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How To Advertise For SaaS: A Comprehensive Guide

Published on

April 8, 2024

How To Advertise For SaaS: A Comprehensive Guide

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Digital advertising is every SaaS’ first go-to-market motion when launching a product. 

It makes sense — paid advertising has the power to deliver customers straight to your digital doorstep and is critical for early success in the SaaS market. 

The problem is that with so many competitors vying for attention in a virtual space, rising above the crowd requires the right tools and tactics in your advertising arsenal. 

This guide will dig into the top advertising channels for SaaS, how to use them to their full potential, and key advertising tactics to keep in mind as you grow your SaaS. 

What SaaS Advertising Is And Why It’s A Different Ballgame

This article is dedicated to SaaS advertising specifically. Before we go any further, I will clear up the basics: the difference between advertising and marketing. 

SaaS Marketing refers to the overall strategy to promote your product, understand your audience, and influence their purchasing decisions.

It encompasses aspects like market research, product development, brand positioning, and content creation. 

SaaS advertising, on the other hand, is a specific tactic within marketing that involves paid promotion of your product or service through a chosen channel.

Think social media ads, Google Ads, displays ads, and more. 

SaaS advertising typically has one of two goals: 

  • Brand Awareness: Increasing recognition and building trust in your brand. 
  • Customer acquisition: Driving conversions and acquiring new customers who subscribe to your SaaS product.

While brand awareness and making sales are also the main goals of most industries, there are certain aspects of SaaS that make advertising in this industry different: 

  • The level of competition
  • Subscription-based products
  • The complex buyer’s journey.

Let’s look at each one. 

The Digital Landscape is Ultra Competitive

Unlike traditional brick-and-mortar businesses, SaaS companies operate in a virtual online space. 

While on one hand it means no storefront and the ability to reach a global audience, it also signifies a highly competitive market. 

Think about all the SaaS solutions that exist for a similar need. 

Right now, there are 680 CRM software products on G2 — 216 of them listed as free. 

You can see how standing out from the competition and building a customer base would be no easy feat for a new CRM software product.  

SaaS Products Are Generally Subscription Based

Unlike e-commerce products, SaaS rely on a recurring subscription model.

SaaS customers are long-term (or at least that’s the goal), so your advertising strategy must take into account long-term customer acquisition and retention in order to maximize customer LTV.

You want your advertising to showcase the long-term benefits and ROI your product provides customers in order to keep them as loyal users.

The SaaS Buyer’s Journey Is Complex

The decision-making process for SaaS users is a winding road. 

It’s not uncommon for potential customers to spend months researching similar products and the specific needs they want addressed. 

In a B2B context, there’s the added element of red tape and budget approvals. 

While traditionally SaaS marketing has relied on the concept of the marketing funnel, the complex SaaS buyer’s journey means this approach is flawed.

Buyers don’t follow a neat path down a funnel.

Rather, they have fluctuating interest based on a “commitment gauge” — an internal meter reflecting their urgency to solve a problem.

If you want to know more about this idea, make sure you read this article on why the traditional marketing funnel is no longer relevant.

The reality is that there’s really nothing marketers can do to force people through the so-called funnel and into buying something. 

The reason people buy has more to do with mental and physical availability, two Evidence-Based Marketing principles. 

Meaning, does your brand stick in people’s minds? Is your product easy to buy? 

People must be able to remember your brand in order for them to make a purchase. So, in terms of advertising, this highlights the need for: 

1. Building brand awareness through high-reach channels.

2. Creating ads that are actually memorable by using humor, storytelling, or cool visuals. 

Is Paid Advertising Actually Important For SaaS? 

Maybe you are a skeptic, and you are wondering if your SaaS actually needs to be doing paid ads at all. 

The truth is, paid ads can be a powerful tool, especially in the early stages of launching a product or anytime you need a quick influx of leads, since they provide: 

  • A wide audience reach beyond those actively searching for solutions
  • Laser-focused targeting capabilities to ensure your message resonates with the most relevant prospects.

However, you must recognize that paid ads are only one component of a comprehensive marketing strategy. 

Clicking on a social media or display ad for a software product is highly unlikely to be the only step in a buyer’s journey. 

In terms of SaaS customer acquisition, it’s important to be using organic growth strategies like SEO and content too.

