SaaS companies face unique challenges when it comes to getting found in search results.
At any given time, only a limited percentage of your target audience is actively searching for your specific solution. They are typically your hand-raiser because they are close to making a buying decision.
Unfortunately, for transactional, bottom-of-funnel keywords you’re often competing with large aggregator sites such as Capterra, G2, and TrustRadius.
Someone looking for “HR software” will likely get search results that include a list of options, such as listicles (“10 best software”) or aggregator sites that include descriptions, reviews, and pricing for each tool on their lists.
And let’s not forget how longer sales cycles (84.3 days according to HubSpot) make it crucial to create multiple touchpoints so potential customers don’t forget about you.
SaaS SEO helps you create these touchpoints and gain visibility with your addressable market. It keeps you top-of-mind so prospects think of you once they’re ready to buy.
Doing SEO for SaaS isn’t easy, but getting it right can boost your sales tremendously and it has a ton of additional benefits. In this guide, we’ll dive into how to do it the right way.
Table of Contents
What is SaaS SEO?
SaaS SEO or SaaS Search Engine Optimization refers to the practice of improving a software company’s website rankings in the search results by optimizing its content, improving its technical setup, and building links back to the site.
Benefits of SEO for Software Companies
When you think about ways to let your target audience know you’ve entered the playing field and are ready to solve one of their biggest pain points, other B2B marketing examples than SEO probably come to mind first. After all, SEO requires careful planning and, oftentimes, patience before you see results.
But SEO has multiple benefits over “louder” marketing strategies such as posting on social media and doing cold outreach campaigns.
1. Independence from ads
If you have the budget and the competition is manageable, paid advertising can be a great way to get your software company off the ground. When it works, it works instantly, so it can help grow your revenue fast. But there is a flip side to that coin: once you stop paying for ads, they stop working for you just as quickly.
There’s a real risk of becoming dependent on paid ads, but you can eliminate that risk by investing in a strategy that delivers results over the long term. That’s where SEO comes in. While it generally takes longer to get results from search engine optimization, those results are cumulative. Every well-optimized page can generate leads for years to come, and the better your site does in search, the easier it will be for new pages to rank.
2. Long-term rewards and cost-efficiency
As mentioned above, a well-optimized blog post can rank and generate organic traffic for years. On top of that, a proper content strategy ensures that individual articles don’t exist in a vacuum but increase each other’s findability and improve the overall domain authority and search engine rankings of your SaaS website.
While SEO isn’t a set-it-and-forget-it kind of marketing strategy (then again, what is), investing in it can yield long-term results.
Some articles promoting the benefits of SEO claim that it’s a “free” marketing strategy. This isn’t true, as you still need to pay your SEO agency or strategist and your writers. However, once the content is created and ranks, every click it generates is free.
We’ve already compared that with paid advertising where you need to pay for every click you get, but you could also contrast this with social media marketing. As soon as you stop posting content on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, your brand disappears from the feeds of your audience and your leads from those channels dry up.
3. A steady stream of qualified leads
For your SaaS company to generate new leads, you need to
- Make sure your target customers know you exist,
- Convince them you understand their problems by addressing them in their language,
- And show them you have a trustworthy solution.
That is exactly what SEO helps you do. It creates demand for your brand by putting it in front of people and showing you which words to use to get your content clicked and read through keyword research.
Even more so, by targeting specific keywords and purposely leaving others aside, you can avoid the trap of growing organic traffic for the sake of growing traffic and focus your efforts on attracting the right kind of leads.
Without SEO, you’d invest in a new piece of content, publish it, and then promote it heavily only to see it fall flat a few weeks later and start the whole process over again. With SEO, you can keep sending qualified traffic to your most valuable (and converting) content assets.
An added benefit is that when you know your content will keep producing results, you can take the time to produce high-quality articles. There is no need to keep creating content simply for the sake of creating content.
4. Touchpoints at all stages of the buying cycle
Keyword research also helps you find out what your prospects are looking for in different stages of the buying cycle and then create content for these different pain points. This allows you to reach prospects where they are and be top of mind when they’re ready to make a purchasing decision.
Say you run a help desk SaaS. You may have blog posts on:
- “Essential Help Desk Procedures”: to put your brand in front of prospects who are only looking to become better at their jobs.
