SEO for B2B SaaS

December 15, 2021


SEO for B2B SaaS companies is different from other industries. Jacob Clarke joins the show to talk about his experience and perspective on the best approach to optimizing these businesses for search visibility. In this conversation, we answer questions like:

  • What KPIs make the most sense to track?
  • How should these companies approach keyword research?
  • What’s the best way to create content for this industry?
  • How do you convert traffic into leads?

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John Tyreman:  Hi gang. Welcome to The Digital Marketing Troop, where we go in the trenches to make sense of digital marketing topics and trends. I’m joined today by a recurring guest, Mr. Jacob Clarke, Senior SEO Account Manager at Silverback Strategies. Jacob, thank you so much for being a returning guest on this podcast. I’ve learned a ton about SEO from you. And I just want to thank you because when you’ve come on and you’ve shared a lot of your SEO knowledge, I’ve actually been putting a lot of your tips and tricks into practice and it’s helped me grow my understanding of SEO. As you know, I like to start off these podcast episodes with an icebreaker. And I asked this one of our guy, Kurt, last week and I thought this was really good. In an alternate universe, if you weren’t doing SEO or marketing, what would your career look like? 

Jacob Clarke:  That’s a good one. Let me think. I studied business in school. My concentration was marketing but I did take some like finance classes there and I always thought it’d be interesting to kind of do that the finance and investing route, something like Wall Street would be super interesting. So not the route that I took, but in the alternate universe, that could be a good pick. 

John Tyreman:  I could see you being good at finance. 

Jacob Clarke:  Yeah, that’d be an interesting one for sure. But glad I’ve chosen the marketing route.

John Tyreman:  Well, alas, we’re here to talk about SEO for B2B software as a service companies. So let’s just, let’s dive into that. What makes SEO different in B2B SaaS compared to some other industries?

Jacob Clarke:  The main difference that you want to consider with SEO for B2B SaaS as opposed to some other industries, is really the length of the buying cycle. On the one hand, you have some businesses with a very short buying cycle. Like if you’re looking for a plumber to fix a drain, that’s something where a lot of users are going to go to Google, search for something like plumbers near me and probably make that call within a day or two. Or if you’re an ecommerce store that’s selling products that are between $20 and $100, maybe, that’s also a purchase that someone makes pretty quickly, where it might be the first time they ever visit your site, they go ahead and make a purchase. But with many B2B SaaS companies, the time between when a potential customer first encounters your brand, and when they purchase your software could be several months. And so it’s less about creating a website and content that’s designed for really quick conversions, and more about an SEO strategy that really helps nurture those leads over the course of several weeks or months, from becoming aware of your brand to purchasing that subscription. And so secondly, there’s not as much local SEO to do, still hopeful to have your Google business profile with some basic info about your business, bBut local citations aren’t going to be as important there because they’re not targeting a particular location. And you also wouldn’t need to take like specific location pages, because your software can be used anywhere. You definitely want to be realistic about how difficult it’s going to be to outrank some of the aggregators like Capterra that compile reviews for all sorts of B2B SaaS platforms. And so for like a broad term like best accounting software, you’ll notice that Google doesn’t often rank specific companies for those keywords. But they instead, use those sites that compile like the top five or top 10 best. And so you’ll generally have to rank for other keywords in order to reach your audience. But then, in some ways, it’s similar to other types of SEO to where your goal really is to just create content that targets the types of queries your audience is searching. So you can first make them aware of your brand, and then kind of address that problem they’re looking to solve.

John Tyreman:  From what I understand around the B2B SaaS world is, differentiation is a really big priority. And, you know, how is my software different from the competitors’ software? So do you see that as having kind of an impact on SEO strategies?

Jacob Clarke:  Yeah, you definitely want to take the opportunity to highlight what’s going to be different about your product and in a lot of cases you’re going to be creating content that kind of addresses the overall problem the user is looking to solve, but then any opportunities that you can kind of plug – hey, here’s how our specific solution helps this problem or a specific case study, things like that is definitely a good way to differentiate your brand, as opposed to users kind of scrolling through the large list of those review sites and seeing, these five all have five stars, you know, what’s really going to be different about these few platforms.

John Tyreman:  And I’d imagine also that kind of what separates B2B SaaS out from some of the other industries is the monthly search volume of some of the keywords that you do want to target. It’s probably on a different scale than some of the other more broadly searched terms because you’re focusing in on maybe it’s a key role within a key business that you’re or key industry that you’re trying to target. 