Not only are they effective ways to nurture leads sparked by paid ads and increase visibility, but content can even serve to establish your brand as an industry thought leader. 

And unlike paid ads that vanish when the budget dries up, SEO benefits compound over time. 

The bottom line? 

Paid advertising offers a faster path to results, while SEO and organic content are valuable investments in owned media — use both for a well-rounded marketing strategy!

How To Advertise For SaaS: The Different Channels

As your SaaS company grows, its marketing needs will evolve. This means the advertising channels you choose and how advertising fits with your overall strategy will need to adapt as well. 

For example, bootstrapped startups are right to focus heavily on growth hacking tactics — engaging with relevant Reddit communities and launching on Product Hunt. 

At this early stage, they should start dipping their toes into paid ads as well. For example, LinkedIn can be a great place to start for high-potential leads. 

If you want to know how startups can make the most out of LinkedIn Ads, the ad agency, Impactable, has helpful content. You can check out this video on building a LinkedIn Ad strategy on a budget. 

Once a SaaS reaches the growth stage (500K+ ARR), it’s generally time to start diversifying marketing channels — making investments in content and expanding paid advertising to reach wider audiences. 

So, let’s now look at the best advertising channels for SaaS companies, their advantages, disadvantages, and how to use them to their full potential. 

Search Engine Advertising (SEA)

Search engine advertising allows you to target users who are actively seeking the solutions your product offers. 

The most common (and obvious) choice is Google Ads, but the same advertising model exists on other search engines like Bing and DuckDuckGo. 

Google Ads is a top SaaS advertising platform.

By bidding on relevant keywords, your ad can appear at the top of search results pages, like Google, driving highly targeted traffic directly to your website.

SEA operates on a pay-per-click model, meaning that you only pay when someone clicks on your ad. 

✅ Pros Of SEA

  • Targeted reach: Search Engine ads allow you to target people actively searching for solutions like yours, making them high-intent leads.
  • Measurable results: Platforms like Google Ads provide you with extensive data, allowing you to track clicks, conversions, and ROI to continuously optimize your campaigns for better performance.
  • Immediate traffic: You can instantly drive traffic to your website, which can be hugely beneficial, especially for new products. 

❌ Cons Of SEA

  • Budget dependent: To maintain ad visibility and ensure your ads continue to appear, you’ll need to constantly allocate budget and spend significant time deciding how to bid and best optimize your budget. 
  • Keyword challenge: Finding the right keywords with good search volume and low competition can be tricky. 
  • Competitive bidding wars: Especially in saturated industries, popular keywords can get expensive fast and the CPC can burn through your budget. 
  • The pressure of opportunity cost: The reality is that often if you aren’t actively bidding for relevant keywords, your competitors likely are, putting you at a major disadvantage.
Monday has bid on the keyword “asana” as a way of staying competitive — they appear as the first search result.

🚀 How To Maximize Potential 

1. Get super specific with your targeting. 

Don’t settle for a broad approach. Narrow your targeting based on demographics, interests, and past performance to reach the ideal audience. 

You can take into account demographics like age, location, and income to reach the ideal customer profile.  Go even deeper by factoring in user interests and past browsing behavior. Analyze past campaign performance data to identify what resonated with your audience and tailor your targeting accordingly. This ensures your ads are shown to the users most likely to convert.

2. Use long-tail keywords. 

Highly competitive, single-word keywords can be expensive and crowded.  Instead, consider incorporating long-tail keywords — longer, more specific phrases. These might have lower search volume, but they also attract users with higher purchase intent. 

3. Engage in re-marketing. 

You can actually use Google Ads to create a remarketing list of people who visited your website. 

Essentially, you add a snippet of code to your website which tracks user behavior on your site. You can define the criteria for who gets added to the list (specific pages visited, items in cart, etc.).

You can then target your Search Ads to only those on your list who search for your terms. This allows you to increase your bid for these users who you know are more likely to convert, which will help you maximize ROAS. 

4. Write compelling ad copy. 

With SEA, you have limited space to convince your users to sign up, so make it count! 

Ensure your copy is clear, concise, and highlights the benefits and unique value proposition of your SaaS.  

Don't forget to include a strong CTA that compels users to click and learn more. 

Social Media Advertising

Paid social media advertising allows you to engage in detailed targeting based on demographics and interests. 

