Growing a SaaS business can be scary and investing in SEO can be even scarier, especially with so many self-proclaimed SEO agencies that may not deliver what they sell you. How can you be sure you’re doing the right things to grow your SaaS business organically? What is the secret to doing SEO properly? Why is SEO for a SaaS business different than SEO for so many other business models?
In this guide we’ll break down our proven system developed over 13+ years of doing SEO for SaaS companies like Segment, JotForm, E*TRADE, Bit.ly, CrazyEgg and more. Enjoy!
SaaS SEO Framework Overview
SaaS SEO framework is best explained by breaking down and identifying the various components of a strategy. These pieces work together to produce powerful, measurable results for SaaS companies. By the end of this guide, we hope to leverage your team’s time and resources and implement SEO best practices and strategies in order for your SaaS company to grow. As always, if there are any gaps or items you’re unable to perform yourself, you can always reach out to SimpleTiger for any questions related to SEO.
In order to fully understand what SEO (search engine optimization) is and how it applies to SaaS (Software as a Service) companies, we need to define two things:
SaaS companies as a business model
A proven SEO framework
The SaaS Business Model
In short, a SaaS business model is one that charges customers for access to a software product, tool or suite of tools for a specific purpose. SaaS companies are unique from other business models because they are based on a product that is not tangible or has limited use. It can be modified, updated, improved, and pivoted for a variety of cases and industries. Features can be added in order to create new markets and categories and this gives SaaS companies a unique opportunity to compete in the organic search space with SEO. Overall, this is a powerful marketing methodology for scalable, exponential growth.
The Proven SaaS SEO Framework
SEO can be complicated, but SimpleTiger likes to keep it simple. For this reason, we’ve developed a framework that we’ve used for over a decade which has helped SaaS companies achieve massive growth through SEO. We work hard to educate our clients on this framework so they can understand how SEO works and how it can be used to drive results.
SaaS SEO Ranking Factors
While the SaaS business model can be explained in a few sentences, the concept of SEO is a bit more complex. There are many factors that impact the way a given site ranks on Google. With an artificially intelligent search engine, these factors are changing all the time. This is why it can be essential to have some understanding of the industry in order to see results. Here are some of the most influential factors that can influence how your site ranks on Google according to importance:
1. User Engagement Metrics - This includes how visitors engage with a site and is measured by like dwell time (how long someone stays on your site), clicks and interactions with your content, page views (the number of pages on your site that are viewed), what page visitors exit on and if they hit the back button or bounce from your site early. Google considers how engaged users are and how they find content as the most important metric. The higher-quality the engagement, the better the experience for users. This means your content must be written well and easy to find with a Google search. Google benefits with higher ad revenue and user engagement metrics have recently influenced the way sites are ranked within the search engine since 2017.
2. Link Metrics - These metrics have been used by SEO professionals for many years as the most reliable way to increase rankings. Link metrics include strategies such as:
Linking another domain to your own
Linking internally on your site
Relevance and choice of anchor text pointing to your site
Knowing the domain authority of both the domain and the page you are linking to
Knowing the domain authority of your site and the various pages on it
You’ll also want to be aware of the nature of no-follow vs followed links and how they point back to your site, as well as the placement of the link on the source page. There are several other metrics that determine the success of a link building strategy, but these are the most essential.
3. Onsite Content - This is a broad category of ranking factors, but it can be narrowed down to some critical factors. These might include:
The target keyword in your title tag
How pages are optimized for your target keywords within your site’s header navigation
How keywords are positioned in your content, such as whether they are placed in page headers and intro paragraphs
How your content targets a certain term
The length of the content
How pages are cross-linked to other relevant pages on the site
The coverage around the given topic and use of relevant keywords
Interactive content features such as tiles or cards that link to other features or pages
Of course, other factors relating to onsite content can also influence whether or not a page might rank. Quality is important for readers, and you should be providing them with helpful information about your product or the industry. Not only does this encourage traffic through other channels, but it also increases the likelihood of return visitors and shares--all good things that Google recognizes.
4. Technical Structure and Usability - While these factors influence user engagement, they also have some impact on the way your site is crawled, indexed and how quickly it can rank. The fewer resources and time Google has to spend crawling and indexing a site, the faster it is likely to rank. The technical structure of your site includes factors such as how quickly pages load, which can also be an important consideration when it comes to user engagement. Google also looks at how well your site’s link architecture is constructed and the amount of HTTP status errors present (404s, 500s, 30Xs, etc.). These are discovered when Google crawls your site, as well as any configurations to robots.txt, sitemap.xml files, or the way your site handles CSS and JS files. Your CNDs are also scrutinized for how quickly they are rendered.. All of these items, while technical in nature, ultimately affect user engagement, search engine rankings, and traffic. Most of all, they are a good foundational base for a well-built site.
Once we have considered these SEO ranking factors, we can utilize SimpleTiger’s framework in order to organize our efforts into actions that benefit a SaaS SEO project. Over time, Google will evolve the SEO industry will discover new ranking strategies, tactics, and actions we can employ that lead to positive results. Our SEO framework has been built with this in mind and will continue to provide value even through the changes Google makes.
Keyword research for SaaS companies consists of determining what keywords users search within Google and other search engines in order to find the SaaS product or solution they’re looking for. There are many different facets to the way searchers use keywords when using Google and understanding searcher intent can be the single most important aspect of keyword research and building a strategy
The idea behind searcher intent is predicting what the results searcher expects to see when using a search engine. SimpleTiger likes to take an in-depth approach to keyword research and what the overall results are for a given term. It also can help to keep in mind why a potential customer might be searching for that particular keyword, especially if your product falls under a highly competitive niche. This is why we like to perform the same search ourselves. We closely analyze the first several results in order to get an idea of what sort of content Google “thinks” is relevant for the chosen keyword. You’ll begin to see what sites users are engaging with and the types of content that are ranking well.
After building a list of keywords, we pull research data from a variety of tools. We’ll talk about the tools we use and keyword volume and difficulty later in the guide. Finally, we finish our framework with a targeted keyword list. It can be refined and expanded on, but even a basic list can serve as a solid foundation as you start on building your SEO strategy.
Keyword research is one of the most foundational aspects of technical structure in SEO. Technical structure is important because if the foundation of your site is broken or flawed in some way, it could negatively impact any links or content you build in the future. We tend to address the technical areas of a site in order to make sure we’re building quality content assets and that your site is a stable enough platform to handle it.
First, we analyze the technical structure of your site by performing a technical audit. This allows us to get an idea of any and all issues that pertain to SEO and could be impacting how users and Google access content on your site. We’ll offer more information on how we perform technical audits later in this guide, but keep in mind that we usually analyze the site using a few tools. Which ones we use depends on how thorough we want the technical audit to be. Once we have determined which areas need to be repaired, we create priorities of what to fix first.
At SimpleTiger, we prioritize the repairs that need to be made on several factors: time vs impact and cost vs impact. If you’re a mature SaaS company, you likely have a team of people managing different parts of your company’s website, including a team of developers who keep it running smoothly. They’ll know pretty quickly how difficult it is to implement these changes and can give you a timeline for fixing these issues. Other SaaS companies may hire out implementations to a contracting developer who will charge per project for repairs. We like to focus on the repairs that will have the greatest impact and the most value for the time and money you’ve invested. After that, we usually address lower-priority items.
We’ll continue monitoring your site’s technical structure because it’s common to have pages on a site move or break. If this is the case, we like to know as soon as possible so we can quickly work to fix those issues.
Now that we have explained some of the more technical aspects of SEO, the more creative and people-oriented components start to emerge. This is also the area where we start to get into more impactful SEO actions--unless your site still has technical issues to address. Content strategy consists of looking at the target customer you’re trying to appeal to, their intent when searching for keywords, the actual keywords they’re searching for and what content is available to provide them information so they make a purchase. Building a good content strategy requires us to take an objective look at your website and determine where the target keywords should be placed. Additional pages may need to be created in order to target keywords that don’t currently have corresponding content on the site. Lastly, we’ll need to look at how content should be organized and structured so it creates a relevant hierarchy structure built for user engagement.
