SEO is dead.
That’s the claim we’ve been hearing for many years now but, in reality, data proves the opposite.
Especially in the SaaS industry that we specialize in, we see more and more cases of companies for which SEO works, and with relatively low CACs (Customer Acquisition Costs) too.
However, in order for this channel to work in this highly competitive market, companies often need to take a step back and re-evaluate their strategies and processes.
One of those processes is keyword research.
With organic search still being a part of a customer’s lifecycle journey, SaaS companies need to not only keep up with what’s happening but also find ways to differentiate themselves in highly saturated markets.
This is what we’ll cover coming up, starting with the basic keyword types you should know.
Keyword Types for SaaS Companies
For a SaaS company to effectively perform keyword research, it should be aware of the different types of keywords.
After all, they’ll heavily influence your research’s outcome, and knowing what category a keyword falls in—and the intent behind it—is vital.
Type #1: Errors
The first type is errors.
This doesn’t apply to all SaaS companies but if you’re a WordPress plugin, for instance, then talking about potential WordPress errors can be really valuable for users.
An example of this type of keyword is “safari can’t establish a secure connection”.
But, of course, this can cover a wide range of platforms and issues, depending on the occasion.
Nevertheless, being there to solve your users’ technical issues can be really valuable to them, despite a keyword not having a high search volume.
A few search intent modifiers for this type of keyword are the following:
- Isn’t loading
These can be used in combination with your website’s name to find the keywords.
You can find the complete list of all search intent modifiers, for every keyword type, by downloading a copy of our list.
Type #2: Informational
Informational keywords are a common type and refer to terms that aim to satisfy the informational search intent.
In other words, they provide information about a certain topic and usually cover a funnel’s top stage.
One of the many examples of such keywords would be “how to create an online course”, since it aims to provide general information about creating a course in the form of a guide.
Some of this type’s most prominent search intent modifiers include:
- Beginner’s guide
As well as many more.
Type #3: Commercial – Tier A & Tier B
Another type that many SaaS companies use is commercial keywords.
These refer to terms that indicate a searcher is conducting a commercial investigation about something and can drive conversions when taken advantage of in the right way.
However, a common mistake many SaaS companies make is that they put all commercial keywords in the same bucket.
What we mean by this is that the two following keywords are both commercial:
- Live streaming platforms
- Asana vs. Monday
However, a person searching for the first one (Tier A) doesn’t know what the best live streaming platforms are (such as Uscreen or Dacast), so they are at an earlier stage in their lifecycle journey.
On the other hand, someone searching for the second keyword (Tier B) is at a later stage of their lifecycle journey since they’re already aware of those solutions and might even be looking to switch from the one they’re currently using.
For Commercial Tier A keywords, some prominent search intent modifiers include:
While for Commercial Tier B keywords, some modifiers are the following:
Let’s continue to the next type.
Type #4: Integrations
Nowadays, almost every tool needs to be able to integrate with others (such as Zapier), so covering various integrations in your content can prove to be very valuable to your audience.
The keyword example we have here is “shopify to quickbooks”, and as we can see in the following SERP, it has been covered quite a bit by Quickbooks, Shopify, and other websites.
Therefore, if your SaaS is able to integrate with other tools, then covering those integrations through your content is a must.
Type #5: Navigational
The next type we need to mention is navigational keywords, which are keywords with navigational intent.
In other words: This indicates the need of finding specific information about a certain business online.
The example we have here is “hubspot academy” because it indicates that the searcher is looking for something specific from Hubspot’s website.
A few of this type’s most common modifiers are:
- App store
- Customer service
All of these show that the user is searching for something particular about a company or person.
Type #6: Transactional
Next up, we have keywords that we call transactional.
Similarly to before, it indicates that the searcher is looking for something specific on a website, but this time the intent also has a monetary value.
For example, “clearscope pricing” indicates that the searcher is looking for the cost of using Clearscope, meaning that they’re ready to conduct an action with monetary value.
Other modifiers of this type include:
As well as many more.
Type #7: Job to be done
Another keyword type is what we call here at Minuttia, job to be done (JTBD).
The intent here is to get a very specific job done, instead of simply getting information about something.
For example, “business proposal templates” clearly indicates the searcher’s need to find templates for business proposals.
Other times, a person might search for:
And much more, which you can once again find in our search intent modifiers list.
Type #8: Linkable assets
Last but not least, we have what we call linkable assets.
These refer to types of keywords that are designed in a certain way, so they attract online attention and backlinks more easily.
Keywords that cover the below, and more, are usually more easily referenced in pieces of content:
All in all, these are the main keyword types you should keep in mind when creating content as a SaaS company.
However, we must take a step back and examine where these keywords fit into what we call keyword strategy dimensions.
Let’s have a look.
Keyword Strategy Dimensions
In our opinion, there are four strategy dimensions each keyword should fit into.
Of course, depending on the dimension, a SaaS company should know when and how to take advantage of each keyword.
Let’s dive deeper into them, starting with the first one.
Dimension #1: Company stage
Typically, there are three main company stages that keywords can fit into:
- Early stage
- Product-market fit
- Growth stage
Based on our experience, although it can vary on a case-by-case basis, companies shouldn’t care as much about SEO in their early stages of existence.
