It takes more than creating great content to rank high in search results. You need to target the right keywords and optimize your content to get to the first page of Google.
That’s where keyword research comes in. It helps you attract the right kind of visitors to your website and convert these visitors into paying customers for your SaaS business.
But is keyword research limited to finding branded and informational keywords that you must rank for?
No! As a SaaS SEO agency, we constantly find new tips and strategies that help SaaS companies win at keyword research and SEO. In this guide, we’ll share the framework and methods that have helped our clients rank #1 in Google.
What We'll Cover:
What is SaaS Keyword Research?
SaaS keyword research is the process of finding relevant keywords your target audience uses on search engines like Google to search for your product or the problem it is solving.
This is not limited to commercial or branded keywords. For example, let’s take the email automation tool provided by Mailchimp. The company can't only create content for keywords like “Mailchimp vs. SendX” or “Mailchimp features.”
They must also create content for keywords like “best email automation tools” or “what is email automation.” These keywords allow you to drive targeted traffic to your website and lead visitors to free trial sign-ups via actionable CTAs.
Once you find your keywords through keyword research, you can use them in your on-page and off-page SEO campaigns.
Here’s how keyword research has evolved with Google’s algorithm changes.
Here’s a comprehensive SaaS SEO course you can undertake that will teach you everything SEO-related, from the basics to advanced techniques.
What is the Purpose of SaaS Keyword Research?
SEO is one of the most effective ways to generate traffic, drive awareness and convert visitors into prospects for your SaaS business.
But for SEO to work, you must back it up with relevant keywords. Here are four major reasons why keyword research is important for SaaS:
- It helps you uncover the needs and wants of your target audience.
- You can identify the topics for your content marketing. For example, if you find out that your target audience is searching for “email marketing campaigns,” you can create a guide to answer that query and repurpose that content for your social media.
- It ensures that your on-page optimization strategy isn’t based on guesswork.
- You can track the ROI of your SEO strategy by seeing how many relevant keywords your content is ranking for.
Along with other SEO strategies, we utilized keyword research for our client Longvadon, and in only a few months, their organic site traffic grew by 277%.
7-Step SaaS Keyword Research Process
SaaS keyword research is a crucial step in creating effective marketing campaigns. But you must have a clear process – guessing or randomly pulling keywords from online tools won’t help.
We use a seven-step process at MADX for our campaigns and SaaS clients.
#1 Brainstorm a Seed List of Topics and Terms
Seed topics and terms are the foundation of your keyword strategy. You can then refine these terms and create a list of keywords your team should target.
Get all your key teams together (customer support, marketing, sales, content, etc.) to get well-rounded insights and move forward with two ways to brainstorm these terms:
- Go through customer touchpoints like onboarding or visiting your website to find common questions, words, and phrases they use while interacting with your brand, product, or team.
For example, your customer success team may tell you that while replying to chatbot queries for your project management tool, they find customers asking how the tool differs from others on the market.
This could lead to you adding comparison articles to your list of topics and terms to target.
- Go to Google and enter simple keywords associated with your niche, like “project management,” and find ideas from related terms below.
At this stage, it’s not important to go into minute details like keyword difficulty or volume. You just need to get every input on paper.
#2 Use Your Seed Term Buckets to Find Search Competitors
With a list of seed terms, you can go on Google or any other search engine and check the competitors for those search terms.
For example, here are the companies that are ranking for the term “best project management tools.”
Image source: Google
While Proofhub and others on this list are your direct competitors, Forbes is your indirect competitor for this term. They don't sell a similar product, but they do cater to a similar audience.
You’ll have to consider direct and indirect competitors while shortlisting your keywords. First, start with your direct competitors, see the keywords they are targeting and ranking for, and jot down those terms. The next step is to see where these competitors are lagging and if there are any gaps you can capitalize on.
#3 Place This Seed List Into Your Keyword Tool of Choice
Now that you have a list of keywords ready, you need to put them into your SEO tool, like Ahrefs, to get data and metrics on your keywords.
This helps shortlist those keywords that will benefit your business. For example, you don’t want to waste your resources creating content for keywords that are very difficult to rank for.
These tools help you access relevant metrics like;
- keyword difficulty
- search volume
- estimated number of clicks for your keywords
- clicks per search
On top of that, Ahrefs has a keyword generator tool that will help you get keyword ideas for similar search phrases and see the parent topic for each keyword.
For example, when we search the keyword “best project management tools,” here’s what Ahrefs shows.
