Software-as-a-service (SaaS) has gained traction and prevalence as a core business model across industries, largely in tandem with the rise of the digital age we’re now firmly rooted in. It’s a growing business model projected to reach $157 billion in 2020, up from $63.19 billion in 2014, emphasising how important SaaS products are becoming in day to day lives.
Whilst many businesses will take advantage of this growing trend, it does bring its own unique set of challenges as SaaS brands look to compete for the same audience. One way to ensure your message is heard is through an effective SaaS digital marketing strategy.
Here at Impression we are well versed in ensuring our PPC and SEO campaigns are an effective weapon in any businesses armoury. Through this experience, we have explored PPC and SEO best practices for SaaS businesses and highlighted the importance of an integrated approach.
Targeting upper funnel queries
The chances are that if a user is searching for a service to fix a particular problem, their initial search intent will be relatively broad as it’s likely they will be unsure about the options available to them. As a result, it’s important not to disregard search terms that could be considered as top of the funnel. This is not to say that specific longer tail keywords are not valuable (they most definitely are), but when looking at the example below, we can see that upper funnel searches provide greater value and are a fantastic way to place your SaaS in front of potential customers who wouldn’t have necessarily searched for a particular software provider before;
Upper funnel – “How to improve time management” (avg monthly searches 390 – CPC £0.72)
Lower funnel – “Time management software” (avg monthly searches 210 – CPC £4.13)
By using this approach as part of your account structure, it’s possible to find hidden gems that are not being bid on as ferociously by your competition as some of the more obvious keywords.
Delivering the right message at the right time
A common error is to push a sales heavy message in front of users at all times. This is the natural thing to do when writing ad copy as our goal as PPC account managers is nearly always to ‘drive more leads!’. Whilst this sales message can be appropriate to communicate to a warm audience, it is not always the best approach for users who haven’t interacted with your business before.
The best way to think of this is to put yourself in the position of a user. If this is their first interaction with your business, it’s of more value to the user to actually learn what the service can provide and what problems it can solve. It’s highly unlikely a user will commit to purchasing a service with their first interaction, it’s important to build trust.
Once your business has been introduced to a user, we can assume they are familiar with the basic proposition. It is then important to differentiate your business from competitors. At this point, we can use remarketing lists to deliver a different message that highlights why your service provides more value than a rivals. Using USPs at this stage can be very effective and a sure fire way to position your business ahead of competitors.
Another consideration for ad copy is to ensure it is tailored for the search intent of the user, regardless of whether they have interacted with a business or not. For instance, if a user is including actions such as “buy management software” then you can afford to pitch your business more aggressively than for a user who is searching for “benefits of management software”.
In summary, give the people what they want, when they want it. Don’t give them what you want them to want.
This may seem an obvious one but many PPC account managers are often hesitant to create campaigns aimed at competitor brands. They shouldn’t be. The users searching for a rivals brand name are likely to be the exact type of person you want to be putting your adverts in front of.
It’s safe to say that if a user is searching for a direct competitor, their intent is likely to be sky high. By being aggressive and bidding on these terms it’s possible to get a slice of that pie. Yes the CPC is usually expensive relative to your more generic keywords, however, that shouldn’t put account managers off as conversion rates for these users are usually higher in comparison.
Another useful tip when bidding on competitor keywords is to tailor both your ad copy and landing page experience for the users. This is not the time to be coy about your messaging. If your service is less expensive or offers a superior experience, then make sure that’s in the ad copy and be blunt about it. Similarly, if you have the capability and the amount of traffic warrants it, then building a landing page that lays out exactly why your service is better than a competitor can be a very powerful tool.
One word of caution though – your rivals are probably thinking of doing the exact same thing, so make sure your brand is protected with a brand focussed campaign.
Affinity, In-Market & Similar Audiences
Although Google is gradually moving towards automated bidding strategies as best practice for PPC campaigns, we still have levers that we can pull to help optimise campaigns that are set to manual CPC. In particular, for SaaS businesses, identifying highly relevant affinity/in-market audience groups provided by Google is a very powerful tool.
The ability to layer your keywords with specific audiences can be extremely useful in making sure you get the most bang for your buck. A solid tip is to initially set a few audiences that are of the most relevance to your campaign and observe their performance in relation to users who sit outside of these groups. After gathering enough data you can then take the decision to bid either more aggressively or more conservatively based on its performance.
Remember to be careful when setting your audiences up, be mindful not to include too many as Google will be more effective if it only has a handful of audiences to attribute a search result towards.
