The Definitive Guide to SaaS SEO (2020)
How to search engine optimize your SaaS company website to show up in position #1.
Written by Sterling Sweeney: Published Oct 20th, 2019 | Updated Jan 7th, 2020.
Sterling Sweeney is a growth hacker and the driving force behind WhalePages, a SaaS marketing company. Today he explores what needs to be done to successfully rank your SaaS company’s website in organic search.
13 Minute Read
How To Search Engine Optimize Your SaaS Company Website in 2020?
If you’re a SaaS founder and you’re not engaged in an active SEO campaign, you’re leaving money on the table. We’ve asked many SaaS entrepreneurs what role SEO plays in their overall growth strategy and an overwhelming majority say that organic ranking is one of their primary drivers of growth. For some companies, their organic rankings drive 80% – 90% of software sales.
For this reason, we thought we’d put together a comprehensive three part blog and video tutorial series to help SaaS founders learn how to rank their SaaS company websites in organic search. The strategies we’ll discuss in this series are the exact same strategies we’ve used to earn main page rankings for many projects we’ve worked on.
This series will be broken down into the following three sections.
1. SaaS keyword research and planning (for low competition keywords that you will be able to rank for quickly for)
2. SaaS backlink acquisition strategies
3. SaaS guest posting for links (and traffic).
So let’s jump in
It Begins With Good Keyword Research
For those of you who prefer video over the written word, we’ve created a step-by-step video tutorial outlining the details of our keyword planning and ranking strategy. If the written word is more your thing, then continue reading below.
Growth Hacking Your SaaS With Strategic Keyword Planning
Ranking for your top organic keywords is a must if you plan on competing in your niche. We recently published a report on our SaaS marketing blog where we asked 20 SaaS founders what marketing channels have proven to be most effective for them. Organic placement in search was the #1 answer we received, followed closely by word of mouth marketing and affiliate or partner programs.
So with organic being a such a huge driver of growth, how can you ramp up your efforts on this channel? Well in today’s tutorial I’m going to show you how to target low competition keywords which will allow you to rank your SaaS company’s website almost immediately.
But before we jump in, I want to remind you that WhalePages offers “done for you” link building services for SaaS companies. so if you’re looking to outsource this part of your SEO campaign, visit our homepage to learn more.
And now, let’s jump in!
Today’s tutorial is going to be broken up into the following five parts.
1. Keyword Research Tools: First, you’re going to dive into the world of keyword research by using free tools that will allow you to find the search volume for your SaaS’s main keywords from within Google.
2. Keyword Ideation: Next, we’re going to talk about keyword ideation and the use of alphabeticals
3. Searcher Intent: Next, we’ll discuss the importance of keyword filtering based on searcher intent
4. Keyword Difficulty: We’ll then talk about keyword filtering based on difficulty
5. Optimize for Engagement: Lastly, we’ll end this tutorial with a SaaS growth power hack, by teaching you how to rank for keywords by optimizing for engagement.
Basic Keyword Research
So let’s begin by talking about the basics of keyword research for SaaS companies. At this level our goal is to think as broadly as possible. At this stage, we don’t want to add-on any filters. We’re just looking for ideas. To make this tutorial easy to understand and follow, let’s use a concrete example. Let’s imagine we have a SaaS company in the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) space.
Our first hurdle is getting out of our own head. We have an idea about the keywords and phrases we want to rank for, but so far we have no data to back up our hunches. That said, hunches are a good place to start, so let’s start there.
Now remember, WhalePages is all about growth hacking. This means doing things as efficiently as possible. So let’s try to stay within Google for a lot of this research.
In order to keep our research within Google, the first step will be to install the free keywords everywhere extension for Chrome.
All you need to do is head over to keywords everywhere and get them to send you an API key to your email address. Once you receive that API key, you simply activate the chrome extension, click on settings and then insert your API key. The entire process should take less than a minute.
Once it’s all up and running you’ll notice that you’re now pulling in keyword volume and paid competitiveness data right into your search results. If you look over to the right of the page, you’ll notice that you also start pulling related searches into your search results (see image below).
Now remember, our hunch tells us that the term “best CRM tool” will be our big hit. So let’s search for that now. A few things to note now that we have the keywords everywhere extension installed. Notice, that the suggested searches will display search volume information (see image below). This allows us to see immediately, that our keyword is not as substantial as other searches in the same vein, such as “best CRM for startups” or “Best CRM for real estate”.
