SEO for SaaS: 6-Step Guide to Developing a SaaS SEO Strategy

Discover the proven framework for developing a SaaS SEO strategy, guaranteed to deliver incredible organic growth and increase traffic, signups, and leads from Google month after month after month.

Are you wondering how to increase your SaaS organic traffic? Looking for more information on SaaS SEO and developing an SEO strategy for your brand?

FACT: Practically every SaaS founder, owner, marketer, and SEO wished for a magic marketing formula at some stage of their journey. They’d hoped for that one thing that, once properly implemented, would change everything for their SaaS.

And usually, someone would always point out that there’s no such thing. 

The thing is – When it comes to SaaS, there actually is!  

It’s SEO.

(That said, I still have to point out that the key phrase of the opening sentence wasn’t “magic formula” but “properly implemented,” and you’ll shortly see why that is.) 

If you analyze the growth of the most successful SaaS or software companies, you’ll notice that most of their success can be traced to a single strategy – search engine optimization (SEO.)

According to data from SEMrush, for example, organic search drives the marketing for every top SaaS brand in the world.

  • For SurveyMonkey, organic traffic makes up for 12% of their traffic. 
  • Zendesk receives nearly 20% of its total traffic from Google.  
  • Hubspot – 30%
  • Wix.com – 16% 
  • Twilio – 36%

These percentages mean millions of organic clicks to the site and thousands of new signups, trial users, and paying customers each month for each of those companies.

(In each case, direct visits and referrals drove more traffic than SEO, which only makes sense.)

But it’s not just the SaaS giants who benefit from the opportunity. Many growth stage SaaS businesses achieve similar results:

  • Refiner gets nearly 85% of its traffic from search engines. 
  • SEO powers 41% of traffic for the podcast hosting platform, Castos 
  • SkedSocial receives 44% of its traffic from Google.

Although smaller than the giants we’ve discussed above, these companies also base their growth on search engine traffic and build organic growth engines for their brands. 

In this guide, you’ll learn how to do the same for your SaaS product. 

What you’re going to learn about SEO for SaaS:

  • What is SaaS SEO? We’ll talk about what makes optimizing SaaS websites different from working in other industries. We’ll also discuss the challenges you might face when launching the first SEO strategy for your SaaS.
  • Why do you have no choice but to focus on SEO? In this section, I’ll tell you why SEO is so essential to growing a SaaS business. 
  • The SaaS SEO framework. Here you’ll discover every step and strategy involved in optimizing your website and increasing rankings and traffic. You’ll learn about keyword research, technical SEO, link building, and more. 

Ready?

What is SaaS SEO?

MOZ, one of the pioneering SEO software companies, defines search engine optimization beautifully by calling it:

“The practice of increasing both the quality and quantity of website traffic, as well as exposure to your brand, through non-paid (also known as “organic”) search engine results.”

Although it’s nothing more than a single sentence, the definition uncovers a wealth of information about SEO in general. It tells us that:

  • SEO deals with search engine traffic, but that’s not its primary objective. Sure, it aims to get more visitors from the search engines, but the focus is on attracting more relevant visitors. 
  • SEO also helps increase brand exposure and awareness. By showing up in the search results, a company can introduce itself to customers at different buying cycle stages. 

Finally, we learn that SEO traffic is free. Now, to be clear – You have to pay for SEO in one way or another. Whether you hire a SaaS SEO consultant to optimize your site or bring in people to work on SEO in-house, you will accrue costs associated with the strategy.

But the definition does not refer to this. What it means is that you don’t have to pay for every visit from the organic search. 

This is the opposite of paid traffic acquisition strategies, like Google Ads and other PPC channels. With the PPC model, you pay every time someone clicks on your ad and visits the website. As great as this option is to scale customer acquisition rapidly, it carries with itself one risk: 

When you stop paying, the traffic disappears. 

SEO is different. A strong SEO strategy will continue to generate traffic and leads, even if you’ve stopped actively working on optimizing the site. 

What makes SEO for SaaS different?

