How to use content in Product-Led Growth
This is a post in our PLG Series, where we write a monthly deep dive on a topic that we experienced at Rows. Read the previous articles on the How to pick your activation metric and the Do's and don's of managing a product waitlist.
Content can be an essential part of Product-Led Growth (PLG) companies. It helps to drive user acquisition, activation, and retention, and build relationships with customers. Today, we’ll see how the typical ways PLG companies use content, and what we’re learning from writing and distributing content at Rows.
The 5 types of content
Figma, Notion, Airtable, Miro, Rows, [insert your favorite PLG product]. All these PLG companies use content to accelerate their growth flywheel. In broad terms, they do it in 5 ways:
Blog Posts: What you write in your blog. They can be used to educate customers on new releases, show off how other teams are using the product, or content target at SEO (as we’ll see later).
Product documentation: What you write on your Docs. These will typically be in the form of FAQs and concise guides on how to use the features of the product.
Templates: In-product content experiences. They provide a starting point for using the product quickly without starting from scratch.
User-Generated Content (UGC): Not applicable to all PLG companies, but many employ some sort of UGC content in their acquisition strategy. For companies like Notion, it has become the most powerful form of content and accelerator of intra-team virality.
Landing pages: A dedicated page that is used to move visitors from a paid marketing campaign, email campaign or search query.
Set a goal for each piece of content
Different types of content serve different purposes. Some will be used to show your existing users new features, or help them get started with the product. Others are focused on user acquisition and leading people to your website.
One thing that has served us well at Rows - and saves many hours of internal discussions - is to be clear about what is the goal behind each type of content you’re putting out.
One tip is to classify the goal of your content across these two vectors:
Area of impact. This is the KPI (or area) you want to influence the most:
Acquisition: If the goal is primarily to drive sign-ups, or generate new leads.
Activation: If the goal is to accelerate the Aha moment of the user.
Retention and Engagement: If the goal is to keep existing users coming back or drive deeper usage of the product/feature.
Mode of distribution: This classifies the content based on how you expect it to land in the hands (and eyes) of the audience:
In-product: When the content will be primarily used within the experience inside the product - e.g. templates that are recommended during the onboarding process.
Viral: When the goal is for the content to be distributed from user to user via word-of-mouth, social sharing or drive account invites - e.g. people sharing their Notion templates on Twitter.
Paid: When you’ll use push the content via paid marketing campaigns. The canonical example is using landing pages on Google Ads campaigns.
SEO: When the goal is for people to encounter the content while searching for something on a search engine.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of our way, let’s see how we use content at Rows.
How we use content at Rows
Goal: Acquisition-Viral, Acquisition-SEO
Unlike most SaaS companies, we use the blog primarily to tell stories about building Rows. We do it because:
We like it
We naturally share short stories on Twitter about product decisions, how we run the company, and the ins and outs of marketing campaigns.
We use the blog to take this one step further and share with a steady cadence: a weekly review by Humberto on something important that happened in the company, a monthly deep dive on a PLG topic, and a monthly Community Spotlight or Case Study.
Even with the near-infinite amount of startup content out there, we feel there is a lack of transparent, honest stories about how to build a company from the ones doing it “right now”. We don’t obsess about the particular performance of individual posts. Instead, we’re committed to sharing these stories with a steady cadence for a long enough time, and see where it goes.
A spreadsheet is a very generic tool. You can use it to set up a checklist of items to buy in the supermarket or manage the upgrade of the SAP infrastructure of a multi-billion dollar fashion retail company. Because of that we’ve historically struggled to write content for “SEO”. If the product is so generic, “what will we write about?”. And once the visitor landed on the post, how will the rest of the blog give them enough value to give Rows a try?
Recently, with the launch of Embed we’ve decided to run a few experiments on the “content for SEO” front. We wrote 6 informative articles that followed a similar structure - [how to do x in tool y] - where we can be helpful and showcase how using Rows embed makes “x” more collaborative, productive, and fun. Two of them are:
The early results are in, and we see more opportunities to use the blog for user acquisition. Our next blog posts are coming up soon, keep an eye out for that at rows.com/blog
Goal: Retention/Engagement-In-Product, Acquisition-SEO
The primary goal of our documentation is - unsurprisingly - to help people solve their problems and answer their questions about the product. That’s why the Docs are organised around product themes like Collaboration, Charts, APIs and JSON, or Billing.
