Essential SEO Guide for SaaS Companies
It’s not just about keywords anymore. Here’s your step-by-step guide to comprehensive, effective SEO for the highly competitive SaaS industry.
The Essential SEO Guide for SaaS Companies
You’ve heard the cliché — “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” When people talk about SEO, they tend to talk about the great outcomes it can offer: improved rankings, increased traffic, more links pointed to the website and — hopefully, if you execute well — more leads and more sales.
That’s the exciting stuff. That’s a potentially enormous ROI.
But what about the plan to get you there? If you want to achieve the kind of SEO-driven success that makes your competition jealous and your bottom line explode, it won’t happen by accident.
And how do the nuances of the software as a service (SaaS) industry affect your approach to SEO? You’ve got questions, we’ve got answers — here’s your guide to SEO for SaaS.
You Need a SaaS SEO Strategy
Some would have you believe creating an SEO strategy is as simple as choosing a few keywords, giving your website a quick once-over for any major issues and then hitting the ground running. And 10 years ago, they might’ve been right.
But today, SEO is much more complicated. And when you consider the competitive world of SaaS (a field that’s 46 times as large as it was a decade ago!), it’s even more so.
Developing a solid, modern SEO strategy means employing a thoughtful, multifaceted approach that covers everything from the tech-heavy aspects of your website’s infrastructure to creative, targeted approaches to content marketing.
You need an SEO strategy that not only outlines your basic plan of attack, but lays out the goals you’re trying to achieve, profiles the audience you’re trying to reach and digs into the competitive landscape in which you’re trying to win; and there’s a lot more to it than even that.
That might all feel a bit abstract and overwhelming — but it needn’t be. Working with dozens of our SaaS clients over the years, we’ve developed and refined a comprehensive approach to constructing SEO strategies that consider every major component in a way that’s easy to follow and execute.
It’s built on five pillars:
- Authority and Trust
So let’s take a deep-dive into each component. We’ll explain our approach, why it matters, the specific steps we consider along the way and how this affects the SaaS industry, specifically.
1. Building a SaaS SEO Strategy
Better information leads to better outcomes, so the first step in any successful SEO strategy is to gather the intel you’ll need to make informed decisions. Before you move forward, you need to get a clear understanding of:
- Your Goals and Objectives
What is it that you want to accomplish? How are you performing now, and what specific benchmarks would you like to achieve? In the crowded SaaS space, this is especially important. What do you want to do better than anyone else in the industry? And how will you measure success?
- Your Audience Segments
Who are you trying to reach? What are their pain points? What does their buyer’s journey look like? How do they measure success?
- Your Competitors
Who are you up against and how are they excelling? You need a clear picture of the competitive landscape so that you know what it’ll take to stand out. Whether your SaaS offering is targeting a specific industry (vertical) or meeting a specific need (horizontal), you’ll want to identify exactly who you’re playing against.
In order to determine all of these things, some of the tasks required at this stage include:
- Keyword Research
Choosing the best keywords means analyzing not only search volume, but also searcher intent, competition (difficulty) level and stage of the marketing funnel (if you have a buyer’s journey, mapping keywords to each stage can be a huge benefit).
- SEO Audit
An SEO audit takes stock of items like how well your website is built, whether there are any infrastructural issues impacting crawling or site speed, whether you’ve been hit with any penalties and how well you’re currently performing in search.
- Backlink Audit
Because links are an enormous factor in both how well you rank (it’s an authority thing, which we’ll get to in step five) and how liable you are to be hit with a penalty, it’s wise to do an assessment of how many links you have, where they’re coming from and what the anchor text says.
- Content and Conversion Audit
Driving traffic to your site is only the first step. Nurturing that traffic with compelling content (more on that in step three) and setting up your pages to convert (that’s coming in step four) is critical. These audits look for gaps in your content that keep people from converting and also examine how well you’re currently converting.
- Business Goals and Performance Assessment
If you don’t know where you’re going, you may not like where you end up. Setting goals and benchmarking current performance gives you a barometer of how well your SEO is performing down the line. You’ll want to look at online metrics for sure (things like traffic, conversions and the like) but also your real-world business metrics, like revenue and marketing spend.
- Strategic Project Plan and KPI Creation
It’s one thing to complete all the steps above — but if you haven’t documented your process, your findings and your research, it makes it nearly impossible to track progress and get new team members ramped up. Document everything, including key performance indicators (KPIs).
2. Conversion for SaaS
It’s not enough to get traffic to your website. It makes little sense to make a large investment in SEO if your website isn’t built to sell. That’s why conversion rate optimization (CRO) becomes a key consideration when laying out an SEO strategy.
