SEO for B2B SaaS case study: 22x organic traffic in a year with GenAI

It's time for an improbable search engine optimization case study. Let me share the very personal story what happened when we switched to an AI-driven SEO content strategy at our Seed-stage SaaS startup, Workfellow.

I'll include a bunch of real-world examples, mistakes and lessons learned along the way.

Background on Workfellow

Workfellow was a Seed-stage process intelligence startup based out of Helsinki, Finland looking to shake up the field of process and task mining.

This market had been around for over 20 years and includes a roster of well-known vendors, such as SAP, Microsoft, IBM along with SaaS heavyweights like Celonis, AutomationAnywhere and UiPath.

Workfellow was founded in 2019 by intelligent automation experts Kustaa Kivelä and Henri Wiik and began commercial operations in early 2022.

Like many early-stage companies, Workfellow needed to balance ambitious growth plans with a focus on customer-centered software development. This meant that marketing initiatives needed to rely largely on bootstrapped creativity and the willingness to find cracks in a very competitive market.

As the first marketing team leader, I joined in June 2022 with an initial focus on events, product marketing and lead generation. Very soon after starting in the role, it was clear we needed to reduce both sales and marketing resources to maintain runway.  To put it more directly, in January 2023 we shut down paid lead generation initiatives like Google and LinkedIn ads - and solely focused on organic growth to generate demand and qualified leads.

The authority challenge for startup SEO

Search engine optimization was on our priority list from day one, but became increasingly important as we reduced marketing investments. By the tail-end of 2022 we had already started to put emphasis on search engine optimization at Workfellow - only we had a big problem. As a relatively new startup we lacked authority and credibility in the view of search engines. The first lesson we learned is that authority matters in SEO and smaller companies need to pick their battles before competing head-to-head with much larger incumbents.

In the field of SEO, domain authority is a well-known signal for search engines to decide which websites are credible sources of information. When our peers Microsoft, IBM and SAP were established authority sources of information with a domain authority (or domain ranking) score above 90, Workfellow as a startup had a score below 15. This meant that regardless of the quality of content we produced, we faced an uphill struggle to gain any visibility at all.

As a starting point, we had just under 300 organic website visitors in January 2023. Some of our competitors were getting more organic traffic on a single search term like "process mining" alone because of their super strong domain authority.

how to find domain ranking in ahrefs

B2B SaaS SEO Tip 1: use a tool like Ahrefs, Moz or Semrush to benchmark your domain authority or ranking vs. peers. 

Setting the right targets for SEO-lead growth

When we decided to focus more on SEO, we needed to revise our goals. So, let's talk a bit about target setting.

SEO is one of those organic marketing initiatives that can take time to ramp up and show results. According to a recent poll by Ahrefs, it takes at least 3-6 months to see measurable impact from your SEO activities.

How do you know you're on a path to revenue impact?

I recommend using a set of both leading and lagging indicators to get an understanding of the visibility impact and revenue impact of SEO.

Leading indicators: you can look at signals like the number of impressions you get on Google or the number of organic website visitors as early indicators of your SEO initiatives working. If you don't have a dedicated SEO tool in use, you can use Google's free Search Console to track these high-level metrics and set your targets based on them.

Lagging indicators: over a longer period of time you can track the amount of qualified marketing or sales leads that have originated from SEO - or even better, you can analyze how many closed sales deals came directly from search engines visits.

B2B SaaS SEO Tip 2: If attribution is difficult with many touchpoints involved in buying processes, you can help to add a "how did you hear about us?" open-ended question in your demo request form. Often qualified leads will simply share how they found you eg. "on Google."

In the case of Workfellow, we had a goal to increase the organic net-new revenue coming from SEO, along with a leading indicator of catching up to our two closest Series-A funded peers and in organic search traffic within 90 days. The second goal was admittedly a vanity signal, but it does give a benchmark signal how you are performing vs. peers with the resources you have. 😎

workfellow vs skan and kyp

Tools like Ahrefs and Semrush can help you compare website traffic vs. peers.

