Software as a Service (SaaS) is a booming business model. In the modern – ever more digital – world, delivering software solutions remotely fits both our personal and business needs. It’s for that reason that the SaaS market has been growing year on year for over a decade.
An expanding sector, though, means a more competitive marketplace. With so many software companies out there, if you’re going to succeed as a SaaS brand, you need to get – and stay – ahead of your rivals. There are many strands to a successful strategy to grow any SaaS business. To name only a few, you must:
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Perhaps the most fundamental aspect of succeeding in the niche is getting customer acquisition right. That means building successful acquisition and marketing strategies. The kind that boost both lead generation and lead conversion rates.
The cornerstone of such strategies must be your SEO efforts. Search engine optimization is vital in the SaaS field, more than in any other. Your business’s health relies on putting your products in front of as many people as possible. That means generating and converting organic traffic.
A robust SEO strategy – whether created in-house or with the help of an SEO agency – is what will drive your brand toward sustainable growth and success. You need this kind of slow-to-build but stable growth, as customer acquisition costs (CAC) are rising. Market saturation means there are no longer any silver bullets or quick fixes.
This guide will take you step-by-step through the process of building precisely the SaaS SEO strategy you need. We’re going to cover:
However, we should mention one more thing before we start to put meat on those bones. That’s precisely why a cloud communications or other SaaS company must have an SEO strategy.
Let’s start with a quick refresher on SEO. SEO is a catch-all for everything you do to improve your brand’s performance on search engine results pages (SERPs). The aim is to get your landing pages, blog content, and products as high on those pages as possible. The higher ranked you are, after all, the more traffic you get.
There are a vast number of factors that go into determining each page’s ranking. Google – the pre-eminent search engine – uses an AI-enhanced algorithm to rank online material. Some of the ranking factors accounted for by the algorithm include:
Those represent the tip of the ranking factor iceberg. A robust SaaS SEO strategy accounts for all of them and more. It’s not a straightforward undertaking; it takes significant time, effort, and investment. Done well, however, and it’s all worth it for a range of reasons.
Like many acquisition channels, SEO is complicated. Plenty goes into making it work efficiently for your brand. Unlike things such as pay per click (PPC) advertising or incentive marketing, though, it’s often predictable.
The precise volume of organic traffic any site gets will differ. No two pages or posts are the same. Trends and patterns in search traffic, however, are broadly predictable. With proper analytics and experience on your side, you can anticipate the results of your SEO actions.
It’s comparatively straightforward, for instance, to foresee the boost in traffic that will come if you move from moving from the second page to the first page of results for search term. That makes it easier to assess ROI and budget for a long-term SEO strategy.
What’s more, growing traffic via SEO can deliver exponential results. As you ramp up and improve your efforts, the impact compounds. Everything you do builds upon the actions you’ve already taken. That means each improvement’s effect is more significant than if that was the only step you’d made.
A SaaS SEO strategy, then, won’t deliver instant returns. What it will do, though, is set you up for the long-term. You’ll build ever more targeted organic traffic. It’s from that kind of traffic that you can then generate more leads and conversions.
So far, we’ve expounded the virtues of robust SEO. That’s not to say, however, that you should shun all other acquisition strategies. You need a well-rounded plan to find, qualify, nurture, and convert leads. The beauty of an SEO campaign is that it can be the pivot around which such a plan is built.
Boosting organic traffic feeds into and supports your other acquisition and marketing efforts. More site visitors means more chance of capturing email addresses. That will improve the results of your email marketing.
The high-quality content you produce as part of your SEO efforts, too, can be multi-functional. A great blog post is something your digital marketing team can share with your social media followers. A highly optimized product page, meanwhile, will aid your conversion rate optimization (CRO) as well as your SEO.
If you’re not yet convinced of the virtues of SEO for SaaS, cost might be the reason. You may be thinking that what goes into growing organic traffic sounds like it needs a lot of investment. It does, but it’s worth it.
Thanks to the aforementioned compound impact of SEO, too, your ROI increases over time. Your first SEO efforts will be slow to take hold. It takes more than your first piece of outstanding content to sway Google. With each step you take, though, the cost of bumping up traffic decreases.
That’s in stark contrast to other acquisition channels. Take PPC, for instance. At first, you may find some low hanging fruit. You could buy ads for some high volume, low competition keywords, and cash in.
As time goes on, though, those opportunities dry up. To keep making gains, you’d have to plunge more and more cash into more competitive ads. What’s more, what you’ve spent in the past is no longer getting you anything. There’s no compound effect like with SEO. Approaching acquisition in this way isn’t sustainable.
