The Startup
Published in

The Startup

How to Align SEO, Marketing & Product Management in SaaS Startup

Each of these areas affects the speed of startup growth, but often there are contradictions between them.

Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash

Each of these areas affects the speed of startup growth, but often there are contradictions between them. In this article I will tell you what these contradictions are and how to solve them.

The whole story is based on my experience in developing SaaS products. Therefore, the article will be most relevant for those who work with SaaS and use SEO as their main source of traffic. But parallels can be drawn for other types of sites as well.

Prioritizing tasks

In an ideal world, you launch a product with a full-fledged team of SEO specialist, product manager, and marketer. But most often, at the first stage, these functions:

  • are performed by one person;
  • or are partially split between freelancers;
  • or some of the directions are postponed for later.

Any of these decisions lead to the fact that rarely three directions at once develop in full force. So, what should you focus on?

Lack of resources = sequential rather than parallel development of SEO, marketing and product management.

In my experience, the most correct prioritization order for a B2C product that has good search demand is:

SEO -> Product Management -> Marketing

Or if at the metric level:

Traffic -> Retention -> Conversion to the first payment

You may have noticed that the order is a little out of order. Instead of working on conversions after achieving success in getting traffic, we work on retention. What’s the point? The point is in the well-known rule of product management.

You cannot move on to the growth hypothesis until the value hypothesis has been proven.

When we already receive stable organic traffic, then we will have some minimum conversion in the first payment. And with limited resources, it is better to tackle tasks in order to increase the percentage of user retention: product experiments, interviews with users, analysis of video sessions of users.

Increasing conversions on your first payment will do little to help you with retention. The only thing is that you will have a larger sample on which to conduct experiments.

But improving the retention rate will help to seriously increase the conversion in the first payment, because you can more accurately determine the target audience and your unique offer.

That is, you can make two mistakes in prioritization issues:

  • go from one direction to another in the wrong order;
  • hovering over one of the directions for too long when it’s time to move on.

I came to this formula when I realized such mistakes in my work on Sitechecker.

1. Continued to scale up SEO instead of moving to product retention

As a result, our traffic grew, but the income was not. Until product-market fit is found, SEO should only be looked at as one of the tools to help you find it. Later I learned that this is the most common mistake in startups.

“Premature scaling is putting the cart before the proverbial horse…As an entrepreneur there’s always the temptation to grow the sales team at the first sign of revenue traction, but there is always the danger that this early traction is coming from the subset of the market that are early adopters and not the actual market itself. Additionally, too often I’ve seen startups ramp up sales before they’ve figured out the most efficient way to achieve profitability. A vicious cycle ensues wherein the more a company grows, the more it farther away from profitability it becomes.”

Source: https://a16z.com/2017/02/18/12-things-about-product-market-fit/)

2. Launched experiments with landing pages late

We proved the value hypothesis and improved retention, but I didn’t capture this point. As a result, we continued to work in all directions, except for experimenting with marketing.

Six months later, I tested the new title on the first screen of the home page. He increased the conversion on the first payment by 1.4 times. At that moment, I realized how much we had lost over the past six months until we launched such experiments.

Once you’ve proven your value hypothesis, create a list of ad slogans and headlines to test. Knowing who stays with you in the product and why will help you find the version of the page that effectively converts visitors to first-time paying users.

Resolution of contradictions

We have identified how to effectively change focus between SEO, marketing and product management. Now let’s try to figure out what to do in situations where a successful decision in one area negates success in another.

1. Content for SEO vs. content for marketing

Contradiction

Content that gives you the best conversion can lower your search engine rankings.

For example, our homepage is tailored for requests:

  • seo checker
  • website checker
  • google seo checker
  • seo check
  • seo analyzer
  • website seo checker
  • seo analysis
  • seo test
  • seo score
  • seo optimizer
  • website analyzer

The content on it is clearly written more for search engines than for people. And if the content is radically changed, there is a risk that the positions will fall. Here is the text on the first screen, which we had for a long time.

Home screen text for search engines

And here is the text that gave the conversion improvement.

sitechecker pro second version
Home screen text for people

The essence of the contradiction follows from the nature of language. Good selling copy often does not include the keywords that the page actually matches.

Such sales texts often say more about what the user will receive than simply describe the tool with search queries. Take a look at the main pages of well-known services such as Intercom, Zendesk, Mailchimp, Basecamp and others. They have marketing copy, not SEO copy.

But they already have well-known brands and probably they are not particularly worried about getting the Google’s top for their target search queries, or they get the top due to other factors. What can you do to keep both search traffic and conversions for small brands?