Switching to an AI-driven SEO content strategy

Let's next cover marketing team resources and how artificial intelligence can come to play in terms of efficiency of work.

At Workfellow, we had very limited content marketing and SEO resources at the start of 2023. In my role as CMO I had plenty of experience and limited time. My colleague Kazyna in the role of our Marketing Manager had plenty of creativity and enthusiasm, but also needs to balance many things outside of content marketing. For a team of two, we made the decision to go ambitiously into AI-generated content, while SEO was not the primary focus of anyone on the team.

Timing was also another factor. ChatGPT's paid-for version, ChatGPT Plus had launched on February 1st, and as soon as we tried it, we realised that GPT-4 had a massive edge in content production over the unpaid GPT-3.5 version most companies were using.  In a recent survey we conducted in Finland we found out that while the majority of marketers have used ChatGPT, only 61% of marketing teams use ChatGPT Plus. In our experience, the small investment was well worthwhile in terms of better SEO content quality.

Human vs. AI-driven content

What is the right balance between human created and AI-generated content?

In our case, the switch to AI-driven content was done out of necessity. Having done the switch there is an important lesson to be learned about AI and human created content. This should not a question of a binary "AI" or "human" decision, but a spectrum of "how much AI" and "how much human." 

In our case, the human vs. AI tradeoff looked something like this:

  • Human only - 1 new blog article a week, written at a high standard.
  • AI only - 4 blog articles written a week, written at a dubious standard.
  • Human + AI - 3 new blog articles a week and 3 improved blog articles. Quality improving over time.

Ultimately, we found that an AI-driven method where we create and improve articles over time was the most efficient and effective. This meant that we were not only relying on "one-and-done" AI generated content, but were able to maximize the impact of human editing. The tradeoff meant that the first draft of many of our new articles was not perfect, but we had a method to improve quality over time. 

In the long term, the question shouldn't be how much of your content is human created and how much is AI-generated, but how can you develop the best possible quality of content over time.

B2B SaaS Tip 3: Don't treat AI generated content as a finished product after publication. Improve it actively over time. 

What's HI-PO LO-CO?

How do you actually decide what content to generate for SEO? Let me introduce you to a phrase we invented, and hopefully something you remember, the "HI-PO LO-CO."

hipo loco for seo

Through tools like Ahrefs and Semrush you can get an understanding on the relative value and competitiveness of different search terms. Some popular terms can be very difficult to rank on in Google, while other terms can have less volume and as a result less competition. 

For AI generated content, we found the ideal sweetspot to be "high potential" and "low competition," or HI-PO LO-CO. This meant that we prioritised search terms that showed purchasing intent or serious interest in a product category over the absolute number of times people looked for the term in Google. We also looked at the competitiveness of different terms, to make sure we didn't go after topics that had already been saturated with content from the likes of IBM and Celonis. 

The key mindset change from traditional SEO and AI-driven SEO is that you can switch from going for competitive high-volume terms to individually answering the search intent of 3x more sales-relevant terms. When you're able to generate more content without compromising too much on quality, you can build up a large database of very specific answers to buyer needs.

In our case, HI-PO LO-CO topics were topics like "process mining algorithms" and "task capture methods," but also many related to the well known peers, like "celonis alternatives."

B2B SaaS Tip 4: Start by uncovering high-potential, low competition terms and create the best content to match search intent.

Topic authority > domain authority

In early 2023 we made some efforts into tackling our domain authority challenge. I reached out to Artem Klimkin, who is a bit of an expert we knew at the time on link building. Artem gave us some tips on how to attract quality links to our website. The advice he gave me was both surprising an effective. In short, he encouraged me to double down on improving the quality of content we develop first, and pay more attention to the internal linking on our website. 

How you design the structure of your website gives search engines like Google a lot of signals on how information is prioritized and organized. For example, a solitary blog article with absolutely no links from other pages on your website is not going to be considered very important compared to a detailed guide that includes tens of links from across your website.

