search engine optimization for marketing b2b saas companies

A beginner's guide to SEO: Strategy, Tools and Tips

Liz Fieno
Mar 12, 2020

The world of SEO is constantly changing -- just last year, Google made over 500 updates to their search algorithm. That means updates every single day, sometimes even twice a day — and that’s a lot to keep up with. 

SEO is a foundation of content marketing that makes data-driven and analytical decisions. So it makes sense that it’s a pivotal piece of SaaS marketing, and plays a significant role in awareness and reach for your ideal customers. Search engine optimization best practices isn’t just important for gaining visibility and awareness within potential customers — it’s also helpful for your audience, searching for a solution to their problem. 

Above all, using SEO will help your customers solve their problems faster, easier and better because if you know what your ICP is searching for, you can guide them into your funnel. To learn general SEO best practices and how to create a SaaS company that effectively attracts and communicates with your audience, here’s a guide to get started: 

The basics of SEO

Search engine optimization (SEO) is a combination of unpaid search-engine-friendly practices that maximize your website’s content to rank higher than your SaaS competitors. If you find out what your target markets are searching for, add the keywords into your own content and guide them through the buyer’s journey

Picking the right words will communicate your value proposition, align yourself with an industry or segment, and most importantly, instills trust in your audience because they know they’ve found the answer to their problem. Keep in mind that different keywords will align with different stages of the funnel, so your content should cover a wide range of searches to educate, inform and attract new customers. 

Implementing SEO best practices for SaaS startups and companies reduce the friction and churn from the buyer’s journey, and delivers a clear and consistent brand promise — something increasingly hard with the unlimited and fragmented media channels, partners and message streams that consumers interact with every single day.

The keywords your ideal customer profile (ICP) use in Google are your guide to creating solid, long-lasting content that will eventually compose your blogging strategy, site voice, and brand. 

How to conduct SEO keyword research

Whether you’re a 10-year-old software provider or a SaaS startup entering into an undeveloped market, this 4-step process will identify the keywords, concepts and ideas your ICP is searching for and how they think about the solution you provide. When you identify these keywords, the next step is to focus on and how to integrate them into your content for the results you want. 

Step 1: Research what your customers search.

Keyword research is all about figuring out the phrases, words and ideas your ideal customer profile enters into Google when they’re looking for a solution to their problem (your product or service offering). Depending on the stage of the funnel the searcher is in, the keywords they’re using will vary. So, when you’re picking your focus keywords, make sure you have a range of searches that someone in the awareness, interest, desire and action stages would enter into Google.

For example, if someone is trying to figure out how to get around data entry at work, their search might be “automate data entry” or “automation software data entry.” If they’re in the consideration stage, their search might contain keywords “reviews for data integration software,” and a decision search might be “[your ssoftware name] software.” 

There are a variety of keyword tools to identify these funnel-stage-keywords, and they range from very user-friendly to less user-friendly. If you’re just starting out, you might want to watch some different tutorials and look around to find the most user-friendly platform out there.

Here, you can see what comes up when I search “SaaS Marketing” in SEMrush’s keyword magic tool:

seo-basics

By using SEMrush to study keywords involving “SaaS” and “Marketing,” you can also see that people are searching for saas marketing agencies, saas marketing strategy, B2B saas marketing and best saas marketing companies. Now, you can include these keywords into your content and help searchers find you easier (and before your competitors). 

If you’re trying to rank on the first page of Google, focus on search volume and competitive density. This can be with your keyword research tool of choice - MOZ, SEMrush, KeyCollector, Keyword Keg - whatever you want. Pick a 2-3 keyword phrase and research keywords so you’re finding diverse variations.

This is going to get complicated, so make sure you’re organizing. I recommend using Google Sheets (easy to share and make edits collaboratively) and use different tabs for each “root” keyword or phrase you’re researching. You can take it one step further and apply color filters to each column and value, and sort by the clicks/impressions each keyword generates first. 

What metrics do I focus on?

Depending on your product, company or market, you might want to focus on different metrics — for example, if you’re trying to market a B2B product like project management, you might focus on keywords with the highest search rates. This way, you can generate large amounts of traffic per month and convert a certain amount of visitors to MQLs or SQLs.

