As we have demonstrated in numerous in-depth case studies, it is possible for SaaS businesses to hire an SEO agency and see significant increases in leads through organic search. For example:
- All-in-one SaaS Product Case Study – We share how we grew demo signups to 150+/month for a large SaaS platform that has numerous à la carte solutions inside of it.
- Geekbot Case Study – We share how we drove 1,700+ signups for the self-service SaaS company Geekbot by starting with bottom of the funnel keywords and working our way up the funnel to mid/top of funnel keywords. We also show how conversion rates differ.
- Circuit Case Study – This article shares how we moved a blog from a subdomain to subfolder while following our SEO content strategy and grew trial signups to 250+/month.
With that said, in our experience working with dozens of SaaS businesses over the last 6+ years and hearing about their experiences working with other SEO agencies, we have learned that SaaS SEO services often don’t drive meaningful increases in MQLs, SQLs, or MRR for their clients.
So, in this post, we’re going to share the main reasons why we think this is and walk through how we approach SaaS SEO differently to achieve the types of results cited in the case studies above.
If you’d like us to apply our SEO content marketing strategy to your SaaS business, you can learn more about our service here.
Common Weaknesses of SaaS SEO Agencies and Processes
Below are what we consider weaknesses in the strategies of SEO agencies that have been previously retained by our SaaS clients. Our conclusions are based on directly seeing the work produced by these agencies, seeing what results these agencies have (or have not) achieved for our clients, and hearing the frustrations our clients have voiced to us about these projects.
Weakness #1: Too Many SEO Agencies Emphasize Technical SEO Over Ranking for High-Intent Keywords
We’ve noticed that SaaS marketing agencies (as well as in-house SEO teams) often focus the majority of their SEO efforts on “on-site SEO” (e.g. technical SEO, site maps, site structure, internal linking, etc.) combined with link building outreach, while giving a lot less focus, priority, and effort to what we feel is the most important part of SaaS SEO strategy: Identifying high buying-intent keywords and creating pages designed to rank for those keywords.
We think this is backwards.
In our view, activities like technical SEO audits and domain-wide link building should only be done as a means of ranking for your highest value keywords.
Because otherwise, what’s the point? If you (1) haven’t identified what your highest value keywords are and (2) don’t have pages on your site specifically created to fulfill the search intent of those keywords, then what are you possibly hoping to achieve with technical SEO or link building?
What use is high domain authority (the goal of most efforts to acquire backlinks) if you don’t have pages on your site created specifically to rank for your highest value keywords? Do you know what your highest value keywords are?
These may sound like obvious mistakes that no one would make, but it’s shockingly common. We see this backwards approach to SEO all the time. A ton of effort is spent on technical SEO and “cleaning up the site,” while a lot less effort is spent on identifying highest value keywords and creating content aimed specifically at ranking for them.
Inevitably, in these scenarios, SaaS companies become frustrated when all the budget and time spent on SEO fails to produce any measurable increase in qualified leads or product signups.
Weakness #2: Keyword Research by Itself Doesn’t Get Results. You Need to Actually Create Content That Will Rank.
When we have seen keyword lists from SEO consulting services or agencies, there are often several issues with them.
First, they’re often just massive lists of hundreds of keywords that SaaS companies could get for themselves from any SEO tool. Some agencies do the hard work of categorizing or prioritizing these keywords by buying intent, but from what we’ve seen, most do not. And these SEO tools (where most agencies are getting these lists) almost always suggest tons of low buying-intent, high search volume keywords. They don’t interview sales, product, or customer support to deeply understand pain points of the target audience and uncover non obvious but high converting, high buying-intent keyword ideas. You need humans to do this hard work.
Second, these lists aren’t actionable. The vast majority of companies don’t have the resources to produce over 200 articles that are high-quality and crafted well enough to actually have a shot at ranking. So while this kind of keyword research may make the SaaS SEO company feel productive, it leaves the client overwhelmed and wondering how they can possibly rank for all of those keywords.
Compounding this issue is that most of the time, the SEO agency that provided the list will only create “content briefs” for each keyword, but they won’t actually write and publish the pieces. (Or, if they do, they’ll charge an enormous amount to do so.)
Unfortunately, content briefs don’t rank. Pages published on the site that match search intent rank. These take time and effort to produce. So, it’s no wonder many agencies don’t do this. Heck, many SaaS brands don’t even do this. It’s hard.
Weakness #3: SEO Agencies Often Prioritize Traffic Over Conversions
Next, in addition to emailing their clients unreasonably large keyword lists produced by an SEO tool, most SEO agencies prioritize keywords by chasing traffic over conversions.
We’ve talked a lot about why this is a problem, but in short, SEO agencies tend to spend a lot of their efforts trying to rank for top of funnel keywords that have high search volume but low buying intent.