The outcome of our link re-structuring was that we developed an entirely new section to our website called Learn and Compare focused around topic clusters. We also mapped out and re-built how links from different parts of the website flowed between "pillar" content and topic clusters. This new method allowed us to show more topical authority around our niche search terms, and as a result we started ranking much better on search results.

vs competitors

B2B SaaS Tip 4: Start your link building efforts on your own website. Think about how different topics come together as clusters, and create an organized and clear structure for links on your website.

Do you compare yourself to peers in B2B SaaS?

If you check out the Learn and Compare content on Workfellow's website, you'll see we've written a lot of content about different software vendors in the market.

Is this right or wrong? Let's review different perspectives.

  • Most established software vendors will not want to comment in any way about competitors in marketing materials. 
  • The same established software vendors will share detailed battlecards to buyers during the sales process.
  • It's not hard to find 3rd party comparisons from websites such as G2, Gartner PeerInsights but even these are not always objective.
  • As a new vendor, comparing yourself to peers can be a direct and effective way to communicate your positioning.
  • You should always be truthful and respective in what you write. Otherwise you will lack credibility.

At Workfellow we wrote some detailed comparisons of established peers, and gained a lot of very valuable inbound demand based on them. See for example, our content ranking on a comparison between two of the best known solution providers in the market. 

comparisons in SEO

I don't suggest you rely on AI when writing about real companies. From the testing we've done we can see there were many real risks of "hallucinations" where AI-generated content was in no way truthful or reliable. We put a lot of emphasis in giving a balanced view on established peers, while introducing ourselves as a credible third option. These articles were exceptions to our AI-driven strategy, where the content was largely human-created but then was re-packaged together in different forms. For example, once you trust the content, ChatGPT is a great tool for summarizing or paraphrasing things in new ways.

B2B SaaS Tip 5: Do position yourself in the market with honest comparisons with your peers. However, be careful with any AI generated content referencing real peers, products and companies. 

Skip to the results already!

Now that you've seen a few practical examples of how to use generative AI in SEO you may be anxious to get down to the results. Let's look at the outcome after the first 12 months vs. peers.

results of AI driven SEO

In the comparison above we added a couple more well-known companies in our market. Soroco is the market leader in our task mining niche and QPR is a Nasdaq Helsinki -listed incumbent in process mining.

In terms of organic visibility and traffic, we were able to 22x organic traffic within a year and go past way bigger peers. Our focus on HI-PO LO-CO keywords meant that we were effectively #1 on many peer vs. peer comparisons for most of the year, for example, with the key comparison between market leaders Celonis and SAP Signavio.

How about sales? In the tail end of 2023 we closed a number of sales deals and paid proof-of-concepts either originating in or influenced directly by organic search. Not only that, we grew our pipeline of marketing qualified leads (MQLs) by 5 fold.

Key take-aways and lessons learned from Workfellow

Ultimately, we didn't have enough time to see the realized impact of the organic awareness in our sales pipeline. Due to the very difficult financial situation for SaaS Workfellow had to close in February 2024. 😥

If you know of tech recruiters in Finland, there is some amazing talent on offer in Workfellow alumni.

My own journey continues as an organic growth advisor - looking to take AI-driven SEO to the next level with other ambitious growth companies. I feel strongly that we are in an interesting moment in time, when generative AI is disrupting old ways of marketing. 

Thanks for reading this very personal B2B SaaS case study. Remember these key take-aways as you plan your own  growth path:

  • Tip 1: use a tool like Ahrefs, Moz or Semrush to find  SEO growth opportunities in competitive markets.
  • Tip 2: use self-reported attribution to assess the real source of your most qualified leads.
  • Tip 3: don't just rely only on generating AI content. Edit and improve your content with a human touch.
  • Tip 4: start your link building efforts on your own website by organizing your internal link structure.
  • Tip 5: don't shy away from positioning yourself as an alternative in the market vs. larger peers. 

Set up time for a strategy call if you're looking for more tips and a hands-on growth partner. 

Lari Numminen

Lari is a 2-time B2B SaaS Company CMO and marketing enthusiast. He has written extensively on topics such as business process management and the role of artificial intelligence in the workplace.

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