- “How to Choose a Help Desk Tool”: to attract prospects who are actively looking for a solution.
- “Your Brand Name vs Competitor Name: a Comparison”: to win over those who are ready to buy but are still comparing different options.”
On top of that, SEO helps you reach businesses you didn’t even know needed your software as well as companies you failed to reach in other ways. Catching a decision maker’s attention is easier when your article answers a question they’re googling than when your Linkedin connection request gets buried beneath dozens of others.
In fact, organic traffic makes up the largest traffic source for some of the biggest SaaS companies in the US. It’d be a shame to leave that on the table.
5. Cultivation of brand awareness
The more you create and rank content that answers the questions of your target audience in the words they use to perform a search, the higher your visibility in the search engines, and the more your target audience will become aware of your brand.
Not just that, but they’ll start talking about it, too.
Is MailChimp the best email tool? Not for everyone, but it’s the name everyone knows, and so it’s one of the most common recommendations people make. By ranking high on Google, you can literally stand out above your competitors and build a competitive web presence.
6. Increased confidence and trust in your brand
If you keep appearing on the first page on Google when your target audience searches for something, that’ll boost your credibility. If you then manage to also provide it with the information they need, you’re well on your way to gaining its trust and building your reputation as a thought leader in your space.
SEO can help with this in that it tells you what the most prevalent problems are that your target audience is facing. Through keyword research, you’ll learn which questions come up most, what type of information it’s looking for, as well as the exact language it uses to talk (and thus also wants to read in) about these things.
On top of that, SEO allows you to discover which of your competitors Google thinks are best at answering your customers’ questions right now so you can study their content and create something even better.
Aside from answering your customers’ questions, you can also create brand authority by publishing and optimizing thought leadership content such as original studies or opinion pieces that go against the mainstream. A good example of a thought leadership piece is this study by Gmelius.
Before you invest resources in a study, make sure it’s relevant to your offer. Gmelius’ study addresses digital collaboration which is a great fit as they’re a collaboration platform for teams using Gmail/Gsuite.
The same applies when you decide to publish an opinion piece. You want to make sure that it’s relevant to the industry you operate in.
7. A better understanding of your audience
By tracking which of your posts convert best, you can figure out which topics and types of keywords are most likely to convert leads into customers and use that knowledge to create similar content.
Just like you’re using specific SaaS terminology within your company, your customers use specific language to talk about and look for your solution, and they’ll respond better when you create content using keywords that resonate with them.
Google Analytics makes it easy to see which of your pages convert and what a typical buyer journey through your website looks like, as well as which pages get a lot of clicks but also have a big drop-off.
Data like this allows you to make data-driven content decisions and plan your content calendar around what works. It also helps you analyze how your SEO efforts are influencing important SaaS metrics such as your conversion rates and your MRR.
8. Improved user experience
SEO may be Search Engine Optimization, but in reality, a lot of SEO best practices improve the user experience as well. They require that:
- You create optimized content that is valuable to your target audience.
- Your website has an easy-to-navigate structure.
- Your website is optimized for mobile.
- Your website is fast.
All of these things make it more likely for a user to visit your site, click around, and convert. Targeted content and smooth browsing also make it more likely for people to revisit your site, and if you can provide users of your software with an equally great experience, you have all the ingredients to turn customers into loyal brand ambassadors.
It is crucial to monitor both your content quality and more technical SEO metrics not just to please Google, but your audience too.
The Importance of SaaS Keyword Research in Demand and Sales Generation
As a SaaS business, you face the challenge that only a small percentage of your total addressable market is currently actively looking for your product. If you’re not targeting and optimizing for the correct search terms, you’ll fail to capture this demand.
On top of that, SaaS companies need to create additional touchpoints so that potential customers learn to recognize them, trust them, and come back to them once they’re ready to buy.
To capture those ready to buy and facilitate future sales among the group of potential customers who might not know they need your product yet, it’s important to distinguish between these three types of keywords
- Informational keywords target those looking for information about a topic.
Example: “How to manage employees”.
- Commercial keywords target those who are comparing different SaaS as the solution to their problems.
Example: “best employee management software”.
- Transactional keywords target those who’ve made a decision and are ready to buy.