On the other hand, if you’re trying to convert a B2B saas company to buy your services as a marketing agency, the highest search volume isn’t always the best metric to follow. Focus on low-search, high-intent keyword phrases that will generate traffic, but more importantly, attract the right types of people looking for a serious commitment.

Often, it’s a good strategy to use a combination of these methods — combine high-volume keywords with high-intent keywords so your website content both generates traffic and generates leads. 

Step 2: Research your competitors.

Check out the top pages that rank for the keywords you’ve just researched, and figure out what other words they’re using that can expand your current focus. If your competitors rank for “SaaS Marketing,” figure out what you can emulate and practice on your own site.

You can also check out the keywords your competitors are ranking for on your SEO platform of choice, their backlinking strategies, the keywords they focus on, and even the copy of their google ads. This is important for improving market share, and taking some away customers and online presence from your competition. 

Pay attention to if you notice any gaps in your research because those will be easier (and quicker) ways to increase visibility and rank closer on the search engine results page (SERP). Some platforms, like SEMrush, will also display the PPC ads your competitors run, and you can identify what funnel areas they’re targeting with different keywords. 

Step 3: Mix and match your data.

Now that you have every possible word under the sun for your keyword phrase, you can start playing around with different combinations of the top keywords. You’ll want to pick a focus keyword that has a high search volume, moderate-low competitive density and clearly explains the solution you provide. 

This keyword tells your customers and the search engine what your company is about, so make sure it will stand the test of time and is widely understood. Take different root keywords (1-2 words) and rearrange them forward and backward, add and remove modifiers (words like “top,” “best,” “cheapest,” etc.) and let your keyword research direct your content strategy. 

If your SaaS startup sells software for surveys, you may decide to make your root keyword “survey software.” You might then make your long-tail keyword, or keyword with additional phrases depending on the page, “best software for surveys,” “survey builder software” or even “how to build a survey” for some different content opportunities. 

You can also plug your text into google suggest to pull 50-100 high-volume keywords you want to rank for, and use this data to create more keyword variations. With all of this research and possibility, you should create a foundational keyword and create long-tail keywords that attract what your personas or ideal customer profile are searching for at different stages in your marketing funnel. 

Step 4: Implement your strategy.

You’ve done all of the research, found all of the keywords that rank, and researched all of your competitors. Now, it’s time to start getting creative!

Depending on your OKRs for the quarter, plan your content according to what stage most of your leads are stuck in. Doing great with brand awareness, but lacking in conversion? Time to interview some customers, ask for some reviews, and write some case studies loaded with your keywords of choice.

However, if you’re focusing on increasing brand awareness and trying to attract more people to your website, try creating top-of-the-funnel content like blogs, infographics or videos that are fun, interesting and highly shareable. This might generate shares on social platforms, backlinks or subscribers to your blog. 

How to pick your SEO strategy

Regardless of industry, goal or value proposition, don’t focus on too many different keywords. If you over-optimize or stuff your pages with as many different keyword variations as possible (known as keyword stuffing), Google’s algorithm won’t display your pages because there are too many different ideas on one page or it’ll provide a poor user experience.

A successful keyword research project should come with anywhere between 3,000 and 9,000 keywords, with a median range of 5,500. This is enough to run a Google Ads campaign, adequately cover industry topics and provide you enough context and insight into where you want to focus next. 

To do this, Pick 6-7 keywords from your research that your ideal customers are searching, and  begin mapping your current site menus, future content plans and gaps or areas to improve. Next, outline your goals and identify what results you want from your SEO strategy. Think about your overall goals and how SEO aligns with them -- if you want to attract more leads for a SaaS product, Do you want to generate traffic, or are you hoping to attract people with high intent to purchase your services or products? Depending on how you answer that question, you’ll want to focus on a few different metrics. 

However, most SEO consultants and specialists focused on optimizing rankings will tell you one thing: just focus on search volume. For education’s sake, we’ll cover a few of the important metrics: 

      • Volume: this is the estimated search volume for the keyword every single month. This will change depending on the keyword tool you use. 
      • CPC: this comes from the Google Ads keyword tool; the most expensive keywords are often the ones that convert well
      • Competitive Density: this represents how many advertisers compete for this particular keyword in paid search. The higher the number, the harder it is to rank. This measures paid competition.
      • Keyword Difficulty: this estimates the difficulty of ranking organically for a certain keyword using SEO. The higher the estimation, the harder it is to compete with the current website rankings that are on the first page of Google.

