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!
Why invest in SEO?
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.
Here are 4 benefits SEO can bring to your SaaS business:
1. 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 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 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.
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.
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. 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 a recent official announcement about Core Web Vitals that will become part of Google’s ranking algorithm from 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. 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.
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. 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. Make sure to show the authors of your content, 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.
4. Don’t Rush Your 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.