Would you like your SaaS website to rank well in Google but no matter what you do, your rankings won’t budge? Are you looking for ideas to improve Google rankings fast? A magic SEO bullet or pillars of SEO for SaaS brands, so to speak…
You’ll love this post, then. Why, because in it you’ll discover the three principles that guide today’s SaaS SEO. Implement them, and you will position your pages in front of new users in Google. I promise.
What’s more, you’ll learn why you need them, how they work and how to apply each of them to your search strategy.
So, let’s start with challenges SaaS brands face with SEO.
Why So Many SaaS Brands Never Seem to Achieve the Rankings They Need?
- It’s hard to catch up with Google sometimes. The search engine changes its algorithm frequently, after all. It introduces new SERPs elements often too. Not to mention that its approach to content or various link building strategies tend to shift as well. In general, the search engine seems to love throwing things upside down for SEOs with great regularity.
- SaaS marketers often have little time to do mundane SEO tasks. I often hear them complaining about how little effort they can put into optimizing the content or building links due to other responsibilities. Unfortunately, that has a knock-on effect on their rankings.
- Content gets optimized well rarely. The symptoms include poor keyword targeting, weak on-page SEO, not enough links or even failing to consider the user intent when creating the content (more on this in just a moment.)
But there’s something else too.
The nature of SaaS marketing makes achieving good rankings difficult.
SaaS is an incredibly competitive industry. And this competitiveness extends to SERPs.
Content and SEO have always been the backbone of SaaS marketing. Most SaaS brands promote their services by sharing information, after all.
The majority of SaaS companies run blogs, providing valuable advice their potential customers seek. Most of them optimize at least the essential on-page SEO elements there.
Many feature additional content hubs – an academy section, a news portal, podcast show notes, etc. – delivering further assets that might rank in Google too.
All of the above results in an insane amount of information racing you to the top of the SERPs.
But don’t get me wrong. My intention for writing the above isn’t to scare you. Nor want I make you feel that achieving good rankings is beyond your reach.
Quite the contrary, in fact.
However, to overcome the challenges above, you have to take a more strategic approach to build your company’s search visibility. And also, ensure that you’ve covered all the bases of SaaS SEO.
Which, by the way, is precisely what you’re going to learn about now.
The Three Pillars of SEO for SaaS
Let me spoil the beans right away. The three principles you must focus on are:
- Topics (not keywords,)
- Competitive intelligence in SERPs, and
- User intent.
One more thing before we go through them…
What are Principle, Strategy and Tactic?
I see marketers confusing principles with strategies or techniques often. But these terms are not the same. You must understand the difference to make the most of the advice below.
A principle is a foundation for doing something (in this case, optimizing your SaaS website for SEO and delivering rankings.)
A strategy, on the other hand, is a long-term campaign aimed to provide a specific result. For the SEO strategy, that result is higher traffic, signups, leads or demo requests, depending on your sales process.
A technique or tactic is an action you take to deliver the result you outlined in the strategy.
In this post, I’m talking about principles that should form the foundation of your SEO strategy and guide the actions you take to deliver it (i.e., keyword research, content creation and so on.)
Clear? Let’s get to those principles then.
Pillar #1: Topics
So much has changed in SEO since I started in it (around 2009, if you need to know.)
Back then, we focused on finding specific phrases and keywords. We did it because of how users searched for information. They used a limited set of queries to do so. Someone looking for an invoicing app would type that phrase into the search box. If they wanted to learn more about the sales tax, they’d use that keyword and so on.
What’s more, if they knew little on the topic, they’d expand the query with additional, predictable variables. They’d type “sales tax basics” or “sales tax amount,” and so on.
Google, in turn, would return results relevant to that phrase. As a result, all listings in SERPs included that specific phrase.
As SEOs, we focused our keyword research on identifying those phrases. Then, we’d filter them to uncover those with relatively high search volume and low competition (meaning, fewer pages competing for the keyword.)
A side note: Doing so led to optimizing entire websites for a single phrase, just to rank for it in the search. Hell, we even included it in the domain name, if possible as this was a ranking factor.
SEO doesn’t work like that anymore.
You should still look for keywords, of course. But you should target topics with the SEO strategy.
That’s because, the days when you just needed to find high traffic keywords, optimize your pages for them, build some links and be done are over.
Since the Google Hummingbird algorithm update improving the semantic search algorithm, the search engine has an incredible ability to understand what a person’s looking for, even if the person doesn’t know how to describe it.
Consider the example below. I’m sure you’ll agree that I could have described the movie I’m looking for in so many other ways. I chose to confirm a gossip I overheard one day. Google delivered the correct results straight away.
The thing is, those search results do not contain the keyword I chose.
I’m sure you’ve seen it in your searches as well. You type a query, and only a handful of the search listings contain it (or none.) Yet they all provide the information you’ve been looking for…
The above happens because Google got smarter with understanding the topic of a page. It no longer focuses on what keywords you’ve optimized it for only. Instead, it uses the topic to increase the relevancy of search results.
(Which also means that your page could rank for hundreds of keywords you’ve never even thought of.)
And that’s why it happens. Google strives to deliver what users are looking for and reduce the number of searches they have to conduct to find it. It’s the premise of its user experience, after all. Because, the more we have to use it to find information, the more frustrated we become at the engine.
So, what does the above mean to your SaaS SEO strategy?
To rank, you need to change your approach to keyword research.