Another really useful idea to trial with audience performance is to create a separate campaign specifically targeting an audience that is showing strong results. For instance, if you see an in-market audience clearly outperforming the rest, it can be worth turning that into a broader search term campaign with the caveat that the users must fall into the audience that was performing strongly. By doing this it is possible to reach users of a high intent with a wider range of keywords.
Finally, remember to make the most of the similar audience function. By setting up a list of recent converters/sales within Google Ads, it’s possible to generate an audience that Google deems to be similar in behaviour. Utilising this list in the same manner as in-market and affinity audiences should be another weapon in an account managers armoury.
Be multi channel focussed
Search shouldn’t be your only priority in your SaaS digital marketing strategy. Whilst it’s vital to have presence for search intent, driving awareness of your service through other platforms can have an equally big impact.
Utilising Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and other social platforms opens up an array of targeting methods that aren’t readily available through search alone. They allow your business to make use of targeting options such as interests, in-market, job titles, education level and more.
The ability to target users based on the variety of audiences available through social media channels can open up your business to users who weren’t actively searching for a SaaS brand to solve their problem. Raising awareness this way can lead to an uplift in brand searches, which will lead to an uplift in both organic and paid search results.
Not only are social platforms useful for generating brand awareness, they also have great potential to drive leads/sales directly. It’s unlikely that a user will purchase a SaaS through their first interaction, but remarketing and social interaction behaviour makes it possible to filter users into higher intent audience pots. A clear example of this would be to target users who interacted with an awareness ad or have visited the website previously with a more in depth message.
Too often, the SaaS concept is still reviewed with a level of obscurity and resulting trepidation when SEO strategy is considered. How can niche, user-centric software products be successfully pitched out to the great void as a true value proposition? Well, the answer kind of lies into our entire modern way of living.
Given that parts of the advice provided in the previous PPC section still apply to SEO, this section will move away from prescriptive paint-by-numbers SEO and instead look a bit deeper into how we can view SaaS marketing.
The rise of Mass SaaS (& what SEOs can learn from it)
When you typically think of a SaaS product, images of unapproachable B2B solutions naturally conjure themselves, replete with low search volumes and esoteric jargon that’s enough to scare the best of SEOs. During my long tenure at Impression, I’ve certainly come across challenging accounts that could be categorised (perhaps less colourfully) as the above. I struggled to find ways to interpret and engage with such accounts until I changed my approach to SEO strategy for SaaS.
The funny rub in all this is that the two most successful examples of SaaS products are likely the last two you’d put your money on if asked to name one – Netflix & Amazon Prime. These goliaths are quintessentially SaaS and we don’t think about it at all. From these, we can learn so much about a successful approach to SaaS marketing by simply breaking down their approach and extrapolating that to our benefit.
I believe most SaaS products can be fit into either a Netflix or Prime-style product; either a focused service that does one thing incredibly well, or a multi-faceted offering that jack-of-trades it’s way to earning and retaining a subscription. These distinctions set aside your entire SaaS ethos, which will naturally inform content creation and how you market your product.
General approach to SaaS strategy
Before we dive into the specifics, there are a few approaches to SaaS SEO that are pretty universally applicable, regardless of the type of your product.
Firstly, the concept of Awareness, Consideration & Conversion do still apply to SaaS SEO and are, arguably, even more valuable here. Given that many SaaS products aim to supply a continual demand – one that isn’t likely to diminish upon purchase – being able to land in front of potential customers at the awareness stage is incredibly valuable. This ties into the ideas of the overall marketing funnel, which are still at the core of a SaaS SEO strategy here.
Consider the searches your customers might use when discussing the problem your SaaS product solves. Instead of just targeting terms that describe what your product does or is, think about and optimise to match the problems your users face before using your product. Using Netflix as our example, it could be a search such as ‘where to watch films online’ or ‘how to watch [random TV show]’. The user is looking for an answer to their problem, which Netflix can deliver. It’s simple, effective and is proven to drive engagement long-term once you’ve established the necessary on-page content.
It’s important to look at your competitors during such research, as they may be doing this exact approach on their website. Never fear! We can use this data as search term mining opportunities, whilst also creating a tangible benchmark for our optimisation efforts. Create content that answers the problem better than your competitors and at a stronger value proposition, in order to build your organic strength for terms you’re battling over in SERPs.
All the other tropes land true. Get your technical SEO straightened up sooner rather than later. This can be a little trickier, especially if you have a complex product, but should be a primary focus during your campaign kick-off and monitored throughout your domain’s lifespan. You’re going to be crafting content, without a doubt, so ensure you have the resources to support this. Finally, you’ll need to consider your backlink profile as your business expands. Whether through PR or other means, a strong backlink profile still correlates to visibility in 2020, so you can’t avoid it.
With all that out of the way, let’s break down the specific strategies.
