Search engine optimization (SEO) is all about making sure your website is search engine friendly. There’s a lot going on behind the scenes of your website that can either help, or hinder, your rankings in Google, Bing, and other popular search engines.
In this blog post, we’ll be digging into the nitty-gritty of doing SEO for your SaaS company. I’m going to show you some best practices for compiling keyword research, walk you through a site audit, and explore key on-page SEO elements.
Buckle up and let’s go for a ride!
Doing solid keyword research will give you a strong foundation for all your SEO efforts. Basically, keywords are the words and phrases that people type into a search engine when they’re looking for an answer to their problems, a specific service near them, etc. You want to rank well for keywords that are relevant to your business because it will drive an enormous amount of qualified traffic to your website. Remember, these people are searching with intent—they have a question or problem, and you want to be the best answer or solution to their dilemma.
Keyword research can be broken into two different subcategories –
- What you want to rank for
- What your competitors are ranking for
Google Search Console
Google Search Console tells you what keywords people are currently clicking on to get to your site. You can do this by logging into Google Search Console > Search Traffic > Search Analytics.
Once there click the radio button title Pages. Then click the page that you want to learn more information about. After that, click the radio button title Queries. This will let you know what queries people are using to find your page. It also will show you the following:
- Number of impressions (how often people saw your site pop up in the search engine results page, or SERP, but didn’t necessarily click your result)
- Click-through rate (what percentage of people actually clicked on your result)
- Your average position in the SERPs
If you have keywords that are already performing great you can look to optimize them even more, or find underperforming keywords to target.
Go through your top priority pages and download all of the keywords into an excel file. Remove all of the branded keywords (those that include your brand name) from the reports and decide which terms are the ones you want to target.
Moz Keyword Planner
In early 2016 I would have recommended using the keyword planner tool in Google Adwords. Recently the great people over at Moz released a new keyword planner, which I absolutely love. The planner lets you put in a broad keyword and will give a great list of keyword suggestions for you. These suggestions range from related terms to long-tail keywords (longer, more specific phrases) that you can target.
Here’s an example for HRIS Software:
There is also a section for SERP analysis so that you can see what types of results are showing up in those queries. If you’re doing a large amount of keyword research or doing keyword research on several different pages, this is a good way to see if you’re on the right track. For example, is the keyword you’re researching primarily pulling up local results when you’re targeting a global audience? This information is good to know before you put in a lot of time and resources into targeting specific keywords.
The other section is called keyword suggestions. This is a great resource for building out long-tail keywords and finding new keywords to target. You can add the keywords that you want to a list that can be downloaded later.
SEMRush is my favorite tool to use when looking at competitors and where they’re ranking for specific keywords. The interface is pretty self-explanatory to use, but let’s walk through the organic keyword section.
Type in your competitor’s URL into the search bar at the top. For this example, I simply put in Bigleap.com to see where we’re ranking for certain search terms. There is a section called Top Organic Keywords. This section lets you see all of the keywords that the website is ranking for in the top 100 positions. This is helpful if you’re looking at a competitor and they’re significantly higher than you for one of your “trophy keywords.”
Now that your keyword research is done and you have a list of keywords you want to target, you can focus on your site audit. There are hundreds of different things to look at in a site audit. At Big Leap, our in-depth site audit examines over 200 different aspects of a website. However, for this blog post, we’ll cover some of the more general site audit areas. While more basic, this general site audit will still yield insightful results and give you plenty of action items.
Screaming Frog acts a lot like a search engine by “crawling” your site and pulling tons of information for you to look at. The parts that we’re interested in for your site audit is the response (status) codes. We’re looking to see if there are any pages that are returning errors that we need to correct.
After Screaming Frog finishes crawling your website, you’ll want to select the response code tab. I usually start with 5XX errors and work my way through all of the tabs. A site with lots of 4XX or 5XX errors can have a big negative impact on user experience on the site. Once you have a list of these errors you’ll want to get them to your IT or web developer to fix them.
Another status code that often gets overlooked is a 302 status code. A “302 redirect” is just a temporary redirect, while a “301 redirect” is a permanent redirect. When it comes to SEO, there isn’t a significant difference between a 301 and a 302, but it’s recommended that most sites should have just 301s.
Meta Titles, Meta Descriptions, H1
Continuing with the Screaming Frog tool, the elements that you’ll want to look at your site are the HTML meta title tags, meta descriptions, and H1 tags.
Meta titles & descriptions are what search engines pull to display in the SERPs. They should both include a target keyword or keyword phrase, should be unique, and should include a call-to-action, such as to visit the page.
Recent research suggests that meta descriptions don’t carry direct SEO weight anymore, as far as keywords in the description are concerned. They do, however, impact click-through rate for users, which has a large impact on rankings. You want your meta descriptions to be unique, have a strong call to action, and not be truncated.
