How important is SEO for SaaS businesses?
SEO has changed a lot in the past decade, but one thing remains the same: the majority of web traffic still belongs to organic traffic, i.e., visitors from search engines.
That’s why SEO is a very important marketing channel for almost every business. If you are not easily found on search engines, you are missing a lot and leaving a big piece of the pie to your competitors.
But for SaaS companies, SEO combined with content is even more important because SaaS is a specific business model.
SaaS startups are often disruptive, bringing innovation to the market or even creating new markets.
However, innovative solutions often require time for raising awareness.
How is a person supposed to find the solution to a problem without knowing that the solution for their problem actually exists?
This is why SEO and content marketing are a killer combo for SaaS.
With these channels, SaaS companies can raise awareness about their product by ranking high on search engines for informative and educational keywords.
Content is the best way to achieve that.
Besides, SEO works because it leads buyers to your website. Those buyers are looking for solutions exactly when they need them. If your software is a solution they need, you’ve got yourself warm leads.
In contrast, with cold outreach, the seller contacts a prospect when she organizes the sales campaign, not knowing whether the prospect even needs such a solution.
What’s the Difference Between SEO and SEO Designed for SaaS?
SEO is SEO, one might think, why would SaaS SEO be any different?
Because every business model has unique needs.
SaaS company wanting more signups is not the same as when a company is going after a big government contract where negotiating the deal can take a whole year.
Simply put, the psychology of closing deals differs, and consequently, the promotion of your business must too.
SEO also must adapt to individual business needs.
Maybe the best way to show you the specifics of SEO tailored for SaaS is to compare it to other business models and point out the contrast.
Before we pivoted to focus only on working with SaaS companies, we worked with a lot of eCommerce clients.
The mindsets of eCommerce and SaaS businesses are different.
The eCommerce business model is sales-oriented, so it naturally drives eCommerce business owners to value direct sales the most. They often give less importance to content marketing, brand awareness or brand building.
Our experience is that eCommerce companies understand they need SEO, but when it comes to supporting SEO efforts, we notice that they don’t value content and content marketing as much as SaaS companies.
For eCommerce businesses, investing in content often means just creating semi-unique product descriptions. This is not ideal because Google prefers unique, high-quality content.
On the other hand, content often comes as something natural to SaaS companies.
Most SaaS websites have resource sections with blogs, while eCommerce websites often don’t even have a blog. And even when they do, they only publish commercial content and buyer’s guides.
eCommerce and SaaS websites are usually structured like this:
eCommerce websites are often bigger but they have a limiting structure because they are lacking real content pages, and today’s SEO is much harder without content.
Google wants to rank content, so you need content-rich pages to rank for your target keywords.
You also need this content to be high-quality and interesting to leverage most of the high-quality link-building methods. Backlinks are still one of the most important SEO factors, and you need quality backlinks to rank high on search engines.
Consequently, having great content makes acquiring backlinks to the website a breeze.
It is also easier to target relevant keywords and rank for them on top of search engines when you craft stellar content around these keywords.
Lack of content often limits eCommerce websites—and having a blog makes a big difference.
SaaS are often one-product companies, they don’t have thousands of different product pages, so they need to create content and write blog posts in order to get the traffic to their website.
How SEO and Content Work Together—The Process
As an agency deeply convinced of the importance of content, we believe that doing SEO without content makes no sense.
So, the following is the process for how to combine search engine optimization with content to achieve excellent long-term results.
- Doing keyword and competitor research to find the best topics to write about
- Creating a long-form content to cover those keywords and topics properly
- Building direct backlinks to that content to increase its search rankings
We will show you how to look for keywords that are worth writing about and how to promote that content with the help of backlinks.
That’s exactly what we do: we find great topics to cover (and great keyword opportunities), we write quality blog articles around those topics, and then we link back from other quality websites to those articles.
We’ll now explain how to do each of those things properly so you can achieve hypergrowth with your SaaS!
1. Keyword Research: Look For Topics, Not Keywords
Definitely include content marketing in your SEO strategy but know that your website won’t have a perfect audience in the beginning.
To make your content seen and read, you’ll need good keywords to target with that content.
That’s where keyword research comes in—it gives you data on keywords, tells you which are easy to rank for and which are hard, and shows you the traffic potential of individual keywords.
Keyword research is an essential part of SEO and a compass for your content marketing.
People used to do keyword research wrong, and websites focused too much on keywords.
That often resulted in meaningless content farms, websites flooded with articles covering the same thing over and over again using too similar keyword variations.
Does one website really need fifty articles about how to tie shoes?
Later, Google changed the game and deprived such websites of top rankings.
Since then, it became paramount to use content for targeting TOPICS and covering a group of topically related keywords within one article, instead of publishing a new piece for every single keyword variation.
What Makes a Good Keyword?
When doing keyword research, you have to know the properties of a good keyword to recognize great keyword opportunities.
Here are the three most important criteria we look for in keyword discovery.
1. Popularity: If no one is typing a certain phrase in Google’s search engine to find information, it’s better to skip it. Search volume equals keyword popularity, and the more searches, the better—but that’s not the only indicator of a great keyword.
2. Keyword Difficulty (KD): This is a straightforward metric. It tells us how hard it is to reach the first Google page and rank for a specific keyword. The majority of SEO tools have their own way of determining keyword difficulty.
We use Ahrefs and insights from their KD feature, which includes the approximate number of backlinks a page needs to rank for its targeted keyword.
3. Searcher’s Intent: I cannot stress this one enough. You can throw away your perfectly balanced keyword that’s both popular and easy to rank for if that keyword is not relevant to your business. Before you start pumping out content, you need to understand why the user conducts the search with that keyword.
