SaaS SEO starts with keyword research.
If you get that wrong, nothing else matters—because targeting the wrong keywords will either attract irrelevant visitors to your site or no visitors at all.
SaaS keyword research is even more critical, since unlike blogs or affiliate sites, you have to be conscious of your brand image and can’t target every trending keyword or newsworthy topic.
This is why I’ve written this SaaS keyword research guide.
I’ll share actionable keyword research tips that you can use to drive relevant traffic to your SaaS website.
Let’s get started.
Table of Contents
Keyword research is the practice of finding keywords (words and phrases) that your target audience uses on Google Search (and other search engines) to find the solutions you offer and the problems you solve.
Once you find the right keywords, you can use them to create content and optimize that content for on-page SEO to drive relevant traffic to your site from search engines.
Why do you need keyword research?
Because it tells you about the interests of your audience and what they’re really looking for.
It’s like a compass for your SEO strategy that tells you what topics to cover and what questions to answer in your content to attract visitors.
What happens when you rank on the number one position for the right keywords?
According to research, here’s how much traffic Google’s top ten search results get.
As you can see, the page ranked in the first position gets 31.73% of the traffic.
Suppose your site ranks number one for the keyword “project management skills”.
How much traffic can you get from it?
Let’s check the monthly search volume of this keyword in Ahrefs.
According to Ahrefs, the keyword “project management skills” is searched 13000 times every month.
Since the top-ranked page gets 31.73% of the total traffic, you’ll get 4775 (13000 x 31.73%) visitors per month if you rank for the top spot.
Let’s assume only 1% of those visitors convert into customers.
You’ll still have 47.5 customers every month from just one keyword. That’s how powerful organic search traffic is. And this is why keyword research is crucial for your business.
Tips for Performing Keyword Research for Your SaaS
Before sharing the tips for performing laser focused keyword research, let’s first say that you can divide the whole keyword research process into three broad phases.
- Finding keyword ideas
- Evaluating and shortlisting keywords
- Using the shortlisted keywords in your content
Now, let’s dive deeper into each phase to help you find the right keywords for your SaaS SEO strategy.
This phase is all about brainstorming different keyword ideas, learning from your competitors, and setting a direction for your keyword research strategy.
Here’s how to do it.
Find Keywords for All Stages of the Content Funnel
At any given time, you can divide your target audience into three broad categories based on which stage they are in the buyer’s journey.
What are those stages?
In the awareness stage, prospects know they have a problem but don’t completely understand it.
Then, in the consideration stage, they have already gained an understanding of the problem. and are looking for ways to solve it.
Finally, in the decision stage, prospects know how to solve the problem and are in the final stages of choosing a product/service for the solution.
You need to identify different keywords for each of those stages.
Why? Because your prospects have different questions and are using different keywords for every stage.
If you’re doing keyword research for an email marketing software company, here’s what your prospects in different stages of the buyer’s journey might be searching for:
- Awareness: “how to get return customers” “how to increase per customer dollar value” “how to make money online”, “how to sell an online course”, “how to promote content”
- Consideration: “what is email marketing”, “how to grow your email list”, “how to create a lead magnet”, “lead magnet examples”, “what is an autoresponder”
- Decision: “Getresponse vs Mailchimp”, “ActiveCampaign Review”, “Best email software for startups”, “AWeber alternatives”, “CovertKit Pricing”, “Drip Coupons”, “GetResponse Discount”
These stages of the buyer’s journey correspond to the three stages of the content marketing funnel.
- Top Of The Funnel (ToFu): Informational content for readers in the awareness stage
- Middle of the Funnel (MoFu): Content focused on the questions of your prospects in the consideration stage
- Bottom of the Funnel (BoFu): Transactional content to position your product/service as the best option for your prospects in the decision stage
The bulk of your traffic will come from the keywords in the awareness and consideration stages because they’re mostly long-tail question keywords with high search volumes.
However, these visitors won’t immediately convert into customers.
The keywords in the decision stage of the buyer’s journey have a lower search volume, but these are the people who’re ready to buy from you.