Unlike search advertising, where users are actively seeking solutions, social media lets you connect with potential customers who haven't yet begun their search. 

This makes it a powerful tool for building brand awareness and driving initial interest in your product.

Popular social media channels for SaaS ads:

  • LinkedIn: The go-to platform for B2B marketing, allowing you to connect with professionals in your industry. However, keep in mind that advertising costs tend to be higher on LinkedIn.
  • Software Review Sites: Platforms like G2 and Capterra help you reach users actively researching and comparing SaaS solutions.
  • Meta Ads: With extensive targeting options, Meta Ads (Facebook, Instagram) caters to both B2C and B2B audiences, depending on your chosen strategy.
HubSpot uses Meta Ads to promote a lead magnet.

✅ Pros Of Social Media Advertising

  • Broad reach: Social media platforms give you access to a massive user base.
  • Cost-effectiveness: You can benefit from generally lower advertising costs compared to other advertising channels.
  • Targeting power: Social media allows you to find users based on detailed demographics and interests.

❌ Cons Of Social Media Advertising

  • Crowded space: Standing out among other ads can be challenging — users are bombarded with ads on social media. 
  • Not relevant for every SaaS: Excluding LinkedIn, social media advertising is more suited to low-ticket SaaS items. 

🚀 How To Maximize Potential 

1. Use compelling visuals. 

Social media is a visual medium. Use high-quality images and videos that grab attention and effectively communicate your message.

2. Prioritize low-friction conversions. 

Unlike with e-commerce, social media users are rarely going to make software purchases based on impulse.

Because of this, it’s better to use your ads to encourage low friction conversions. For example, ask users to sign-up for a free trial or download an e-book, leaving you with leads to nurture through further marketing.  

3. Promote content. 

Leverage social media’s wide reach to promote your company’s content. For example, urge users to click through to access informative blog content or industry reports. This will help you increase your site’s web traffic as well as your brand’s authority.

4. Take advantage of data.

Social media platforms offer analytics tools that provide detailed data on ad performance.  Use this data to understand what's working and what's not, allowing you to continually refine your strategy and optimize your campaigns for better results.

Display Advertising

Display advertising involves placing targeted ads in various formats (banners, videos, native ads) across websites and apps frequented by your ideal customers. 

This strategic placement allows you to reach people who are already interested in topics relevant to your product. 

Amazon Web Service (AWS) uses strong visuals and distinctive branding in their display ads.

✅ Pros Of Display Ads

  • Contextual targeting: You can increase your brand recognition for niche products by placing ads on websites relevant to your target audience. This is particularly beneficial for new SaaS solutions or those catering to specific industries. 
  • Retargeting: Display ads allow you to capture the attention of website visitors who haven't converted yet. By displaying targeted ads across other platforms they frequent, you can remind them about your SaaS and potentially nudge them towards signup.

❌ Cons Of Display Ads

  • Disruptive experience: Many users find display ads intrusive, particularly overly flashy or poorly designed ones. This can lead to negative brand perception if not implemented carefully.
  • Ad-blockers: The increasing popularity of ad blockers can significantly limit the reach of your display advertising campaigns. A significant portion of users might not see your ads at all.

🚀 How To Maximize Potential 

1. Choose your publisher carefully. 

Niche targeting is the biggest advantage of using display ads. Place your ads on websites and apps that are relevant to your industry or niche. This ensures your message reaches users who are most likely to be interested in your SaaS offering.

2. Use strong visuals and copy. 

Display ads exist in an over-crowded space. In order to reap any benefit, it’s essential to use high-quality visuals that are relevant to your product. Combine this with clear, concise copy that effectively communicates the value proposition of your SaaS.

3. Employ low-friction CTAs. 

Like with social media ads, your display ads should include clear CTAs that encourage users to take the next step. Focus on low-friction actions like signing up for a free trial, downloading a lead magnet, or requesting a demo. This makes it easier for users to convert without feeling pressured.

For a deeper dive into display ads for SaaS, you can check out our article, How To Make The Most Of Your SaaS Display Ads

Email Advertising

Email marketing is the broader strategy of building relationships with potential and existing customers through email.

It involves sending informative and engaging content, nurturing leads, and promoting brand loyalty — welcome emails, educational newsletters, product updates, special offers, etc. 

