A Founder's Guide to SaaS SEO
July 23, 2022
A Founder's Guide to SaaS SEO
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Hey, Vince here, the CEO of ScaleCrush.
I could start by telling you the obvious.
That SaaS SEO is about choosing the right keywords, having a technically sound website, and promoting content.
But I bet you wouldn’t want to read it, and I don’t want to write it, either.
Instead, I'd rather take up some of your time (and mine, writing this, waaayyyy before you read it) writing about SaaS SEO for real.
Writing about what makes SaaS SEO different from the rest of SEO and what SEO can do to help your SaaS business.
So, we're not going to dive deep into technical audits, keyword research, backlink strategies, or rankings factors.
If you want to read about that, you can read about it in this guide from Backlinko.
In this article, we're going to talk about :
- How to use SEO to charm your investors
- How you can use your product as the foundation of your SEO strategy
- How to use SEO to reduce churn, increase LTV, reduce CAC/CPA, and drive more MQLs.
In this article, you'll learn strategies used by great, successful companies like Biteable and ClickUp.
We'll go in-depth with lots of practical examples.
Let's dive in.
A Founder's Definition of SaaS SEO
In the rare case you don't already know what SaaS SEO is, let's start with a brief definition.
SaaS SEO is the branch of Search Engine Optimation focusing on improving the search performance of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) companies.
It’s also sometimes used as a way to describe SEO for B2B and B2C software companies, as most software companies have now pivoted to the SaaS business model.
Well, now that the introductions are over, let's dive into the good stuff.
What Makes SEO for SaaS Companies Different?
I told you this already: I could go on forever telling you to choose the right keywords and optimize for the 200+ ranking factors that Google sometimes magnanimously bestows upon us mere mortals.
But that doesn't really help you, does it?
Let's start with this: the SaaS business model is quite unique. Mainly so because it’s based on a theoretically infinitely scalable product.
SaaS brands can have an infinite amount of clients, an infinite amount of features, an infinite amount of touchpoints, etc.
Quite frankly, one could argue that a lot of SaaS solutions are over-engineered.
They have lots and lots of features, and product teams keep adding more as customers request them.
This stems from the fact that SaaS companies can target as many audiences as they like - providedthey have the budget to develop the features.
The abundance of features, target audiences, and the like can also be seen as a blessing, at least from an SEO point of view. We'll get into that later.
Content-led SEO for SaaS Brands
Most SaaS companies should adopt what some call a "content-led" strategy.
That sounds super fancy, but it's just a simple way to say that your SEO efforts are driven through written content.
This is opposed to sites like eCommerce websites, which often focus on the more technical aspects of SEO (there’s a case to be made that eCommerce SEO is more than that, but that's for another article).
For most brands, and especially SaaS brands, producing content can feel like a black box (we have a solution for that).
A lot of SaaS founders I talk to don’t really know what to write about.
Or how to go about writing that content.
We're going to dive deeper into that later, but the secret to SaaS SEO is to understand your funnel, and build content for each stage.
Not all users (and searchers) are ready to buy today. Buyer's journeys and sales cycles are (way) more complicated than that.
You need to:
- Capture people looking for your brand (Branded Queries)
- Educate people who don’t know your solution exists (Attention)
- Raise awareness of people who know the solution, but not your brand or product (Awareness)
- Help users understand your solution and how it can help them do their job(s) (Consideration)
- Help them understand why your solution is better than your competitor's (Conversion)
- Keep existing customers engaged, and turn them into referrers (Customer).
This "funnel" magic happens for all brands, but SaaS companies face two major differences:
- They need to keep their customers engaged to maximize LTV (by reducing churn).
- Unless bootstrapped, they need to delight investors and gain market visibility for future funding rounds.
But let's set that aside for now.
We'll come back to these two topics soon enough.
Product-led SEO for SaaS Companies
All this leads us to the idea of "product-led SEO", popularized by the eponymous book by SEO genius Eli Schwartz.
You can also read this recent article he wrote to learn more about the topic.
The overarching idea that Schwartz deploys in the book is as follows: focus on users, not keywords.
Yes, it's that simple.
By focusing on how the product can help users, you'll write engaging content that people will want to read on topics they care about.
You won't think of your content as a collection of keywords to target, but rather as a series of topics to address - much more "organic", right?
How SEO Helps SaaS Companies Increase Their Bottom Line, and Why SaaS SEO Is Important
Ok, let's get into the juicy stuff: how can SEO actually help SaaS brands?