Jacob Clarke:  Yeah, it’s a good example of that question of like, well, what’s the minimum amount of searches we should target per month? There are some instances in which, you know, you do want to go for high search volume terms like certainly if you generate revenue through ads. But when it comes to B2B SaaS, where individual customers are often worth a lot to your business, you’re often not super concerned about targeting these super high volume keywords because it’s way more about targeting the right user as opposed to just casting a really wide net.

John Tyreman:  Well, so let’s shift gears a little bit and we’re kind of setting the stage for how B2B software SEO is different in this industry compared to some of the other ones. Let’s take a look at what are some of the KPIs or key performance indicators that would make sense to measure SEO performance for a B2B SaaS website? 

Jacob Clarke:  Yeah, so keeping our note about you know, search volume in mind here, I still think organic traffic is always a good place to start. You don’t just want to be driving vanity traffic to the site just to increase those numbers for the sake of driving a bunch of traffic. But in general, you still do want to see good increases in organic traffic. But some other good KPIs for B2B SaaS are going to be sometimes different than other industries. Again, I think it’s helpful to contrast it with like home services, where KPIs can be something like service calls or form completions to schedule service. Like if you’re a roofer, a good KPI is how many visitors we can get to call and then connect them with our salesperson. Or an e-commerce site, is going to look at conversion rate, how many people visited our site and ended up purchasing a product there. But a B2B SaaS company might have a few different KPIs they’re looking at. Some examples we often see are things like whitepaper or template downloads, free trial signups, demo requests connecting with a salesperson, and you can set these up as goal completions in Google Analytics so you can then tie those goals to organic traffic. The point of all these is really going to be to begin that lead nurturing process by engaging with that lead in some way. And so it’s pretty rare for someone to visit your site for the first time and then buy your software on that first visit. And so you really want to start taking some of those smaller steps along the way.

John Tyreman:  I guess maybe thinking a little bit downstream from that point in the user journey, another good KPI might be to look at the number of leads that convert to a qualified account or a qualified lead that comes from organic search traffic. 

Jacob Clarke:  That’s right. So this is where you kind of want to take kind of a full funnel view of it. you know, the SEO team could say like, “Hey, we’re driving a ton of leads to your site. They’re signing up for the free trial or the demo request”. But then the sales team could say “Well, only a very small percentage of those are actually like converting and buying the product for the long term there”. And so you then might want to refine your SEO approach a little bit and say, “Well, of the ones that are converting for the long term, are they a particular persona? Do they work in a specific industry?” And so we then kind of want to tailor our upper funnel content to target those users. Knowing that down the line, they’re the ones who have a better chance of kind of being a long term customer there.

John Tyreman:  And I guess that’s a good segue to my next question is kind of like how should these B2B SaaS companies approach keyword research? Like that’s a great example of how like the sales team is saying, “Hey, we’re not seeing the quality we expect”. And then, in the SEO side of things, we’ll probably need to take that feedback and incorporate that into a new round of keywords to target.

Jacob Clarke:  That’s right. Yeah. So for keyword research, really the broad question that you’re starting with is, what are my target customers googling? And then I think the way that you kind of filter that through kind of the conversation we just had was, well, which target customers are most valuable to the business here? And so your goal is going to be to get in front of that audience with your content. And so you first want to make sure there’s a match between, this keyword does have some monthly search volume, whether that’s 20 searches a month or 2000. And then secondly, that the person searching this is likely to be in the market for my product. And that’s kind of an intuitive judgment, but definitely looking at what Google’s already ranking for that keyword is a good indicator for the audiences. And then as you’re looking through those keywords, you’re often gonna find there’s two different types of searches. The first is going to be specifically for the solution that you’re offering. So if it’s like a platform for HR leaders at a small business to manage pay, benefits, retirement, that search could be something like HR software for small business or payroll software for small business, something that indicates they’re looking for the exact solution that you provide. But if you Google those terms, again, you won’t see specific companies ranking in the top, but instead, you’ll see like US News or Capterra ranking for best payroll software for small businesses in 2021. And so in that example, actually, that the first example of an actual software ranking is at position number six, and so they’re probably getting a pretty low click through rate there. And so you’ll see that issue in many industries where these aggregators take up most of the top positions, but it’s definitely true in B2B SaaS. But then the other type of search is one where you can have a lot more SEO success, which is going to be informational keywords. These are the searches where users aren’t looking directly for a software solution. But it’s the type of keyword that allows you to get your brand in front of the right audience. And so unsurprisingly, there are several seo software companies that do a really good job at this so if you work in SEO, you need tools to do things like keyword research, looking at site’s backlinks, understand what your competitors are ranking for, and there are several companies that offer the software. Three of the biggest ones are Ahrefs, SEMrush, and Moz. And really all three of them have produced so much content that targets the types of queries that people who work in SEO are going to be searching all day. And so if I have a question during the day, that’s something like canonical tag format, when I google that term, all three of those companies are on page one with pages discussing that exact topic. And so they say, you know, somebody who works in SEO is probably going to be searching something like how to format a canonical tag. And so let’s make sure that our brand is ranking toward the top there, so we can get our name in front of that target audience. And so by doing that keyword research to learn what they’re searching on Google and then creating the content to target that query. That’s where you can really get your brand in front of the right people.

