If you do not work full time in SEO, you might think SEO is voodoo magic that someone behind the scenes is doing to game the search engines to get pages ranking. And in the mid-2000s, you would have been right.
The search engines have come a long way in the last decade towards fighting SEO spam. If you remember the days when you’d type a query like “nike shoes” and get back some spammy-looking websites instead of Nike.com, then you remember the spam days of SEO.
In reality it wasn’t some nerd just doing random magic things, but a nerd that figured out how the search algorithms worked and what to do to get an unfair advantage over their competitors. Google and the other search engines all have their own version of Webmaster Guidelines (here’s Google’s), which provide a decent starter to SEO as well as what not to do. Things not to do include things like buying links (it may work, but you run the risk of being penalized by the search engine), cloaking (showing one thing to search engine bots and another to users), mass autogenerated content, and more.
While there are things that the search engines say not to do, we also know from experience that there are many activities you can undertake that will help you rank better. In the SEO world these are often called “Ranking Factor Surveys”, but in reality they are things that correlate strongly to better rankings.
The basics of SEO are not complicated to learn. The problem is that most people want to learn advanced tactics before they do the basics.
In most studies, these are the top things that correlate to better rankings. And through my experience, I can also say that they cause better rankings as well.
There are many challenges to ranking well in the search engines, and some are SaaS-specific.
One challenge that many SaaS companies face is the thinking that they can engineer their way into ranking better. While your technology stack can absolutely keep you from ranking well if you do not configure it correctly (such as an Angular.js site without using Brombone or a similar technology to stand up crawlable individual URLs), the two reasons I most frequently see SaaS companies not ranking well are:
Many SaaS startups are hyper-focused on building their product because that is the livelihood of their business, and rightfully so. Without a great product, all the great marketing you could do would be worthless.
However, without marketing your product will not be found nearly as easily nor as widely. You must invest in your marketing site in order to rank well and convert visitors into users.
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. You need to promote your company/site as well in order to rank.
If you build 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.