How to create SEO-optimized content 

SEO research makes your job as an inbound content creator much easier — it gives you specific topics to focus on, what modifiers people include in searches, and even content types — blogs, videos, etc. By letting your keyword research results guide your content strategy, you can answer the questions people are asking the most — and when you provide helpful, educational content that informs your reader, they’re that much closer to swimming into the buyer’s journey funnel and becoming a customer! 

However, you also have to consider the different stages in the buyer’s journey when aligning your content strategy. There are two components to this process: using pillar pages & topic clusters, and content for different stages in the buyer’s journey. A pillar page is a piece of content covering a broad topic relevant to your company’s value proposition, and topic clusters are shorter pieces of content about subtopics that all backlink to your pillar page to build authority. 

A SaaS word-of-mouth marketing company might have topic clusters about influencers, referrals, affiliates and ambassadors. Each of those topic clusters would then have a pillar page that packs in everything there is to know about that topic. 

Let’s take influencers for example, that pillar page (maybe a guide to influencer marketing) serves as a driver for that topic on influencers and it will be supported (and linked) to multiple pieces of content related to or pulled out of that piece. For instance, a pillar piece on influencer marketing may include things like how to get influencers, how to use influencers, benefits of adding influencers into your strategy, setting an influencer budget etc. and those would all then become singular pieces of content that cover just those topics. Each of these posts are then linked back to the pillar page. 

This strategy helps establish an information hierarchy for your site and is good for internal link building. So, it’s important to make sure all of your content topics and pieces align to create one unified, smooth buyer’s journey from the top of the funnel and out through the bottom.    

Why are backlinks important, and how do I get them? 

Gaining links from outside websites are important for a few reasons. Mostly because the number of links to a page indicates high-quality content, especially if the backlink is on a high-authority, high-quality site that many others visit, interact with and search for. 

There are a lot of different backlinking strategies, and the one that’s best for your company will depend on the industry, consumer segments and current connections. 

A relatively unknown but powerful backlinking strategy is broken link-building. To do this, collect the entire link profile of a competitor or someone related within the industry, and target the broken links by emailing the webmasters about replacing the broken link with a URL to your own website page, blog or other content. You can also identify blogs and websites you’d like to get backlinks from in your industry and email their team with a request to link to a blog on a similar topic or additional information. 

You can also delve into link building by building connections with other B2B SaaS companies, thought leaders and startups in the industry, guest blogging for SaaS companies, connecting with industry influencers, or even getting reviews from different software rating platforms. On the other hand, if your website already has high authority and strong SERP rankings, getting backlinks might come easier because your blog will rank for keyword searches and organically attract viewers trying to share insights about your focus. 

While there’s a lot of debate about if reposting content on LinkedIn and Medium actually works, there are different reasons to post on those sites other than simply accruing backlinks. Check out this site to correctly get backlinks from reposting your content on LinkedIn. 

If you’re trying to increase visibility or gain awareness within your B2B SaaS market, cross-posting your content on LinkedIn and Medium might be the perfect sites to leverage. However, if you’re trying to increase traffic to your website, posting on these sites might decrease traffic to the original content and hurt your chances of meeting your OKRs. 

How to optimize your website

To optimize your current website pages, there are a few simple changes that can boost your rankings. Use this SEO checklist to make sure you’re optimizing your content:  

