SEO Strategy for SaaS: The 5 Core Elements
The SaaS market’s expansion from $13.4 billion in 2010 to $157 billion1https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/software-as-a-service-saas-market-could-exceed-600-billion-by-2023-301102655.html in 2020 is exciting for the industry, but also means that competition is much more intense today. Acquiring clients has become expensive, particularly on the advertising side where customer acquisition cost (CAC) has increased 65% over the last five years.
The bright spot for SaaS companies is SEO; for as fierce as the bidding wars are for the top ad spot on Google AdWords, SEO remains an area of lesser sophistication in this industry. At our SEO agency, we’ve seen this firsthand, as many SaaS companies come to us with PPC ad spends that are more than triple their SEO spends, simply because they don’t have the knowledge to properly execute or measure an SEO campaign. The most common issues we see with SaaS businesses succeeding at SEO are matching user search intent to page type and properly attributing leads to SEO. By the time we’re 6-12 months into their campaign and their SEO is automated, its ROI nearly always exceeds that of their advertising campaigns and they end up cutting their ad spend significantly.
A successful SEO strategy should lower your CAC, make your company stand out as a thought leader in your niche, and set you up with a sustainable, long-term lead generation system. I’ve discussed the basics of SEO for B2B SaaS companies in earlier posts, as well as specific strategies for long-term success. In this piece, I’ll take a more detailed approach, examining the 5 core elements of a SaaS company’s SEO strategy.
The 5 Elements of SaaS SEO Strategy
Every software business that values SEO should be adept in the following 5 areas:
- Basic Technical SEO
- Intent-Based Keyword Research
- Thought Leadership Content
- Repurposing Content On Other Marketing Channels
- Data-Driven Revision
Begin your strategy with a technical audit to find any obvious problems that would result in lower rankings or conversion rates. This is a relatively straightforward aspect of SEO, and while it should be a small part of the process, you don’t want to downplay it because it’s a prerequisite to ranking. Here’s what to look for in your technical audit:
- Fast page load times. Google is obsessed with speed, as evidenced by their enormous investment in data centers for the sole purpose of speeding up the return of search results. Their brand is essentially “Get what you’re looking for, right now.” Thus, if you slow them down, they will not promote you. Your team should run your site through Google Pagespeed Insights and look for opportunities to make your pages load faster on both desktop and mobile browsers.
- Clear navigation. Good UX principles dictate that the most important pages on your website should be easily accessible from the top level menu. Doing so also proves to Google that you value those pages. Some SEO professionals build pages that aren’t nested in an easily-findable area within the website’s sitemap, which signals to Google that the pages don’t matter as much and shouldn’t rank as highly. In addition, there should be a clear flow from page to page via calls-to-action that lead the visitor where you want them to go.
- Full Security. Your website should have a properly signed SSL certificate. Web browsers display if a user’s connection is insecure, and you’ll lose your user’s trust if it isn’t. Google also uses security as a factor in their algorithm.
- Thoughtful meta page titles. The meta page title is the most important element of each page for SEO. Each page’s meta title should target a unique keyword at the beginning of its title and contain fewer than 70 characters. This title communicates to Google what the page is about. While it’s a quick matter to update a title tag, the real time investment is in the keyword research that supplies you with the content for that page title. (See the next section for more on that topic.)
- Schema markups. Schema markups are a type of structured data that helps search engines know what kind of content is on your page. Google uses it to pull out helpful “snippets” of information to display in the search results. Assisting Google by highlighting quotable content on your pages will result in higher rankings.
- Intentional UI Design. Google likes when users have a simple experience on your site, which is why they started using engagement as a ranking factor fairly recently. In addition to making sure each of your target audiences has a path that is easy to follow with clear calls to action, you should also see to it that all contact information on your website is current and all contact forms work.
These steps are simple to take (even if sometimes time-consuming), and can have a dramatic effect on both your rankings and conversion rates.
Intent-Based Keyword Research
In a perfect SaaS SEO strategy, each landing page, blog article, and piece of thought leadership content would target a single keyword and provide the best answer to the question that the keyword’s searcher is implicitly asking. The content would also live on precisely the right page based on the searcher’s subconscious expectations.
