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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.