      1. Singular H1 tag. This should include the page’s focus keyword and any other important contextual details, followed by H2 tags with related keywords, and so on. 
      2. Meta description. This is a snippet of text that describes your page’s content on the google search engine results page (SERP). By including keywords in the beginning of your meta text and describing your page, this will immediately indicate to your audience that the page is relevant to their interests or needs. This should be no longer than 160 characters. 
      3. Meta title. The title tag specifies the title of your web page that shows up on the SERP. This should be no longer than 70 characters and include your target keyword.
      4. Alt tags. These are descriptors for images on your page. Make sure these contain the  keywords you’re trying to rank for. This will boost your page’s performance. 
      5. URLs. To avoid confusing the search engine, make your URL short and include your page’s focus keyword. Use lowercase letters, hyphens to separate words, and describe your content. 
      6. Compress images. The larger they are, the slower the load time. 
      7. Load time. A page’s speed impacts how google prioritizes your ranking. The longer a page’s speed, the more likely your visitors are to bounce, stop visiting or leave before a conversion can happen.
      8. Mobile-friendly. Design for the “fat finger” — touch screen navigation can lead to accidental clicks if your buttons are in the path of a finger that’s trying to scroll down the page. Don’t include pop-ups that may get in the way and always preview your site on a mobile platform.
      9. Internal Links. This helps the search engine give structure to your website and establish an information hierarchy within your site, which boosts your optimization.
      10. Broken links. This may decrease your SERP rankings across the board, so be sure to check all of your on-page links every month or two and update or replace broken links as needed. 
      11. Keyword Density. While it’s important to include keywords, a density of more than 5% — that is, 5 mentions of the keyword for every 100 words, may result in a penalty from Google and a poor user experience. Don’t fall into this trap and make sure you’re using the keywords in an organic context. 

SEO v. PPC

Paid search makes up 33% of clicks and organic content makes up 67%. With that being said, it’s important to note that these two strategies are not the same. Organic SEO will improve traffic and visibility without directly paying, this strategy doesn’t happen overnight and requires patience to build up backlinks and domain authority. So, due to the time and energy SEO takes, PPC is your go-to if you’re looking for quick results. 

Just like it sounds, you only pay if someone clicks on your ad, not the number of impressions. It’s also important to note that your PPC ads will appear above the organic search results, denoted as an Ad paid for by sponsors. 

While PPC and SEO are different approaches to generate traffic and rank on Google’s first page, the keywords you use for one strategy are the same you’d use for both. However, you should also use Google Adwords when making your PPC strategy. You might use anywhere between 50-100 keywords for an ad campaign, but you might have 10,000 negative keywords you DON’T want to rank for.

Here, you can see the different placements of PPC and Organic results for the keyword “SaaS Marketing”:

ppc-seo-SERP

Benefits of PPC

PPC is Targeted, meaning you can optimize your ads by searcher’s location, device, language, time of day, etc. It’s also active, because you’re selling to hand-raisers who are swimming into your funnel and have actively shown intent to purchase. Finally, it’s measurable -- you can see directly into metrics about reach, impressions, CTR and purchases. This means you can see exactly where your purchases are coming from, what’s not working, and allocate your budget with this data to optimize your inputs and generate the highest ROI. 

Optimizing your PPC

If your goal of SEO keyword research and PPC is to direct customers into the top of your funnel quickly, high-volume, low-click ads can help you meet this goal. On the other hand, you should use specific keywords that include a brand name and strong CTA to attract people who have actively shown intent to purchase. 

  1. High CTR, Low conversions.
    Take a look at your landing page and assess the relevancy with your PPC ad. Maybe you’re linking to the right landing page, and it needs a redesign with a clear CTA and keywords visible at the top of the page. 
  2. High impressions, Low CTR.
    This means your ad isn’t working -- next steps should be improving your ad copy by adding (or removing) the keywords for the best user experience, adding a better CTA, or improving the ad copy in general. 
  3. High quality score, low average positioning and low CPA
    This means you should bid higher on your keywords and you’ll appear above your competitors, being the first or second ad to catch your searcher’s attention. 

Next Steps

For both B2B SaaS and B2C companies, the keywords to integrate into your SEO strategy will attract potential customers searching for the solution or product you offer. By understanding what your ICP searches for, you can effectively meet them where they are and get in front of their eyes organically. 

If you’re overwhelmed, that’s ok — here are easy actionable next steps now that you’re an SEO pro: 

  1. Make an account for an SEO platform and begin your keyword research.
  2. Optimize your current website URLs, alt tags, headings and meta text using the SEO checklist above with your keyword research.
  3. Check out your competitor websites and their keyword patterns.
  4. Reach out to your channel partners and industry connections to secure backlinks.

You can also explore more resources about content marketing, like setting up your first content calendar and turning your customer testimonials into conversion-driving resources. 

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