off venture capital firms and thus missing out on valuable funding opportunities.

As a business owner or a marketer, you definitely don’t want to do that.

Relationships are huge.

In many cases, your relationships (or lack thereof) can make or break you.

Don’t take them for granted.

Always make an effort to remain professional even if you don’t always see eye to eye with everyone.

Even if your colleagues’ ideas completely suck, don’t bash them for it.

Instead, conduct yourself with tact.

3. Don’t overlook legalities

We live in an extremely litigation-happy world.

You see it in Silicon Valley-the show and the real thing.

Thankfully, there’s this guy:


He’s very uncool, but he knows how to keep the startup from getting screwed over by lawyers.

And it’s a good thing because there are over 100 million cases filed in US state courts every year.

Law is a recurring theme in Silicon Valley, especially as it pertains to intellectual property.

When it comes to digital marketing, you’ll want to have some basic knowledge of branding and trademark law to ensure you’re not overstepping your boundaries or infringing on anyone’s brand identity.

Check out this resource from Branding Strategy Insider for more details on this.

4. Be careful of shameless publicity

There’s an old saying that any publicity is good publicity.

But this isn’t always the case.

At one point, Erlich tries to shamelessly generate publicity for himself and Pied Piper.


In the process, he blows through massive wads of cash, nearly ruining the company.

The point is be careful about how your brand is depicted and with whom you choose to align your brand.

And let’s be honest.

It’s not all that difficult to tarnish your brand’s reputation.

Between review sites and social media, a few unsavory comments can quickly bring the walls crumbling down.

Although you can’t totally control how the public perceives your brand, try to stay away from stupid publicity stunts that may do more harm than good.

5. Building a brand is a process

If I’ve learned anything during my time as an entrepreneur, it’s that patience is a huge benefit.

We live in a microwave culture, where instant gratification has become the norm.

And many marketers get frustrated and disillusioned when they don’t see overnight success.

But it doesn’t work like that with branding.

It takes time. Sometimes, it takes several years for any noticeable results to emerge.

In Silicon Valley, the team goes through a lot of twists and turns before Pied Piper becomes a household name.


So, a big part of making it is simply staying the course.

You need to have the mental fortitude to keep moving along and take it step by step.

But the thing I love about branding is the snowball effect, when a brand keeps getting bigger and bigger with time.


While your brand equity may be next to nothing initially, it keeps growing to the point of explosion.

Understanding that branding is a process that takes time should help sustain you when things seem bleak and you’re tempted to give up.

6. Embrace mistakes (but learn from them)

I absolutely love this quote from Nobel Prize winner Frank Wilczek:

If you don’t make mistakes, you’re not working on hard enough problems. And that’s a big mistake.

This simply means that mistakes are an inevitable part of making progress.

I’ve learned not to beat myself up too badly if I botch something or even flat out make a stupid mistake.

I just chalk it up to progress.

In Silicon Valley, people make mistakes all the time, but they always work to get past them.

In digital marketing, you’re likely to make plenty of mistakes along the way.

I know I did (and still do).

But as long as you’re genuinely learning from your mistakes and utilizing that knowledge to improve, you should be good to go.

7. Strive for a healthy work/life balance

Working hard and having a strong work ethic is good and all.


But it shouldn’t come at the cost of your own personal well-being.

I know this all too well because I have workaholic tendencies.

In the show, Richard explains to his doctor that he’s been having night sweats induced by stress.

The doctor explains that this can be a precursor to bed-wetting, which is never a good thing.

It’s quite embarrassing.


Try not to allow yourself to get overwhelmed with your marketing activities.

Strive to find a healthy work/life balance, and recharge your batteries from time to time.

This will make you more effective in your marketing, and you won’t have to worry about being an adult who wets the bed.

8. Keep your eyes on the prize

It’s easy to get distracted in business and marketing.

There are always new techniques and tactics that can distract you from what you’re good at and what’s really working.

For instance, at some point in the show, the team is forced to work on a non-core product, which ended up being a major distraction.

In turn, this created a road block on their path to success.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t experiment, but it’s important to focus on your strengths and not lose sight of the ultimate goal.

9. Quality is key

At one point, Gavin Belson, CEO of a competing company, presents company’s new product Nucleus, which ends up being a complete disaster.


This serves as a reminder that quality should always be of the utmost importance.

You want to put in enough time and energy to ensure your audience is getting the best possible experience.

