SEO for SaaS Companies: How to Start Getting Results
Is SEO a good investment? Will it help my SaaS product reach new audiences? Will it lower overall customer acquisition costs (CAC)? When would be the right time to start investing in SEO?
These are valid questions we hear daily from prospects and clients. The queries motivated us to summarise our experience with SaaS and to provide marketers with the fundamental steps of a working SEO strategy, tailored towards the specifics of SaaS. Let’s get started!
What Is SaaS SEO?
SaaS SEO (Software-as-a-Service search engine optimization) is the process of optimizing a SaaS company’s online visibility and rankings to attract a larger audience and convert potential users into loyal customers through organic search. Among the strategies involved are keyword research, technical SEO, content creation, and link building.
It is an ongoing process that requires continuous monitoring and helps SaaS companies reach their target audience, establish credibility, and generate organic traffic and conversions.
Why Invest in SEO & How Important Is SEO in a SaaS Business?
SEO efforts take time to start showing results. Sometimes it may be hard to justify the investment. However, after you get the wheel turning, organic search can be a sustainable long-term channel for reaching new customers from all stages of the marketing journey.
According to HigherVisibility’s report, out of all web traffic, around 77% comes from organic search, while only 15% is attributed to paid search.
Here are 4 benefits SEO can bring to your SaaS business:
1. SEO for SaaS Delivers Predictable and Lower Marketing Costs
You’re investing in paid advertising and despite all campaign optimizations, the costs are getting higher. You haven’t reduced your budget, but you’re getting fewer leads.
Yep, you’re not alone. And it’s not necessarily the marketing team that’s doing something wrong.
With several competitors bidding on the same keywords or advertising to a similar audience, the costs for paid traffic inevitably rise.
If your SaaS niche has a relatively low barrier to entry, with more players joining pay-per-click auctions over time, this will inevitably create a hyper-competitive paid advertisement space, depleting margins, and skyrocketing CPCs – a race to zero.
With SEO you’d invest in your organic reach and your brand. The efforts you put into SEO will positively affect your paid campaign as well. Once you’ve created brand bias, you’ll be able to sit back and watch your CPCs and CAC decrease.
With SEO in the mix, you’d be looking at an initial investment that would encompass SEO audits and some dev and design implementation, depending on the condition of your website.
From there on, you should expect to invest in ongoing content marketing and SEO optimizations to maintain solid SEO over time.
You would be able to plan your SEO budget for at least 6 months ahead, and in the meantime make sure to track goals and analyze your ROI in Google Analytics.
Another important factor to consider when deciding whether to invest in SEO is the high click-through rate for organic results – about 67% of clicks on a search result page go to the first five organic (non-paid) results. Being present both in the ads section and in the organic results gives you a much higher chance of getting a click.
2. You Can’t Afford to Lag Behind
The fact that you haven’t done SEO or content marketing doesn’t mean that organic traffic is not involved in your SaaS buyer’s journey.
Chances are, customers are comparing you to other brands or researching your reviews online before buying. Knowing what terms users search for to find you can be a powerful way to discover the kind of content you need to create for them.
Conduct a SaaS Competitor Analysis
The other aspect you should always be thinking about is what your competitors are doing. A quick look at their organic traffic with inexpensive tools like Ubersuggest, along with scanning the latest articles in their blog can tell you a lot about the strategy they have and the resources they’ve committed to SEO. Look for keyword gaps, i.e., keywords your competitors are targeting that you haven’t explored yet.
Here are two examples of content targeting different stages of the user’s journey.
- The management tools Asana and Jira have published content for users comparing the two platforms, ranking for queries like “asana vs jira”. Such bottom-of-the-funnel content is targeting users who already know they need a project management platform and are trying to figure out which one is the best for them. You can check the approach of the two companies here and here.
- The business cloud phone company Grasshopper has created multiple content pieces targeting the top of the marketing funnel. In The Quest for a Co-founder, they provide helpful information for people trying to start or expand their business. Such content is nurturing the information needs of people who are at the very early stages of their user journey. The goal – reach new audiences and make sure that when these readers need a business phone system, they already have brand loyalty to Grasshopper.
It’s clear that your competitors are not publishing these just for fun – they work!
3. Tailor Your Content for Paying Customers, Not for Trial Users
One of the most common pain points for SaaS is that marketing efforts usually focus on trial users and/or demo requests, yet only a portion of these become paying customers.
