Pawel Grabowski, SEO strategist and founder of Pancake, is helping SaaS companies get more traffic. As the founder of a boutique SaaS content agency, he focuses on SEO and does so with his small team of four.
Pawel has worked directly with Userlist in the past, and Jane was amazed at the process. For SaaS companies, SEO strategy and content strategy are one and the same. Across all industries, there are certain things that ensure better rankings — technical SEO, link building, site speed, etc. The bulk of achieving search position for SaaS companies, however, happens with content:
"I struggled whether to call myself just a content strategist or SEO strategist. SEO content strategist? In the context of SaaS, they're the same thing."
The content strategy deliverable
Pancake (previously Smashing Copy) sees the content strategy deliverable as a roadmap. It takes their clients from where they are to where they want to be:
"It defines what the company needs to do to achieve a wide search visibility for their intended target market."
Initially, that target may mean increased visibility as opposed to jumping straight to targeting and ranking for a list of individual keywords:
"We just want to take that first step and start gaining topical authority and start appearing in front of our target audience."
At the start, Pawel will identify topics that interest a target audience, then narrow down the keywords in those topics that are most relevant and have the biggest chance of driving traffic. Then, he builds the actual plan — analyzing each keyword and planning out content for them on a weekly or monthly basis.
For larger, more established businesses, Pawel may analyze or audit existing content, try to optimize it, or tweak it to try to improve performance.
Homepage SEO and search intent
Jane points out that it's admittedly naive to think of the SaaS homepage as an opportunity to rank highly. After all, it's intended to be a targeted, commercial sales page. Pawel agrees. While it would be nice to rank your homepage as a single brand for browsers' category searches, the search intent differs.
Take searches for "email marketing software" or "email marketing software", for example. Google attempts to figure out the search intent behind the query, and guesses that the person searching may be at the evaluation stage. Thus, it aims to provide listicles, a type of content that lists and evaluates many options, in the email marketing software space as the search result.
This may be bad news for ranking an individual homepage, but it's great if you can make content to capitalize on this intent. The searcher may not have a single solution already in mind so Google might not necessarily show any one solution high in the results.
The search intent also guides the type of content and the length. Keeping the example of someone searching for email automation tools, the intent will determine if you should be creating an ultimate guide, an explainer, a listicle, or something else as your content. If all of the top results are currently very long, a short piece of content may be unlikely to break into the top results.
Keywords and keyword research
Pawel defines the 3 major types of keywords:
- Navigational. These don't usually apply to SaaS. They could be a search for the name or place of business, potentially local. These are used to go more directly to a website.
- Informational. These keywords are used in searches to learn something, to find information like "how to record a podcast" or to find a solution to a problem.
- Commercial/transactional. These keywords are related to the evaluation and purchase stage of the buying cycle. For example, a brand name, "Userlist", might be an example of this after someone has already searched and evaluated tools. "Email automation tools" could be another example. They know they need a tool, but they aren't sure which one.
The different keyword types influence who is finding your content and how to convert them:
"Informational and commercial/transactional keywords attract two different types of customers or visitors. Informational keywords would attract more top-of-the-funnel customers and commercial/transactional, more middle-or-bottom-of-the-funnel customers."
Knowing what keywords will attract what customers is important in knowing when and how to pitch customers:
"That's a common mistake. To throw in commercial calls to action on informational keywords or pages targeting informational keywords and expecting somebody to sign up… generally, the results are not great there."
As for the keyword research process, it’s crucial to understand the topics that your audience is looking for:
"When we think of keywords, we think of specific phrases, 'email automation tools', 'automation software', etc., but those keywords might belong to a larger group of keywords, a topic, and that could be 'email automation'. It's important to first understand what the topics are rather than jumping straight away into researching keywords."
After finding topics, you can then narrow them down to more specific keywords, group these keywords by search intent, and finally determine what type of content you will need to rank for these keywords.
Pawel also warns not to fall into the trap of obsessing over the keywords that your competitors rank well for. Just because they are ranking highly, doesn't mean that it was planned or that their high rankings are achieving business objectives.
Starting from scratch
So how does a SaaS company start SEO from nothing? The most important thing is to establish topical authority, says Pawel:
"This is superbly important, superbly challenging, and not tricky, but time-consuming."
It involves creating lots of highly relevant content, relevant to your product category. It will be no surprise when it starts working — in a short period of time, you will see your impressions suddenly jump. But again, it isn't easy.
"What I always tell clients who come in with a brand new website is that this is going to be a long process, longer than shorter."
"Blitz" question round
Toward the end of the episode, Jane asks Pawel several rapid-fire questions on SEO and content:
Q: What are the dangerous or stupid things that a brand can do with its content?
A: Just publishing content without any strategy or plan.
"It's silly because it affects your topical authority. So when you're starting out, it feels like it's great, we're just publishing content and it should rank. But there are no keywords behind it so there's no plan."
Q: Is building-in-public content helpful without any keyword intent behind it?
A: It's absolutely helpful, especially if done well, because it creates an audience.
"I would see content like that generating traction, links, social media mentions, which can also result in links, etc. It is helpful… I can't tell if all of those pages would rank, it depends on how you approach them."
Q: What should you do with your existing content after a pivot?
A: I would say leave it.
"Chances are that some of this content because it ranks so well drives at least some links or other forms of engagement. If it's good content, it might drive engagement signals."
Q: Does a website's footprint matter? The number of links?
A: Yes and no.
"In principle, the more pages you have the better because you can expand your search visibility, but that's assuming there was a plan and these pages are targeting the right keywords."
Q: Does publishing frequency matter?
A: Yes and no, with a slight emphasis on "yes".
"If you publish more regularly, Google gets used to it and it's more likely to index your page more often."
Q: Should "alternative pages" be listicles or landing pages?
A: Check the search intent and see what pages are ranking.
"What pages are ranking in Google for that phrase? Look for patterns. Sometimes there isn't a pattern and that's a tricky situation but very often there is a pattern."
Q: Does domain ranking (DR) matter?
A: DR defines the strength of a link. It matters, but a page can rank based on pure topical authority alone if the content is good enough.
Q: What are your preferred tools for general SEO and keyword research?
A: SEMrush for domain analysis, keyword research, content analysis, and more. Google search console as well, a free tool from Google. AccuRanker for rank tracking and a few small analytics tools as well.
Do plan, have a strategy.
“Don't just start the SEO in the middle. I see it very often, companies just jump into keyword research.”
Don't fall for shiny object syndrome.
“In their case, starting with topic clusters was too early but it was just a shiny thing that the person saw or heard of and jumped into it.”
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