May 26, 2022
Planning to start positioning your SaaS in organic search? Looking to learn how SaaS SEO works, and how to do it?
You know, I bet that, at some point in your journey as a founder or marketer, you began wishing for a magic marketing formula.
You wanted to find that one thing that, once properly implemented, of course, would change everything for your SaaS.
And I’m also sure that somewhere along the way someone told you to stop dreaming. That there’s no such thing. That every SaaS is different, and there is no one strategy that could drive your growth.
But the thing is – When it comes to SaaS, there actually is!
(That said, I have to point out that the key phrase of the opening sentence wasn’t “magic formula” but “properly implemented,” and you’ll shortly see why that is.)
Here, let me prove it.
If you analyze the growth of the most successful SaaS or software companies, you’ll notice that most of their success can be traced to a single strategy – search engine optimization (SEO.)
According to data from SEMrush, for example, organic search drives the marketing for every top SaaS brand in the world.
These percentages mean millions of organic clicks to the site and thousands of new signups, trial users, and paying customers each month for each of those companies.
(In each case, direct visits and referrals drove more traffic than SEO, which only makes sense.)
But it’s not just the SaaS giants who benefit from the opportunity. Many growth stage SaaS businesses achieve similar results:
Although smaller than the giants we’ve discussed above, these companies also base their growth on search engine traffic and build organic growth engines for their brands.
Here, let them tell you:
In this guide, you’ll learn how to do the same for your SaaS product.
But let me get something out of the way first.
I promise that this guide isn’t like other SEO resources you may have come across already.
You see, I know very well how complex and intimidating optimizing websites and content for SEO might seem. I have been a novice in SEO once, too, after all. I remember my struggles trying to make sense of all the technical jargon and the complex theory behind SEO.
So, I tried to explain SaaS SEO in the most approachable way possible.
In some parts, I have to resort to jargon. I’m sorry about that. I had to touch on the advanced theory behind some of the SEO strategies we’re discussing here.
However, I put all the effort into breaking it all into easily digestible chunks and explaining how each element of a typical SaaS SEO strategy works.
So, let’s dive in.
MOZ, one of the pioneering SEO software companies, defines search engine optimization beautifully by calling it:
“The practice of increasing both the quality and quantity of website traffic, as well as exposure to your brand, through non-paid (also known as “organic”) search engine results.”
Although it’s nothing more than a single sentence, the definition uncovers a wealth of information about SEO in general. It tells us that:
Finally, we learn that SEO traffic is free. Now, to be clear – You have to pay for SEO in one way or another. Whether you hire a SaaS SEO consultant to optimize your site or bring in people to work on SEO in-house, you will accrue costs associated with the strategy.
But the definition does not refer to this. What it means is that you don’t have to pay for every visit from the organic search.
This is the opposite of paid traffic acquisition strategies, like Google Ads and other PPC channels. With the PPC model, you pay every time someone clicks on your ad and visits the website. As great as this option is to scale customer acquisition rapidly, it carries with itself one risk:
When you stop paying, the traffic disappears.
SEO is different. A strong SEO strategy will continue to generate traffic and leads, even if you’ve stopped actively working on optimizing the site.
The definition above relates entirely to SaaS companies, too, of course. The goal of your SaaS SEO strategy is to generate more quality traffic, raise brand awareness, and increase the number of signups from Google.
There are, however, subtle differences between optimizing a SaaS website and working in other verticals.
You’ll see shortly how many different elements make up an entire SEO strategy. However, not all of them are equally important for every vertical. In fact, some verticals require focusing on a completely different aspect of SEO to generate business results.
SEOs optimizing ecommerce shops, for example, put a lot of emphasis on schema.org and ranking category and product pages. They care about star ratings, reviews, product information, and other similar elements to appear in the SERP and attract the user’s attention.
When you grow the search visibility of a local business, you tend to optimize for the local search. You set up and optimize a Google My Business listing, Maps listings and ensure that they contain a healthy amount of positive reviews.
In SaaS, however, the main focus is on creating content that connects you with users at the entire span of the buyer’s journey.
Here’s how it works.
First, you aim to attract visitors with four specific buyer intents:
In most cases, these people do not google for a SaaS company’s address, phone number, or email, much like you would do when searching for a solicitor or a dentist.
These people search for content. They scout the web for blog posts that can help them understand their problem better. They search for software listicles, landing pages, or comparison pages to discover the different software options on the market. They might even google alternatives to your (or your competitor’s) product.