A good content strategy doesn’t just look at the existing pages already on your site or the pages that need to be created for increased user engagement. Content strategy also includes looking at the longer-term production cycle of content around targeted longtail topics. This ensures that you’re covering every base when it comes to keywords associated with your industry and that you’re establishing yourself as an authority within that space. Over time, this will allow your site to rank better for your targeted keywords. This can take a significant amount of time and most content writers find themselves in the all-too-common “wandering in the desert” analogy by producing blog articles and site content without relying on any objective.
Because this is such a common problem, we've developed a content production strategy that allows us to look deeper into the ongoing content needs of a client’s site. We craft a plan based on relevant data and trends in your target market and determine what content needs to be produced and added to your site. We’ll go deeper into the content strategy components of a SaaS SEO project later in this guide.
Finally, we create an offsite strategy to determine what types of links need to be built to your site. We consider which page(s) we want to link to, which sites to build links from, and what authority is needed in order for your site to rank. There are many areas of SEO that have been plagued with corrupt optimization tactics and link building remains one of the most common SEO tactics guilty of this offense. This is because for many years, links to pages were the main factor in rankings and there was much to gain by taking advantage of Google’s algorithm. The true purpose of link building is to create a strong, reputable link profile that shows Google and potential visitors that your site is an authority in your industry. Trust and authority are intertwined when it comes to how a site is analyzed by Google, and it should be carefully considered by anyone looking to achieve results through SEO.
While there are a number of link building techniques and tactics that have come and gone, SimpleTiger stands by an authentic and intentional process of PR when building links for our clients. Our team reaches out to contributors at various publications (both generic and niche to our clients’ industries) and pitches content ideas based around a single piece of content on our client’s site. We typically provide exclusive information or a sensational story we’ve created exclusively for this piece of content. Interested contributors are usually happy to link to our clients’ content as resources and use it as a reference for the story they are trying to tell. This works as a win-win: the publication is given easy access to exclusive, interesting data and stories while our clients receive a quality link back to their sites in the process.
Building links is exciting because your company isn’t spending the same budget on ads which eventually will be taken down as soon as you no longer have a budget for it. Instead, a link goes live and continues to add more and more value over time. Google loves to see old links that have been around for years. The longer they’ve indexed the link relationship, the more we often find search engines trust the site the link is pointing to. As you build these links, they will continue to serve as assets and will compound over time in order to help your site. Not only will you begin to rank better for your target keywords, but that ranking will remain over time. A good link profile is difficult to build and your competition will have to work hard in order to outpace your rankings.
We’ll go into more depth on our link building process and how it is done for SaaS companies later on in this guide, but in short, this portion of the SEO framework is often the most time consuming. However, an excellent link building and content production strategy will eventually drive your desired results.
Wrapping up the Framework
Hopefully, this framework has provided you with an understanding of how the components of SEO work together to influence your site’s ranking on Google.. As we move forward through this guide, we’ll explore each category in more depth. We’ll explain how this framework complements specific SEO strategies and tactics that you can employ in order to help your SaaS company succeed at SEO. These strategies are completely specific to SaaS companies and should not be applied to other business models such as e-commerce, publishing, service companies, and more. Finally, we’ll get into tracking and reporting SEO results and what a realistic timeline to expect these results will look like.
Now that you know our basic framework we can proceed!
Keyword Research for SaaS Companies
The single most important part of SEO is research. First, you must define your target customer personas, keywords they use in search queries and the intentions behind their searches. There are a variety of tools, tips and tactics for performing good keyword research. In this guide, we’re going to focus on the SaaS business model and how our keyword research process is designed to find the best terms that perform, rank and convert well in search.
Gather & Brainstorm Keyword Ideas
To begin the keyword research process you’ll want to pull together any data you have on your target customers and begin the process of brainstorming. It’s recommended to brainstorm with your team because there are numerous ways your target customers will be searching for you. Having multiple perspectives will be extremely beneficial. Plan an hour or two for the initial process.
At SimpleTiger we’ve developed a Keyword Research Template, built in Google Sheets, that helps us quickly get keyword research off to a productive and organized start. We recommend downloading our template or building your own.
We’ll start by identifying and building out a few categories which will help us group the different types of keywords we discover. Keep in mind, you can always change the categories at a later time. Below are examples of keyword categories specific to a SaaS business model:
Product Type (general) - Think of general terms for this column like software, system, solution, platform, tool, etc.
Solutions - If your product provides multiple solutions, then think about terms that relate to your product from a solution perspective. Examples include: increase traffic, reduce risk, website security, accounting automation, etc.
Features - Your product likely contains multiple features so break these out as keywords. Examples include: accounting import, security portal, export data, api integration, etc.
Industries & Clients - Unless your company only serves one type of client, it’s likely there are multiple client types or industries that dominate the majority of your product’s adoption. We recommend including these as keywords. Further into your marketing strategy, you’ll be able to target them with content. Examples include: Accounting, Aviation, Transportation, Manufacturing, Hospitality, Retail, Enterprise, etc.
Integrations - Many SaaS products integrate with other platforms and tools. This can be useful considering other companies have search volume for their brand name, which you can leverage within your SEO efforts. We recommend using every known integration partner. Examples include: HubSpot, QuickBooks, Stripe, Slack, Facebook, Drift, SalesForce, SquareSpace, etc.
Competitor Alternatives - Often times there’s a competitor who is already dominant in your space. For example, let’s say you’re building a CRM tool and Salesforce is your competitor. Try using terms like salesforce alternative or competitors of salesforce to get interesting keyword suggestions and content ideas.
We like to organize our Keyword Research Template with an “Ideas” tab; used for early-stage brainstorming. We can then create a column for each “Idea” of the above categories. Next, we’ll load all of the keyword ideas under each category column. Eventually, we’ll combine these terms together in different ways and develop entirely new categories to ensure we’re completely organized throughout the process.
Let’s begin pulling keywords from all sources such as Google Search Console, paid keywords you may have previously targeted, keywords you’ve thought of on your own, search tools, and placing them on a master list to be organized later. Try different orderings of keywords considering they could technically carry different search intent depending on the situation. For example, saas keyword research could mean the user is looking for a software tool that helps with keyword research, while keyword research for saas likely means the user is looking to learn how to do keyword research for a SaaS company.
Another tip is to try the plural and singular versions of keywords, oftentimes they’ll carry different search volumes and search intent. We don’t recommend including misspellings considering these misspellings can be difficult place authentically throughout your site’s content. The growth of Google’s AI means they’re learning the proper spelling of terms and will suggest results using the proper spelling instead.
Manually Research Search Intent
Once you’ve built a good list of terms, we recommend searching for these terms, in your browser, within Google. We recommend using encrypted browsing so your local and browser details don’t influence the results. Analyze the first 2-3 results for each keyword to get an idea of what Google thinks users want to see. Take stock of any new keyword ideas this process brings to mind and be sure to add them to your master list. This process can be a great way to gain an idea of the type of content currently ranking for these terms, ie blog articles, product detail pages, competitors’ websites, etc. It may be beneficial to add a column within your “Ideas” tab for quickly noting the type of results currently ranking. This can be highly useful when structuring and producing content for the site.
It’s important to include a column with the type of search intent you can deduce for each keyword. Examples of search intent can include the following:
Awareness - These keywords are used when a searcher has recently been made aware of the term but likely hasn’t formed an opinion or is seeking education. Look for definitions in a rich snippet format for these terms.
Research - These keywords are slightly more detailed than awareness keywords however, there may be some overlap from time to time. Searchers have become aware of what the term means but are now researching to learn more. They are looking for information about how the term may impact them, strategies they can employ to leverage whatever the keyword is about or learn more in general.
Transactional - In a lot of cases it’s helpful to target transactional keywords because the search intent here is likely to buy or acquire a new product or service. Deducing the search intent behind keywords can be difficult at times, but keep in mind a good rule of thumb is to target longer-tail keywords for the transactional side of things and more generic terms for awareness. Examples of transactional keywords might include best invoice automation software or Marketo crm integration. These terms mean the searcher is past the awareness and research stages and is now considering options to act on. Blog articles can still work very well in this phase because you can guide users into understanding how your product works.
