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Better Done Than Perfect · Season 6 · Episode 4

Creative SEO for SaaS with Monica Lent

You'll learn about the challenges of SEO in the SaaS space, the importance of link building, how you can go beyond classic articles, how to cut costs on content, and more.

Monica Lent

How can you approach SEO in a more creative manner? In this episode, we talk to Monica Lent, founder of Affilimate. You'll learn about the challenges of SEO in the SaaS space, the importance of link building, how you can go beyond classic articles, how to cut costs on content, and more.

Show Notes 📝

Thanks for listening! If you found the episode useful, please spread the word on Twitter mentioning @userlist, or leave us a review on iTunes.

Key Learnings 💡

Almost ten years ago, Monica moved to Germany from the United States to work at her then tech job. She eventually quit that job to build her own company, Affilimate, which actually started from one of her side hobbies:

"We do analytics for affiliate publishers, specifically media companies. We help them do data aggregation, attribution, and provide tools to streamline their content production process.

It started with one of my side hobbies, a travel website monetized through affiliate marketing, that led me into this new industry. I also learned a little bit of SEO along the way."

To date, Monica has already operated a couple of different properties with varying amounts of traffic. But depending on your target, the metrics will look a bit different.

For her first ranking website, a travel site, she has gotten over 150,000 monthly visitors. With her current SaaS website, they're getting over 100,000 monthly page views with 61,000 monthly unique visitors from Google.

SEO for SaaS vs non-SaaS websites

Monica recalls that it was simpler to rank for a non-SaaS niche:

"I would say the big difference is, previously when I was writing a lot of content in the travel space, a lot of times you could just compete on content quality. You didn't necessarily have to think as much about backlinks, authority, or content clusters. Those things surely helped, but you could get away with ranking for some pretty big keywords without necessarily having built links to a page."

In SaaS, search volumes are lower, content production cost is higher, and you can reach less people with it:

"I would say it's also just more competitive in a lot of ways. We are competing with companies like ConvertKit or Shopify who have a lot of domain authority and have well-oiled content machines, and our target keywords happen to be the ones that they're also trying to rank for for different reasons.

This means that we couldn't just go on the quality of our content. We had to also go down the rabbit hole of building backlinks."

And while you might think that your SEO numbers aren't impressive, what matters is your conversion:

"At the end of the day, the question is: how many trials do you have? How many of those end up converting because you brought in those ready to buy at the door?"

Approaching SEO creatively

Leveraging the CMS for content production

Two things that helped boost their SEO strategy recently are: bringing in another person to help with content production; and using the CMS named Sanity.

With Sanity, users are able to treat all content as data. On the website side of things, Sanity lets you stitch together data in different ways, such as creating more landing pages or blog posts:

"One of the most successful techniques we've experimented with this year and seen a lot of success with is creating listicles where you can actually reuse those list items across multiple pieces of content."

For example, a website currently ranks number one for a list of the "best travel affiliate programs" and "travel affiliates." But there are also other types of related programs that have smaller search volumes like hotel affiliate programs or "car rental affiliate programs."

"It's all kind of in the same area, but it's not going to have the same type of search volume. So what we do is pay content writers to create descriptions of each program. We have hundreds of programs in our database, and then we're able to mix and match these into a near infinite number of different articles and do it in a way that's cost-effective."

Leveraging the data makes it easier to create briefs for writers. These posts could be in the form of listicles, ultimate guides, and more:

"The benefit of these types of posts is that they are so much faster: both to create briefs for our virtual assistant, and for the writers to write for because we've already done the research."

By leveraging the CMS, parts of the original content could be reused repeatedly for future posts, making the upfront cost worthwhile:

"So to give an example of a price point, we paid about $10 per item in the listicle. So if you had a listicle with 20 items, then this would cost $200. And then we paid 10¢ a word for the introduction. Each article ends up costing around $250 to $300, but a lot of those pieces could be reused in other articles and updated in a scalable way through the CMS. You actually bring down the price per article because you start to average it over all those listicles."

But reusing content comes with the risk of Google potentially penalizing your pages. It was a risk Affilimate took and they've had no problems so far:

"While two of our posts are about 90% similar, what we do is certainly make enough variations that matter. The introduction is going to be different so those sections are all written. But obviously, those are only a couple hundred words, so it's a lot more cost-effective to do that than a two to 3,000-word article that is unique every single time."

Choosing the items to feature on listicles

Affilimate's other edge is they carefully choose items to include in their listicles based on scraping data from the internet.