Since I’m focusing on paid advertising, I want to point out a type of email advertising that is popular with SaaS companies: newsletter sponsorships. 

This type of advertising allows you to place ads in the newsletters of big-name companies in your industry, allowing you to take advantage of the newsletters’ already-established audience in the niche or industry your product serves. 

Indie Hackers offers ad spots in their email newsletters.

✅ Pros Of Email Advertising

  • Targeted audience: Newsletter ads allow you to reach an audience with a demonstrated interest in your industry.
  • Enhanced credibility: Association with a trusted newsletter boosts brand perception and positions you as an industry expert.

❌ Cons Of Email Advertising

  • Cost: Newsletter sponsorships can be expensive, particularly when targeting high-profile publications.
  • Competition: Popular newsletters may have a waiting list for sponsorships, making it harder to secure a spot.

🚀 How To Maximize Potential

1. Be meticulous in your newsletter selection. 

Newsletter sponsorship can be pricey, so for the biggest ROI, so in addition to selecting a newsletter with a strong reputation, make sure it aligns with your target customers.

You can use a database like Reletter to search through different newsletters and find the one that most suits your product and budget. 

2. Add value with your ads. 

Newsletter subscribers are there to learn about a certain subject, so make sure your ad feeds their interest and offers value.

Instead of shooting for direct sales, try promoting content like a blog article or white paper. 

Advertising In Online Communities

Advertising within online communities is another great way for SaaS companies to connect with their ideal customers. These communities are centered around specific interests or professions, allowing you to place your product in front of customers who are already actively seeking information and exploring solutions. 

Some relevant online communities that offer paid advertising:

  • Superpath: This community specializes in all things content marketing and provides the opportunity for companies to place ads within different areas, from Slack channels to podcasts. 
  • Stack overflow: Stack Overflow is a Q&A website for developers that allows targeted ad placements relevant to specific programming languages and developer needs. This can be a perfect advertising spot for SaaS products catering to the developer community.
  • GitHub: GitHub allows companies to support open-source projects in exchange for logo placement and visibility within the project's repository — an effective way to increase brand awareness within the tech industry.
Superpath is advertising Hopscotch, a billing tool for freelancers, in their Slack community. 

✅ Pros Of Online Communities

  • Hyper-targeted reach: Community advertising allows you to target potential customers who are already engaged in discussions and activities relevant to your product. This ensures a high degree of relevance compared to broader advertising strategies.
  • Enhanced credibility: By advertising within a community, you’re taking advantage of the existing trust and reputation of the platform to enhance your brand perception. Seeing your ad alongside other trusted resources can make your SaaS offering more appealing to potential users.
  • Community insights: Online communities offer valuable data and insights into the needs and challenges faced by their members. Just by hanging around on the platform, you can get an idea of how to tailor your messaging and product offerings to resonate with the community.

❌ Cons Of Online Communities

  • Ad Fatigue: Community members are there seeking information. They will be wary of overly promotional content, and it can easily lead to user fatigue or negative sentiment. 
  • Community Guidelines: You have to make sure your advertising approach aligns with the specific guidelines and regulations of the community. Depending on the platform, you might have restrictions on ad content or placement.

🚀 How To Maximize Potential 

1. Carefully select your community. 

The success of your ads obviously depends on choosing the right community. 

Not only must you make sure it's the right choice in terms of audience, but you also want to make sure the community is active with a high level of engagement before making any sort of advertising investment. 

2. Engage in the community. 

Beyond paid promotion, actually engage in the community you’ve selected. By offering valuable content like tutorials, articles, or participating in discussions, you can establish your expertise and build trust with potential customers.

Affiliate Advertising

Affiliate advertising promotes your SaaS product by partnering with websites or influencers. These partners then promote your SaaS in exchange for a commission on sales generated through their unique referral link.

While affiliate marketing can be a good option for many SaaS companies, it's important to note that it may not be as effective as in B2B spaces.  

Longer sales cycles can make it more challenging to directly attribute conversions to specific affiliate efforts, so it can be hard to evaluate the effectiveness of your affiliate partners. 

Bannerbear uses its website to clearly promote their affiliate program. 

