In growing a successful SaaS business, one of the most critical aspects is whether it has the ability to acquire new customers in a consistent, sustainable way.
This is how having an effective customer acquisition strategy can literally make or break the SaaS business’s success.
Yet, with the rapidly increasing competition in the SaaS industry customer acquisition is only growing to be more challenging each and every year.
This article will cover all you need to know about customer acquisition for SaaS businesses. We will cover the strategies, tactics, best practices, and tools that can help SaaS companies acquire new customers and grow as a business. The primary focus of this guide is how to use search engine optimization (SEO), which has been proven to be the critical component of successful customer acquisition for many SaaS companies.
In this guide, we will cover:
- The importance of customer acquisition for SaaS business
- How SEO works in customer acquisition
- How to conduct keyword research and optimize your content for the identified target keywords
- How to perform on-page optimization and improve your site’s structure
- Measuring and optimizing your SEO performance
- How to overcome common SEO issues and pitfalls
By following the steps in this guide, you’ll have a solid foundation on how to create an effective SEO strategy that will help you conduct effective customer acquisition for the SaaS business.
Why customer acquisition is vital for SaaS business
The majority of today’s SaaS businesses operate on a subscription-based model: customers pay a recurring (monthly) to access the software products as well as the services provided by the SaaS company.
In this recurring-revenue model, Saas businesses need a consistent and sustainable way to acquire new customers, ideally offsetting the business’s churn rate (the percentage of customers who stop their subscriptions.)
According to a report by McKinsey & Company, customer acquisition is one of the most important factors driving revenue growth for SaaS companies, with high-growth SaaS businesses (with 20% or higher revenue growth) having an average customer acquisition rate of 27%, compared to only 19% for low growth SaaS businesses with 10% or below revenue growth.
Not to mention, effective customer acquisition can also help the SaaS business in achieving a higher customer lifetime value (CLV) – the total revenue you’ll get from a single customer over their relationship with your business. An effective customer acquisition strategy wouldn’t only focus on quantity, but also on the quality of customers acquired.
By acquiring more qualified customers who are a better fit for your business, you’ll get a higher likelihood of acquiring more loyal customers who are willing to make repeated purchases, long-term subscription commitments, or are simply willing to pay more for your SaaS products or services.
These would allow you to increase your SaaS business’s CLV and ultimately, profitability.
How SEO helps in SaaS customer acquisition
SEO, or search engine optimization, is the collective optimization efforts to improve a website’s visibility on search engines like Google, Bing, and others.
SEO helps your web pages rank higher on the search engine results pages (SERPs), so they will more frequently appear on search results of more users. This will naturally boost organic traffic to the web pages, and by tailoring the page’s content to meet the searcher’s intent and expectation, it will also generate better conversions.
In practice, SEO will help a SaaS business’s customer acquisition in several different ways:
- Improves visibility: SEO makes your SaaS business more visible by having your web pages rank higher on search engines (i.e., Google, Bing, etc.) Doing so can attract more organic visitors to your website, increase your brand awareness and attract more prospective customers who are looking for solutions similar to your SaaS product or service.
- A better understanding of your customers: a key aspect of SEO implementation is understanding your target audience– behaviors, preferences, phrases/queries they search for, and so on. This will provide your business with valuable insights into your target customers’ needs, goals, and pain points to launch a more effective customer acquisition strategy.
- Establish credibility and trust: a core element of SEO is to consistently publish valuable, relevant, and engaging content that showcases your business’s thought leadership, value proposition, and unique personality. Ultimately all of these would allow you to establish trust, rapport, and credibility with your target audience.
- Reveals new opportunities: keyword research as the foundation of SEO will also allow you to research the trends, opportunities, and gaps in your industry or niche. This will allow your SaaS business to better differentiate itself from its competitors, and generate more value for its customers.
- Integrating the whole marketing strategy: SEO can bring your whole marketing plan together by aligning your target keywords, messages, content, and offers with your customer’s buyer journey. This will allow your business to create a cohesive, consistent, and compelling experience at every stage of the marketing funnel.
Implementing SEO for SaaS customer acquisition: a step-by-step guide
Before we start discussing the step-by-step guide to implementing SEO for your SaaS business, let’s have a brief discussion of how SEO works.
How does SEO works?
To really answer this question, we have to also discuss how Google and the other search engines rank different websites on their search engine results pages (SERPs.)
In layman’s terms, these search engines rank different web pages according to their own guidelines and algorithms based on hundreds of factors (called ranking factors.) Yet, these ranking factors can be summarized into just four main factors:
- Relevance: how well your web page matches the user’s search query (or search phrase) and the search intent.