John Tyreman:  Okay, so just to kind of unpack that a little bit. It sounds like that there’s really two approaches. One is to approach the buyers who are in the market for your software. So this is where you’re targeting, maybe it’s more commercial based intent keywords. And then there’s buyers who, maybe they’re not in the market now, maybe they’re unsatisfied with their status quo, or they’re looking to learn more about something, and so they’re doing those more informational searches. Do I have that right? 

Jacob Clarke:  That’s right. Yeah, you definitely want to have all your bases covered there to where you do have pages and content that are optimized for those very high buyer intent keywords. But in general in terms of pure SEO success of driving additional organic traffic to your site, you’re generally going to see more success for those informational keywords. Just because those high buyer intent ones are much more competitive.

John Tyreman:  Sure, yeah. And I guess back to your point about the long sales cycle, those informational keywords if you’re targeting those, and you get users to trust your site, and if you’re able to demonstrate expertise on a given topic, those buyers are will come back to this site, they’ll trust your site more so when they are in a buying journey, they will be familiar with your brand to the point where they feel comfortable – maybe signing up for a free trial or requesting a demo.

Jacob Clarke:  Exactly. You should definitely kind of present your content in a way that is going to be reflective of the quality of the product itself. You know, if you have really good content on your site that shows that your company is experts in the topic, that’s definitely gonna translate to people’s kind of view on what your product must be like. If you all are experts on the topic, you can create, you know, great tools for those people to use. But on the other hand, if your content’s very low quality, it has some inaccuracies, it doesn’t read very well, I think whether consciously or subconsciously, people are going to kind of associate your product with that as well of like, “Well, it’s probably not gonna be the best fit, because the content itself isn’t any good either”.

John Tyreman:  Speaking of making the content good and better, like what are some tips that you would give to a B2B SaaS marketer who’s saying, “Hey, I need to improve the quality of my content”?

Jacob Clarke:  The basics of producing content that’s meant to drive that organic traffic, is going to be pretty similar for B2B SaaS as it is for other industries. So when you’re considering a keyword, the first step you always want to take is to actually just Google the keyword and look at what the search results are. So this shows you what Google thinks the search intent is, how competitive it’s going to be, and then most importantly, what type of content you need to create in order to rank for it. And so when you’re starting to create that content, make sure you always open up the first five pages in the search results for your target keyword. And really try to reverse engineer why they might be ranking well, and then it’s your job to create even better content. In general, I kind of like to frame it as you want to create similar but better content. Similar in that we know what Google’s already seeing as the best content for this query,  so we don’t want to drift too far from that. But at the same time, we don’t just want to, you know, create a duplicate of what’s already out there that doesn’t really provide any additional value. One way to describe it was to be like you want to create kind of a power page that combines all the best aspects of the current top ranking pages, but then also add your own touch to it so Google will put you at the top. So once you found that good informational keyword, and you want to provide a helpful answer to it, it’s also helpful to showcase how your particular software can solve the problem that the user’s facing. One good example of this is Ahrefs has a page on how to do keyword research for SEO. And that’s a great term for them because their software is a great tool to do keyword research. And so what they could have done was produce a page that was all about how Ahrefs can help you do keyword research to like really show off their software with tons of screenshots of the platform videos. But the problem there is that that wouldn’t be helpful to someone unless they’ve actually bought a subscription to Ahrefs already. And so the filter that I like to use is, would this page still be helpful, even if the user didn’t buy the software? And in this case, Ahrefs does a good job of this because they talk all about keyword research and give lots of tips that don’t involve using their platform. But then they also provide several screenshots and examples of how Ahrefs can help you do even better keyword research. And so someone who doesn’t have a subscription there can still get a lot of value from the page, but it clearly shows them that their keyword research will be much better if they use Ahrefs.

John Tyreman:  Very cool. Those are some really good tips. And those tools you mentioned are really helpful too. I’m not super good at SEO and keyword research, but I’ve been using that SEMrush tool and just being able to filter by intent has really been able to help me out a lot.