For that reason, SEO for SaaS is primarily a content-led strategy.
When optimizing a SaaS online presence, you don’t generally focus on setting up Google My Business and the company’s local presence.
Instead, the key to SaaS SEO is to create content for all stages of the marketing funnel and ensure that it ranks as high as possible for its target keywords.
When optimizing a SaaS website, you’re also dealing with a different sales process and buying dynamics.
First, you might be dealing with two or three different sales processes at once.
Your company might entice some visitors to sign up for a free trial or create a free account and target bigger customers with a proper sales-based process.
You might be dealing with a completely self-serve process. In this case, there might be little to no interaction between you and the customer until they create an account.
Then, you might be using various lead generation strategies to convert blog traffic.
Many SaaS companies have relatively simple and small websites.
In many cases, such a website consists of just a handful of pages, with most of the content residing in the blog.
This isn’t a bad thing, by the way.
Such simple architecture prevents many technical SEO issues from occurring. Having fewer page templates in the CMS simplifies overseeing the technical SEO setup of the site too.
Smaller websites are also easier to crawl and index for search engines (not to mention that lack of those pesky technical issues makes the task even easier.)
Overall, SEO for SaaS follows the same principles of search engine optimization as any other verticals. However, differences in the selling process, coupled with a different setup, mean that you need to approach SaaS SEO slightly differently.
We’ve looked at some of the numbers at the start of this guide. You know that SEO is the primary marketing channel for both the leading SaaS brands and growth scale startups.
But why should you invest in SEO, specifically?
Let’s look at some of the reasons.
You already know that SaaS SEO is a content-led strategy. Your potential users search for content, primarily. They also convert on those pages.
And that gives you an incredible opportunity to scale growth and user acquisition exponentially.
Even a single piece of evergreen content, providing that it’s high-quality, and targets the right keywords, can generate rankings that deliver incredible organic traffic month after month.
Here’s an example of traffic growth one piece of content on a client’s site generates (along with keyword distribution data):
With the right conversion strategies, the company behind this content can capture that traffic in the form of demo or trial signups, sales leads, marketing leads, and more.
Now, if that’s just what one piece achieves, imagine what growth you can achieve with ten pages like this? Or twenty? Or a hundred?
That’s the power of SEO. You can scale your growth exponentially by creating more content, optimizing it, and ensuring that it ranks well for its target keywords.
But that’s not all, of course.
Many new SaaS companies turn to PPC and other forms of performance marketing to attract traffic and boost growth. They launch Google Ads, Facebook Ads, and more to attract users and signups.
Now, don’t get me wrong, this is a great way to start things up.
But it isn’t sustainable.
In the PPC model, you pay for every click to the site, after all. And that means two things:
In the long run, using PPC for growth is a vicious cycle really. You need it to attract traffic to generate sales, but the more sales you want to make, the higher your cost of acquisition becomes.
SEO helps you break that cycle. With SEO, you can build a sustainable growth engine and stop relying on paid traffic for sales.
I do realize that the above sounds like a lame argument. But it is a valid one.
Think about it; your potential users are searching for information and products in Google already. They ask the search engine for advice, information, and even product recommendations.
And since almost every SaaS company is engaged in SEO at some point, we can safely assume that your competitors are working towards ranking well in the SERP too.
Ignoring SEO will pretty much equal handing over the business to them.
I assume that the reason you’re reading this guide is that you desperately don’t want it to happen.
At its core, SEO is actually quite simple.
Now, I don’t mean that it’s easy to do, of course. However, the principles of achieving good rankings are pretty straightforward.
(And this is good news because once you grasp the idea behind SEO, you’ll only have to learn the mechanics of implementing those principles in action.)
So, to begin at the beginning – Google ranks pages (blog posts, landing pages, or any other content, at that) based on various ranking factors.
RankBrain, the search engine’s system for understanding the user’s intent for researching a specific query.
The information you include in the content affects keywords the page is going to rank for.
As a result, you (or your SaaS content writers) must focus on creating content that targets the right search intent and delivers the exact information a person using a specific search query is looking for.
On-page optimization helps Google better understand what the page is about.
With that understanding, the search engine can include your content in the SERPs for relevant phrases and keywords that you want to rank for.
Technical SEO ensures that the search engine bots can crawl and index your pages.
The only way your pages can rank is when Google and other search engines learn about them first, crawl and read those pages, analyze and understand the content, and add it to their index.