Well, I'd argue it can do so in multiple ways:
- More organic traffic, brand awareness, brand equity & brand visibility
- More organic leads/signups/MQLs/demos
- Compounding, cost-effective growth
- Lower acquisition costs
- Increased LTV/Reduced churn
- Improved other marketing efforts through overall brand visibilitySupport long sales cycles
- Delight investors & facilitate funding rounds.
Let's look at each of these in detail.
1. The right SEO Strategy improves marketing diversity
In the early stages, most companies (SaaS included) turn to ads to fuel growth, and understandably so.
But there comes a time when ads become an unsustainable growth driver.
Or rather, relying solely on ads does.
Ads can only get you so far, because:
- They have limited reach,
- They're quite expensive,
- There’s a glass ceiling to spending budgets,
- They’re prone to rapid market shifts (iOS 14/15, algorithm changes, etc.),
- There are rising privacy concerns,
- They have overall diminishing returns.
At this stage, company founders or marketing executives go on the hunt for ways to diversify their marketing mix.
This is where SEO comes in.
As I'll explain in a moment, SEO is a great solution to this problem because it has compounding returns.
In other words, it's a great complement to paid marketing (even more than you think, so keep reading).
Organic traffic is not something you can ignore. Any website gets organic traffic when a business is successful.
2. SEO's compounding results mean easy scaling
There’s a common misconception when it comes to SEO. People tend to see it as an expense.
This is because they're so engrained in the "paid mindset."
When you pay for ads (be it on social media or search engines), you want to get an instant return because it’s an expense.
If you turn off the tap (stop spending), the faucet stops filling (no more incoming revenue).
Let's keep this metaphor going: SEO is owning the tap.
When you invest in a SaaS SEO campaign, it's going to be through content.
Your website and the content it contains are owned assets. You actually own your traffic.
You build the house instead of renting it.
This is the reason we can talk about "compounding growth": each new piece of content or link to your website builds on previous ones.
The more content you build, and the more you promote that content, the better your search performance.
Look at this image comparing Hubspot's all-time traffic growth to the all-time performance of the S&P500:
You can see that the two graphs look very much alike.
Now, this is a real-world example from one of our clients:
Most very successful SaaS companies use content marketing as a growth lever.
But this tactic only works if you:
- Build content based on research, not intuition
- Create the right kind of content for your specific audience
- Don't half-ass it.
Compounding growth is built off of great content. I'll show you a few examples of that later.
3. SEO helps tame CPA/CAC
Another way SEO helps successful SaaS companies is with acquisition costs.
As you know, the SaaS business model allows SaaS companies to spend more than other types of companies on acquisition, thanks to a higher Customer Lifetime Value (LTV).
This implies that the Cost per Acquisition (CPA) and the Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC) can be quite high as long as there’s a return on investment .
Up to a certain point.
SEO can help reduce CPA and CAC in a few ways:
- Increasing the amount of organic MQLs/PQLs
- Educating the market on your solution to create more demand
- Providing a great source of retargeting material from organic traffic (users who visit your site can later be targeted with much more focused ads)
- Increasing visibility and brand awareness leads to more brand equity, leading to higher engagement rates on ads.
But don't take my word for it.
Here's HockeyStack CEO Emir Atlı sharing his growth on LinkedIn:
In order to achieve a CAC/CPA decrease, SaaS brands need to determine:
- Content topics to address to attract people who are ready to buy or sign up
- The type of content needed to answer these people's questions.
One cannot go in blind - that's a recipe for disaster.
And that's why so many brands fail at content marketing and SEO.
4. SEO Content helps reduce churn by keeping existing customers engaged
Another great way to scale in the SaaS industry is increasing Lifetime Value or reducing churn - these are both sides of the same coin.
Existing customers are prone to churn when they search for new features, alternative tools or alternative ways to ease their pain.
Take my example.
As an agency owner in 2022, I have quite basic invoicing needs.
I need to be able to create basic, compliant invoices (I live in France and my business is registered there).
I went with Quickbooks, one of the biggest players in the market.
But here's the catch: I need to be able to create invoices in USD because 90% of our work is done globally.
Quickbooks FR doesn't allow that.
So, what did I do?
I searched for a new tool with that feature (also compliant with the French law).
Even though I'm an existing customer, I’m still looking for alternative ways to ease my pain.
As you can see in the screenshot above, Quickbooks and major invoicing software platforms are nowhere near the first page when searching for "multicurrency invoicing."
Your existing users are the same: they may be using your tool, but they will churn the second a better opportunity presents itself.
Now imagine for a second that Quickbooks had showed up when I searched for "multicurrency invoicing software."How different would that story be?
You need to be there when your existing customers search.