"Instead of just saying 'these are the best based on our opinion,' we collect a data set. We run it through some proprietary tools that we have, and then we're able to extract which ones are the most popular based on this method. This also lends a bit of credibility to those lists.

Being able to establish that credibility in the content and saying, we have an actual methodology for how we chose these has really resonated with people and also somehow indirectly with Google as well."

The scraping process

Affilimate's scraping process starts with deciding on a vertical that they want to write about:

"Let's say it's fitness, for example. Our virtual assistant will go ahead and collect a list of the top websites in that space which will include industry leading publications and a mix of smaller blogs and niche sites to get a good sample."

They will then run the sample through an internal tool. Originally, this internal tool was used to look at the links on a website and see if they were a match for the types of integrations that Affilimate supports:

"But now, we can also use it to understand which merchants they're promoting the most often. So we can take this data and see which are the most popular merchants in a specific vertical. We will then be able to rank them in a data informed way in our content."

When it comes to SaaS, a lot of people would tell you that in order to increase your SEO ranking, you just have to write content about solving the problems of your potential customers. But Monica found out the hard way that it wasn't this easy:

"We started writing content for keywords that kind of didn't exist or had really low search volume that didn't work. We also started writing with keywords, writing content about keywords that did have established search volume, but we couldn't seem to rank for them either."

This then pushed them to try looking for good backlinks through guest posting:

"There are a lot of communities where you can find people who are doing guest posting for B2B SaaS content and a lot of reputable websites will also accept guest authors.

There are a lot of ways to pitch them, and it's extremely time-consuming. But for us, it was worth it because we got to have those backlinks and they made a big difference."

Guest posting

As for securing guest posts, Monica has never sent out any cold outreach emails to get them. Instead, she relies on developing good relationships in communities:

"For example, some Facebook communities focus on blogging for B2B. You'll find link builders there but you'll also find editors of websites that you may want to publish for."

Another way she gets her guest posting opportunities is by ghostwriting via an invitation from a guest posting service:

"They sell guest posting services to their clients and then to make a better upside, they don't have to pay a writer. I or someone on my team writes the content and then we get links in that article. For them, it's cheaper than taking part of their margin and paying a writer. We just absorb some of that cost or time and get to put in some of our links and links to other people who will include us in their articles.

For each guest post that we contribute to publishing, we may get links in three to four other articles that we haven't written ourselves."

Ranking and publishing frequency

It usually takes three to six months after publishing for a post to show up in Google's search results. Monica shares that based on her experience, publishing frequency plays a role in page rank too:

"When we were publishing every single week, it made a big difference. For example, if we published an article yesterday we would see that it's already in Google now, which is a good sign. It takes a little bit of time for posts to rank but I think that time also gets shorter as you establish your expertise in something."

Co-marketing with partner brands

Affilimate also has great success because the platform has many integrations, which opens doors to co-marketing:

"One of our main USPs is that we help a wide variety of data sources. And when we do launch those integrations and form a partnership with those companies, oftentimes there's also the opportunity to do co-marketing.

They will be open to having us write an article for their blog and oftentimes those companies are also potentially bigger and are more established, which means they have more reach and/or they have more domain authority."

Through these guest posts, the partnership has given them more legitimacy as a brand:

"We've had great leads come in through guest posts that we published on our integration partners websites. It just adds this air of legitimacy to you because you clearly have a direct relationship with a brand that they're already familiar with."

Monitoring SEO results

While Monica isn't as hands on as she used to be, she still makes it a point to check the Ahrefs Rank Tracker regularly:

"Anytime we publish a new article, I will go and add some of the main keywords that we're targeting to our keyword list at Ahrefs. Then we get a weekly report that generally tells us if we gained new rankings or lost rankings. We can then check in on that content."

They also do other things like checking on overall traffic growth and doing a regular content refresh.

Final advice

Don't expect your content to rank based purely on quality.

"It doesn't mean that if you just publish quality content, people will automatically come. You have to target keywords that have proven demand in terms of search volume. It's helpful to get that bigger exposure in building your brand."

Do find creative and non-spammy ways of building links.

"When you're competing with big SaaS companies for small search volumes and competitive terms with high intent to buy, one of the main ways that you can show that you are a unique authority on the topic is to get links from other people who are authorities on the same topic."

Thanks for listening! If you found the episode useful, please spread the word on Twitter mentioning @userlist, or leave us a review on iTunes.

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