Welcome to the Complete 2022 Guide for SaaS SEO.
If you are reading this, chances are you’re interested in building a search engine optimization strategy for your SaaS company. Perhaps you’ve always heard you should “do” SEO. Or maybe you’re already running a content marketing strategy but want to more closely tailor your SEO to drive web traffic.
In any case, you’ve come to the right place. This article explains exactly how to build a SaaS SEO campaign, broken down into step by step instructions. Whether you are familiar with SEO or a total novice, we provide you with the information you need to get started.
Most people today identify potential software vendors through Google. SaaS SEO enables you to compete on google against other companies in your industry to gain visibility with your target customers and provide valuable information.
Developing a competent, comprehensive, and coherent SaaS SEO strategy can enable you to expand your business organically. As we discuss in our article on SEO ROI, SEO can continue to pay off long after your agency contract has run its course or you’ve done the bulk of the work. SEO is a strategy that continues paying dividends for years.
Search engine optimization as a term is a bit misleading. Optimization implies a one-time project that leaves you better off than you were before, and many agencies sell that, but rarely if ever does it drive the results that the client expects.
A search engine visibility campaign consists of multiple parts that work together to improve rankings across Google, Bing, and other search engines. There are some simple methods you can use to estimate the ROI of an SEO campaign.
Investing in SEO tends to pay off when you are selling a high-margin B2B product that is mainstream enough that people use search engines to identify companies and make purchasing decisions.
Remember – investing in organic search can pay dividends long after you have done the bulk of the work. SEO will probably work for you if:
Your buyers typically use Google to identify companies in your sector and make purchasing decisions.
You are investing in other marketing channels and want to add in SEO (instead of entirely relying on SEO for lead generation).
SEO can work for 90% of companies. Whether it’s a local barbershop or a third-party risk management company, people do an enormous amount of research on the web. However that doesn’t mean SEO is a good fit for every SaaS business. Here are a few scenarios where SEO might not be the right call:
You need business/leads immediately
You have a tight marketing budget and already are succeeding with PPC ads
You work in an extremely niche industry that doesn’t typically reliant on search
Even in cases where it might not make sense to invest lots of time and effort into a full search visibility campaign, publishing some optimized content can’t hurt.
So without further ado:
It’s important to understand SEO isn’t one thing, it’s a combination of tactics that will improve search visibility over a period of months to years. Here are the core elements of what creates a successful SEO campaign:
Content Creation & Optimization
Backlinks are fairly simple. They are other websites that link back to your website. It’s important to understand that backlinks come in two different flavors – do-follow backlinks and no-follow backlinks.
Most content on social media sites and directories are no-follow backlinks. This essentially means that they don’t pass reputation on to your site.
The other type of links are do-follow backlinks. Unless the link is from a site that no-follow is the standard, or the author of the content intentionally inserts HTML to make the link no-follow, the vast majority of links are do-follow.
This means that the website is passing a degree of reputation on to your site, and more is passed on for each link (with diminishing returns).
The other thing to understand with backlinks is that the quality and niche of the linking site matters. If you are a cybersecurity company, getting a link from a cybersecurity news site, or even another well established cybersecurity company is worth far more than getting a link from a cooking site or a random blog.
To analyze backlinks you need a specialized SEO tool, there’s simply no way around it. We recommend Ahrefs – it’s simple and easy to use. Pay particular attention to the number of total backlinks, and the number of unique referring domains.
As a general rule of thumb if you have dozens of unique referring domains, you probably need to build more. If you have hundreds, you may be ok, if you have thousands you’re missing a huge opportunity to write optimized content.
Don’t buy backlinks from Fiverr, or other shady websites. It likely won’t help, and it can get your site penalized by Google. Instead you need to create a strategy to build links. This can include asking partners to link to your site, customers (where it makes sense), joining business groups, and running PR campaigns.
If you would like to learn more about backlinks for SaaS companies stay tuned – we will be publishing a blog specifically on that topic in the next few months.