It’s crucial for your buyer personas to mirror loyal customers in order for you to have a clear understanding of how your SaaS product helps those people achieve their goals.
With content positioned to draw organic traffic, you can not only target people that are directly looking for your solution but also create an audience of prospects that would get exposed to your brand at the start of their journey.
A quick example – the popular cloud-based design tool Canva.com has an article for Drone photography that ranks for a variety of keywords related to that topic. It exposes the brand to a large audience of people interested in photography, who are likely to need an easy and cheap tool to edit their photos.
4. Make Your SaaS Website Experience Better for Every Visitor
Nowadays, your website’s user experience (UX) and engagement are collectively a crucial factor for search engine optimization success.
Effective UX includes easy navigation from any mobile device, fast loading speed, and effective mobile search functionality.
All these are factors that you need to have covered, and not just for the sake of SEO – they are important for every single visitor, regardless of the channel. Would you trust a SaaS brand whose website takes forever to load?
What Makes SEO for SaaS Different
A SaaS website is essentially a lead generation website, with the most common conversions being demo requests and/or trial subscriptions. This makes them behave differently for SEO as compared to e-commerce or news websites and brings other benefits:
1. Small Website Size & SEO-Friendly Platforms
SaaS websites have the advantage of having a small number of pages (1,000 – 2,000), which makes crawling and indexing by search engines significantly easier than large e-commerce or news websites. It also gives you the advantage of creating a simple and SEO-friendly structure and filling pages with robust content.
Many SaaS companies use WordPress or another SEO-friendly CMS platform that allows easy editing of meta tags, redirects, and dynamic XML sitemap implementation. As a result, technical SEO can be a lot easier (and cheaper).
2. Constant Product Development Is Driving Marketing Growth
In order to be successful, a SaaS product needs to be constantly up-to-date, expand its features, and try to solve new customer problems. Most companies work in a highly competitive environment which pushes them to grow fast, be more agile, and make many product iterations.
From a marketing perspective, this also gives you the opportunity to support the new product features with new pages and content, and to target the new buyer personas. It’s next to impossible to run out of content ideas!
3. Valuable In-House Dev Resources
A great SaaS platform cannot work well without a great dev team. This comes in handy with technical SEO, where having solid dev resources is crucial. Most technical SEO tasks can be handled by a mid/junior developer. Implementing SEO in-house is cost-efficient, cuts communication time, and speeds up implementation schedules.
4. Priceless Industry Knowledge and Tons of Data
The leadership and product development teams of most SaaS companies combine deep industry knowledge with technical prowess. Their authority can contribute to brand (and link) building and is a great resource for ideating and creating high-quality content.
A great way to scale your SEO efforts is to use your existing content – internal databases, reports you normally use in your email marketing campaigns, user guides with common customer questions/issues. Much of these information sources can be repurposed into fresh content for the website, which saves precious time and money.
How to Create a Successful SaaS SEO Strategy in 4 Steps
Ready to start working on SEO?
Here are the main components you need to cover in order to create a successful SaaS SEO strategy, based on the most common missed opportunities we’ve seen.
1. Technical SEO for SaaS: Never Underestimate Technical Optimization
We already mentioned that SEO for small websites can be a piece of cake compared to larger e-commerce platforms. However, there are several common aspects of technical SEO that often get overlooked:
- Broken pages (404 errors)
- Redirect chains
- Missing or outdated XML sitemaps
Keeping your website clean from errors or long redirect chains is crucial for good crawl budget optimization. The same applies to having a dynamic XML sitemap that is submitted in Google Search Console and remains up-to-date as new content gets added.
A monthly website crawl and check on the technical basics will allow you to find new issues early and fix them with much greater ease.
- Low Page Speed and Poor UX
Google already uses several user engagement signals, including page loading speed, to determine where a page should rank in search results. Based on an official announcement about Core Web Vitals that have become part of Google’s ranking algorithm since 2021, there is no doubt that fast speed and flawless UX are a must for SEO.
- Structured data
Most websites have generic Structured data types like Organisation, CreativeWork, or Breadcrumbs implemented. However, many SaaS companies do not take advantage of the specific Software App structured data.
The more specific structured data types you use, the easier search engines can understand your content. The other benefit is the eligibility for rich snippets to appear with your listings in search results.
