Last updated by Will Bradley in June 2021
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SEO has the potential to be an incredibly effective channel in growing the user base of your product, be it a SaaS business, online marketplace or listings site, or even social media platform.
It’s ‘free’, scalable, and connects you with a highly qualified audience while they’re in research mode.
But with so much conflicting information online, often from self-styled ‘growth hackers’, deciding the right SEO strategy for your product can feel like this:
At risk of contributing to this information bloat, I’ve condensed the key considerations you need to make when working out the best SEO strategy for your product.
We will first cover whether or not to build SEO into the product itself, via user generated content and 'ungated' features, before we get into SEO-led content creation.
Let’s get it into it!
Building SEO into your product
The most effective way to drive users via Google and other search engines is to build SEO into the product itself.
If you can’t do this, you must rely on content marketing to drive SEO traffic (more on that later).
The primary two ways to build SEO into your product are ungating features and facilitating user generated content.
Ungated features are features which you offer for free, or give limited access to for free.
By ungating features and positioning them on their own optimised landing pages, you can rank in Google when people search for those features.
Consequently, this is a great tactic for products that operate in established markets, where there is already existing demand in search engines.
Adobe Creative Cloud is a suite of design tools, including Photoshop, which recently surpassed 22 million paid monthly subscribers.
An important part of their marketing strategy is SEO. They now generate a staggering 34 million monthly organic visits from Google.
Adobe’s products operate in well-established niches, which means there are already loads of people searching for solutions their product solves.
A big part of their SEO strategy therefore is exposing the features with search demand and offering a level of free access.
They use an SEO-friendly site architecture which separates each feature onto its own optimised landing page, and groups together relevant pages using internal linking.
Sample of keywords Adobe.com ranks for (google US):
pdf to word
jpg to pdf
color palette from image
youtube banner maker
mov to mp4 converter
This enables them to capture a highly relevant audience who they can instantly turn into an account creator in exchange for access to the free feature.
From here, they can slowly nurture the user from account holder to paying user of the full Photoshop suite.
An example user journey might look something like this:
- User types in ‘image resizer’ to Google
- Clicks on first result (adobe.com/resize-image)
- Signs up for freemium account to use image resizing tool
- Enters Adobe email and sales funnel
- Eventually converts to user of full Photoshop subscriber
Another example is Uswitch, a UK-based price comparison engine which generates custom pricing comparisons in markets like energy, broadband, and mobile phones.
Since all their features are ‘free’ for the user, in the sense that uSwitch make their money from affiliate commission, they can expose their features for free.
Comparison sites are an established market, which translates to high demand in search engines.
Similarly to Adobe, they use an SEO-friendly site architecture i.e. an optimised landing page for each of their features.
Sample of keyword rankings for uswitch.com (Google UK):
compare phone deals
car insurance comparison
compare credit cards
compare mobile contracts
compare boiler cover
An example of a user journey in this instance might be:
- types in ‘energy switch’
- clicks on first result (uswitch.com/gas-electricity)
- uses price comparison feature
- changes energy supplier
- Uswitch receives affiliate commission
Other examples: Cazoo, Ladbrokes, Clickstay, Canva
- Very high quality traffic
- High conversion rates
- Quick turnaround from traffic to user
- Only works in niches with existing demand for features
- Often very competitive
- Not possible for all products to offer free level of access
Key questions to ask yourself:
- Does my product operate in an established market?
- Is there search demand for my product’s features?
- What problems do my features solve? (List them!)
- Can I offer any form of free access to my features?
- Can I separate features onto their own URLs?
User generated content
Another way in which products can build SEO into their offering is by facilitating user generated content inside their platform.
The type of content posted by users depends on the platform. On a platform like Pinterest, this will invariably be images, whereas on a forum-type site like Reddit, it tends to be written text.
This is the SEO tactic of choice for social media sites, but is also used by SaaS businesses and online marketplaces.
The key is creating a product that encourages passionate users to share information with one another, and then ensuring this information is easily accessible to search engines.
Examples of products that leverage user-generated content
Quora is a social media start up which has become one of the most popular destinations on the internet, in part thanks to its SEO strategy.
Users post questions about virtually any topic and receive answers from other users.
Google crawls and indexes these questions and answers, and subsequently returns them in its results to people who search for similar questions.
This expands Quora’s visibility in search engines, which brings in more users, who ask more questions, which further expands Quora’s visibility, thus continuing the cycle.
This creates a 'network effect', whereby the more people who sign up to the platform and contribute, the more enriching the platform becomes.
Quora now counts a staggering 300 million unique monthly users (Jan 2020). This number will continue increasing exponentially as people continue to ask and answer questions.
Another great example is Github, the world’s largest collaborative development platform with over 56 million users.
By facilitating a space where passionate users can share their code and ideas, it ranks for hundreds of thousands of keywords related to software development, generating over 13 million SEO visits each month.
This attracts more users, who in turn create more content, which then attracts more users.
Again, we see here the network effect - the platform improves as it attracts more users.
