Customer acquisition cost (CAC) can be enormous for many SaaS companies. A good way to reduce that is to balance advertising with cheaper and often more sustainable marketing channels and tactics. Your best bet here may be SEO and content marketing.
In this article, you’ll learn everything you need to know to build a successful SaaS SEO strategy.
This strategy is based on two things: First, the success of Ahrefs, a $100M+ ARR SaaS company that has SEO as a main contributor to its growth. Second, my five years of experience working and consulting for global SaaS companies.
We’ll go through the following steps:
Let’s dive in.
Not all websites that you compete with within organic search are your business competitors. In fact, your SERPs can be full of:
- Affiliate websites.
- Review websites (like G2 or TrustRadius).
- Industry expert blogs.
- Companies that at least partially target your audience by solving overlapping problems.
All these types of websites also want a piece of the “organic search” cake. You’ll need a list of these for further SEO research and to track your progress.
The best way to find your organic search competitors is to check keyword overlap reports. Plug your domain into Ahrefs’ Site Explorer and head to the Competing Domains report:
This report shows a list of websites that ranks for many of the same keywords as the domain on the input.
Rinse and repeat this process with other dominant websites in your niche. Or you can start the research straight away on your closest business competitors if your website doesn’t drive any solid search traffic yet.
If you come across an unknown website, inspect it. Create a list of 10–15 most relevant websites competing in your space.
We’ll make use of the list of your organic search competitors. Consider this an SEO competitor analysis.
The main goal here is to find out what works for your competitors in terms of the:
- Best performing website sections.
- Best performing pages.
- Types of content that attract the most backlinks.
You should make notes so you can be inspired by your competitors and possibly execute the ideas even better than them. Let’s look into these points.
Best performing website sections
Do your competitors drive most of their organic traffic to a blog, product pages, tool pages, a knowledge base, or even some other type of content? What about their approach to website architecture, i.e., how do they structure their URLs?
You’ll find answers to these questions by plugging your competitors’ domains into Ahrefs’ Site Explorer and clicking through the Top Subfolders report:
We can already see in the report above that some of the most important subfolders are placed on HubSpot’s blog subdomain. Many other websites also have content on subdomains, so make sure to check the Top Subdomains report as well:
Best performing pages
Now that we’ve looked at the high-level picture of a website’s organic performance, it’s time to be more granular. In the end, you plan your content piece by piece, so knowing what pieces of content drive the most organic traffic to your competitors is invaluable.
To get this data, simply open the Top pages report in Ahrefs’ Site Explorer:
Go through this report for every competitor and write down content ideas worth covering on your website as well.
However, keep in mind that oftentimes, pages that generate the most traffic don’t convert well because they cover top-of-the-funnel problems. Make sure those content ideas are relevant to your target audience.
Types of content that attract the most links
You’ve probably heard that backlinks are one of the most important ranking factors in SEO. It’s no wonder attracting and building good links to your content is hard.
Some pieces of content can get links much easier than others, though. In SEO, we call this linkbait content. This type of content doesn’t necessarily need to drive organic traffic, but it’s valuable, interesting, or unique enough to make other people reference it on their websites.
As with the previous reports in Ahrefs’ Site Explorer, you can also find out which of your competitors’ pages get the most links. Open the Best by links report, select the 200 status code filter to only show live pages, and make notes about the type of content that could be considered linkbait in your niche:
We’ll talk about creating linkbait content later on.
It’s worth pointing out a scenario where you may find out that your most relevant competitors actually don’t rely that much on organic search traffic.
I know this from firsthand experience. Would you have ever guessed the following website with just ~6.4K clicks from organic search a month belongs to a SaaS company generating over $100M in ARR?
Sometimes, a SaaS business offers products solving problems that have a negligible search demand and/or target such a niche segment of its market that there are more effective marketing channels than organic search.
It’s always a good idea to have a solid SEO foundation. But sometimes, it doesn’t make sense to invest into it that much.
Getting inspired by competitors is essential in SEO, but so is coming up with your own ideas and research data. Keyword research is the most important part of this.
Keyword research is the process of understanding the language your target customers use when searching for your products, services, and content. It then involves analyzing, comparing, and prioritizing the best keyword opportunities for your website.
If you’re new to this, make sure to go through our beginner’s guide to keyword research. I’ll just focus on the SaaS SEO aspect here.
First of all, we should talk about search intent. It’s the “why” behind a search query. Search engines always try to provide the most relevant results—be it a news article, a regular blog post, a guide, an interactive tool, a YouTube video, and so on.