General & Long Tail Keywords
We’ve touched on the idea of generic keywords and long-tail keywords throughout this section, however, we want to provide a more formal definition of each along with a basic strategy to employ.
General Keywords - General keywords usually contain only a couple or few terms and are considered more broad in the scope of what they could imply. Examples might include invoicing software, sales automation, crm tool, etc.
Long Tail Keywords - Long tail keywords usually contain more terms and are usually more targeted to what the user is searching. Examples of these keywords include simple invoicing software for stripe, sales automation for lawyers, healthcare crm tool, etc.
Generic vs Long Tail Keyword Strategy
We suggest starting a project by focusing heavily on trying to rank for longer tail keywords first. These tend to drive conversions which can easily justify a larger investment in SEO whereas the more generic terms will require a greater investment, time and energy. Another benefit of focusing on a long tail strategy is the ability to build a library of content underneath a more generic term.
To put it into perspective, let’s say we’re wanting to tackle invoicing software generically however, it’s highly competitive and even early stage efforts haven't seemed to move the needle. Instead, we can begin writing content about various longer tail terms related to invoicing software like invoicing software for stripe, invoicing software for small businesses and contractor invoicing software. All of these blog articles could be categorized under the topic of Invoicing Software. This category page could include a quick blurb above the fold detailing how your solution is unique and then suggests users review one of your additional articles. Eventually, Google will see the volume of content on your site, how it’s structured under this topic and deduce your site as relevant to the main topic Invoicing Software.
In the future, we’ll have a better chance at ranking for the generic term with various other strategies employed in unison.
Research Keyword Data
At this stage, you should have a long list of keywords with a good understanding of their intent, relevance to your company or product, and their category based on what we built in the Gather & Brainstorm Keyword Ideas section. It’s time to start drilling down keyword data to see what sort of objective decisions we can make. Below are the main data points we prefer to include and the tools we use to source this data.
Search Volume - Search volume is the simplest data point to consider when determining the value of a keyword. This metric measures the approximate volume a given keyword is searched within a specific time frame. The time frame is often expressed as monthly search volume(MSV). Tools such as Google Keyword Planner and Ahrefs’ Keyword Explorer use a monthly search volume based on a prior 6 month average. This average can provide a good sense of how many people are searching for a keyword. When comparing one keyword to another, the search volume can make it easier to eliminate one over the other.
Difficulty - Tools like Ahrefs and WordStream provide a Keyword Difficulty Score. The idea behind Keyword Difficulty is to examine top ranking factors in Google to create a score out of 100 that determines the difficulty of a keyword; 100 is the most difficult.
Ranking - How your currently ranking for a given keyword can reveal how relevant Google thinks your site is for the topic. If that specific keyword has a higher difficulty, it’s a clear indicator your site is already competitive. If this is the case, you can now aim for keywords with a higher difficulty and expect to be able to achieve movement. This is also a great baseline before you begin any work. Later on, you can look back and see how everything you’ve done has impacted your rankings.
Ranking URL - The ranking URL helps determine what page Google thinks is most relevant for a given keyword. In some cases, this URL may not even be the page you’d expect to see the ranking. In this case, you may want to make some changes right away. In other cases, the ranking URL shows the exact pages that can be further optimized for their respective keywords. These pages now act as low-hanging fruit which can quickly improve with a little optimization.
Rich Snippet Results - Certain keywords generate rich snippets. Rich snippets are data that Google pulls from a search result and displays directly within Google without a user having to click through the result. Sometimes these results help quickly answer a question. Ranking for a rich snippet spells authority for your domain if Google has decided to pull this data from your site. Rich snippets can have a negative effect of stealing clicks because users often don’t need to leave Google to answer their question therefore your site doesn’t benefit from the traffic. In other cases, the user is looking for more information and wants to go deeper. Below is an example of a rich snippet:
Keyword Research Tools for SaaS SEO
There is an ever-growing list of keyword research tools, but there are a small number that we truly rely on. Below is a list of our favorites, in order, and a few pros and cons.
Ahrefs - Ahrefs provides both the Keyword Explorer and Rank Tracker. We use the Rank Tracker for 90% of our keyword research because it pulls down all of the data I’ve listed above in a nice, clean spreadsheet with super speed. The Keyword Explorer tool can help further research keyword ideas.
Pros - Fast, comprehensive, easy to use and the most accurate data outside of Google.
Cons - Just one; it’s not as accurate as Google Keyword Planner which can show dramatic swings in volume given you have an active and highly-funded Google Ads account..
Google Keyword Planner - The horse’s mouth is hard to ignore, especially when the data is so solid and fast to pull. The keyword planner has evolved over time, but in order to get accurate data, you’ll need an active ad campaign with decent spend. Google doesn’t give this data away for free anymore. Unfortunately, Google doesn’t provide any of the other data points mentioned above such as rankings, ranking URL, difficulty or rich snippet results. If you do have a funded account, default to the keyword planner for determining search volume; it’s as accurate as it gets.
Pros - Accuracy of data and speed
Cons - Requires decent ad spend and doesn’t include the other data points needed for research purposes.
Agency Analytics, Moz & WordStream - While these tools all serve different purposes for different audiences, they’re all good for pulling data and come close to Ahrefs in regards to accuracy. Each of these tools has been around for a while and Moz & WordStream are the most seasoned; emerging since the beginning of SEO.
Pros - Agency Analytics includes all of the data above however it may not be as up to date as Ahrefs. Moz and WordStream are great for keyword research but come at a higher cost considering their offering suite isn’t as strong as Ahrefs.
Cons - I don’t think any of these tools offer as broad of a suite of tools that are as powerful and comprehensive as Ahrefs. (Quick note: we’re not an affiliate for any of these tools, we love what we love.)
Organizing Your Keyword Data
You likely have a CSV or XLSX file with your keyword data from Ahrefs, Google Ads Keyword Planner, one of the other tools mentioned above or another source not mentioned above. At this point in the process, it’s important to have your keyword ideas broken out by category in your main Keyword Research Template. Let’s explore how to do this quickly.
Start by creating a new tab in your Google Sheets Keyword Research Template for each spreadsheet of data you downloaded from different tools. Next, go to your main tab where you’ll be organizing the keyword data and begin using the VLOOKUP method to pull over each data point from the various other tabs. Make sure you take special care to use the VLOOKUP method properly to avoid errors. After you’re certain all of the data has been pulled in correctly, copy and paste as values so you can lock down the data and no-longer have references to other tabs and cells.
Your list is now complete, but your task isn’t. Next, we’ll finish processing our keyword research so we can move on to the next step.
Target Keyword List & Mapping
Keyword Research Trimming & Finalizing
After we’ve loaded our data into the Keyword Research Template it’s time to start running through our keywords and making selections of which to keep and which to delete.
Deleting Bad Keywords Quickly
If you’ve been comprehensive throughout this process then you’ll inevitably have some keywords that aren’t good to target for various reasons. Initially, these will be due to search intent (I also say relevance here), search volume or difficulty. Another reason you’ll want to delete some terms is that you may have too many in one category, meaning that category is oversaturated.
I almost always start with the extreme outliers. For example, keywords with far too high search volume where they’re obviously not a relevant keyword. Conversely, keywords with extremely high difficulty and abysmally low search volume need to go. These are all obvious cuts especially if upon rereading them you don’t see how they’re directly relevant.
One of our clients sells AP Automation Software and on their list of potential keywords was an outlier; accounts payable. This keyword receives 47k searches per month while the more relevant term, ap automation, gets about 600 searches per month. Of course, who wouldn’t want an additional 47k searchers per month on their site? Actually, a company that only does AP Automation Software for huge enterprise companies like airlines and logistics companies wouldn’t want that traffic if it meant their global sales team was suddenly inundated with completely untargeted traffic.
The value of the few people searching for ap automation far outweighs the volume of people searching for accounts payable. Going back to our step in the process where we researched search intent, many people may be searching the general term to learn what it means or to learn more about accounts payable universally. This is where having some measure of relevance or search intent can help make decisions quickly.