- Authority: how established, trustworthy, and credible your website is in your niche, industry, and location.
- User experience (UX): how easy and pleasing it is to navigate your website and consume your content from various devices.
- Technical performance: how fast, optimal, and secure your website is when accessed from various devices.
Thus, SEO is simply about optimizing your website and your content in these four factors, and in practice, we can do so using various methods, including:
- Keyword optimization: finding the target keywords and phrases via keyword research, especially phrases that your target audience uses to search for solutions similar to the product/service you offer.
- Content creation: at the core of SEO is a consistent publication of high-quality, relevant, informative, and engaging content that caters to the needs of your target audience.
- On-page optimizations: improving the page’s layout, and content structure, optimizing titles, headings, meta description, and links with target keywords, etc. On-page SEO optimization efforts should also focus on making the website more user-friendly and more indexable and easily understood by search engines.
- Off-page optimizations: especially link building (getting more backlinks from high-quality websites,) but also getting mentions, reviews, social shares, and other social signals from reputable websites and platforms. The focus of this off-page optimization is to improve your website and business’s authority and online reputation.
Below, we will discuss these optimization methods in a step-by-step guide, and let’s start with the first step.
Step 1: Identify your target audience
The first, and arguably the most important step in implementing SEO is to identify who your target audience is.
In the context of SaaS business’s customer acquisition, the target audience is the group of people who are most likely to be interested and purchase your SaaS product or service.
Knowing your target audience will allow you to:
- Know what keywords and phrases to target
- How to create and tailor your content to meet your target audience’s search intent
- How to optimize the website’s structure and UX to match the target market’s needs, expectations, and preferences
There are various methods and approaches you can use to conduct market research, but in general:
- If you already have an existing customer base
Even if your customer base is still relatively small, you can perform market research and segmentation for your SaaS business via various techniques:
- Surveys: you can send surveys via email, or use tools like Google Forms (free), SurveyMonkey, or others to easily create and distribute online surveys. Ask relevant questions to gain insights into your customers’ goals, priorities, needs, and challenges. If you already have a website with substantial traffic, you can also use solutions like Qualaroo or Hotjar to create and publish on-site surveys that will pop up on your website in an interactive way.
- Interviews: you can invite existing customers for a one-on-one interview or a group discussion. Alternatively, you can also use platforms like Zoom or Skype to conduct online interviews. Outside of your existing customers or prospects, you can also use platforms like UserTesting.com or UserInterviews.com to interview people that fit your target profile.
- Analytics: leverage tools like Google Analytics, Amplitude, or Mixpanel to analyze your website traffic and measure various metrics such as bounce rate, retention rate, traffic sources, etc. SEO tools like SEMRush, Ahrefs, or even the free Google Search Console can also help you measure SEO metrics that may be useful in identifying your target audience, such as current ranking, click-through rates, impressions on search engines, and so on.
- Social media: social media networks like Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and others are gold mines of information. You can monitor conversations about your brand/product/service or any other conversations that are relevant to your SaaS product.
- Competitive analysis
If you are a brand new website or if you think that your existing customer base is too small, then another viable option is to perform a competitive analysis.
In the context of identifying your target audience, conducting the competitive analysis can allow you to assess who your competitors are targeting, their approaches in reaching out to their target market, and any gaps or opportunities in the market.
You can also perform competitive analysis to evaluate your competitor’s strengths and weaknesses in their SEO strategy, keyword optimization, content quality, etc.
- Getting professional help from research centers or agencies
Another viable (albeit expensive) option is to pay and get help from agencies or research centers so they can help your Saas business identify your target market.
This can be a great option if you do have the budget but don’t have the time or expertise to conduct market research on your own. Yet, keep in mind that not only these agencies and research centers can be expensive, but not all of them are professional or eligible enough for your needs.
You may end up with inaccurate insights or poor-quality data. So, before you decide to commit to an agency or research center, do some research on the agency’s credentials, reputation, and testimonials from their previous clients.
Once you’ve properly identified who your target audience is and understand their needs, goals, and preferences, the next step is keyword research.
Simply put, keyword research involves identifying the search queries and phrases they’ll use during the potential interactions with your business, and there are three main principles to consider:
- Popularity: The keyword must be relevant and frequently searched by your target audience. Here we will monitor keywords with high search volume.
- Relevance: The keyword must be relevant for your SaaS business. Not all keywords that are popular with your target audience will align with your business’s overall goals.
