How to grow your SAAS businesses: an SEO strategy

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Tuggl founder & CEO Ankur Sharda returns as Startup News contributor, this time analysing some SEO strategies for growing a SaaS business…

Canva has done great things. From a Perth living room to being just one of a handful of Australian ‘unicorn’ startups. No doubt it’s been an incredible journey. But what’s always piqued my interest is the question, how?

Not how did they build the software, get funding, build a team, all the usual stuff people discuss … but how did they actually get more than ten million people to use their software? What might be the secret – or secrets – behind that growth? And lessons for us all?

And then one day after a cascade of coincidence it became obvious.

Now I must admit, only they can tell you the true story and this is just my opinion, but it does seem plausible.

It’s a not-so-simple three step process:

  1. Be newsworthy and get PR – it doesn’t matter whether your product is good enough for people to want to pay or even use it regularly. That will come later, initially it only has to be newsworthy.
  2. Create landing pages for specific use cases of your product – step one means you’ll get pre-validated traffic to those landing pages via search engines, and because it’s via search engines, it will happen each day, like clockwork.
  3. Use the growth of your business from this strategy to create further newsworthiness and keep the traffic and revenue bumping along.

If that doesn’t make sense. Don’t worry, I hope it will soon…

Step 1 – Be newsworthy, and get online press

Everyone wants to be newsworthy, and everyone knows that online and offline media are both great ways to generate interest in your product. The problem is, this sort of interest is lazy, lethargic, about to finish one’s cornflakes kind of interest. The probability that these people turn into users and customers, is not high.

If I’m browsing my phone while eating breakfast, I might click through and check your product, but it’s unlikely to start paying for it.

But, what if, like Eric who eats a banana, and turns into a superhero, you could do a little work and convert your semi-interested viewership into highly targeted, high-value potential customers?

Here’s how

When your press release converts to an actual online news article (with a back link to your website – the link is crucial), readers are not the only important thing that visits your website. So do the search engines. Importantly, when you get links from important sites it increases an internal ‘credibility’ score they’re keeping on you.

When someone visits a search engine and types in a query, the engine attempts to give them the best possible results. It does this by combining the site’s credibility and the page’s relevance to the search query to come up with a score, the higher your credibility score the higher you rank for any given page. 

Step 2 – Build landing pages for different use cases

What you see here is, how the smart people at Canva have taken the ‘credibility’ that they won during their early, interesting and newsworthy days – when the product was interesting but perhaps not that useful and unlikely to win many repeat, profitable customers, and translated it into a regular stream of traffic, that shows up everyday for years into the future.

To make it work, they’ve identified the phrases and words people are searching for, and created pages that are relevant to these queries. If you want to know about this in more detail, why not read a bit more about search engine optimisation.

To get a sense of how much traffic they could get, the Google trends snapshot below shows that every day they’re in the running for more traffic than the keyword word ‘startups’. But if they didn’t have optimised landing pages they would probably get very little of it…

Not only do you gain traffic, but it appears with regularity and over the long term – unlike the traffic from the initial article(s). This gives you a chance to tweak and test your page design for optimum results.

Step 3 – Rinse and repeat

It gets even cooler. The next step is to start using that traffic to create further newsworthiness. If you’ve had a x number of users in the last year, that could be newsworthy. The last few articles I’ve read about Canva, mainly focussed on their success, the number of users, the valuation and other such details. If your initial foray is successful, you can use that success to turn it into a kind of ‘perpetual traffic machine’.

Using it for your startup

The key lesson is, you don’t have to have it ‘all figured out’ from the very beginning. If your goal is to create x web app that helps y people do z.

All you need is a credible story that suggests why it’s interesting. Usefulness and profitability can come later. Of course don’t ignore them on purpose – they’re both good reasons to be interesting and newsworthy as well, but you don’t have to be perfect from the moment you launch. With this strategy you can hone, tweak and learn your way to perfection.