If you’re here, it’s because you already know how much SEO matters for your business, and how (when it’s leveraged properly) it can be a powerful driver of conversions. But the SEO outcomes you dream about are only possible when you have a rock-solid keyword strategy, rooted in SaaS keyword research.
The formula is simple: proper SaaS keyword research is the foundation of every successful SaaS SEO strategy. Without it, you’re completely flying blind with the rest of your SEO and content efforts.
Everything from your on-page optimizations, link building, technical SEO, and even content production, will live or die by the quality of your keyword research. It’s the base for your SEO efforts, and arguably plays the largest role in how your SEO converts.
While you might be able to “throw things at the wall to see what sticks” without a comprehensive keyword strategy, the science of SaaS keywords goes far beyond that. The truth is that without a sound understanding and deployment of SaaS keyword research, you’ll never design a scalable or sustainable stream of new customers.
In this piece, we’re going to tackle everything you need to know about keyword research, including why it matters, a specific multi-step process to executing it, how to tie it to your IRL business goals, and tricky pitfalls to avoid.
Are you excited yet?
Good, let’s dive right in.
What is the Purpose of Keyword Research?
Content marketing and SEO are the most effective ways to drive traffic to your site and product. But for them to work, you must create content around the right keywords.
That’s why conducting keyword research is a fundamental element of successful marketing. This is because keyword research helps you:
- Use data to understand the needs and desires of potential customers
- Ensure that your on-page optimization strategy isn’t based on guesses
- Identify topics for your content
- Track the ROI of your SEO strategy
Ultimately, keyword research is the backbone of all your online marketing efforts. Executed well, it will help drive targeted traffic, boost brand awareness, generate quality leads, give you more link building opportunities, and increase sales.
7-Step SaaS Keyword Research Process
Because of the integral role keywords play in your marketing campaigns, you need to develop an effective SaaS keyword research process.
Believe me, pulling keywords out of a hat (or guessing) won’t get you anywhere.
That’s why we want to share our proven keyword research process with you. It’s a process we’ve developed for years and used for our campaigns as well as client campaigns.
1. Brainstorm Seed List of Topics and Terms with Your Entire Team
The first step to an effective SaaS keyword research process is brainstorming a seed list of topics and keywords your target audience may be interested in. To do so, you must involve key stakeholders like the founder, sales and marketing departments, customer experience (CX), engineering, e.t.c.
Consider common questions in the sales process, problems solved during onboarding, and what happy customers frequently give feedback about. Use all these customer touchpoints and data to find common words, questions, and phrases your customers use as they interact with your brand and product.
At this stage, it doesn’t matter if you haven’t done any keyword research before — it’s a brain dump. And everyone’s input is important to get a clearer picture of what your customers are looking for.
2. Use Your Seed Term Buckets to Find Search Competitors
Once you have your seed terms, use them to find search competitors. These are brands that rank for those search terms. You can group these competitors into two groups:
Direct competitors: These run the same business model as you and sell a similar product to yours.
Indirect: These may not sell the same product, but they attract an audience similar to your target audience.
Analyze your competitors and see what terms they are using to attract traffic. Then, jot down those terms and anything they may have on their site that you don’t. Also, be on the lookout for gaps in their content strategy, as these are opportunities for you to gain a competitive advantage.
3. Place this Seed List Into Your Keyword Tool of Choice
Armed with your seed list of keywords, you can now go on to the more exciting part of keyword research — getting data and metrics on your keywords. To do this, you’ll have to place your keywords in a keyword research tool. These are tools that pull up data like search volume, keyword difficulty, and in some cases, even intent, as in the case of Semrush.
Examples of keyword research tools you can consider using include:
Use the keyword tool to refine your list of keywords. One tip is avoiding keywords with a high difficulty score (over 60). For example, if you have a high domain authority (DA) score, you can try and aim for keywords with a difficulty score higher than this. Other tips include:
- Remove any one-word terms: For most saas companies, especially early stage, two-worded terms will be difficult to rank for.
- Sort by cost per click over 0.25 to filter out most random terms
- Filter out terms with less than 10 searches per month
Keyword tools are excellent for helping you come up with laser-focused keywords that target your ideal customer profile (ICP). It also helps you eliminate high-volume keywords that drive useless traffic to your site.
4. Assign Keyword Intent to Each Term
Once you’ve filtered your seed keyword list, the next step is to assign each keyword to a search intent bucket. Search intent is a critical component of SaaS SEO as it helps you refine your targeting. There are four main search intent buckets, namely:
This is when a user searches for information about their problem and its solution. Buying intent is usually low. You can classify your keywords and content into this bucket by using modifiers like:
The list is endless. However, the key is to use modifiers that searchers would use when looking for a piece of information.
This is when a user is looking for a specific page. Examples of modifiers you can use for this intent bucket include:
- Customer service
Creating content that meets navigational intent is a great way to get users to visit your product and features pages. Executed well, this can shorten the buying journey for those who are ready to purchase your solution.