Whether it’s creating blog content or running your social media campaign, it’s better to focus on quality over quantity.

Taking shortcuts is never the way to go.

10. Make the right hires

If you’re assembling a marketing team, you need to go about it the right way.

Don’t carelessly choose someone without ensuring they’ve got the chops and will mesh with your culture.

A bad hire can kill your vibe and stall your progress.

In the long run, this can also put a damper on morale and be disruptive to team chemistry.

For tips on hiring and creating an awesome team, I suggest reading this article from Wired.


Although Silicon Valley is a comedy, there are many lessons that can be applied to digital marketing and business in general.

In fact, I feel a lot of wisdom can be extracted from this show.

Whether it’s learning to adapt in an ever-changing marketing world, learning from your mistakes, or simply refraining from being a douchebag, the lessons from Silicon Valley can make you a better digital marketer in many ways.

Can you think of any other business- or marketing-related takeaways from the show?

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How to Improve Your Alexa Ranking in 30 Days or Less

Numbers don’t lie.

When it comes to the popularity and overall value of your business, it’s important to have a solid Alexa Ranking.

Why? It’s a common metric that potential business partners, investors, etc. will use to determine the state of your business.

They’ll use it to gauge your business’s health and whether it’s trending up or down.

The lower your Alexa Rank, the better, and vice versa.

This is why so many business owners agonize over their Alexa Rank and work tirelessly to improve it.

In this post, I’d like to discuss two key things.

First, I’d like to talk about the factors that Alexa assesses when determining rankings.

Second, I’d like to offer a tangible strategy you can use to improve your Alexa Ranking in 30 days or less.

Let’s hit it.

What’s an Alexa Rank?

Just to be sure we’re on the same page, allow me to formally define an Alexa Rank.

According to Avangate,

“It’s a ranking system set by (a subsidiary of that audits and makes public the frequency of visits on various web sites.

Alexa’s support section clarifies matters even more by explaining how its traffic rankings are determined:

“Alexa’s traffic estimates and ranks are based on the browsing behavior of people in our global data panel which is a sample of all Internet users. Alexa’s Traffic Ranks are based on the traffic data provided by users in Alexa’s global data panel over a rolling 3 month period.”

Here’s what Google’s Alexa Rank looks like at number one:


And here’s what Quick Sprout looks like at the moment:


Not nearly as good as Google but solid nonetheless, considering the fact that the lowest ranked website is somewhere around 30 million.

Which factors does Alexa analyze?

Before we can formulate a game plan, it’s important to understand what Alexa is looking at when assigning a ranking to websites.

Fortunately, Alexa is very upfront about how its data is calculated.

According to the Alexa Blog, “Every day, Alexa estimates the average daily visitors and pageviews to every site over the past 3 months. The site with the highest combination of visitors and pageviews over the past 3 months is ranked #1.”

“The site with the least is ranked somewhere around 30 million. If no one in our measurement panel visited a site over the past 3 months there is no rank at all for that site.”

They also provide a couple of graphs to illustrate this:


Of course, Google receives more traffic than any other site on the Internet.

It gets more daily visitors and pageviews, so it sits at the top of the mountain.

Alexa also points out the fact that the closer you get to the top of the plot, the harder it gets to move up a rank.

While it may be fairly easy for a site ranking 24,500,132 to move up to, say, 20 million, it’s significantly more difficult to climb from 50 to 40.


The main takeaway is that it’s all about two key factors: (1) average daily visitors and (2) pageviews over the last three months.

That being said, here’s what you need to do in order to improve your Alexa Ranking quickly.

Certify your site metrics

If you don’t mind making a small investment, it’s a good idea to use Alexa’s Certified Site Metrics.

This will give you an Alexa Certified Code, which will directly measure your site’s traffic.

It offers several advantages:

  • You get a more accurate Alexa Rank
  • You have access to more in-depth analytics reports (there’s a private dashboard)
  • You can closely monitor your site’s performance
  • You also have the option of displaying unique visitors, pageviews, and ranks publicly

Here are the different pricing options:


It’s also important to note that you get a free monthly SEO audit with the “Insight” plan and a full site audit with the “Advanced” plan every two weeks.

This is just something to keep in mind when choosing a plan.

Here’s a screenshot from Alexa support, explaining how to get your site certified:


The bottom line is that certifying your site metrics gives you an advantage over other websites.

You can gain a clearer perspective on the health of your site and are equipped with tools to improve your ranking.