But that’s not the end of the story. While expanding our library of resources, we saw that certain articles were getting a lot of traffic from search - some more than 20 clicks/day - and stumbled on an opportunity to use the docs for user acquisition through SEO.
That prompted us to double down on the Docs in two ways:
Write more content to help our community solve their problems with Rows like our Marketing Playbook with guides for marketers and our functions gallery
The role of templates had been a nagging topic that kept resurfacing every few months. In particular, the question of whether we build a lot of them with niche use cases where we can rank highly on Google, or only build ones that give immediate results to the user, and are easy to “decode”.
Ultimately, we decided for simplicity because:
Complex templates have poor retention rates: The more complex the template is - more inputs needed, more formulas, more tables - the lower the retention rate is for those who install it. And since each new workspace only installs ~1.5 templates in their first 7 days, that first impression really counts.
Complex templates are too hard to deconstruct: At the end of the day, each person always wants their own (slightly) different take on the templates in the gallery. Sometimes it’s adding new columns with a different calculation, or grouping the data differently. Complex templates made customising them very difficult, and scared away most of the non-spreadsheet pros.
We settled on building simple templates, categorized by function area (Marketing, Sales, Product) or use case (Reporting, Data Enrichment, Everyday tasks), completed with a short table of instructions on how to use it.
Every month we analyze the performance of the templates across 3 metrics:
Bounce rate: % of template installs with no activity.
W1 retention: Week-1 retention of those who installed a template.
W3 retention: Week-3 retention of those who installed a template.
Perhaps the most significant improvement on user activation we’ve had at Rows came from iterating, simplifying and recommending the right templates to new users. And we have plenty of new ideas on the pipeline 👀
User Generated Content
User generated content is a core part of our acquisition strategy: the more people who share spreadsheets with others - via a link, invite or with the world - the more touchpoints others have with the product, which in turn increases the likelihood they will sign-up and start using Rows.
But it’s not easy to hack. People will only share something when they see enough value in it. So our goal here is to simply make Rows the best product to share spreadsheets in.
Besides improve the spreadsheet product, this means 3 things:
Give people more reasons to share their work: For us this means investing heavily in making charts look great, adding customization like descriptions and footnotes, exporting them as beautiful images, and make them responsive on mobile devices (🔜)
Make it easy to share to its natural destination: We know that the work seldomly ends in a spreadsheet. Embeds were a transformative feature in creating a seamless connection between the spreadsheet and the destination of the doc (Notion, Confluence, a website).
Make it personal: We intentionally made the workspace brandable (with an avatar), give everyone a vanity url (rows.com/henrique) and gamify the spreadsheets you share with the Community with insights on the number of views and duplicates of your content. We still have a long way to go here but the direction is clear: people feel more compelled to share their work if they can leave their personal mark on it. Expect us to add more features to make your spreadsheets “yours”.
Goal: Acquisition-Viral, Acquisition-SEO
We haven’t done much when it comes to landing pages, so I’ll keep it short. We’ve used it infrequently in Marketing campaigns, like the 50 fastest growing startups in Portugal list, and the Tech IPOs of the decade, or the (failed) Microsoft Build page. We’ve used them in PR campaigns with the goal of driving word of mouth.
And that’s about it. But that’s about to change.
We’ve just launched a series of public calculators on rows.com/calculators - things like Email marketing ROI calculators, Aspect ratio calculators, Body mass index - to test if we can drive significant search traffic to simple calculators built with Rows. Every calculator is an embed from Rows, which gives us another opportunity to showcase the versatility and applicability of the product. Let’s see how that goes.
Content takes many forms, it is up to you to choose which you wish to express. Applies to love (as goes in the original quote) and so does to content. For PLG companies, that’s going to be your blog, docs, templates, user-generated content or landing pages.
Whatever it is, make sure you know what it’s there for. And go at it.
If you have feedback, questions about the topic or want to continue the conversation, reach out.