By our measures, these keywords have very low conversion rates — a point that is neatly summarized in this Google analytics screenshot from our article on Pain Point SEO (our agency’s foundational SEO content strategy):
The right-most column shows new user signups for each of the URLs listed. The three boxed posts follow the Pain Point SEO approach and rank for keywords with high buying-intent. The rest rank for something the target audience could search for, but not a high buying-intent keyword.
The new user signups from the three Pain Point SEO posts are hundreds of percent higher.
We also showed this at a larger scale in an analysis of 60+ posts for our client Geekbot:
The posts targeting high buying-intent keywords (which we’ve traditionally referred to as “bottom of funnel”) didn’t just convert a bit better than the higher-volume-lower-intent posts, they converted 2400% better.
Within that case study, you can read about how the higher conversion rates more than made up for any differences in search volume or traffic between the two buckets.
This is why, in our experience, prioritizing keywords by intent — not search volume and traffic potential — is far more effective for driving conversions. But most SEO agencies don’t use strategies that follow this logic.
Weakness #4: Most SEO Agencies Don’t Specialize in Product Copywriting
Next, in order to rank for high buying-intent keywords (e.g., “best accounting software,” “social media management software,”) and convert that traffic into leads, you need to be good at product copywriting.
Pages ranking for high buying-intent keywords usually talk a lot about products. So, if you want to rank for these keywords, your pages need to talk about products in-depth, including, for example, an explanation of key features, the use cases for each feature, and what differentiates your product from others in your space.
This requires a different writing skill set than traditional “blog writing.” First, most blog writing is self-researched, but product copywriting shouldn’t be. The traditional blog writing workflow involves handing a writer a keyword and asking them to come up with what to write on their own. Sometimes the writer is given a “content brief”, but even those are mostly dictating the subheaders based on what the existing ranked pages are already saying.
That may be fine for introductory, top-of-funnel keywords like “accounting tips for startups,” where most of the articles ranking say the same thing, so a reasonably smart writer could digest the tips in a couple of hours and produce something similar but professional. But if you’re going after a buying-intent keyword like “accounting software for startups,” then you need to actually discuss the details of your software:
- Outline your features and benefits
- Why does your feature set look the way it does?
- What are the most important benefits?
- Are there any design details that are important?
- Compare your software with others
- What differentiates yours from others?
- Where in the market do you sit?
- Are there certain use cases where a competitor might be better?
No freelance writer is going to be able to write this on their own.
First, they’re going to need to interview product experts at your company to get this information. Most SEO agencies don’t have these interviews as part of their content creation process.
Second, they need to be able to write this kind of content well. How do you sell the features without being too salesy? How do you contrast with competitors without being too aggressive or trashing them? These are hard skills to learn. Some writers on our team have told me that our writing is more like landing page copywriting than blog content writing. They’re not wrong.
Weakness #5: The Sprinkle Method
As a result of all of these challenges with producing content that actually ranks for the researched keywords, we’ve seen many SEO agencies use an approach we’ve started calling “The Sprinkle Method.”
Instead of producing a unique article or landing page for each target keyword, they simply give blog writers the keyword sheet and ask them to sprinkle the keywords in their articles, thinking this will be sufficient to acquire high search engine rankings for these keywords.
This doesn’t work.
As we explained in detail in this article, Google’s algorithm can tell the difference between content that’s tangential to the topic and content that specifically addresses the search query. So if you don’t dedicate a single page to fulfilling the search intent of your target keyword, you’re likely to get beat out by competing pages that do.
Basically, if others are creating dedicated pages for specific keywords, and you’re just “sprinkling” keywords in here or there, you have a slim shot at ranking on the first page. And in our experience, lead generation from content doesn’t pick up until you’re ranking in the top half of page one, ideally in the top three positions.
How Our SEO + Content Process Solves the Problems Above and (We Feel) Produces Better Results for SaaS Clients
Fundamentally, we feel our process is better aligned with clients’ desired outcomes (rankings for high buying-intent search terms) and is more likely to actually achieve those outcomes because of what we prioritize.
Below is each step of our process, listed in order of priority.
Note: By “priority,” we don’t mean chronology, i.e., when we do each step. In a client engagement, we may start each step at the same time. But the point is our B2B SaaS SEO strategy is guided by the higher priority items, and our argument is that this makes a huge difference.
Our SaaS SEO Priority #1: Finding the Most Valuable Keywords to Target
Unlike traditional search engine optimization firms that launch headfirst into technical SEO or link building without a keyword strategy in place, our focus starts with the keywords for which we want to rank.
Ranking for your target keywords is literally the entire point of SEO. Nothing matters if you don’t know which keywords you’re targeting. Link building doesn’t matter. Technical SEO doesn’t matter. Yet, as we said above, we’ve had many clients who’ve spent months on all kinds of SEO activities without an agreed upon list of their most valuable keywords. Or, only slightly better, their target keyword list is only one or two keywords.
