According to a study conducted by McKinsey, a software company is likely to go bankrupt if it grows only at 20% every year. Thus, it’s essential to pay attention to the development of a detailed and efficient SEO strategy for your SaaS startup in the early stage.
In the following guide we’re going to walk you through 7 SEO frameworks SaaS startups can use to start getting organic traffic from search in a relatively short time frame.
These are the exact growth strategy tactics we used at SearchEva to rank our SaaS clients for high-intent keywords in less than 6 months from the start of SEO promotion.
These are the same SEO frameworks our agency used to generate over 1,700 paying subscribers and signups from organic search for our SaaS clients at the early stage.
For each SEO framework, we’ll provide a brief explanation of what it is and show you step-by-step how to find the right opportunities and can start implementing them in your business. Moreover, you’ll get acquainted with essential elements of the ultimate content marketing strategy, SEO audit, keyword research, and much more.
The early stage of a SaaS startup can be characterized by the following:
Authority of your Domain, which is the main indicator of your competitiveness in search engine result pages, is less than 10. Main acquisition channel is Paid or Direct. Your main goal at this stage is obtaining first non-paying and paying customers. Your main challenge or question “is if there is enough money to cover the considerable cash demands?” The organization structure and resources: the owner does everything and directly supervises subordinates. Marketing may be run off-site by freelance contractors. Your main SEO strategy is evolving around driving targeted traffic towards free trials.
And the SEO action-plan we reviewed in this study would involve:
1. Perform an SEO audit of your website.
2. Perform Keyword Research to Identify Keywords that Would Bring Leads and Customers.
3. Build a Content plan and launch content development
4. Optimize Landing Pages and Technical Pages.
5. Diversify Your Link Building Approaches.
6. Run Niche-Targeted Outreach not only to Increase Authority but Gain Target Traffic Leads
7. Leverage HARO to Get Free Publications on High Authority Media.
1. Perform an SEO audit of the website
The SEO audit should be a first step in any SEO plan. It involves an analysis of issues that directly impact crawlability and indexability rate and can obstruct the website from getting high ranks in Google. A technical website audit is targeted to identify website errors, as well as the presence of the required SEO files. Internal SEO analysis includes:
- Analysis/creation of meta tags: titles, descriptions, H1 for length, optimization, and missing meta tags
- Ensure URLs are descriptive and optimized;
- Identify target landing pages;
- Check website for unnecessary links; remove them from the index
- Duplicate content, check for errors, proper use of redirects, sitemaps, site speed
- Internal optimization — linking within the site itself is good regarding SEO, and it is possible to influence rankings without being penalized
- Improve the website’s structure and usability
- Run and optimize the blog
- Check and optimize the site for a wide range of parameters, including broken links and indexed pages
It is important to check the website’s work, ensuring the content and structure will contribute to its promotion. This way, you’ll build a proper base for the next promotion of the product.
Learn more about the impact of technical fixes on your organic traffic and how we achieved 200% growth in monthly organic traffic in 6 months in this case study.
Tools for internal on-page analytics include: Screaming Frog, Search Console, Ahrefs, Google keyword planner.
Tools for off-page analytics: Ahrefs, SEMRush, Serpstat, Google PageSpeed Checker.
2. Perform Keyword Research to Identify Keywords that Would Bring Leads and Customers
To start the keyword research, you need to identify three to five real competitors in the niche. They might not offer identical solutions or have a different business.
When it comes to SEO keyword research, all that matters are keywords.
These competitors can be divided into subcategories: large competitors — with a large amount of landing pages and old history; direct competitors — offering similar services, and comparable solutions; competitors in SERP (search engine result page) — websites that do not have a similar business model but are in Google for search queries you want to rank for.
Competitors are interesting for many reasons: we want to see their landing pages, keywords they rank for, the look and structure of websites, and the type of content that works best.
This method aligns with the current situation on the market you are about to enter and gives room to come up with an unoccupied sphere. For this analysis, take the ones you identified on the stage of the market research or look for new ones with a fresh eye.