- Competition difficulty: Depending on your available resources and timeline, assess whether the competition for the target keyword is manageable.
You can leverage tools like SEMRush and Ahrefs in performing your keyword research, in which you can easily keep track of search volume, keyword difficulty, and other relevant metrics while assessing different target keywords.
Step 2: Develop a content plan
At the core of any successful SEO implementation is a consistent publication of relevant, high-quality, and valuable content that pleases both the target audience’s needs and the search engines’ algorithms.
On the other hand, developing content without a clear strategy can result in wasted resources and time, so it’s critical to first develop a comprehensive content plan that aligns with your SaaS business goals, target audience preferences, and SEO best practices.
Meeting the target audience’s search intent
By now you should have a list of keywords to target as the result of the keyword research.
One of the key aspects of a successful content plan picking the right topics for these keywords that also match the target audience’s search intent.
Simply put, search intent is the user’s purpose behind a search query. The search intent reflects what type of information (and content) they are looking for, what stage of the marketing funnel/buyer journey they are currently in, and what action they are looking to take.
There are four main types of search intent:
- Informational: the searcher is looking to find an answer to a question or simply to learn something. For example, “what is SEO”
- Navigational: the searcher is looking to find a specific web page or website. For example, “Instagram login”
- Transactional: the searcher is looking to buy something specific (or sign up for something.) For example, “SEMRush pricing” or “Ahrefs free-trial”
- Commercial: the searcher wants to compare different products or services before they choose one solution and make their purchase. For example “SEMRush vs Ahrefs.”
It’s critical to identify the potential search intent behind each keyword you are going to target. This way, you can provide value and relevance to your target audience when they are at the different stages of the buyer journey (awareness, consideration, decision) according to their current intent.
Doing this allows you to develop relevant, engaging, and compelling content that drives organic traffic while also guiding the target audience toward conversion into paying customers.
Develop a list of topics or working titles of content you are going to create according to the search intent:
- How SEO can help with customer acquisition (informational intent, for awareness stage)
- Best content marketing software in 2023 (commercial intent, for consideration stage)
- How to get started with *product name*: a step-by-step guide (transactional intent, for decision stage)
Developing a content calendar
Now that you’ve got a list of topics or working titles to work on, you can develop a content calendar (or editorial calendar) to help you organize and schedule your content creation, distribution, and promotion activities.
You can develop your content calendar by following these steps:
- Audit your existing content (if any): evaluate your current content assets. Identify what worked in the past, any gaps/opportunities, and what needs improvement. Leverage Google Analytics or other tools like SEMRush and Ahrefs to analyze various content performance metrics (traffic sources, conversion rates, click-through rates, etc.
- Competitive analysis: check out your competitors’ content strategies, especially what type of content they are creating and how they are currently ranking on the SERPs. If you’ve invested in tools like Ahrefs, SEMRush, or MOZ, you can also analyze what keywords they are currently targeting, what topics they are covering to target these keywords, and so on. The idea is to collect insights into how you can create better or unique/different content than your competitors.
- Choose the right content types: based on your keyword research and beach intent analysis, as well as your objectives, identify what types of content you need to create to attract, nurture, and convert your target audience. Remember that we can always use and combine multiple types of content (blog posts, eBooks, webinars, podcasts, videos, etc.) Diversify your content to maintain engagement.
- Determine publication channels and frequency: decide where and how often you are going to publish these different types of content. Again, consider your target audience’s preferences and behaviors when choosing the channels while also aiming to find the sweet spot between quality and quantity. Some tips:
- Choose channels that match your content types and each of their objectives. For example, if you want to showcase your product’s features via video, you can use YouTube or Instagram.
- Choose how often you’ll publish based on your resources. If you have a small team or tight deadline, for example, you can opt to publish less often but with more quality for each piece of content.
- Choose a frequency that meets your audience’s demands and expectations. For example, if your blog has a lot of engagement and traction, you should publish more frequently to keep them engaged, but don’t sacrifice quality.
- Leverage software tools to map your calendar: you can use calendar tools like Google Calendar, Apple Calendar, Outlook, or more niche tools like Trello or Asana to map your schedule and organize your content ideas into a more intuitive visual format. You can start with a basic spreadsheet and list:
- Working title/topic
- Target keywords
- Publication channel
- Due date
- Assign roles and responsibilities: define the workflow for each piece of content and establish a process for developing, reviewing, approving, and publishing the content. Assign roles and responsibilities accordingly, and make sure to communicate clearly with your team members and stakeholders about the deadlines and requirements of each task.
