How to get people to search for your product

or rather, how to figure out what people are searching and get your product to show up there.

People don’t want your product.

They sure didn’t want Zapier, an app automation tool, which on its own is about as useful as a gear—indispensable as part of a machine, merely dead weight without the other parts.

They didn’t need Wistia, a video hosting service, when YouTube was good enough.

They definitely didn’t need Buffer, a paid social media tool, when social media services were already free.

So it is with most things. With rare exceptions (most of which would be food, not business software), no one wakes up wishing they could buy the thing you made.

And you can’t blame them. There are a million things to spend their hard-earned money on, a million other things to occupy their interest. They don’t want to read your marketing copy any more than kids these days want to read the cereal box. We’ve all got better things to do.

What they do want is solutions.

To quit copying and pasting.

To keep YouTube from auto-playing ads before their company’s videos.

To post on a half-dozen social networks, at the best time, without needing to be online all the time.

Which is what they’re battling right now. They’ll be waiting on dinner at a restaurant, remember it’s 8AM somewhere and they need to re-share a post, grudgingly pull out their phone, and post an update on their company’s Twitter and Facebook accounts. Drop the phone back onto the table, take a sip of their drink, deep breath, sigh.

Surely there’s a better way, they think as they pick their phone back up and Google “schedule Tweet.”

There’s your opportunity.

People won’t search for your brand name; they’ve never heard of your product before. But they will search for what your product can do for them. Solutions. They don’t want to buy a drill; they just want to put a hole in their wall.

“When we buy a product, we essentially ‘hire’ it to help us do a job,” as Clayton M. Christensen memorably described it for Harvard Business Review.

It starts with the job, the task people need to accomplish in their current circumstances. People need to add contacts to their CRM or publish videos or whatever other task your product can perform. And they don’t know who to hire for the job. So they turn to Google and search for a solution.

Write stuff that answers their question and solves their ‘job’, and voilà: Traffic. Not any old traffic either, but qualified traffic from people who are actively looking for something to hire to do their job.

Find what people want to hire your product to do.

Start by putting yourself in your potential customer's shoes. What do they want to accomplish with your product? If you wanted to accomplish that task, what would you look for? Go one level up the stack: What might have you searched before you realized you needed to do this job?

Then write articles or shoot videos that help answer their questions:

  • Tutorials and how-to guides are the most direct. Answer the question people are searching for—ideally showing a generic way to solve the issue, and then showing how to do it better with what you’re selling. If they can get by with the basic tip, great; you helped them for free, and earned some brand equity in the process. If they opt for your tool to do the job, all the better.
  • Explainers and encyclopedia-style explainer articles can be helpful for people just starting out. Perhaps they’re exploring what your category is and how it might apply to them in the future; help them today, and they’ll remember you tomorrow.
  • Roundups help you expand into complements, helping people discover tools to do a job adjacent to your product. Don’t do roundups about your product, recommending it as the best solution; that’s too on the nose. Roundup things people would use with your product, and position your tool as a way to get the most out of the companion item they pick. That’s a great way to make friends with other companies in your industry and influence people to use your product, all in one.

For example, perhaps in Zapier’s case, the job someone needs to be done is to add new customers to a CRM. But before someone would need that job done, they’d first need to find a CRM.

Zapier could then create roundups of the best CRM apps and guides on how to use CRMs (with tips on automatically adding contacts in both), and even an introductory guide for people who’ve never used CRMs before. Those solve jobs for a wider range of people at different stages of the contact management workflow while letting people who might have never searched for an automation tool know that Zapier could make their work a bit easier.

Stripe has done this incredibly well with their Stripe Atlas Guides. You won’t need a payment processor until you have customers, and you won’t have customers without a business. Stripe not only built a service to simplify registering a business, they also wrote detailed guides on splitting equity, pricing your software, the difference between different types of companies, and more—everything that someone who will want to accept payments in the future will be searching for today.

Sometimes you can sell someone your drill if they need a round hole today. Other times you can help them solve their other home repair jobs, and when they get around to needing to put a hole in the wall your drill business will be top of mind.

Patience is indeed a virtue.

And with time and luck, as people keep searching for the things you’ve written about, they’ll remember how helpful your team is, how it seemed like your product was just what they needed. One day, they’ll type your brand directly into Google. They’ll actually want your product.

Then you win.

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