Interested in SEO but not sure what is involved, how to get started, and what can be gained? Let’s take a high-level look at SEO as it applies to SaaS startups.
What Is SEO All About?
Search engine optimization (SEO) is a long-term Internet marketing effort to make specific pages of your website rank highly on Google when people are searching for the software services you sell. The main goals of a SaaS SEO campaign are to drive an ever-increasing amount of organic traffic to your website, and then — and this is crucial — having that traffic convert by making an inquiry or signing up for your service.
In the long run, a well-conceived and well-executed SEO campaign generates ROI by producing conversions that exceed the value of the campaign cost. To achieve positive ROI, an SEO campaign typically must run at least 6-12 months — much depends on the value of a conversion. Monthly budgets for SEO campaigns can range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars.
Why Invest in SEO?
SEO is extremely popular in almost all verticals for several reasons. The most important benefits of SEO from a SaaS perspective include:
- Tapping into the world’s largest digital marketplace. Google processes upwards of 5.6 billion searches per day. Very few businesses can afford to ignore such a gigantic market — the largest in the world.
- Tapping into that market when people are looking for what you sell. More specifically, SEO enables you to effectively target prospects at various stages of the buying journey — more on that later when we talk about keywords.
- Establishing credibility and building brand awareness by appearing in Google’s organic rankings. For SaaS startups, credibility and brand awareness are always a challenge, and many of your prospects (who are more tech-savvy than the average search engine user) will take note of your high rankings.
- Building a better website. Google wants to deliver its search engine users top-quality results in its SERPs (search engine results pages). Thus, what Google crawlers (“Googlebots”) want in your website pages — in terms of content, design and user experience — is also what your prospects want. If your website pages earn high rankings, your visitors will have a positive experience regardless of how they found your site.
How Does SEO Work?
For the sake of simplicity, let’s strip down an SEO campaign to the absolute basics of strategy and tactics
1. Keyword research
Everything in SEO starts with keywords, the words people use to make a query on the Google search engine. If you want to lay the groundwork for SEO, the first and best thing to invest in is professional keyword research. If you target the wrong keywords, all ensuing SEO work will be marginally effective or useless.
Keyword selection is based on several factors, including:
- Volume — If too few people search for that keyword phrase, you won’t get enough traffic to justify the SEO investment.
- Relevance — The keywords must be relevant to the content on your ranked web page, or visitors will not convert and may get a poor impression of your brand.
- Competitiveness — If major competitors dominate rankings for the keyword, you may not have the budget to make a dent, in which case looking for more niche keywords (“longtail” keywords) is a better option.
- Intent — Keywords with buying intent are more likely to generate search engine traffic that produces conversions. This is a very important aspect of SEO in SaaS since buyer intent can be targeted at distinct points in the buying journey. For instance, a CRM firm could target:
- “crm advantages” for prospects doing preliminary, general research
- “crm comparisons” for prospects doing comparative, feature-focused research
- “crm pricing” for prospects ready to buy
2. On-site SEO
Once target keywords are selected (keeping the number of keywords low enough to fit your budget), your website must be properly configured. Important issues include:
- Having unique web pages dedicated to target keywords. These will be the web pages your SEO campaign will concentrate on optimizing. Typically, in SaaS, target pages include the home page, landing pages for certain services and free trial/freemium registration pages.
- Making sure the “plumbing” of your website has no clogs that prevent Googlebots from crawling, understanding and indexing your website pages. Fortunately, Google lays out exactly how to optimize your site technically. Even better, if your website is connected to Google Search Console (which it should be, whether you’re investing in SEO or not), Google will alert you to technical issues with your site.
- Refining the content on your website, especially your home page and target pages, to:
- Include target keywords and variations of them
- Have sufficient wordcount (Google sometimes discounts pages with, say, 50-100 words.)
- Be totally focused on the keyword topic
- Provide relevant, useful, engaging and authoritative information
- Have keyword-optimized links pointing to those pages in the main navigation and on select interior pages of the website
3. Off-site SEO
Now you’re ready for ongoing, off-site SEO campaigning. The main work of off-site SEO is linkbuilding. Linkbuilding is earning links (referred to as “backlinks”) from other websites that point to your website’s home page and SEO target pages.
Backlinks are important because they are an extremely important ranking factor for Google. The logic is, if a lot of good websites like your content well enough to link to it, your content must be high-quality.
When linkbuilding is done correctly, following SEO industry best practices, it is highly effective and completely legitimate. The most popular way to earn backlinks is by writing guest articles (such as the one you’re reading now) on other websites and blogs that are highly authoritative, widely read, and have an audience relevant to your business. These articles normally include one or more backlinks, either in the body of the article or in the author’s bio.
And — just as optimizing your website for SEO helps you in other ways beyond SEO, a vigorous linkbuilding program provides other benefits extremely important to a SaaS startup, including:
- Exposing your brand to new, large and relevant audiences
- Establishing your credibility as an expert in your field
- Enabling you to educate prospects about your services and industry
- Generating referred traffic to your website from people who read your articles and want to learn more
This, then, is SEO in a nutshell. If you are not ready to start an all-out campaign, doing keyword research is still worthwhile because it will help you understand what your prospects are searching for, and how they describe what they are searching for.
Fixing your website’s technical issues is also worthwhile because Google may rank pages of your website if those Googlebots are able to crawl and index your site properly. In addition, some technical issues, such as slow page loading and broken links, can frustrate and discourage human visitors to your site.
Bottom line: SEO is good for driving relevant traffic to your website, and has fringe marketing benefits highly valuable to SaaS startups.