The definition above relates entirely to SaaS companies, too, of course. The goal of your SaaS SEO strategy is to generate more quality traffic, raise brand awareness, and increase the number of signups from Google. 

There are, however, subtle differences between optimizing a SaaS website and working in other verticals. 

SaaS SEO is a Content-led Strategy

You’ll see shortly how many different elements make up an entire SEO strategy. However, not all of them are equally important for every vertical. In fact, some verticals require focusing on a completely different aspect of SEO to generate business results. 

SEOs optimizing ecommerce shops, for example, put a lot of emphasis on schema.org and ranking category and product pages. They care about star ratings, reviews, product information, and other similar elements to appear in the SERP and attract the user’s attention. 

When you grow the search visibility of a local business, you tend to optimize for the local search. You set up and optimize a Google My Business listing, Maps listings and ensure that they contain a healthy amount of positive reviews. 

In SaaS, however, the main focus is on creating content that connects you with users at the entire span of the buyer’s journey. 

Here’s how it works. 

First, you aim to attract visitors with four specific buyer intents:

  • People ready to buy a software solution to solve their problem. These people know exactly what problem they need to overcome. They also know that to do it, they need software like yours. 
  • People looking for you, specifically. Those customers have selected your software as the solution to their problem.
  • People evaluating different software solutions. These customers know that various software solutions exist and can help them. But they haven’t decided which one is best for them yet. 
  • People not looking for any software but struggling with problems that your software helps eliminate. This customer group is at the early stages of its buyer journey. These people don’t think about software yet. Instead, they focus their attention on understanding the problem and potential solutions available. Much of your blog content, for example, will gear towards these people. 

In most cases, these people do not google for a SaaS company’s address, phone number, or email, much like you would do when searching for a solicitor or a dentist.

These people search for content. They scout the web for blog posts that can help them understand their problem better. They search for software listicles, landing pages, or comparison pages to discover the different software options on the market. They might even google alternatives to your (or your competitor’s) product. 

For that reason, SEO for SaaS is primarily a content-led strategy. 

When optimizing a SaaS online presence, you don’t generally focus on setting up Google My Business and the company’s local presence. 

Instead, the key to SaaS SEO is to create content for all stages of the marketing funnel and ensure that it ranks as high as possible for its target keywords.

SaaS Sales Process is Different Too

When optimizing a SaaS website, you’re also dealing with a different sales process and buying dynamics. 

First, you might be dealing with two or three different sales processes at once. 

Your company might entice some visitors to sign up for a free trial or create a free account and target bigger customers with a proper sales-based process. 

You might be dealing with a completely self-serve process. In this case, there might be little to no interaction between you and the customer until they create an account. 

Then, you might be using various lead generation strategies to convert blog traffic.

Finally, You’re Working with a Unique Setup

Many SaaS companies have relatively simple and small websites. 

In many cases, such a website consists of just a handful of pages, with most of the content residing in the blog. 

This isn’t a bad thing, by the way.

Such simple architecture prevents many technical SEO issues from occurring. Having fewer page templates in the CMS simplifies overseeing the technical SEO setup of the site too. 

Smaller websites are also easier to crawl and index for search engines (not to mention that lack of those pesky technical issues makes the task even easier.) 

Overall, SEO for SaaS follows the same principles of search engine optimization as any other verticals. However, differences in the selling process, coupled with a different setup, mean that you need to approach SaaS SEO slightly differently.

Why Must SaaS Companies Invest in SEO?

We’ve looked at some of the numbers at the start of this guide. You know that SEO is the primary marketing channel for both the leading SaaS brands and growth scale startups.

But why should you invest in SEO, specifically? 

Let’s look at some of the reasons.

SEO scales SaaS user acquisition and growth

You already know that SaaS SEO is a content-led strategy. Your potential users search for content, primarily. They also convert on those pages. 

And that gives you an incredible opportunity to scale growth and user acquisition exponentially. 