We don’t recommend ruling out the term accounts payable altogether because it can still be used in the blogging process. Categorize it with a new column in your Keyword Research Template called “Usage.” You’ll use this column to note where you’re going to use the keyword on the website. We usually recommend two areas of usage by default, but more can be added at your leisure depending on your site and industry. Those two areas are fairly straightforward:
Structural page - A structural page is any page on the site that can be navigated to from the main menu or the home page with one single click. These pages typically carry more weight in Google.
Content page - This is a nice catch-all location for keywords that are loosely relevant to your company, but maybe not enough to target with a structural page. Content pages are typically blog posts, guides or case studies.
Structural pages usually target one or two keywords per page. For example, the homepage almost invariably has one target keyword. Content pages will catch everything that you can write about within your industry to establish authority on main topics.
Categorize Your Keywords
Categorizing your keywords will help you make selections and find good targets. For example, “Features” is a great category considering there are likely different ones. Under the “Features” category you could use the subcategory option, which we provide in our Keyword Research Template, that allows you to select several keywords for each feature in your SaaS product. Think of the category as the name of the page you’d like to call it. Now, select one or two keywords to target and move on to the next page. This ensures you won’t have an abundance of keywords for one page.
Mapping Your Keywords
Now that you’ve completed the previous steps, it’s time to finalize the Keyword Research process by mapping keywords out for use on the site. We’re going to look at what Google already thinks our site is relevant for, begin deciding what pages need to be created and which need to be optimized and how. Here’s a step by step process we use to move through the mapping phase quickly:
Duplicate the Keyword Research tab into a new tab called Keyword Mapping. We’ll be using this tab to map the keywords to the right pages on the site and determine which keywords need pages to be created.
Take all of your keywords mapped as “Content Pages” under “Usage” and move these to a separate tab called “Content Keywords.” This will help you get narrowly focused on your site’s main pages which is what you’ll want to optimize first.
Examine your site’s rankings for the different keywords on your list. We want to quickly look at these ranking pages and their respective keywords to determine if that page is the best fit. In some cases, you’ll find the same page ranking for numerous keywords in several different categories. This means your site carries some weight in your industry, but the site isn’t as organized, structured and optimized as it could be. If a page already ranks well for a keyword, consider making that its target page. If the keyword is not perfectly relevant for that page, consider creating a new one for the keyword. You’ll need to create a column called “Page Exists?” and select either yes or no under it for keywords that have a respective page or not.
Next, create columns for Current Pages and New/Updated Pages. Add the current page on the site that should target the keyword under the Current Pages column and if a page needs to be created then determine a new URL and put it under “New/Updated Pages”. If a page just needs optimization, place it under New/Updated Pages and simply select yes in the previous column for if the page exists.
It’s time to optimize your site’s menu. You’ll want it to be well-structured and optimized for your main target keywords. Laying this out on paper first makes things easier when it’s time to implement. Let’s turn to the “Usage” column and look at the keywords that have a “Structural page” selected. Use a good, navigable word for your main menu so users are immediately familiar with it; err on the side of good usability. For example, using the term solutions instead of AP automation is best for good usability. Users are more likely to be looking for a solution. When they hover over solutions you can show links to pages such as AP Automation, Invoice Automation, Payment Processing, etc.” We usually layout menus in a very simple way like this:
Solutions - AP Automation
Solutions - Invoice Automation
Solutions - Payment Processing
Next, it’s time to examine your structural pages to add their links. For example, on the Solutions - Payment Processing page, we’ll add links to pages for features under that solution. Pages like “Online Payment Processing, 3rd Party Payment Processing, and ACH Payment Processing” would all be linked to from the “Payment Processing” page. This indicates to Google this is a section of “pillar content.” Google loves menu structures such as this and it’ll play very well with the other elements of pillar content.
Page Titles, META & Headings
At this point, you’ve completely restructured the menu and navigational structure, but we need to optimize these pages for their target keywords and build out the pages that are still needed.
Page titles are perhaps the single most important onpage ranking factor in SEO and should be carefully produced and managed. The page title is the blue text that shows up on each search result in Google. Knowing which keywords you want to target for a given page, you’ll add that keyword at the front of your Title Tag. We recommend not using your brand name in the Title Tag unless your brand is highly recognized. You’re trying to capture their attention with relevance. After clicking your listing and you’ll be able to brand yourself well to them. Having a lot of text in your page title typically dilutes the keyword so we want to focus on just our target keyword. This directly affects how well your site rankings in Google, but META Descriptions do not. The META Description is a much better area to make the necessary logical connection between the keyword and your brand, providing a clear call to action so the searcher is compelled to click on your search result. Title and META Description lengths have shifted several times, but currently, they are 55 characters for Titles and about 120 characters for META Descriptions
We recommend adding columns to your Keyword Mapping tab to write out your Titles and META Descriptions as well as a column for Page Headings. Page headings are useful because this is usually the big, obvious text that a user sees and reads immediately when a page loads. It’s a great idea to include your target keyword, but you need to make sure you do it organically. Try working the keyword into a short tagline or sentence to briefly summarize the page. Think of headlines in newspapers because that’s exactly where the page heading idea comes from. Use well-written heading including your target keyword or some variation of it. Breaking the keyword up is completely fine, but only if it makes sense. Below are a few examples of good Page Headings:
What makes our AP automation solution different?
3rd Party Payment Processing for Small Businesses
The Easiest ACH Payment Processing System You’ve Ever Used
Keep in mind, write for your user and let Google follow. Google is ultimately going to reward sites that have the best user engagement.
Wrapping Up & Maintaining Your Keyword Research
You’ve completed your Keyword Research! This list will continue to evolve and over time you’ll be adding to and removing due to your business growing, industry shifts and the ever changing search environment. There may be stretches of time with minimal change, but there are likely to be updates needed at some point.
You’ve done a fantastic job! Let’s get ready to shift gears to your sites foundational components of SEO in the Technical Audit portion of this guide.
Technical Audits for SaaS
With the abstract keyword research process out of the way, it’s time to look at and address your SaaS website’s technical structure. Technical issues are typically less prominent for our SaaS clients at SimpleTiger because building good software is part of their business. That being said, no site is completely free of technical issues. We’ve worked with SaaS sites that didn’t have a ton of critical technical issues, but we always find something, and in most cases, there are some simple wins that spell immediate bumps in rankings and traffic if addressed properly.
We’ll want to get started by crawling the site and gathering data, so we know what’s not working properly and what needs to be done. This is a process that will happen over and over again during the course of building your site’s organic search traffic, so get ready to create a new habit.
Part of what makes the Technical Structure process of SEO so easy is the tools you use for the job. There are a variety of different tools you can use to crawl your SaaS website, but there are a few we’ve been using for years and love. Just like with my suggested Keyword Research Tools, I’ll show you my favorite crawling tools, explain why we love them and share which ones you should use when factoring in the size of your site and how intense your technical audits really need to be.
First, you should certainly have Google Search Console setup and configured properly on your site. Make sure you get the right www or non-www version of your site verified, and if it’s HTTPS (as it should be), you’ll want to make sure you verify that part properly too.
Next, pick one of the following tools (or even a few) and start a crawl of your site:
Screaming Frog - While not my go-to tool, Screaming Frog is easy to use and trustworthy. It’s great for smaller sites (<500 pages) if you want a free tool for technical audits. Note, you’ll have to do a great deal of processing and analyzing the data for yourself later, but that’s what makes it great for someone with a combination of development or SEO experience and low-to-no budget for tools. We use it all the time for quick spot checks on everything from 404 lists or 301 redirect lists, to title tags after implementation, a sitemap crawl and more.
DeepCrawl - This is our de facto tool for crawling most of our SaaS client sites at SimpleTiger. DeepCrawl has a list of features and deep-diving capabilities, including functionality that enables us to manage multiple different client sites and crawl budgets and utilize advanced settings like password protected pages and ignoring robots.txt. These are all things that make it easier for an SEO agency like us. DeepCrawl may be overkill for you, but we can personally vouch for it as a crawling tool that takes a ton of the guesswork out of identifying actual problems for someone without as much experience as a seasoned SEO professional. For SimpleTiger, we have to be prepared to handle any type of client site from 200-page sites to 2.5MM-page sites all with various technical issues. DeepCrawl does that every time.
