The HR software company BambooHR was founded in 2008, yet it only really started to see SEO success in the last few years, with a clear spike in rankings starting at the beginning of 2022. Just look at this Ahrefs graph of its keywords ranking on page 1:
Their Ahrefs Domain Rating is impressive, as is the number of backlinks they’ve gained and built:
How do they do it? That’s what we’ll look at in this episode of “Decoding SEO Success”, a series where we break down the SEO strategy of popular software companies so you can take what works and implement it yourself.
Table of Contents
When Is the Right Time for SEO?
There is a school of SEOs that advises early-stage startups (younger than 24 months) to get started with SEO as soon as possible, as it takes time before you see results. Eva and Slayter, however, takes a different position. They state that launching a full-fledged SEO campaign usually shouldn’t be a priority for these startups because of three things:
- Product-market fit
- Internal alignment
First of all, to do SEO well, you need to have both a content marketing team and a dedicated web developer at your disposal. Most early-stage startups consist of people who take on various roles and won’t have the budget to build an internal or hire an external content marketing team. On top of that, the developer(s) they have will most likely need to prioritize product development over website development.
This means that:
- You won’t be able to publish content as consistently and frequently as required to see results from your SEO efforts.
- You won’t be able to make the structural site changes your SEO agency recommends you make to give your SEO strategy the best chance of success.
Slayter adds to this that if your other marketing channels aren’t generating enough revenue to keep your business running, SEO won’t solve that problem for you. SEO is great at creating a healthy pipeline but startups with new websites will have to wait around six months for that pipeline to start working, and that’s too long to go without revenue.
Most startups needs to go fast, and SEO is not a fast solution.
SEO is like a huge container ship that is often able to change direction only slowly, and so you don’t want to get started with it until you’re certain you’ve found product-market fit. That knowledge comes from analyzing how people react to your offer as well as to your other marketing efforts and sales enablement content.
Once you have that product-market fit, you can use SEO to scale what works and bring in more leads. And creating SEO content is about scaling: you’ll be creating a lot of content around just a few topics that are in line with your core offer, so you need to be certain about that offer, and you need to have a lot to say about it.
To give an example: if you run an HR SaaS such as BambooHR, you won’t just write one post about employee development. You’ll have different articles about:
- Employee development best practices
- Employee development plans
- Employee development examples
A benefit of waiting until you know who exactly your target audience is and what they want, is that by the time you start with SEO, you probably already have gained some inbound links from PR efforts, going on podcasts, appearing on webinars, and so on. In other words: your site’s authority will be higher than a few months earlier, making it easier for your SEO efforts to take hold and your content to rank.
When you start a project that you know will take time to deliver results – such as SEO-, you need everyone in your company to trust that this project will be worth it. It’s much easier to get everyone aligned when you’ve already proven that you know what you’re doing by getting results from other marketing channels.
It’s also much easier to give SEO the time and space it needs when there is enough revenue coming in through other channels.
We can only guess, but it’s possible that BambooHR didn’t see a boost in rankings until the start of 2022 because it didn’t start focusing on SEO until it had built a solid brand and had nailed its product-market fit.
When you look at the distribution of the types of content pages BambooHR has on its website, you can see that the brand is a real content powerhouse. It specifically has a big blog, an extensive glossary, lots of webinars, and it publishes a lot of resources which, in this case, equal sales enablement content such as whitepapers and ebooks.
We can see this as well when we look at the actual number of pages BambooHR has for each type of content it publishes:
A lot of these are long-form, evergreen pieces that lend themselves well to search engine optimization.
The list above demonstrates both how the brand has focused heavily on SEO since the start of 2022, and how it’s maintained other well-performing marketing channels, such as its virtual summits.
Let’s have a look at three types of content BambooHR ranks really well for:
- Blog content.
- Product pages.
- Glossary entries.
Blog ranking performance
The above shows how BambooHR’s blog content ranks:
- 33% of blog posts rank on page 1.
- 17% of blog posts rank on page 2.
- 18% of blog posts are not ranking.
That only 18% of BambooHR’s blog posts aren’t ranking is an amazing result. Especially if you take into consideration that not every blog post is written with SEO in mind (for example, case studies and customer profiles).
