Marketing software as a service (SaaS) isn’t quite like marketing anything else. So in this guide, we’re looking at digital marketing strategies specifically for SaaS companies, exploring proven approaches and tactics that can help you grow awareness, interest and sales for products that can often defy traditional marketing approaches.
You probably don’t need us to tell you about the unique challenges of marketing SaaS products. They’re often not easy to define, eluding attempts to boil them down to a simple elevator pitch.
Benefits aren’t always immediately obvious – at least not without a lot of explanation. Targets may feel there’s too great an investment required on their part (in terms of time and training, if not money) to get involved.
It all adds up to making digital marketing for B2B SaaS customers… well, a bit tricky. Here’s how to overcome that challenge.
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What is SEO?
The exact figures vary depending on source, but pretty much all the data agree that, in general, more people will find your services via a search engine (Google, Bing etc) than through any other approach. It makes sense, therefore, to make sure that your website is set up and operates in a way that is search-engine friendly.
The more ways you ‘please’ a search engine, the more likely that search engine will rank your content ahead of that of your competitors. And the more prominent your content, the more people are going to find you.
That’s the role of organic search engine optimisation.
Why choose SEO for your SaaS company?
SaaS isn’t a widget you can stack high and sell cheap. It’s not an impulse buy.
To convince someone of the need for your service, you need to make the case, reinforce that case, educate, inform and gradually persuade. That requires content, but in order to ensure that content delivers the biggest bang for its buck, it needs people to see it. That’s why it needs to be optimised to be found by your prospects.
SEO has, therefore, become a key tool in your SaaS marketing mix.
Related Article: 5 SEO Marketing Strategies for B2B SaaS Companies
How to use SEO to support your B2B SaaS digital marketing strategy
There’s an assumption that SEO strategies are entirely built on technical audits that review the minutiae of everything from how your keywords rank to the broken links that (probably) pepper your site. Such details are a significant part of it, but a proper SaaS SEO strategy is more than that, and includes:
- Market and competitor research, exploring the phrases everyone else is optimising for and, crucially, finding where the gaps are that you could exploit.
- Customer research, which enables you to understand what problems your customers are really looking to solve when they trawl Google, so you can optimise accordingly. A good place to start with this is your customer service team.
- Authority building in the way of attracting backlinks to your key webpages.
- Content audits, which dig into the performance of existing site content.
- Content strategy, which we explore below.
What is content marketing?
Not all marketing has to be sell, sell, sell. In fact, for B2B SaaS digital marketing purposes, the people who may buy your services will probably appreciate your insight and knowledge more than a big ‘buy now’ button. For them, they’d appreciate you servicing the market rather than marketing the service, as someone once said.
That’s the role of content marketing. Ultimately, the goal is still to sell (this is marketing, after all), but content marketing does it subtly, providing information readers may find valuable. That puts you on their radar when they’re looking for advice (because it establishes you as a trusted expert). Then, when the time comes for the reader to consider buying the services you offer, your SaaS digital marketing strategy should pay off, because you’ll be the first person/organisation they think of contacting.
Your content marketing could come in the form of:
- Case studies
- Reports & white papers
- Blog posts
How SEO supports SaaS content marketing
Content doesn’t have to be optimised to be of value. You might, for example, write a fantastic ‘how to’ guide about getting the most out of your new B2B software tool and never give an SEO expert a chance to get their hands on it. Anyone who stumbles across it will still find it hugely valuable and may buy your product as a result. At the very least, they may check back to see what else you have to say in the future.
But effective SEO can put your words in front of many more people. In return, SEO gets to use the content as a sort of scaffold, giving you more places to ‘hang’ your SEO tactics so they can have greater impact.
It’s a relationship that’s particularly valuable in digital marketing for SaaS because (usually, at least) there’s a lot to explain.
What is ‘helpful content’?
It’s important to understand that Google doesn’t treat all content equally. It places a premium on what it calls “helpful content” and, in a recent update, we’ve seen a further development in the way Google defines and ranks that content.
There are lots of ways in which Google analyses ‘quality content’ but perhaps the most important is that your words must be designed for and helpful to a human reader, rather than existing purely to help nudge your site up a few more places in the Google rankings.
Google calls this “people-first content” which:
- Is created with a clear audience in mind
- Is based on clear knowledge of your topic
- Is genuinely helpful (i.e. it enables a reader to achieve a goal)
- Delivers a satisfying experience
Google goes on to contrast people-first content with search engine-first content. This won’t do your SaaS digital marketing ambitions any favours because it doesn’t add value.
