SaaS companies, from startups to enterprise, spend a lot of time building a brand within their niche. You create educational content, ads, talk on podcasts, pay to be listed on “best of” articles, get featured on Inc. / TechCrunch / Entrepreneur.
Multi-touch attribution, ABM, demand generation funnels, MQL to SQL. And yet most SaaS companies don’t take into account that after all these interactions your potential customer might look you up on Google.
Everything you do will result at some point in a brand search.
You don’t need to work very hard to “gain” ranking for brand searches. But you do need to put some effort into maintaining a professional and welcoming experience.
It’s your welcome mat. As a possible customer, would you like to enter the store through a shady alley or walk on the red carpet and feel like you were expected?
Commercial keywords come and go, but brand searches are forever! ( unless you f**k up really bad ).
When someone from your targeted audience starts feeling that problem your SaaS can solve, they recall your brand. And in most cases, they will go and type your brand name into the search engine.
The value of branded searches for SaaS businesses
Top of the funnel traffic doesn’t have a very high click-through rate and an even lower conversion rate. Whether it’s through PR, display advertising, referral, podcasts, educational content, conferences or some other channel, you’re trying to put yourself on the map for potential customers.
But when people start realizing the need or the problem, they will experience what brand managers describe as “brand recall”. It’s a quality metric that shows how strong is the connection between your brand and the problem your SaaS is trying to fix.
Brand searches can be labeled as aided or unaided brand recall. An aided brand recall is when a coworker mentions the brand in a discussion. And you recall seeing the brand from a display ad, an article you’ve seen in the past. Unaided brand recall can be experienced after you remember the brand name when you’re trying to solve a problem.
SaaS companies like Drift and Chartmogul decided to change the rules of the game by offering ungated content to readers, regardless of the channel they come from. As a side-effect, brand recall became more important than ever.
While the ROI of ungated content is still a debatable subject, going on this path means ( at least in theory ) you’re trying to be a “top-of-mind” solution. And traffic coming from branded searches is so much more valuable. Monitoring the volume of traffic coming from keywords containing your brand name becomes an important metric of success.
When people search for your SaaS the search engine is the starting point of their journey to conversion. It might alter their experience on the website in good or bad.
While searching for the most popular SaaS startups on Google, I couldn’t help to notice the scarcity of personalization in their brand SERPS
ChartMogul, an established brand in the SaaS subscription & revenue analytics niche engages with their audience on multiple touch points – ungated ebooks/cheat sheets, guest blogging, podcasts and so on.
I imagine they are top-of-mind when it comes to finding a solution for revenue analytics (myself included ).
But they don’t seem to offer an enriched experience to visitors that look for their brand on search engines ( doesn’t mean they don’t care ).
You can see they don’t have (yet) a Knowledge Panel or a Wikipedia/Wikidata entry. Another big red flag is a ProfitWell ad that makes good use of their brand name and lack of brand ads on #1 position.
3 MAIN areas you need to take into consideration
When I started this article I planned to just write some basic common sense things but quickly realized there are so many things you could do to enrich the searcher’s experience.
That’s why I wanted to split this optimization into 3 major areas of interest. There are a lot of companies out there you can take as an example, like MailChimp. While there are still areas that can be improved, it shows a clean and enriched brand SERP.
I’ve split the Google results page into 3 main areas:
- Organic results
- Knowledge Graph Panel
- Brand Ads
IMPORTANT! Implementing some of these solutions will not guarantee an immediate result.
1. Enhancing your brand’s organic search results
The intent of a person who searches for your brand name might vary. It might be a person who heard about your product on a podcast, they recalled your product’s name during a meeting about finding solutions to a problem, they interacted with you at a conference or they previously used your product and wanted to give it another try.
Regardless of their intent, your brand made a promise that appealed to them. And the search result acts not only as a reinforcement of that promise but also as a first map into what you have to offer.
The organic result needs to be a confirmation of the brand’s value proposition. You need to make sure that the title and the meta description reinforces the message and assures the visitor that he’s in the right place.
Increased meta description real estate
A big change that Google squeezed in just before 2018 was the increase in character limit for meta descriptions.
The limit in characters got increased to somewhere between 250 and 300 according to Rand Fishkin, so you’ll have a lot more room to be creative with your pitch. Rand talks more about this in one of his Whiteboard Friday incursions, where he explains the change, the new limit and its impact on SEO.
In 90% of the cases, your homepage will be the homing beacon for most of your brand traffic. Make sure you profit from this increase in length and try adding more information about your SaaS benefits.
Adding a sitelink search bar
Visitors can do a brand search only to further search for something specific on your website. You might also have user-generated content that the searcher wants to access.
You can add structured data to your homepage to help Google generate the search box but be warned – merely implementing the markup won’t ensure that you’ll have it on display right away. If searchers are looking for more results from your site, Google will be more inclined to add the search box to your results.
