Nick Brown is the Founder and CEO of accelerate agency, a SaaS SEO & content agency. Working with enterprise and scale-up brands.
As the CEO of a major SaaS SEO agency, you might assume that I’m not a fan of pay-per-click advertising (also known as PPC). This is not the case at all. There are some very important times when PPC is the best tool for driving SaaS sales. The key is to know when those important times are and when the best time is to begin moving toward SEO.
To explain this to any new client, I tell them that a PPC campaign is like jumping in an Uber, while building an SEO campaign is more like investing in an everyday car. Let me explain.
How PPC Is Like An Uber
It’s late at night. You’ve just had a great time out with your friends, and now you need a ride home. If you’re like me, this is an ideal time to pull out your smartphone and get an Uber. It’s convenient, reliable, and you can be warm and dry and on your way home in minutes.
If you sat down and calculated the cost per mile of using an Uber, it might seem expensive compared to driving your own car. But who does this when you’re out late at night and need a ride urgently? For this sort of situation, it’s worth paying more for the convenience and flexibility. Just like an Uber, PPC advertising is also convenient and flexible.
If you are a new SaaS company in need of sales quickly, launching a PPC campaign is an obvious move. While you’re small, it’s not difficult to fill up your sales pipeline using PPC. Once that pipeline is full, you can instantly dial the campaign down until you are ready for more leads. For a new SaaS company, PPC offers the convenience and flexibility you need while you’re working to get established. When you start to look long term, however, PPC is a relatively expensive marketing tool.
Like an Uber ride, the cost of PPC goes up as demand increases. There are enough relatively inexpensive, less competitive keywords to keep an inbound sales team happy when you’re small—at least in the short term. As SaaS companies grow, however, and as the need for more customers increases, continuing to grow using only PPC gets more and more expensive. Once the traffic from the cheaper keywords is used up, you have to bid for more and more expensive terms to keep growing. This pushes the cost of acquisition to get higher and higher over time until it eventually becomes unsustainable.
How SEO Is Like An Everyday Car
Moving back to our car analogy, there are times when the convenience and flexibility of an Uber ride come at too high a price. For an everyday commute, for example, taking an Uber would get really expensive. To keep the cost per mile of everyday transportation reasonable, it makes sense to invest in an everyday car.
Deciding to use SEO to market SaaS is a similar calculation to buying your own car. Doing SEO well requires an ongoing investment, but like the cost of car ownership, the cost of acquisition through SEO goes down steadily over time.
Let me explain that last point because it’s important: Getting a SaaS company website to rank for important keywords requires time and a significant investment in content. For any SaaS niche, there are thousands of keywords to target, and Google tends to prefer websites that have created a library of good content over time.
Because of the time and investment required, SEO isn’t a good option for new SaaS companies that need to get sales quickly, but as a company grows and matures, effective SEO campaigns are much more realistic.
Getting a website ready to compete for high-value keywords requires hundreds of pages of high-quality on-site SEO content and links from dozens of high-authority websites. Because the time needed is such a significant factor in SEO, it’s much better to start putting these assets together as soon as possible.
Once a website starts ranking, the amount of effort required to maintain those rankings goes down dramatically. This means that in the same way the cost per mile of car ownership goes down the more you drive, the cost per acquisition of sales from SEO gets lower and lower over time.
PPC And SEO Are Complementary Tools
No successful SaaS company can acquire all of the leads it needs from a single campaign. Both PPC and SEO have a genuine role to play in any SaaS marketing strategy. It is important to understand their differences, however, and to know the right times to use them.
Like an Uber, PPC is a no-brainer when convenience and speed are priorities. But when you are budgeting for the long-haul, relying only on ride-hailing apps for everyday transport isn’t a sustainable strategy. For long-term growth with an average cost per acquisition that goes down over time, no SaaS company can afford to ignore SEO.