In the early days of B2B marketing, “working leads” was defined as a shortlist of companies that demonstrated potential to do business with you. In other words, companies that showed sufficient need for your product and had the money to pay for it.
These days, lead qualification can be a bit more nuanced. Companies still need to demonstrate viability – but they also need to have the internal capacity and bandwidth to actually take advantage of your product. There are many possible barriers here, all too familiar to sales reps used to cold calling prospects that turn into nothing: budgeting, prioritization, organizational structure, etc.
As a result, some companies will have an immediate need for your product and are ready to pay top dollar within 90 days of signing up for a trial. And some companies will not have any real internal urgency or awareness over whether they should use it at all. But still may have the money to pay for it.
So how do you build a sales process around selling to companies that are still deciding whether or not to actually use your product? And more generally, what does it take to get inside these elusive “decision-makers” in the early stages of the buying process?
The answer is search engine optimization (SEO) – or more precisely. SaaS SEO is the process of applying SEO techniques to drive awareness and educate qualified leads on the benefits of your product.
This post is an introductory guide to how companies with SaaS web products can leverage pre-sales channels like SEO to accelerate their sales cycle and generate free leads with a focus on ranking for competitive keywords.
What is SEO?
Search engine optimization (SEO) is the practice of building strategic visibility with search engines to gain awareness and increase website traffic. This means appearing on relevant searches, ideally ranked very high. Generally speaking, there are two categories of ranking factors that play a large role in organic Google search: On-page and off-site SEO.
On-page factors are simple: they include things like page titles, URLs, website speed, and mobile compatibility (which is rapidly growing in importance). All of these factors can be influenced by how you build your site. And there are a number of resources at your disposal to take advantage of.
Off-page factors take a bit longer and may require more work on your part, but they also tend to pay off in the long run if implemented correctly: they include things like link building and social media mentions. If you’re looking for a primer on this subject, Moz has a great guide with some additional resources.
When we talk about SaaS SEO strategy, we’re generally referring to the off-page factors that can help fuel initial awareness and growth. We’ll also touch on the software and tools – like Moz’s suite of SEO tools – that you can use to put this strategy into practice.
The Basic SaaS SEO Strategy
In the world of digital marketing, there are a million different strategies you can implement to be successful. While it’s beyond the scope of this article to teach all of them. We want to take a minute and provide a quick overview for those who have heard about SEO but aren’t really sure what that means or what it looks like to implement.
There are a few key pieces of a successful SEO campaign: learn, research, build and monetize. Let’s take a quick look at what each one means:
1) Learn – Technical Skills & Competitors
Learn SEO: It can be a lot to take in and it’s not always easy to find good resources. Luckily, there are plenty of great companies out there that have already taken the time to write about many aspects of SEO and link building for SaaS products. I’ve compiled a list here with some quick links. But if you’re interested, Moz is a great hub for everything from beginner to expert.
If you don’t want to learn from other people’s mistakes and would rather make them yourself. Write a blog post about your SEO efforts over the next 90 days. Document what worked well and any insights you gained along the way that you’d like to share with others.
Competitor landscape: Once you know the basics of how SEO works, take a look at what your competitors are doing. Before implementing any strategy yourself, make sure you at least know what the standard is. Company positioning and positioning within search engines (i.e. ranking) is like any other competitive market. It’s always evolving, so stay up to date on what your competitors are doing.
2) Research – Keyword & Competitor Analysis
Research keywords: Because it’s an essential part of SEO, you’ll need to fill out the following spreadsheet with some keywords that you think your target market would use when searching online for solutions like yours. This is often referred to as “keyword research.” Keywords are the magic that drives search engine traffic. Targeting appropriate, related words and using them throughout your website will help improve traffic for not only Google but other search engines as well.
Once you have a list of keywords from the spreadsheet above, open up a new tab in Google Keyword Planner and plug each keyword into the tool. The resulting spreadsheet shares impressions (the number of times a search was initiated), average monthly searches (how many times people searched for your keyword in the previous month), and competition.
I’d recommend targeting keywords that have between 50,000 to 500,000 impressions per month with low competition. You can also target lower-volume keywords that are highly relevant. They might not get as much traffic, but that traffic is likely to convert better.
The top row of the spreadsheet above helps you sort and prioritize your keywords based on their value. The Excel function =Importance() uses competition, volume, and cost per click (the amount advertisers are willing to pay) as variables in its calculation – higher numbers mean higher importance for the keyword. The spreadsheet above lets you sort the columns to determine which keywords are most important. The color-coding helps differentiate between high, medium, and low competition among different volume levels.
Here are some tips for evaluating competitors:
- Use Majestic to find out how many links point to each domain. Higher numbers mean more authority in Google’s eyes. So if you’re targeting keywords with higher competition. It’s likely that the top-ranking sites have more authority than yours.
- iSpionage can be used to find out which keywords your competitors are bidding on and how much they’re spending on paid search. You can also use it to find out what their landing pages look like so you know what types of pages might perform well for you.
- You can use SEMrush to find out which keywords they’re targeting and how much they’re spending on search ads as well as their estimated monthly ad revenue.
3) Content Creation:
The first step in creating your content is to make sure you know your audience. It’s important that they understand you and perceive you as an authority.