Links confirm the authority of your content.
Search engines rank content based on its quality, relevance, and the perceived authority.
Links to your content (and the website in general) send that authority signal, affecting how the search engine perceives your domain.
Finally, user engagement helps you get to the top three spots.
All the elements I mentioned above can help you rank on page one. But sometimes, to get to the very top, you need one more thing – Happy and satisfied visitors.
Given the importance of the top three rankings positions, it’s only natural that the search engine wants to present the best possible content there. And the best way to evaluate who’s absolutely best is by looking at how satisfied users are with the page.
Because of that, often, to rank, you must also improve the user engagement and ensure that visitors remain on the page, read your content, and enjoy it.
(By the way, don’t worry if any of the above sounds mysterious to you so far. We’re going to discuss all those elements in great detail as we move through the process of creating and delivering a SaaS SEO strategy.)
FACT: SaaS SEO is primarily about creating content.
Now, other elements like the site’s architecture and its technical standing play a critical role in the strategy’s success, too, of course.
However, once you’ve taken care of those, your primary focus will be on creating and optimizing content assets like these:
Your homepage attracts visitors from branded queries. It is also the asset that delivers a commercial statement to visitors. Many visitors to your blog, intrigued by what they see, will turn to the homepage first.
The homepage makes the first impression about you and gives visitors a sense of what your product helps with.
Read more about optimizing the SaaS homepage.
SEO landing pages help you target specific commercial keywords. Because of these phrases’ commercial intent, you need other content than blog posts to rank well in SERPs.
Commercial landing pages allow you to match that intent and deliver the information Google and other search engines will want to present in the search results.
Blog posts, long-form content, SEO pillar pages, and other content marketing assets help you rank for informational keywords. With these assets, you will deliver advice your potential users seek, match their search intent, and build your search visibility.
It’s true, content, on-page optimization, site architecture and more, are critical to SEO success.
Without these factors, your site stands no chance of ranking.
But all those factors being equal, it’s the site with a better backlink profile that will go up to the top.
And so, regardless of where your site is now, you will need to acquire more links. One of the best ways to do it at a scale is by launching linkable assets to generate large numbers of backlinks organically.
Some of the most popular linkable assets for SaaS brands include:
I get asked this a lot:
“Since SEO is so complex, can one person handle its all aspects, then?”
Well, the short answer is yes and no, but that, obviously, doesn’t explain much.
You see, the key to understanding your current ability to deliver the strategy lies in figuring out which core SEO competencies you have already and which ones you need to complement.
Let me explain.
Delivering your SEO strategy will require covering the following responsibilities:
So, could a single person deliver on all those responsibilities? In theory, yes.
In practice, however, you might quickly discover that although you can cover all those responsibilities, you’ll lack time to do it all.
That’s pretty much how many SaaS SEO strategies fail, in fact. It’s not for the lack of trying. It’s the lack of time to do it all.
Now, how you cover those responsibilities will largely depend on your company size and your stage of growth.
I know from experience that unless you have a dedicated in-house SEO department, the best way to deliver the strategy is by complementing your in-house capabilities by bringing in an SEO consultant or hiring a SaaS SEO agency.
Your team may be able to handle many of the SEO responsibilities. But they’ll have other projects to work on as well.
They’ll have to oversee email marketing activities, write website copy, manage paid advertising campaigns, and more.
As a result, once the novelty wears off, the SEO will get pushed aside, resulting in slow progress.
A good consultant will work as an extension of your team, taking over the ownership of the entire SEO strategy and managing your internal resources. The person will become a part of your team and partner with you to deliver the whole SEO strategy.
Also, a good consultant will, typically, bring a small team to help scale your operations. They’ll handle many aspects of the strategy themselves, of course, and will use their team to execute the rest – Be it content creation, implementing link building strategies, and so on.
SEO has a lot of moving parts.
Some of those elements you focus on occasionally only, and you work on others almost every day.
Put together, these elements create a powerful strategy that delivers the results you seek – Greater search visibility and more organic traffic, signups, and leads.
Overall, there are eight critical elements to a successful SaaS SEO strategy:
Let’s go through them in turn, discuss what each of those elements does, and how to start using it.
NOTE: Because of this guide’s limitation, I wasn’t able to cover all the many intricacies of those various elements. However, I’ve included links to my more in-depth guides that teach you how to implement those elements specifically. So, you can use this guide as a great starting point, and then, move to those individual tutorials to learn everything about implementing those various elements.