There are other channels that can provide faster and more immediate results.
The moment they should start caring about SEO is when they reach their product-market fit stage (PMF) because that’s the point at which they know:
- What types of errors their users would search for
- What topics they should write about
- The best use cases and features of the product
- The best and most direct competitors (for pages with commercial intent)
- Opportunities for integration pages
And of course, since we mentioned use cases, pages with job-to-be-done intent.
If we take this a step further and talk about companies that are in their growth stage (and beyond), their keyword strategy should include all the types we just covered, as well as pages with navigational and transactional intent, considering their brand is getting stronger and people are searching for specific things about it.
Needless to mention, pages with job-to-be-done intent and linkable assets!
Let’s move forward with the next dimension.
Dimension #2: Competition
Competition is another factor companies should take into consideration when creating their keyword strategy.
In fact, for the most part, competition is keyword-type and category specific.
In the SaaS industry, we notice that most categories have heavy competition, particularly for keywords with commercial intent.
When it comes to alternative keywords, for instance, the competition is obviously higher.
According to a data study on alternative keywords we conducted last year, we found that the top 10 websites with visibility for 102 alternative keywords are review sites and in some cases affiliate websites.
We also did a study on software keywords, such as “presentation software”.
Unsurprisingly, we noticed that these keywords have a high KD, which—although isn’t a perfect metric—gives us a good indication that there is a lot of competition out there.
As a SaaS company, you need to accept that there’s heavy competition in most categories and in many cases from websites like G2 and Capterra, which are hard to compete against.
Dimension #3: Keyword strategy objectives
The third dimension is keyword strategy objectives.
Although we could bring various objectives to the table, for the sake of simplicity, let’s accept that the main objectives are:
- To increase brand value
- To generate revenue
- To build topical authority
- To amplify pages
- To create pages that support your product
But, how does each keyword type contribute to those objectives?
First of all, when it comes to increasing brand value, we would say that all types apart from commercial keywords can contribute to this.
However, when it comes to revenue generation, commercial keywords can play a key role, considering that their main goal is to drive leads, sign-ups, and so on.
Other types that can help here are errors, integrations, as well as transactional and job-to-be-done keywords.
Regarding topical authority, even though it’s case specific, for the most part, we’re talking about content so the below can all contribute to building topical authority for your website:
- Informational content
- Commercial content
- Job to be done
- Linkable assets
Last but not least, when it comes to amplification, this is something many companies out there still do the wrong way.
This is because the only two types that can help you amplify your pages in terms of link building and social media sharing, for example, are job-to-be-done (templates, checklists, etc.) and linkable assets.
And that’s because they offer something unique and valuable that people are actually interested in sharing, linking back to, or using to perform another type of action.
But what about product support?
We would say that this is case specific.
A great example is the following page by G2…
Image Source: G2
This is a group of pages tightly related to the product’s capabilities so it obviously supports the product (clear commercial search intent page).
Another example is from Vervoe where the intent is job-to-be-done, and the page is clearly related to the product’s capabilities since it helps candidates with different assessment tests.
Image Source: Vervoe
Last but not least, we have a great example from Lusha, where the intent is slightly mixed.
Image Source: Lusha
The page aims to provide information for companies that people may be looking for online (email, tel. number, etc.), and it once again showcases the product’s capabilities.
What we must emphasize is that when we say an objective is case-specific, it is whether a keyword (and as an extension the page) meets the objective of supporting the product, depending on the product and case.
Let’s continue to the fourth and last dimension.
Dimension #4: Lifecycle stage
The last dimension on our list is the lifecycle stage.
First of all, we should keep in mind that a customer’s journey is by no means linear or as ideal as we would like it to be. Here’s what an ideal scenario looks like.
When it comes to the acquisition stage, let’s assume that:
- A user searches for “what is live streaming” on Google and they end up reading a blog post by Uscreen on this very topic.
- A few weeks later, the same user now understands what live streaming is and searches for “how to put a live stream on your website”. Once again they end up at a blog post by Uscreen.
At this stage, the user has acknowledged the problem and is using a search engine like Google to find a solution for this.
The user has also understood that the way to put a live stream on your website is through a live-streaming platform. Therefore, the journey continues:
- A few weeks later the user searches for “live streaming platforms” on Google. Even though Uscreen’s result isn’t first, they click on it because they’ve interacted with Uscreen’s website in the recent past and are familiar with it.
- After some days, the user searches for “Uscreen reviews” because they know about Uscreen, but they are not quite convinced yet that it’s the best solution for them, so they search for reviews.
- After being convinced that Uscreen is a good fit for them, they search for “Uscreen demo” in order to book a demo with one of the company’s sales reps.
So far, it’s clear that this is an ideal lifecycle journey.
However, as we mentioned, the journey is not linear, and this leads us to say that you have to be omnipresent in all these different stages.
Having said that, it’s important to understand where the keyword types that we saw earlier fit into these lifecycle stages.
When a user is:
- Unaware: pages with information search intent are ideal to educate them.
- Problem aware: informational and job-to-be-done pages are ideal.