Displayed when a user is searching for a product or service to buy in the near future. Modifiers you can use for keywords in this bucket include:
Keywords with commercial intent have a relatively lower search volume but higher conversion rates as they target people who are in the later stages of the buyer journey.
People with transactional intent are ready to buy. They are actively looking for a vendor or product and are ready to purchase. Some of the modifiers you can use for transactional intent keywords include:
Because users at this stage are ready to perform a monetized action, most keywords are geared towards making a sale.
5. Give Each a Search Priority Score
Once you’ve grouped your keywords into intent buckets, the next part of your research is to give each search term a priority score. To help you do this, ask the following questions about each keyword:
- Is this topic gaining in popularity? Keywords with a downward trend are to be given a low priority score.
- Is there too much or too little search volume?
- How commercially viable is this term? (You can use CPC data to help determine this).
- Is it a top-of-the-funnel (ToFu) or bottom-of-the-funnel (BoFu) keyword?
- Does your site already rank for this term?
- How many backlinks do the top results have? How many would you need to get to compete?
This will help you know which keywords to prioritize for traffic generation and brand awareness. It will also give you an idea of what it takes to rank for those keywords.
6. Give Each a Business Priority Score
Once you know which keywords you’ll be targeting, it’s also important to assign each a business priority score. This relative score is used internally to help you know which keywords are more profitable for your business. A good way to determine each keyword’s business score is to rate them according to the answers to the following questions:
- How profitable is this service or product feature?
- Is this arm of your business going away soon?
- Which customer personas have the shortest sales cycle?
- Is this something you want your brand to be absolutely known for in the market?
After assigning scores to each keyword, prioritize those that will help you generate sales quickly. These are usually commercial or transactional intent keywords. Use them to create BoFu content as this type of content helps shorten the buyer journey.
7. Map Target Keywords to Existing Content Assets for Optimization or New Content Creation
Now that you have your priority keywords, we get to the exciting part — putting them to use.
This means mapping them to your:
- Existing content: If you have some content assets that are not performing well, you can update and optimize them by adding the keywords from your research.
- New content: Create a content calendar based on the keywords you’ve discovered. Optimize your content to rank for the keywords.
If your SaaS content strategy involves content updates and creating new content, make sure to watch out for keyword cannibalization. Keyword cannibalization is when two pieces of content on the same website compete to rank for the same keyword. This dilutes your rankings, leading to poor search performance.
Connecting SaaS Keywords to Your IRL Business Goals
If you want SEO to move the needle in your business, you need to “connect the dots” between your SaaS keywords and your business goals. Without a crystal-clear picture of how you want SEO to translate into business outcomes, you’re never going to get there.
Here are a few ways that you can connect your SaaS keywords to your desired business outcomes.
- Clarify what different successful conversions look like in your org
How exactly do you define success when it comes to your SaaS keyword strategy? It’s important to clearly define what your objectives are, and what successful conversions look like in your organization. Is ranking #1 your main goal? Or are you looking for customers to sign up for a demo of your product or service? There are many different definitions of what “success” can look like when it comes to an SEO strategy, and it’s important to understand what exactly you’re looking for.
- Hone in on the buyer’s journey
The buyer’s journey is the experience that a buyer goes through in order to purchase something from your company. You can think of it as the path they take before they actually become your customers. This might involve Google searches, seeing ads on social media, scheduling a demo, or reading your blog content, for example.
The buyer’s journey is typically broken down into three steps:
- Awareness: This is when the buyer first becomes aware they have an issue or pain point, but they’re not sure what the exact solution is yet.
- Consideration: This is when the buyer is digging into research, looking into potential solutions to their pain point. They are likely weighing their options, and start to differentiate between various solutions.
- Decision: This is when your buyer selects a solution to their pain point. It’s important to note that at this stage they have not yet completed the transaction just yet. This is when buyers are almost across the finish line, but they might still be working through the details.
Conducting SaaS keyword research with your buyer’s journey in mind can help you map keywords to specific buyer profiles, so you create content which ultimately meets your prospects where they are.
- Leverage your internal data
Your organization has a ton of data on customers, some of which might be untapped potential for informed keyword research. Whether it’s insights from marketing campaigns, info from sales calls, or insights from your Customer Success team, you have people on the ground who are collecting valuable data on your customers. Instead of leaving this data siloed and underutilized, use it to inform your keyword research, and to help your SEO content drive business outcomes.
For example, if you have feedback from the sales team where a prospect said they found your brand because of a specific blog post, you can use that customer’s profile and journey to curate more content of that nature.
Common SaaS Keyword Research Pitfalls to Avoid
SaaS keyword research can be tricky, and there are many mistakes that orgs make which are all-too-common, and which can derail even the most valiant efforts.