Step 1: Answer the “So What” Question
This step has two separate questions that will help you determine how to create content that helps people answer their pain points. As mentioned before, if you can help them find out the answers to their questions. They’ll be more likely to turn to you as an authority. You should also create content that will position your company as the obvious choice. You want people to think “Of course, I’ll use Company X because they solve my problem.”
Who is this helping?
What pain points does this content help them solve?
Step 2: Determine the Best Form of Content
No matter how much content you have, it won’t do you any good if you can’t get people to read it. Depending on your target market, certain forms of content will work better than others. This article gives a great overview for B2B marketers when it comes to different types of content. Depending on your audience, it could help to create video tutorials (a step-by-step demonstration), case studies (showing off real results your customers have seen), or infographics (portraying complex information in an easy-to-understand way).
Once you’ve decided the type(s) of content that will work best, it’s time to create. It can be a good idea to start with a template and adjust the information as necessary.
4) Social Media
There are tons of articles out there about how social media can help or hurt your overall SEO efforts. But I’m going to summarize the main takeaway: Don’t ignore it.
You can use social media to do a number of things that will improve your SEO efforts:
Getting links with the help of influencers: This type of link isn’t as strong as an algorithmic update. But it’s still good for improving your authority over time. Get people to engage with you by asking questions or sharing interesting material you find elsewhere. You can also use social media to build your own audience so that one day. They may read the articles you write directly on your site instead of third-party sites.
Just remember – social media has its place, but it shouldn’t be the only thing you do web marketing-wise. When it comes to SEO efforts. Focus on creating great content and take advantage of these tools to get people talking about you.
And for those wondering… No, your search rankings won’t be all messed up by doing social media.
5) Link Building
As mentioned before, link building isn’t as important as it used to be. But that doesn’t mean it’s not important at all. It’s still a great way to improve your overall search rankings and authority. And it can also help you get links from other high-authority websites.
The first step is to find out which sites you want to target (hint: they’re the ones that already have similar content on their website). You should make sure they’re relevant both to your industry and the specific page you want to get a link on. Once you find them. Keep track of any new content they publish that might be relevant to what you’ve created. This is where social media can come in handy.
If your site already has links pointing at it, it’s time to see which ones are high-quality. If you’ve been doing your job correctly, they’ll be coming from articles that are closely related to yours or from sources that people generally see as reputable (NPR and TechCrunch, for example).
Once you’ve determined which links you want to focus on building, it’s time to track down their contact information. Most sites will make this easy for you by providing a contact or about page. But if not, check out the bottom of the website (in most cases, they’ll list out some common links like “about,” “contact,” and “sitemap”).
Once you have that information, it’s time to create content that will appeal both to your target audience and the website you’re targeting. Once your content is created, it’s time to reach out. But don’t be pushy. If they like your content, they’ll probably link to it in an article of their own – if they don’t reply within a week or two, follow up.
6) Link Removal
It’s easy to see why this tactic has never been a priority for SEO experts – it’s not something people usually think about or work on. But if you’ve ever made a mistake, lost out on the link opportunity of a lifetime. Or just want to be proactive, it can pay off to take care of any broken links that could leave your site high and dry.
Luckily, most major search engines have a link removal request process that is both easy to use and effective. Just find the site in question and follow the instructions. Just keep in mind that if you want to get really fancy with your requests. It can be a good idea to check out your options beforehand. For example, Wikipedia has special requirements to keep spammers from abusing their system.
7) Fix Broken Links
If your site is new and you want it to rank as high as possible. One of the easiest things you can do is create a list of related websites that link to yours. And then let them know about any broken links on their website. To make this process easier, you can use a tool like Google Alerts, Majestic SEO. Or Ahrefs to keep track of any new mentions on your site. Then, all you have to do is figure out if there’s a broken link and follow the protocol for contacting them.
Keep in mind that this tactic isn’t just helpful for your overall rankings. It can help you make valuable connections. If someone does a Google search to find out more about your company. And the only thing that comes up is a broken link – it’s going to look pretty bad.
But there’s even more! As it turns out “Broken Links” aren’t just limited to websites. For example, if you have pages of your website that are no longer relevant. You can contact the webmasters of any sites that link to those pages to tell them about the change. This way you don’t have to reach out to every site individually.
This is why there are ” Broken Link Checker Tools (like Dead Link Checker)” which help you clean up your links with ease.
8) Create New Content
Making it onto the first page of Google doesn’t just look good – it can also do wonders for your business. If you’re new, ranking high in related searches is a surefire way to get more people to stumble upon your content and decide to try out what you have to offer. But if you really want to see results, it’s important to go above and beyond the parameters of traditional SEO.
When people think of SEO, they usually think about keywords. However, if you were to search “Lose Weight Fast,” for example, chances are you’ll probably find several articles on how to lose weight without even using Google. That’s because there are a ton of articles out there that show up as “SEO results” but clearly aren’t.
This is why you have to think outside the box. If your piece of content doesn’t make it onto the first page, don’t stop there. Instead, look around and see what else might be similar to yours. Then, try to find ways you can differentiate yourself.
You don’t have to go so far as to completely reinvent the wheel. Just adding a few words to your title could be enough. Especially if your site is getting linked back up through social media.