It should be apparent, then, why a successful SEO strategy is integral to growing a SaaS business. How, though, can you build such a plan? It starts by understanding search intent.
Performing a Google search is something with which we’re all familiar. It’s so run of the mill, in fact, that it’s easy to take it for granted. If you’re already interested in SEO, you won’t fall into that trap, as organic searches are key to your strategy. What you might do, though, is get so caught up with searches that you forget about searchers.
There’s a real person behind every search query, and you should never forget it. Thinking about search volume, keywords, and click-through rates is essential. What’s equally so, is considering and understanding why someone performs the search they do. That’s search intent.
Anyone who types a phrase into Google needs something. They’re looking to the search engine to perform a service on their behalf. Precisely what they need differs, as we’ll cover in a moment. That it’s critical for you to understand their search intent remains the same.
It’s thanks to Google itself that search intent is so vital. The search engine is dedicated to delivering the most relevant results possible. As such, Google’s algorithms can and do recognize the intent behind searches. SERPs only display what searchers want – and need – to see.
Your content marketing strategy needs to factor this in.. That means tailoring pages and copy to what those searching for relevant keywords are after. The first step in this process is to grasp the four principal types of search intent:
Sometimes we head to Google to find some answers. We’re looking for information we don’t presently have. This may be a straightforward query like ‘What is VoIP?’.
It could also get a lot more complicated. Someone who searches for long-tail keywords like ‘Is VoIP cost effective for startups?’ wants more information. It is still information they’re after, however. They want guides or informational pages. That’s why such things rank on page one, as shown above.
Sometimes when you perform a search, you know precisely where you want to go. What you might not have is the relevant homepage URL. Or perhaps it’s faster to tap out a quick search than to input it in the address bar.
In that case, you may enter something like ‘RingCentral VoIP Services’. It will more swiftly get you to the product page you desire than typing out a full address.
Among other things, the internet is a vast marketplace. Plenty of searchers on Google are looking to buy something. More than that, some of them are already close to the point of purchase.
That’s when they’ll perform transactional searches. They’re looking for pages they can click through to where they can buy what they want. Someone searching ‘Buy VoIP Phone’ isn’t interested in a guide to the benefits of VoIP. They’re already sold, and if your product page SEO helps you rank for these types of searches, your wares will be too.
Investigational searches are like a combination of informational and transactional ones. They get performed by people who know they want a product but haven’t decided who from.
‘Vs.’ searches are by far the most common here. Searchers type something like ‘RingCentral vs. Vonage’ to compare the two companies. It’s part of their due diligence on two providers of similar solutions. Marketers should take advantage of this, and make sure their SaaS website shows why they’re the best choice.
Our whistle-stop tour of search intent should have taught you two things. One is that not every searcher is using Google for the same reason. The other is that the type of content that ranks changes according to search intent.
Take a look back at our search intent screenshots. Each one shows separate entries ranking on page one of the SERPs. That’s despite each search term being broadly related to the same topic (VoIP). Grasping search intent, as well as the search terms used, therefore, is critical.
Learning about search intent is all very well, but what does it have to do with SaaS SEO? That’s a valid question. The answer becomes apparent when you consider the first step to building your SaaS SEO strategy. It’s not performing keyword research, as you might guess. Instead, it’s turning the spotlight on your customers.
You’re likely familiar with the concept of a marketing funnel. For SaaS companies, they usually look something like this:
One of the principal aims of a SaaS brand is to get people into – and moving down – their funnel. Once clients reach the ‘Retention’ area, they’re making the company money. It’s there, therefore, that you want to keep customers for as long as possible.
You can find out more about SaaS customer retention in our Book.
When it comes to SaaS SEO, the ‘Retention’ section is less important. It’s also worthwhile to reimagine the rest of the funnel somewhat. Don’t think of it as a solid funnel with one opening at the top. Rather, imagine a kind of upturned colander. There are access points on every marketing channel, letting customers enter it all the way from top to bottom.
You might now be starting to see how this lines up with what we discussed about search intent. The different kinds of search intent, after all, fit within the sections of this SaaS SEO funnel.
An informational searcher is looking for solutions to a problem they have. Someone doing an investigational search compares specific products. They might read comparison guides, listen to podcast reviews, or reach out for free trials.
Things are starting to come together. Let’s not fall into the trap of getting too impersonal, though. We must always remember the searchers behind the searches.
Don’t start the SEO process with the question ‘which search terms must we rank for?’. Instead, ask yourself, ‘who are our potential customers?’. Then, you can consider what they may search for and why. This is how to keep search intent at the front of your mind.