Ahrefs - There are so many other crawling tools we could have suggested here—if technical audits were all I’m talking about—but we know you’re likely looking for a single software solution that solves for more than just one piece of the SEO puzzle. Because we’ve already suggested Ahrefs so hard in the Keyword Research Process (spoiler: We’ll suggest it again in the Offsite Strategy Process later in this guide), you should just get used to using it now and save yourself some money and time learning different tools. While Ahrefs’ crawler isn’t as deep or thorough as DeepCrawl, I’d say it’s a fantastic next option if extreme depth and power-user benefits aren’t as much of a concern for your technical audits.
High Priority Technical Issues
Regardless of the tool you use, you’ll need to know which issues are real concerns and which issues can be addressed down the road. There’s always a balance between cost and benefit when making technical implementations for SEO purposes, but some issues can be fixed easily and have a massive impact if they’re really blocking performance. I’m going to break down the top technical issues we see in our technical audits of SaaS websites. Here’s our top list of things to look out for in order of priority:
404s - This is probably the most deadly technical issue your site could have—the Page Not Found error. If you get a nasty 404 page, you need to fix that, but in some cases, you may not even know that your server is generating a 404 error because the page loads fine, and you can see everything just like you’d expect. Your crawling tool will list out 404s, so you should analyze those closely to make sure they aren’t pages you expect to be loading properly. Google doesn’t want to see 404s on your site because disappearing pages mean a poor user experience. The most common recommendation is either to repair the page if it’s broken or create a 301 redirect to the most relevant location.
Load Time - Pages with a slow load time (more than 2 seconds) will not rank in Google, period. This is a direct statement from Google. This doesn’t mean your site has to load in less than two seconds, but Google thinks it would be really nice, so we recommend you try your best. This doesn’t just affect your rankings; it affects your conversions because users are more likely to convert on sites that load quickly and are easy to navigate. Use a tool like Google PageSpeed Insights to analyze what’s making your site load slowly (no matter how fast it is), so you can optimize it.
Responsive - This sounds like load time, but it means your site loads appropriately on the user’s device. For example, if a user is on a desktop and then a phone, does your site load flexibly so that the user has a great experience regardless of the device? It should. Does the URL change depending on the device? It shouldn’t. Google stated years ago that if your site doesn’t render well on mobile devices, then it won’t outrank other sites that do. You don’t want to have a different version of your site either (one for mobile and one for desktop). You need one site that uses relative references in HTML and CSS to make the site load on every device and scale to the needs of the device. You can check if your site is mobile friendly with this tool provided directly from Google.
Duplicate Content - Google is learning how to handle this issue a little better, but it’s still something to take seriously. Duplicate content is when Google finds two or more URLs on a site with the same or similar content. This makes it difficult for Google to decide which page ought to target whatever keyword they’re both targeting, and sometimes Google will just prefer neither instead of picking one for you. Both outcomes are undesirable, so Google honors a tag in the <head> section of your pages called a rel=canonical link tag. This tag points from different versions of a page to the original or preferred version of that page, and it instructs Google to give all of the credit and authority to the original page. Duplicate content can apply to title tags, on page content and the HTML code used on your site which DeepCrawl will break out as necessary. Mainly though, you should look out for pages that generally duplicate content in the page and title.
Thin Content - Pages that have very little content on them are at risk of not ranking well if they’re even indexed at all. Google defines thin content as content that has little to no value to a user and is typically represented by pages with hardly any content on them. In many cases, these pages need to be considered for either fleshing out further or combining with other pages to complete a subject matter with more content.
Missing Sitemap.xml File - Your site should have an XML sitemap file. It acts as a feed to Google of the URLs on the site that you want to be crawled, the priority of those pages and how often they’re updated; so Google knows when to come back. This file can greatly help get your site fully indexed and frequently recrawled to ensure any updates are reflected in Google fast. Without this file, you’re completely trusting Google to figure everything out on its own which isn’t ideal. In fact, Google wants users to provide them with sitemap.xml files to make their job easier, so they provide an option to do so in your Google Search Console account.
Missing Robots.txt File - The robots.txt file is the default for sites as the first place Google visits to see what sort of pages you do not want Google to crawl or index. This helps Google because there may be a lot of pages you don’t want to be crawled for whatever reason (think duplicate pages, or session IDs, or pages that don’t serve users but are generated by your server), and Google can then reserve their crawl budget for parts of your site you do want crawled. Within this file, you can link over to your XML sitemap file to show Google the URLs you do want crawled, and that’s a great way to get the ball rolling on a good crawl. Be careful how you use robots.txt though as it’s a very powerful tool, and with a single, misplaced “/”, you could tell Google to deindex your entire site. Before tinkering with it, you should learn more about how to use robots.txt first.
Moving Content & Redesigning Sites
It’s time for a major caveat when it comes to moving content around or redesigning your site even if the content and platform are staying the same.
Google develops relationships with TLDs (or Top Level Domains such as simpletiger.com) on a per-domain basis, meaning each domain is seen as an entirely different entity. If you ever try to move from one domain to another by renaming or rebranding your company, you’ll be forced to start over completely with building the new domain. This can take a very long time and isn’t ideal if you can avoid it.
As for staying on the same domain but moving content around on that domain, you’ll still create some problems that you should know about before making the move. This applies to redesigns too. On many CMSs when you move a piece of content to a different menu item or dropdown, or you move it to a different folder or subdirectory on the site, you end up changing the URL to a new URL. For example, moving the “...domain.com/about-us” content to “...domain.com/about” is a URL change. The old URL “/about-us” is now a 404 and needs to be redirected to the new location “/about” which isn’t ideal. Google goes back and forth on whether a redirect causes a loss in link authority or not, but over time, your site’s main pages could easily acquire several hops of redirects which can turn into a mess and make future redesigns or platform moves a nightmare.
The most ideal course of action is to build your site using a well-optimized URL structure that includes your target keywords in the right location. Then, you should never change them. This can be difficult to achieve, but if you can maintain this sort of structure, then SEO will be much easier for you over time.
In the previous section, we suggested moving content around based on the menu and navigational structure as well as for keyword targeting purposes. This still applies and should be done with redirects pointing from old URLs to the new ones, but when possible, plan ahead for the long term and don’t move content.
Recrawling & Maintaining Proper Technical Structure
After you’ve implemented some technical best practices according to this guide and your findings in your SEO tools, it’s time to recrawl your site. This way, you can see if your changes are live and if any new issues popped up. You’ll also want to set up the crawling tool you’ve chosen to recrawl the site based on a schedule of your choosing. If you’re moving a lot of things around and changing a lot on the site, you’ll probably want a more frequent crawl cycle. If you rarely change the site or add content to it, then a more infrequent crawl cycle should also work. Over time, issues will inevitably pop up, and your goal isn’t to have zero issues on your site but to stay on top of the most critical ones and keep them in check, so they don’t limit your performance as you’re adding content and links later.
There’s so much more you can do to optimize your site than just address the issues we've listed here, but it’s easy to get stuck in the weeds and never make it into the world of high-impact SEO efforts, including content production and link building.
Let’s shift gears, and I’ll show you what you can build on a site with a strong technical foundation.
Content Strategy for SaaS Companies
Content is ultimately what users are looking for when they’re searching in Google or any search engine. And, its importance lies in the fact that content serves as a bridge between the user and what you provide as a SaaS product or solution. Having a well-defined content strategy helps create a roadmap for you to communicate with your target audience.
So what kind of content are users really looking for? First, content can be direct and sales-oriented; for example, it can explain the features and pricing of your SaaS product. Or, content can be more indirect and focus on the development of long-term brand loyalty by simply educating and/or persuading future customers. Both types of content are crucial to successfully selling your product or solution, and in this chapter, we’re going to discuss how content can help amplify your overall SEO strategy.