And the optimization of the blog goes beyond its articles. When you look at BambooHR’s site structure, for example, you can see how they’ve moved hard-to-optimize or non-SEO-focused content such as press releases out of the blog to other parts of the website.
Product ranking performance
It’s not just on its blog that the brand pays a lot of attention to optimization. When we look at BambooHR’s product pages, we see that:
- 89% of its product pages ranks on page 1.
- 11% of its product pages ranks on page 2.
These are pages that are going for highly competitive keywords and that are competing with big players such as G2 and Capterra. That so many of them are ranking attests to a very strong SEO strategy.
Part of that strategy is to follow the best practice of having a very clean URL structure, as you can see in the list of product pages above.
Other things BambooHR has done really well with its product pages:
- It has very cleared mapped its keywords.
- Its product pages are long-form, giving them a higher chance of both ranking and ranking for multiple keywords:
- It has built to all of its its product pages:
Lastly, note how non-clickbaity and utterly optimized this page title is:
The page title is the main keyword. Could it be more creative? Sure, but as Slayter says, clear is better than clever when it comes to SEO.
Glossary ranking performance
Since mid-2021, creating glossaries has become a highly popular SEO tactic – one that BambooHR has implemented as well.
Out of its around 350 glossary entries at the time of writing, 75% ranks on page 1 and 18% ranks on page 2. That’s an impressive result.
Also here the URL structure of the pages is clear and optimized for the main keyword.
The glossary hub page is nothing more than a list of terms linking to their specific pages and that’s okay, because the goal is not to have people use the main navigation on the website to go to this page. The goal is to have the individual entries rank so that when people search for a term such as “absence management”, they find and click on one of BambooHR’s glossary pages.
As we mentioned before, a big benefit of glossaries is that they allow you to publish a ton of SEO content in one go without clogging up your blog. A real glossary would have short explanatory entries but when created for SEO, the entries tend to be longer and this is also the case with BambooHR’s glossary terms. The majority of their glossary entry pages is between 2500 and 3500 words long.
What is also interesting about BambooHR’s glossary is that its foundation was laid in 2019 but most of its content was added in 2020 and 2021. While we don’t know for sure, we can assume that the addition of this huge amount of content is at least co-responsible for the big traffic growth the brand has seen over the course of 2022.
This brings us back to SEO taking time, and internal alignment being crucial for it to work. When the BambooHR team started to go hard with publishing glossary entries back in 2020, it needed to trust that this effort would pay off.
Glossaries, Rankings, and Conversions
We’ve seen that BambooHR is ranking well thanks to its SEO strategy, but do those rankings also result in conversions? As outsiders, we can’t know, but we do think the brand could do better when it comes to creating CTAs.
When we look at its Onboarding glossary term page, for example, this is the call-to-action:
“Learn more” is a very vague CTA that doesn’t tell the user what will happen when they click that button. “Employee Onboarding Software” isn’t a very inviting heading either, and the subheading “Set your people up for success from the start” also doesn’t give away much, neither does it make us very curious.
Ranking on the first page of Google in itself is not considered an SEO success. It’s only a success if those ranking pages bring your target customers onto your website and have them take an action such as signing up for your newsletter, requesting a demo, or getting in touch with you.
While BambooHR’s CTAs aren’t great, the brand can probably benefit from the effort (and money) it has put into other marketing channels as well as the brand reputation it has built over the years. It’s a trusted name in its industry, which might make people choose them over lesser-known competitors even though their call-to-actions aren’t very convincing.
SEO: a Key Part of a Broader Marketing Strategy for Success
BambooHR successfully turned SEO, and particularly content SEO, into a key element of its marketing strategy but it only did so after having solidified its product-marketing fit and position in its industry.
The choice to focus on SEO as a SaaS targeting small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) is a smart one. Small business owners and their team members definitely turn to Google to find the tools they need.
On top of that, if you’re selling to SMBs, you need a lot of traffic to your website to get enough conversions to generate enough revenue. This is different than when targeting enterprise companies where the sales process is longer and the average sales number bigger.
That’s what a solid content strategy can do for you: bring in a consistent stream of highly-qualified leads. Sounds good? Get in touch to discuss how we can help you take your content – and your business – to the next level.