So, always try to understand the searcher’s intent for the keyword you are considering and make an estimate whether this keyword will send relevant visitors to your website.
Top Pages: How to Find the Best Topic Ideas Quickly
You can do keyword research in different ways.
The majority of SEO tools use a classic approach: type in your seed keyword and get a list of variations for that phrase. Next, go through this list and try to single out those you deem relevant.
That’s a good but classic approach. But, we do it a bit differently.
There is a great hack that gives us fabulous keywords and topics fast by doing competitor research with Ahrefs.
The priceless feature which enables that is called Top Pages.
Top Pages lets you see traffic-bringing, money-making pages of any website you type in. That’s a lot of useful information.
SEO tools make estimates, so don’t think the data will be 100% precise. But that’s less important because you’ll have accurate-enough data to draw conclusions and make plans for your content marketing and SEO strategies.
The results of your keyword hunt will be crystal clear and topics that bring the most web visitors to your competition will be served to you on a platter.
Here’s how the Top Pages look like:
Seeing the “secret sauce” that makes others in your niche so popular is pretty darn useful.
But, the real value of this feature is in the deeper analysis and digging out more information.
Let’s analyze the screenshot above.
The Keywords column shows the number of keywords the adjacent page ranks for. We can click on the number in the Keywords column and it will open a dropdown list of the most important keywords this page ranks for, which you can also expand to show the whole keyword list.
Top Pages feature gives you a quick and easy overview of the most popular pages on search engines for a specific website.
With this feature, you can also see whether your competitor ranks for relevant keywords with those pages.
If a competing page is ranking for keywords that are relevant to your business, you’ve got yourself topic ideas to write about.
The RD (Referring Domains) column offers even more useful data.
RD provides information about Referring Domains, showing the number of websites linking to that page.
The more websites that link to the page, the better the rankings it will have because those websites will transfer more SEO authority to it.
If a keyword and the page you are looking at has acquired over 20 Referring Domains in other words backlinks from 20 unique websites, find another opportunity—at least in the beginning, because it will be hard to rank for that one.
In this example, we focused on pages with fewer RD, and we found a page that has only 1 Referring Domain.
This page from Buildfire ranks on the first page of Google for important keywords, such as “facebook app install ads” and others equally promising.
The total traffic for this page isn’t groundbreaking, but there is certain popularity for these keywords. And since this page has only one direct backlink (RD), we can assume it will be easy to achieve the same (or better) rankings.
The KD column on the right tells us the Keyword Difficulty metric for these keywords. We can see that this keyword has a Keyword Difficulty score of 5, which is considered an easy keyword to rank for.
Focusing on this topic at the beginning is worthwhile.
As you strengthen the SEO authority of your website with more backlinks, you will be able to move on to more competitive keywords.
This analysis can run deeper—this is just an overview of the Top Pages function.
For instance, you can click on individual keywords and then run them through the Keyword Explorer feature. That will give you a rich analysis of a chosen phrase.
Keyword Explorer looks like this:
Here you get to the granular approach and see additional data for every keyword, including:
- search volume
- keyword difficulty
- how many backlinks you must gather to rank on page one
Useful stuff, isn’t it?
When you start checking the Top Pages of your competitors, one by one, you will quickly get a sense of their breadwinning topics.
Topics that are relevant to you, have solid search volume (popularity) and a reasonable Keyword Difficulty are your “go-to” topics.
Find them and create your golden list of keywords and topics to write about on your blog.
Other keyword research options
Using Top Pages is our favorite keyword research hack.
Of course, you can also use other approaches for keyword research. That’s the beauty of it—there is not only one right way to do it.
We’ll show you a few alternatives using the same SEO tool—Ahrefs.
Ahrefs Tool Overview
Ahrefs has a couple of main tools that, combined, make a powerful “Swiss knife” for SEO.
Site explorer is a backlinks-analysis feature, but it also shows you search performance for any website you analyze.
Besides that option, Keyword Explorer and Content Explorer features can be used for keyword research and topic ideas.
Just checking the total number of keywords a competing website ranks for will give you keyword and topic ideas, but we find that previously described page-level analysis through the Top Pages option is better for planning your strategy.
Keyword Explorer from Ahrefs is powerful, but it’s a lot like other classic keyword tools where you put in a seed keyword and get a ton of relevant keyword variations.
However, besides that familiar return, Ahrefs provides data about each keyword, namely, its:
- search volume
- ranking difficulty (KD)
- search trends
- search volume per country
- cost per click
. . . and others.
Look at the left sidebar in the image below.
Here you have various options to refine your results.
You can get keywords related to your seed keyword, phrase matches, phrases that are having the same terms and all of this can give you valuable keyword ideas.
In the SEO world, we call Google results “Search Engine Result Pages” and we use acronym SERPs when we talk about them.
So, another useful feature of Ahrefs Keyword Explorer is seeing the SERP overview with SEO data for your keyword.
Here you’ll see the top ten websites that rank for your chosen keyword with a ton of SEO data to study and learn from.
For example, the Keywords column shows you the number of keywords each of these top-ranking pages ranks for. If you analyze them, you can point your keyword research in the right direction just like we did it with the Top Pages feature.
Content Explorer for topic ideas
Easy as 1, 2, 3 . . .
Type in your keyword of choice in Content Explorer and it returns all indexed content for that phrase, sorted by your preferences.
You can sort the results by:
- publishing dates
- number of referring domains
- number of social shares
You can filter the list by languages, page status, and other criteria that allow you to trim the fat and segment the list as you need it.
Whenever you get stuck with keywords and topic ideas, Content Explorer will show you the way out. You can try out various keywords and get content ideas and angles that otherwise would never cross your mind.