Example: “BambooHR signup”
Your content strategy needs to target both commercial and transactional keywords to convert customers who are actively looking for your solution. This is how SEO will help you drive sales.
But your strategy also needs to target informational keywords so your content pops up whenever your target audience is looking for information, and they start recognizing and trusting you.
In short: a solid keyword strategy helps you create content that covers the entire sales funnel so that you stay top-of-mind for potential customers.
Creating a Solid SaaS SEO Strategy
A solid SEO strategy consists of three components:
- Content: Keyword-optimized content is a key ingredient for a successful SEO strategy. If you don’t write about it, you can’t rank for it.
- Technical SEO: Both Google and users prefer websites that are mobile-friendly, load fast, and are clearly structured with internal links that make it easy to navigate from page to page.
- Backlink building: Backlinks from authoritative and relevant websites will boost your own site’s authority and make it easier to rank.
On top of that, SaaS websites form a category of their own. They don’t have hundreds of product pages like an ecommerce site does, nor do they consist of purely informational and buyer content like an affiliate site would. Because of their distinct nature, there are some specific SEO strategies for SaaS you can follow if you want the best chance of ranking highly.
1. Optimize your site structure
Your site’s structure forms the basis of your search engine optimization strategy. Get it right, and you’ll be miles ahead of competitors who are putting up content without having a solid plan.
So what should a SaaS site structure look like?
Something like this:
If this looks a little overwhelming, fear not. We’ll break it down for you.
In general, there are three layers to all the information on your SaaS website:
- Your core layer
- Your SEO silos
- Your SEO-optimized content
Your core layer consists of all the pages someone can see who goes directly to your website. They are your homepage and, from the navigation on your homepage, your
- Feature pages.
- About page.
- Contact page
- Case studies.
Your SEO silos consist of clusters of similar content. As a SaaS, you’ll typically have silos for
- Tutorials for your SaaS.
- Resources about your SaaS.
- Articles that review your SaaS and compare it with competitors.
- Blog content about the same topic.
While these silos can be visually represented on your site through your navigation or hub pages, they don’t need to be. What matters most is that you create them through strong internal link building. That means all your tutorials will link to other tutorials, all of your blog posts about email productivity, for example, will link to other posts about email productivity, and so on.
Lastly, your SEO-optimized content consists of the individual tutorials, comparison posts, and other blog posts within each of these silos.
Having a tight site structure filled with highly relevant content allows you to outrank older, higher-authority sites. Want to learn more about this? Read this article.
2. Create smart blog categories
All of the other content that is not part of your website core, nor of your knowledge base, will typically live on your SaaS blog. To let both Google and readers know what your blog content is about, it’s important to use clear blog categories.
Continu is a SaaS that offers B2B learning software and it does this very well.
One look at their blog categories and we know their content covers three main topics: sales training, onboarding, and learning. When landing on the blog page, we see their latest articles first by default, and then we can also choose to read some company updates.
This last category is an important one for SaaS companies as you’ll want to keep your users informed about the new features you’re adding as well as any other evolutions that might affect them.
On top of that, company updates are a great way to give your SaaS a human touch. It’s where you can feature team members and give users a little behind-the-scenes.
3. Target competitor keywords
While most companies want to stay away from doing anything that might make competing brands show up in Google, that’s not a route you can take as a SaaS. Here’s why:
Say you’ve created an image editing tool specifically for ecommerce businesses. People who are already looking for this might be doing so using search terms such as “Canva alternative” or “Canva for ecommerce”. And you know what? If someone’s looking for it, someone else is going to want to rank for it.
Especially keywords such as “Brand alternatives” or “Brand X vs Brand Y” are popular target keywords with affiliate marketers and the chance that nobody will create an article comparing you to your competitor, or listing your SaaS in a list of alternatives, is non-existent. So you make sure you create those articles yourself and outrank both your competitors and those affiliate marketers.
Not convinced? There’s another reason you should go after competitor keywords like the ones mentioned above. People who are searching these terms are people who are ready to buy. They’re not happy with the options they already know of and they’re looking for an alternative. If you can get found the moment they need a solution to their problem, your chances of closing that sale or significantly higher.