Even a single piece of evergreen content, providing that it’s high-quality, and targets the right keywords, can generate rankings that deliver incredible organic traffic month after month. 

Here’s an example of traffic growth one piece of content on a client’s site generates (along with keyword distribution data):

SaaS SEO traffic data.

With the right conversion strategies, the company behind this content can capture that traffic in the form of demo or trial signups, sales leads, marketing leads, and more. 

Now, if that’s just what one piece achieves, imagine what growth you can achieve with ten pages like this? Or twenty? Or a hundred?

That’s the power of SEO. You can scale your growth exponentially by creating more content, optimizing it, and ensuring that it ranks well for its target keywords. 

But that’s not all, of course.

SEO removes the reliance on PPC for growth

Many new SaaS companies turn to PPC and other forms of performance marketing to attract traffic and boost growth. They launch Google Ads, Facebook Ads, and more to attract users and signups. 

Now, don’t get me wrong, this is a great way to start things up. 

But it isn’t sustainable. 

In the PPC model, you pay for every click to the site, after all. And that means two things:

  1. Once you stop paying for advertising, the traffic stops, and
  2. The more traffic you attract, the higher your PPC bill is going to be. 

In the long run, using PPC for growth is a vicious cycle really. You need it to attract traffic to generate sales, but the more sales you want to make, the higher your cost of acquisition becomes. 

SEO helps you break that cycle. With SEO, you can build a sustainable growth engine and stop relying on paid traffic for sales.

Your competitors are doing SEO already

I do realize that the above sounds like a lame argument. But it is a valid one. 

Think about it; your potential users are searching for information and products in Google already. They ask the search engine for advice, information, and even product recommendations.  

And since almost every SaaS company is engaged in SEO at some point, we can safely assume that your competitors are working towards ranking well in the SERP too. 

Ignoring SEO will pretty much equal handing over the business to them.

I assume that the reason you’re reading this guide is that you desperately don’t want it to happen. 

SaaS SEO Ranking Factors

How your top search engine rankings happen, actually?

At its core, SEO is actually quite simple.

Now, I don’t mean that it’s easy to do, of course. However, the principles of achieving good rankings are pretty straightforward. 

(And this is good news because once you grasp the idea behind SEO, you’ll only have to learn the mechanics of implementing those principles in action.)

So, to begin at the beginning – Google ranks pages (blog posts, landing pages, or any other content, at that) based on various ranking factors. 

Now, there are over 200 of those factors. That said, the search engine confirmed that the three most important ones are: 

  • Content, both quality and its relevance to the searcher’s intent. 
  • Backlinks send a signal of the content’s (and website’s) authority.

RankBrain, the search engine’s system for understanding the user’s intent for researching a specific query.

SaaS SEO Framework

Learn the exact process to position your SaaS at the top of the search results

SEO has a lot of moving parts. 

Some of those elements you focus on occasionally only, and you work on others almost every day. 

Put together, these elements create a powerful strategy that delivers the results you seek – Greater search visibility and more organic traffic, signups, and leads.

Overall, there are eight critical elements to a successful SaaS SEO strategy:

  1. Keyword research, 
  2. Competitive analysis
  3. Technical SEO audits
  4. Content audits
  5. Creating an SEO roadmap and a content strategy,
  6. Content production
  7. Link building
  8. Results tracking and data analysis

Let’s go through them in turn, discuss what each of those elements does, and how to start using it. 

NOTE: Because of this guide’s limitation, I wasn’t able to cover all the many intricacies of those various elements. However, I’ve included links to my more in-depth guides that teach you how to implement those elements specifically. So, you can use this guide as a great starting point, and then, move to those individual tutorials to learn everything about implementing those various elements.

Keyword Research for SaaS Companies

It goes without saying – Your SEO program’s success relies heavily on the quality of your research

In fact, unless you understand how your target audience searches for information, you’ll struggle to:

  • Grasp the full scale of search visibility you need to achieve and all topics and keywords you should be ranking for to grow your business,
  • Understand what topics you should focus on to engage your potential customers, and finally, 
  • Devise an SEO strategy that would position your brand along their entire journey. 

