From talking to dozens and dozens of SaaS businesses, it’s clear that marketers at those companies know that investing in SEO can give them really nice long-term ROI. Specifically, if you can rank in the top three results for searches related to your product, you can get a reliable stream of traffic from very qualified prospects, and likely drive a lot of product signups.
Also from our experience, the vast majority of SaaS startups (until they get really big) don’t try to build an in-house team for this, but rather hire a SaaS SEO agency and have an in-house marketer or two manage them.
However, many SaaS companies are disappointed with SaaS marketing agencies, usually for some some combination of the following reasons:
- They get fewer rankings for valuable keywords than they expected or hoped for.
- Even if they get rankings (and organic traffic), they don’t get enough trial signups or demo requests to make the SEO investment worth it.
We think these disappointments happen because most agencies skip two crucial steps in the search engine optimization process (as explained below). If you can understand these steps and how SEO should work for a SaaS company, you can ask the right questions and better determine if an SEO agency you’re considering would be a good fit.
In this article, we’ll explain how we think SaaS companies should approach SEO, and thus how to evaluate SEO agencies through the lens of our SaaS SEO strategy.
If you feel like we could be a fit for your SaaS business, check out our work with us page and reach out there.
How We Define SaaS SEO (And Why We Do It Differently)
At Grow & Convert, we define SEO for SaaS a little differently, but you’ll notice that these differences from the norm are precisely what helps avoid the typical disappointments listed above.
What is SaaS SEO?
SaaS SEO is the process of getting your website to rank for keywords that indicate people are looking for (or need) your product by optimizing existing content on your site or creating new pages to rank.
Notably, our definition includes two key parts that you won’t find in other digital marketing agencies’ definitions:
1. Finding keywords that indicate people are looking for a product like yours.
Most SEO agencies are single-mindedly focused on growing organic traffic and not nearly as concerned with lead generation or product signups. As a result, they end up optimizing your site for high-search-volume keywords that are peripherally related to your product or your industry, but pay no attention to whether those keywords indicate searchers are in the market to buy your product or have a specific problem that your product can solve. This leads to the common problem of getting a bunch of traffic from organic search but wondering why it barely converts into trials or demos.
Instead, at Grow & Convert, we obsessively focus on bottom of the funnel, high-buying-intent keywords. We call this process Pain Point SEO, and we’ve proven over and over that these keywords generate the highest volume of conversions (product sign-ups or demo requests).
We explain how we do this in-depth below.
2. Creating new pages on your site to rank for those keywords.
Beyond the keyword strategy issue above, at the tactical level of actually ranking for target keywords, many SEO agencies exclusively focus on optimizing your existing website’s pages: fixing technical SEO issues, sprinkling keywords into the page, and building links. That may work for ranking for one or two keywords via your homepage or feature/solution pages, but each of those pages can only fulfill the search intent of a handful of keywords (typically one to three).
If you want to rank for a larger list of high-conversion-intent keywords, you will sooner or later have to create new content. Why? Because SEO is competitive and Google wants to rank pages that really match each keyword’s search intent. So the more tailored you can make a page to a given keyword’s search intent, the higher the chances of it ranking.
Our 5-Step SEO Strategy for Driving Product Signups (And Which Steps Most Agencies Skip)
At Grow & Convert, our SEO strategy has five steps.
- Step 1: Keyword research to find high-converting keywords.
- Step 2: Creating a dedicated page (landing page or blog post) for each keyword that exactly matches the needs of the searcher.
- Step 3: Selling the product in the SEO content.
- Step 4: Fixing technical SEO errors.
- Step 5: External link building.
In our experience, most SEO agencies skip steps 2 and 3. They don’t tend to create new content for each new keyword they’re going after, being careful to match exact search intent, and they definitely shy away from pitching your product in the content, thinking that’s too “salesy.” But without those steps, you end up not ranking for many keywords and not converting even when you do rank.
Finally, most SEO agencies’ approach to step 1 is also very different from ours — most focus on getting traffic, while we focus on getting conversions. Below, we’ll dive into each step in detail and further explain why steps 2 and 3 are so important.
Step 1: Keyword Research to Find High-Converting Keywords
High-converting keywords are keywords that show buying intent or evidence that the searcher is trying to solve a problem your product solves. For B2B SaaS companies, these keywords typically have relatively low search volume, like 50 searches per month, on average. But in our experience, keywords with as few as 10 searches per month (or even 0 in rare cases), can still be incredibly valuable.