A tried and true way to better understand your target audience is to build buyer personas. These are fictional representations of your typical customers. They lay out the characteristics that people interested in your products are likely to share.
In the case of a SaaS brand, you’re likely to need more than one. Your different products or packages will appeal to varied clients, after all. Try to flesh out your personas as much as possible. There are a few different ways you can find useful information:
With buyer personas, it’s easier to put yourself in the shoes of prospective customers. You’ll have a better idea of their pain points, and the problems they need solving. As a result, you’ll know the information they require.
Now it’s time to combine your insights into your target audience with the SaaS SEO funnel. That allows you to map and understand the journey buyers may take to buy your products.
People are a lot less predictable than water. That’s why the analogy of a funnel isn’t perfect for explaining their behavior. It’s also why you must endeavor to map buyer journeys before then lining them up with your marketing funnel. You don’t want to follow a template and assume that all customers take the same routes.
Some leads will enter your funnel at the top – they’re at the traditional ‘Awareness’ stage of their journey. These are the people most likely to perform informational searches. They’re aware of a problem or challenge and want to learn how to overcome that issue.
Other prospects, however, might first encounter your brand later along their journey. They may have learned about say, VoIP, through a LinkedIn contact or an in-person conversation with a colleague. It might be during further research – when doing investigative searches – that they find your firm.
Finally, some potential customers could jump into your funnel right at the bottom. They’ve completed much of their journey and already know the product that they need to solve their problem. All they’re searching for is the right provider.
By studying your buyer personas, you’ll get an idea of which of the above categories most of your leads will fall into. Or perhaps you’ll learn that you can expect a relatively even split. Either way, you’ll grasp how much emphasis to place on SEO efforts at each stage of the funnel.
Aptly – given the activity’s name – before we talk about SEO at each stage of your funnel, let’s address pre-funnel SEO. Many Scale-up and Enterprise SaaS brands engage in pre-funnel SEO, as it has a range of notable benefits. We’ll mention them a bit later, but first, let’s nail down what this part of SaaS SEO strategy is.
Pre-funnel SEO is when you target keywords and create content to attract a different audience. You’re not looking to snag visitors within your funnel. Instead, you’re reaching out to other persona-qualified traffic. By that, we mean people who match your buyer personas but may not presently want one of your products. They haven’t got a problem you can solve with your SaaS product, but are people you want to connect with.
HubSpot is a prime example of a SaaS brand that leans heavily on pre-funnel SEO. They have a comprehensive and renowned sales and marketing blog. It has great domain authority, and contains varied content that’s certain to interest the brand’s target audience.
Far from all the posts, however, relate to HubSpot’s own products. Many of them focus on different areas of sales and marketing entirely. As such, they won’t rank for keywords relevant to the company’s marketing funnel.
What HubSpot knows, though, is that those posts will interest their target audience. As such, the traffic they bring does contain prospective customers. They’re just not ones who will convert in the short term.
There are many benefits to giving pre-funnel SEO a place within your wider SEO strategy:
Not all SaaS sites will use pre-funnel SEO. A robust strategy, though, will always contain top of the funnel SEO. This is the work you put in to attract site visitors at the beginning of the buyer journey. You remember, it’s the traffic that will be entering your funnel by the traditional top-down route.
People entering the top of your funnel are aware of a problem or challenge they face. Say they feel they’re paying too much for their business communication solutions. If they don’t have any idea how to solve their issue, they’ll turn to Google. They might search for something like:
They’re trying to learn if there are solutions out there to the pain they’re suffering. This is your opportunity as a SaaS brand to create content that answers their search intent. If you know what potential customers want to know, tailor your content accordingly. You might create pages or posts focus on:
Those are simplified examples, but you get the idea. We’ll cover how to use keyword research to devise your top of the funnel content in more detail in a moment. First, let’s drill down on what you want this element of your SEO strategy to achieve.
Buyers at the ‘awareness’ stage of their journey don’t often convert. They’re only just starting to grasp the problem they have and the solutions available to them. As such, your content strategy with top of the funnel SEO shouldn’t aim to immediately monetize the traffic you earn.
The following are the objectives to keep at the top of your mind:
We’ve touched on the type of content you need for top of the funnel SEO. It’s informational and educational material to help answer prospect’s questions. That will often take the form of blog posts. It can also, however, be pillar pages, FAQs, or other similar sections of your website.
This content must get optimized for the keywords that informational searchers are using. Your research in this area, then, has to focus on the problems those searchers have. Top of the funnel SEO is all about problem solving keywords.