- Schedule, publish, promote, monitor, and adjust: now you are ready to execute the content plan and keep track of its performance. You can leverage various tools to schedule and publish your content across different channels (i.e., Buffer or Hootsuite for social media channels,) and solutions like HubSpot or Google Analytics to measure the performance of your content against your goals. Also, analyze the feedback from your target audience, and make adjustments accordingly.
Content optimization for SEO
While developing your content, adhere to the following best practices:
- Use your target keywords naturally in the title, headings (H1, H2, H3, etc.), meta description, and body of your content. Do not stuff your content with keywords, but focus on providing value for human readers. Use synonyms, word/phrase variations, and related terms both to avoid keyword stuffing and improve relevance.
- Use keywords in the alt text of non-text content such as videos, audio files, images, etc. This will help users that require more accessibility, and also for the search engines to understand and index your content accordingly.
- Long-form content tends to rank better (although not always) than short-form content. However, don’t sacrifice quality for length. Your long-form content should be well-researched and in-depth to establish expertise and thought leadership.
- Link to other reputable and relevant websites in your niche. This will show the search engines that your content is well-researched, and will also help them understand the scope and context of your content. These external links will also help your users with navigation.
- Maintain an optimal internal linking structure, and link other related content on your website. This will help your users with navigability and overall user experience, and will also help the search engines with indexation.
- Above anything else, make sure your content is optimized for readability and user experience. Your text-based content should be well structured with simple sentences, and use bullet points/numbered lists to improve readability.
Step 4: On-page technical optimization
Now that we’ve published, optimized, and promoted your content, we can move on to the next step: technical optimization.
As discussed, there are two basic objectives of on-page optimization: improving user experience and your website’s indexability in front of the search engines’ algorithms.
Technical optimization is a pretty deep subject on its own, and you can check this SEO checklist for a more in-depth guide. However, there are three core areas you should focus on: page speed, mobile optimization, and structure.
Improving page speed
Google does consider site speed as an important ranking factor, and of course, today’s users simply expect pages to load reasonably fast, or else they’ll simply abandon them. In short, faster websites would translate into a reduction in bounce rates and an increase in conversions.
You can use the free Google PageSpeed Insights to measure your site’s speed performance, or you can also use other tools like Pingdom or GTmetrix. These tools can help you assess your website’s current performance and provide suggestions on how you should optimize it for better speed.
While every website is unique, here are some common ways to improve page speed:
- Compression: use tools like Gzip to compress your files (images, videos, etc.) in bulk before uploading them on your website. Doing this can reduce the required bandwidth to download your pages, and improve their loading time.
- Reduce server response time: in most cases, the best way to reduce server response time is to choose the right hosting service or invest in private hosting. However, you can also try to optimize your database queries and use caching techniques to improve the time it takes for your server to process and send your web pages to users.
- Use CDN: a CDN (Content Delivery Network) allows you to deliver content faster to users by leveraging a network of servers across different locations. Users will be served by the closest server according to their geographic location, reducing latency due to the closer distance.
- Optimize images and videos: resize, crop, and compress your image and video files as much as you can without sacrificing quality. Besides load speed, also consider mobile responsiveness on different devices.
- Browser caching: caching means storing some of your page’s resources (i.e., images, scripts, stylesheets, etc.) in the user’s browser cache. Leveraging browser caching will reduce the number of requests to the server and allow these resources to be delivered faster from the cache.
Optimizing mobile accessibility
To assess whether your website is already optimized for mobile, you can use Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test, WAVE (Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool), or Responsive Design Checker, among other tools to check how your website performs and looks on different browsers and device types. With these tools, you can identify any issues related to mobile responsiveness that may prevent mobile users from consuming your content.
Here are some tips on how to improve the mobile accessibility of your site:
- If you use a CMS platform like WordPress or website builders like Wix, or Squarespace that enable you to use Themes or Templates, make sure to use a mobile-responsive Theme or template.
- Use a flexible layout that can adapt to different screen sizes
- Use relative units (i.e., percentages) instead of absolute units (i.e., pixels) for sizing elements
- Use responsive (smart) images that can scale automatically according to the viewport size
- Use media queries to automatically apply different styles based on different devices’ characteristics
- Avoid using plugins that may not be supported by some browsers or devices (i.e., Flash)
- Provide alt-text for any non-text content (images, videos, etc.)