How to resolve a contradiction

There are several options, and they can be combined with each other:

  1. Through Google Optimize, we show a marketing page to 99% of users.
  2. We give weight to keywords through anchors from internal and external links.
  3. Let’s experiment on less valuable product pages to see if the positions with more converting text will fall.
  4. With small changes, we shift the h1-h2 tags with the occurrences of keywords down, and on the first screen we do not mark the titles with these tags.
  5. We are changing the approach to writing content: first, the text is written by a marketer or copywriter, and then the SEO specialist offers edits.

I will immediately answer a possible question about cloaking. Will Google think we are showing different content to the bot and users?

<…>Google encourages constructive testing and does not view the ethical use of testing tools such as Optimize to constitute cloaking. Optimizing your web pages benefits site owners as well as users by increasing conversions and by presenting the most desired information more efficiently.<…>

<…>Your variant pages should maintain the spirit of the content on your original pages. The variants shouldn’t change the meaning of, or users’ general perception of, the original content. For example, it is considered abusive if a page focused on higher education programs is modified to appear as a casino membership program sign-up page to some users.<…>

Source: Optimize Help Center

We are using the first method so far.

2. Several pages of the same type or one unique

Contradiction

For SEO, you need several pages about the same thing, but for the user it will look like duplicates.

Basically, when we talk about duplicate content on the site, we mean duplicates for a search bot. But few people talk about duplicates for people.

For example, in Sitechecker, Site Audit is the main tool. At the same time, we need to create 3 pages about this tool in order to cover all relevant queries:

  • website checker, (homepage)
  • website crawler, (separate product page)
  • site audit (separate product page, not published yet).

And from an SEO point of view, I will need to add all three of these links to the product menu. But these are the same products, and it will look strange to the user.

Sitechecker’s product menu

How to resolve a contradiction

We select one of the most valuable page from the point of view of marketing and present only it to users on the site.

We remove similar pages from the user’s eyes, but leave them alive for the bot. They must be accessible from the sitemap and internal links.

So we will get traffic to it from search, but the experience of people on the site will be positive due to the correct design and the absence of duplicates.

3. Keyword research for SEO vs. keyword research for marketing

Contradiction

Some pages bring in a lot of traffic, but few conversions, while others are vice versa.

A contradiction arises if there is a division of labor in the product. Some are working on traffic, others on conversion.

SEO specialists, as a rule, set goals in traffic, without reference to the value of traffic for individual pages and keywords. And converting traffic into leads and customers is already a problem for marketers.

If you do not direct the efforts of SEOs and marketers in one direction, then you will waste a lot of resources.

For example, in our experience, SaaS products have a good conversion rate for queries:

  • white label …
  • {brand} alternatives
  • {brand} vs {brand}

Moreover, such queries are often low-frequency.

Screenshot from Ahrefs. With this frequency, it’s easy to find the page unimportant.

A SEO aimed at traffic can skip such pages: either deliberately, since they will bring little traffic, or they will not even reach them, collecting keywords only with high or middle search volume.

How to resolve a contradiction

  1. We set goals for SEOs in conversions. Ideally, you have a marketer with an understanding of SEO who will be the client for the SEO specialist and will not let him get carried away with traffic at the expense of conversions.
  2. Changing the approach to keywords prioritization. At the first stage, we estimate not only the search volume, but also the cost per click(this estimate correlates with the potential for conversions and income). Once the first conversions have started, we can prioritize pages based on real data using this report.
  3. We order a consultation from a specialist who has experience working with this niche or type of business, and who can share data on page and keywords conversions.
  4. We create one unit of different types of pages (white label, alternatives, vs) and evaluate the conversion of not just the page, but the type to which it belongs.

4. Product plan vs. real product vs. product landing page

Contradiction

The promises on the site and the actual capabilities of the product almost always differ.

If we promise something that is not yet ready, that is, create selling pages based on product plans and prototypes, and not what product really can do now, then some of the customers will leave unhappy.

If, on the contrary, we will update the selling pages only on the basis of the already actually deployed features, then we will lose in conversion.

Constantly updating landing pages about a product so that they always fully reflect its real capabilities is resource-intensive, so our promises will always lag behind real capabilities, which means we will lose in conversion.

How to resolve a contradiction

Here I have not found an ideal solution, in each option, something needs to be sacrificed.

  1. If the resources have already grown, then delegate the task of updating the selling pages to a product manager who is responsible for onboarding and delivering new functions to users or a marketer who is working on converting visitors.
  2. Make landing pages with a gap for the future, pointing out features that don’t really exist yet.
  3. Refresh pages every 6, 12, 24 months and accept that we have outdated information on them for some period.

In the first stages, the second option is closest to me. Users rarely read the entire product description, and therefore only a small fraction of those who become paying will be outraged by an unfulfilled promise. For those users, you simply make a refund.