Jacob Clarke:  Yeah, those are all super helpful. And so there’s there’s lots of different ways to do keyword research without using some of those platforms, but having them certainly makes it a lot easier. And so they all do a good job of kind of showcasing that idea.

John Tyreman:  It does make it easier, that’s for sure. So we talked about some tips for improving the quality of content designed to rank for certain keywords. Are there any types of content that are helpful for B2B SaaS companies that maybe they’re not directly aiming for organic traffic?

Jacob Clarke:  Yeah, this is where it gets into a little bit of like semantics, but I think it’s a helpful distinction here. And so if we define SEO as creating content that targets queries that we know users are searching for in search engines, so we can then use that to drive traffic to our site, you wouldn’t say that like every piece of content on a B2B SaaS company’s website needs to fit the exact definition of SEO in this case. I think a great example of that is case studies. So you need to show ways that your software has really helped businesses solve a specific problem, and that’s something that can be heavy on screenshots, videos, testimonials. And these might be some of the last pages that somebody views before purchasing a subscription. They’re kind of considered the more lower funnel page. But it’s pretty difficult to drive organic traffic to case study pages for a specific platform, because it’s not really something that people go to Google searching directly for. The exceptions gonna be that if you’re a really big brand, like HubSpot, the keyword HubSpot case studies actually does get about 1000 searches per month so they could drive some organic traffic to case studies. But really, in most cases, users aren’t searching for a particular brand unless it’s really well known, followed by case studies. And so we don’t expect to drive a whole lot of traffic that way. The other page that I’ve found is difficult to get organic traffic to is pages for specific industries. So B2B SaaS companies will often have industry pages in their main navigation drop down that explains how their software’s useful for particular industries. And while those are definitely helpful for kind of mid to bottom funnel content, they’re, you know, tailored to a particular audience, have found that it’s not something that users are often searching for. They’re kind of just searching for the solution itself as opposed to qualifying it for their industry. So someone’s usually just going to search something like compliance software as opposed to compliance software for insurance. But if insurance companies are a key market for a B2B SaaS company, it’s still smart to have a page that’s dedicated to that particular audience and so they know exactly how your service solves their problem. But in general, it’s tougher to go like a keyword with solution followed by for a particular industry, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have those on the site at all. 

John Tyreman:  Okay, I would imagine that your internal linking structure has a lot to do with this. So if you want to capture organic traffic with some of those more higher level informational search queries, and then on the page, you can link out to case studies, industry pages, the comparison pages, you know, sales pages, different things. Is that how you would recommend a site be structured?

Jacob Clarke:  Yeah, that’s exactly it. We’re able to capture kind of a broader audience at the top but then, as you’re writing a good page that’s just answering their particular question, you can say, you know, for example, our software helped this business solve this problem, with a link to the case study, or provide specific examples of industry solutions there. And so you definitely want to make sure your internal linking structure is good because it can be difficult to get somebody to go directly from a search engine to an industry solution case study page, but it’s way easier to capture that traffic with a good informational piece like how to do keyword research for SEO, and then link to those pages.

John Tyreman:  Okay. And I guess this kind of bleeds into my next question, and we get this question from prospects a lot. It’s like, how do I convert traffic into leads? So from your perspective, what role can SEO play to help convert traffic into leads?

Jacob Clarke:  In a perfect world, someone would just google your target keyword, land on your site for the first time and then purchase a subscription to your software. That would just be amazing. But unfortunately, in B2B SaaS that just is almost never how it works. And so you really should view SEO as just one piece of the puzzle and taking someone who’s never heard of your brand into buying your software. And actually SEO is a really helpful part in being able to start that process because it really can be someone’s first introduction to your brand. And then you use those other means of nurturing that lead toward a sale. So let’s use… we’ll use MailChimp as an example – the email marketing platform, mostly known for email, but provides a lot of other tools as well. In their case, they create a page that’s targeting the query, email marketing benchmarks, which gets about 500 or so searches per month. And so it’s likely that somebody searching email marketing benchmarks, is going to be working in email marketing and kind of wants to get a sense of how their campaigns are doing compared to the industry. And so MailChimp creates this really good page with lots of great information. And then on that page, they have a section that’s how to improve open rates because one of the benchmarks they’re looking at is, “What’s a good open rate for my industry?” And then within that section they explain, “Well, hey, MailChimp can set up a B testing on your campaigns to improve open rates”. And so if you’re creating a page that really targets your audience, within that content, you can kind of give the occasional plug for how your software solves that problem, and then because someone’s probably not going to sign up on their first visit, you can then remark it to that user with paid ads, which is a great way to kind of keep top of mind for those users and hopefully drive them back to your site. Another way that SEO can play a role there is by capturing email addresses through offering things like free templates. The term you hear a lot is like a lead magnet. So it makes sense to offer a template or some sort of download related to that page’s topic. And so you can offer that for free as long as they give you their email, and then you can nurture that lead through an email campaign. So overall, SEO is a good way to get in front of that user initially. But then you definitely want to use other channels to really move that lead toward purchasing a subscription.