These are also called bottom-of-the-funnel (or BOTF) keywords. For B2B SaaS companies, these are phrases like:
- “Best X software”
- “[Use case] software”
- “[Industry] software”
- “[Competitor] alternatives”
We explain in detail why we prioritize these BOTF keywords in our SaaS content marketing strategy guide, and explain the above frameworks and more in our original Pain Point SEO article, but the bottom line is this: Their conversion rates are so much higher that they drive a higher volume of conversions even with less search traffic.
The image below of our Google Analytics report from one of our clients shows the difference in conversion volume between BOFU keywords (highlighted with boxes) and mid- or top-funnel pieces that are highly relevant to the target audience, but have little-to-no buying intent.
You see traffic in the left-most metric column and trial signups on the far right. Look at the difference between signups (far right column) of the three boxed articles versus the rest. They aren’t 20% higher or 50% higher than the rest, they’re 5 to 10 times higher than the keywords that are higher up in the sales funnel.
We quantified these conversion rate differences further in this case study looking at ~60 posts we did for a single client. We bucketed them into bottom- and top-of-funnel and calculated the conversion rate differences of each:
Again, we see that it’s not that bottom of funnel posts convert a little bit more than top — they convert 2400% more!
Nevertheless, most SaaS agencies prioritize keywords with the highest search volume, but give no consideration to whether they indicate buying intent. They often completely ignore these BOTF keywords because these keywords don’t have huge search volumes.
But we’ve found that articles going after these keywords often rank for dozens of long-tail keywords that individually may have no volume but together make up the majority of searches on the web. Keywords that show 0-10 searches per month in Ahrefs may still end up driving hundreds of pageviews and dozens of conversions each month, and they typically start ranking on page one very quickly because there’s little competition.
In fact, in that same case study above, Daniel Levi on our team goes on to note that even when you account for top of funnel content getting more traffic, they still produce significantly less total conversions than bottom of funnel content:
Step 2: Create a Dedicated Page (Landing Page or Blog Post) for Each Keyword that Exactly Matches the Needs of the Searcher
As we explained earlier, Google is trying to give searchers a list of results that perfectly match what they’re looking for. The most effective way to rank for a specific keyword is to dedicate a single page to that keyword and that keyword alone — and craft it specifically to fulfill search intent as best as you can.
Most SaaS businesses can find at least 30 to 50 BOTF keywords (and often way more) that would be incredibly valuable for them to rank for (i.e. keywords with high buying intent).
Let’s take the broad category of “inventory software” as an example. I’ve pulled a quick screenshot of an Ahrefs report showing a handful of BOTF keywords in this space.
Note: KD stands for Keyword Difficulty, GV stands for Global Search Volume, and TP stands for Traffic Potential.
There are hundreds of long-tail keywords like this that indicate people are researching inventory management software and they’re looking for specific features.
Even though all of these terms are closely related, if you put each one into Google right now, you’ll probably get a slightly different search engine results page (SERP) each time. That means Google recognizes slight differences in what the searcher is looking for with each one, and because of that, it’s almost impossible to rank for all of these terms with one landing page or article.
Many SEO agencies skip this entire step. They use a keyword report like the one above as a list of terms to sprinkle into your homepage and landing pages, hoping that one or two mentions of each phrase will earn you a spot on page one. (Internally, we jokingly call this “The Sprinkle Method”.) At best, they’ll break these keywords into sub-categories of 3 or 4 keywords, and try to get your homepage to rank for a whole category and then try to get each landing page to rank for the other categories.
Additionally, before we even start writing the piece, we do an in-depth SERP analysis to figure out what kind of article will best match the search intent. This includes critical thinking about what kind of content a person typing this term into Google would actually want to see and looking at which kind of content Google is already prioritizing for this search.
As of this writing, for example, the keyword “best inventory management software free” has nine list posts and one landing page on the first page of Google. This keyword obviously represents someone who is researching a product they want to buy, so both a landing page or a list post would be appropriate content for them, but since the SERP overwhelmingly favors lists, we’d write a list post. And in fact, we tend to favor blog posts instead of landing pages because they’re almost always better positioned to meet the needs of the searcher, and they give you enough space to get into the details of your product and its differentiators, which helps you sell better and hopefully convert more.