So, when we talk about keywords, we refer to words or phrases that define specific information a person’s looking for in Google. We can also refer to it as a search phrase.
A search query is the exact copy a person has typed into the search engine’s search box. The difference between keyword and a query is that the latter can include other information that narrows the search.
Topics, on the other hand, define a problem or broad area of interest of our audience.
In recent years, topics have become as important to your keyword research process as the search phrases themselves. You should always start building keyword lists by identifying core topics your audience cares about first and then move on to researching specific keywords in each topic.
Below is a quick outline of the entire keyword research process.
NOTE: You can learn more about it and how to complete each of its steps from this massive guide to SaaS keyword research.
Overall, the process looks like this:
Let me be bluntly honest here – Anybody can find even thousands of keywords that could, potentially, work for their SaaS. It’s really easy.
Figuring out which ones would attract the right traffic, and are worth your time and effort is something completely different. That’s also where many keyword research processes fail short.
I often see marketers and SEO struggle to evaluate the right keyword metrics and drill down the data to prune their keyword lists.
So, to help you avoid that, here’s a list of data points to pay attention to when reviewing keywords:
Preferred URL rankings. Is Google ranking the most relevant page in the search results? Often, you’ll find that with lower-ranking keywords it is not the preferred URL that Google includes in the SERP.
There are many keyword research tools on the market. Below, I’m listing some of the most popular ones (but note that you may find a different SEO tool to work better for you):
Learn more about keyword research for SaaS.
Keyword research helps you understand how your audience searches for information. It shows you where to build search visibility to connect with potential users. And it forms the basis for the SEO roadmap and your content calendar, of course.
So, having that list of keywords to target ready may feel like you’re ready to get cracking – creating content and working on achieving good rankings.
In reality, though, there are a few more steps that you need to take beforehand.
The first one is to evaluate your website’s technical structure.
The goal for this process is to identify and eliminate any potential technical issues that might prevent your current and new content from ranking well in the SERPs.
To explain it in the simplest terms, when you conduct an SEO audit, you evaluate the site in pretty much the same way as a search engine would.
You check how well the site is built, whether it passes all the critical criteria a search engine would look out for when crawling and indexing it, and identify steps to take to improve its organic performance.
Once completed, the SEO audit will reveal:
Some of the technical issues to evaluate during an audit include:
You audit the site using tools we refer to as SEO crawlers. These tools emulate search engines’ crawlers, and go through your site, collecting various SEO-related data points on its setup and performance.
Some of those tools deliver reports on the issues, with others, you have to dig through the data yourself to paint the picture of your site’s technical stance.
When you’re only starting with optimizing your SaaS website for SEO, I recommend that you use an automated crawler that will report on the issues it found.
Some of the most popular crawlers on the market include:
Technical SEO audit helps you understand your site’s performance on the whole.
The content audit drills down the content data and helps you answer why your content is performing the way it does, and what you can do to improve it.
A content audit can be as extensive as you need it to be, depending on your goals. Overall, it can help you understand:
Regardless of its size, each content audit follows the same process, roughly:
You conduct much of the content audit process manually. Having said that, there are certain tools that can help collect information for the audit:
Competitive analysis is by far the most powerful research strategies in SEO.
Evaluating your competitors’ strategies helps you rank higher, attract more traffic, and conversions, of course. How? By helping you uncover SEO opportunities you may not have identified otherwise.
Keyword research, technical and content audits will reveal a ton of opportunities. And as powerful as those strategies are, they have a limitation – You.
Let’s face it; you can only discover certain strategies, topics, or keywords. Usually, these are the ones that align with your current experience, and also, ideas.
Which means that, regardless of how deep you go into the research, you’re bound to miss something. But your competitors might see it right away.
Competitive analysis helps you understand who your online competitors are, and reverse engineer their strategies to attract the target audience through the online search.
As part of the SEO competitive analysis you evaluate:
This knowledge helps you to close gaps between your site and theirs:
You conduct the competitive analysis in much the same way as you do keyword research or various audits. And you could use the same tools for that.
However, some platforms offer specific tools designed to help you close content or link gaps:
All the steps we’ve covered so far had the same goal – To collect various data that could power your SEO strategy.
From this moment on, though, we’ll move to discussing executing the strategy to generate the results you seek.
And the first step is to use all the information you’ve gathered to create an SEO roadmap and a content strategy for your SaaS.
Creating the roadmap and the content strategy is very much about putting all the information from your research in the right order.