For example, the keyword “how to check backlinks” has two search intents, according to the top 10 search results—searchers want a guide that tells them how to do this (in blue) and/or a tool that checks backlinks right away (in green):
In general, keywords in SaaS can be divided into four main categories, each representing a type of content that appears on the SERPs:
- Blog posts – “saas seo guide” or “how to build links”
- Knowledge base pages – “ahrefs domain rating” or “4xx error meaning”
- Product and service landing pages – “backlink checker” or “free seo tool”
- Comparison and review pages – “best seo tools” or “ahrefs vs moz”
Anytime you do keyword research or stumble upon a list of keywords relevant to your business, save the keywords to a list that you’ll come back to later when planning content.
We’ll be working with the aforementioned content categories, so labeling the keywords like this right away can save time.
Here’s how it looks like in Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer, but you can do the same in Ahrefs’ Site Explorer reports too:
There will be many overlapping keywords with mixed search intent, e.g., “saas seo” is relevant to both guides like this and agencies/freelancers offering SaaS SEO services. Stick with the label (search intent) more relevant to your business.
You can also label each keyword with its intent in the more traditional sense as navigational, informational, and transactional searches. But the SaaS-specific labels are much more useful when you get back to your keyword research.
That’s it for creating a list of keywords that you’d like to rank for. We’ll be building on this foundation in the next steps.
Now it’s time we start turning all the research and competitive analysis into content creation.
This whole guide is a great example of product-led content. In this case, it isn’t possible for me to write this guide without mentioning Ahrefs tools.
In fact, product-led content marketing is our main marketing tactic. Our blog drives more than 300K organic visits every month to articles like the one you’re reading now. In our articles, readers learn about a certain SEO or broader marketing topic while discovering how our products can help them:
If your keyword research unveiled tens, hundreds, or even thousands of different topics people are searching for that relate to the problems your product is solving, you can leverage on organic search and make it your #1 marketing channel as well.
Of course, the degree to which you can pitch your product within an article varies. It’s always better not to mention your product if it feels unnatural or too pushy.
That’s why we internally use a metric called “business potential.” For every keyword we’re thinking about covering on our blog, we give it a business potential score. This score is an estimation, showing to what degree a keyword can let us naturally pitch our product.
Obviously, this isn’t the only metric we pay attention to when prioritizing content creation. There are three more aspects we take into account: traffic potential, keyword difficulty, and the value we can provide to the reader.
You may be used to the idea of judging a keyword based on its search volume. But there’s a better approach.
That’s because every piece of content ranks for many keywords with different search volumes. And the one keyword you’re looking at may contribute to just a tiny fraction of the overall traffic.
This is when the first aspect, traffic potential, comes into play.
Here you can see the overview of the keyword “content marketing strategy” from Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer.
Our Traffic Potential metric tells us that the page currently ranking at the top for “content marketing strategy” gets 11K organic traffic a month. That’s much higher than its search volume of 1.8K in the U.S. and comparable to its 12K global search volume.
Secondly, there’s the Keyword Difficulty (KD) metric on the left. It’s an estimate of how difficult it is to rank for the given keyword on a scale from 0 to 100. The lower the score, the easier it is to rank at the top for the keyword.
And lastly, we have the expertise and value aspect.
Look at the content currently ranking in the top 10 SERP positions. Then ask the following: Can you write a better piece of content than that? Can you provide unique insights or add comparative value in any other way? It’s always much easier to rank well with content that’s objectively better than what you can find on the SERPs.
Let’s sum things up here.
Your “low-hanging fruit” content opportunities are found in topics with high traffic potential, reasonable keyword difficulty, and high business value that can reflect your expertise.
However, in reality, you’ll almost never find a keyword that meets all these criteria, so you’ll have to make compromises. Be prepared for that.
Now we’re onto the product pages. Many companies have found making products (or just a fraction of them) accessible without any friction to be a successful marketing tactic. These landing pages can drive traffic, attract backlinks, make people familiar with your product, generate leads, and even convert some visitors.
At Ahrefs, we have seen significant success in offering free tools. These also play an important part in our SEO strategy and overall growth. So far, we’ve released 13 free SEO tools that you can try right away:
All these landing pages of free tools combined generate around 365K organic traffic per month:
But the huge traffic potential isn’t the only benefit of having a spin-off of our product as a landing page. Our tools can also act as linkbait, which we explained earlier.