Your job is to target all three stages of the funnel so that the traffic from the awareness and consideration stages can graduate to the decision stage.
Identify Broad Topics for Your Keyword Strategy
Let’s start developing a keyword strategy now.
Google ranks websites based on their overall expertise and authority on a broad topic instead of individual keywords.
For example, a site that’s all about pets is much more likely to rank for dog food keywords than a generic site about lifestyle or health.
Why? Because Google understands that the pet site is an authority on that topic and offers more relevant and high-quality content than a generic website (even if it has better on-page SEO).
So, your first task is to identify the broad topics that you need to cover on your site. These aren’t necessarily the keywords you’ll target.
Let’s use the example of a project management tool.
Here are some of the broad topics that come to mind immediately:
- Project management
- Task management
- Time management
- Management skills
Think of the different ways your product can be used, brainstorm more topics with your team and create a broad list of topics that your brand wants to be known for.
You don’t really need a tool for this.
But if you want, you can head over to Google Keyword Planner, choose “Discover New Keywords” and enter your primary topic.
Now let’s look at the example of a digital marketing agency.
These are all the broad keywords and search terms related to digital marketing. There’s a lot of repetition in this list, but you’ll find the following broad categories if you look closely.
- Content marketing
- Social media marketing
- Traffic generation
- Facebook Advertising
- These are not your final keywords, just the topics that are generally associated with your business.
We’ll use them to find keyword ideas later.
Start Your Keyword Research From Google Search
The best place to start your keyword research is Google Search itself.
There are three main features in Google Search that you can use for this purpose.
Google Suggested Searches
Type your keyword in Google Search without hitting the enter key to see suggested searches for your keyword.
Now add the word “for” after your keyword to get the list of different audiences you can target.
Ignore the book titles, but the rest of the keywords like “for beginners”, “construction”, “for engineers” are all great angles you can dig deeper into.
For more ideas, add the word “of” after your keyword.
Do you see the diverse range of ideas you can explore this way?
But there’s more you can do here.
Now instead of adding words after your keyword, let’s move the same words in front of it.
First, just add a space before your keyword.
See, it’s a whole new dimension.
Now add the rest of the words before your keyword one by one.
Do you see what we’re doing here?
It’s Google that’s suggesting you these keywords for your topic.
This means they’re highly relevant keywords that people are searching for to use in your content strategy.
People Also Ask
Enter your main topic in Google Search and see if there’s a “People also ask” section for it in the search results.
These are your audience’s most common questions about your topic.
If you enter a variation of your primary keyword, you’ll get slightly different questions.
You can find keyword ideas in each of those questions.
In the first question, “basics of project management” is a keyword you can use.
Similarly, you can use “steps in a project” from the last question on the list.
Enter your main keyword in Google Search and scroll to the bottom to find related searches.
Like suggested searches, these keywords are also highly relevant to your topic.
To explore more keywords, just click on any of them and view their related keywords.
For example, here are the related searches for the first keyword in the screenshot above.
You make a long list of keywords using these methods.
Not all of them will be useful, but they’re a great starting point for your research.
Analyze Your Top Competitors for Keyword Ideas
Want a speedy way to find proven keywords that you can target in your SEO and content strategy?
Just find the keywords that your competitors are ranking for using Ahrefs.
Let’s continue with the project management example and search for different leading project management tools in Ahrefs.
I’ve searched for Monday.com, one of the top PM tools, in Ahrefs Site Explorer, which shows that it ranks for more than 159K keywords in Google Search.
Let’s check the Top Pages report to find out the pages driving the most organic search traffic.
This report shows the top pages on Monday.com in terms of search traffic.
The two columns I’ve highlighted show the keyword driving the most traffic for each page and the number of monthly visitors to that page from all the other keywords it ranks for.
For example, the 5th keyword on this list is “management books”, which is the top keyword for a blog post on Monday.com.
Overall, this page gets 725 visitors per month from all the keywords it ranks for.
To find the other keywords it’s ranking for, click on the keyword column’s value for this page.