Produce epic content

Sorry if I sound like a broken record with the whole “epic content” thing.

But when you break it all down, it’s an essential component of online marketing on many levels.

I’m not going to bore you with all the gory details, but it’s extremely important to create A+ content that genuinely satisfies your audience.

Check out this guide I wrote on Neil Patel for pretty much everything you need to know on the subject.

This will be a necessity for boosting your Alexa Ranking.

Get quality backlinks

What are two critical factors that Google takes into account when assigning a ranking to your website?

Trust and authority. In fact, “Domain trust/authority represents 23.87% of Google’s ranking algorithm.”


One of the most straightforward ways to increase your site’s trust/authority is to obtain quality inbound links.

You know the drill. They need to be from reputable, relevant websites.

I realize this is obviously easier said than done.

I wish it was as easy as putting out a few decent blog posts and having multiple big name publications chomping at the bit to link to you.

Of course, it’s a fairly arduous process.

But at the end of the day, it all goes back to creating great content.

In fact, I like to adhere to the 90/10 rule of link building, where “90% of your effort should go into creating great content, and 10% into link building.”


And when it comes to the process of link building, there’s one technique that outshines all the rest: guest-posting.

Now, I’m not going to rehash what I’ve already written about this topic here. But you can learn the essentials from this guide on Quick Sprout.

If you can get even a few guest posts published on reputable websites, this should result in an improved Alexa Ranking within a month.

Analyze your competitors’ keywords

Here’s a question for you.

What’s your motivation behind wanting to improve your Alexa Ranking?

I bet it’s to have a better ranking than your primary competitors. Right?

Of course, you’ll want to outperform the competition. But how do you go about it?

One of the best ways to gain an edge with your Alexa Rank, and with SEO in general, is to analyze your competitors’ keywords.

You’ll want to know which keywords are bringing them the most traffic, generating backlinks, and so on.

Once you know which keywords are driving the bulk of traffic to their websites, you can optimize your site for those keywords and build momentum.

It’s like killing two birds with one stone. Not only will your Alexa Rank improve, your overall SEO rankings should improve as well.

But how can you analyze their keywords?

I recommend using Google’s Keyword Planner.

There are a lot of tools out there, but this is perhaps the most universal. Besides, Google is usually the go-to source for Internet data.

Here’s what you do.

Go to your Keyword Planner dashboard.

Click on “Search for new keywords using a phrase, website or category.”


Under “Your landing page,” type in the URL of a competitor.

I’ll just use as an example:


Click on “Get Ideas” at the bottom, and your screen will be populated with a list of competitor keywords.

Here are just a handful that popped up from my search:


The great thing about using the Keyword Planner is that you can instantly determine the volume of monthly searches and the level of competition for each keyword.

Creating better content that outperforms your competitors is a great way to gradually boost your SEO and at the same time improve your Alexa Rank.

But in order to see a significant improvement within 30 days, I would suggest first going after the “low hanging fruit,” meaning keywords with minimal competition and a lot of searches.

Focus on those initially for a surge in your ranking.


In many ways, your Alexa Rank directly affects the health and progress of your business.

It’s something that key stakeholders will often look at when determining whether or not your company is worth doing business with.

Therefore, achieving a favorable ranking (at least in the top 100,000) should be a priority.

If you follow this formula, I can pretty much guarantee that you will see at least a reasonable improvement fairly quickly.

However, if your site ranks really poorly, it may take awhile to get to the point where your business is attractive to stakeholders.

And because your Alexa Rank is such an important metric, I recommend making your efforts at improving it ongoing.

How big of a factor has your Alexa Ranking been in terms of business partnerships and opportunities?

6 Advanced B2B Lead Conversion Tracking Methods

One of the more loaded questions we hear from execs at our SaaS company is, “How is Marketing doing this month?” Fair question.

For B2B marketers who work with lead generation and conversion tracking, the answer beyond “great” may be tricky to communicate, based on whom we’re talking to and all the factors involved.

Ideally, your lead conversion-tracking data is presented in a way that can answer any sophisticated marketing performance question in less than two minutes without overloading the recipient. They need it this way.

Let’s dive into some key B2B lead conversion-tracking methods for win-win clarity.

1. Lifecycle Stages

Every B2B company is unique. More often than not, your funnel is unique too, making it extra important to clearly define the lifecycle stages of your leads based on the interactions they’ve had with your business (not only for marketing purposes, but for tracking as well).