With that in mind, here are some common SaaS keyword research pitfalls to avoid:
- Letting low search volume discourage you from a keyword
While low search volume is something to take note of, it shouldn’t immediately dissuade you from pursuing a keyword. That’s because sometimes we can see keywords with low search volume that actually have high buying intent. What this means is that there are many instances where powerful keywords can be underestimated (especially by online tools).
While keywords with high buying intent and high search volume should likely still take priority, keywords with low volume that still have high buying intent can be an excellent next choice.
- Focusing on vanity metrics
In the era of virality and the potential for massive reach, vanity metrics can be extremely distracting. How many views, clicks, and likes you’re getting can be consuming, sure, but is it really what you should be focusing on? Likely not.
Instead, your org should likely be focusing on things like conversions, business outcomes, and closed deals. These are metrics that will strengthen your brand, lead to more deals, and ultimately help you accomplish your business goals through SEO.
- Ignoring (or overplaying) your competition
When it comes to keywords, your competition is a paradox. You don’t want to completely ignore it, and live with your head in the sand, but you also don’t want to just chase certain keywords because your competitors are.
Instead of doing either, take a “middle of the road” approach when it comes to your competitors. Be aware of what they’re doing, what keywords they’re going after, and how their content ranks compared to yours. But at the same time, don’t pursue keywords just because they are, and remember that even their content is ranking, it might not be leading to the conversions that yours is.
- Throwing away competitive keywords
Don’t let a little bit of competition scare you off. Even if big-name brands are ranking well for search terms you want to target, don’t let that stop you. While it might take a lot of time and effort to shift the rankings when well-established brands and properties are involved, it;s definitely still possible, especially when you have an airtight SaaS keyword research strategy in play.
Best SaaS Keyword Research Tools
You’re probably wondering how you can manage the entire keyword process with all its moving pieces and the research involved.
The good news is that it’s pretty easy once you have the right tools. Here’s our recommended list of SaaS keyword research tools you can use. The list includes both paid and free tools.
Google Search Console
One of the tools every marketer and SEO should have in their toolbox is Google Search Console (GSC).
GSC is a free tool from Google designed to help you stay on top of your website’s SEO performance. It helps you do that by helping you diagnose technical SEO issues, find opportunities to improve your rankings, and much more.
Regarding keyword research, Google Search Console is an excellent tool for finding the right keywords to optimize existing content. To do so, head to your GSC account, then Performance >> Search Results. This will open up your search performance results. You can export and download a list of keywords your site is ranking for. You can then filter out the important keywords you need to optimize for.
Another SaaS keyword research tool you should consider adding to your arsenal is Ahrefs.
Ahrefs is a powerful marketing tool that can help you with most aspects of SEO. One of its most loved features is the Keywords Explorer. It’s a powerful tool to help you dig up important data and metrics about your seed keywords. It can also help you find related and similar keywords you can use.
Unlike GSC, Ahrefs is a paid tool.
If you don’t want to pay for a tool just yet, Google Keyword Planner is a fantastic free SaaS keyword research tool you can use.
This is another tool from Google that helps you discover relevant keywords. Like Ahrefs and other keyword research tools, it also gives you insights into metrics that can help you determine how easy or difficult it is to rank for those keywords.
Keyword Surfer (Surfer SEO)
Keyword Surfer, A.K.A Surfer SEO, is a keyword research tool that has fast gained popularity.
One reason users love Surfer SEO is its ease of use. Another is that it also has a free browser extension that helps you see search volumes and other metrics right in search results.
One of the most important aspects of keyword research is understanding keyword trends. This is where tools like Google Trends come in handy.
Google Trends is a powerful tool that helps you analyze the popularity of your search queries over time. Getting a picture of how your keywords are trending is crucial to your content strategy as it helps you know which content is worth creating and which keywords to avoid due to declining popularity.
Content Harmony is another powerful keyword research tool that takes the heavy lifting out of creating effective content briefs.
One of its biggest strengths is the keyword research feature. The AI-powered tool does in-depth SERP analysis and composes a comprehensive keyword report. Unlike other SaaS keyword research tools, Content harmony also automatically creates detailed briefs that help guide your writers in creating optimized content.
Ready to Conduct SaaS Keyword Research the Right Way?
Remember, keyword research is the foundation of every marketing campaign. Because of that, you must do it right. Proper Saas keyword research will result in:
- More and better quality traffic
- Better conversion rates
- Increased brand awareness
- More sales
That’s why investing in developing a proper keyword research process and tools should be a priority for your marketing team. Armed with the SaaS keyword research process outlined above, you can create a powerful content strategy that can help you grow your business.
Don’t have the time or expertise to conduct effective SaaS keyword research?
Then reach out to us, and we’ll leverage our B2B SaaS expertise and wealth of knowledge from creating impactful content to help you dominate the SERPs. Get in touch here, and let’s talk SaaS keyword research and strategy.