This is the list of all the other keywords that are driving traffic to this page.
It’s an ideal keyword for your SEO strategy as well since your target audience is the same.
Let’s explore the keywords of another leading project management tool, ClickUp.
According to Ahrefs Site Explorer, ClickUp ranks for 134K keywords that drive 394K visitors every month from organic search results.
Let’s click on the Organic Keywords report this time instead of the Top Pages report.
This report shows the top keywords driving most of the traffic to ClickUp.
Ignore the brand keywords since every product ranks for its name.
Look at the other keywords you can use.
For example, the third one “free project management software”.
ClickUp ranks number 1 for this keyword, and it drives more than 8000 visitors per month from search results.
Look at the fifth keyword on the list, “productive things to do when bored”, which is driving more than 1100 visitors per month.
If you research these lists, you’ll find many great keywords that are super relevant to your audience.
And since your competitors are already driving traffic from them, you know they’ll be great for your SEO strategy as well.
Find Proven Keywords From SaaS Aggregator Sites
They dominate most of the transactional keywords for SaaS products.
You can’t directly compete with them because of their size and authority, but you can find keyword ideas using their category pages.
Start by finding your SaaS product category on Capterra, project management in our case.
There are a couple of things to do here.
First, have a look at the related categories on the right of your screen.
These are closely related to project management, and you can use them for finding more keyword ideas.
Secondly, copy the URL of this Capterra category page in Ahrefs Site Explorer and open the Organic Keywords report to see what keywords it’s ranking for.
You’ll get a ton of keyword ideas from analyzing these aggregator site categories because they’re among the best-optimized SaaS websites.
Now open the product page of any top software in your niche to get more insights.
In our case, we’ll open the product page of ClickUp on Capterra.
The first thing to note here is the “Featured In” section that shows the other categories in which Capterra has mentioned ClickUp.
All of these are relevant keywords you can use for further research.
If you scroll down to the features section, you’ll again find dozens of keywords you can use for more research.
These aren’t the regular project management keywords that we immediately think of.
And if you dig deeper, you’ll find many gems with high traffic and low competition since the big sites focus on the mainstream keywords in your niche.
Target Keywords with “vs” and “Alternatives”
SaaS users are always searching for product alternatives and comparisons of different tools.
These are low-hanging keywords that a lot of sites ignore.
But you shouldn’t.
Let’s stick to our project management example.
First, let’s use Google Suggest to see what comparison keywords we can target for Asana (a project management tool).
As you can see, there are several comparison keywords for Asana that we can dig further.
Let’s go to Ahrefs and check the keywords report for Asana.com.
In the keywords report, I searched specifically for keywords that included “vs”.
The resultant list is really interesting.
For example, the keyword “trello vs asana” has 2600 monthly searches.
“Monday.com vs Asana” has 700 monthly searches.
This is just one of the project management tools we’ve researched.
You can find a ton of other comparison keywords if you research more PM tools.
Similarly, “[competitor] + alternatives” is another popular SaaS keyword format.
For example, here’s the Ahrefs Keyword report for ClickUp in which I searched for keywords that included the word “alternatives”
As you can see, ClickUp ranks for keywords like “Trello alternatives”, “Evernote alternatives”, “Jira alternatives” and many others that drive thousands of visitors to it every month.
Such keywords don’t have much competition.
Here’s how to use them.
For comparison keywords, create content and pages on “[top competitor] vs [your brand]” and “[top competitor 1] vs [top competitor 2] vs [your brand]”.
On the other hand, for alternatives, target “[competitor] alternatives” for all your top competitors and always place your brand at the top with solid reasons.
In the coming sections, I’ll tell you more about evaluating and using keywords in your content.
By now, you should have a pretty big list of keyword ideas.
However, you can’t use all of them.
Our goal is to find keywords with high-medium search volume and low-med competition.
Here’s how you will evaluate and shortlist keywords for your content and SEO strategy.
Analyze Keyword Search Volume and Traffic Potential
Plug your keywords into Ahrefs Keyword Explorer to get their detailed report.