- Targeting international markets
One of the benefits of a SaaS product is that it can (usually) be marketed globally. However, most companies only have English websites and target the already crowded US market.
If you choose to expand to other markets, consider translating your content and using technical SEO markup like Hreflang tags and Country targeting in Google Search Console.
2. SaaS Keyword Research: Find the Right Keywords, Create the Right Content
Solid keyword research and keyword clustering will reveal what your users are looking for. You should always combine keyword data with CTR and user intent (Information, Consideration, Transaction) in order to build the ideal structure for the website.
Here’s how to do keyword research for your SaaS website:
Step 1: Understand Your Audience and Goals
- Identify your target audience personas: Who are your ideal customers, and what problems are they trying to solve with your SaaS product?
- Determine your SEO goals: Are you looking to increase brand visibility, generate leads, or drive trial sign-ups?
Step 2: Brainstorm Seed Keywords
- Start with a list of seed keywords related to your SaaS product. These are broad terms that describe your software’s primary functions.
Step 3: Use Keyword Research Tools
- Utilize keyword research tools like Google Keyword Planner, SEMrush, or Ahrefs.
- Enter your seed keywords into these tools to generate keyword ideas and get data on search volume and competition.
Step 4: Analyze Keyword Metrics
- Focus on keywords with a balance of search volume and competitiveness. Ultimately, the best keywords to target have a high search volume and low competition.
- Look for long-tail keywords (more specific and longer phrases) that indicate user intent. For example, “project management software for small businesses.”
The SaaS Buyer Journey
Step 5: Map your chosen keywords to the SaaS buyer journey stages:
- Awareness stage: Use broad, informational keywords that address pain points or challenges your target audience faces aimed to educate your audience. These types of keywords are best suited for your blog content.
- Engagement stage: Choose keywords that are more specific and solution-oriented to highlight your SaaS product’s unique features and benefits. Map these keywords to your product and service pages.
- Conversion stage: Focus on keywords that signal intent to take action, such as “software”, “tool”, “platform”, “system”, “alternatives to”, “free trial”, “subscription pricing”, etc. These should emphasize your SaaS product’s value, pricing, and the sign-up or purchase process.
- Onboarding stage: Support new users by using keywords related to onboarding, setup, and maximizing the value of your SaaS product.
- Retention stage: Keep existing customers engaged and satisfied by using keywords related to customer support, product updates, and advanced features.
- Advocacy stage: Encourage satisfied customers to become advocates by using keywords related to reviews, referrals, and success stories for your case study and testimonial pages.
SaaS SEO Mistakes in Keyword Strategy
A common mistake with SaaS SEO is using very generic descriptions of the product (“innovative platform,” “cutting edge solution,” etc). The truth is that they sound great for your branding, but don’t really differentiate you from your competitors and don’t give users a clear and quick answer to the problems your product solves.
Make sure to create pages with clear messaging using language common to your audience. Create useful and logical internal links, and you’ll be favored both by search engines and users.
Don’t be afraid if keyword monthly search volumes are lower than what you expected – many times low volume keywords in aggregate can deliver more conversions than generic high volume keywords.
Building enough content that shows your expertise is not an easy task, but it’s an investment that pays off with time. After you have several top-performing pages, you can scale your efforts to optimizing existing content along with creating new pieces. Here’s more on how to get started and scale up your SaaS content marketing work.
3. On-Page SaaS SEO: Show Expertise and Authority in Order to Build Trust
The so-called E-A-T signals (Expertise, Authority, and Trust) can help your website establish trust. Moreover, in 2022, Google introduced a fresh addition to its E-E-A-T signals, incorporating the letter “E” to represent “Experience” as a new signal, particularly in relation to product usage or the creation of specific content. Make sure to show the authors of your content (and their experience and expertise on the topic), share your company goals and achievements, and add third-party reviews and testimonials.
Similarly to UX, the main driver for these changes should be to build trust with users, though in doing so they’ll build trust with search engines as well.
To improve your SaaS website’s on-page SEO and establish your authority, follow these steps:
- Optimize your website’s title tags, meta descriptions, and header tags (H1, H2, H3) with relevant keywords.
- Ensure your URL structure is clean and includes keywords where appropriate.
- Use descriptive alt text for images.
- Implement schema markup for rich snippets in search results.