If it leaves questions…
If it dangles the promise of answers it doesn’t offer…
If it stuffs content with keyphrases that make reading really annoying, Google will take a dim view of it – because human readers will probably take a dim view of it too.
How are Google search results affected by AI-produced content?
Among its list of factors that won’t help the digital marketing for your SaaS product, Google asks the following:
“Are you using extensive automation to produce content on many topics?”
This prompts the question, can you use AI to generate content that will be viewed as helpful by Google?
The answer is certainly yes. We can infer this from the fact Google is trialling its own AI writer, Bard. But the answer is also clear from Google’s latest update, because where the company used to ask for “helpful content created by people, for people”, it now asks for “helpful content created for people”.
Where Google appears to draw the line, however, is that your use of AI should be directed at producing informative material that will help your audience better understand the world of your SaaS product. You shouldn’t use it to churn out 1000 pages that all say much the same thing.
If there’s an issue with organic SEO, it’s that it can be a slow burn. Content you want to get in front of an audience today might not be indexed (that is, reviewed and ranked) by Google for a few weeks, or even months. Even then, it might simply fail to scale the rankings because other organisations are all producing and optimising their own content too.
That’s where PPC advertising can perform a vital role in your SaaS digital marketing strategy.
What is PPC advertising?
Do a quick Google search of a generic SaaS product, perhaps a piece of transcription software or a bookkeeping and accounting tool.
Near the top of the page will be the top organic results, achieved through SEO. But above those, beneath the tell-tale word “sponsored” will be another batch of results. These are achieved through PPC (pay-per-click).
As the name suggests, Google places your ad among the first results in return for a fee. Each time a visitor clicks your ad, you pay Google.
Why choose PPC for your SaaS marketing strategy?
For two main reasons:
- To get results fast. The moment you click go on your PPC campaign, your business should start appearing at (or near) the top of relevant searches. Unlike organic SEO, there’s no delay in releasing content to the world and having Google promote it. On the flip side, and also unlike organic SEO, the moment you turn the PPC off, your content will be nowhere to be seen unless you’ve also been optimising it organically.
- To target a specific audience. The level to which you can target a PPC campaign is impressive. Let’s suppose you have a niche target audience in mind as one arm of your B2B SaaS product. A PPC campaign lets you target by the specific phrases they search, their location, demographic and even the time they’re most likely to be browsing.
How to create a SaaS PPC strategy
Target your ads: It’s one of the biggest strengths of PPC, yet many organisations fail to target properly, which means they’re wasting money.
Create a PPC landing page: One of the common pitfalls of PPC is that many organisations carefully target their campaign at a specific customer segment, but then, when a customer clicks the link, it sends them to a generic home page that has nothing to do with the elements targeted. Take the time to create a landing page that continues the personalisation, and includes call-to-actions (CTAs) to generate leads.
Use all your assets: Most companies produce a range of marketing assets (videos, blogs, brochures) that could help someone understand what you’re offering. Once your PPC ad has won their click, make sure you leverage that content to give them a reason to stay on your landing page.
Avoid overkill: There’s a point at which any ad loses its effect. Show it too many times to the same person, and not only do they not act on it; it can start to actively dissuade them from ever choosing you. It’s all about finding the sweet spot.
Use retargeting (see below)
Don’t stop at Google Ads: Yes, Google is the daddy of search engines and every competitor pales next to its scale and reach. But don’t discount alternatives entirely. It may be true that Bing has less than a 10% share of the search market, but that still amounts to a gazillion searches in a typically less competitive space.
What is retargeting?
Few businesses meet a potential new customer and sell to them in that first meeting. Whether you’re engaging physically or online, winning a sale usually takes more than one bite of the cherry.
That’s particularly true of SaaS digital marketing where buying is usually a considered process that is the result of multiple interactions. Yet once a prospective customer has visited you, how do you ensure you keep their attention?
You do it by retargeting (aka remarketing).
How does retargeting work?
Retargeting works by tracking a customer – with their consent, of course.
Suppose you want to retarget customers on Facebook. They visit your website and seem particularly interested in a SaaS product you offer. You automatically drop a cookie onto their device which tracks their activity. When they next browse their Facebook feed, the cookie will ensure that an ad appears for the product they were browsing earlier.
How to use retargeting to support your B2B SaaS digital marketing strategy
You can use retargeting in a variety of ways:
- To offer more information to prospects: Particularly valuable in a SaaS context where there’s often a lot to learn
- To nudge prospects to become buyers, perhaps with an extra incentive such as a free trial
- To encourage free-triallers to become premium subscribers
- To upsell or cross-sell
- To retain customers: You’ll want to retain your subscribers, and retargeting can help ensure that you stay engaged with them. This can be particularly valuable if their product use tails off or they unsubscribe from your emails – clear signs that their interest may be waning.