I’ll use just one keyword (“trello vs asana”) to demonstrate how you’ll evaluate a keyword.
Focus on the highlighted part for now.
According to Ahrefs, this keyword has a global search volume of 5.7K per month, 63% of which comes from the US.
The rest comes from Canada, Germany, UK (and others) that are all suitable countries for high-end project management products.
So that’s a good start.
Beware Of The Featured Snippet
If you look at the middle section in this screenshot, Ahrefs shows you the estimated number clicks on pages ranking for this keyword, which is 3.9K or 71% of the clicks.
Why is this important?
You don’t want to rank for keywords where the searchers get their answers in Google’s featured snippet and don’t need to visit any website.
Like this keyword.
Not many people will visit even the top-ranked page for this keyword.
Consider the Total Traffic Potential of a Keyword
The keyword “trello vs asana” has 5.7K monthly searches.
Since we know that the top-ranked page gets 31.7% of the visitors, you’ll get around 1806 visitors per month if you make it to the first spot.
That’s not all
The top-ranked pages for most keywords often rank for dozens of other related keywords as well.
To get an idea of this keyword’s total traffic potential, scroll down in the keywords report to see the top-ranked page for this keyword.
As you can see, the top-ranked page also ranks for 456 other keywords and collectively gets 3944 visitors from search engines every month.
That’s how much traffic you can expect if you rank at the top for this keyword.
So, when you’re evaluating a keyword, don’t consider its search volume only.
You get a much clearer picture when you consider its click rate and total traffic potential.
Evaluate the Ranking Difficulty of Your Keywords
The other important thing to consider when evaluating a keyword is its Keyword Difficulty (KD) score.
This keyword has a KD score of 26, which means it’s not really challenging to rank for.
It also gives you an estimated number of backlinks you’ll need to break into the top 10 search results for this keyword.
The higher the KD score, the more difficult it is to rank for that keyword.
Still, there’s a lot more to calculating keyword difficulty than this.
For example, for a completely new site with no search authority, ranking for a keyword with a KD score of 30 is difficult.
On the other hand, a site with an Ahrefs Domain Rating of 75+ can easily rank for keywords with 50+ scores.
Therefore, if your site is entirely new, target high KD keywords for your homepage and features pages but base your blog content strategy around low KD keywords so that you can quickly rank for them.
Now that you have the keywords you want to target, here’s how to use them in your content strategy.
Manually Analyze SERPs to Set Content Benchmarks
Search for your target keyword in Google and open the top ten results in separate tabs.
Now analyze each page one by one and note down information like:
- The total word count of the page
- The number of images used
- The keywords used in the heading
I use Detailed, a Chrome extension, to do this.
Find the average word count and image count for the top 10 pages of your target keyword.
Let’s say it’s 1757 words.
To rank for this keyword, you need to create a significantly better page than the ones ranking right now.
So target a word count 3000 and double the number of images.
Ahrefs has already given you an estimated number of backlinks you need to rank.
That’s all you need to rank for your target keywords.
Understand the Search Intent of Your Keywords
Before creating content for a keyword, you need to understand the search intent behind it.
What kind of content do users want for this keyword?
For example, should you optimize your site’s homepage for the keyword “best project management software”?
Search for this keyword to get your answer.
If you exclude the paid search results, all the pages ranking for this keyword are list posts that feature the best project management software.
According to Google, the users searching for this are not looking for a specific project management tool.
Instead, they’re still exploring, and their intent is to get a list of project management tools to choose from.
Writing a list post for this keyword makes more sense instead of optimizing your homepage for it.
Whenever you’re creating content for a keyword, make sure it aligns with Google’s understanding of its search intent.
Otherwise, you won’t rank for it no matter how good the content is.
Keyword research is a vast topic that’s difficult to cover in one article.
However, the basics I’ve shared in this post are more than enough to help you find relevant keywords that you can practically expect to rank for, even if you have a completely new website.
To create optimized content using your shortlisted keywords, don’t forget to read my guides about on-page SEO, link building, and creating a content marketing funnel.
That’ll give you the complete picture.