Here are some best practices you can follow:
- Avoid keywords with a high difficulty score, as these might be difficult to rank for. (If you are a SaaS business with a high DA, you can aim for these keywords.)
- Eliminate high-volume keywords that won’t bring relevant traffic to your website.
- Filter keyword phrases with less than ten searches per month
- Remove one or two-worded terms and include more long-tail keywords, as these are comparatively easy to rank for.
#4 Assign Keyword Intent to Each Term
Search intent denotes why a user types a particular query into a search engine like Google. Assigning search intent to each keyword ensures you’re satisfying the user’s query.
Below are four types of search intent:
Informational: The searcher is looking for information here. While the conversions for these keywords are low, they help you build your authority in the niche.
For a project management tool like Asana, these keyword examples could be:
- “what is project management”
- “project management techniques”
- “project management”
- “how to manage projects?”
Navigational: The searcher is looking for a specific page on the website. Instead of typing the entire URL, it’s easier for them to Google it. It’s a great way to shorten the purchase journey when executed well.
- “asana features”
- “asana login”
- “asana blog” Commercial: The searcher is looking for a product/service but hasn’t decided on a specific one yet. They’re most likely looking for comparisons and reviews. These keywords may have low search volume but a high probability for conversion.
- “asana vs. clickup”
- “best project management tools”
- “clickup alternatives”
- “asana review”
Transactional: The searcher is in buying mode and most likely has chosen which vendor they want to buy from. The keywords at this stage are geared toward making a sale.
- “buy asana”
- “asana pricing”
- “asana discount code”
#5 Give Each a Search Priority Score
If you use an SEO tool, you’ll likely have hundreds or thousands of keywords to create content around. You can’t target each of them - you need to focus your efforts. While some may have a high search volume, some may have a high probability of conversions.
To prioritize each of them, here are some questions you can answer:
- Does my SaaS business already rank for this keyword?
- How many backlinks will we have to generate to outrank the competition? Will we be able to do this?
- What is the search volume? Is it too high or too low?
- Is this topic evergreen, or is it waning in popularity? Should we give a low priority score to keyword phrases with a downward trajectory?
- Does this keyword generate enough clicks? If not, does it make sense to target this keyword?
- What stage of the sales funnel does the keyword target?
Based on the answers, you can create a model where you ascertain scores for each of these factors.
#6 Give Each a Business Priority Score
Many keywords will help you bring traffic to your site. But not every one of them will bring you business. If your goal is to improve conversions and get more subscribers, prioritize keywords with a higher business score.
To check which keywords are profitable for your business, you can give them a business score. A good way to determine this score is to ask questions like:
- Is this something we want our SaaS business to be absolutely known for?
- Would the people reading this content be motivated to purchase our product?
- Do these keywords target the buyer personas with the shortest sales cycle?
- How profitable is the service or product feature we are targetting with the particular keyword?
You might see that the keywords with a commercial or transactional search intent have higher scores. You can create BOFU (Bottom Of The Funnel) content to lead these users to conversion faster.
#7 Map Target Keywords to Existing Content Assets
Now that you have a list of which keywords to prioritize, you can follow either of these strategies:
- Map them to existing content: If you have content that is not ranking well, you can optimize it and add relevant keywords to help it rank.
- Map them to new content: Create a content calendar with your existing keywords and the topics to target for each of them.
As with most SaaS businesses, if you are following both strategies, ensure you don’t get into the trap of keyword cannibalization. This happens when two content pieces on the same website compete to rank for the same keyword; it affects your ranking and leads to poor search performance.
13 SaaS Keyword Research Methods That Work
To ensure your SaaS marketing strategies get more conversions, you need to back them with proper keywords. Here are 13 keyword research methods that we use at MADX.
#1 ICP & the Anti-ICP
You want to create content around the keywords your target audience is searching for.
To know this, you must first clearly understand your ICP & anti-ICP. ICP (Ideal Customer Profile) defines the demographic, firmographic and behavioral characteristics of accounts you expect to be your company’s valuable customers.
Anti-ICP denotes those customer characteristics that won’t bring your company more value. So, if you targeted anti-ICP, you’ll spend resources on customers that would either not subscribe at the end or would churn in a few months.
Here’s how you can build your ICP.
Once you’ve built these profiles, you can dig deeper with surveys to understand them better. You can feed this data back to your keyword research strategy.
#2 Analyze Competitor Keywords
What if there was a way to find keywords that would bring you traction? One way is by conducting competitor research. You can find your competitor’s top-ranking keywords and how much traffic they are bringing.