During this part of the process, you’ll need to analyze critical pages on your website where people make first contact, buy, sign up or ask questions, determining how well the copy, design and overall user experience (UX) are working to transform leads into customers (conversions).
The SaaS space is ripe with UX improvement opportunities. From chatbots to dynamic pricing, drop-off triggers to A/B testing, there are countless opportunities to streamline your web experience, putting you leagues ahead of your competition. Don’t forget — SaaS customers are looking for clues on how your software works and how easy it is to engage with. Your website is your first-impression opportunity, so if that falls flat, they won’t have a bright outlook on your software usability.
Now it’s time to build out your plan based on the strategy outlined during the first stage and begin optimizing, testing and measuring. Here are the key elements of any good conversion optimization program:
- Conversion Audits
Begin by taking stock of how well your pages are performing, looking at key metrics like traffic, bounce rates, time on site, micro-conversions and actions taken.
- Content Strategy
Mapping out your content across the marketing funnel (aligned to personas and their buying journeys) is the best way to identify gaps and opportunities for improvement. Once you’ve done this, you can then lay out a prioritized strategy to create the most effective content for your customers (and, ultimately, your bottom line).
- Content Optimization and Split-Testing
Content must be optimized not only for SEO, but to earn the greatest returns. To find your best variants, you’ll need to split-test alternatives, choosing key elements to test against one another based on best practices. For SaaS, the most common testing form is simple A/B testing (especially for things like PPC landing pages, lead forms and other major conversion points); however, for more sophisticated evaluations, consider multi-variate testing.
- Landing Page Optimization
Just like the above, you must focus on landing pages to find opportunities for improvement across all elements of copy, design, layout and calls to action.
Collecting all of the knowledge gained so far, it’s time to create mock-ups of proposed changes to make it easy for every stakeholder to understand. You can also rally of few of your loyal customers (who have used and are familiar with your SaaS offerings) and use your proposed wireframes to validate your decisions before making any official updates or changes.
3. Content Marketing for SaaS
We’ve talked about content as it pertains to keywords and conversions, but there’s more to it than that. Content is what nurtures buyers through the marketing funnel; it’s what helps your site rank well in search engines, earns you traction on social and, ultimately, communicates who your brand is to the world — and what your SaaS has to offer.
Part of this pillar is turning your attention to the specifics of creating and optimizing content to keep customers on your site and search engines happy. To succeed with content, you’ll need to work to enforce consistency in brand voice and tone across all channels while crafting channel-specific strategies to boost engagement and increase conversions.
For SaaS companies, a huge content opportunity exists around product features and benefits. Every SaaS company claims to have the best “X” or the fastest “Y.” But if you can identify the specific pain points your offering alleviates for customers and the specific goals your offering can help them achieve — these are ideal content opportunities, and will ensure your content message is clearer and more compelling than the competition. Go beyond features to promote the benefits those features offer.
When thinking about content, the channels you should consider include:
- Blog content
- Whitepapers, e-books, guides and educational resources
- Landing and sales pages
- Product copy
- Visual content (e.g., infographics, photos, etc.)
- Video content (e.g., explainer videos, demos, etc.)
- Webinars and slideshares
- Press and media releases
- Social media content
- Text and display ads
4. SaaS Optimization
When we talk about “optimization” as a pillar, we’re referring to the tasks of optimizing your website in a way that search engines can categorize and rank accordingly. This is a data-heavy, analytics-fueled part of SEO; time must be spent testing and fine-tuning, updating as the campaign progresses and keeping everything in line with best practices and Google’s own recommendations for webmasters (which you’ll also want to brush up on and stay tuned into — they evolve periodically).
The goal is a well-built site that’s fresh and relevant, loads quickly and is easy for search engines to index and crawl — whether that’s improving an existing site, removing a penalty or both.
- On-page SEO
A plan must be set in place to optimize not only the content of the page, but the title tags, metadata and internal links.
- Content Optimization
As we’ve covered, content must be optimized to not only rank well, but to persuade your audience and improve conversions across every stage of the marketing funnel. This is especially true if your SaaS offering has a long sales cycle or requires multiple touchpoints along the buyer’s journey — you’ll want optimized content to help customers along.
- App Optimization
If you’re running on-site apps or other interactive features, ensuring they’re optimized for the best user experience, as well as critical data collection, is an important step.
- Paid Social Management and Profile Optimization
Social media helps fuel your owned and earned marketing efforts, tying back into the content you create and the site you’ve built. As part of your overall presence, it’s important profiles be consistent, active and well-maintained, with clear guidelines for interaction.
- Penalty Removal
If your site has been hit with a penalty, priority one must be recovery. Penalty removal levels the playing field, working to not only restore lost growth but open up a clean slate for new progress to be made.