It’s safe to say, actually, that without strong research your strategy will fail short before you’ve even begun any work on it. 

In SEO, research takes the form of finding the right keywords to target content and other assets.

Learn more about keyword research for SaaS.

Technical SEO Audits for SaaS

Keyword research helps you understand how your audience searches for information. It shows you where to build search visibility to connect with potential users. And it forms the basis for the SEO roadmap and your content calendar, of course. 

So, having that list of keywords to target ready may feel like you’re ready to get cracking – creating content and working on achieving good rankings. 

In reality, though, there are a few more steps that you need to take beforehand. 

The first one is to evaluate your website’s technical structure. 

The goal for this process is to identify and eliminate any potential technical issues that might prevent your current and new content from ranking well in the SERPs. 

The process begins with a complete technical website audit (aka SEO audit.)

To explain it in the simplest terms, when you conduct an SEO audit, you evaluate the site in pretty much the same way as a search engine would. 

You check how well the site is built, whether it passes all the critical criteria a search engine would look out for when crawling and indexing it, and identify steps to take to improve its organic performance. 

Once completed, the SEO audit will reveal: 

  • Why your site ranks how it does in the SERPs for target keywords, 
  • What are the roadblocks – technical SEO issues – that prevent it from ranking better, 
  • What you need to do to improve those rankings, and generate more signups and leads for your SaaS. 

Some of the technical issues to evaluate during an audit include:

  • Crawler accessibility and site indexability
  • Robots.txt file
  • XML sitemap
  • Site architecture
  • On-page and content optimization
  • Image optimization
  • Internal link structure
  • Structured data errors
  • Backlink profile
  • Site authority
  • User experience-related factors
  • Susceptibility to search engine updates (e.g., Panda, Penguin, etc.) and more.

Content Audits for SaaS

Technical SEO audit helps you understand your site’s performance on the whole. 

The content audit drills down the content data and helps you answer why your content is performing the way it does, and what you can do to improve it. 

A content audit can be as extensive as you need it to be, depending on your goals. Overall, it can help you understand:

  • What content do you have on the site, 
  • How is this content organized, and whether this structure supports SEO crawlability and indexability, 
  • Which pages perform well, and which ones fail to attract organic visitors,
  • What topics you might be lacking any content on,
  • Which topics aren’t necessary for your strategy and can be pruned,
  • A content audit will also help you understand the overall on-page SEO optimization of your content, and spot weak spots in how well your content is optimized for SEO.

Regardless of its size, each content audit follows the same process, roughly:

  1. You first establish goals for the audit. For example, you might aim to evaluate your content overall, or find pages that miss the mark when it comes to their search visibility. 
  2. Then, you collect all the content that you want to audit. It can be all the content you have or pages within a specific category or section of the site. 
  3. With the list of pages to analyze at hand, you begin the actual audit. The process here depends on what information you’re trying to uncover. 
  4. Finally, you identify action steps for each page you’ve identified as needing attention.

Developing a Content Strategy for SaaS

An SEO content strategy defines all the pages that you will create to rank and appear in the search results. It’s based on your keyword research and the content audit, and includes three major elements:

  • How you’re going to organize the content to support SEO
  • What pages you will create, and
  • Your content production plan

Let’s briefly discuss all those elements in turn, then. 

Content Organization

Each website has a structure. The structure defines how pages are organized, and where they appear in the navigation. 

The structure also defines the types of pages on the site:

  • Website pages like features, use cases, industries, integrations, and more. 
  • Content marketing assets like blog posts, long-form guides, content hubs, case studies, and more. 

Now, not all pages on the site will have any SEO value. Your legal page or T&C’s for example will carry little SEO weight. The homepage or content marketing assets, on the other hand, will be at the very centre of the SEO strategy. 

Content organization begins with the process called keyword mapping. As the name suggests, the process helps you map keywords to relevant pages. It helps you understand what topics you have covered already, whether those pages deliver on the search intent, and also, whether those pages reside in the right place within the site’s architecture. 