While most of Github’s users won’t pay anything, a portion will go on to sign up for their premium subscription, or pay a fee when they buy a 3rd party app on their platform.
Further examples: Reddit, Trello, Twitter
- Users create high quality content for you
- Highly scalable
- Network effect
- Quality control
- Generating initial user base to contribute
Key questions to ask yourself:
- Do you users share useful content on your platform?
- Is it possible to make this accessible to search engines and the general public?
- If users don’t share content on your platform, would they be interested in posting on a dedicated forum?
- What medium does your audience like to share primarily?
SEO Content Marketing
For many products, ungated features and user generated content are impossible, or don't generate enough traffic on their own.
These types of product therefore create optimised content themselves, usually in the form of informational blog posts, but also video, podcasts, or even tools.
This tactic is particularly popular among SaaS businesses. By growing organic traffic by targeting relevant keywords with genuinely useful content, and then driving that traffic to an email capture or remarketing funnel, they can consistently find new users for their product.
Content is more like investing than people think. View your content not as an expense but as a long term investment. Because with that perspective and the right execution you'll be able to generate dividends on the back of high growth keywords for years to come.— Ross Simmonds (@TheCoolestCool) March 12, 2021
It’s also a great way to demonstrate expertise in your field and raise your brand credibility. By consistently appearing in search engine results for searches within your brand’s topic areas, you subconsciously position yourself as an authority in your field.
This content also acts as a ‘moat’ against competitors, since it can take years of effort to displace.
Hubspot is a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool for inbound marketing, sales and customer service. It has over 100,000 customers and made over $880 million in revenue in 2020.
SEO and content have played a vital role in their user acquisition. Hubspot.com recently surpassed 7 million organic visits from Google per month.
Their primary SEO tactic has been creating genuinely useful content which matches popular search intent for topics around digital marketing and sales.
Sample of Hubspot keyword rankings (Google US):
how to post on instagram
landing page examples
how to use tiktok
how to do market research
As you can see from this keyword sample, Hubspot target a broad range of keywords, but all within the realm of digital marketing and sales.
They cleverly structure this content into a hub and spoke model, which allows Google to better understand which articles are relevant to one another, as well as rank for very broad, competitive terms, like ‘marketing’ and ‘digital marketing’.
They then deploy a careful sequence to convert as much of this traffic into users as possible:
- User types in ‘Landing page examples’ to Google
- Clicks on first result (hubspot.com/marketing/fantastic-landing-page-examples)
- Reads article
- Downloads ‘Website design Inspiration’ e-book for deeper learning
- Joins email nurture list
- Activates sales team trip wire by looking at pricing page
- Becomes paying user
What’s particularly impressive about Hubspot is they’ve developed a repeatable system which they’ve used to achieve the same results in other countries and languages.
Another SaaS business who rely heavily on SEO-optimised content for users is Ahrefs – the SEO software tool (meta, I know).
They dominate Google’s results for virtually all SEO-related keywords by publishing epic content that helps people become better at SEO.
Sample of keyword ranks for Ahrefs.com (Google US):
how to write a blog
how to do seo
how to get backlinks
submit website to search engines
most searched thing on google
Not only has this strategy contributed to virtually every practicing SEO becoming a paid subscriber, but it has also built their brand as one of the most respected thought leaders in the industry.
Determining the role of Content Marketing
If you’re thinking of embarking on this strategy then there are a couple things to consider before you get going.
Firstly, does your product have a long, complex sales cycle involving various discussions with sales team members? Or is it more of a ‘self-serve’ product, where the user can purchase with little or no input from sales reps?
For the latter, SEO's role tends to be more prominent, because a) there is less friction between engaging with content and becoming a user, and b) one of SEO's key strengths is how easy it is to scale, which means it lends itself better to products with high volumes of users paying smaller amounts.
If your product is the former (i.e. long sales cycle and highly targeted audience), SEO will still play a vital role, but will act more as a lead generation tool to support sales.
Understanding your content ‘niche’
The other key thing to consider is whether there is demand in search engines for your content topics.
For some businesses, like Ahrefs, the most obvious content niche (in this case ‘SEO’) has plenty of search demand. This makes things pretty simple.
But many SaaS businesses operate in unique or niche markets without existing demand. In these instances, you can choose a content area which is highly relevant to your product (albeit not completely) and write around that.
The key is to balance relevance with volume. If you sacrifice relevance for higher search volume, then you risk your target audience never converting into a user.
But if you’re too strict in terms or relevance, and you’ll likely limit your ability to scale traffic.
The examples below demonstrate content strategies which are outside of their product remit, strictly speaking, but are still highly relevant to their target audience:
Hubspot (CRM) --> Digital Marketing, Sales
Zapier (API’s) --> Productivity
Calendly (Calendar app) --> Workplace organisation
Kinsta (Managed WP hosting) --> Internet guides
We’ve looked at how some of the best companies in the world have scaled user acquisition using SEO.
If there’s one thing to take away from this post, it’s that there is no set blueprint to grow your users with SEO. Take the time to come up with the strategy that works best for you.
Interested in discussing your product? Schedule a no-obligation SEO strategy call.