11 SaaS Keyword Research Methods To Rank #1 in 2023

Toni Koraza
March 28, 2023
11 SaaS Keyword Research Methods To Rank #1 in 2023

If you want to nail your SaaS SEO strategy, keyword research is a crucial part you can’t miss out on.

Not only does keyword research help you attract the right kind of visitors to your website, but it can also 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?

Not really! As a SaaS SEO agency, we constantly find out 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 involves the process of finding relevant keywords that your target audience is using on search engines like Google to search for your product or the problem that it is solving. 

This is not limited to branded keywords or commercial keywords. For example, suppose you have an email marketing tool. In that case, your keyword research will not only involve terms like “email marketing software” or “X email marketing tools,” but it will also have informational keywords like “email marketing guide” or “best email marketing examples.”

With the keywords you find at this stage, you can start using them in your on-page and off-page SEO campaigns.

Here’s how keyword research has evolved over the years with Google’s algorithm changes.

What is the purpose of SaaS Keyword Research?

SEO is one of the most effective ways to generate traffic, awareness, and convert visitors into prospects for your SaaS business.

But for SEO to work effectively, 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 based on the above point. For example, if you find out that your target audience is searching for “email marketing campaigns,” you can create a guide on the same and also repurpose that content for your social media.

- It ensures that your on-page optimization strategy isn’t based on guesses.

- You can track the ROI of your SEO strategy by seeing how many relevant keywords your content is ranking for.

SaaS Keyword Research Process

As SaaS keyword research is a crucial step to creating effective marketing campaigns, you must have a clear process. Just guessing or pulling keywords from online tools won’t help.

Here’s a process we have used at MADX for our campaigns and SaaS clients. Let’s get started.

#1 Brainstorm Seed List of Topics and Terms

Seed topics and keywords lay the foundation of actual keywords and topics that you’d eventually target. 

To brainstorm this list, you must get all your key departments on one stage. These departments could be customer-facing ones like customer support and marketing and sales or internal teams like content creation that will work on the actual strategies.

You can go through common customer touchpoints like onboarding or visiting your website to find common questions, words, and phrases they use while they interact 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 often 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.

At this stage, it’s not important to go into minute details like keyword difficulty or volume. You just need to get everyone’s input on paper.

#2 Use Your Seed Term Buckets to Find Search Competitors

Now that you have 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”

While Proofhub and others on this list are your direct competitors, Forbes is your indirect competitor for this term as they do not sell a similar product but cater to a similar audience.

You can start with your direct competitors and see the kind of keywords they are targeting and ranking for and jot down those terms. You can even notice if they are lagging behind on some terms that could be relevant or if they have any gaps in their content strategy that you can capitalize on.

#3 Place this Seed List Into Your Keyword Tool of Choice

To know which keywords you should include in your strategy, you can use keyword research tools like Ahrefs to get data and metrics on your keywords.

These tools help you get access to relevant metrics like keyword difficulty, search volume, the estimated number of clicks for your keywords, clicks per search, etc. On top of that, Ahrefs also 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 tips on how to make the most of this step:

- 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 is the main goal a user has when they enter a keyword into the search engine. Assigning a search intent to each keyword helps you target users effectively.

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:

(i) “what is project management”

(ii) “project management techniques”

(iii) “project management”

(iv) “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.

Keyword examples:

(i) “asana features”

(ii) “asana login”

(iii) “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.

Keyword examples:

(i) “asana vs. clickup”

(ii) “best project management tools”

(iii) “clickup alternatives”

(iv) “asana review”

- Transactional: The searcher is in buying mode, and most likely, they have chosen which vendor they want to buy from. The keywords at this stage are geared toward making a sale.

Keyword examples:

(i) “buy asana”

(ii) “asana pricing”

(iii) “asana discount code”

#5 Give Each a Search Priority Score

You don’t want to give equal importance to all your keywords. 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 these answers, you can find out what it takes to rank for a particular keyword and how to prioritize them.

#6 Give Each a Business Priority Score

While many keywords will help you bring traffic to your website, you also want to determine if it brings you any business.

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?

- 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 this content 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 that 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. This will affect your ranking and lead to poor search performance.

11 SaaS Keyword Research Methods That Work

Here are 11 SaaS keyword research methods that will help you find targeted keywords for your SaaS business.