The good news is that, as my previous example shows, the type of thing your existing customers search for (apart from support-related stuff, which you should also definitely have) is very close to the "Attention" stage of the funnel.
So you can "kill two birds with one stone" here - but you need to make sure you cater your content to them as well.
4.1. Content Topics, Keyword Research and Search Volume
I want to take a moment here to discuss a very important topic.
When you read the above section, you may have had the following reaction:
"Why on earth would I spend resources writing content on keywords that have such a low search volume?"
In a sense, you'd be right: these specific search terms have a low search volume:
This is what so many brands get wrong: you don't write a content piece because a tool tells you to.
You write about something because it keeps people up at night.
In other words, you need to know what keeps your users up at night - or at least what prevents them from doing their job properly.
In my case, it was invoicing in multiple currencies.
You need to determine what that is for you! :)
Read our full guide on content strategy for SaaS companies for more information.
4. SEO & Content Marketing help all channels
Successful SEO campaigns have a secret effect - an almost invisible one: they boost the effectiveness of your other marketing channels, such as:
- Paid social media traffic
- Paid search
- Organic social media traffic
- Email marketing
This is due to a specific cognitive bias called the mere exposure effect.
I won't go too much into detail here, but the mere exposure effect is quite simple: the more we humans are exposed to something, the more likely we are to like it - or at least view it in a positive manner.
This is one of the reasons advertising works.
In other words, the more people see your brand, the likelier they are to buy from you (huge shortcuts here).
SaaS SEO & content marketing lead to increased brand awareness, and thus to increased brand equity, especially if you make the effort to write great content.
That in turn leads to more effective marketing campaigns overall.
Another big plus is that you can upcycle your SEO content into a lot of things:
- Social media posts
- White papers
- Slide decks
- Something else! There’s an infinite number of possibilities.
5. Great content marketing supports the sales cycle
Last but not least, SEO can help support your sales cycle.
This will have a different impact depending on the type of SaaS company you own.
Not all SaaS brands have a free plan and a $10 pro plan. Some have much higher barriers to entry.
And those will have longer sales cycles:
- Enterprise-level SaaS
Plus, some SaaS companies have an enterprise version.
For example, subscribing to Hubspot as a Freelancer might be an instant thing, but deciding between Hubspot and Salesforce as a 50+ people business is going to take longer.
In this case, it's very important to show up to help your prospective customers decide.
SEO and content marketing will help you get in front of them daily while your sales team is working.
And if your competitors are there and you're not ... well, you see what I mean.
6. Investors love visibility and rankings
I have often spoken to founders who wanted me to "improve their SEO" to rank for highly competitive terms to impress current and potential investors.
This is obviously the wrong approach - you should now understand that most business results come from focusing on very high-intent queries.
Investing in SEO for the sole purpose of ranking for the most competitive search terms in your industry is going to leave you with a bitter taste in the mouth.
With that said, SEO can help funding rounds in two ways:
- Revenue driven by organic search is highly valuable and scalable,
- Ranking for competitive search terms is impressive.
Anyone can drive revenue with ads, but everyone knows it’s very expensive, and not that scalable.
SaaS Content Marketing: How to Build Across the Funnel
We need to demystify something now: Search Volume and Keyword Difficulty should not drive your SaaS SEO Strategy.
As I've highlighted earlier, we usually divide the typical SaaS funnel/buyer's journey into 6 stages (your mileage may vary here):
- Branded - People specifically looking for your brand: "hubspot free crm", "salesforce alternative", etc.
- Attention - People who don’t know your solution exists, but express a problem: "how to accept online payments," "how to optimize content for SEO," etc.
- Awareness - People know the solution exists, but don't necessarily know your brand: "what is a seo content optimizer," "how to choose accounting software," "is a learning management system right for me," etc.
- Consideration - People know the solution and your brand. They are trying to understand whether/how it can help them: "multi-currency accounting software."
- Conversion - People have decided to go with this solution, and now they need to choose a provider: "best employee productivity software," "clickup vs asana," "freshdesk alternatives," etc.
- Customer - People are using your solution, but they’re still looking for alternatives and specific features.
This high-level funnel is great, but we can simplify it to be more "actionable."
Marketers love talking about Top Of The Funnel (TOFU), Middle Of The Funnel (MOFU) and Bottom Of The Funnel (BOFU) Content.
- TOFU = Attention + Awareness
- MOFU = Consideration
- BOFU = Conversion
Let's look at a real-life example in ClickUp, the powerhouse of a project management tool.
This is what their traffic looks like:
Top Of The Funnel (TOFU) Keyword Strategy
At this stage, website visitors aren’t looking for a project management solution yet.