Optimized content is probably the most important part of SEO. Even companies that write lots of content on their site over a period of years that isn’t optimized still usually end up ranking for some valuable keywords.
Keyword research can be easy or challenging based on your business. We again recommend using Ahrefs due to how straightforward keyword research is and the fact that they offer a $7 free trial.
The first step should be to identify your top competitors and see what keywords they are ranking for. Many of them you will find won’t have invested in an SEO approach, but the few that have may be ranking for thousands or even tens of thousands of keywords.
This can prove to be an excellent starting point for your own SEO strategy. Go through 5 or 6 competitors and identify the best keywords they are currently ranking for. As a general rule, shorter keywords are going to be harder to rank for “cybersecurity” than “cybersecurity HIPAA compliance”.
SaaS companies run the gamut. There are companies that sell relatively low-priced products (think productivity tools for employees) that may be able to sell subscriptions directly off of high- intent keywords.
Conversely, there are also tools and products that have buying cycles ranging from months to years. For these organizations SEO is going to be as much about building brand recognition, MQL’s, and trust as it is about directly generating SQL’s.
Take the time to understand how your target audience purchases products in your space and focus on keywords that will help them along the buyer’s journey. If your sales cycle is long it makes more sense to educate and provide value to prospects through SEO rather than try to rank for extremely high-intent keywords to directly generate business.
Once you have a long list of keywords, sort your keywords into “informational/educational” and “high-intent”. A high-intent keyword would be something like:
“SEO agencies for SaaS companies”
While an informational keyword might be something like:
“How does SEO benefit SaaS companies”
Then develop a plan to create content and rank for both types of keywords. Informational keywords are almost always best tackled through developing comprehensive blog content. High intent keywords will typically be product or benefit pages on your website.
Create a content calendar outlining the content you plan to publish around both types of keywords.
Planning your content doesn’t have to be overly difficult. We recommend creating content clusters of blog posts that are grouped together by the topic being discussed. First identify the cornerstone topic of your posts, for example, “SaaS SEO”. Or if you are in cybersecurity, “Cybersecurity Compliance”.
Cornerstone content needs to be comprehensive, valuable to the consumer, and provide a complete overview of the topic. So for example this blog is an example of cornerstone content designed to rank for “SaaS SEO”. In the future we will be writing other blogs such as:
SaaS Link Building
SaaS SEO ROI
SaaS Onsite Optimization
SaaS Conversion Rate Optimization
And other more niche blogs that cover specific subtopics in detail. We can then build links directly to our cornerstone content (this article) then build internal links to our subtopic blogs (to be discussed later).
Creating SEO optimized content is about creating a delicate balance between turning out lots of content, maintaining quality, and ensuring content is optimized to rank for specific keywords. Below we are going to list the best practices for creating highly optimized content.
Answering search intent is the most important element of SEO. Before you begin writing even your first piece of content you need to search the term that you are considering trying to rank for. Look at the top 5-10 results and ask yourself the following questions:
What do the top results for this search look like? Are they informational (blog posts) or product pages?
How high-quality are the top results for this search?
Headers are one of the most important elements of creating SEO optimized content. It’s simple but often overlooked, particularly by companies that lack experience in SEO. Headers break up an article into dozens of discrete sections that enable users to quickly navigate through to the content that is most valuable to them.
They also provide valuable signals to Google about what your content is about outside of just keyword density. Imagine reading this article without clear headers to break up the content and with just a title “SaaS SEO: The Complete 2022 Guide” – you would probably feel extremely overwhelmed (if not on the verge of a nervous breakdown).
You should only ever have one H1 header in a post, and that is the title of the article. It is best practice to put your keyword at the beginning of the title rather than the end. This article is designed to rank for “SaaS SEO” so my title is “SaaS SEO – The Complete 2022 Guide” instead of “The Complete 2022 Guide to SaaS SEO”.