John Tyreman:  That’s a great point of distinction for marketers out there who want to use SEO to drive business sales, but there are some pieces along that journey that really need to be set up. I like your point about how SEO is just one piece of the puzzle. There are other pieces that you need to have in place, lead nurturing. And then as far as… I know we’re coming up on our time, but I have one other question that I’d like to ask you, Jacob. One big part of SEO is the number of backlinks pointing to your site. So what are some different ways that B2B SaaS websites can accelerate the number of backlinks pointing to their site?

Jacob Clarke:  Yeah, the PageRank algorithm definitely, definitely played a huge role in kind of turning Google into Google today. And so it’s still considered a very strong signal. Although like you said, it’s sometimes debated today, like is it more important than ever, less important than ever? But either way, it’s definitely still tough to do. But there’s some common themes that you see in the pages that build a lot of links. One way to do that is to create pages that target statistics related to your industry. That MailChimp page on email marketing benchmarks and statistics is a great example there. The reason that those are valuable for link building is because people often link to the source where they got the statistic and so if somebody is referencing the open rates for a particular industry, they got it from that page, they’ll just add a backlink pointing to it, kind of like citing your source. But then there’s also a couple specific ways that I’ve seen success with this technique. One great example is the social media app Clubhouse got really popular, I think around like the end of 2020, early 2021. I think it was like when Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk joined. At one point they were raising a bunch of money. And so publishers were just writing all sorts of stories about Clubhouse. It was like a really, really big trending topic. And a marketer named Brian Dean who runs, as the name suggests, he’s really good at link building. And so from what I could see in the source code of this page, I think he published it in January 2021, which was like, right at the peak of all this media attention on Clubhouse, he published a page on 40 plus Clubhouse stats. And so it quickly ranked for all sorts of keywords related to Clubhouse stats, how many users, does Clubhouse have all the things that publishers were searching for as they were writing the stories about it. And so naturally, they would link to his page and so it now has over 1000 backlinks. And so essentially, he identified a trending topic, knew that people were gonna be looking for statistics about it, and then kind of created that ultimate guide on Clubhouse statistics and earned a ton of backlinks from it. Another way to go about looking at this is like, are there opportunities where stats are going to be outdated soon to where you can provide updated ones? One example is, I had a client where one of their competitors had a page that was driving just a ton of backlinks to their site. But we saw that in a few months, those stats were going to be outdated. And people are going to be looking for newer ones. And so what we did was we gathered all the new data, created the page, and as soon as those new stats were relevant, we went ahead and published it. And really our site was one of the first ones to publish that updated data. And so we quickly outranked the competitor. And then because our data was the newest one, all the news publishers that were writing about this topic, found our page by searching for this particular statistic, linked to the page, and they were able to link to our client’s page as opposed to the competitors. And so you really want to think like, what unique data can our company provide related to that industry? And then if people are searching for that, it can be a really good link building opportunity.

John Tyreman:  These are really great examples. It sounds like the examples you gave would attract links organically. But it sounds like there may be an opportunity to pitch some of these pages to other journalists and other bloggers out there. Like do you see digital PR as a way to accelerate backlink production? 

Jacob Clarke:  Yeah, that’s kind of the two sides of the coin of link building is, on the one hand, you have ones where you just publish the page and then naturally people find it and link to it. But then yeah, the other side is kind of you know, if we find a unique topic we want to cover, statistics pages are also a great example here of, “Hey, we have this great data”. And then you can find certain publications or journalists who write about that topic and proactively pitch them. And so that’s something we see a lot as well as you know, can we find opportunities to pitch our pages to media, and so a lot of people are having success there too.

John Tyreman:  Very cool. Well, Jacob, thank you so much for your time. I feel like we’ve covered this topic at a fair amount of depth. I know that our audience is going to get a lot of value out of this. If folks want to learn more about SEO or SEO for B2B software companies, where can they find you? 

Jacob Clarke:  The best place to connect with me is going to be on LinkedIn. So yeah, please send me an invite. 

John Tyreman:  Awesome, Jacob, thank you so much for coming on the show. 

Jacob Clarke:  Thanks, John. Always happy to chat.