Browsing top-performing content with the most social shares or the biggest number of backlinks is very educational. Looking at most shared articles and top linked pages will help you recognize which topics are popular in your industry.
Needless to say, the results you get with Content Explorer are also an amazing source of information for reading and learning about a given topic you plan to cover.
I used it while preparing this article, and I was beguiled by a few interesting articles.
Google Search Console (formerly Google Webmaster Tools)
I’d like to mention that, although often overlooked, Google Search Console can also be a useful source of keyword information.
This tool will serve you best if you already have some traffic—i.e., something to analyze.
Seeing which pages and which keywords are bringing you the most organic traffic is a good insight to have.
Another option for keyword research with Google Search Console is checking your Impressions to see the keywords for which you appeared on search engines, but haven’t gotten any website visitors.
If you don’t know which topics to cover, this data is a good source of ideas.
Sort your data by the Average Position metric, to detect keywords for which you get impressions but rank on the second page of Google.
Then, create an article to target one of these keywords, and you stand a good chance of jumping up to the first page and getting web visitors with a new article that’s more relevant for this keyword.
In the image below we can see that we are getting impressions for keywords “saas link building agency” and “link building agency for saas” but our average position is 17 and 18.8.
In other words, we are positioned on page two of Google for SaaS Link building keyword variations.
Given that we are very close to ranking on page one for these keywords, we will prioritize them and create a new blog post targeting this topic.
There are many other keyword research tools we won’t dissect here, but they deserve an honorable mention:
- Keyword Explorer by Moz
- Keyword Planner by Google Adwords
- Google Trends
Keyword research will help you find relevant, popular keywords that are not too hard to rank for on search engines.
With such a list of keywords and topics you can set up your content calendar strategically, so you don’t end up wasting time on content goals that are too hard to reach.
With keyword research tools like Ahrefs, you’ll easily realize which keywords can bring you a lot of traffic and are easy to rank for.
Next, you’ll have to write blog posts around keywords and topics that you chose in the keyword research phase.
Keyword research is a foundation for your content creation. It’s the compass for your SEO and content marketing strategy.
But is it even possible to achieve good SEO results without great content? Yes, but it’s much harder.
Content makes it easier to reach your SEO goals, and that’s why I make content a foundation of every SEO campaign.
Now that you have the list of keywords and topics ready, you can match them with different stages of the buyer’s journey.
Categorizing your content in stages will give you a better sense of its end goal and what to focus on with a specific topic.
For you to understand in which stage a keyword fits, we will first explain each of the stages of the buyer’s journey.
Stages of the Buyer’s Journey
Every customer-to-be goes through a few phases before deciding to buy something.
Therefore you need to create content for all stages of your buyer’s journey.
Your content should target one stage at a time and give the reader information tailored to that current stage.
We identify customer stages as:
- Top of the funnel
- Middle of the funnel
- Bottom of the funnel
Next, we will explain each of those stages in your customer’s journey.
Top of the Funnel (TOFU)
Here you want to cast your net wide and target a big audience.
TOFU content aims to attract relevant visitors to your website but doesn’t yet promote your product aggressively. The goal here is mostly to educate your visitors on the topics that are relevant and interesting to them.
The TOFU stage is also often called the awareness phase.
Blog posts are the most popular type of content for raising awareness. Only when the visitors come to your blog will you be able to convert them to the deeper stages of your sales funnel.
Top of the funnel content serves to educate and inform the reader, not to sell them something.
Middle of the Funnel (MOFU)
If your website visitor converted in the earlier phase, she will most likely move to the middle of the funnel stage.
The MOFU stage should also educate visitors, but it allows you to start introducing your product as one of the solutions to their problems.
Examples of MOFU content are:
- Email courses
- Ultimate guides
Your lead is a bit warmed up now, not yet ready to swipe the card but showing some positive signs if she made it here.
Bonus tip: The higher the price of your offering, the more time you’ll need to warm up your prospect.
Bottom of the Funnel (BOFU)
Now your lead has moved out of the informative stage, so BOFU focuses heavily on converting this lead to a paying customer.
Here you can present the best features of your software, show how it works and how it addresses the pain points of your visitor.
This type of content should be a natural extension of the content from the previous stages, making a well-rounded story—a sales funnel.
So, what is BOFU content?
Case studies, testimonials, webinars, product comparisons, or demos all belong to this last stage.
First, match the keywords/topics you plan to write about with their designated segment in a buyer’s journey, in other words, TOFU, MOFU, or BOFU stage.
Then, create content tailored to all 3 stages of your buyers’ journey.
Someone who is still researching and figuring out how to solve the problem is not yet aware of what solutions are available.
That person is not ready to buy.
However, you can leverage this early stage (TOFU) to make buyers be aware of you, to spike their interest and present yourself as an expert in your specific field.
Once you achieve that, entice them slowly to understand the value of your solution to their problem (BOFU) and show them it’s the right one.
Why Use Long-Form Content?
We use long-form content in our SEO processes and I advise you to do the same.
Simply, results show that longer content is performing better and is more often positioned at the top of the search engine result pages.
The following graph confirms that the top three spots are reserved for content that is about 2,000 words long.
Less competitive industries make it possible to rank with shorter and less detailed content, but our experience shows that Google prefers long-form pieces.
Longer is not always better, though—don’t kid yourself.
Yes, longer articles give you space to cover the topic better, but the length must be accompanied by quality.
We use long-form content for multiple reasons. Besides better rankings, it makes room for easier promotion—in other words, it’s easier to build direct backlinks to that content.
The length makes quality content rank better, but it also attracts more backlinks.
