Doing SEO for any type of content is one of the most difficult things out there when it comes to marketing. It’s a crowded market and you don’t have a ton of content to ramp things up, but good news is that it still works really well when done propertly.
I incorporate all the following SEO tactics when doing any sort of content marketing for both my clients that I consult as well as my own projects and it works well even in 2018.
Truth is that SEO still works and it’ll allow users to discover your product through their searches.
In this guide, I’ll cover the best practices for optimizing your rankings in Google. Hopefully, SaaS companies, marketers, and other entrepreneurs can learn a bit from this guide. I’ll try to make it as easy and straightforward as possible.
The ranking factors in SEO
I’m not going to go into the history behind SEO or what SEO is. I’m going to assume that if you’re reading this guide that you already know what SEO is, so let’s just cut the chase and go straight into the most important aspect of SEO.
What makes your content or website stand out from Google’s point of view?
If you’re just starting off, you should read Google’s webmaster guidlines. It’s a good introduction on how their rankings work.
The truth is that no expert in the SEO space can tell you exactly what makes your content rank higher on Google. It’s always changing and heck maybe even people who work in Google themselves don’t know. It’s a secret.
With that said, there’s a lot of ranking factors that are proven to help your article rank over time.
- Keyword present in <title>;
- Keyword present in <h1>;
- Keyword present in <h2>;
- Keyword present in <p>aragraphs;
- Number of backlinks and internal links
- Anchor text of links to any specific page on your website
- Content length;
- Content shares;
- Unique content
- Load speed of your site.
The tech stack that you use to build your app/site in matters as well. It’s not that certain tech stack isn’t Google friendly, it’s just hard to have Google crawl and index certain tech stacks. This includes ones like React, Native Node, Angular etc.
If you have a dedicated expert in SEO on your team, then it won’t be a problem, but if you’re bootstrapped then using a solution like WordPress can bring you in quicker results.
This is because there are plugins out there that can help with that such as Yoast SEO. It’ll save you a bunch of time.
If you are just focused on building a great product or tweaking things on your site to try to “optimize” when you have not laid a solid base and do not have any links, you will not do as well as you otherwise could.
I do understand that most SaaS apps are built on top of the tech stacks mentioned above. Heck, I built all my previous startups using Ruby on Rails, so I understand the pain.
The good news is that as long as you have well-structured pages that load fast, are accessible from other pages on your site, target keywords that have search volume, invest in unique content written for users and conversions, and acquire links to your domain and your individual pages, then you have a much better chance at ranking very well.
Alright, we hear this term a lot, but what the heck is it exactly?
Technical SEO just refers to any SEO work that is done aside from the content. Essentially, it’s laying a strong foundation to give your content the best chance it can have to rank for relevant keywords and phrases.
One thing to note is that Google does not crawl pages within your app unless you literally tell them to, but I wouldn’t see why you would want Google crawling your user’s dashboard anyway.
Here’s an example and case study of things you can do to improve the technical side of SEO:
Zoompf analyzed the top 1,000 Alexa-ranked sites for site speed and found that the following four problems were the most common (in order from most to least):
- unoptimized images
- content served without HTTP compression
- too many CSS image requests (not using sprites)
- no caching information (expires header)
Usually people refer to load speed when talking about ranking factors for technical SEO. The reason behind this is because if you fix all your load speed issues, then most of the technical SEO side of things will progress with it.
Here are some solutions for common slow load speed problems:
- Enable HTTP compression: https://zoompf.com/blog/2012/02/lose-the-wait-http-compression
- Set expires header: https://gtmetrix.com/add-expires-headers.html OR use a simple expires header plugin: https://wordpress.org/plugins/far-future-expiry-header/
- How to use W3 Total Cache for WordPress: http://www.wpbeginner.com/plugins/how-to-install-and-setup-w3-total-cache-for-beginners/
- A simple guide to speeding up WordPress: http://www.sparringmind.com/speed-up-wordpress/
- One more WordPress guide for good measure: http://www.metacdn.com/speed-up-wordpress/
If you are concerned about your web app being crawled, then there are ways to ensure that it is not crawled such as:
- Put it on a subdomain and block that subdomain in robots.txt;
- Put any logged in pages in a subfolder that you can then block in robots. txt (eg site.com/app/ and then Disallow: /app/)
I see many SaaS companies use something like WordPress for their “marketing site”, and then a custom web app on a subdomain. This is a great way to seperate your main app and a blog for example.
For every page on your site, there are meta elements in your documents’s <head> that should be present to help the search engines understand what your page is about. This is just as important as load speed.
The meta elements you must include on your pages are:
- Title tag – this is the text that shows in the search engines results pages. Keep this short.
- Meta Description –The summary of the page that appears in Google search.
- Rel tags – This tells the search engines the original source of the content
- Robot text – index, no follow, follow etc.
- Open graph (Twitter/Facebook) tags.
Without getting too in depth, those are the basics that you’ll need in terms of meta elements for ranking well on Google.
The most important out of the above is the title tag. That is what tells Google what your site is about and will relate to what people are searching for within your industry.
Make sure that you always include your targeted keyword within your title tag for all pages.
The second most important factor in technical SEO is the Meta description.
Historically the meta description would be truncated around 160 characters, though in late 2017 Google announced that they were expanding this across their search results to around 300 characters.
If you’re using a plugin like Yoast for WordPress, you can edit the meta description easily. If not, then you would need to insert it yourself within your meta tags.
The meta description will tell the user who’s searching for your product what you’re looking for. Think of it as a book summary.
The canonical tag is a meta tag is a way to help control duplicate content. The canonical tag is a suggestion to the search engines that tells them the original source of the content.