- Use descriptive and clear titles, headings, and labels for easier navigation
- Optimize forms so they are easily clickable on smaller devices, and don’t include too many fields to fill
Improving sitemap, internal link structure, breadcrumbs, and others will allow Google and other search engines’ crawler bots to crawl and index your site accurately, while also help users in navigating the site.
To assess your website’s structure and hierarchy, you can use tools like Yoast SEO Plugin (for WordPress sites,) Screaming Frog, Google Search Console, and others. These tools will also provide suggestions on how to improve your site.
Here are some actionable tips on how you can optimize your sitemap, navigation, breadcrumbs, and more:
- Organize your content and divide them into categories and subcategories
- Provide a consistent toolbar or menu that stays in the same place, allowing users to consistently navigate your website from any page
- Provide a clear XML sitemap that lists all pages of your website. Make sure the sitemap is properly organized
- Provide clear breadcrumbs so users can easily learn where they are currently on your website and how they got there to aid with navigation
- Maintain an optimal internal linking structure, and keep related pages and topics within your website linked to each other. When providing internal links, make sure to use descriptive anchor texts so users can easily know what the liked page is about and have the right expectation when they click on a link.
Step 5: Off-page optimization
Off-page optimization refers to all efforts of improving your website’s ranking factors from outside your site, optimizing factors that are not directly related to your website.
The objective of off-page optimization is to improve the website’s authority, relevance, and credibility both in the eyes of human users and the search engines’ algorithms. One of the most important off-page optimizations is link building: getting more backlinks to your website.
A backlink (or inbound link), is a hyperlink from another website pointing to your website. For search engine algorithms, a backlink is treated as a vote of confidence: when a website links another, it is saying that the linked website is trustworthy and credible.
As in real-world situations, a vote of confidence coming from famous or reputable individuals is considered more valuable. Thus, the quality and relevance of the backlink are also important.
So, how can we get these backlinks? Above anything else, it’s about the quality and relevance of your content. If your content is valuable and is generating a lot of traction, you’ll get those backlinks sooner or later. On the other hand, no amount of tactics can really help low-quality content from ranking higher.
However, here are some tips on how to improve your content’s chance to get more backlinks:
- Include something attractive in your content that will invite others to link it:
- Unique data, statistics, or information (i.e., research reports or data roundup)
- Visually pleasing assets like images, photos, or infographics
- Unique story not available anywhere else
- Research your competitors’ content and look at their backlinks. These sites giving them links are potential link opportunities for you
- Identify broken links on other websites (there are various tools that can help you find these broken links) and offer your content as a replacement
- Reach out to blogs, websites, and influencers for collaboration or guest posting opportunities
- Promote your content on social media and other channels
Step 6: Measure and adjust
SEO, by nature, is a long-term game, so it’s critical to continually monitor the SEO efforts’ performance against the customer acquisition goals, and make adjustments and optimizations when required.
You can use tools like Google Analytics and Google Search Console (both are free), as well as paid tools like SEMRush, Ahrefs, Moz, and others to track and evaluate various SEO metrics, especially to monitor whether your SEO strategy has worked to attract organic visitors.
Some of the most important metrics to measure and analyze your SEO and customer acquisition performances are:
- SERP ranking: not that your web page should climb instantly on the search engine rankings, but it should show a gradual and steady climb. Monitor your pages’ position on the SERP periodically.
- Organic traffic: the number of visitors who come to the website by clicking on search results. Should also climb steadily as the page’s search ranking goes up.
- Total clicks: or click-through rate (CTR), the number of times your links have been clicked on by users on the SERPs. Higher clicks mean that your titles and Meta descriptions are attractive.
- Referring domains: the number of unique websites that link to your website. This show how credible and authoritative your website is.
- Bounce rate: the percentage of visitors who leave your website after viewing only one page. A high bounce rate indicates your website is considered not relevant/valuable by users.
- Lead conversion rate: the number of visitors who converts into leads by taking the desired action, for example, signing up for your email newsletter.
While this is a non-exhaustive list, these metrics can help you monitor your SEO strategy and customer acquisition performance, allowing you to make the necessary adjustments and optimizations to improve your results.
Search engine optimization (SEO) is an effective and powerful way to acquire new customers for your SaaS business. By following the steps we’ve shared in this guide, you can improve your website’s search visibility, relevance, and authority. Ultimately this will allow your site to attract more organic traffic and convert them into loyal customers.
An important consideration is that SEO is a long-term game, and you’ll need to perform regular monitoring, testing, and improvement. Monitor the right metrics and KPIs according to your customer acquisition goals, and optimize the site and your content as needed.