It’s logical: if you want some website to link to your content, your content must be interesting and provide value to their audience.
Other websites and blogs don’t care about your prices or your sales pages. However, if you cover a certain topic well and show your expertise, you are incrementally raising your chances of getting that precious backlink.
Why Content Must Be Top Quality
Low quality, useless content doesn’t achieve any of the results we’ve mentioned, no matter how long it is.
If you want to position your content high on search engines, you need to create quality stuff.
Picture this: you did it, you wrote something, you got the backlinks, you achieved great rankings, and now people are visiting that page and reading what you wrote.
However, those readers are not amazed, so your successful content marketing leaves a bad impression, depicting you as a mediocre company.
Quickly, the reader leaves your website and forgets about you. The worst case is that she remembers you as that company with lousy articles.
You won’t convert readers into leads or buyers if they don’t like what they read.
You’ll please both humans and technology that assess your website if you write good stuff.
Google also tracks user metrics, determines how satisfied the visitor is with your content, and ranks you based on these insights.
If someone clicks on your page and reverts quickly back to search results, ending up reading something else, this tells Google that you didn’t meet the expectations which sends them a signal not to rank you high on the SERPs (Search Engine Result Pages).
When you take these user metrics into account, then you can understand how much content quality actually matters. It’s a ranking factor—and it’s hard to get mediocre articles to rank.
Here’s another point of view.
When we promote content and build backlinks through blogger outreach, we can only link to quality content. The number of backlinks we get depends on the quality and the visual appearance of the content we are promoting.
Mindset to Succeed with Content
I used to have a mental (writer’s) block.
My perfectionism stretched so far that it blocked me from creating any content. Then, some things helped me to get over it and develop a positive mindset for successful content creation.
One of the critical revelations is that the content creation process can be split into smaller steps. It’s helpful to use a tiered process, so you can focus on just one phase of content creation at a time.
Content creation isn’t just writing, it’s a holistic process.
When creating content, the first phase is preparation or content planning.
The second phase is writing an UGLY draft. Writer Ann Handley calls this TUFD—The Ugly First Draft.
This “permission” to write something imperfect counteracts my perfectionism successfully.
Before, my attitude toward writing was “If it’s not perfect, don’t bother writing it.” It’s hard to avoid thinking this way when you NEED both long-form and quality content if you want to rank high on search engines.
However, now I realize that it’s a process and that the first version should be “ugly”; that way, I am not focused on the form, but on sharing the knowledge.
So, after you write your “The Ugly First Draft”, the next phase is rewriting that first draft, and then you can move on to the final edits. It’s best that someone else does the final edits, someone who is not as attached to the content as you are; she will detect some issues you missed.
Content creation is a process of multiple steps and try to accept it as such. Don’t skip steps; stick to the process, focus on one thing at a time and writing will become a lot easier.
Isn’t everything easier when it’s granular?
Word by word, paragraph by paragraph, and you can create a blog post.
Article by article, your content will accumulate, and that compound effect will start bringing results.
Now that you have this amazing content, the best results come when you promote that content you created and when you get other websites linking to it.
3. Content Promotion With Link Building
The goal of SEO is to increase the number of visitors a website or specific web pages get from search engines.
With the right strategy and promotion, you can direct visitors where you want them, in other words, to your sales funnel.
So, why is it important to promote your content?
You can write the best content ever, but if no one sees it, it will be useless.
You can’t just publish articles and wait for miracles to happen.
“If you build it, they will come” just doesn’t work anymore.
Google is putting massive efforts into rewarding great content, so great content is absolutely vital to your website. But there are just too many fish in the “content sea”, and even Google needs help in determining who will rank higher.
That’s where incoming backlinks to your website step in. The amount and quality of backlinks are still some of the most important ranking factors on search engines.
It’s important that you get as many eyes as you can on your content. But promoting content with a goal to acquire backlinks will make that content rank better on search engines and attract even more readers.
Even if your content goes viral, it’s just a short-term spike in traffic. But if your content ranks high on search engines for many relevant keywords, it will continually get visitors. And if you do it right, traffic will only grow over time.
Writing the content is just half the job in getting great SEO results for your SaaS—the rest is promoting it and building backlinks that point to this content.
Importance of Direct Backlinks Toward Your Content
Google evaluates your whole domain when determining its SEO authority.
Amazon is a good example of that.
It has two million referring domains, making it one of the strongest domains on the Internet.
When you search for products to buy on Google, you’ll often end up on one of Amazon’s pages because they rank very high. But if you analyze that specific page with SEO tools, you’ll often see that it doesn’t have any backlinks pointing to it.
But Amazon is an exception, who has a domain with two million backlinks?
The rest of us who cannot achieve Amazon’s level need to pay attention to the number of referring domains (backlinks) on a page level.
That’s much harder because you must promote and get backlinks to every page you wish to rank well.
Conversely, it’s also simple.
If you want to rank a page for a keyword it’s targeting, you can achieve that by building direct backlinks that point to this page.
Direct backlinks are often the missing link.
When I analyze SaaS companies and their backlink profiles, that becomes evident.
They will often do a bit of PR and create a buzz in the tech community if the startup is interesting, so various online publications will link to them. It’s not uncommon for SaaS websites to have one or two thousand referring domains (backlinks).
The problem is, those backlinks are often not pointing to ideal pages. In most cases, backlinks will be pointing to the homepage, but blog posts won’t have any backlinks.
As mentioned before, SaaS businesses understand the value of content for their business model, so they mostly have a blog where they publish articles. But when we take a closer look, we realize that content isn’t promoted properly and doesn’t have any direct backlinks.
It’s shocking to see that the majority of SaaS companies don’t understand that.