Title tags should have the name of the page (preferably with your keyword in it) and shouldn’t be truncated either. Optimal title tag length is between 55-65 characters, while optimal description length is 145-155 characters.
The H1 tag is essentially the web page’s headline—it appears on the site as the main title of the page. It should describe what the page is about and preferably contain a targeted keyword.
Side note: We are seeing more and more that H1s are being included in banner images on the page. While this is very visually appealing, it doesn’t put an actual H1 in the code for the search engines to read. While you look at your site you’ll want to be aware of pages that have the H1 wrapped in a banner and the pages that you can insert an H1 into it.
Page speed is a major factor for sites. Back in 2010 Google announced that page speed would start having an impact on search rankings. We’ve seen that to be true with our clients. Not only does it have an impact on search rankings, but it can impact customer trust and have an impact on the bottom line.
Make sure you have Pagespeed Insights and GTMetrix handy for this section. Go ahead and plug your website into Pagespeed and it will populate something along these lines:
Google has prioritized the most important things to improve page speed for you. Common offenders in this report are minimized CSS and HTML, Optimize Images, and Leverage Browser Caching. You can usually solve these problems through a WordPress plugin with the help of a skilled developer.
Next, run your site through GTMetrix. There are several sites that essentially do the same thing, but GTMetrix is my favorite. This report breaks down the biggest offenders that are slowing your site down. It also has a fun video section if you create an account.
Most of the items that come up will have to be handed over to an experienced web developer, but depending on your personal skill level, there may be some things that you can easily fix yourself.
Before the search engine “spiders” crawl your site, they’ll go to the robots.txt file to see what pages they’re allowed to crawl and/or index. If you have pages that you don’t want showing up in search engines (like an employee login section) you can include a “disallow” section of your robots.txt file so the spiders don’t index that page.
You’ll notice that the sitemap is included in the robots.txt file. This points the spiders directly to your sitemap for them to crawl. Your sitemap should have all of the pages that you want to be indexed on your site. Usually, SaaS companies have very large websites with huge numbers of pages because of their many service pages, articles, whitepapers, blog posts, etc. The great thing about sitemaps is that you can list multiple sitemaps under the sitemap URL.
Each of these is a folder that contains a sitemap for the intended categories (blog posts, service pages, categories, etc.)
A sitemap is crucial to making sure that your whole site is crawled (or at least all the pages that you want to be crawled). A sitemap also makes it possible for any “orphaned” pages (pages that don’t have any links to them) to be crawled and indexed.
Including your target keywords in the URL itself sends positive ranking signals to search engines. So, what makes a good URL architecture?
- https://www.com/content-a487/products.html (gives little clue as to what the page is actually about)
- https://www.bigleap.com/organic-search/seo-for-saas-companies.html (lets you know what the page is about, right there in the URL)
Can you tell the difference in products/services by the URL? If you can that means that you’re on the right track with your URL structure. Best practices are to use a single domain, have a clean, easy-to-read URL string, and include your keyword where possible.
Another SEO factor for SaaS companies is on-page content. This is where your keyword research comes in most handy—content that is focused on answering customer questions and targets specific keywords has shown to increase engagement on sites.
It’s impossible to have your homepage rank for all of your keywords, and trying to get one page to target a whole bunch of keywords will only hurt its rankings. Creating a dedicated landing page or a “solutions” page allows you to optimize certain keywords to answer a specific customer question.
For one of our SaaS clients, BambooHR, we wanted to target several different keyword categories, but didn’t want them to go directly to the homepage. So, we created solution pages to better answer customer needs.
Breaking this up let us go after several keyword groups and create content that would target those keywords. We also included rich images, video content, and strategic outbound and internal links to the site.
CTR/Bounce Rate/Time On Page
Three aspects of on-page SEO that sometimes get overlooked are click-through-rate (CTR), bounce rate, and time on page. These three concepts are separate, yet intimately tied together. Studies have shown that the click through rate for a specific term can have an immediate impact on a site’s ranking position.
While there is some debate on the matter, we believe that bounce rate also has an impact on where the site ranks. Even if it doesn’t have any specific impact on where the site ranks, it’s important to know if a page has a high bounce rate. High bounce rates often mean that the content isn’t relevant for the term it is ranking for, or the content isn’t engaging to the readers and needs to be improved.
Time on page is another ranking factor that often falls into the User Experience category. When people stay on your page for a long time it lets search engines know that people like your content and it’s relevant to what they searched for. Brian Dean gives a great explanation of time on page that everyone should watch:
That concludes our chapter for on-site SEO, but we’re about to get to some of the most exciting stuff: off-site SEO and “link building.”
Have any questions about how to do SEO for your SaaS company? We’d love to help—contact us and we’ll answer your questions right away!