On-Site SEO Best Practices
- Include only one H1 heading per page.
- Include the keyword in the H1 and within the first 100 words of the article, include at least one H2, utilize the keyword as the url slug, and include the keyword in the meta description.
- Make the content extremely scannable with descriptive headings, bullet points, and images.
- Include internal links to other pages on your site and external links to authoritative sources.
- Use a tool like Clearscope to make sure you’ve thoroughly covered the topic. (Clearscope creates a list of terms you need to include in the body and in your headings to show Google that your content is the best-suited to meet the search intent. For more about how Clearscope works, watch our interview with Founder Bernard Huang.)
Any SEO expert will be familiar with these on-page SEO tactics. They’re absolutely essential to SEO. But if you leave out the SERP analysis and you try to take a shortcut and optimize one article for four or five different keywords, you’ll get disappointing results.
Notably, many SEO agencies don’t include content creation in their services at all, focusing exclusively on optimizing your existing content and suggesting that you hire a separate content marketing agency for anything new. If they do provide content creation services, they often fully outsource the writing to freelancers who don’t have domain expertise and expect them to do their own independent research.
Step 3: Sell the Product in the SEO Content
Readers who are googling BOTF terms like “best marketing analytics software” are literally doing product research and want to be confident that your product will solve their problem. They want to know if your product has the features they need and how it’s differentiated from other options they’re considering. And to seal the deal, they want to see screenshots of your product, read about specific use cases of your product, and find out how much it costs.
But most SEO agencies don’t include conversion-oriented copy like this in their content. Instead, they just focus on helpful tips and best practices, and maybe include a short CTA about their product at the end.
This is based on a long standing — but in our opinion, misguided — notion that good content only “gives” and doesn’t “ask.” However, if someone has googled a term like “best inventory management software,” then an article that takes a completely neutral stance on which software is actually the best and only provides the bare minimum details about each option is not actually giving the reader what they want.
That’s why we extensively sell your product in each article we write, and it never comes off as aggressive or pushy. Even if we’ve been with a client long enough that we’ve exhausted all the BOTF keywords we can find and we’ve moved up the funnel, we still find a way to tie in a product pitch that feels natural and helpful to the reader.
Step 4: Fix Technical SEO Errors
Technical SEO is about making sure nothing about your website structure will hurt your ability to rank. But to be clear, technical SEO alone can’t make your site rank for anything.
For software companies, technical SEO can usually be taken care of with a one-time audit (or at most, you should revisit it once a year or after any major site revamps). SaaS websites don’t usually need constant monitoring for SEO, so you probably don’t need to keep an agency on retainer just for technical SEO.
Unless your site has been around for a long time and you did a bunch of bizarre things for SEO in the early days of Google (like creating 500,000+ pages of nearly identical content), the changes will almost always be minor. Any developer can usually make the changes with the auditor’s instructions.
We occasionally run into larger site architecture issues with our clients. In our work with Circuit, a SaaS app to help couriers plan their routes and deliver packages faster, we realized their site architecture was holding back rankings. In that case, the blog had been moved to a subdomain, which was preventing our articles from getting indexed by Google. When the client moved the blog to a subfolder on the primary domain, rankings improved dramatically. (You can read the full case study here.)
Most SEO agencies focus heavily on technical SEO, and in fact, there are some SEO consulting agencies that exclusively deal with the technical side and provide constant monitoring services. Those agencies can be appropriate for eCommerce sites, because eCommerce sites tend to have hundreds or even thousands of product pages that need to rank for a ton of long tail keywords (very specific product queries). Plus, the content on those pages is usually being dynamically updated all the time (new products, out of stock, etc.), so constant monitoring makes sense.
But for SaaS companies with largely static marketing sites, you should think of technical SEO services as just a baseline housekeeping item, not an ongoing need and certainly not a key differentiator when deciding between long-term SEO partners.
Step 5: External Link Building
The last step of our process is to build external links to each of your articles. Each month, we build links to different articles we’ve published to help boost their rankings.
Most full-service SaaS SEO companies do some form of link building. Either they outsource it to an agency that exclusively does link building or they do it in-house. In many cases, they only build links to your homepage to increase your overall site’s domain authority, and they don’t include building backlinks to each article in their packages.