Competitors are interesting to look at for many reasons:
- we want to see their landing pages
- keywords they rank for
- the look and structure of websites
- the type of content that works best.
This method aligns with the current situation on the market you are about to enter and gives room to come up with an unoccupied sphere. For this analysis, take the ones you identified on the stage of the market research or look for new ones with a fresh eye.
Let’s say you end up with five competitors’ websites; start with opening an SEO research platform and analyze them. Open SEMrush of Ahrefs and filter them by the search volume. Check which queries these websites rank and what URL ranks for main keywords. It will help to identify the structure of the pages that should be on your website.
Not all pages will be relevant to your business, so pay attention only to categories that apply to your SaaS and ignore unrelated topics.
A website that has an identical overlap of offerings and structure to yours should be a priority when doing the research:
- Check out search queries with which this website ranks on top of the SERP. You want to pay attention to keywords with the highest ranks that have the lowest amount of incoming links. These should be the first keywords in your file.
- Then open Google and check out the real search result page for keywords you chose: сheck out competitors that rank in the top five, especially if these are home pages, not blog articles or secondary pages. And if you see new websites, start over at the first stage.
- Put the new website into Ahrefs or another SEO tool and check out the keywords it ranks for: pages, search queries, position. Even if you’re not familiar with the niche, notice repetitive keywords.
- If you see repetitive keywords on more than one competitive website, these search queries can also concern your SaaS. Do some additional research to check the definition of the term if needed, to make the final decision.
- If the competitor you found is a desktop version while you are promoting an online software, add the word “online” to queries it ranks for and check out their search volume. Maybe you can easily rank for those keywords.
When searching for keywords that can concern your business, pay attention to all of them, even those that are not relevant to your offering at first. Maybe you can broaden the list of software features and attract more customers as a result.
If you find the landing page for the same feature your software offers, check out the keywords it ranks for and add them to your worksheet. Export the data from the SEO tool, filter out the sheet by URLs, and check keywords leading to these pages. At this stage, the task is to find direct keywords you can use and save them. Remove irrelevant keywords from your file.
At this stage, pay attention to the categories of keywords and pages you choose. It can result in the category of the website or blog article. Add them to the same types of keywords according to the type of keyword. As we did it here for an online diagram building website:
Filter out data you have already chosen and check the number of pages websites have depending on the keyword branch. Apart from relevancy, you need to choose keywords that will bring visitors. That is why there are three types of queries: low-volume, medium-volume, and high-volume keywords. Surprisingly, it is hard to name the exact number, whether it is low or high volume because the number varies depending on the specific niche. In some markets with low margin, the high-volume keyword starts at 200K searches per month and up; in others, the high-volume keywords with 10K searches per month.
Keyword difficulty can be higher or lower depending on the search volume and popularity of the keyword. I suggest creating content for all keyword directions and promote them partially. Keywords with low search volume and low keyword difficulty may get to the top faster, and as a result, you will collect first visitors from Google sooner. But in the end, there is no guarantee which keyword will get to the top faster than others.
After you do an immersion keyword analysis, continue with a surface analysis of the website. Click through all the pages of the competitor and check their filling to see if there is anything worthwhile to add to your site.
Toolset: You will need access to at least one SEO tool such as SEMrush, Ahrefs, or Serpstat. All of them work fine for market analysis, although the data such as search volume can vary. Search volume shows the number of searches for the specific term within the last month. Before, Google with its Keyword Planner offered specific data on keyword search volume, but now this data is too broad and hard to use for keyword research.
3. Build a Content plan and launch content development, prioritized by Keyword Difficulty
It’s one thing to come up with a list of keywords that are relevant to the business, and it’s another to attract real customers with your content.
In online marketing, quality content plays a vital role; it informs, educates, sells, and persuades. With the amount of competition, poor content cannot keep a visitor and increases the bounce rate on the website. As a result, you generate a lot of traffic that doesn’t convert.