Foremost, just as I provided a framework for SEO, I’d also like to lay down a functional framework for an effective and impactful content strategy. At SimpleTiger, we use a 3-part framework to help our SaaS clients cover all the bases with their content and steer them in the right direction towards effective SEO results. Here’s how to get started:
Content Organization - The way that content is structured and organized on your site is critical for users. Contextually speaking, users expect to find content organized into relevant clusters on a website, just like the chapters in a reference book or products in a department store. Imagine if everything were to be haphazardly spread out in a store or information was strewn across different chapters of a book. Not a good experience, wouldn’t you agree? As of 2017, Google’s algorithm depends mainly on user engagement as a search engine ranking factor, meaning that your site’s content organization is critical not only to its users but more importantly so that the site can rank in search.
Content Production Strategy - Once your content is organized, you’ll still need to produce content on an ongoing basis. It can seem like a daunting process, prompting questions like: “What type of content we create?”, “What should it be about?”, “How long should it be?”, “How deep into any given subject should we go with the content?”, “Who will we target as our readers?”, and so on.
Fear not, we assure you there is plenty for you to address through your content. First off, your SaaS product or solution likely has multiple personas that can be targeted. And, there are most likely several use cases for your product, all of which should be well addressed on your site. We like to think of the Content Production Strategy as a unique combination of content production tactics from your arsenal that should be employed overtime to help your site rank well and, of course, provide value to the users through content.
Content Production Plan - While the Content Production Strategy breaks down a variety of tactics to be employed, the Content Production Plan looks to set these tactics in motion by identifying the next several pieces of content to be produced and establishing an order of priority to begin tackling the production of the content.
Now that we’ve covered a basic rundown of these components, I’d like to give you a more in-depth look at each part of our content framework.
One of the first things we do when working with SaaS companies is to analyze their site’s content structure based on their target keywords and the keyword mapping we’ve provided for them. Without proper keyword research and a keyword mapping strategy, content organization can be a messy process. That said, as a first step we refer back to your keywords from the beginning and use each category of keywords to map out sections of content on the site housed in the main navigation.
Some categories of content strategies we use for SaaS company websites include considering aspects like:
Features - What does your product actually do, and what features does it offer? These questions can sometimes be represented by keywords.
Use Cases - How is your platform or SaaS product actually used? What are some common examples of how people use your product?
Industries - What industries use your SaaS product or tools? Name a few (i.e. 3 or more), if possible.
People - What type of person may use your product or tools? What is their role or function?
Benefits - What sorts of benefits can be realized by using your tools?
All of these categories can then be broken out into their own dropdown menus in your site’s main navigation and each page optimized for both long-tail and generic keyword opportunities.
We also look to ensure that every keyword you want to target has its own rightful place on your site. When possible, we recommend making a new page for each keyword and structuring these new pages into clusters that fall under their parent category page in your main menu. Doing this will help Google recognize the relationship between the various pages that address a specific topic and all the related keywords.
Content Production Strategy
Consistently producing new and valuable content is essential for a successful SEO effort. And, being valuable is the key component of the content production strategy. This means creating content that addresses concerns surrounding your product, answers your target customers’ questions and educates them about the benefits of your solution.
As you mapped out your target keywords into different categories and built out your content organizational structure, you may have discovered that you still have a lot of content to produce in order to add substance to the framework you’ve built on your site. That said, you’ll want to address this gap in content first, and soon enough, you’ll eventually transition over to ongoing content production that will help move your site up in rankings consistently for several long-tail keywords.
One underutilized component of many sites is the blog section. Most blogs are orphaned parts of the site -- nested in their own area and not integrated into any of the site’s other content. As such, oftentimes companies aren’t sure how to best leverage their blog to take advantage of content production and improve search rankings. This is where we see a major opportunity to help our clients with a SaaS content strategy that deeply infuses their blog throughout their main site structure to ensure the two work tightly together.
You may be wondering how to cross-pollinate blog content throughout your site. It’s a straightforward process and simply entails “connecting the dots”. For example, let’s say you’re producing a blog post on invoice automation and the invoicing process, and your website has a dedicated “invoice automation” page. You can easily link to the “invoice automation” page in your post, allowing users to read more on the topic. On the flip side, you can also link to the blog on the “invoice automation” page, should users want to read more relevant content after they’ve scanned the featured page. And, voilà - just like that you’re a pro at leveraging your blog! If you’d like some more inspiration on this, we highly recommend checking out HubSpot’s blog, to see how they seamlessly integrate their blog content with landing pages and other parts of their site.
While blogs can prove to be a solid component of your SaaS content production strategy, it’s important to incorporate other types of assets, such as webinars, videos and gated downloads into the mix. This is where creating valuable content comes into play; valuable content aims to convert strangers into qualified leads to fill your sales pipeline. We often find that blog articles do a great job of pulling a complete stranger deeper down into your sales funnel. Once created, these other types of content can be repurposed into blog posts to provide more digestible information to your users, and allow them to find the content more easily than if it were only available in a webinar or white paper. What’s more is that the blog articles can also include a call-to-action (CTA) for visitors to download the original content, which helps drive engagement, increase rankings and conversions and ultimately create a channel for generating leads.
Content Production Plan
Once your content organizational strategy is set, your site is structured to align with that strategy, and your content production strategy is defined, it’s time to begin planning out the content that needs to be produced. I highly recommend that you first tackle content that targets long-tail keywords that rank easily. This will help you capture quick wins in rankings and small traffic bumps, which will eventually lead to larger movements in rankings for more general, high search volume keywords later on. The more you use a general keyword, such as “invoice automation”, across a series of articles that address a variety of aspects of that topic, the more relevant Google realizes your content is to that topic over time, allowing the site to rank better and better.
Once you’ve mastered these quick-win keywords, you can then dive into more generic search terms and ideas. What’s critical to remember at this point is to look for ways to nest the content you’re producing under the same main theme or category on your site so you can fully flesh-out key topics relevant to your product.
Another way to help in prioritizing the production of content is to take a look at any active paid search campaigns you may be running. These campaigns can provide you with insight into what keywords are converting better for you versus others, thus allowing you to give content related to those keywords’ first priority when it comes time for production. We typically find this content answers the questions our clients’ customers bring up throughout the sales process. What’s more is that these questions may, in fact, stand in the way of customers buying your product. By putting the answers right in front of users during their searches, not only are you able to educate them on questions or concerns they may have, but these high conversion keywords will improve your site rankings while bringing in more qualified opportunities for the future.
We can’t talk about content production planning without mentioning videos, especially since this type of content can be tedious to produce. But, if your company already produces videos, whether frequently or just once in a while, we always recommend planning to transcribe the video content into a blog or other textual content; the same can be done with podcasts. The reason being is when speaking, people tend to naturally cover many relevant terms and keywords, and there are huge opportunities to repurpose this already relevant content into other forms, such as infographics or blog posts.
Last but not least, always pay attention to site analytics to gauge what content your users are engaging with. If you have a pillar topic that’s covered well and spans multiple pages, you can always repurpose this content for other digital channels such as email campaigns. Not only will you establish another point of contact with your users while nurturing these leads, but you also will be able to drive traffic back to your website.
Link Building & PR for SaaS
The final frontier for most marketers engaged in an SEO effort is link building. It tends to be the most misunderstood and difficult part of SEO to do effectively. SaaS SEO is no different in regards to how difficult it can be and how effective it is for SEO. However, there are unique strategies SaaS companies can employ to effectively build links.
Why Link Building for SaaS Companies?
Although links have taken a step down as the single-greatest ranking factor in Google over the past 20+ years, it still remains second after user engagement.
This means good content on a well-built website platform isn’t all you need to consistently rank well for various keywords. Can you rank with only content on a good platform? Yes. Is it easy to do for all keywords and consistently? No. In fact, if your content were stacked against a competitor’s content of equal length and user engagement, the question of who ranks better would come down to links.
What Do You Need to Do Link Building Effectively?
Think about the nature of a link, the real value from the linking source is the location the link is pointing toward. When it comes to getting links for your SaaS company website, your biggest concern should be building relevant content that provides value in a way that someone would conceivably link to your page to provide a resource for an article they’re writing.
In most cases, we employ PR tactics by working with writers who are producing content at other sites and that are telling stories needing support from outside. We don’t use a shotgun approach for our content pitches. We pick our publishers carefully and approach directly with a very short and simple ask for them to provide our content as a resource. Often, the more effort put into the content production (providing value), the more publishers are willing to use it as a resource.