I see a huge opportunity for SaaS companies that do understand this concept and start uniting content creation with content promotion.
This strategy is ten times more effective when the two are implemented together than when they are done separately in a silo.
To sum up, the formula to succeed in SEO with content is:
If we dare to complicate this formula a bit more, we can also add TIME as the fourth factor because the average age of top-ranking content on Google is two years.
So, even if your content is not a “toddler” yet, you’ll reach your goals if you systematically keep doing the three things in our success formula. Just be patient and give it enough time. It’s not that hard.
Let’s look at the situation for the keyword “inbound marketing.”
The inbound and content marketing champion, HubSpot, takes first place.
Yes, their Domain Rating (or Domain Authority) is very strong and their content is high-quality, but you can also see that their page on inbound marketing has 3,063 Referring Domains. As we mentioned above, that means 3,063 websites are linking to this article.
Remember that things are not black or white. Just having a bigger number of backlinks doesn’t automatically push you to the first page; there are 200 factors that Google takes into account when ranking websites.
For example, Wikipedia is in fifth place with about 1,000 Referring Domains, and it still ranks lower than a few other examples with fewer RDs, so this SEO is not exact math.
Nevertheless, the number of incoming backlinks is one of the most important factors for good rankings for a specific page.
For this keyword, a page with the most backlinks is ranking #1 and all other page one results have websites linking to them.
So, if you want your content to jump to page one of Google and get more visitors, you need to get other websites linking to it.
This link building process can be achieved in different ways and in the rest of this article, we’ll explain some ways you can do that.
Getting Backlinks through Guest Blogging
There has been a lot of controversy around guest blogging for backlinks, and people claim that the method is not efficient anymore.
Even Google said it.
But, from the experience of my agency and others, I see that this method is still highly successful and useful. One big difference is that it should be done well.
A few years ago, you could rank on Google with lousy content and just by building low-quality backlinks. Now, that is hardly possible.
However, if you write quality guest articles, publish them on high-quality industry blogs, and link back contextually to useful content on your blog, then it works really well.
Since this approach works only if a certain level of quality is met, be careful when scaling your efforts. If you notice that the quality is declining, it’s time to slow down and refocus on quality.
I’ll share a few tips to help you kickstart your content promotion and link building process.
How to Find Blogs for Guest Blogging
So we can get backlinks with guest blogging, but how to find the blogs that will publish your content?
The process of looking for suitable blogs for link building is something we in the SEO industry call “link prospecting”. The goal is to find blogs that would be interested in publishing your content on their blog. This content has to be unique and custom made for them.
You can find them in a few ways. One way is to find blogs that have featured guest authors before or have a page with writing guidelines for those willing to create content for them.
This is not the only way to become a guest blogger and get links to your website. Don’t ignore websites that don’t have a “write for us” page; they will often accept your content if it offers value and is relevant to their audience.
One of the most important things in guest blogging is to get a grasp of where you are in this process.
If you are just starting, it would be smart to focus on less popular blogs until you:
- get into the habit
- better understand what bloggers look for
- gain credibility as a writer
Getting a few early wins will help you better understand the process.
With experience, you can slowly raise the bar and target stronger blogs where your efforts will have a stronger ROI.
Keyword Queries Method to Find Write-for-Us Blogs
Doing Google search with search operators is one of the oldest and more popular methods for discovering new blogs for guest blogging. They give you more precise results than the standard search.
This method is popular because it’s reliable. You’ll find many results. I’ll explain how to vet your results later; for now, let’s stay focused on finding them.
You need two pieces of information to prospect websites this way:
- A keyword
- A query
The keyword needs to be relevant to the topic you wish to write about or the niche you are after, and you need to type your keyword together with a search query in Google’s search bar.
It looks something like this:
Your keyword is a dynamic part and you can rotate as many variations as you wish while using the same query.
Queries are also changeable, and here are some other queries you can try:
- [keyword] + “guest post opportunities”
- [keyword] + “guest post guidelines”
- [keyword] + “guest blog submission”
- [keyword] + “guest column”
- [keyword] + “contribute to our site”
Typing these search queries in Google search will give you a lot of results. Your job is to go through them and look for blogs that might seem a good fit. When you find good blogs, you should add them to your list.
We use Google sheets for that, but whatever you use, you need to have a strategy to systematically track your efforts.
Choosing the Right Keyword for Prospecting and How to Track Progress
It’s quite important to pick the right keyword to use with these queries.
When you use different keywords, you can significantly increase the number of websites you find that can be leveraged for guest blogging. One common mistake that many people make is using only broad, one-word keywords in your niche.
You should also target other keyword variations, as well as long-tail keywords.
First, we brainstorm and come up with a list of keywords related to a certain industry or niche. Then, we start prospecting using those search queries and the most promising keywords.
The first two pages will tell you whether the keyword is good or shows just irrelevant results. If you don’t like what you see, skip that keyword and try the next one.
When it looks good, leverage all available pages for that “keyword + query” combo.
Keep going as long as your results are relevant.
Targeting long-tail keywords (more than two words) is especially useful when just developing your guest-posting campaign.
Because prospecting with generic keywords such as marketing gives you only strong websites, as only the strongest will rank for such generic keywords.
It’s unlikely you’ll have access to those websites in the beginning.
You want to reach mid-level blogs, and that’s why you need to use diverse keywords.
If you don’t know how to get to more long-tail keyword ideas, use Google Suggest. Just type in your seed keyword in Google, and you’ll get more relevant ideas and variations.
One important thing about prospecting is data hygiene.
You must track your prospecting efforts. You’ll go through many queries and keywords, and you don’t want to get lost or be unable to pick up where you left off.
