Chapter 2

Keyword Research for SaaS Companies

Keyword Research for SaaS Companies
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. You can also download the SaaS SEO Guide in PDF form here.

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.

Keyword Usage

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Menu Structure

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.

Simply effective marketing.