Strategic content marketing strategy, on the contrary, can result in the increase of targeted organic traffic. Find out how we skyrocketed organic traffic from 1K to 30K per month for a global restaurant reservation software company in this case study.
Creating a keyword plan for a SaaS company is relatively easy compared to e-commerce or marketplace companies. You don’t need to create difficult structures since there are likely to be around five directions for the website promotion, and you can manually collect keywords.
Add all the keywords you think are worthy to the sheet for future reference; don’t forget to add their search volume as well. Create separate columns for the landing page for each keyword. Depending on what ranks in Google, suggest which page the keyword should lead to a separate landing page, additional text for the home page, or blog article.
The display of a keyword or content plan can vary according to your needs. Here is how we did it for a global online meetings software:
Search results can vary even for the same keyword group with additional keywords added. For instance, for the database diagram niche, the keyword “relational schema” is informational, and the Google search page consists only of explanations. While a “relational schema diagram” is a more specific search term and will include home pages in search results.
Check where the keywords are placed; in some cases, it is enough to mention the keyword once in the text to give a competitive advantage. If in the process of keyword research, you stumble onto new articles, check the keyword distribution. Maybe you will find additional promotional ideas there.
4. Optimize Landing Pages and Technical Pages of the website
For landing pages, the structure of the pages can be divided into two parts: the first screen and everything that goes below.
The task of the first screen is to interest the reader so that he will scroll down. It should contain enough data to relay the product benefits and ensure they are in the right place.
Due to the speed with which people lose attention, you want to offer them something to keep the focus, to grab their attention.
Do not over intrigue or inform; keep the relationship building function related to the content of the blog.
After the first screen comes the body of the page. Its task is to provide engaging information and prepare for the call to action or form filling. Call to action, or CTA is a vital part of the page and the entire website. A CTA is a message that prompts a person to perform a specified action; it can even be the text in your meta description offering to click on the link.
Buttons can be of many different forms and shapes, but there are certain techniques that convert better.
Here is the list of effective tactics what work for conversion rate optimization of landing pages
- Argue with numbers
Convince customers using real numbers and facts. Follow the example of Salesforce, who backes up their promise with numbers and reports. If your audience also likes facts and numbers, use the Salesforce experience.
- The simpler, the better
Corporate CRM-solutions are famous for being too complicated and overloaded. But this statement does not apply to the Jive Software. Their software package is as simple as it is possible at all. Even though the product of the company unites huge user spaces for teamwork, Jive managed to keep an amazingly minimalistic design.
- Speak an understandable language
Look at GPS-tracking service Verizon Connect. They do not intend to demystify the entire GPS tracking universe. You will not find references to GIS, RFID, WLAN, PSAP, CTIA, ANI, and other mysterious terms on their website. Do you know why? Their audience has no idea what it is. Therefore, Verizon Connect does not disclose all the secrets of GPS technology but sells a ready-made solution that does not require technical problems from the client.
- Undermine cognitive load
There is one annoying thing that prohibits visitors to become your buyers — a long and confusing registration on the site. Simplify registration for people who work all day and definitely don’t want to spend that much time.
See how Ultimate Software offers registration. To download a demo version, you need to fill in only four fields on the registration form: the drop-down menus and an email address. Obviously, the registration process will not take more than a couple of minutes.
- Use the reference by 100%
While most companies are satisfied with placing their clients’ logos in the portfolio, Netsuite has gone far ahead. They created a library where they collected detailed cases describing how their SaaS product affected clients’ business. If you have a case in which you can boast of a 300% increase in client incomes, this will undoubtedly be a more significant contribution to development than the publication of the next recommendation letter from the client. Use feedback as the main component of your content marketing.
Show off the success of your customers.
Apart from Landing pages, technical pages should also be taken into attention. Technical pages such as pricing, sign-up, and sign-in are also part of the marketing flow process. When the visitor gets to the pricing page, he is almost ready to buy. This page should be friendly, and depending on the niche, have attributes of trust. For local service software, it can be an award on the pricing page; for B2B companies – logos of other companies that use your product or service. If you don’t have any companies, in the beginning, use placeholders and update the information as your company grows.