You have to start with topics that include or cover the information a person might be looking for and make sense to them.
And only then, find keywords for the search engine to understand what topic the page is about. When researching those phrases, you must also pay attention that they are logically connected with the topic and relate to what a person would have in mind when searching.
Here’s a simple way to understand it:
- Topics are the concepts or ideas people search for in Google. “SEO” is a good example of a topic.
- Keywords are phrases searchers use when looking for specific aspects of a topic. For example, “SaaS SEO tactics.”
Keywords help define a topic. But it’s the latter that Google will consider when ranking a page. What’s more, the search engine is likely to expand on those keywords, indexing a page for other queries that relate to the information it contains.
Let’s put it all together in practice. Let’s imagine you wrote a blog post about “Top 5 SaaS SEO Tactics for Startups.” Based on the headline, I can tell that the topic is SEO (we could go deeper and say that it’s SaaS SEO too.) The keywords you target relate to SaaS, SEO, SEO tactics, SEO for startups and so on.
However, since your post references link building, guest posting and on-page SEO in the content, Google might display it for queries related to those specific tactics as well.
And so, although your keywords reference only tactics for startups, the content might rank for such phrases as “link building for SaaS,” “SaaS guest posting,” and countless others.
Consider these search results, for example:
That’s why you should always start with topics when building the SEO content strategy. Aim to develop assets that cover all aspects of a target topic. And only then, select keywords for each of those pieces specifically.
Pillar #2. Competitive Intelligence in SERPs
I admit that I struggle to label this principle. On the one hand, it relates to breaking down top-ranking pages. On the other, its focus isn’t to dissect your competitors’ strategies. Instead, you aim to identify what Google deems the required information on a specific topic or keyword.
So, for the sake of the labels, let’s stick with “competitive intelligence in SERPs.” However, when reading about it, keep in mind that its goal is to find out what Google wants to see on a top-ranking page.
And that’s the premise of the second principle. Coincidentally, it also relates to the search engine’s drive to deliver the most relevant search results fast.
I realize I might be wrong in my assumptions. However, I do suspect Google analyzes the click-through rate of organic search to establish what content matches the searcher’s expectations.
And although the search engine confirmed that pogo-sticking isn’t a ranking factor, I suspect it monitors it to discover which pages deliver the right content.
(Which would also suggest that those that don’t get moved out of page one quickly.)
But it makes sense. Content that fails to match its content to a person’s intent for the search (more on that in the next principle) shouldn’t rank for those phrases.
Pages that do, however, would be right at the top.
And here lies the second principle – To rank, you must deliver content that matches the intent and delivers the information a person is seeking.
Taking it further, analyzing the top-ranking content will reveal how you should structure and format your pages, from a content type to use to what information or advice you should offer to help it rank.
What does the above mean to your SEO?
First, you shouldn’t create new pages in a vacuum. Instead, when planning your content visit top-ranking search results to establish:
- What sections or aspects of the topic do they include?
- How long is the content overall?
- How deep those pages go into the topic?
Then, use that insight to outline the content you want to publish.
Note: I do not recommend writing the exact same content as top-ranking pages. I suggest you understand what information they include, an insight that should shed light on what your content should contain as well.
That said, write it from your perspective, building it up with own ideas and individual take on the topic, of course.
Pillar #3. The User Intent
The term – user intent – relates to a reason someone has for conducting the search. And needless to say, that reason determines the type of information they need to find.
In that drive for providing insanely great user experience we talked about already, Google puts an incredible amount of work at determining the user intent.
And of course, it prioritizes pages that deliver information that satisfy it. Simply.
Before I show you how searcher’s intent affects your strategy, let’s analyze the four user intents.
Informational intent helps searchers find new information. For example, how to optimize their SaaS SEO strategy better. These queries often include words like “how to,” etc.
Navigational intent, on the other hand, helps them get to a specific website (for instance, if they forgot its URL.) You can tell those searches apart because they often include brand-related terms.
Users exhibit Transactional intent when they intend to find products to purchase. “Buy surface laptop cheap” would be an example of a transactional query.
However, when researching potential purchases, they use Commercial intent. They’d type “Best surface laptop for students,” for example, to initiate such research.
Take a look at the two screenshots below to see the effect of user intent clearly. Both inquire about a flat tire. The first one, however, includes a clear indication of the intent – the phrase “how to.” The other, however, references only the flat tire.
Notice how different both search results are, then. The first one includes tutorial-based content. The other links to garages that could help fix the flat tire.
That’s because Google understands the intent behind each phrase and lists the most relevant results.
And I have to admit that it’s spot on with them.
How does this knowledge improve your SEO strategy?
Understanding why someone would search for information benefits your SEO in two ways:
- With the user intent, you can choose the right content type to publish. Users with informational intent almost always want to learn something. So, the ideal content type for that might be a blog post. Or a tutorial. An instructional video or a guide.
- Knowing the user intent will also help you identify the right information to include. This ties in with what we’ve discussed earlier. Once you know why someone needs specific information, you can outline the content to deliver it and more.
It’s that simple.
SEO remains the most effective channel for generating brand awareness, attracting the right people to a SaaS app, building a bond with them, and increasing signups.
And with those three principles, you can ensure that the SEO strategy you implement for your SaaS will deliver the outcomes you seek. Or, get help from me to be absolutely certain that traffic, signups, and revenue will come.