Also, after you complete your search, you’ll notice the keyword or keyphrase volume under the search bar (see image above). So complete this step to gather search volume information on all of your hunches.
SaaS Keyword Ideation
Once you’ve hit a wall with your own ideas, we need to start the keyword ideation phase. During this phase, we build off our hunches by looking at related searches. Luckily, the Keywords Everywhere extension gives you related searches in the sidebar (see the image above). So again, type in your first round of keywords and look for new keyword ideas from within Google.
If you’re looking for more keyword ideas, I’ll give you one other suggestion as well. Many of you will know that Google provides an auto suggestion tool which will allow you to go through keyword combinations by searching for things like “best CRM a”, and then looking at the suggestions to come up with more ideas. Once you have harvested Ideas from “a” you can move onto b, c, d, e, f etc (see image below).
Searcher Intent & Funnel Position
Now, we likely have a spreadsheet with a massive number of keyword ideas. For the next step, what we do at WhalePages is we give each piece of content an intent score between 1 and 3. Here is an example of our spreadsheet for content we had planned in previous months. Notice the column for “buyer intent score” (see image below).
A score of 1 meaning there is strong buying intent, 2 meaning there is moderate buying intent and 3 meaning there is weak buying intent.
When looking at searcher intent, for most SaaS companies, you’ll want to zero in on keywords where there is at least some level of buying intent because web searchers will enter onto your website much further down the funnel.
To help make this crystal clear, let’s jump over to our funnel and look at three examples of content in different sections of the funnel.
What is a CRM” is a keyphrase we would give a 3 to in terms of buying intent. If someone doesn’t know what a CRM is, they are not far enough down the funnel yet for us to really want to target them. They are still at a very surface level, information gathering stage.
On the contrary, a search for something like “Best CRM Tools” has much better buying intent. Someone who searches for this search term is much further down the funnel. They are looking for a solution that fits their company’s needs. But they are looking for “tools” as a plural search which means they are close to being ready to buy, but they are still looking to see what options are out there.
Lastly, a search for a phrase like “CRM for real estate” has very high buying intent. This is a bottom of the funnel search where a web searcher has told the search engine that it wants to find a CRM tool (singular) specifically for their industry. This is a super specific search, and intent behind this search is fantastic.
Our goal, especially if we’re just starting out, is to target ranking middle of the funnel and bottom of the funnel contentt.
Of course, if we’re a bigger more established CRM provider and we’ve run out of long tail, high buyer intent content to produce, then yes, we can start targeting this top of the funnel content, but if you’re just starting out don’t get lured into these large search volumes. These search volumes are enticing, but the results they produce are often unimpressive. We’ve seen in countless examples, that a main page ranking for a search term with 300 monthly searches, can bring in more sales than a main page ranking with 10,000 monthly searches.
Search volume, is only one very narrow metric. Our goal in this tutorial, is to give you a more well rounded picture of the real opportunity behind each keyword.
SaaS Keyword Difficulty
Okay, so now we’ve added our keywords to our spreadsheet and given each keyword an intent score out of 3.
So we’ll likely see many keywords here that look really enticing with a decent search volume and favorable intent score. So far so good!
But we don’t want to invest a huge amount of energy into content creation if we don’t stand a chance at ranking for those keywords. In order to figure out how much of a chance we stand for ranking, we need some type of metric to score each keyword for difficulty.
Now using the Keywords Everywhere tool you’ll see that the tool shows paid search competitiveness for each search term. However, at WhalePages, we’ve seen countless examples where a term is very expensive in paid search but wide open for the taking in organic search. So you could use it as a very rough reference, but for the sake of being more precise with our analysis, let’s use other methods to uncover the competitiveness of a term in organic search.
There are a couple of different free ways we can figure out the competitiveness the desired keywords for our SaaS company.
METHOD 1: We can look for quantity of sites producing similar content by manually looking for the number of listings in organic search that have our desired keyphrase in the title or URL (or both).
Everyone will handle this differently and many paid tools exist that provide a very detailed breakdown of these metrics. In an ideal world, we’d have a favorable ratio between the search volume of a keyword and the intitle and inurl numbers. The higher the search volume, and the lower the intitle and inurl numbers are, the better!
But you don’t need paid tools to find this information, you can simply use advanced Google search operators to figure this out.
