SEO for SaaS: Full Actionable 2022 Guide
Improving your SERP ranking can be a daunting task, especially for a newer software-as-a-service (SaaS) company. You have to contend with already established, large aggregator sites and your standard competitors with a limited set of keywords (which is highly specific for the SaaS industry). Our search engine optimization (SEO) for SaaS guide is here to help you overcome the challenges and set up a long-term SaaS SEO campaign that will get you to stake a claim at the top of the software companies’ rankings and enable you to stay there.
What Do We Mean by SaaS SEO?
By SaaS SEO, we refer to all of the factors you need to consider to have your software-as-a-service business rank high on Google for your chosen keywords (and any other search engines). That includes understanding your main challenges and the best tactics to employ. Most standard SEO tactics apply, but SaaS has some specific considerations.
SaaS SEO Guide
You should always have an overall strategy for improving your SEO. It can be broadly divided into four categories:
- the technical part of your website
- the keywords you use
- the content located on your website
- building backlinks
Once we get into the practical steps you can take, it is easy to lose track of the goal in an attempt to make everything perfect. Nothing is ever perfect. If you want to improve your organic search engine rankings – prioritize improving the factors that will have the greatest effect. The categories are not separate but affect one another.
It is simply easier when you can divide your focus by categorizing them. You can deal with the minutia later, if ever. The SaaS landscape is continually changing, so SaaS SEO needs to keep up. Don’t allow yourself to get bogged by things that have a minimal effect on your organic growth if you don’t have the resources. Instead, focus on developing reasonable SEO strategy that will get you closer to your goals.
You need to know what you’re working with before you try implementing improvements or fine-tuning your website. Doing a technical audit should be your first step. Even if you have no major technical issues, your organic traffic will increase with a functioning structure. Keep in mind that this is not a one-and-done deal – you should do regular check-ups as your site continues its growth. This guide isn’t an in-depth how-to technical guide, but we’ll suggest several tools you can use and what to prioritize.
As a side note, we need to say that web vitals are not a direct ranking factor (as Google uses the term), but they do affect the traffic and will likely be a direct ranking factor in the future. Here, we will deal mainly with the technical structure, but you can read our in-depth Core Web Vitals guide to learn how they will affect ranking (and how to improve yours).
The tools you use will depend on the size of your site and how in-depth the audit needs to be. Google’s Search Console is always a good first step (and possibly the only one you need if everything runs smoothly). Screaming Frog is a rather straightforward tool you can use, while DeepCrawl is a powerful tool that is mostly only needed for very in-depth audits.
As we talked about before, unless you have a dedicated team of developers who will constantly monitor your site, you should focus your energy on fixing problems that affect your traffic and ranking the most.
- 404s – the most deadly tech issue of them all. Broken links are links that no longer work and often throw a “404 Not Found” error. Fix it first – either by redirecting to relevant content or getting the page itself to work. 404s directly make you lose traffic from people who wanted to visit your page, while Google classifies 404s as poor user experience pages.
- Page Load Time – the load time of your pages should not be above 2 seconds. Google prioritizes a good user experience, and long load times make it hard for people to use your website. In addition, conversion rates are lower when people have trouble navigating your website due to long load times.
- Responsiveness – This refers to how well your website loads on different devices – primarily desktops and phones. The goal is for the user to have a good experience regardless of the device they use to access your site. A mobile-friendly website will outrank one that is not if they would otherwise rank similarly.
Choosing the Right Keywords
We probably don’t have to stress that using the right keywords is a top priority. They can make or break your SaaS SEO. However, the keyword research process is as much art as it is science. First, you should know your target customers and their search intent. Then, use appropriate keyword research tools to find target keywords that match user intent.
Like with any kind of digital marketing, yours will have the greatest impact if you customize your content with a specific type of customer in mind – the target audience. Any steps you take to improve your SEO should be guided by the target audience you wish to attract. However, there is a lot of overlap between the buyers, and consequently the way you optimize. They are:
- Users that search for you specifically – you don’t need to worry about these types of users. When they are already loyal to your brand, they’ll find you and simply continue their buying journey.
- Interested in the type of software you offer – generally, these are the audiences you wish to attract. However, so does everybody else. These keywords are usually generic – let’s say “to-do list apps” – and your competitors will do their best to rank for the same. It is possible to rank for these kinds of search terms, but it will take time.