For example, the way you communicate with and measure leads that have a contract in hand vs. leads that have downloaded an eBook should be much different. Lifecycle stages are the base of strong lead conversion tracking.

Here’s one way to define your lifecycle stages, from awareness to enlightenment:

  • Subscriber: Those who have read some of your blog content and opted to hear from you via one of your various email sign-up strategies. They might not know what it is you sell or do, but they find your content valuable.
  • Lead: Those who have shown interest in a general, top-of-the-funnel offer.
  • Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL): Those who have provided detailed information such as company name, job title, etc., to receive gated content (depending on your form fields) like whitepapers, data studies, etc.
  • Sales Qualified Lead (SQL): Those who have shown interest in your product or service by requesting a live demonstration.
  • Deal: Real sales opportunities, where their company and yours appear to be a great match.
  • Customer: Anyone with an active closed won deal.
  • Evangelist: Strong advocates of your business that mention your business in conversations and content.

When defining your lifecycle stages, make sure they’re documented, known by all stakeholders and consistent. Once you have your lifecycle stages defined, you can then measure how many leads of each type you have and the conversion rates associated with them.

2. Source & Cost Attribution

Ideally your analytics and CRM are set up in a way that easily displays where leads come from and when. Source (or channel) attribution and the breakdown (by months) of where the leads were generated is key to understanding campaign performance from various sources. Traffic times conversion rate equals success.

Knowing which channels your leads originated from and how much money was spent in each channel can be represented in something like this (we break up the cost of content creation in thirds across Direct, Referral & Organic, since it affects each):

source-cost-attribution-spreadsheetfake numbers btw 🙂

From a cost perspective, it is equally important to match up the dollars spent with the month the leads were generated to measure the cost effectiveness of your lead sources. Each source will have different lead numbers and associated costs to compare. This also enables you to prioritize what to optimize next, support where to double-down and inform what to cut.

3. Goal Ramp Incorporation

Goals are mandatory for any company looking to succeed – so why not tie them into your lead conversion-tracking data? This way, everyone involved can easily see what the performance is relative to the goals in place. One example is an SQL goal ramp that increases by 10 percent month over month:

goal-ramp-spreadsheetsuper fake numbers again

As you can see, February’s total SQLs exceeded the February goal by 35, approximately 6 percent. To implement an “actual number in relation to goal number percentage” like this, use the following formula: (Actual – Goal) / Goal. This is helpful for any goals you have associated with marketing: revenue, other lifecycle stages, etc.

4. Monthly Recurring Revenue per SQL

This is where we start to tie in revenue generated from marketing to help display quality that’s associated with the leads being generated. Just like with content, quality beats quantity.

mrr-per-sql-spreadsheetsorta real numbers

Remember the SQL actuals compared to goal example in #3? We fell short of the goal in the month of December. However, when you look at the monthly recurring revenue (MRR) generated from sales qualified leads that originated in December, you’ll notice it is higher than the previous month, indicating the quality improved. MRR per SQL is just MRR / Total SQLs.

Exceeding lead quantity goals is fine, but not nearly as good as seeing monthly recurring revenue per SQL trending upward for your business.

5. Months to Payback

This one also takes into account the value of new customers generated from leads, and it’s my favorite indicator of marketing performance. Similar to the CLTV/CAC ratio, months to payback directly correlates to how fast your SaaS company can grow.

months-to-payback-spreadsheettrending strong

The calculation is Total Cost / MRR, and you want to see this number trend downward for your business, because it measures the number of months of new MRR generated that month required to “pay back” the dollars spent in marketing that month to generate the leads.

The lower number, the sooner the business is making profit. Anything in the 2 to 3 months range or lower is ideal for accelerated growth, especially if you offer annual deals.

6. Multiple views of the above data

To display all of the above B2B lead conversion-tracking metrics, set up a couple sheets in Excel:

  • One for all your different sources (referral traffic, organic search, paid social, etc.)
  • One monthly/master sheet that your sources data feeds into each month

A weekly sheet is valuable, too. Just keep in mind, the longer you’re tracking lead conversions like this, the longer it takes to update the data each time, since we’re attributing revenue and lifecycle stage advancement to prior months when leads originated.

The last step is sharing the data with all involved stakeholders. Walk them through all the components and the key areas they should watch.


Successful B2B lead conversion tracking takes into account several key factors to measure and communicate marketing performance, but it’s also an effective way to optimize future business goals and campaigns.