Content Ideas

Content ideas include all topics and ideas for new content that you want to create. Those ideas are based on new keywords you’ve identified, and list all the different blog posts and other content assets that you need to create to generate visibility for those keywords. 

Your content plan can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be. 

Personally, I like to include the following information when developing content ideas for clients:

  • Topic cluster – Defines which specific topic the idea belongs to. Organizing ideas in clusters helps me develop a strong interlinking strategy to support those page’s growth. 
  • Content idea – The actual idea, based on the research into what type of content Google prefers to rank for the keyword. 
  • Target keyword and its search volume – Define what is the primary search phrase that you want to rank for. 
  • SERP intent – Also define what searchers are looking for when typing the keyword into the search box. 
  • Type of content – Based on the SERP analysis, what is the most prominent type of content ranking. 
  • Minimum length – How much content do you need, at minimum, to match top-ranking pages. 
  • Similar content to outrank – What specific pages will you be battling against for rankings?

Content production

Finally, content production outlines the plan for creating and publishing your ideas. 

I recommend that you decide on the volume of content that you can produce each month. It should be the volume that you are comfortable with creating, and one that allows you to produce the highest quality content each month. 

Then, organize content ideas to fill in the content volume for each month. 

All those three elements combined will give you the content strategy to include into the roadmap. 

Link Building for SaaS

Remember how, when talking about ranking factors, we established that three of them play the biggest role in your SEO success? Those three most critical ranking factors were: content, links, and RankBrain. 

Remember? 

Well, link building is your way of acquiring those backlinks to fuel rankings, organic traffic, and leads. 

Link building can take many forms (we call those, link building strategies.) For example:  

  • You can build links organically by publishing link-worthy content to attract mentions and references. 
  • You could conduct outreach to promote this content further and win more backlinks. 
  • You could guest post on other sites and earn links this way. 
  • Another strategy is to partner with other tools that your product integrates with, and getting links from the other company’s website. 

What’s important to remember is that link building is a complex strategy. It’s easy to build the wrong type of links, and receive a Google penalty. Earning high-quality links takes time and effort. 

It’s well worth it, though. 

You see, links work like votes up for your content. The more such votes up, and the greater quality they are, the more authoritative your domain (and page) look. 

It’s that simple. 

Learn more about how to build links for SaaS.

Measuring SaaS SEO Results

The final, and equally important part of SaaS SEO strategy is a system for measuring and tracking results. 

In fact, I would go as far as saying that you can’t build a strong visibility in search engines without it. 

(But the same could be said for other elements of the strategy, of course.)

In short, measurement is key. The data helps you evaluate performance, spot areas that might need improvement, and introduce tweaks to the strategy to improve the results. 

Unfortunately, results monitoring is also something that many SEO brands get wrong (or don’t do at all, actually.)

There are a few elements to measure in a typical SaaS SEO strategy:

Performance in the search engines, and these metrics would include:

  • Rankings and ranking change
  • Growth of the organic search traffic

Engagement metrics that confirm whether the strategy attracts the right audience:

  • Time on page
  • Bounce rate
  • Return visitors

Business results and conversions that tell whether the SEO strategy is bringing the desired results. 

In this case, metrics to measure would correlate to your sales process. Depending on your sales model, these could include:

  • Demo requests
  • Trial (or free account) signup
  • Downloading lead magnets like eBooks or guides,
  • Registering an account, etc. 

How to track SEO progress?

Various tools offer the data and metrics to evaluate your progress. 

Both Ahrefs and SEMrush offer great rank tracking tools. However, if you want to collect more in-depth rank tracking data, you could consider a dedicated rank tracker like Accuranker. 

Google Analytics and Google Search Console are ideal for monitoring organic search traffic. 

Tracking conversions might be more problematic, although you could start by creating relevant Google Analytics goals to monitor conversions from the organic traffic. 

In this guide, I explain how to do it when converting traffic from the blog.