4. See new features as new possibilities to rank
Most SaaS are constantly evolving. Either you’re improving existing features or adding new ones. Each of those updates opens the door to addressing new pain points and thus creating new content around those pain points.
Just like you can prioritize certain new features over others based on what you know people are searching for, you can also use new features to expand on your keyword research and reach prospects who may not have been interested in the earlier version of your product but are now that you’ve added functionality.
Things to Consider When Creating Your SEO Strategy
Doing it yourself vs hiring an SEO agency
Plenty of agencies specialize in doing nothing but SEO for other companies and some of them focus solely on SEO for SaaS. Flow SEO is one of them. While we may be biased, we truly feel outsourcing SEO is the best choice for 90% of SaaS companies.
When you hire an SEO agency, you
- Benefit from years of experience within your industry. There’s no need to train anyone.
- Get an outside perspective fueled by insights of what worked and didn’t work for other SaaS businesses.
- Know your SEO is being monitored and improved upon regardless of the other priorities your core team has.
As you’re growing your SaaS business, you want to build a team that specializes in and can support your core activities so that when you experience sudden growth, the chances of something breaking are minimal. Unless you’re selling SEO software as a service, that team likely won’t consist of SEO experts.
At Flow SEO, we specialize in SEO for SaaS startups who’ve reached a product-market fit. Through a thorough intake process, we learn about your goals, devise a plan to reach them, and get to work. That way, you can focus on your core activities. Get in touch to discuss how we can help you too.
Quick wins vs long-term goals
SEO is often said to be a game of patience as sites need to build up authority to be able to rank content better and faster, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get any quick wins. In that sense, SEO can play a role in reaching both your short-term and long-term marketing goals.
Targeting low-volume, low-competition keywords can get you some page-one rankings fast, building your site trust to later rank for more competitive high-level and high-volume keywords.
At the same time, top-of-the-funnel educational content can act to draw in cold prospects while bottom-of-the-funnel content that targets transactional keywords will help you turn warmed-up leads into sales.
The exact focus of your SEO strategy will depend on your SaaS’ goals and the site authority it has already built.
Ranking sales pages vs blog content
As a SaaS, you want your sales pages to rank for your main target keywords but whether that’s possible depends partially on the pages that are already ranking for those target keywords on page one of Google, and those might not be sales pages.
One of our clients is a SaaS that improves inter-organizational communications. They have a sales page that’s all about interpersonal communications.
When they came to us, they wanted to rank this page for terms related to “interpersonal communications” yet keyword research taught us that the pages ranking for those and similar keywords were informational and educational articles. It was clear we wouldn’t get their sales page to rank for those terms, so we took a different approach.
We created an educational blog article on how to improve your interpersonal communication skills and managed to rank it on the first page for no less than 37 keywords, and in the first spot for 8 of those.
It’s important to keep in mind that there are several ways SEO can lead buy-ready users to your sales pages. Ranking them directly is just one of them. If it’s clear that won’t work, create content that matches the type of content already ranking for your sales page topic and use that content as a stepping stone to guide leads to your actual sales page.
Aligning Your SaaS SEO Strategy With the Rest of Your Marketing Efforts
SEO is a powerful marketing strategy in and of itself but it’s not until you align your SEO strategy with your other marketing efforts that it reaches its full potential.
SEO helps you
- Get more out of your content creation through keyword optimization.
- Distribute your content through backlink building.
- Generate topic ideas for your social media and email marketing campaigns.
- Create keyword-driven paid traffic campaigns.
Ideally, SEOs also work together with the SaaS’ product team to find a working balance between optimization (keyword usage, fast website load times, …) and branding (conversion copy, design effects, …).
SEO for SaaS: a Specialized Approach for a Unique Industry
SaaS SEO is a strategic marketing tactic aimed at generating long-term results. When well-executed, it delivers a consistent stream of high-quality traffic, builds brand awareness and trust among your target customers, and helps you better understand your audience so you can create content that reaches them no matter where they find themselves in the buying cycle.
It also allows you to enjoy the instant results of paid advertising without becoming dependent on them. Briefly put: SEO is a full-funnel marketing tool you can’t ignore.
Convinced? Great! Start with the tips in this article to create a solid outline of your SEO strategy or reach out to us if you’d rather have your SEO done by a team that has been ranking SaaS businesses for several years.