It's all about making people aware that their problems can be solved with one of these tools.
ClickUp produces blog content focused on high-level keywords such as:
- mind map examples
- team building activities
- kaban board
- project charter template
- task management
Because Clickup already has a lot of SEO content, you see that they can write about things that are quite remote from their core business - project management - and that's perfectly fine.
Middle Of The Funnel (MOFU) Keyword Strategy
In the middle of the funnel, people know about project management software, but they're still considering their options. They haven’t done the research yet.
For ClickUp, this means focusing on keywords like:
- free project management software
- task management software
- goal tracking apps
- best project managements tools
Bottom Of The Funnel (BOFU) Keyword Strategy
At the BOFU stage, site visitors have decided that they're going to use the solution, and they're now trying to decide on a provider.
ClickUp has to focus on high-intent keywords:
- asana alternatives
- jira alternatives
- why choose clickup
- clickup pricing
- clickup reviews
- clickup vs asana
This is where your overall offer and positioning as a SaaS company come into play - an irresistible offer is paramount!
ClickUp is great at this.
Look at their Asana alternative page:
"The flexible, feature-rich alternative to Asana".
One sentence, two reasons to choose them.
A 4-Step Actionable Guide to SaaS SEO
So far, I've talked a lot about SaaS SEO from the business side of things.
I think this is important, because that kind of information isn't readily available online.
Nonetheless, I want to take a moment to dive into an actionable, 4-steps process to SaaS SEO:
- Technical SEO
- SEO Strategy
- SEO Content
- SaaS Linkbuilding & Promotion
1. Technical SEO for SaaS companies
As anyone will tell you, technical SEO is the first thing you should look into.
The reason is simple: if search engines cannot easily find, crawl, and understand your website and its content, you will never rank.
Think of it as buying a lottery ticket.
Buying a ticket doesn't guarantee you'll win, but you can't win without buying one.
Ok, so how does technical SEO work for SaaS websites?
I'll tell you a secret: technical SEO is overrated.
It's not that important.
In fact, 90% of SaaS websites are probably already doing ok.
That doesn't mean you should overlook it, but it shouldn't be your primary focus.
I hope you understand by now that most of your efforts should be focused on content.
Here are a few things for you to check with regarding technical SEO:
- Robots.txt optimization
- Redirects & redirect chains
- Crawlability issues
- XML and HTML ditemaps
- MetaData optimization (Title tags, MetaDescriptions)
- Structured data
- 4xx errors
- URL structure & URL user-friendliness
- Hreflang tags (for international websites)
- Analytics & Search Console Tracking Implementation
This isn't a comprehensive list. If you want a more detailed view of SaaS technical SEO, read our guide on the subject.
2. SaaS SEO Strategy: The keyword research guide for SaaS SEO
I think SEO Strategy is the most important part of SaaS SEO.
No matter how good your content and promotion efforts are, if nothing is aligned with your overarching business goals, it's all worthless.
Strategy is VERY important.
There are (at least) 5 very important steps when it comes to building the right SaaS SEO Strategy:
- Competitive analysis
- Ideating content
- Keyword research for SaaS SEO
- Compiling into a content calendar
- Categorizing using a Hub/Spoke or Pillar/Cluster model
Using competition as the basis of your strategy
First, there’s a very high chance you have direct competitors.
And if you don't, there are surely companies who share the same target audience.
For example, ScaleCrush is a B2B SaaS SEO Agency. Our target audience is SaaS founders and marketing execs (yes, you!).
That audience is shared with SaaS dev companies, SaaS email marketing companies, SaaS consulting companies, etc. We can take inspiration from them if we need to, as well as other SaaS SEO agencies.
We would be dumb not to start there when designing our SEO strategy!
Ideating content around your users & researching keywords
Second, we like using the Jobs-To-Be-Done (JTBD) framework to ideate content.
I won't go into too much detail here - read our full-length piece on keyword research for SaaS companies to learn more.
It basically allows us to put SaaS users first and identify the problems - "jobs" - they're trying to solve.
Third, we can flush out exact content pieces by performing keyword research.
See how we don't start with keyword research? We start with content ideation instead. Then we research keywords.
Remember: users first, keywords later.
Categorizing content around content hubs
Fourth, we can compile all of that into a content calendar:
- Ideas from competitors
- Ideas from user research (JTBD)
All flushed out thanks to keyword research.
Finally, the last step is to categorize all of that content using a Hub & Spoke model.
This model has us build "Content Hubs" around a specific topic, and flush them out into Spoke posts.