Netflix-style SaaS Strategy
If your product is a ‘Netflix’ of sorts – highly targeted, offering a specific service in demand – then you need to bring this into your approach to SEO. Unless you’re the only one in the game, you have to lean into the competition and stand out. Ask yourself the following questions and build a picture of how you can pitch to customers.
- How is your product better than competitor offerings?
- Does your product provide a better value proposition?
- What does your product do that other similar products can’t?
When answering these questions, consider how to pitch this information on your site. Furthermore, build a picture of when this needs to be delivered to customers to get the best traction and engagement. There’s little benefit in regaling people with the speed benefits or productivity benefits of your SaaS product over competitors if they’re not even sure exactly what it is you do, or why they want it in the first place.
Create expansive content that focuses on your single niche. Establish yourself as the go-to place for all things in your domain and build the authority and relevance required for a long-term successful SEO campaign in 2020. Blog platforms and informational content are an invaluable asset to a modern SaaS strategy, especially as user retention is key, so it pays to invest in creating fresh and well-researched content to meet evolving demands in your consumer base.
Prime-style SaaS Strategy
The general approach is much the same as above, but with a few benefits and challenges you’ll need to think about. While a Netflix-style strategy can go all-in on a single area, a Prime-style SaaS offering needs to stretch out and target a whole host of different demands and search intents. This creates a few interesting opportunities. Consider the following and catalogue your observations.
- How many unique services and/or functions does your product provide?
- What is the overlap between your product and close competitors?
- Do the features of your product work together or in silo of each other?
- What is the utilisation of all tools in your SaaS platform?
As you can see, the questions you need to ask yourself drill much deeper into the core concept of the product itself and how it can be leveraged. For example, it is easy to craft a breadth of content to target each of the features within your overall SaaS product, but what will compel users to stay subbed if they only utilise 50% of the overall package? How can we create a value proposition that suits a wide range of users and provides the best experience?
Focusing a great deal of research into your audience personas can be a beneficial way of tackling this conundrum. By understanding the prospective users of your product, you can look to see whether cross-pollination and/or upselling opportunities arise. Furthermore, creating multi-tiered or faceted subscription models can be a superb way to generate conversions. Adobe is a fine example of this approach, whereby a subscription can be tailored to the exact needs of the user.
One of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen from SaaS providers in the past is a level of secrecy that I surmise is due to a feeling it’s necessary for protection. Some of the common instances of this include:
- Lack of clear pricing, inquiry only
- Top-level explanation of the service itself with little exposition
- Lack of trials and/or testing features
The reality is, if a competitor were after information on your product or pricing structure, they can subscribe or inquire. There’s no reason to hide information from your legitimate consumer base, as it devalues your product and will cost you conversions in the long run.
Leverage rich media – video, interactive tutorials – and showcase exactly what your service offers and why they should jump for a subscription. This naturally offers opportunities to set your product aside and will allow users to feel respected in reciprocation. Trials, where applicable, can be an extension of this and showcase confidence in your service that reinforces buyer confidence. Furthermore, all this content can be optimised and targeted to meet the previously established demands to create sales-focused power pages that outperform your competitors and become marquee landmarks in the overall user journey.
It’s no surprise that Spotify literally uses their free trial as the opening salvo for their main product page. Whilst I wouldn’t recommend something this aggressive for a smaller operation (especially for organic optimisation), it showcases the power of being transparent with your SaaS product and is clearly a working strategy for them.
How SEO & PPC can integrate to achieve greater results
Now that we have established the individual benefits of SEO and PPC specifically for SaaS businesses, it’s also important to recognise how both disciplines can complement each other and drive even stronger results.
The first piece of integration to consider is how PPC can help shape SEO content through search queries gathered in Google/Microsoft Ads. For example, if you have a Paid Search campaign with broad keywords, it will be possible to see the most common search terms that users are searching for. It is then possible to take this knowledge and utilise it to improve SEO content, ensuring that the SEO strategy for your SaaS business is as effective as possible.
Another great example of how to integrate PPC and SEO is to focus the SEO strategy on the most expensive keywords that are being targeted within an account. A common problem that a PPC account manager may face is being limited by budget. Where possible, your business should try and generate organic traffic in the areas where it might be costly to use PPC budget, this will benefit digital performance overall whilst keeping spend lower.
Finally, a great use case for integration is the ability to use remarketing lists in paid campaigns for users that were initially acquired through organic traffic. By doing this, it is possible to deliver paid ads specifically towards users which you can be confident will be of a higher intent than typical users. Not only is it possible to target a specific audience but it is possible to communicate with these users through tailored ad copy and a more aggressive bidding strategy.
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