SaaS Specific Link Building Strategies
There are other link building strategies that SaaS companies can employ in order to achieve links outside of the typical PR approach. Some of them include:
Integration Partnerships - If your SaaS product integrates with other tools, you may want to connect with the folks at the companies your tool integrates with and see how you can get added to their directory for integrations. This may look like the old “reciprocal link building” methodology from the early 2000s, but it’s highly relevant and provides value to users of both products.
Strategic Partnerships - Maybe your platform doesn’t integrate with other tools directly, but if used in conjunction with other tools then perhaps users could experience a better outcome. Write a blog post about this tip on your site and then reach out to the other companies you mentioned to see if they’d be willing to link to the piece you wrote about them and share it on their social media pages.
Exclusive Data - In a lot of cases we find that SaaS products collect a lot of really cool data that can be structured and leveraged to provide value for others. Some of this data could be organized into interesting topics that help you tell a story on your site.
How Does Linking to My Blog Help My Site Rank?
The blog serves as the most authoritative, informational and independently valuable portion of your site that is worthy of a link. Sales content tends to not carry as much value outside of convincing users to buy your product. Getting links to your blog is easier and this is why we stress integrating your blog deeply with your main site. The more interlinked your blog is with your site’s sell pages (pricing, features, demo signup, etc.), the better these pages will rank when links are built to the blog articles.
In a competitive niche where a lot of sites are producing good content on your particular topic, you’re going to have to put extra effort into building links on top of your good content in order to get the content to rank. With a good PR and link building strategy, you’re bound to see your efforts pay off in the search rankings.
Measuring SEO Results for SaaS Companies
When it comes to any digital marketing methodology, measurement is key, and it’s no different for SaaS SEO. Unfortunately, a lot of people get it wrong when measuring SEO results for SaaS companies. In this section, I’ll provide some clarity around this inbound marketing channel and help you set up a solid workflow for measuring your SEO success.
At SimpleTiger, we’ve codified a process for measuring success as it pertains to Google. I call this process the “Trifecta of SEO Results,” which simplifies the targets and metrics we monitor.
We can organize this Trifecta into the following buckets:
Rankings - The position of your site in Google for a given set of keywords.
Traffic - The traffic coming to your site from organic channels.
Conversions - The conversions generated by organic traffic on your site.
There’s no need to make it more complicated than this list, particularly in the beginning. As your company grows and you want to add granular control to your efforts, you can expand each of these buckets and broaden the metrics you track. For most, these three measurements are plenty because they provide a solid indicator of how your SEO efforts are performing.
First, we’ll dive into each of these three categories and I’ll recommend some tools for monitoring and understanding their measurements. Next, I'll summarize why I consider these three metrics the Holy Grail of measuring SEO performance, as well as how to manage your expectations throughout your SEO campaign.
As we discussed in the Keyword Research section, nailing down target keywords is a critical first step on the path to SEO success. After you gather your list, you need to understand your baseline performance, or how your site is ranking on Google for your given keyword set. To understand your baseline, you can pull your search engine keyword rankings from a variety of rank-monitoring tools.
AgencyAnalytics - We love this tool the most for measuring rankings because the data is accurate and the variety of features gives us the reporting power for our clients.
Ahrefs - As you saw in the previous chapters, we also appreciate Ahrefs for its accuracy and speed of data; even using this tool in the Keyword Research process. This tool is more viable than AgencyAnalytics for overall SEO management.
SEMrush - This tool is great for a variety of SEO focused research and analysis. We use SEMrush for competitive research to learn about competitors’ keyword targets, PPC budgets, and more.
The goal of the ranking metric is to establish your baseline performance for your target keywords, enabling you to monitor monthly progress. You may choose to keep a closer watch over your rankings by following them weekly or even daily, but keep in mind the search engine results pages (SERPs) are like the stock market with volatile daily fluctuations. On the other hand, if you monitor rankings over a longer timeframe, you’ll begin to see patterns and trends emerge that give more insight into the efficacy of your content and strategy.
You’ll want to set a recurring report that’s delivered monthly, and with time, you’ll begin to see a lift in rankings as you progress through your SEO efforts. A lot of tools report on the top 100 positions in Google, which gives you plenty of insight into what’s working and what isn’t. If your site begins to show up within those first 100 positions, say around the 87th, don’t be discouraged!
Google now has your site “on the radar,” indicating that your website is relevant to the given keyword. Continuing to climb Google’s ranks is an ongoing process of further content marketing, technical optimization and link building. You’re now looking for an upward trendline from your site’s baseline rankings.
Organic Search Traffic
Organic search traffic is top-of-the-funnel (TOFU) traffic that has the highest likelihood of converting your visitors. In other words, the organic traffic you generate will typically convert better than traffic from any other channel, including paid search, paid social, organic social, display advertising, signage and referral traffic. There are unusual cases where another channel converts slightly better than organic, placing organic at a close second for generating conversions.
The reason organic traffic converts visitors so well comes down to “searcher intent,” the logic behind what an individual’s goal is when performing an online search. What does the searcher intend to find given their keyword query? Organic search traffic is powerful because people are actively searching for what your business sells and are either ready—or near ready— to buy. After discovering your site, visitors usually need more information to convince them that your product is the best option. Once persuaded, they’ll eventually convert into a paying customer.
What are the best ways to measure organic search traffic for your SaaS company? We prefer tools like the following:
Google Analytics - The default in all digital marketing analytics tools, Google Analytics is the defacto for measuring traffic channels and engagement on your site. It can be set up and configured to provide almost any level of insight you need within the parameters of regional standards and privacy laws.
HubSpot - While they offer a great suite of marketing automation and CRM products, we genuinely love their analytics tools. Unfortunately, they don’t share this data as much as Google Analytics does. I believe that keeping data proprietary is a part of their business model, locking you into paying for the subscription.
Mixpanel - I mention MixPanel because a number of our SaaS clients use it to gather user data from both their website and app interactions. Mixpanel does a fantastic job of connecting searchers’ data from the moment they first visit your site through the time they develop a deep engagement history with your application. If you’re looking for a more advanced option with better controls than Google Analytics, Mixpanel is the best option for you.
KissMetrics - Built by a fellow SEO professional Neil Patel, KissMetrics has a positive reputation amongst users. For monitoring in-app activity, this tool offers a SaaS analytics solution that looks a lot like Mixpanel and Google Analytics.
Once you choose and set up one of these tools, you want to monitor your site’s organic search traffic every month. Once your rankings begin to hit first-page territory, you should start seeing organic traffic data increase. Often clients show traffic improvements before they start ranking for any of their generic keywords because they’re beginning to rank for longer-tail keywords. It’s important to remember the traffic gained from long-tail keywords is low and slow at first.
The most critical metric you can track for SEO is often the hardest to track accurately. Using the tools above, set up conversion metrics to measure engagements that are essential to the success of your SEO campaign. Let’s explore what conversions are, what you should consider a conversion and how you could track more tangible results from your SEO efforts.
What is a conversion?
Simply stated, a conversion is an action/engagement which someone takes that’s essential to the success of your SaaS business such as:
Requesting a demo
Downloading an ebook or guide
Downloading your app
Signing up for a free trial
Registering for an account
Paying for your product
There are many ways to consider a conversion, and it all depends on what’s important to your particular business, industry and circumstance.
In most cases, we help our clients keep track of their conversion metrics by setting up the Google Analytics’ Goals feature. Often we use Event Tracking for monitoring form submissions, button clicks and other specific actions.
How should you track conversions?
With all of these conversion-tracking tools, how do you get the most out of your SEO efforts? Depending on your business, industry and type of SaaS product you’re selling, it often makes the most sense to drive users through a funnel of engaging with your site and content before expecting them to become a paying customer.
Of course, you want to provide an easily accessible option for visitors to become customers immediately. Still, most people will go through a process of studying your product’s function, features, use cases, pricing, and so forth before deciding to buy. They may even want to compare your product to your competitors’ to find the best fit for them.
We recommend setting up a funnel that involves multiple levels and points of conversion throughout your site. Think of these levels as stages of seriousness in the buying process. Someone who just found your website may be ready to buy or may just be browsing. Based on their level of seriousness, you need to divide them into different funneling processes to deliver them to the point of purchase.