- Create a blog to regularly publish industry-related articles, guides, and tutorials, and target relevant long-tail keywords.
4. Don’t Rush Your SaaS Link Building
Starting your organic growth strategy with off-site SEO (i.e. link building) can be both expensive and discouraging.
Backlinks still play a big role as a ranking factor, but make sure you have the right content and a good on-page technical foundation before jumping to email outreach. You can always align your branding and PR efforts with a backlink strategy, which would bring you much better results than paying for links directly, which violates Google’s policies and risks penalties.
Your SaaS SEO Checklist: How to Improve SEO for SaaS Companies
We have compiled a checklist to help you improve your SaaS website’s search engine visibility:
- Keyword & Competitive Analysis: Analyze your competitors’ websites to identify content gaps and keywords they are ranking for.
- Keyword Research: Identify relevant keywords and phrases that potential customers might use to search for your SaaS product. Use keyword research tools like Google Keyword Planner, Ahrefs, or SEMrush to find high-volume, low-competition keywords.
- On-Page SEO: After you optimize your most important pages to target the right keywords, you can start thinking about blog content.
- Content Strategy: Develop content (blog posts, landing pages, product descriptions, educational resources, etc.) around the selected keywords. Ensure that the content addresses the right user intent and provides value.
- Technical SEO:
- Sitemap: Generate an XML sitemap for your SaaS website using Screaming Frog or Yoast SEO for WordPress, and submit it to Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools. Make sure you don’t have 301 status code URLs in your sitemap. If you do, simply replace all the 301 redirecting URLs with the destination ones in the sitemap. If the destination links are already on your sitemap, you should simply delete the 301 status code URLs.
- Indexation & Crawlability Issues: These are problems that prevent search engine crawlers and users from finding and understanding content. To address these concerns, it’s important to ensure that you haven’t blocked any critical pages in your robots.txt file. Additionally, check if you are influencing the ability of crawlers to index content, for instance, through the use of canonical tags or no-index tags.
- Internal Linking: Make sure you have an internally linked website structure that flows naturally, and that all your pages have appropriate internal links pointing to them. You don’t want any orphan pages (pages that are not linked from any other page). Links to insecure pages should be avoided even if they have been redirected. HTTPS is a ranking factor. In addition, some browsers show warnings when landing on insecure pages, and even block access, affecting your UX.
- Broken Links: Regularly scan your website for broken links. Review and fix all internal links to point only to final target URLs returning status code 200 OK.
- Duplicate content: Check you have indexable pages with duplicate content on your website. Apply a 301 redirect to the preferred URL version.
- Finally, implement schema markup to provide search engines with structured data about your SaaS product, such as reviews and ratings.
- Local SEO (if applicable): If your SaaS business serves specific geographic areas, optimize for keywords with local intent, create Google My Business listings, and encourage customer reviews. If you operate globally, implement hreflang tags to indicate language and regional targeting.
- Backlinks and Link Building: Develop a backlink strategy to acquire high-quality, relevant backlinks from reputable (high domain authority) websites. Guest post on industry-related blogs and participate in influencer collaborations. Monitor and disavow toxic or spammy backlinks.
Find more SaaS SEO & content marketing best practices in our podcast episode with Tim Soulo from Ahrefs:
How to Measure Your SaaS SEO ResultsTo determine the effectiveness of your SEO strategy, here are key metrics and methods:
- Develop a SaaS data analytics strategy: Set up Google Analytics and Google Search Console to monitor website performance and SEO progress, such as organic search traffic (the total number of organic visitors to your website over time). You can also analyze how many visitors from organic search actually took a desired action (converted), such as signing up for a free trial or making a purchase. Consider the lifetime value of customers acquired through organic search.
- Continuously improve your on-page SEO: analyze your click-through rate (CTR) data for your pages and terms in Google Search Console. A higher CTR indicates that your titles and meta descriptions are compelling and relevant to searchers.
- Regularly review your keyword list and rankings with tools like SERanking or Ahrefs to adapt to changes in user behavior, search intent, and trends. Monitor how your targeted keywords are moving up or down in rankings.
- Monitor the growth of backlinks to your website and ensure they are from authoritative and relevant sources.
- Conduct regular SEO audits to identify and fix new technical issues. We have developed a SaaS SEO dashboard to help us track our clients’ performance.