We track our link prospecting neatly so we never get stuck in a hamster wheel and waste time reviewing the same websites all over again.
After reviewing them our prospector adds the “good websites” to the main database. Once the keyword is used to find websites, it is never used again.
The best way to track your prospecting progress is by simply writing down the query + keyword combination you have used and then writing down the number of search engine pages you reviewed for that query.
- G – stands for Google pages
- B – for Bing pages
- D – for Duck Duck Go pages
The number by each letter marks the number of search engine pages we have already reviewed to find good blog targets for guest blogging.
You can prospect on all three search engines because none has the same algorithm nor shows the same results.
Track your link prospecting properly and avoid going over the same query and keyword combinations multiple times. It’s a mistake we made, and it has wasted too much of our time and resources.
Ahrefs Content Explorer Method
You can also use Ahrefs’ Content Explorer to find suitable websites for guest blogging. This tool is also a kind of search engine, discovering blogs for the keyword you enter.
Just type in a niche keyword that is relevant to you and you will get a list of blogs that have written about that topic.
When using Content Explorer you can avoid repetitive search results by checking the option One Page Per Domain.
That’s a very useful trick, as you don’t want your results to have 10 articles from one website—you want 10 different websites to which you can reach out.
You can also turn on the Domain Rating (DR) filter and remove too-strong or too-weak websites from your results. Ideally, look for websites with DR 15+, but don’t go too high, either.
Ahrefs Content Explorer will find you many blogs that cover the topic you are after, but you will not get the same results as when manually prospecting with the search queries as I explained.
Blogs discovered with Ahrefs will often not have those clear writer’s guidelines and “write-for-us” pages.
Is it worth focusing on those websites for guest posting?
Many of them will collaborate with you if they see you as a quality author and someone they want to feature on their website. Even those that say they don’t accept guest posts will sometimes accept your pitch if they think you have valuable information to share with their blog audience
Yes, acceptance rates will be lower, but you shouldn’t ignore these blogs and miss out on many good backlink opportunities.
Combine these two prospecting methods, and you’ll have the best of both worlds and a plethora of relevant blogs to contact. Of course, it’s also critical to have some standards and focus on quality blogs.
Qualifying Prospected Blogs
So now you have a list of blogs. The next step is to figure out which ones make sense to reach out to.
We have a sort of assembly line for that.
First, our prospector lightly qualifies the websites she discovered with different search queries.
Secondly, we put qualified websites in our master spreadsheet (database).
Then, the outreacher picks a batch of websites to contact and does a final qualification.
Having a database of all blogs in one place makes it possible for us to keep detailed records of any requirements and track history we have with those blogs.
When a prospector goes through websites before she adds them to the main database, she checks the following criteria:
- Is the website still live?
- Was the blog active in the last 12 months?
- Is the blog authentic? (Does it have “about us” page, contact page, social presence etc.?)
- Is it a part of a private blog network?
- Are the links followed?
If the website didn’t publish anything on their blog within the last year, there’s less chance they will publish our article. We sometimes reach out even to those blogs because people get too busy to post articles regularly and they can benefit from fresh content relevant to their audience.
However, if nothing has been published since 2015, then this is a neglected blog and you should definitely skip it.
We also skip private blog networks (PBNs). They are fake blogs that are only made to manipulate Google results with backlinks.
Such blogs often have bad designs and use over-optimized, very commercial anchor texts when linking to other websites. They also don’t have any social following and have useless, poorly written content.
Here’s an example of an over-optimized anchor text.
Textual backlinks also have to be marked “do-follow” (DF) to pass any SEO authority. If all hyperlinks in articles are marked “no-follow” (NF), we will not reach out to those blogs, as they will not have any SEO effect.
You can use a No-Follow Chrome extension that marks all No-Follow links in red, like in the image below.
After this basic qualification, when the outreacher starts pulling websites out of the database for a project, she checks the notes and qualifiers such as:
- Is the blog topically relevant to the content we are promoting?
- Can we first pitch topic ideas, or do they prefer a direct article submission?
A lot of blogs switched to the “direct submit” option, probably with the aim of streamlining this process. They will accept you as a guest blogger, but you don’t have to run a few topics and ideas by them—just write the article and submit it for review.
That can be a bit problematic, as the success rate is often lower with these “direct submit” blogs, and the turnaround time is longer.
When you first contact the blog editor directly through email and get a green light for writing a proposed article, chances are much higher your blog post will eventually get published on their blog.
Submitting an article via form is more automated and because of that it doesn’t help in relationship building, so the other side will not be as inclined to post your content.
On the other hand, if you have reached out to them through email first, and you have exchanged a couple of messages, you have already built some relationship with them, which makes them trust you more.
This increases success rates with guest blogging which is why we prefer to first contact them through email.
We use direct submits as well—they can sometimes pleasantly surprise you, but we still prefer to reach out through email first.
In both cases, we write unique quality articles exclusively for each specific blog. We don’t spam them with duplicated content or generic articles.
Unique quality content is the value you provide the bloggers with this process, never forget that!
Blog authenticity is tied to those PBNs we mentioned. Signals that scream authenticity are quality content, social following, “about us” page, “contact us” page.
Basically, we try to figure out whether there is a real person behind that blog. If so, we think of that blog as authentic and a good target for our outreach.
The topical relevance and authenticity are the most important criteria for us.
Once you have a list of prospects, you can reach out to them and offer to write an article on their blog as a guest author.
Email is the best way to do that but keep in mind that writing a great cold email is a science and art in one.
To streamline sending personalized emails at scale, we currently use Buzzstream as an outreach platform.