On the sign-up page, list the benefits one more time or have a clean page with only the field necessary for sign-up. This part should be tested thoroughly to know what works best for your business.
5. Diversify Your Link Building
The purpose of the link building is to get a good link to your website from a reliable source and improve its credibility. One of the most effective ways to get your first links include: outreach, link exchanges with other SAAS blogs, self-publishing, and user generated content.
Outreach involves building a connection with a person who supervises the site and manages its content and persuading him to add a mention about your SaaS company.
Self-publishing involves finding websites that allow adding links without prior approval, just for the sake of the link such as user profiles, online business cards, and lists. The link you get as a result is less valuable, but it is a useful tactic for a new website to start the ball rolling.
User-generated link building is a combination of the first two types. You have to write content, but there’s no need to go through the approval process. Such links include comments on forums and blogs, Q&A websites, and USG content websites such as personal online journals and platforms.
Link exchanges do not involve content creation and are easy to use. You offer the website owner or blogger to place a link for the exchange but avoid placing it directly on your website. In the direct exchange, when Website 1 places a link to Website 2, the power of links will be neglected. Ideally, have a second backup Website 3 where you can place a link to Website 1, and they will place it on your Website 2.
Resource pages – If you have valuable software or decent guides on the website, other people will use it or read the information you provide. That is why some websites have a resource page where they link to websites their readers will enjoy.
The idea is, the harder it is to get a link, the more valuable it is.
With the help of the outreach, you are likely to get a follow link that passes the value of the link-donor to the link-receptor. Self-publishing and user-generated websites mainly publish no-follow links, but they still participate in the overall link-cloud of the website. While the importance of no-follow and follow links is questionable, it is obvious that getting a link from a spam-free, authoritative website is better than from a website where anyone can get a link.
Learn more about how diversified link-building strategy (accompanied by comprehensive technical audit and content marketing) can result in traffic boost in the following case study.
As for the kind of links to use and the ratio of backlink profile, keep in mind your competitor’s backlink research, and deliver better links. The amount of links does not play a big role; linking websites should be relevant, not spammy, have good SEO metrics such as Majestic Trust Flow or Ahrefs domain rank and be of value. This way, you can rank higher for the desired keywords with fewer links.
6. Run niche-targeted outreach
The process of the outreach consists of the following steps:
- Finding an appropriate website
- Finding contact details of the responsible person
- Analyzing the website for the content they publish
- Craft email according to publisher’s preferences
- Follow up
The process may look a bit tedious at first glance, but if done strategically, niche-targeted outreach can yield great results. Find out how SearchEva managed to get top 5 for client website’s ranking for the Keyword with 1 Million Monthly Search Volume with the help of editorial outreach in this case study.
- The easiest way to find a suitable website for the outreach is manually through the Google search box. First, pick keywords you will use to find potential publishers. For this, you need to:
- Choose the topics of the relevant websites related to your SaaS. For an employee scheduling app, these could be business, human resources, and small business blogs, or productive and lifestyle websites.
- Choose the main keyword and expand it with third-party SEO tools or Google Keyword Planner. If you need business sites, the main keyword would be “business blog;” then we can choose similar keywords such as “business guides” or “how to start a business.”
- Use Google search operators for the most effective search.
Examples of search operators for mass search:
keyword + intext: “become a contributor”
keyword + “guest post with me”
keyword + “submit a guest post”
keyword + inurl:guest post
and many more
You can combine them and specify exact keywords or domains to search for:
keyword + intext:”contact” OR intext:”advertising” OR intext:”sponsored post” + site:.com OR site:.net OR site:.org OR site:.us
keyword + intext:”write for us” OR intext:”guest post” OR intext:”submit a guest post” OR intext:“write for me”
Improvise and search for suitable search queries for your case. You can find many others in open access on the internet. This search will narrow down potential websites; the next step is to identify whether or not they are suitable.