For most wordpress environments (unless the theme overrides it) as well as for squarespace and Wix, the title/h1 header is automatically generated when a post or page is created based on the name for that post or page.
H2’s and H3’s enable you to break up your content into discrete, self-contained sections while also providing Google valuable insight into what other terms it might make sense to rank your content for.
Google often pulls headers, particularly in long posts and when competition for a keyword is weak, and ranks the post for that keyword. For example this post may end up ranking for terms like “SaaS SEO Campaign” just because that is an H2 header contained in the post.
H2 headers should at the very least have several paragraphs of content underneath them, and at least a few of your H2 headers should reflect (in some way) the primary keyword you are trying to rank for.
Pro Tip: Don’t overdo it and keyword stuff your main keyword into too many headers. This can lead to poor user experience, which can lead to very high bounce rates which are a negative ranking signal to Google.
H3 headers aren’t quite as important but can be a useful tool to help further structure very long content and provide additional clarity to readers.
Not the food. EAT stands for expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness and is one of Google’s KEY ranking factors. EAT is determined by the expertise Google sees of the person writing the content (one reason why your blogs should always have an author with a bio).
Google scans the web to include LinkedIn, as well as other sites and identifies whether the individual writing the content is referenced and other places as an expert in what they are writing about. A marketing person writing Fintech articles is less likely to rank than a financial analyst.
Content length is another critical ranking factor. Many companies (and some SEO agencies unfortunately) will create numerous 250-600 word blog posts and hope that it is enough to adequately rank their company.
For very low search volume/low competition keywords this can work to an extent, but is largely not worth the effort or time involved.
The best thing you can do to understand content length is to take a look at what is currently ranking and google and try to increase the length by 50%-100% while still providing value and not creating unnecessary fluff.
For most articles we recommend a minimum of 1000 words. For cornerstone content aim for 2000-3000 words as long as you can provide additional value for the additional content length.
Text gets boring. Nobody wants to read 3,000 words without any other form of content in between. Adding images (with alt text), videos, and other forms of content can dramatically improve your chances of ranking while also creating more valuable content for your users.
Don’t just throw in stock images though. Take the time to include product screenshots from your SaaS offering and other unique content that can’t be found on other sites. (And yes we are guilty of using stock images too, there’s only so much time in a day).
Content cannibalization is one of the cardinal mistakes in SEO. A business owner once asked me, “If we really want to rank for a term, why not write 10 pages about it?!”
The problem is if you write multiple pages on exactly the same topic, it confuses Google and can harm your rankings for that term rather than help them.
Look at the URL’s in the above picture. Do you see a trend? Those are the Ahrefs results for companies currently ranking for the keyword “SaaS SEO”. Notice that none of those companies have the URL –
Your URL is another opportunity to tell Google exactly what keyword you are trying to rank for. Keep it short, keep it simple, and ensure that it includes the specific term you are aiming for.
Believe it or not, links going to other peoples websites serve as a Google ranking skill. The marketing agency Reboot conducted a study and found that content that linked to trustworthy sites had better rankings than content that didn’t contain links to other sites. Don’t go overboard, but one or two external links to high quality, trusted sources can help you rank better.
So by this point you should be getting a pretty idea on how to shape your SaaS SEO strategy. Most of SEO isn’t overly complicated. Identify keywords, write content around those keywords in a way that Google understands what that content is about, and build links to your content.
Technical optimization can be a little bit more tricky, particularly if you aren’t overly familiar with WordPress or the CMS you are currently using. Let’s go over a few of the biggest things to look for.
Pro Tip: It’s worth noting that many SEO agencies conduct a “technical optimization”, fix some minor errors on your site, and don’t do much else. Technical SEO on it’s own is very unlikely to provide significant results. Don’t get locked into an annual contract with a SaaS SEO provider that only focuses on technical optimization.
Broken links are terrible for SEO. Page experience is a key component of SEO. If your users are attempting to use your website, click on a dead link, and bounce back off the page you are actively hurting your SEO.