Many of these pages have a high URL Rating (UR) that is a proxy metric to a page’s link profile strength:
The same principles of prioritizing content creation apply here as well. Some tools will be more valuable than others because they may attract a more relevant audience. Some SERPs will already be full of tools that do more or less the same thing, so it will be difficult to get to the top if you don’t innovate.
On top of the regular SEO prioritization criteria, you’ll also need to think about developer resources. They’re scarce for us SEOs, so you’d better allocate them to a page that can pay off nicely in the future. Luckily, most of these pages are an SEO gold mine.
Signing up and paying for a SaaS product usually requires quite a bit of research. It’s no wonder there’s a solid search demand for keywords with product comparison search intent.
Just take a look at these examples of keywords with comparison search intent that one of the biggest software review websites, G2, is ranking for:
To be honest, we did resist creating a comparison page for a long time. It’s a piece of content that’s easily manipulated. (A big thing for us is being ethical with our marketing efforts.)
With this in mind, we eventually gave it a shot and created our version of a comparison page.
While the keywords may not have the most impressive search volumes and traffic potential, one thing is for sure: These pages are incredibly valuable because people looking up these keywords are close to making a purchase.
As hinted earlier, you should be careful with the copy here. Most SaaS businesses’ comparison pages are centered around a table with features and prices designed to make their products look better than the alternatives.
Of course, this usually involves cherry-picking and/or omitting better products from the listing altogether. You can do better than that.
If you want inspiration to create something different, check our comparison page. There, we focus on word-of-mouth marketing and emphasize our unique data and features.
We’ve covered the main use cases for keyword research. But there’s still a type of content that doesn’t necessarily need to be driven by traffic potential: industry insights and studies.
The beauty of SaaS businesses is that they often have tons of data that can be analyzed and interpreted into industry insights. For example, one of my latest data studies is about the way Google handles title tags after one of its controversial updates:
Google claims that it uses title tags ~87% of the time after the most recent updates.
Well, we analyzed 953,276 pages and got a much lower 66.6% match rate 😈
A few more highlights from our latest @ahrefs data study 👇 pic.twitter.com/JHn1PkevTm
— Michal Pecánek (@michalpecanek) November 16, 2021
The study isn’t supposed to drive any organic traffic. But it is a great opportunity to get more links that can help our regular title tags article (and others) rank better on the SERPs, thanks to the backlinks it got (and will get).
We’ve published quite a few of these studies and insights. They’re without a doubt the best type of linkbait content on our blog:
It’s no surprise. Claims with data or interesting findings are pieces of information that find their way into many articles.
As with the free tools, this is a type of content that a writer can’t usually produce alone. You’ll probably need help from your data science team. Just make sure that the hypotheses and potential findings truly stand out; this will help you achieve your desired SEO outcomes.
One more thing. Content distribution plays an even more important role here (as compared to content distribution for your standard articles). In the end, if there’s no search volume, then you need to actively push the content in front of people’s eyes to get clicks. Here are a few tips for that:
- Plan an outreach campaign to get backlinks and/or exposure from prominent people in your niche
- Promote the content using social media ads on top of the standard organic social posts that usually have limited reach
- Share it with your email subscribers
- Repurpose your content into social media posts, answers on Quora, newsletters, etc., and then share repeatedly
- Update your internal links so readers of your other articles can click through and pages can pass their link equities
Last but not least, we have to talk about technical SEO briefly. Everything that we went through so far is related to on-page and off-page SEO for SaaS businesses.
But if your technical foundation isn’t right, it may be all for nothing—no matter how good your content is or the links you get.
You need to make sure that search engines can easily access and properly process the content that you want to rank with on the SERPs. Yes, this can involve many things, but it isn’t rocket science.
The best thing you can do is to set up regular crawls in Ahrefs’ Site Audit (free in Ahrefs Webmaster Tools). Our crawler will go through your website and create a comprehensive report that will tell you what’s possibly wrong and how to fix it:
A good proxy to your overall state of technical SEO is then the Health Score:
You’re also in luck here. SaaS websites aren’t usually complex from a technical SEO perspective because they’re generally rather small. Anyone who does e‑commerce SEO and works on websites consisting of millions of pages will likely laugh at our technical SEO problems.
Providing the best SaaS SEO tips I can think of is one thing. But making sure that all of this makes sense in the big picture of marketing is another.
Make sure that everything you do pertaining to SaaS SEO aligns with your overall marketing strategy and objectives. It’s also important to track your SEO progress.
On top of that, it’s useful to broaden your skills and knowledge in other areas related to SaaS SEO. So if you like this article, you’ll also find the following articles helpful and relevant:
Got any questions? Ping me on Twitter.