This is one of the fastest ways to find profitable keywords for your SEO strategy. As your competitors are already ranking for them, you can find gaps to capitalize on and bring that traffic to your SaaS business.
Many SEO tools like Ahrefs will help you get all the required details. Here are some questions that these tools can help answer:
- Which keywords are your competitors targeting?
- What types of resources are bringing them the most backlinks?
- What are their primary traffic sources?
Enter your competitor’s website in Ahrefs and click “Organic keywords.”
You can set a filter to exclude any branded search keywords.
You can shortlist keywords from this list and then look at their difficulty level and search volume to prioritize. If you’re only starting, you might want to aim for keywords with mid to high search volume and a low KD score.
#3 Focus on Jobs to be Done
Most SaaS products offer many use cases and appeal to various buyer segments. In such a scenario, the jobs-to-be-done framework helps you understand how different customers use your product. More so, it shows how you can build the right content with the right keywords for them.
You can find these keywords in three ways:
- Run customer surveys: Who better to ask than your customers already using the product? Build surveys that help you gain information on how each customer segment uses the product in their everyday lives.
- Brainstorm with customer-facing teams: These teams have an idea of innovative use cases and solutions the customer uses.
- Read customer reviews: Read reviews across platforms to understand how customers use the products and how it is helping them achieve their daily tasks.
You’ll generate a lot of content ideas with these methods. You can then use your SEO tools to find the keywords for these ideas and test them on metrics like search volume, keyword difficulty, potential business score, etc.
Next, start building laser-focused content for each segment.
For example, here’s how Slack has broken down its solutions section for different teams.
#4 Dig Into Google Ad Converters
Google Ad converters are a great way to find keywords for your niche. Here are two ways to get this data:
- Contact your PPC team and use this data to plan pages and articles to generate relevant traffic.
- Dig into your competitor’s ad campaigns to see their target keywords. You can use keyword research tools like Ahrefs to see your competitor’s current Google ads and keyword bids. Enter your competitor’s domain name and click “Paid keywords” on the left side.
You can filter this data to exclude branded keywords to get a super-relevant list for your business.
#5 Use Reviews to Get Customer’s Search Intent
Let’s take a top project management tool like Asana’s page on Capterra to find out how.
In Asana’s profile, look at the keywords Capterra has used. For example, project management tool, calendars, and Gannt charts in the introduction and the categories it has been featured in, like idea management software, meeting software, and project management software.
While some of these keywords, like idea management software, are quite uncommon when related to Asana, Capterra’s research shows that users relate Asana with it.
Next, you can go to the features section to find many keywords that you can use to optimize your feature pages. You can even use them to create content for different funnel stages.
Upon scrolling further, you’ll arrive at the comparison section, where you’ll find the alternatives for Asana.
You can create comparison pages dedicated to these keywords. This will help you tap traffic for these terms and also present your product in a favorable light.
This is exactly what Asana has done on its website.
It's a great opportunity to listen to your customers and get content ideas instead of spending hours conducting interviews and surveys.
#6 Create a Customer Journey Map
A customer journey map lets you create better content and target your prospects effectively. Here are some questions you can ask to build this map:
- How does your customer realize they have a problem?
- What do they do next to find the solution?
- Is there any particular platform they go to? Like Reddit or Quora?
- Which companies do they consider before they make a final decision?
- Do they look for some particular features or use cases?
- Do they require assistance, or is self-start the best method?
Once you know your customer journey, you can find keywords and content for each stage. Then, you can optimize each to move a prospect toward the end goal of conversion.
For example, you may find that your SQLs (Sales Qualified Leads) consume more case studies, comparison articles, and YouTube videos before making a decision.
You can then include this in your content marketing strategy.
While this step may take time, team collaboration, and data analysis, it will help you create content that gets seen by the right people at the right time.
#7 Analyze Sales Calls
Listening to your sales calls is a goldmine of a keyword research strategy. Yet many SaaS businesses are unaware of it.
By recording and analyzing your sales calls, you can discover your customers' pain points and observe a pattern in the phrases and words they use to describe these problems.
For example, if you have a project management tool, you may find many customers inquiring about project milestones or how your tool compares with Asana. Based on these ideas, you can create articles on milestones and a comparison landing page.
While such long-tail phrases may not have a high search volume, you can convert them into a huge win by creating content around them, as other organizations are probably not targeting these concerns.