Your team should begin its keyword research by choosing a few broad keyword categories (we call these “containers” at my firm) that would be searched by your prospective customers. Within these categories, each keyword likely indicates an interest in a type of product, an industry, or a solution for their particular problem. For instance:
- If you have a CRM platform, your keyword category might be “crm software” and beget keywords like “crm software companies” “crm software for architects” and “crm software buying considerations”.
- If you make inventory management software, your keyword category might be “inventory management,” and beget keywords like “inventory management solutions” “best inventory management tools” and “inventory management construction supply”.
Later in your campaign, you may also want to use a pillar content strategy to organize your higher and lower volume keywords.
Speaking of lower volume keywords, the longer the search query, the more targeted and serious the searcher typically is. It’s important to be able to analyze the intent behind the words in a longer phrase. It’s useful to think of search queries on a scale of transactionality, i.e. closeness to the moment of buying. Research-oriented keywords like “crm software buying considerations”, which are further from the moment of transaction but still valuable, are a good match for blog entries; and highly transactional keywords like “crm software for architects” are a good fit for landing pages that employ sales language. There are also some less-transactional keywords that are nonetheless indications of serious buying intent down the road, e.g. “crm software trends 2023.” These keywords should be assigned to specialized content like white papers or reports.
Once you’ve finished assigning appropriate page types to each keyword, you’ll need to write the pages themselves.
Thought Leadership Content
Content is essential for every SEO campaign: not only do you need something to publish for each keyword, but that content is also how you convince visitors that your software is the best answer to their needs. With that said, producing content just so you can fill pages that target keywords will only take you so far. Successful SEO relies on genuinely high quality content, known as thought leadership, to set them apart from competitors.
Great content pairs exceptionally well with regular publishing. Together, the two allow websites to receive the Google “News Website” Bonus. Yet simply publishing good content regularly isn’t quite enough. The quality must truly surpass “good” and reach “excellent.” Google only has one #1 spot and it reserves it for the page that best answers the searcher’s question. There is a veritable ocean of content in the SaaS industry that either (a) rehashes already-established information, (b) overuses buzzwords and marketing-speak, or (c) is formatted in a bulky, non-skimmable way. Putting in the extra effort to truly say something original makes all the difference in ranking at the very top.
Thought leadership also has benefits on the technical SEO side. One of the other major factors in Google’s algorithm is backlinks from other domains. The more high quality links pointing to a website, the more credibility it has in Google’s eyes. The best way to get these high authority links is to publish genuinely interesting or helpful content: when the best answers to your customers’ questions can be found on your website, people will naturally want to link to it. And each link means higher rankings and more opportunities to convert new sales leads.
Distributing Content on Other Marketing Channels
Properly-executed SEO benefits your other marketing channels by providing your team with content that can be repurposed. You can post graphics you’ve created for your blog to social media channels, use excerpts of your articles in email campaigns, and include original research you’ve done in webinars and presentations.
Using content as bait for an e-mail address — known as content gating — is also an effective tactic that is often used in the SaaS world.
The final element in a successful SaaS SEO strategy is to use your campaign’s data to update your strategy as necessary. This is where you’ll make use of the KPIs and tracking systems you’ve set up during the technical SEO phase. Regularly noting where you’ve fallen short of your goals can help you course-correct. If a keyword isn’t ranking, perhaps you need to build more pages targeting long-tail keywords within that keyword category. (This is in line with the previously-mentioned pillar marketing strategy.) If a page isn’t converting, perhaps you need to run some split tests on it to see what’s failing to appeal to your visitors.
While a well-executed SEO campaign can feel like it’s on autopilot, making small adjustments based on data is the difference between good and great SEO.
Implementing All of the Above
As you might expect, building a team with the diverse skill set necessary to combine all five elements of this strategy can be difficult. Your developers who know the most about your software probably aren’t disposed to regularly writing thought leadership content. Your marketing team, who might be capable of writing great content, probably doesn’t have the time. And your product specialists who may have the time to write content probably aren’t experts on keyword strategy.
That’s why many SaaS companies outsource their SEO to firms like ours. If you’d like to know more about what it’s like to work with an experienced SaaS SEO firm like First Page Sage, feel free to contact us. We’ve helped SaaS businesses all over the country, from Silicon Valley to New York, in niches large and small. We’d be happy to discuss your project with you.
Evan Bailyn is a bestselling author and award-winning speaker on the subjects of SEO and thought leadership. Contact Evan here.