- Solution aware: as we saw earlier with the example of live streaming platforms, Commercial Tier A pages are a great fit.
- Product aware: users are now searching for something more specific about the tool or even comparing it with another tool (Commercial Tier B).
- Most aware: users are certain that they’ve found what they’re looking for so navigational and transactional keywords are ideal at this stage.
Now that we’ve covered the main keyword types for SaaS companies and what dimensions they should take into account regarding their strategy, let’s see what the keyword research process looks like.
Step-by-Step Keyword Research Process
While keyword research processes tend to vary, in our opinion they should be divided into four steps.
For the sake of example, let’s assume that we’re an online proofing software company that design companies, creative studios, and web development companies use to collaborate on their work with each other and with their clients.
Let’s have a closer look at the steps one-by-one.
Step #1: List of seed, semantic, and branded terms
The first step is—or should be—to make a list of all your seed, semantic, and branded terms.
In our example, when it comes to seed terms we could have:
Just to name a few.
Now let’s take things a step further and talk about semantic terms:
And many more, which we want to be as close to the product as possible, but at the same time we want them to resonate with our audience.
Regarding branded terms, we’ll split them into two categories.
The first category includes terms that could be leveraged and be a part of our target audience’s daily professional life, such as:
- Adobe XD
At the same time, for our second category, we need to make a list of branded terms from our direct and indirect competitors like:
And so on and so forth.
Now that we have a list of all the terms we’re interested in, let’s continue to the next step.
Step #2: List of competitors
The second step is to make a list of our:
- Organic search competitors (websites whose search audience overlaps with ours).
- Business competitors (all direct and indirect competitors).
Search competitors are particularly important because we can’t assume that the only websites we’ll compete against organically are our business competitors.
Especially for SaaS companies and certain keyword types, things become more complicated so we have to compete against review sites, publications, magazines, and more.
You need to map all these and take them into account when it comes to conducting your keyword research.
In our case, some search competitors could be:
- Creative Bloq
- The Futur
- 99 Designs
- UX Magazine
- Design Week
Some prominent business competitors include:
- And more.
Let’s continue with some more practical stuff.
Step #3: Identify the right keywords with an SEO tool
The next step is to take all the terms you listed above and enter them into an SEO tool, which in our case is Ahrefs.
So what we can do is add some branded terms combined with a few informational search intent modifiers.
As you can see, not all terms are a good fit, but rest assured that some will be.
Let’s now take things a step further and combine the branded terms with some commercial intent modifiers, in order to come up with opportunities for alternatives, comparison guides, and more.
However, where things get slightly tricky is when we search for opportunities based on our seed and semantic terms, where many terms can be quite generic.
What you can do here is conduct a content gap analysis, to see which seed and semantic terms your competitors rank for that you don’t.
Step #4: Assign attributes
The last step we follow is to enter all the keywords into our keyword research document and assign attributes, like the topical authority ratio.
In order to learn exactly how to use our keyword research template, you can watch our video in the document’s first tab.
Keep in mind that your goal should change from being present only when there’s intent to constantly being present since the SaaS lifecycle journey is becoming increasingly multitouch.
Let’s now go back to our hypothetical scenario and make a minor tweak.
We are still an online proofing software company, but the person who buys from us is either the business owner or someone who manages people.
In this case, can we take things a step further and do something more when the lifecycle journey is still complex?
The answer is yes. Let’s have a look.
Role-Based Keyword Research
The answer to the question above is what we call at MInuttia, role-based keyword research.
Let’s face it, all (or most) of your competitors are already targeting things like comparison and alternative pages, so you have to start thinking about how you can be present at all times when the journey isn’t linear.
So here’s a framework/mindset that you can approach when it comes to your keyword strategy.
First of all, you need to think about how this person (in our new scenario) is going to run their business.
A keyword like “graphic design sales tax” isn’t relevant to us (proofing software), but we need to accept that we should be present when the person is searching for something like that.
You should then think about how this person will grow their business, through a keyword like “how to get clients from web design”.
The next step is to help them work and interact with people, with content based on “graphic designer interview questions” for example.
After all, we’re targeting a business owner or manager, so the right interview questions will come in handy for them.
You then need to help that person work and interact with technology. For example, if you know that that person uses Webflow as part of their professional life, why not write a piece of content on it, such as on the “best webflow plugins”?
The next stage is to help your target customer stay up to date with everything going on in their sector.
A page on the “best design conferences” is most likely something they already know, but you should nevertheless aim to be present at all times.
Last but not least, you should help this person learn new things. A keyword like “best graphic design books” is a great example.
Overall, keep in mind that all the stages we just mentioned are a mindset above all.
A keyword might not seem relevant at first, but being present wherever your target customer is, can be crucial.
Now that we’ve covered how SaaS companies should approach keyword research, let’s wrap things up with some final words.
Now Over to You
Keyword research is changing, so companies often need to look beyond just keywords.
Once you understand who your target audience is and that their journey isn’t linear anymore, you need to plan how you’ll be present at all stages of that journey.
Although metrics like search volume and KD give us good indications, they shouldn’t limit us when trying to be omnipresent.