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While not exactly “free”, content-driven search engine optimization (SEO) is one of the best marketing channels to lower your customer acquisition costs.

Effective SEO means you’ll show up where your prospects are in a non-intrusive way (ahem, pesky paid ads). Ranking on the first page establishes your brand’s authority and credibility via valuable content — something that also fuels lead generation and fosters free trial sign-ups.

So if you’re on a shoestring SEO budget looking to rank on Google’s first page, then here are the top ten things you (or your team) should focus on.

1. Ensure a strong technical SEO foundation

Technical SEO forms the foundation of all your SEO efforts. If this bedrock is weak, your website won’t rank well, no matter how amazing your content is.

So, the first thing you need to do is ensure search engines can access, crawl, and index the pages that you want to rank on the SERPs.

Now, technical SEO is pretty much an entire discipline in itself. So as a relatively fresh startup website, here are the key aspects to focus on:

  • Site structure and architecture
  • URL structure
  • Page speed and Core Web Vitals performance
  • Mobile-friendliness and usability 
  • XML sitemap creation and submission
  • Indexation
  • HTTPS security
  • Title tags and meta descriptions

Check out our in-depth, experts-backed article on SEO for new websites (for our client JetOctopus) that talks about the what, why, and how of all these aspects in greater detail.

You can also use a site audit tool like Ahrefs or SEMrush that provides your website’s overall health score along with technical SEO errors (on a URL level) that need fixing.

2. Focus on long-tail keywords first

When you’re starting out with SEO and have little-to-no domain authority, your best bet to climb up the SERP ladder fast is to target long-tail keywords.

As the name implies, long-tail keywords are more specific phrases rather than individual terms, such as “SEO for SaaS startups” (as opposed to a head keyword “SaaS SEO”).

These keywords tend to have lower search volume but are much easier to rank for and drive high-intent traffic that’s ready to act (such as to download or purchase something).

You can use the Keywords Everywhere extension to find long-tail and related keywords for a search query, and AnswerThePublic to find questions people are asking around your primary keyword.

Monitor your content for positive traction — for instance, getting multiple first-page rankings with several blog posts driving higher month-over-month traffic could be a sign that you can start targeting broader (aka head) keywords with more competition and search volume.

3. Build authority with the pillar-cluster method

One of the best ways to build your SaaS brand’s authority around a topic is to employ the pillar-cluster content strategy, which entails:

  • Pillar content: A super-comprehensive piece on a broad topic, such as “The Complete Guide to Google Analytics 4”. Section-by-section, it’s meant to answer all your audience’s questions on the subject, while targeting high search volume competitive keywords. Our SaaS content marketing guide is a good example of pillar content.
  • Cluster content: Regular blog posts on sub-topics, targeting more granular long-tail keywords, such as “X Benefits of Using Google Analytics 4”.

Connect the pillar page with the cluster content using strategic internal links, and you have an SEO powerhouse on the subject.

The beauty of this strategy is that the pillar post stands a much greater chance of ranking high given how much coverage you have on the topic, and then it passes off the earned authority to each cluster page as well.

The pillar-cluster method doesn’t just provide a good user experience but also signals to Google that your SaaS website is a relevant, reliable, and expert source of information on the topic.

Many of the top SaaS brands such as HubSpot and Typeform have established their authority with this approach.

4. Create competitor comparison pages

Income, social media follower count, SaaS products — what do these things have in common?

It’s the fact that people compare these things all the time.

That is, your bottom-of-the-funnel prospects who are about to sign up for a SaaS product will undoubtedly compare a few options before finalizing one, using search terms like:

  • “[Competitor-`1] vs. [Competitor-2] vs. [Your Product]”
  • “[Competitor] alternatives”
  • “Best <use case> tools” or “Best <use case> software”

Many SaaS brands bid on such keywords in their Google ads (taking the scarce prospects who don’t ignore ads to a dedicated landing page) but fail to target them with in-depth, easy-to-skim organic content.

Sure, these keywords may not have the highest search volumes or traffic potential, but comparison content is extremely valuable because people using such high-intent keywords are close to making a purchase.

And so, competitor comparison content has both SEO and conversion potential.

To dive deeper into creating effective comparison content, check out our complete checklist infographic!

5. Produce FAQ content

Have you come across the “People also ask” section while browsing Google?

As you can see below, this widget includes questions people frequently ask on Google that are related to the search query.

You can capitalize on this by creating FAQ pages that provide in-depth, well-structured (using subheadings) answers to these questions. This will help build your site’s authority and make it easier for your prospects to find the answers they need. Include the right long-tail keywords and your answers may even show up in the “People also ask” widget, amplifying your exposure.

Besides, it’s a good idea to add an FAQ section to every blog post you publish — it lets readers who have an understanding of the topic get quick answers to specific questions they need help with, making for a better user experience and thus, SEO.

6. Publish unique industry insights using your platform’s data

Backlinks are the heart and soul of SEO for SaaS Startups.

Getting relevant, high-authority websites to link to your website has always played a pivotal role in achieving first-page rankings on Google.

While there are plenty of ways to build links (as we’ll discuss in the remainder of this post), the advantage of being into SaaS is that your product might be collecting tons of proprietary data that can be analyzed and interpreted into unique industry insights.

For instance, BuzzSumo put together this piece in 2015 by scraping the data from their platform. Since then, the article has earned nearly 5.5k backlinks from over 2.2k referring domains. Clearly, this content is super valuable to their audience and niche bloggers who’d love to link to it (with or without a little nudge!).