For example, let’s head over to Google and search for the following:
intitle:”Best CRM” inurl:”best CRM”
Now google will only show results for content that have this search phrase in both the title and URL structure. As you can see in the image below, if we target this keyword we’re goign head to head with 4800 other sites who are targeting the same keyphrase.
We could therefore enter that number into our spreadsheet as an indicator of competitiveness.
METHOD 2: The second way we like to measure the competitiveness of a term in organic search is by using the FREE Moz toolbar chrome extension. You can simply download and install this extension and then conduct your search. We like this method because unlike just giving you a content quantity indicator, it also gives you a content quality (or content strength) indicator.
Let’s search for “best CRM” again. With the extension activated, Moz will now show you the Page Authority (or PA), the Domain Authority (or DA) as well as how many links are pointing to the top pages (see image below).
Notice the competitiveness of these pages. It’s easy to see right off the bat, that ranking for this search term will be difficult.
Most results have a page authority of over 40 and a domain authority of over 70. This is a very competitive search term.
One great way to help you visualize the competitiveness of a search term is to chart out the results on a graph like the one we created below.
If we plot out a 4 quadrant graph, we can plot all of the main page results on it. We simply need to draw an X and Y axis, representing both DA and PA, and then number each axis from 0 to 100, with 50 of course being in the middle.
All you need to do now is start plotting the position of each main page ranking within this chart. If you have a lot of main page positions in the upper left corner, you’re dealing with a really hard keyword to rank for.
If positions #1, #2, and #3 from the results page are in the top left quadrant, it’s probably best to leave this keyword for now. If you have domains with a high domain authority, but low page authority, they will show up in the upper right quadrant. These are difficult positions, but not impossible to land.
However, the low hanging fruit exists in the bottom quadrants. So if you notice listings on the first page of Google falling within those quadrants, this is a signal to you that these keywords will be easier to rank for.
Again, if you’re keeping track of opportunities within a spreadsheet you can take this information and you can insert PA, DA and links into our competitiveness spreadsheet (see an example of our spreadsheet below). You could also number each quadrant as 1, 2,3 and 4, with one being the hardest and 4 being the easiest and show the quadrant number for the top 3 ranking positions. Flag any keyword ideas where the best ranking sites for those keywords have a quadrant score of 3 or 4.
Now, the idea of course, is to look at all of this information and look for strong correlations between the data points.
In terms of content prioritization, you’ll want to focus in on keywords that have decent search volume, strong buying intent, a lower number of sites with the keywords in the title or URL, have have lower DA / PA score and have fewer backlinks pointing in.
Putting this all together, will help you identify your quickest wins.
Keyword Ranking Based on Engagement
Now, before we wrap up today, I want to leave you with one last power hack.
This is an often under-explored part of the keyword competitiveness conversation. Search engines like Google and YouTube are increasingly using engagement metrics as one of their primary ranking factors. If you can manage to both incentivize people to click on your content by using enticing titles, and then have them engage with your content, you’ll be able to beat out sites with substantially higher Domain Authority and more links than your site.
Search engines like Google don’t just monitor DA, PA and backlinks. They have increased their focus on engagement metrics and are monitor things like your listings Click Through Rate (CTR), bounce rate and the amount of time each visitor spends on your site. Google is in the business of satisfying search queries, and it’s our job as content creators to support them in their mission by creating the best and most engaging content possible.
So please don’t look at SEO from a strictly numbers game. If the number one placement for a search term has 8 backlinks, that doesn’t mean you need 9 and you’ll win. maybe you only 1 good link to rank number one, and you’ll find your win through the creation of high quality content that simply engages the searcher much better.
So beat out your competition with better titles, and more engaging content.
With keyword ranking being such an important part of the SaaS growth process, why do so many SaaS companies nelglect this part of of their business? Well the truth is that content creation, link building and SEO in general is hard and time consuming work. It’s not something that can be automated. Creating high quality content is also hard. All of this together, makes the entire SEO process a challenge for SaaS companies. That said, if you can stay consistent with your content creation, content amplification and link building efforts the payoff can be huge!
If on the other hand, you’d like to outsource your SaaS SEO efforts, then head over to our homepage to learn more about how we can help.
Written by Sterling Sweeney: Published Oct 20th, 2019 | Updated Jan 7th, 2020.
Sterling Sweeney is a growth hacker and the driving force behind WhalePages, a company that grows SaaS websites. So, if you have a SaaS company and you’re kinda into things like website traffic and increasing your MRR, then head over to our SaaS marketing agency homepage to learn more.
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