Also, a crucial detail is that both the words “valuable” and “keywords” are equally important. Who cares about ranking for keywords loosely related to your product if they don’t bring you any business? Sure, your organic traffic will increase, and you can post that on Twitter and brag about it, but if the keywords aren’t ultimately leading to sales, then it doesn’t give clients what they want.
We’ve linked to these articles already, but to recap, you can read more about our high-value keyword strategy here and here. A case study quantifying the value of high buying-intent (bottom of funnel) keywords can be found here.
To emphasize my point about priority, every other SEO activity we do (listed below) is in the service of ranking for these high-value keywords. This is our entire goal for clients.
Our SaaS SEO Priority #2: Creating Product Content Aimed to Rank for These Keywords
Second, and equally as important as priority #1, we produce individual pages to rank for each high-value keyword we are targeting. We don’t use the sprinkle method, meaning we don’t produce a single “small business accounting guide” that’s aimed at ranking for 10 different accounting keywords.
We analyze the existing search engine results page (SERP) for each keyword, determine search intent, and produce a unique piece of SaaS content that (a) has the necessary on-page optimization to rank and (b) better fulfills search intent than the existing results.
And because most of our keywords are high buying-intent (“best accounting software,” for example), we sell the heck out of our client’s products and services in these articles.
We get into the details of features, we explain the nuance of benefits, we weave in testimonials and case studies, and we differentiate our client’s products from those of their competitors (sometimes gently, sometimes aggressively). We base all of this on extensive interviews with product experts, product demos, and sometimes demo accounts (so we can use the product ourselves). We have been doing this for years and have an extensive writer training process that has helped us build a tight-knit team of product copywriters.
Our SaaS SEO Priority #3: Site Cleanup and Technical SEO
You may be wondering, “How could this be third in the priority list? If the technical SEO isn’t in order, won’t you have trouble ranking for those high value keywords?!” Our answer is, “Yes, you would.” In fact, we start every client engagement with an SEO audit precisely to check for technical issues with the site that may hurt our ability to rank. Then, we either fix or suggest fixing the technical issues before we get started publishing.
So, like I said above, just because we list this as our third priority doesn’t mean it happens third chronologically.
But, it’s third on our priority list by importance. Meaning, for us, site cleanup and technical SEO is only important insofar as it helps our content (Priority #2) rank for the most valuable keywords (Priority #1). Yes, if there are glaring technical issues, such as multiple H1s on a page, thousands of no-value, no traffic pages eating crawl budget, the entire site randomly no-indexed (you’d be surprised!), etc. — we’ll fix those problems immediately.
But many times, there are no problems with the site!
Contrary to what most SEO agencies will tell you, most SaaS websites of decently sized companies that can afford to hire these agencies aren’t a hot mess. Take, for example, the marketing sites of most B2B SaaS companies: they’re not even that big. They usually have something like 10–20 largely static pages (product, solution, pricing, etc.). So why are these companies being sold months of SEO audits and technical SEO “cleanup” by SEO agencies? It makes no sense to us.
We do technical SEO and site cleanup fixes; we’ve done a lot of it for our clients. We do a site audit, and we prioritize issues by importance and severity. But for us, it’s just something to get out of the way so that our content (#2) can rank for our high value target keywords (#1), not something to extend for as long as possible to keep charging the client.
Our SaaS SEO Priority #4: Link Building
This takes us to the final leg of our SEO process: link building. We view link building the same way we view technical SEO: We’ll do as much of it as necessary to get our content ranking for the high value keywords we’re targeting and nothing more. Now to be clear, that may be a lot. Link building, in our experience, works. But like technical SEO, it doesn’t pay the bills without high-quality content (#2) aimed at the right keywords (#1). It’s just a means to an end. The end is what’s important for meeting tangible business goals.
In contrast, we’ve seen clients come to us after spending years paying untold sums on link building without even having a clear set of high value keywords for which they’re trying to rank, much less the content they need to actually achieve those rankings. When we ask, “Why are you building links?”, they tell us, “Our SEO agency said it was important to get rankings.”
What rankings are these exactly? No one knows.
Want to Work with Us or Learn More About How We Approach SaaS SEO and Content Marketing?
- Our SEO & Content Marketing Agency: If you want to hire us to execute content marketing in this way, you can learn more about our service and pricing here. We’re a full-service agency in that we do the research and produce the content to rank for your target keywords.
- Join Our Content Marketing Team: If you’re a content marketer or writer and would love to do content marketing in this way, we’d love to have you apply to join our team.
- Our Content Marketing Course: Individuals looking to learn our agency’s content strategy and become better marketers, consultants, or business owners can join our private course, taught via case studies, and presented in both written and video content formats. We include several details and examples not found on this blog. Our course is also built into a community, so people ask questions, start discussions, and share their work in the lesson pages themselves, and we, along with other members, give feedback. Learn more here or watch our video walkthrough here.