What lead conversion-tracking methods are you using for your SaaS company in 2017? Comment below to let me know.

About the Author: Ethan DeYoung is the VP of Demand Generation for ClearVoice, a content marketing software and services company with a vetted freelancer marketplace. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

Tracking Offline Marketing Campaigns With Kissmetrics

Forrester estimates that companies allocate about 30% of their marketing budget to online.

It’s trending upwards, gaining roughly 1% per year.

That’s means that offline marketing spend will continue to outspend online for the next couple decades.

So if you’re like most companies spending the bulk of your marketing budgets on offline marketing campaigns, you’ll need to know how effective your offline efforts are. (That is why you came to this blog post in the first place, after all).

Here’s how you can intelligently set up those offline campaigns and track their returns in Kissmetrics.

Forms of Offline Marketing

Let’s try to name all the offline channels you can throw marketing dollars at.

There’s direct mail, radio, coupons, television, guerilla marketing, business cards, conferences, speaking engagements, sponsorships, and more.

Even if you’re utilizing just one of these channels, you’ll still need to track it just as diligently as your online marketing campaigns. Qualitative feedback is great (“a lot of people said great things about us at the most recent conference we sponsored”) but you’ll also need to measure (“we received 5k visits and 580 signups coming directly from the conference”).

Let’s look at how Kissmetrics can help you in measuring the quantitative data.

From Offline to Online

So, how do we track a potential customer that heard about you from an offline channel and moves from the awareness stage to the interest stage?

Let’s say your company, a chocolate company, just sponsored a big food trade show in Dallas this past January. You’re trying to get more of your product in retail stores around the country. To get the attention of attendees, your company logo was all over, along with a custom site you made just for attendees. This site contains some background on your company, your sourcing, and information for retail buyers.

Your banners across the conference were all pointing to this URL, telling attendees they get a free consultation by going to the site and filling out the information form.

As long as you’ve kept the URL short and easy-to-remember, tracking this shouldn’t be a problem. People type your URL into the address bar, hit enter, and browse, contact you, inquire.

Tracking it is relatively straightforward. Just pull up a funnel report viewing direct visits to see how many of them signed up, contacted you, etc.

But let’s add a wrinkle that makes this a bit more tricky: let’s say you’re offering free box of chocolates if visitors enter a coupon code when submitting an inquiry to talk to one of your salespersons.

What we basically want to know is – of all the people that submit an inquiry with us, how many of them are applying the discount code? How effective is the free chocolate at generating inquiries?

In this case, the funnel is – Visited conference site > Filled out inquiry form (with or without discount code).

With Kissmetrics, you can track when people apply a discount code. Here’s how we’d set it up using Kissmetrics:

Anytime someone visits our site for conferences attendees, an event in Kissmetrics called Visited conference site fires. So our first event in the funnel is for people that visited the conference site:


The second event fires when someone files out an inquiry. We called this event Submitted inquiry. We’ll set that as the 2nd event in the funnel report:


We’ll want to find the people that have and have not submitted the coupon code, so we’ll click the small arrow button and add the property “Coupon Code” with the coupon code being conference100:


We also want to find the people that didn’t enter the coupon code. For that, we’ll click this button:


And we’ll add an Or condition to this step, telling Kissmetrics to also find the people that did not have this coupon applied:


This will make it easy to compare the conversion rates for people that entered the coupon code vs those that didn’t.

So here’s how our funnel set up looks:


Now let’s get our data. Let’s first look at a simple conversion for those that visited the conference site and then submitted the inquiry.


This shows us we got about 2500 visits, and a little more than half of those submitted an inquiry. Now let’s look at how effective that coupon code was getting people to submit an inquiry.


So it looks like the bulk of conversions are coming with the coupon code applied.


Much lower conversions – meaning that the free box of chocolates were enough to get most people to submit an inquiry. We’ll now have to track these further down the funnel to see if they lead to meaningful conversations.

This example can stretch further – if you’re using direct mail, radio, billboards, or any display advertising you can point people to a URL and track the conversions with a coupon code. How many times on radio have you heard “enter coupon code to receive 15% off your first order”? As we’ve seen, using these coupon codes makes it much easier to track the effectiveness of these offline campaigns.

Shortened Domains

You may have a long domain name that can be too difficult to remember, too long to type, or not easy to hear (for those of you that advertise on radio).