Moreover, you can even conduct your own industry research or surveys by collaborating with other (complementary) SaaS brands. For example, HubSpot collaborated with Litmus and Wistia in 2021 to publish a helpful marketing report.

Such reports and unique research are absolute link magnets, with massive potential to get you tons of SEO-boosting backlinks on autopilot.

7. Write long-form skyscraper content

To achieve the top spots on Google, there’s little doubt that long-form content (1,500+ words) trumps shorter pieces.

That’s because a comprehensive article allows you to:

  • Cover more keywords and subtopics
  • Thoroughly answer your audience’s questions
  • Demonstrate your brand’s topical authority

In fact, a study by Backlinko suggests that long-form content gets an average of 77.2% more links than short articles (along with more social shares!).

Now, an almost foolproof way to craft successful long-form pieces that garner backlinks and social shares is the famous “skyscraper technique” — a term coined by…Backlinko.

The basis of this approach is to look at the top-ranking content for the primary keyword you want to target, figure out what those pieces are missing, and then craft something much better.

You can do this by:

  • Making your content more in-depth
  • Sharing a new angle or a hot take
  • Making it more up to date
  • Including unique data and research
  • Featuring expert insights

With the skyscraper piece published on your blog, reach out to relevant publications that have linked to your competitors’ content and try to get them to link to your piece.

Oh, and it goes without saying: focusing on long-form content doesn’t mean you add unnecessary filler content (fluff) for the sake of word count.

Now, speaking of reaching out to relevant publishers to get links from them…

8. Try outreach-based link building

So far, we’ve talked about on-site content-based SEO — with a focus on earning inbound links.

Now, for the rest of this post, let’s switch our focus to outbound or outreach-based link building — wherein you manually hunt and reach out to relevant websites, and ask them to link to your page.

After all, “Ask and you shall receive” applies to all walks of life.

So, for example, you can shoot quick cold emails to ask:

  • Websites (or experts) you cite as sources in your content to link back to your piece.
  • Websites (or experts) that have shared related content in the past to share your content.
  • Websites (or experts) that link to your competitors’ content. As yours is better (isn’t it?), see if they’d be interested in linking to it instead.

At worst, you’ll get a “no” or no response. At best, an easy juicy backlink.

Going forward with outreach-based SEO link building, the next thing is to…

9. Do high-quality guest posting

Though a somewhat high-effort endeavor, when it comes to SEO for SaaS Startups, guest posting is a time-tested tactic to not just land links but also amplify your brand visibility and authority in the industry.

It essentially involves reaching out to high-quality content publishers in your niche and contributing valuable content (articles, listicles, infographics, etc.) for their blog, while including a helpful link in the content (and/or author bio) that points to one of your important service or content pages.

You can find guest posting opportunities by entering these search terms in Google:

  • [industry] + “write for us”
  • [industry] + “guest post”
  • [industry] + “contribute”

But before you offer to contribute content to any website, do some homework to ensure it’s a website worth gaining a link from. Because Google views a backlink as a vote of confidence, so a link from a dodgy website effectively associates your SaaS business with it — lowering your domain’s reputation in the eyes of Google.

You can easily gauge a website’s quality and authority with a free tool like Moz.

Once you’re sure of a domain’s authority and content quality standards, go ahead and pitch unique content ideas relevant to their (and your) audiences. Use tools like BuzzSumo to come up with engaging topic ideas.

Upon the editor’s approval, draft the piece in accordance with their guidelines and ensure to include your link in a contextual (non-intrusive) way within the content. Submit it, wait for the editor’s review, and ultimately for the piece to go live — that’s about it!

Note that you should ideally guest post on topics you would typically write about on your own website and preferably on publications in and around your niche.

10. Find and fix broken links

Broken links are hyperlinks that throw a “404 Not Found” error. These links lead to a poor user experience and thus, also hurt SEO.

Thus, as you add content pages to your SaaS website, make sure to frequently audit your site for broken links and either remove them or replace them with functional internal/external links.

In fact, fixing broken links for other relevant websites is also a great way to build backlinks to your own.

Known as broken link building, it’s a tactic where you help website owners fix a 404 link on their page by requesting them to replace the broken link with a link to a similar page on your website.

Simple, right? And it works great for SaaS in particular because there are a lot of resource pages out there that link to SaaS tools and guides:

So, how do you find and fix broken links on your website and on other platforms? One way is to use a free tool like Broken Link Checker by Ahrefs to check a website for broken links.

If you find a page pointing to a dead piece of content, such as a guide on a topic you’ve covered well, then shoot a quick email and offer to link to your content instead.

It’s a win-win as the webmaster gets to fix a broken link (and thus improve their UX and SEO), and you get a relevant backlink that helps your SEO.

Kickstart your SEO

So there you have it — the top ten things you should focus on when you’re just getting your feet wet in the realm of SEO (and content) as a SaaS startup.

Clearly, creating good SEO content and building quality links to your SaaS website is a pretty intense and time-consuming activity — requiring consistent and dedicated efforts. To tackle all these things, you would need a team that’s willing to put in the hard work day in, day out.

Partnering up with an experienced SEO agency that specializes in SaaS organic growth lets you put all of this on autopilot; so you can focus on other important aspects of building your SaaS product and business.

Either way, now you’re aware of the action items — it’s time to get cracking!

Image Source – Backlinko

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