Google offers comprehensive examples on how to implement a sitelinks search box that connects to your website/app custom search system.
Site navigation schema markup
SaaS companies spend a lot of time deciding on the taxonomy of the website or what pages are more important for the conversion funnel. It may be that visitors usually go to the features, pricing or documentation pages before converting.
This is why it’s important that your website flow is represented in your brand search results. By using the SiteNavigationElement markup, you make sure that Google understands what pages you think are important for your visitor’s journey on your website.
As usual, nobody can tell Google what to do. You need to be aware that these are “suggestions” that Google may or may not implement.
2. Join the big league with a Knowledge Panel
The most sought-after prize for brand search results must be the Knowledge Panel. You can try all you want to make your organic results as clickable as possible but nothing spells trust as a Knowledge Panel with all your company’s information.
Not an easy task but the results will more than make up for the spent time/resources.
Google is constantly crawling the web for information and tries to make sense of it. When it finds relevant information scattered across multiple sources about your SaaS business, Google will try to create a portrait. So it’s important not only that you’re going to have the right markup implemented on your website, but also inbound trust signals from Wikipedia entries, Google’s own platforms, PR statements, mentions from high authority websites and so on.
The Knowledge Panel information is split into multiple parts – a short description of your SaaS, business information ( physical address, phone number ), marketing information ( social profile links, your logo ).
A Knowledge Panel can also do wonders when your brand name shares the spotlight with an answer box for the generic term. Having the name and the logo in a visible position is a confirmation signal that the searcher is in the right place.
Start-up with the markup!
I think the easiest part of this walkthrough is the correct implementation of Schema markups.
The Organization markup is the backbone of the knowledge panel. With this, you can specify information ( the name of the company, the logo, the social profile links, and many others ) in a way Google can understand and index.
The logo and the name of your company are the most important pieces of the knowledge panel. While it’s pretty hard to mess up the name, there are some cases where SaaS companies failed to impose a certain logo ( and ended up with a mess in the knowledge panel ).
If the logo is too big, it may end up truncated and your brand may end up unrecognizable.
You can see in the screenshot above that the provided logo is not displayed correctly. And this issue transitions to the “People also searched” section. You can see how it can impact brand recognition
You can serve a different logo URL into the Organization schema markup that is appropriate for display on the Knowledge Panel.
As you can see above, Docker is pointing to their homepage logo in their Organization markup. To avoid this kind of situation, they can serve a different logo through their markup while still leaving the logo on their website unchanged.
The most overlooked and undervalued Schema markup by far is the corporate contact markup. Especially if you offer a complex SaaS that caters to medium to large companies.
You can personalize this corporate contact to display either a customer service or a sales phone number.
This is especially useful for people searching for your brand on mobile. Imagine a person who already heard of what you’re offering and wants to schedule a call. They look up for your brand name, finds the clickable phone number and you already established contact!
Multiple tools, multiple brand searches!
I’ve seen this over and over again from companies that create a suite of SaaS products. They forget they are unique and the people who search for them look for that explicit tool. And you need to make sure you align your brand SERP with the expectations. You’ll have enough time to upsell your whole suite after they got hooked on your product.
Atlassian is doing a great job at managing multiple SaaS products and offering custom brand search experiences for Atlassian, Jira, Confluence, Hipchat and so on.
Another great company that’s cultivating a productivity fleet of SaaS products is Teamwork. While they offer three products that cater to different customer needs, the Knowledge Panel for their brand SERP is similar. Which is a shame as each one of the products can become a lead magnet and a doorway into the Teamwork world.
Each of its products ranks properly for their brand search queries. And they also offer brand search ads were needed to protect the #1 position. But the Knowledge Panel spells Teamwork with the same logo and the same highlights. It creates a tornado of brand identities and offering different signals across different channels.
One identified culprit is the Schema markup. The Organization markup doesn’t have to be on all the pages of your website. It just needs to be in specific places ( either the homepage, the About Us, the Contact Us ). Otherwise, Google will plaster the same Organization Schema on each of your products.
And the different products can replace the Organization snippet with a more niche one that will signal Google that this is actually a product and not the company that created the product. Teamwork Desk and Teamwork Chat should have Software/Web/MobileApplication Schema.
Another crippling problem for Teamwork is faulty Schema implementation. While Google may pick up on its own ( given enough time and enough outside signals ) where everything should be, having improper Schemas in your code may lead to confusion.
A more dangerous problem you can deal with is having errors that blend in and do not trigger any red flags. In the screenshot below, the Organization Schema is faulty but will not trigger a serious warning if you are to validate it just because it has the right structure.
Managing multiple brands might be a challenge, but in the SaaS world, almost all roads go through a brand search. So having a personalized experience for each tool can go a long way.