- Backlink Removal and Disavow
As part of penalty removal, cleaning up hazardous, toxic links must be done before your site can perform optimally in search.
- Mobile Optimization
It’s no secret that Google is prioritizing the mobile experience. While B2B SaaS conversions may not match traditional traffic or B2C retail conversions, it’s important to not let your mobile experience fall by the wayside. Mobile responsiveness and optimization also affects page-load speed, which is another major ranking factor for Google.
Read more about SEO ranking factors.
5. Authority and Trust
The final pillar of an effective SEO strategy is authority and trust. Google needs to see your site as trustworthy and authoritative; and since it’s using an algorithm to calculate these metrics, steps can be taken to improve how search engines see your site.
But it’s not just algorithms — your audience wants to see you as trustworthy and authoritative, too. Through an integrated strategy that includes thoughtful link building, publisher outreach, content marketing, public relations and social promotion, you can raise your business’ profile in the market and build the authority and trust you need to rank well.
- Authority Strategy Development
You’ll need to look at your site and marketing efforts on the whole as a means of building authority, laying out the specific steps necessary to become a trusted player in your niche — not just ranking well. This is an especially important step for SaaS companies, for which specific, technical expertise is often expected (if not required) for prospects to feel comfortable becoming customers.
- Link Acquisition
Building authoritative links from relevant, trusted websites will not only improve rankings, but drive referral traffic and increase your visibility in the places that matter. Set out a plan for acquiring links that will move the needle using whitehat, Google-approved means. For some help with this, read our post, “Does Link Building Still Work?” (Hint: Yes!)
- Guest Posting
Guest posting can be used as a means of acquiring trusted, relevant links — but it’s also a means of tapping into audiences and expanding your reach into markets where you otherwise may have gone unknown. Identifying worthy targets (who are thought leaders in your space) and relevant topics to cover are just a few parts of the strategy you must consider when incorporating guest posting; the goal must be to get placement where an audience of those who will either buy from you or link to you, hangs out. The closer you can tie your guest posting sources to your niche, the greater the benefit.
- Digital Media Relations
Relationships fuel everything online — from the links you can build to the traffic you can acquire, and beyond. To succeed, you’ll need to establish mutually beneficial partnerships and open lines of communication with those who can cover your business and help you achieve your business goals. Think of leaders in the SaaS space, those already producing valuable content, those speaking at conferences or those you’re following actively on social media — think of ways to build relationships with them — or, at the very least, ways to build successful relationships like they do.
- Social Promotion
Use social channels to connect with your audience and expand your reach. You’ll need to be consistent and deliberate, using methodical targeting to establish yourself as a trusted authority. Doing so helps drive all sorts of other important metrics, from referral traffic to quality links.
Effective Strategies Are Measured Strategies
Even the best laid strategies can go sideways if there’s no plan in place for measuring the impact. As a critical part of your SEO strategy, you must determine how success will be measured and establish a process for reporting and communication with whomever is responsible for implementing.
You can only improve what you can measure, which means setting KPIs that actually reflect your success and tie back to your business goals is vital for the long term.
In each of the five pillars we’ve discussed, there will be KPIs and success indicators you need to keep track of. Be sure they’re well defined before you launch any campaign.
Who Should Implement?
We’ve outlined what a solid SEO strategy looks like. Now the question is — who should take the reins for implementing? When you have the choice between hiring an agency and doing it in-house, there are some considerations to be made:
- Time: Does your team have the time to handle the SEO campaign on their own, or will it be just another series of tasks they’re adding to an already busy workload? Also, SEO is often a long-game strategy — who will tend the ongoing work once the upfront obstacles have been removed?
- Expertise: Does your in-house team know enough about SEO to competently handle implementation? While some elements of implementation are easy, unless your in-house team has been part of the strategy formation, they may not know how to execute on certain items — whether technical or otherwise.
- Budget: Do you have the budget to hire out for help? Another interesting question is — do you have the budget not to? In-house implementation may seem cheaper on its face, and if you have all the expertise and time already allotted, it may be. But that scenario is rare; and if that’s not the case, then having your staff struggle through implementation may actually cost you more internally than hiring professionals who know exactly what they’re doing.
A great strategy can be bungled by poor execution, so honest reflection is due.
Comprehensive, Methodical and Effective
As you’ve read, the best SaaS SEO strategies aren’t just keyword-based, nor can you give your site a precursory once-over and hope to dominate in the SaaS niche. With so many angles to consider, not having a strategy that accounts for each of the five pillars we’ve outlined is a recipe for poor performance. And with competition tight in the ever-growing SaaS space, it’s more important than ever to have a solid handle on your SEO strategy.
Just like charting out a map, your strategy will be what guides you past the goals you set today, and those you set in the future. Make sure you’ve got a good one!