While building links to your homepage will increase your domain authority, which can help your homepage rank higher for the key terms it’s targeting, it won’t do much for all the other keywords you’re targeting with your blog content.
Additionally, we’ve noticed two other key points most clients don’t understand about link building:
- Link building can’t help content that doesn’t meet search intent rank.
- You almost never need as many links as a tool like Ahrefs says in order to rank in the top 10.
In our experience, even when tools like Ahrefs say you need 30, 50, or even 174 links (as in the screenshot above), we’ve found that just one or two external links can be enough to pull a really well-written article onto the first page. That’s because links are only one of the signals Google is looking for to determine what results will best satisfy the searcher.
We share more about this in our article about underdog SEO, where we show how we frequently get our content to outrank websites with much higher DA.
How Long It Typically Takes SaaS Businesses to See ROI from SEO
Most SEO agencies will tell you it takes anywhere from 3-12 months for you to see results from their SEO efforts. While we agree that growing SEO as a marketing channel requires patience, we don’t think these industry estimates are very helpful because there can be so many variables at play — SEO competitiveness in different industries, promotion channels unique to certain niches, fame, and following of founders or key executives, among other specifics.
But to help our prospective clients gauge how long it typically takes to see results from SEO, we did an analysis of our own clients to determine how long it takes to get a ranking on page one, because a page one ranking is an absolute requirement to being able to generate leads and grow MRR from SEO.
We go into the details of our analysis in the article, but here are the two key takeaways from our analysis:
- It typically takes 5 months to get our first page 1 ranking.
- In about a year, almost every post is ranking on page 1.
What’s the value of a No. 1 ranking? Of course, it varies per client based on the volume of searches in your industry and the cost of your service. For our client Circuit, a pretty typical B2B SaaS with a self-service free trial, it meant an average of 30 signups per month with 0 extra effort or advertising spending from one article.
Imagine 30 SEO keywords with high buying intent for your product — keywords that indicate that the searcher is looking to buy a product or service like yours. In a year, if you work with an agency that follows all five steps we outlined, you’ll likely be ranking on the first page — if not in the top 3 spots — for all 30 of them.
What It Looks Like to Work with a SaaS SEO Agency
Grow & Convert is a fully done-for-you content marketing agency focused on B2B and SaaS clients. We create your content strategy, write three premium, high-converting articles each month, audit, monitor, and constantly improve your technical SEO, and systematically improve your search engine rankings (and thus, traffic) through link building and paid ads.
We’ve just shared the five elements that make our SEO process different from most agencies. Here’s how the process breaks down month-by-month:
Month 1: Onboarding
First, you’ll fill out our onboarding questionnaire. It’s not exhaustive, it won’t require you to convene the whole marketing team to find the answers, and you can skip answers that aren’t worth digging for. It should take 30 minutes.
Then, you’ll be paired with one of our passionate SaaS SEO experts, and in most cases, one dedicated writer, who will become experts on your product and your industry over the course of the engagement.
Next, we’ll meet with key members of your team (often customer success and sales) to learn everything about your business goals, your customers’ pain points, how your product solves them, and anything that differentiates your product from your competitors.
Then we’ll launch our fully done-for-you content marketing program with one article in that first month.
Months 2-5: Launching Our Done-For-You SaaS SEO Services
Starting in the second month of our engagement, we write three high-quality articles per month.
During the next three months, we test a variety of types of BOTF keywords to figure out which ones convert at the highest rate. We also complete a technical SEO audit and help you implement the recommendations. Most clients start to see a few page one rankings by the end of month five and have one or two articles that are driving product signups.
Months 5-8: Gaining Traction
Months five through eight are typically where we see a client start to gain traction — with traffic and conversions spiking. They start to see four or five articles ranking on page one, and maybe a few No. 1 rankings, and multiple articles are driving qualified leads and signups.
Some clients may even hit a “breakeven” point here based on their average conversion rate from trial-to-paid or demo-to-customer, etc.
Month 12+: Driving Lead Generation through SEO
After a year together, many of our clients are ranking on page 1 for 30-40 high-intent keywords. Our SEO campaigns are driving consistent organic growth through product signups and leads.
Want to Work with Us?
You can learn more and reach out about working with us here.