It’s a great tool but there are many other good tools for cold outreach; some of them are:
- Ninja outreach
You can also send emails directly from Gmail, of course, and if that’s your go-to method, then leverage the canned-response option in the Gmail settings and automate your outreach efforts a bit.
How to send cold emails
I’ll cover some essentials on how to write and send cold emails.
Keep them short.
Don’t send too-long emails.
People don’t have time to read your essay. Most of them will check their email on the smartphone, trying to go through the pile of other emails as quickly as possible. If your email is too long they probably won’t even bother reading it.
Make them clear.
Your message needs to be clear. That implies perfect grammar (you are a guest writer, pitching to write an awesome article for them), but most importantly, your wording needs to be simple and straightforward.
Just imagine you are talking to an eight-year-old. 🙂
Our attention spans are declining. The shorter the attention span, the less energy we can put into deciphering someone’s emails. So, keep it simple, keep it clear, and avoid jargon or any heavy words.
Format your email nicely.
This rule applies to any content, so follow it when composing your outreach emails as well. Don’t write a wall of text; press that Enter key every once in a while.
Ideally, you’ll have some structure in mind. We start with a personalized introduction, followed by a value proposition (i.e., our topic pitch), and we end with a call to action.
When you organize your email like that, it will be easier to write it because you will know exactly what goes where.
Also, don’t use HTML; switch to plain-text emails, like the ones you send to your colleague.
Cold outreach that converts best is one-on-one communication, not broadcasting your message to everyone.
It’s like talking to a friend.
You wouldn’t send an email with a fancy, branded design to a friend, would you? Don’t do it here, either. You are reaching out from the perspective of an acquaintance.
How To Personalize Emails
We see email personalization as the most important thing in cold email outreach.
It’s ok to use a template to start writing the email easier but DO NOT send templatized emails.
In fact, use them ONLY as a framework that you will customize to each recipient.
With email personalization, you achieve a few vital things:
1. Tighter connection with bloggers: Personalization means you are writing this email only for them, so the person on the other end feels like you’ve reached out only to her, not to a hundred others as well.
2. Better deliverability: Google and other email tools can detect mass emailing, and they hate it. Simply, they consider bulk-email sending as spam, and your delivery rates will decline if you keep sending the same template over and over again.
If you rewrite them to make each email unique, there’s less chance you’ll be flagged as a mass mailer.
3. Better results: Overall, your results will improve. You will create warmer relationships with bloggers, achieving higher response rates.
In my agency’s experience, when we started personalizing emails, we got warmer replies, even when editors didn’t like our topics and articles. Someone that likes you will give you feedback about what you should improve, or what other topics to pitch.
If you send the same email template they received many times, you probably won’t get a response, or it will say, “Take me off your list.”
Our emails are often praised by bloggers; one of them even said he would list our cold email as a great example in his book.
You need to put yourself in the position of these bloggers. Guest blogging is highly popular today and everybody’s pitching and looking for a piece of the pie.
That means blogs are getting a ton of guest post pitches.
Most of those pitches really suck, so bloggers have certain blindness for those emails, or even maintain hate relationships.
One critical difference is personalization. It sets you apart from the crowd and makes your offer great in the editor’s eyes.
See for yourself:
In this example, the editor thanked me for taking the time to write such a nice email and told me how this brightened his day.
So it’s definitely important to personalize your cold emails.
But also, you have to do this fast enough to send enough emails.
We do it by having a set framework that makes personalization easier and minimizes decision making. We also have a set amount of time we can spend on each website while checking it and personalizing the email for that site. It’s ten minutes.
Everything over ten minutes has a diminishing return and doesn’t yield any added value.
Our philosophy in personalizing is going the extra mile.
While others just say “Hey, I liked your blog post XYZ,” we invest some effort and actually READ (ok, skim) some of the articles on the target blog, so we can also offer THE WHY.
We say what we liked, and WHY we liked it.
You can write a short commentary in two or three sentences, explaining why you liked their article.
This is enough to show them you took the time to learn more about them and that your words have some merit. That will often be a success differentiator.
Play with your personalization a bit—give yourself some freedom and be creative. Our creative experiments have led to best practices that we now use as standard procedure.
Covering The Outreach Basics
The key to good outreach is to focus on the basics.
If you have any insight into what kind of pitches bloggers receive, that’s great, because you can often see patterns on how not to do cold email outreach.
Detect the bad things they are doing and you will know what you shouldn’t do. I’m frustrated when people reaching out to me don’t even cover the basics of a decent pitch, which are:
- Using my name or at least my company’s name in the greeting
- Pitching a topic RELEVANT to my niche and audience
- Pitching one topic that presents them as an expert in this topic and where they can show their passion. Don’t pitch 3, 5, or 8 topics (we even got emails with a list of 8+ topics) because that’s absurd.
- Triple checking the email copy. Every piece of content goes through different stages, and email writing should too.
First, make “The Ugly First Draft”, then revise it, then do a final check before you hit that Send button. The final check is a very important step.
And, if you really have to pitch multiple topics, pitch three different ones, not one topic with three different titles.
Other Outreach Methods for Link Building
Guest posting is one very scalable method, and it’s especially useful for getting backlinks to the content when you are just starting to promote it.
But there are other methods for acquiring backlinks to your content.
All good link-building methods are based on outreach.
So, if you have learned the outreach basics, you should be able to apply the majority of guest-blogging best practices to the other link building methods.
Link Requests (LR)
Link requests are a simple method to grasp, but hard to implement.
Here, you are reaching out to other blogs and websites, and asking them to link to your content.
Main ingredients for link requests are:
- An amazing linkbait guide. You must have top-notch, interesting content if you want others to be interested in linking to it. Focus on rich, in-depth content because that will help you to leave a better impression. Here, you also must have great formatting.