✅ Pros Of Affiliate Advertising

  • Performance-based model: You only pay when someone signs up or purchases through your affiliate's link, minimizing upfront costs.
  • Targeted audience reach: Affiliate programs allow you to leverage the audience trust and credibility established by your affiliates, potentially reaching highly relevant customers already interested in your niche. 

❌ Cons Of Affiliate Advertising

  • Reliance on partner performance: The success of your program depends on your affiliates' marketing efforts.
  • Finding the right partners: Identifying high-quality partners with a relevant audience can prove challenging.
  • Commission costs: Commissions can eat into your profit margins, so you must be sure to choose the right commission structure.

🚀 How To Maximize Potential 

1. Ensure an attractive affiliate program.

Create a competitive commission structure that incentivizes partners to promote your product effectively — high enough to motivate partners to put in the effort, but also sustainable for your business model.

2. Give your affiliates the right tools. 

Consider helping out your partners by providing them with comprehensive marketing materials and resources, making it easy for them to effectively promote your SaaS. This could include product information, banners, and social media copy suggestions.

3. Keep an open line of communication.

Beyond enticing affiliate partners with a strong offer, make sure to keep up consistent communication. Offer regular updates on program performance, share new marketing materials, and be willing to accept feedback they may have to offer you. 

Key SaaS Advertising Tactics To Use Across Channels

Now that you’ve grasped the key SaaS advertising channels and their nuances, I will lay out a few overarching tactics for building high-performing SaaS ads — no matter the platform!

Target Existing Customers 

Neglecting existing customers is a missed opportunity. 

Remember, the SaaS model thrives on long-term value. Advertising can help you extend CLTV. 

First, you can use retargeting campaigns to reconnect with existing customers and showcase relevant offerings. 

Think promoting upgrades that enhance their current experience, introducing valuable add-on features, or highlighting complementary products.

Alternately, you can use advertising to showcase your product's full potential. Targeted advertising can illuminate lesser-known features, educating existing customers and encouraging them to explore the complete set of functionalities your product offers.

Focus On User Benefits Over Features

It’s tempting to overly focus on features when advertising SaaS products. 

But the thing is, people buy solutions, not features. 

Think about when you buy something: Would you rather hear about a long list of technical specifications or how a product can solve a specific pain point in your daily workflow? 

It’s better to focus on the “why” behind your product’s features. 

Make sure your ads highlight how your product solves real problems and delivers tangible benefits through your ad copy and calls to action. 

In short: 

  • Ditch the technical jargon.
  • Show how your product improves customers’ lives. 

Test And Optimize 

When it comes to your ad campaigns, you want to avoid making assumptions and continuously optimize your ad performance. 

The best way to do this is through A/B testing. 

Test different headlines, CTAs, and visuals to see which resonate best with your audience, and don't be afraid to experiment and see what clicks!

Analyzing your ad performance metrics will help you refine your targeting, messaging, and overall strategy. Data is your friend — use it to make informed decisions and constantly improve your advertising campaigns.

Measuring Success When It Comes To SaaS Advertising 

The complex buyer journey and focus on mental availability make attribution and measuring ROI a challenge in SaaS advertising (and marketing as a whole). 

Last-click attribution might credit the final touchpoint before a sale, but that's just a sliver of the customer's decision-making process.

If you want to gain a more holistic view of your advertising's impact, you should definitely pay attention to:

  • The multitouch attribution model: This approach assigns value to each interaction a potential customer has with your brand. It provides a clearer picture of how different channels, both organic and paid, contribute to conversions.
  • Customer lifetime value: This metric goes beyond immediate sales and focuses on the total revenue a customer generates over their relationship with your product. By optimizing for long-term value, you can ensure your advertising strategy aligns with the SaaS model's core principles.
  • Engagement metrics: Look beyond conversions and consider ad metrics like reach, impressions, and click-through rates. While not a direct measure of ROI, strong engagement indicates your ads are resonating with the target audience and building brand awareness — an important step in the SaaS buyer’s journey.

Keep in mind, success isn't always measured in immediate sales. 

Building brand awareness, nurturing leads, and cultivating long-term customer relationships are all valuable outcomes of a well-rounded SaaS advertising strategy! 

Alexis Herrington

I’m the new SEO hire at ScaleCrush! A former teacher, I love transforming complex topics into easy-to-understand content. I’m always busy learning all about marketing and love sharing my thoughts along the way.

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