For example, there’s a realtor in my area named Kris Lindahl. He frequently advertises on radio. His website,, isn’t easy to remember (it’s a name) and Kris is usually spelled as Chris, which could lead many to type in the wrong URL. So via radio he advertises his url as, which is easier to remember than his actual name. Go to and you’ll be redirected to his officlal website landing page.

That can be a solid approach if your domain name isn’t memorable or very long. It also makes it very easy to track with Kissmetrics. Here’s how it works.

Let’s say you’re the Director of Marketing for a company called You are about to begin a radio campaign. The only issue is your domain name. It has a couple problems:

  1. It’s long (who wants to type a domain that long?)
  2. It’s not particularly easy to remember

You know that no matter what you offer, your long domain name is a roadblock for getting people to just visit your site. So you create a workaround by buying a shorter, easier to remember domain name that redirects to your main URL. This is the domain name you’ll advertise on radio.

Tracking your main funnel is pretty standard, but you’ll add a condition to the first step, telling Kissmetrics to only find the people that came from your shortened URL.


You can then fill out the rest of your funnel – viewed product, added product to cart, and purchased. This will give you a focused view on how your radio campaign is performing.

By the way – you can also do this with other domains – you can see how traffic from twitter, facebook, and other referral sites impact signups and conversions.


Tracking offline campaigns can be tricky if people aren’t buying on the spot.

But following the steps they’ll take to purchasing, and tracking each step along the way, will make it much easier.

Questions? Put them in the comments.

About the Author: Zach Bulygo (Twitter) is the Blog Manager for Kissmetrics.

7 Tools for Generating Infinite Content Ideas for Your Blog

Blogging sucks.

Okay that’s a bit extreme. In fact, there’s a lot that I enjoy about blogging-mainly connecting with you guys.

But what does suck is having to constantly come up with new ideas for blog posts.

It’s a grind that can be quite exhausting, especially if you’re simply coming up with ideas off the top of your head.

Research from The Content Marketing Institute found that “57% of B2B marketers say that producing content consistently is their biggest struggle.”

And the struggle is real.

If you’re like me and writing up to eight posts per week while juggling multiple businesses, it can be seriously draining.

So out of pure necessity, I’ve experimented with a plethora of different tools to aid me in the process of generating new content ideas.

Some have been home runs and some have been strikeouts.

But there are seven in particular I really like and want to share with you.

Using one or more of these tools will allow you to generate an infinite number of content ideas for your blog-without having to do any heavy lifting.

1. HubSpot’s Blog Topic Generator

This is one of my favorites for generating a handful of ideas quickly. Five to be exact.

I love it because it’s incredibly easy to use.

Literally within seconds, you’ll have five legitimate blog post titles at your fingertips.

All you have to do is enter up to three nouns in the search boxes:


In this case, let’s try “content marketing.” Here’s what happens:image12

Voila! I instantly get five viable blog topics.

If you want more, click “Try Again,” and it will take you back to the home screen.

From there, you can perform another search using the same keywords, or you can experiment with different keyword options.

I will say that HubSpot’s Blog Topic Generator isn’t ideal if you need to come up with dozens of ideas right out of the gate.

But it’s a great starting point.

2. BuzzSumo

You may have heard me mention BuzzSumo before.

I love this tool and have been using it to guide my content marketing efforts for a few years now.

It’s awesome because it does more than just provide you with content ideas. Much more!

It also does the following:

  • tells you the number of shares and social engagements content receives
  • identifies key sharers
  • displays backlinks
  • shows you top trending content

In other words, you can quickly tell how well content is performing and what’s resonating the most with readers.

This information is helpful because it lets you know which angles to take with your blog and makes it easier to strike while the iron is hot when topics are peaking.

Here’s what happens when I search for “content marketing” on BuzzSumo:


Notice that it provides me with an in-depth glimpse of the content that’s crushing it at the moment.

More specifically, I can see the number of:

  • Facebook engagements
  • LinkedIn shares
  • Twitter shares
  • Pinterest shares
  • Google+ shares
  • Links
  • Total shares

If you look to the right of this info, you’ll notice two more features: “View backlinks” and “View sharers.”

Both add a whole new dimension to the content prospecting process.

But let me give you a heads up.

The free version is fairly limited and won’t necessarily show you the big picture. You also can’t take advantage of all the features.

That’s why I recommend using the Pro version if you’ve got the budget.

As of early 2017, it costs $79 per month.