- Good, personalized email. We covered the basics; your email needs to be good for your request even to be considered.
- The right prospects. You can’t send an email to the food-recipe blog asking for a link to a software development guide. You need to sort your prospects. One way of finding the right websites for this LR method is by looking for blogs and websites that wrote, shared, or linked to topically similar content because someone that linked to similar content might be willing to do the same again.
When you have great content and the right list of prospects, the only thing remaining is to reach out to them and ask them to link back to your content. Don’t expect a high success rate, though.
Link requests are hard work and a numbers game. You need to send a lot of emails to get good links.
Broken Link Building
Broken link building is a twist to the link request method. The goal is the same—you reach out to blogs or websites asking them to link to your content, but the way you do it is a bit different.
Here, you first need to find websites that are linking to some dead pages or websites.
Then, you will send an email and point out that they are linking to a dead page. That shows some goodwill—you are helping them to correct that mistake.
The next thing, you will “spontaneously” mention your own content and say that they can link to that instead if they want.
Ideally, the topic will be the same, but if not, this method can work as long as both you and your target website are in the same niche and cover similar topics.
Making the webmasters aware of the broken link is your foot in the door, and your ask about replacing an invalid link with the link to your content is a side thing. Wrap it nicely and you’ll get your backlinks.
There are different ways to find pages with broken backlinks, but using the Content Explorer from Ahrefs is the simplest one.
Just type your keyword in the search bar and set filters to show only broken pages.
Now you can reach out to those blogs and tell them they have a dead page.
Even better, you can check THEIR backlinks, and then email all those that linked to that dead page.
The above example from Hootsuite shows a dead page on content marketing with 191 referring domains. When you click on the referring domains field, you’ll get a list of those websites that link to this dead page.
You could reach out to most of those 191 websites and tell them to link to your article on content marketing instead!
You’d have to first qualify every one of them to see whether you’d want them to link to you before you start the outreach campaign.
It’s a time-intensive job, but that’s the reality of quality SEO. Prospecting, outreach, negotiating with editors, all take time, just to get a link or two from the hundred emails you send.
But, that’s how you get good link building results. One good link at a time.
I love the ego-bait method; it’s very simple, although it’s also time-consuming.
The principle is this: you write something and link to other useful resources from your content. Then, you send emails to those websites telling them that you linked to their content and asking them to share, or even maybe link back to it.
The concept is simple but searching for relevant resources to which you will link isn’t.
When you reach out to those blogs, personalize your emails again; be casual and act friendly. Ask them if they want to link back to you but never demand it.
Fun fact: Neil Patel himself used this approach to link to one of our articles.
Infographics—or better, guestographics—present the approach in which you create an infographic for a certain theme and then reach out to blogs writing about that theme, asking whether they want to enrich their article with your graphic.
The way you get a link to your website is by just asking them to sign you as an image source.
If they don’t have content on that topic, you offer to write an introduction for the infographic, in which case that blog gets a short article similar to a guest post, along with an awesome visual that you made. Thus, this twist is called “guestographics.”
Again, you must have something well designed and interesting in order for this to work, so having a good designer at hand is a must for this method.
As you can see, today everything in marketing revolves around content.
Content is what you promote to build backlinks, but content is also what you offer to others to build backlinks.
Other Promotion Methods
If you create superb content (a base for modern SEO), you can also promote it with other methods just to get more eyes on it. The more people see your content, the higher the chances that it will also earn some backlinks naturally.
Facebook ads are one good choice for promoting your content. You don’t have to pour too much money into it; you can start with $50 per post. If you are creating great articles but publishing less often, try to use up to $500 on promotion with Facebook ads.
When content is good and you have set up your ad targeting well, Facebook promotion can even earn you a few natural backlinks—which is, of course, a great thing.
SEO and content marketing take time.
Nothing we have mentioned brings results overnight. Google simply works like that and it will not immediately send a ton of traffic to some new, unknown website.
If you have good content and you get some backlinks, Google A/B tests you by checking your user metrics to see whether your visitors are happy with your pages as search engine results. If your content is good, Google will gradually bump its positions on search engines.
Although our SEO Trifecta includes Keyword Research + Long-Form Content + Direct Backlinks, there’s one element missing: TIME.
All these efforts combined with time and domain aging are what produces results.
You also need to have the right mindset to succeed with SEO and content marketing.
My experience shows that most companies fail at SEO because the management doesn’t understand it and thus doesn’t believe in it.
For SaaS websites, technical SEO is not as important. The majority of SaaS businesses have relatively simple websites with a homepage, features pages, and a content section, usually a blog.
Some basics should be covered, but deeper technical SEO details are more important to bigger websites like eCommerce, where 1% improvement x 100,000 products equals huge change.
SaaS companies need to pay more attention to content marketing because it has the potential to bring amazing results. My advice to all SaaS companies is to include content marketing in their SEO strategies.
In sum, to achieve results with search engine optimization for your SaaS, you must combine the following three things:
- 1. Keyword research: Target topics to cover based on your keyword research, where you look for a popular keyword that is not too hard to rank for and has a favorable search intent.
- 2. Long-form content: For that keyword, you should write great web content that is valuable to the people interested in the topic. You need content worthy of backlinks, worthy of rankings, and worthy of readers.
- 3. Direct backlinks: Promote the content you created and build backlinks that point to that content. To promote it for better SEO results, it’s important to attract quality backlinks from other websites.
Separately, none of these things will get you the results you want, but combine them into a meaningful strategy as I described, and you will become one of those SaaS companies that leverages SEO for hypergrowth.
If you want us to implement this strategy for your SaaS, send us an email.