To understand if the website will fit, scale its theme.
All websites that you look for should be relevant to your website or have a topical category. If your SaaS is in a business niche, outreach business-related websites or portals in this category.
Cases when the theme of the website is not relevant:
- The website has high search metrics: high similar web traffic, DA, DR, SEMRush traffic
- Famous trusted websites: TechCrunch, CNN, NY Times
- When you have a lot of similar backlinks from similar topical sources, and you want to dilute it with one to two links per month from not relevant sources, but from relevant articles
- Sites with domains .gov, .edu
Then check the SEO metrics of the website: SEMRuch, Ahrefs, LinkResearch tools, Majestic. Go with one or combine sources from a couple to get a bigger picture.
Search for the contact details of the responsible person. Usually, websites that accept guest posts leave email for general inquiries or pitches in the contact section. But if you find only a general email, look for the contact of the specific person responsible for content publishing.
You can search for the contact details manually; it is easiest to start. Contacts can be hidden in various places:
- Website footer, i.e., at the bottom of the page
- Sidebar: it can have the author’s bio and his contact details
- Contact Us or About Us page: link can be in the menu or in the footer. Or search for it using the operator site:domain + contact us, put the website name on the place of the domain.
- Social pages: check Facebook information on the website and Instagram or Twitter profiles for the email.
If you want to go deeper, here are the tools to help you with the search:
- Whois — service that shows the contact details of the website owner. This method is not popular because sites are usually registered with other emails, but you can try.
- Services to auto-detect emails as hunter.io. They try various spellings with a branded email to detect the right one. In many cases, you will find at least one personal email, but check their live status before sending an email.
Manual searches improve your chances of getting a working email, so I recommend starting with the first method.
- Analyze the website to identify topics and writing style of the platform. Pay attention to the frequency of publications, whether they use formal or informal style, and how long has it been since the last time they wrote about the topic relevant to yours. That will help you come up with the proposal that might interest the publisher — what topic you can offer that might interest their readers? If it has been three years since they wrote about SMM and you have SMM-tool, don’t forget to mention it in the email; use links for references.
- Crafting an email is an important step since it has to be short, yet it should show your level of proficiency. The subject should cut right to the essence like “Guest post opportunity” or “I found a broken link on NameoftheSite.” Use the brand and individual names in the subject to make it look personal. The body of the email varies according to the link building technique, but each should demonstrate your proficiency. For guest posts, include links to your previous publications; for broken links, include a link to the piece you have published, etc. The ideal situation is always to give value to another person.
- Then comes the most important part — outreach itself. You can send emails one by one, but to scale it and get a decent amount of publications per month, use other tools like Mailshake, Prospect.io, or BuzzStream and send it in bulk. To use this method, you’ll need to have two to three draft emails with variables, to change the name, topics offered, or any information you want in one excel file, while the program will substitute these variables. An example of such an email:
In the end, it will look personalized, but you will save time on copy-pasting.
4. Once the initial outreach is done, the last step is a follow-up. Do not overspam the blogger with your emails and send no more than two follow-ups within three to four days. If no response, try in a couple of months. The advantage of using third- party outreach tools is the ability to automate the follow-up process; the program will follow up with prospects automatically and will not send an email if the person replied.
7. Leverage HARO
HARO is a short form of “Help a Reporter Out”. This is a free service used by writers or journalists who are looking for expert quotes. The service is extremely popular with different online websites and world-known magazines, including Time, Mashable, Wall Street Journal, etc.
Using HARO is the easiest way to get in touch with industry experts. Moreover, you can use this service to build relationships with various professionals and strengthen your brand’s reputation. Such activity may significantly improve the quality of backlinks. In addition, there are several tips you should follow to use HARO in the most efficient way:
- Choose the right categories. Make sure that you’ve chosen the topics which may attract your audience and provide it with important information.
- Show your expertise. You are welcome to reply to all requests that you think your company is an expert in.
- Pay attention to the Business & Finance category. According to the recent HARO study, this is the category with the highest number of queries.