This is useful if you’re repurposing content.
It looks something like this – <link rel=”canonical” href=”https://sumodash.com/guide/”>
If you’re a content marketer like me and like to put stuff on other sites like Medium, then the canonical tag becomes very useful. It tells Google which one is the real source of original content.
Again, if you’re already using something like Yoast, then they deal with this for you.
Not sure why it’s named robot since I don’t see any robots involved, but it’s important when it comes to technical SEO as well.
The default is “index, follow”, meaning the search engines should crawl and index the page. It also tells Google to look within that specific page to find other links to crawl as well.
If you do not want a page to be indexed, then you can set the meta robots tag to the following:
<meta name=”robots” content=”noindex, follow”>
This is what most people refer to as no follow for backlink building.
For example, you might not want certain landing pages to be crawled. In that situation, you would do a no follow or noindex. Simple 🙂
Most of the time all of these including your robot.txt can be configured within Google’s search console.
If you don’t have that set up already, it is important that you go there now and set it up, then have Google fetch and crawl it.
On page SEO optimization
Before moving forward to more advanced topics, it is important that your on page SEO is optimized for your product or content.
Some of the biggest and most common mistakes I see that content marketers get wrong in the beginning are the following:
- H1 targeting wrong keywords
- H2 targeting wrong terms; most of the time they are targeting other keywords
- H3s nested under H2s where necessary
- Not enough context related to search topics etc.
The way on-page SEO works is that the search engines use different on-page elements to determine the page’s relevance for a certain term.
When it comes down to on page SEO optimization, you need to understand what Google is looking for in terms of priority.
In order of how search engines value on-page elements, your target keyword term should be in:
- Your title; try to include it in the beginning if possible
- Your URL; don’t make the URL too long
- Your H1
- Your H2
- Your H3
- Throughout your content (context).
Along with the above, your key pages need to be linked from other main pages so that they are passed link equity that provides the strength they need to begin ranking.
The easy way to do keyword research
There are a ton of guides out there that teaches keyword research and most of them cover the basics or get too complicated.
I’m personally not a huge fan of using all those keyword research tools, even though it can be helpful.
The only tool that I enjoy using is Google’s keyword planner. It’s true, it doesn’t have a lot of features that their competitors have, but it works.
There’s actually an easier way to do it without having to use any tools.
Start by generating topics with intent
While search engines still use keywords to determine what a page is about, they also now have a deeper understanding of what that specific keyword or keyword term is about and the other terms that it relates to. From this they build topics.
This means that keywords itself just isn’t enough. Back in the days, you can stuff your article with certain keywords and you’ll skyrocket in rankings.
Now, Google is a lot smarter.
We have to create topics based on user intent.
Think from your customer’s shoes. What are they searching for online? If you were to search online for a guide on how to polish your shoes, would you type in polish shoes or would you type in how to polish your shoes?
Again, think from a human’s perspective and not just keywords.
Ask yourself (and write down the answers to) these questions:
- What does your product do?
- Who is your product for?
- What features does your product offer?
Then come up with topics based on that.
The easy way is to use Google Suggest.
You can easily access Google suggest by going to Google and typing in a snippet of what you’re looking for. Google will populate what people are searching for. It’s really that simple. See the picture below.
In that example, you could easily come up with ideas through that.
The second method that I LOVE is using AnswerThePublic. Type in any keyword and they’ll give you a beautiful visual of what to look for.
The third method that I like to use when coming up with topics and keywords is by looking at what my competitors are ranking for. What are they using?
Depending on your competitors, they may or may not be doing a great job with SEO and thus just doing competitor analysis will leave other potential profitable and traffic-driving keywords out of the list.
If you want to get advanced, you can use a tool like SEMRush to find related keywords and view their backlinks etc.
If you’re on a budget, just use Moz.
Let’s go into the bread and butter to SEO rankings – link building.
If you want to rank, you need links to your website from other websites. Now it’s not 100% necessary, but it can help A LOT if you have quality backlinks from other websites, especially other websites that have high authority in their industry.
The more and better links you have, the stronger your website and the better you rank.
Building links is about improving your website’s strength to rank better.
These are the links that search engines want to reward.
But it’s not that simple because there are different types of backlinks.
There are two kinds of links:
Followed links are the links that pass link equity and are guaranteed to help you rank better. If a link is followed and from a strong relevant website, then this is the best link you can get to help your rankings.
You can determine if links are nofollow by right clicking on any site and viewing the page’s source to see if they have a “no-follow” in front of their links.
It used to be that links are always followed, but website owners got smarter and made a lot of their links no followed.
In 2018, the following are proven strategies for link building:
- Manual outreach – emailing site owners, writers etc. to have them link to you
- Resource page linking – Find resource pages within your industry and have them add your site to the list
- Scholarship programs – This is an older SEO trick that still works. Create a scholarship program and have education websites link to it.
- Infographics – This one is super tough and requires a team, but it can be done. Have websites that post similar content and send them an infographic in exchange for a link.
- Industry roundups – These work well because companies are willing to share your work in their Press page.
- Guest posting – This still works because it still gets you a link but a lot of media sites are making this nofollow.
There’s a lot more, but these are the most effective and quickest way of doing linkbuilding.
Alright, that’s enough for now! I tried to make this as straight forward as possible for any content marketer to get things rolling with SEO and keyword research. Hopefully you learned something from this article and best of luck.
Make sure you track everything. All you need is something basic like Google Analytics.
If you need any help on growth strategies, content marketing, or writing content in general, you can always reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet to me @itswilson8