I know this may seem steep to some marketers, but it’s a worthwhile investment in my opinion.

3. Alltop

This is basically a news aggregator that lets you know what’s happening online.

Alltop runs the gamut in terms of topics and covers everything from science and religion to photography and fashion. It’s all there.

Here’s what you see when you first land on the Alltop homepage:



It’s basically a hodgepodge of different content.

Skimming through the homepage may help you generate some ideas, depending on your niche.

But what I recommend is searching for a specific topic in the search box.

Here’s just a fraction of what I get when I search for “content marketing:”


Alltop displays five posts from relevant blogs, and you can simply browse through the list for ideas.

Or you can take it one step further and click on a specific blog and scan it individually.

I’ve found this to be helpful, and you can potentially find some epic new resources you haven’t been aware of before.

The bottom line is that you can usually come up with a ton of ideas in a short period of time.

You can also get a feel for overarching trends to gauge what’s popular at the moment.

4. UberSuggest

Using this tool is simple.

Enter a keyword, and UberSuggest will supply you with dozens, and sometimes hundreds, of phrases that include your keyword.

Here’s a screenshot of what popped up when I used “content marketing” as a keyword:


It’s kind of like the Google Keyword Planner but more streamlined.

UberSuggest won’t provide you with info such as search volume, competition, etc., but it’s perfect for coming up with content ideas for your blog quickly.

Another cool feature is “Expand this keyword,” which you’ll see after clicking on a particular keyword.

Here’s what happens when I expand “content marketing strategy.”


Notice that it’s a more comprehensive list of keyword phrases based on “content marketing strategy.”

Pretty cool.

In theory, you can use one simple keyword to generate thousands of content ideas with UberSuggest.

5. Google Trends

I’m sure you’re at least somewhat familiar with Google Trends.

I use it for several marketing purposes, mainly to perform market research and determine interest in a particular topic.

But did you know that Google Trends can be used for generating content ideas as well?

It’s true.

Now let me say that this isn’t nearly as comprehensive as the previous tools I listed, but it definitely serves a purpose. Three to be exact.

Again, let’s use “content marketing” as an example.

First, you can browse through “Related topics” to see what’s popular.


This can help you identify other influential resources you may want to check out, which can potentially give you additional ideas.

Second, you can scan through “Related queries” to see which search queries are most popular on Google at the moment:


Third, you can use Google Trends to determine whether a topic is trending up or down.

Here’s what the interest in content marketing looks like at the moment:


When you put it all together, Google Trends can be quite handy for generating ideas.

6. Portent’s Content Idea Generator

If you’re looking for a super quick way to come up with a click-worthy blog title, look no further than this tool.

While it’s by no means as robust as, say, BuzzSumo, it works great for generating a title that your audience will eat up.

Here’s an example:


For more ideas, click the refresh button.

I like Portent’s Content Idea Generator because it’s an easy way to come up with cool and catchy titles.

It’s particularly good if you’re looking for a dash of humor.

7. Content Row’s Link Bait Title Generator

So here’s the deal with link bait.

It can potentially be detrimental to your marketing campaign.

I mean it may drive some initial traffic to your blog, but you’re likely to have a high bounce rate and a minimal number of return visitors if your content doesn’t actually measure up.

For that reason, I don’t recommend using titles purely intended for link bait without actually having high quality content.

That being said, Content Row’s Link Bait Title Generator is still a pretty awesome little tool to have.

The concept is simple. You enter a subject, and a handful of relevant link bait title ideas will appear.

Here’s what pops up when I enter “content marketing.”


Not too shabby.

This isn’t to say you’ll want to use every single idea this tool suggests, but you can definitely use it to streamline your brainstorming.

Most of the time, you can come up with some pretty catchy titles that will bring in considerable traffic.

Just make sure your content hits its mark.


I think we can all agree that coming up with fresh content ideas is a pain at times.

If you’ve been blogging for over a year, I’m sure you know what I’m talking about.

But fortunately, you don’t have to sit around brainstorming on your own, trying to come up with new ideas from scratch.

There are numerous tools available (many of which are free) that will assist you with this process and enable you to come up with pretty darn good ideas.

In fact, it’s tools like these that have enabled me to make continual progress and establish the audience that I have.

If you’re a serious blogger, I suggest at least checking out each of these seven tools and doing a little experimenting.

This should make it much easier to populate your blog with killer content without driving yourself crazy in the process.

Can you suggest any other tools for generating content ideas?