You can use tools such as Ahrefs to refine these phrases or queries further. You can segment sales calls into buckets like MQLs, SQLs, and revenue generators to better understand how to address pain points at each funnel stage.
#8 Leverage the Power of Google Suggest
Google’s Autosuggest can help you discover many primary and secondary keywords. Here’s how.
Let’s take a keyword from our research list, like “project planning,” and enter it in Google.
We now have a list of queries that relate to our initial keyword.
While not all of them may be helpful, you can pick two to three, like “project planning and scheduling,” “project planning template,” or “project planning process,” that we can enter into our list.
You can even go deeper. For example, here are more queries when we type “project planning template.”
We now have more keyword phrases like “project planning template excel” and “project planning template free” to target.
Depending on their search volume and KD, you can create an individual page for these keywords or use them as secondary keywords alongside the primary one.
#9 Understand Your Key Switch Moments
Not every customer will adopt a SaaS tool to solve the same goal (say, efficient project management) for the first time. Some important switch moments you need to take care of are:
- When people switch to a SaaS solution. For example, someone may be using Excel to manage their projects. You can educate these users on how they can save time and improve efficiency by adopting a project management tool.
- When people switch from an existing SaaS solution. For example, someone may have been using Jira earlier and want to adopt Asana now. You can rank for keywords like “competitor + alternative” (Jira alternatives).
While using this approach, ensure you do proper research and highlight how your tool is better or more efficient than the alternative they are already using.
For example, in this article on “Jira alternatives for agile teams,” Hive doesn’t just talk about how their tool is better. It showcases the unique functionalities of Hive that Jira doesn’t have.
#10 Consider Adjacent Use Cases
With a SaaS tool, you are likely offering multiple use cases to your subscribers. There might also be some use cases you have not put up on your website, but your customers are using your tool.
One way to find them out is by speaking to your customer-facing teams.
You can then add these keywords to your marketing strategy and create content where you can tie your product’s features or functions.
For example, let’s take Ahrefs’ main use cases showcased in the image below.
This means that they will focus on keywords like “site explorer,” “how to generate keywords,” or “how to create content clusters.”
But take a look at this article they recently shared.
Does Ahrefs have a direct relation to starting an ecommerce business?
But look at how they found a way to rank for this keyword and showcase their product in the article (hitting two birds with one stone).
They devised a different use case, like using Ahrefs to research your ecommerce business idea.
This is how you can replicate the same with your SaaS business.
#11 Extend the Top of the Funnel Keywords
You need to attract many people to your SaaS business to increase the leads in your funnel. One way to do that is by opening the top of the funnel and finding keywords you can target.
Instead of creating a lot of niche-specific articles like “project management guide for construction agencies” or “project management guide for software teams.” Instead, make one solid article like “project management guide” to which every customer segment can relate.
This will appeal to many prospects and result in more traffic to your articles.
Note: Creating niche-specific content can help you draw a targeted audience, too. So, you can find a balance between the two instead of completely sticking to one over the other.
#12 Use Topic Clusters and Pillar Content Strategy
Search engines have become more sophisticated. They prefer to understand topics rather than individual keywords.
By creating topic clusters, you can group related keywords and create pillar content that covers a topic broadly. You can then link this to related but more specific content to signal to search engines that you’re an authority on the topic.
For example, see how ClickUp has created various topic clusters and grouped them under different categories like teams, products, topics, news, etc., on their blog page.
If you go under the time management category, you’ll be able to see all the articles that will help you manage your time better.
Not only is this beneficial for rankings or topical authority, but it also helps improve your user experience.
#13 Make AI Your Friend
AI has become a go-to choice for marketers regarding initial research for content, finding ideas, or doing an initial edit.
But did you know you could also use it to find keyword ideas?
Here are some examples of how we use AI at MADX;
- Ask for the most searched questions for a particular niche or topic.
- Generate topic clusters by typing some existing keywords.
- Ask the tool to generate more based on the examples, discover competitor keywords, generate keywords for videos or podcasts, etc.
The more creative and strategic prompts you can find, the more focused results you’ll get.
Rank #1 in SERP Through Keyword Research
A solid SaaS keyword research strategy will increase traffic, better quality leads, higher conversion rates, and more sales. By experimenting with these 13 strategies listed above, you can create campaigns and content that drive the right traffic and conversions.
Before you start expecting your keyword strategies to deliver results, know there’s much more to SEO than just finding relevant keywords.
If you need help perfecting your SaaS SEO strategy, contact our experts at MADX.