Here’s an example funnel:
A user finds your site through a blog article related to the keyword searched.
They read the first article and clicked through to another related article linked at the bottom of the first to continue learning more.
They see a popup or element offering to send more similar content to their email, so they sign up. You may consider this a type of conversion.
Two weeks later they click through an email marketing campaign and now they’re back on your site.
They download a guide on how to shop for SaaS tools like yours. In exchange for the guide, they give you more of their user-submitted information. This another level of conversion, as this person is now a more serious lead in your system.
At this point, they start receiving a different type of email reserved for the more engaged leads in your marketing automation platform (like HubSpot), and this email invites them to a webinar or a demo of your product. These users are near the end of your marketing funnel and almost ready to convert into paying customers.
A week after the demo, your sales team follows up with leads that have attended a webinar or product demo. The sales process entails following up and providing further information to prepare the lead to buy from you.
You can see that merely tracking conversions based on users buying your product isn’t enough. Insight into a lead's decision-making process will help you create a well-thought-out inbound marketing funnel. This method of lead-nurturing has been used for over a decade to generate sales.
Now that you understand the different stages of conversions, you can see how your SEO efforts may not immediately generate sales. In the long run, this simple and effective marketing funnel allows SEO to be the lifeblood of your business.
Why should you track all three metrics to understand SEO?
By monitoring rankings, we gain our first insights into website optimization. We see the effects of adding and linking to targeted content. Rankings tend to improve first and that incremental will eventually hit a threshold to generate organic traffic.
Ranking on the third or fourth page of Google SERPs won’t get you much traffic but once you get to the second or first page of Google, you’ll start to see the traffic trickle in. Eventually, you’ll get to the first half of the first page of Google, where the majority of users click. At this point, your traffic will really begin to increase.
When your rankings move up enough to where your content is garnering SERP clicks, you’ll see an influx of web traffic. The initial inflow of visitors could be small and slowly climb, or it could jump up when your site ranks in a good position in Google. This trend is highly dependent on several ranking factors but mainly comes down to the quality and relevance of the content you’ve provided for a given keyword set, as well as any the quality and number of backlinks pointing to that piece of content.
Eventually, your site will capture enough quality traffic that the sites’ intrinsic conversion rate will start to take effect. For example, the website may convert at 2%, meaning for every 100 site visitors, you convert two of them in any capacity. As you climb in the rankings, traffic numbers begin to grow and the conversions start to flow.
Once your site is ranking for relevant keywords, you’re bringing in quality traffic and you’re building trust through your content, you’ll begin to see conversion rates improve. As the results of your efforts compound into higher rankings and higher traffic, higher conversions will follow. The compounding effect makes SEO the most successful top-of-the-funnel marketing channel. It’s easy to see why it’s such an attractive marketing methodology.
I hope this section has helped you understand how to measure SEO results with an easy-to-implement, practical framework for determining the success of your SEO campaign over time.
SaaS SEO Timeline for Results
“How long will it take us to see results?”
This is single-handedly the most common question we receive in regards to SEO projects. The problem is, it’s simply the hardest question to answer and requires a deep education on everything we’ve discussed throughout this guide. First, let’s address the considerations you’ll need to pull everything into a timeline.
Do you know your target keywords right now?
If not, you’ll need to know that before anything else. It’s important to take the proper time to distinguish these whether it’s a day or a week. Remember, we love for our clients to validate keywords using paid search which can at times take 3-6 months or more depending on the industry. At SimpleTiger we typically take a week to nail down a target list of keywords for our clients based on good data and a very tight feedback loop.
So 3-6 months if you have no paid search data and 1 week if you do.
Is your site on a strong technical foundation for building content?
A strong technical foundation means Google can easily crawl your site and find that the average user won’t run into any issues when navigating around the site from a technical perspective. Strongly consider that most searchers are on mobile devices and this experience needs to be solid in order for this to be a “completed item” in your SEO campaign. For most clients, the technical optimization process varies from 3 months up to a year to form a stable technical foundation.
Most commonly this is 6 month timeline to complete this stage.
Do you have adequate content for each keyword you’d like to target?
As we saw in the Content Strategy section of this guide, each keyword in your SEO plan needs to have adequate content on the site that best represents the keyword. What does “adequate content” mean? Ultimately, it means content that’s long enough (think word count) that it stacks up against competing content already ranking in Google. In some cases, one page isn’t enough and we’ll produce several pillar pieces of content to create a content cluster for a given keyword with each pillar addressing a smaller keyword underneath the cluster. This is a great strategy we frequently employ for clients however, it takes time and resources. Typically timeline is anywhere from 2-3 months to produce an entire content cluster for based on how many pieces need to be created.
Let’s estimate 3 months per major keyword on your target list and then multiply this by the number of major keywords you’d like to target.
Do you have influential links pointing to content that’s relevant to the keywords you would like to rank for?
Content needs to be well-written and valuable. If Google finds the content and sees that users engage with it (based on Google’s collection of clickstream data), then the content will rank well. Typically content that ranks well also has links pointing to it, making it more competitive for the given keyword. It’s important to know what that threshold of links are pointing to each piece of content that dominates the results for your target keyword. Next, perform the same level of analysis for any keyword you’d like to rank for. Ultimately you’ll uncover how many links need to be built to your sites’ content once it’s published and then build those. It typically takes about a month to build almost any reasonable number of links (usually between 2 links to a couple dozen links) needed for a piece of content so long as the content is published.
For this reason, you could add a month for every piece of content that needs to be published on your site.
Example SEO Results Timeline
Using this high-level estimation based on each different step in the SEO process, the results timeline is highly dependent on several moving parts and that it’s more a dynamic system than a straight shot between action and results. If we consider a company that has 10 major target keywords with strong paid search data, a poor technical foundation, needs content and links for the target keywords, we would estimate it should take about 40 months and 1 week to be able to dominate in Google for the target keywords. Now, this assumes:
All 10 of the target keywords are the same level of competition and difficulty to rank for (completely unlikely)
There are no competing domains also engaged in an SEO effort; this is unlikely
And it doesn’t take into consideration that all keywords will convert at the same level of value to your company
You may be left scratching your head and thinking:
“Why would I want to wait 40 months and 1 week to see these kinds of results?”
This is a great question and I think it sets the stage perfectly for the positive side of undertaking an SEO project like this. Keep in mind that SEO is not linear and neither are the results it generates.
It can seem like an uphill battle with the different types of results you’ll see. Over time, your site will grow and so will your business through your efforts. Your position on the growth timeline will determine when you start seeing results. Some clients have seen business-changing results in a span of 2 months. Check out the case studies for Segment and JotForm for examples of this. For other clients, it may take 6-12 months to see staggering results, take a look at their case studies for more information. Most clients see their most dramatic results after a year of working on a campaign whereas satisfactory results tend to come in sooner, but compound exponentially after a year.
Is it possible to predict SEO results? Yes.
Will your prediction be perfectly accurate? No.
Is it reasonable to try to forecast SEO results before actually working on a campaign? Beyond seeing what sort of opportunities there are in organic search for your company, not really.
If it’s so tough to forecast results and know when ROI will be positive, when should you invest in SEO for your SaaS business? Ideally, you’ve been investing a little indirectly all-along by building your site on a good platform, producing content and testing ads in paid search. If you’re ready to go forward with a project, I’d anticipate seeing a positive ROI in terms of dollar-value around 1 year. There should be satisfactory results prior to that showing the trend is moving in a strong direction.
Investing in SEO with a company like SimpleTiger means you’ll be receiving not just the results from your initial spend, but assets that will hold positions of authority and act as doorways into doing business for many years to come. Keep in mind when investing in SEO, that it’s a world of its own. It’s unlike advertising where the results stop when the budget stops. The efforts and investments put into SEO are just as organic as the growth and results that come out of it. The only difference is the output is exponential and continues working far longer than the inputs.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this guide on SEO for SaaS companies and please share it if you found it useful. If you’re in a position where you’re ready to invest in SEO, get in touch and let’s set up a strategy session for your company.