#1 Dig Into Google Ad Converters

Look at your top converting keywords for Google ads. You can get in touch with your PPC team for the same and use this data to plan pages and articles to generate relevant traffic.

Apart from that, you can even dig into your competitor’s ad campaigns to see which keywords they are targeting.

To do this, you can use tools such as Ahrefs and see your competitor’s current ad campaigns and keyword bids.

Just 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 super relevant list for your business.

#2 Use Reviews to Get the Voice of the Customer

By looking at customer reviews on SaaS reviews sites such as Capterra, G2, SoftwareAdvice, and other review platforms, you can get to know your customer’s voice and even find out potential keywords.

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.

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#3 Focus on jobs to be done

More often than not, SaaS products appeal to diverse customer segments and have multiple use cases. 

The Jobs to be done framework helps you understand how different customers use your product and how you can build the right content with the right keywords for them.

You can do this 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 that 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.

This approach will help you generate a lot of keywords and topic ideas to build laser-focused content for each segment.

For example, here’s how Slack has broken down its solutions section for different teams.

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#4 Create a customer journey map

How does your customer realize they have a problem? What do they do next to find the solution? Which companies do they consider before they make a final decision?

When you map out your customer journey, you can find keywords and content for each stage and how you can optimize them 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.

#5 Analyze competitor keywords

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.

To do this, you can use tools like Ahrefs. The tool helps you figure out things like:

- 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 on “Organic keywords.”

You can set a filter to exclude any branded search keywords.

By studying this report, you’ll find many keywords that you can shortlist. Next, look into the search volume and KD (Keyword Difficulty) for these terms. 

If you’re just starting out, you might want to aim for keywords that have a mid to high search volume and a low KD score.

#6 Analyze sales calls

Surprised that you could find keywords by just listening to your sales calls?

It’s a keyword research strategy that is a goldmine, yet many SaaS businesses are completely unaware of it.

By recording and analyzing your sales calls, you can get to know the pain points of your customers and observe a pattern in the phrases and words they use to describe these problems.

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 even segment sales calls into buckets like MQLs, SQLs, and revenue generators. This will help you better understand how to address pain points at each funnel stage.

#7 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 some 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 either create an individual page for these keywords or use them as secondary keywords to use alongside the primary one.

#8 Understand your key switch moments

The key switch moment describes one of the following:

- 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 may want to adopt Asana now. You can rank for keywords like “competitor + alternative” (Jira alternatives).

If you use this approach, ensure that you don’t outright claim that your tool is the best but instead highlight the facts and how some of your features overpower the alternatives. 

For example, in this article on “Jira alternatives for agile teams,” Hive showcases how their platform offers unique functionalities that Jira doesn’t.

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#9 Consider adjacent use cases

You can consider ranking for articles that may not be directly related to your product but where you can still tie in your product or service.

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.

Image source

Does Ahrefs have a direct relation to starting an e-commerce business?

Not really!

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 came up with 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.

#10 The industry is not needed

Your aim as a SaaS business should be to open your top of the funnel and reach the maximum number of people with a solid article and keyword research strategy. 

To do that, you need to adapt your content and not make it too niche-specific. For example, don’t create many mediocre-level articles for each niche, like “project management guide for construction agencies” or “project management guide for software teams.” Instead, make one solid article like “project management guide” that every customer segment can relate to.

This will not only bring more traffic to your articles but will result in more growth.

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.

#11 ICP & the anti-ICP

To know the exact keywords you should prioritize, you must know your ideal customer profiles and buyer personas.

Failure to do so may bring forth a lot of leads for your SaaS business, but you might fail to convert them and impact revenue.

Here’s how you can build your ICP.

Once you’re done building these profiles, you can dig deeper and hold surveys to understand them better and use that data to back your keyword research strategy.

Final Thoughts

A solid SaaS keyword research strategy will result in increased traffic, better quality leads, higher conversion rates, and more sales.

That’s why investing enough time in developing a proper keyword research process is crucial. With these 11 strategies, you can find relevant keywords and content topics that your marketing team can create campaigns and content on.

But remember that SEO is more than just finding relevant keywords. If you need help perfecting your SaaS SEO, get in touch with our experts at MADX.

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