The good news here is that you’ve already got a head start. You built your buyer personas earlier, which tell you your customer’s pain points. You know, therefore, the principal problems your target audience are seeking to solve.
You can arrange what you know simply and easily in a table like that shown above. Lay out the solutions you provide and the particular challenges they can solve. These should be the pain points you identified when building your buyer persona.
Those issues provide your jumping-off point for keyword research. Answering reader intent is critical. So, making sure your content stays tightly focused on the problems at hand is a must. It’s arguably more important than optimization for a particular keyword. You will, however, still want to ID and target search terms.
With your broad topics for content understood, this is more straightforward. Consider each challenge you’ve identified for your target audience. Then, brainstorm the phrases paramount to those issues. You can use any one of many tools to help with this stage of the process, too. Then, add the keywords to the final column of your table.
Say, for instance, you provide business collaboration software. You may find that potential customers worry about the efficiency of new remote teams. As such, a keyword like ‘how to work remotely as a team’ is an obvious target. Just make sure that any content you do create genuinely answers the questions searchers have. Keyword stuffing hasn’t cut it for a long time.
Middle of the funnel SEO is particularly crucial to SaaS and other B2B brands. Buyer journeys in the niche are often lengthier than in the B2C world. You’re fairly likely to go online, find a book, skirt, or video game you like, and buy it all in one visit. You’re going to do a lot more research if you’re choosing a communications platform for your small business.
Your middle of the funnel content takes aim at the leads in their consideration phase. Here, your target audience are aware of both their problem and the available solutions to it. However, they haven’t settled on the tool or product they will choose to meet the challenge.
These searchers are still looking for information but of a more specific kind. General blog content won’t do – at this stage, they’re looking for different categories of products. More than that, they’re assessing those types of solutions against their unique needs. The SEO content you produce for this part of the funnel must align with those objectives.
Let’s extend our example of a firm worried about their business communications bills. At the middle of the funnel, they’re aware that a UCaaS platform might solve their problem. Now, they’ll be trying to find out more about those kinds of solutions. Things they may want to know will include:
Say our fictional small business is in the financial niche. They might enter the middle of your funnel by searching for ‘UCaaS solutions for finance’. It’s those kinds of queries, therefore, that your middle of the funnel content must satisfy.
There is a range of broad content types to consider for this stage of your SaaS SEO strategy:
The traffic to the middle of your funnel doesn’t all come from one place. Some visitors may have moved down from the top. As mentioned earlier, though, traffic can also enter your funnel at the midpoint. Keep in mind, then, that your middle of the funnel content may be a prospects first point of contact with your brand.
Regardless of the source of the traffic, your mid-funnel SEO efforts have a few principal aims:
Keyword research for middle of the funnel SEO is mercifully straightforward. Once again, you’ll want to lean on your buyer personas.
This time, focus on different aspects of the personas. You’re interested in their niches and the types of products that may answer their pain points. You should also think about the features of those solutions they won’t be able to do without.
Once again, a straightforward table will help you visualize what you know. List out the features that are critical to your target audience. Then, also include the verticals or fields to which they’re most likely to belong.
It should be apparent how, armed with that information, you can ID keywords to target. You’re looking for search terms someone may use when looking for the type of mid-funnel content we discussed above.
From the above table, you can see you may choose to target sales teams. A feature they’d be interested in might be video conferencing solutions. A keyword like ‘Sales team video conferencing’, then, is an apparent target.
Alternatively, you may find that your mid-funnel leads often weigh up UCaaS against CPaaS. You could then resolve to produce content optimized for a keyword like ‘UCaaS Vs. CPaaS’. At this stage of their journey, after all, searchers are still investigating their options.
The leads at the bottom of your funnel are very different from those above. These potential customers know all about the types of solutions that could solve their problems. They’re also aware of the precise tools they have to choose from. Ideally, yours will be amongst those. It’s not a given, though, if a prospect joins your funnel here, rather than having traveled down from the top.
The people at this point of your funnel are close to their point of purchase. Your content here must attract these product-aware visitors and work to convert them. Here are a few general kinds of content to consider:
When handling the bottom of the funnel aspect of your SEO strategy, you need to widen your focus. At this point, you’re looking to grow both traffic and conversions. Leads who’ve moved down the funnel and those who enter at the bottom are close to making a purchase decision.
Your goals when designing content for this stage of the process, then, are as follows:
Your keyword planning at the bottom of the funnel involves a lot of competitor analysis. First, make a list of all the rivals offering directly competing products. These are the brands for which you can produce comparison content to extoll your product’s virtues.