- Aware of the type of software and looking to buy – these people know what you and your competitors offer and are perusing the selection. You should always have a few pages that prioritize relevant keywords that include “price” or “pricing”.
- Circumferential content – these are the audiences who are not directly looking for the type of software you are offering, but their needs could be met by it. They just don’t know it yet. Circumferential content could be your way into the first page, as it’s usually easier to rank for. The users could become familiar with your brand, converting them into the first type of prospective customer. We’ll use the example of do-list apps – we can presume that the users want to manage their time better (currently, that is a big struggle for people who work from home). If you manage to rank for keywords like “time-managing techniques” or “work-from-home time management” with a few blogs, while integrating the app you offer in the texts, you can convert the users to your buyers without competing via direct key keywords.
Keyword Research Process
The obvious part is that you need to know your customers and use target keywords relevant to their needs. The type of customer you are targeting should inform the keyword list you mean to use. The more specific and technical part is more complicated. While you can free-style it and guess what your potential customers are looking for, that’s far from the best SEO strategy.
You’ll need to use specific keyword research tools to find the most relevant search queries for your business. Google’s keyword planner is a decent starting-out tool (it’s free to use). Other tools, like Ahrefs, are more fine-tuned versions of free software for keyword analysis, but you need to purchase them.
Research which basic keywords drive traffic for your website and what’s working for your competitors. From there, you can look for long-tail keywords that could be beneficial for attracting potential customers. Limited search volume and direct competitors are some of the challenges SaaS SEO often has to face. Large aggregator sites are the bane of smaller SaaS firms but, often, they don’t use long-tail keywords. If you find a list of keywords relevant to your product but there are no aggregator sites at the top of SERPs, this is what you could focus on.
Don’t worry if the keyword monthly search volume is lower than what you expected. Often, less-competitive keywords can deliver more conversions than generic high-volume keywords.
Optimized and High-Quality On-Page Content
Once you decide on your keywords, you need to make the accompanying content strategy. Each landing page should be optimized, period. However, keyword stuffing is not the way to go. The content needs to be informative and get the users to engage with it to increase your rankings. Also, your content has to serve the purpose you are advertising on your marketing channel (be it with your list of keywords, title, ad campaign, etc.). Misleading pieces of content will quickly get downranked.
Keyword Placement Basics
1-2% of your text should be your exact keyword. So, for 1000 word text, you should place between 10 to 20 instances of the exact keyword. A quality piece of content is the priority, so avoid keyword stuffing. The meta title, description, the title (your h1), and at least one caption or alt text should contain the keyword.
You should also look to place it into the first, and preferably the last, paragraph of the text. However, remember that it needs to fit naturally. With the right keyword placement, Google can index your website correctly and allow you to rank for the relevant searches.
SERPs are getting more informative, so basic product pages (while still significant) won’t get you far. Your blog content or possibly longer product descriptions will propel you to the top of the rankings.
Even talking about competitors (which is often considered a big no-no in the marketing world) in the right format can be beneficial, i.e. an informative blog about the top 10 software of the type you make, with yours having the most space and the top rank. Once again, this approach allows you to circumvent major aggregator sites and find a niche where they don’t even attempt to rank.
If Google sees that users engage with your content, you will rank high and stay there. So, your content needs to be valuable to the potential customer. Increasing your ranking by finding a niche keyword may give you a short-term traffic boost, but if users don’t find your content worthwhile, you will quickly fall off.
Thus, content that aligns with the user’s needs and provides a user-friendly experience (the tech part of SEO for SaaS) is the optimal tactic for getting and staying at the top of SERPs. The main metrics Google uses to judge user engagement are:
- Session length – the session should be long enough that people could reasonably find what they are looking for, based on the word count. So, a 1000 word guide that people skim in half a minute probably didn’t answer any user’s questions.
- Bounce rate – the percentage of people who visited one page on your website but didn’t visit any others. A high bounce rate indicates low user engagement.
- Finished their search after your website – the more people end their browsing after visiting your website, the better it is for you. It shows Google that you provide relevant and informative content that helps users find what they are looking for
The type of content you create should be partially based on the type of customer you are targeting. There are 3 “levels” of content, each serving a different purpose – top, middle, and bottom of the funnel, but with the overall aim of getting users to become customers. Your website should contain a combination of all 3.