What is inbound marketing?
It’s the collective name for marketing techniques that engage with a prospect and encourage them to visit your business (online or physically) to find out more about what you have to say or offer.
It’s the alternative to outbound marketing, where your emails, print campaigns etc attempt to engage on the customers’ turf.
Isn’t inbound marketing the same as content marketing?
Think of content marketing as one of the ingredients of inbound marketing.
If content marketing is about creating content you want the world to see, then inbound marketing is the earlier, higher-level part of your SaaS digital marketing strategy.
First, you establish what your audience wants to see and the channel/format they want to see it on/in. Then you produce content tailored to that goal.
How to create a great SaaS inbound marketing strategy
A successful inbound marketing campaign is all about the research and prep. That includes:
- User research: To make sure you’re creating content your audience wants (as opposed to content you think they want)
- Competitor research: To explore what your competitors are talking about, what keyphrases they’re using and the channels they’re choosing
- Keyphrase research: To make sure that you give your content the best chance of being found
Why choose marketing automation?
The frustrating but simple truth about your B2B SaaS digital marketing is that, whichever options you choose, there’s a lot to juggle.
Keeping all those plates spinning is hard enough, but marketing is about more than just producing content and running campaigns. Once people engage with you, you want to build on that connection and nurture, convert and retain relationships.
That’s important for any business, but we’d suggest it’s particularly important for B2B SaaS companies because so much of a typical SaaS brand is built on customer connection.
Yet greater engagement increases the marketing teams workload exponentially, which is where automation can be a vital tool.
How does marketing automation work?
Not long ago, marketing had a channel problem. A customer may have viewed an explainer video on your social media channel, but next time you emailed them (a separate channel entirely) there would be no mention of that fact because channels operated in their own lanes.
Increasingly, however, marketing has caught up with the way people flit across channels. It can connect the dots to create omnichannel experiences that foster far more rewarding relationships by making an impact on customers’ lives just when they appreciate it.
What difference can marketing automation make to your SaaS company?
According to Outbrain, marketing automation can cut your marketing costs by 12.2% and increase sales by 14.5%.
How to make marketing automation part of your SaaS marketing strategy
Map the customer journey: Understanding the journey customers typically take when exploring your products can help you make the right interventions at the right time.
Understand deeper data: The more granular the data, the better the marketing automation. If you know how many times a visitor checked out a page, for example, you can create a message specifically aimed at the issues they might be facing.
Make it personal and add value: Rather than a standard email, how much more engaging would it be to refer back to a customer’s last interaction with you and then build on it? For example:
“Hi NAME, thanks for downloading the latest [NAME] guide. I thought you might appreciate our latest update…”
Engage rather than sell: Marketing automation makes it easy to send the occasional friendly message that has no agenda other than to keep you on customers’ radars, such as:
Hi NAME. Hope you’re having a lovely birthday. Enjoy your day!
Google Ads may be a powerful way of targeting your ad campaigns, but targeting ads via social media (LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram etc) can be a powerful method of digital marketing for SaaS companies.
The process of targeting your ads is similar to that of PPC, but there are some additional considerations:
- Enlist the early adopters: Build a community of people who love what you do before you launch your social campaigns. They’ll help make them far more successful and often do a lot of the work for you.
- You’ll need awesome content: A social media ad isn’t the same as a website landing page. You need greater visual oomph and copy tailored to the platform and audience.
- Don’t ‘sell’, Help: Use your content to intrigue, inform, excite, but avoid the urge to become overtly promotional.
- Attract the influencers: Because, with their reach, they could really make your SaaS product soar.
- Offer a free trial: Give your adopters, influencers and ad content something valuable to offer. A free trial helps nudge into action those thinking of trying your product.
Digital Marketing for SaaS Isn’t A One Size Fits All
Any of the tactics explored in this guide could benefit your SaaS digital marketing efforts.
Finding the right mix, however, is something personal to every SaaS product. Your ideal mix of approaches will be based on your specific market, the product, the existing awareness of your brand and the complexity of the proposition.
As your marketing matures, your approach will change and the mix will need to change to support it.
Which is where we come in. With two decades of know-how in building marketing campaigns for SaaS businesses, we know how to market your product now, and how your approach will need to evolve in the future.
For specialist digital marketing of SaaS companies talk to Web Presence, get in touch.