Here’s how a typical SaaS SEO roadmap looks like:
Step 1. Technical Fixes
List all the issues you’ve identified during the technical audit, and decide who needs to work on them. It could be your dev team, or perhaps someone from another department. The important thing is to get those fixes done first. This way, you’ll ensure that those issues will not hinder any content you’ll be creating as part of the strategy.
I also recommend reviewing the site’s architecture during that step to ensure that it supports crawling and indexing.
Step 2. Quick Wins
During research, you, most likely, have identified web pages, blog posts, guides, and other content assets that do not perform as well as they could.
Before moving on to creating new content assets, dedicate some time to optimizing them. Improve their on-page optimization, keyword targeting, or any other element you’ve identified to be preventing those pages from achieving their maximum SEO potential.
Doing so will deliver some quick wins and improvements right away.
Step 3. Content Production and Link Building
This is by far the longest step in the roadmap. In here, you focus on:
Step 4. Optimization
After a couple of months, you can move on to the optimization stage. You have published a number of SEO-focused content assets. You have also collected data on their performance. At this stage, you can start analyzing that, and looking for ways to improve and optimize the strategy further.
This step is also ideal for introducing new elements to the strategy – Lead generation strategies, and more.
In general, when optimizing the campaign, you focus on:
An SEO content strategy defines all the pages that you will create to rank and appear in the search results. It’s based on your keyword research and the content audit, and includes three major elements:
Let’s briefly discuss all those elements in turn, then.
Each website has a structure. The structure defines how pages are organized, and where they appear in the navigation.
The structure also defines the types of pages on the site:
Now, not all pages on the site will have any SEO value. Your legal page or T&C’s for example will carry little SEO weight. The homepage or content marketing assets, on the other hand, will be at the very centre of the SEO strategy.
Content organization begins with the process called keyword mapping. As the name suggests, the process helps you map keywords to relevant pages. It helps you understand what topics you have covered already, whether those pages deliver on the search intent, and also, whether those pages reside in the right place within the site’s architecture.
Content ideas include all topics and ideas for new content that you want to create. Those ideas are based on new keywords you’ve identified, and list all the different blog posts and other content assets that you need to create to generate visibility for those keywords.
Your content plan can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be.
Personally, I like to include the following information when developing content ideas for clients:
Finally, content production outlines the plan for creating and publishing your ideas.
I recommend that you decide on the volume of content that you can produce each month. It should be the volume that you are comfortable with creating, and one that allows you to produce the highest quality content each month.
Then, organize content ideas to fill in the content volume for each month.
All those three elements combined will give you the content strategy to include into the roadmap.
Remember how, when talking about ranking factors, we established that three of them play the biggest role in your SEO success? Those three most critical ranking factors were: content, links, and RankBrain.
Well, link building is your way of acquiring those backlinks to fuel rankings, organic traffic, and leads.
Link building can take many forms (we call those, link building strategies.) For example:
What’s important to remember is that link building is a complex strategy. It’s easy to build the wrong type of links, and receive a Google penalty. Earning high-quality links takes time and effort.
It’s well worth it, though.
You see, links work like votes up for your content. The more such votes up, and the greater quality they are, the more authoritative your domain (and page) look.
It’s that simple.
The final, and equally important part of SaaS SEO strategy is a system for measuring and tracking results.
In fact, I would go as far as saying that you can’t build a strong visibility in search engines without it.
(But the same could be said for other elements of the strategy, of course.)
In short, measurement is key. The data helps you evaluate performance, spot areas that might need improvement, and introduce tweaks to the strategy to improve the results.
Unfortunately, results monitoring is also something that many SEO brands get wrong (or don’t do at all, actually.)
There are a few elements to measure in a typical SaaS SEO strategy:
Performance in the search engines, and these metrics would include:
Engagement metrics that confirm whether the strategy attracts the right audience:
Business results and conversions that tell whether the SEO strategy is bringing the desired results.
In this case, metrics to measure would correlate to your sales process. Depending on your sales model, these could include:
Various tools offer the data and metrics to evaluate your progress.
Both Ahrefs and SEMrush offer great rank tracking tools. However, if you want to collect more in-depth rank tracking data, you could consider a dedicated rank tracker like Accuranker.
Google Analytics and Google Search Console are ideal for monitoring organic search traffic.
Tracking conversions might be more problematic, although you could start by creating relevant Google Analytics goals to monitor conversions from the organic traffic.