Top of the funnel content targets potential customers who have a problem but don’t have a solution. The middle of the funnel is for users who have found a potential solution but still haven’t started looking at specific products. Finally, the bottom is where you try to convert users into clients. Ideally, a user will follow the top-, middle-, bottom- path, but that’s not necessary.
A user may engage with any level randomly. However, by making this type of content, you increase your chances of attracting the appropriate users. Let’s assume you are an SaaS company that deals in VPNs and see how it works in practice.
A simple example (and a popular one lately) would be a user who wants to protect their identity on the internet. They could start with something like how to protect my identity online. Top of the funnel content could be a blog post that explains the different methods they can use to achieve their goal.
From there, VPNs appear as an obvious solution. Your top-of-the-funnel content generates a relatively low conversion rate. However, it can and should lead them to something like “10 best VPNs in 2021” (the middle of the funnel). Of course, you will stress the quality of your products and make it so that they are the most visible.
One good strategy gleaned from psychology would be to have your products be at the beginning and end of a list. People primarily remember the first and especially the last thing they see. So, even if they don’t become customers right away, they are more likely to remember you and convert later.
The endpoint is the bottom of the funnel content, which is meant to convert users to customers – your product pages. Naturally, the more traffic you drive to the bottom of the funnel page, the more customers you will have – that is why all the previous steps are vital.
This step is rather simple, but many SaaS companies gloss over it, hurting their traffic and eventually rankings. You want relevant content to be easily accessible and visible to the user. For instance, if you have a tutorial video for your software, integrate it into your product page. If you provide engaging content, simple integration can significantly increase your conversion rates.
Especially important, your funnel-type content should always lead from one level to the next. Your landing page can integrate relevant case studies and analysis you’ve done or even user feedback. Integrating existing content is a relatively easy step that doesn’t require a lot of resources but can significantly improve your standings.
The last (but equally important) step in your strategy should be building backlinks (or inbound links). This has two primary purposes – driving direct traffic and increasing your authority in a given field, which will improve your rankings. Regarding authority, we have written an in-depth E-A-T guide (Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness), so we’ll just cover the basics.
Your authoritativeness refers to how well your standings are with the experts in your field – basically, how often you are referred to. The most impactful way is to get mentioned by another authoritative source (in your case, let’s say PCMag or Wired) or get a wiki article written about your software or company. Now, achieving this is difficult, and you’ll most likely need to build from the ground up.
That’s where link building comes in. Backlinks increase organic traffic and improve your SERP rankings. High-quality backlinks are more important than low-quality ones. One feature of a quality backlink is when it links to an authoritative website. So, it’s kind of a catch. You get authority by building backlinks but need authority for those links to be high quality.
To earn relevant backlinks, you need to develop a solid link building strategy that can help you gain relevant links to your pieces of content.
What can you do? For one, grind until you become an authority. Or publish unique data. If you manage to perform a relevant case study, people will naturally refer to you, increasing your authoritativeness. You could also make a free or trial web app version of your software that will refer back to your parent company. Guest posting is yet another approach that can help you boost your authority.
You could also try to appear on tech-related podcasts or commentary shows. Using social media that is not directly related to your product is an untapped source of authority-building for SaaS companies. However, you can increase your authority also by adding quality external links to your content.
The bottom line is to create content that people want to link to and then use any applicable methods to incentivize people to do it. When we put it like this, SEO for SaaS seems quite simple, doesn’t it?
We’ll try to summarize how you can improve your SERP rankings as a SaaS company.
- Have an overall strategy, which includes:
- Improving/maintaining the structure of your website
- Finding and using the relevant keywords
- Making relevant and high-quality content
- Building Backlinks
- Prioritize its implementation. It is almost impossible for everything to be perfect. So, focus on your weakest spots and cover your bases before you start fixing problems that don’t have a major impact on your search rankings.
As Google’s algorithm is constantly evolving, there are many predictions we could make regarding what future steps you should plan for. However, the basics we covered in our SEO for SaaS guide have been consistent for a long time and should always be the foundation of your SEO campaign. It is easy to build upon a strong foundation, so come what may, you won’t have any issue dealing with it in the future.
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