Wikipedia, the keystone piece of the Knowledge Panel
A Wikipedia article opens up a lot of doors and for good reason. It gives you a strong backlink to your website and it’s the most prevalent open semantic database.
Almost all brand introductions in the Knowledge Panel come from Wikipedia entries.
It doesn’t have to be a fancy page but you need to have the proper information, structure, and elements.
If you can’t manage to do it and find that your page gets rejected over and over again, I would strongly recommend hiring a specialist/company specialized in performing this type of service.
Validate Wikidata Information
Wikidata, as opposed to Wikipedia, is “a free, linked database that can be read and edited by both humans and machines.”
Here is where all the structured data connections outside your website are created. And it’s also the place from where Google takes its information and displays it in SERPS.
You can search for your brand and see if there are any related entries. If not, you can create that entry for your SaaS. Here is a basic walkthrough on how to add info to Wikidata.
Suggesting Edits to the Knowledge Panel
This only applies to brand SERPS that already generate a Knowledge Panel entry.
You have the possibility to directly “Suggest A Change” right from the search results page. In order to do so, you need to become an official representative of your brand.
To be an official representative of your brand you need to be logged in to a Google account that is tied to the website and:
- The Knowledge Panel website is the same on the Google+/Youtube channel of the email.
- You have the website attached to your Search Console account.
- Your Web & App Activity is turned on.
This does not provide a lot of movement if you’re trying to enhance the data in your Knowledge Panel. You can only suggest edits to already existing data, and it might take some time until a Google employee decides to review and accept your input.
G+ for SaaS. . .but why?
While it may seem obvious to put in your information ( yet again ) in Google+ and Google My Business, it may change your Knowledge Panel in something you don’t want. Google will start putting more emphasis on the physical details of your business.
You can end up with some not so relevant information, just like these SaaS businesses.
I can’t stress enough about how much your Knowledge Panel will change if you register and implement your local company into Google. While you might have a HQ that you’re proud of, I don’t think you want visitors to be welcomed by the pictures from the last company retreat.
We’re too big, Google will figure it out!
Don’t bet your venture funded dollar on that! If you give no fucks to all of the above, Google will do the same to your brand SERP. Let’s look at Looker’s brand search results, a 450+ employee SaaS that became a giant in the BI world.
If we analyze the organic results for “Looker” we can see Google understands what is relevant to the searcher. Also, you can see all the ads are either competitors trying to siphon some of the clicks or their masterfully created brand ad ( +1 for that Looker ).
But somehow, it provides a Knowledge Panel about the 1981 thriller “Looker”. You can find results about the movie all the way down to position #7 with IMDB link and #8 with a Wikipedia link.
I can only presume they put a lot of money and effort into their multi-touch funnel. It’s a pity they didn’t put a little bit of that effort into implementing Schema markup and a Wikipedia/Wikidata entry.
3. Protecting your brand with search ads
While many Digital Marketers will not agree with this statement, sometimes you need to secure the top position of your branded SERPS with search ads.
Competitors will always try to chip away some of those high intent competitor branded searches. Even if they won’t have a high CTR, they will, however, take home some of those clicks ( and discredit your brand in the process ).
I know, you’re thinking you invested a lot in brand awareness and keeping your business top of mind. You don’t wanna have to pay more to keep clicks you’ve earned. But when you have 3 ads above your organic result and none of them are yours, then you need to get some defensive brand bidding.
The good part is that you’re not going to pay a lot of money for those clicks. Given that you’re the most relevant ad for that search query ( and it’s going to be very easy to maintain the #1 position ).
But if you feel like your brand is too strong and you feel like you break the bank on those ads, just make sure you put a cap on the daily budget. You can go further and optimize your ads to be distributed evenly among your most important hours.
These branded search ads have a different intent as your commercial search ads – they need to assure the searcher that you’re the website he’s looking for. It assures the visitor that he’ll go to the right place.
As you can see with Leanplum, we have a perfect use case for a brand search ad. It protects the brand from competitor ads and reiterates the official organic result ( especially when you don’t have a Knowledge Panel to boost visibility ).
You don’t have to outbid them if you can block them
Another approach to fend off your competition from bidding on your branded searches is through the Trademark Complaint Form. As stated by Google, they “won’t restrict the use of your trademark unless you submit a valid complaint.” So if you see competitors using your brand name in their ads and landing page.
Sometimes these competitor ads will try and damage your brand’s reputation by making bold statements.
In this case, ProfitWell states in the ad that they are more accurate than ChartMogul but if you click through to the landing page, there’s no mention of ChartMogul or their accuracy discrepancy. This can easily be corrected with the help of the Trademark Complaint Form.
If you plan on filing a complaint with Google, you will be required to submit a trademark registration. Because trademark rights are territorial, you might need to make sure you have trademark rights for your branding in multiple regions.