Your next step is to ID brands offering slightly different products. These are tools that aren’t direct competitors to yours but which your target audience may opt to use instead. You can then build content that targets different types of keywords. Things like, ‘How to Choose the Right Business Communications Solutions’, or ‘Jive Voice competitors’.
A third table like that shown above will once again help to organise your research. It will help keep the content you produce and the keywords which it targets well focussed. You could even assign different writers or creatives to different competitors at this stage of the funnel. Whatever it takes to persuade those transactional searchers that you’re the brand for them.
You’ll also want to ID the correct search terms to target with your case studies that also form part of the bottom of the funnel content. A good starting point here is to think about the challenge you helped your client overcome. Perhaps you aided them in reducing call handling time.
The story of how, therefore, would be most interesting to prospects facing the same issue. You can then develop a list of keywords they’re likely to use. Such a selection may include things like ‘reduce call handling time with UCaaS’, etc..
Up to now, we’ve dealt with each part of the SaaS SEO funnel separately. It was important to do so to highlight that your strategy must take each stage into account. Too many SaaS brands make the mistake of only looking to move traffic into the top of the funnel.
Each element of your SaaS SEO strategy, though, doesn’t happen in a vacuum. You want to make your efforts at every stage of the funnel part of a well-rounded overall plan. What you’ve generated through the above steps of our process means you’re well-placed to build one.
You can find out much more about Saas SEO in our Book.
Your buyer personas tell you where down the funnel most of your target audience are likely to enter. That reveals which areas deserve most of your attention. You’ll also have a list of content topics and keywords for each section of the funnel. You need just one more thing before you can draw up your strategy.
What that final element is, is an understanding of your existing content. Audit your website and blog to check the subjects and keywords you’ve already got covered. Don’t forget to check the quality of technical SEO aspects too! ID pages that can get better optimized and others you may want to replace. Look at meta descriptions, image alt-texts, and other oft-forgotten details. Then, you can find the glaring gaps in your content compared with the topics and phrases you’ve IDed in your research.
With all that information now at your fingertips, you can build an SEO content creation strategy, including the following:
While not covering every nuance of SaaS SEO, what you’ve learned so far will stand you in good stead. It should put you on a path toward creating a terrific set of SEO content. The kind of content that you can use to dominate the SERPs. You won’t get your ranking up with that alone, however.
Google takes lots into account when ranking websites. The on-site content plays a big part but doesn’t cover every base. One thing you must build into your strategy alongside content creation is link building. Even the highest quality, best-optimized pages won’t rank with no backlinks.
It’s true that people will naturally want to link to outstanding content. You can’t, however, adopt a ‘build it and they will come’ attitude. You must at least get the ball rolling with some active outreach. Yes, horror of horrors, that does mean asking for some links.
Take the SaaS brand, Canva, as an example. They have a remarkable SaaS SEO track record, and building backlinks is a big part of why. In fact, a recent analysis claimed that the brand has over 4.24m of them. That’s thanks to a shared focus on great content and personalized outreach.
Canva employs SEO specialists devoted to growing traffic. Part of their job descriptions is to earn backlinks for the brand’s content. They do so by first identifying blog posts, pages, or other material relevant to their niche. Then, they reach out to the writers or owners of the content to request they include a Canva link.
You may not be able to employ your own SEO specialist. This kind of organized, sensible outreach, though, can – and should – be part of your SaaS SEO strategy. Just make sure to follow these examples of best practice for SaaS link building:
For a SaaS firm, growing online traffic is fundamental to success. The more people you can make aware of your brand and products, the better. A robust SEO strategy is the foundation on which you can build that success. Get your SEO correct, and your other acquisition efforts will also improve.
Getting SaaS SEO right takes time, effort, and investment, but is well worth it. What you must remember throughout is to tailor your work to your potential customers. That starts with understanding who your target audience is. You must then build on that by mapping your buyer’s journey.
From there, you can segment your SaaS SEO funnel to target leads at different stages of that journey. Research what your prospects want, and create optimized content to suit. Make sure to consider searcher intent throughout. Every page or post you build must answer the questions or aims of its targeted readers
Even the best content needs backlinks to help it rank. That means organized outreach should also play a role in your SaaS SEO. Approaching domains or brands for links can feel daunting. If you’ve got your content creation right, though, it’ll be easier than you think. Writers, editors, and business owners are keen to link to top-class content. It helps their domain as well as yours.
So, there you have it. Everything you could possibly want to know about SaaS SEO, and probably a fair bit more to boot. If that’s whetted your appetite and you do want to learn more about scaling your SaaS brand, though, check out our eBook.