But the problem is that startups rarely know what a product will look like for years to come. The product growth can be accompanied by drastic changes in the market, audience, product.

We at Sitechecker are currently using the third option, as our idea of ​​the ideal product changes frequently. It is also a big mistake that we were late in creating a public product path . The most popular features that users expect can be immediately added to the landing pages.

How one direction helps another

But besides the emergence of contradictions between SEO, marketing and product management, each of them can serve as a valuable source of ideas for the other.

It is a well-known rule that it is important for a product manager to work in customer support as often as possible in order to feel the real pains of customers. The same rule can be applied to other professionals.

1. Search queries show which products and features need to be added

Generating ideas for product experiments is possible not only on the basis of competitor analysis and interviews with users. Search terms are also a valuable source for this.

In my article on SEO for SaaS products, I talked about how we created mini-tools on landing pages to drive traffic. But such tools can be created not only to drive traffic, but also to increase retention within the product.

Therefore, it is useful for product managers to dig into Google Search Console keyword ranking report to add new product ideas to their list of hypotheses.

2. Search queries show the structure of the sales text on the landing page

SEOs typically use keywords to structure the text on a page. And marketers and copywriters, as a rule, approach such a structure based on the act of creativity for each individual page or the use of frameworks (what, for whom, what tasks it solves, benefits, who uses, and so on).

If you combine the marketing framework and page keywords, you can create a better page.

3. Backlinks give ideas for positioning and ideas for partnerships

Like customer testimonials, natural backlinks show your real positioning and benefits well. The actual positioning often differs from the planned one, and therefore the plan needs to be periodically revised and changed towards closer to the real one.

That is why it is useful for marketers to monitor the Google Analytics backlinks and data on new backlinks for their site in Ahrefs .

Also with partnerships. After we saw a backlink on one of the websites of a school that teaches SEO, we decided to create special conditions for cooperation with schools and attract more educational institutions.

Landing page created for educational partnerships

4. Some parts of the product can become the foundation for content pages that drive traffic

Within our Site Audit tool, we have created detailed fix hints for each error. At some point, we thought, why not use this unique content to get traffic.

An example of a hint for fixing duplicate title tags

To do this, we have created a separate category and a page for each error. At the same time, we created these pages without keyword research, purely intuitively, since there is no exact data on the frequency of these search queries anywhere.

Sitechecker’s Google Search Console stats for Site Audit Issues blog category

As a result, with a little effort, we got targeted traffic. Some of these queries are entered by users of our tool, but not only by them, since there are such errors in other services as well.

Each tool has valuable features, content that users can search separately. Therefore, it is useful for an SEO specialist not only to research keywords based on competitors and their data in GSC, but also to generate hypotheses for pages based on product capabilities.

5. Phrases from product reviews can be used in sales text

This is not about the standard placement of reviews on landing pages, but about choosing the most valuable phrases among customer reviews and including them in headlines, descriptions, listing the benefits on the page.

I first heard this practice when working with the Jobs to be done framework. According to him, the goals that the product solves should be written not as a generalization of their experience of communicating with users, a marketer or product manager, but expressed only in direct text of the users themselves.

To get this information, you can conduct live interviews with users, or you can send them a form with such questions.

Conclusion

In total, in order to successfully combine SEO, marketing and product management with a lack of resources, three rules must be followed:

  1. Keep in mind the milestones of the startup and constantly ask ourselves if we have reached the right point in one direction, and is it time for us to shift the focus to another direction.
  2. Check for contradictions of goals with an SEO specialist, marketer, product manager. If they do, then create a consistent system of metrics for them or make one of them a leader who sets tasks for others.
  3. Draw up a plan for the exchange of experience and possible help between specialists. Sometimes one meeting will be enough for this.

I am curious to know if you have encountered any contradictions in your products and how you solved them, as well as how you use data from one area to get results in another? Let me know your thoughts below.

--

--

--

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +756K followers.

Recommended from Medium

Here is why all of you are doing YouTube-Prerolls wrong

We’re the Product Now. Who is Your Attention Serving?

Behavioral Analytics I— Beyond pageviews

Microcopy: Why the tiniest words have the biggest brand impact

How Content Moderation helps Businesses? How and where it can be done?

Content Moderation

Benefits of User Generated Content

How to Close More Sales Without Getting Pushy

Marketers! Learn a new language.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Ivan Palii (PM @Sitechecker)

Ivan Palii (PM @Sitechecker)

Product Manager at sitechecker.pro / Blogger at ivanhoe.pro

More from Medium

Teardown: A Guide to Miro's Staggering Growth

A Concise Startup List for Your Next Project

How did I start building saas — tweelog!

How to go from Idea to MVP