Biteable has a Content Hub around "video marketing, which is supported by multiple related spoke posts on focused topics:
- Video marketing
- Video marketing stats
- Product marketing video
- Video marketing cost
- Video marketing strategy
You get the point. :)
Don't make the mistake of thinking you need 500 pieces of content to drive traffic to your website.
You can get traffic and revenue from a few dozen posts, as long as they are good and targeted.
3. What does great SaaS content actually look like?
Now that you have your content calendar, you need to go ahead and produce that content.
Which is easier said than done!
SaaS content needs to convey expertise and trust, and it needs to convince your users you can solve their problems (i.e. help them do their job).
We follow a very strict framework when producing content:
- Search Intent Research
- Content Outline
- Content Brief
- Content Writing
- Proofreading and Editing
It all starts with a GREAT content brief & outline.
The brief is the most important part of the content production process.
No brief means bad content, and a lot of frustration, believe me.
Been there, done that.
So, how do we produce a good brief?
First, we research what kind of content people want out of their search. This is done through user research but also SERP (Search Engine Results Page) analysis, and a lot of content research.
Then we compile all of this into an outline, which describes what the content structure should be, with H2s and H3s flushed out.
The third step is to write a content brief with bullet points that describe exactly what should be in each section.
Only then is that brief handed out to a writer to be written.
This allows us to limit the "writer variance", and make sure the content is going to be valuable.
In fact, let me show you exactly what the outline looks like for this section of this article (yes, I followed the exact same method to write this article, even though no writer was involved!):
As you can see, the actual piece is sometimes different from the outline - and that's ok.
But think how easy it is to write a content piece from this kind of brief: it's a breeze!
Let's look at one example of great SaaS content.
To look at one actionable example, let's come back to Biteable's hub page on video marketing.
First, their page has a whopping 11k words.
That says a lot about the amount of effort required to create it.
Right after a short introduction, you’re met with a video, plus a sticky table of contents on the right:
As you can see, they didn't miss an opportunity to add a call to action (CTA) with a straightforward, compelling value proposition at the bottom of the sticky sidebar.
Then, each section has custom illustrations:
Everytime it's needed, they have these neat cards to guide you to their spoke articles:
And they integrate their whole content strategy on this piece - not only written content. They have lots of video embeds as well:
I could go on and on about this - but you get the point.
The Biteable marketing team didn't half-ass this page.
They built great content.
Arguably one of the best articles on the topic on the internet today.
And it works: this page is currently ranking third for "video marketing":
The page got them 3k backlinks from more than 400 referring domains (including our very own scalecrush.io).
And it's on a very familiar trajectory:
Of course, this isn't the first page that the Biteable team has built. It's the pinnacle of their SEO efforts.
But I wanted to include it here as it has a regular blog format. No crazy UX or design.ust great content.
4. SaaS linkbuilding and content promotion
You've got your strategy and content calendar.
You've got a dozen content pieces, with a great hub page.
Well, the time has come to promote that content through SaaS link building.
Whatever Google tries to have you believe, links are still an important factor in modern SEO.
And SEOs love to tell you that "great content attracts backlinks."
That's true, but you still need to put that content in front of the right pairs of eyes to get people to link to it.
Here are a few very effective SaaS linkbuilding tactics that you can use:
- Broken linkbuilding
- Unlinked brand mentions
- Digital PR
- Guest posting
- Link-worthy content
We have an in-depth article about SaaS linkbuilding that you can go check out if you're interested in this.
The 3-step SaaS Growth System
The time has come for me to do a little bit of self-promotion.
You see, I run an SEO agency. And we specialize in helping SaaS companies.
We have developed an offer tailored to companies just like yours.
Let me introduce you to our 3-step SaaS Growth System.
We want to make SEO as simple and transparent as possible, so we only work on short-term projects.
No lengthy retainers, no long-term contracts, no "waiting and praying it works."
A reliable, clear scope of work.
We have a service that you'll love. It's called "The Strategy Sprint."
A 4-week sprint to give you a full, personalized SEO strategy:
- Google Analytics Audit
- Full Technical SEO Audit
- Full Site Content Audit
- High-level link strategy
- Comprehensive SEO Strategy
- Implementation Session
All of that in only 4 weeks.
Book your call here to get started.
You should now have a better high-level understanding of SaaS SEO.
I've built this guide to be as helpful as possible in giving you valid business reasons to start putting an effort into SaaS SEO.
We have many more chapters on specific areas of SaaS SEO that we explore in much more detail - I suggest you read them.
And before you go, remember: the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago.
The second best time is now.
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