In addition, when Google crawls pages it follows links. Think of the term web in “world wide web” – the internet is literally a spider web of pages linking to each other. Google bots follow each of those threads and categorize content based on search intent and keywords.
If your site is filled with broken links you are actively making it more difficult for Google to adequately crawl your site, thus hurting your SEO. Use a tool such as Ahrefs or Semrush to crawl your site and identify bad links. Replace them or remove them.
Sites that lack HTTPS very rarely rank well for anything. HTTPS is a critical component of a well performing website in general, and particularly one that is attempting to rank well for terms. Google even spells out specifically that insecure sites damage rankings:
For these reasons, over the past few months we’ve been running tests taking into account whether sites use secure, encrypted connections as a signal in our search ranking algorithms. We’ve seen positive results, so we’re starting to use HTTPS as a ranking signal – Google Developer Blog in 2014
HTTPS should be provided automatically by most hosting companies. If it isn’t, contact your hosting company support or use a lightweight plugin to encrypt traffic to and from your site.
An XML sitemap is simply a hierarchical list of the URLs on your website. While it is a relatively minor ranking factor, it is worth taking the time to upload your XML sitemap on google search console to make it easier for google to crawl your site.
Meta descriptions aren’t an SEO factor in and of themselves. When Google crawls a page it will automatically pull a text excerpt that the algorithm considers most representative of the content on said page.
However, writing out your meta description is a far better idea since it’s likely that you can write a more catchy and interesting meta description than Google can.
While meta descriptions aren’t a ranking factor, they do influence clickthrough rate which is definitively a ranking factor.
The internal linking structure of a site deserves it’s own section. The way you distribute link power on your site can make or break your SEO strategy. Back in olden times (about 5 years ago in SEO time) you could look on any page on your site and see Google’s PageRank for it (on a scale of 1-10). According to Larry Page:
PageRank works by counting the number and quality of links to a page to determine a rough estimate of how important the website is. The underlying assumption is that more important websites are likely to receive more links from other websites.
This number essentially told you how important that page was considered on your website based on both the number of internal and external links that were pointing to it. Google now has that number hidden, but the underlying logic remains the same.
The more internal links & external links that a page has going to it, the better it is going to rank over time.
First think about (and check using Ahrefs URL reputation or a similar tool). Most companies are going to find that most of their backlink juice is flowing to their home page. From there, most websites will have a menu that will distribute it out to other main pages on the site (and yes, menu’s count as internal links to individual pages).
Pro Tip: Take a look at your current rankings. Are you on the second page or third page for any key terms already (either product pages or blog posts)? Adding a link to those pages in the footer or from the home page can help push them up to page 1.
Your most important content should get the most internal links. You can then use your cornerstone content to distribute links out to other content within the cluster. This enables you to have a linking structure that flows down from your most valuable pages to your less valuable pages.
It also enables you to increase the Pagerank on pages that are going to be the most competitive (cornerstone content like “SaaS SEO” while passing some link equity to other pages that may have less competition).
SEO isn’t an exact science, Google employs hundreds of ranking signals to determine which content should be at the top for any given query. That being said, if your content isn’t ranking after six months it might be time to consider a rewrite or adding additional value to it in some way.
Results from SEO are almost always a mixture of the number of backlinks a website has, SEO optimized content, and the amount of time said content has been on the website. Most organizations will start to see very initial (not page 1) rankings within weeks of posting content.
Usually to start hitting page 1 it takes several months, and 6+ months to start seeing leads come in and exponentially increasing organic traffic. This time frame varies heavily though. If you are a brand new company with a very new website it can take 1+ years to see results.
Hiring an SEO agency can enable you to get the benefits of a full-time SEO lead, technical SEO specialist, and writer at the cost of hiring one person (or less). We help SaaS companies leverage SEO to drive leads by bringing years of SEO and content marketing experience to drive results for our clients. Contact us for a free SEO Analysis of your SaaS website and a writeup of recommendations.
Find out if SEO is the right move for your business.