- The HR SaaS industry is expected to grow to $35billion by 2030, but HR professionals increasingly report feeling overextended as their responsibilities stretch well beyond their resources.
- Companies who want to compete need to anticipate the needs of HR leaders and create helpful content like the industry has never seen. Having empathy for the woes of HR workers will inspire the best brands to create innovative content that truly engages this audience.
- Publishers, not HR SaaS companies, own the SERP for the highest volume HR keywords. If PR isn’t part of your strategy, you better brush up on how to pitch a story.
- While LinkedIn stands out as the industry’s must-have platform for reaching HR leaders, bold brands should explore video advertising both on YouTube and CTV as part of their multi-channel campaigns.
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HR Industry Status Report
HR leaders are feeling the strain of overwork. Many love their jobs, but over half of HR professionals are looking for the exit.
92% of HR professionals name increased responsibilities, limited budgets, lack of resources and not having the right skillset on their HR team as major barriers to success in 2024. 83% of HR leaders don’t feel they have the right technology to succeed. (Sage.com)
The increased demands placed on HR professionals are reflected in the burgeoning HR software industry, expected to grow to $35billion by 2030. (marketresearchfuture.com)
66% of HR leaders are looking for tech solutions to make it easy for both in-office, hybrid and remote employees to communicate questions and concerns. HR leaders want to invest in technology that will boost employee productivity, improve employee experience, assist in training, and improve retention. “About 36% of HR leaders plan to use technology to boost their own productivity... Since HR teams are continually expected to do more, HR technology can help bridge potential labor gaps and enable HR professionals to have more time for strategic work, which is essential to success in 2023 and beyond.” (paychex.com)
Despite these huge opportunities, few companies are acting on the massive opportunities in SEO and paid advertising to attract these frantic HR professionals to their cloud solutions.
Below, we share our analysis of over 20 HR SaaS industry leaders’ organic and paid strategies for SEO and advertising. Discover who is winning, why, and what you need to do to win the hearts and budgets of HR teams eager for cloud-based HR solutions.
SEO: Organic Search
|Company||Total Organic Keywords||Organic Keywords in Top 3||Total Estimated Traffic||Estimated Traffic Value|
Who is winning and why?
Gusto appears to be leading here with the highest number of ranking organic keywords and resulting traffic. But those numbers are doubly important when we look at Gusto’s content – content that strongly resonates with their personas. Their website boasts a robust resource hub, complete with content including:
- Paycheck and payroll calculators
- Burn rate calculators
- Business planning calculators
- Employer tax calculators
- How-to guides
- An expansive article library called “Shop Talk” addressing all issues of payroll, HR, benefits, business finance, taxes, and starting a business
- Local guides for select states
- Pay insights for major cities
- Original research and insights from Gusto economists
Their paycheck calculator alone accounts for over 31,000 visitors monthly from non-branded search.
Gusto’s highest value non-branded keyword search traffic is for the term “payroll services,” which averages 14,000 searches monthly. Gusto has captured the top spot for “payroll services online” and “online payroll services,” and Gusto’s payroll product page appears in the top 10 search results for 112 related and non-branded keywords.
The Gusto payroll product page wastes no time inviting visitors to create an account. A brief video shows how the service works and a banner below summarizes key features.
BambooHR takes second place as the SEO winner relative to organic keywords. According to Ahrefs, their traffic value is actually higher than Gusto’s at $1.4M versus Gusto’s $991K.
BambooHR has created some unexpected content, including an HR Software ROI Calculator designed to allow an HR professional to estimate what they would save each year by using BambooHR.
A series of HR Crisis Recovery Guides help HR professionals navigate topics such as Leadership’s Role, Back to Work, Hiring, Layoffs, Performance, and Remote Work.
Impressively, BambooHR ranks in the top 3 search results for over 5,000 HR glossary terms, the most-searched term boasting a monthly search volume of 56K. The glossary has almost 2,000 referring domains going to it and accounts for 583,000 of BambooHR’s estimated 825,000 sessions - that’s 70% of all estimated traffic.
Paycor, though ranking for 100,000 less keywords than Gusto, is pacing traffic with BambooHR and boasts the largest traffic value of all companies analyzed at $3.3M. However, this traffic may not be the most valuable to Paycor in terms of attracting new business.
For example, Paycor shows up in Google’s Featured Snippet for search terms including:
- Federal minimum wage increase (7,200 searches, KD 77)
- Minimum wage increases (15K searches, KD 88)
- How long is maternity leave (9.4K searches, KD 50)
- Maternity leave (25K searches, KD 73)
While Paycor has lots of real estate around HR topics, these searches likely aren’t coming from payroll professionals.
SEO: Organic Keywords
Top 10 most searched bottom-of-funnel keywords in the industry and their average monthly search volume:
|Keyword||Monthly Average Search Volume (Ahrefs)|
|Human resources software||1,500|
|HR management software||1,300|
|Best HR software||4,200|
|HR systems software||1,200|
|HR management system||1,100|
Top-of-page bid for these keywords:
Who is ranking organically for these keywords?
It is not the HR companies; it is publishers like Forbes, G2, Indeed, Capterra, and People Managing People.
What about for higher-intent keywords?
HR companies like Gusto and Paycor win the top spot for slightly longer-tail keywords such as:
- Gusto.com, “take home pay calculator”, position 1, 58.0K search volume
- Gusto.com, “paycheck calculator,” position 1, 367.0K search volume
- Paycor.com, “paystub example,” position 1, 2.7K search volume
Understandably, they also win for branded keywords coming from an aware audience that sees their brand ranking for other generic searches. The search volume for branded searches is high because of their top positions in other searches. For example:
- Gusto.com ranking for “gusto pricing,” position 1, 3.5K search volume
- Gusto.com ranking for “gusto demo,” position 1, 600 search volume
Publishers, not HR SaaS companies, own the SERP for the highest volume keywords. This likely won’t change anytime soon as Google tends to prefer listicles and review articles over branded content.
Google Ads and Paid Keywords
Who is spending what? According to Ahrefs’ estimates, HR SaaS companies are spending the following on monthly paid search traffic:
|Number of Paid Keywords||Monthly Paid Search Traffic Spend|
It appears that although Gusto is winning the organic race, they aren’t pushing as hard for paid search traffic. The top spender here is BambooHR, spending considerably more for paid search than any other company in this sample.
What’s showing up in the SERP for some of these terms? Unsurprisingly, straightforward keywords such as “hr software” bring straightforward results highlighting the bidder’s platform and benefits.
Let’s turn now to what these companies are doing with their ad spend. This data is from 1/1/2023 - 10/15/2023.
Spend & Impressions:
Paycom is spending the most and claiming the most impression volume against competitors. On average, when excluding Breezy HR as an outlier, these SaaS companies are spending $1.68M annually.
Note that this analysis does not include paid search spend. It also does not include traditional media spend (linear TV or radio).
It includes: Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat, Twitter, YouTube, OTT, Desktop Video, Mobile Video, Desktop Display, Mobile Display, and LinkedIn.
How is that spend allocated across platforms? View the spend and impressions by channel per company below.
Note that Meta is a sizable spend for most companies. Bamboo HR and Gusto both allocate over 60% of their ad spend to either Facebook or Instagram.
LinkedIn spending is far and away claiming the most budget overall. For Rippling, Workday, Paycom and Zenefits, LinkedIn ads claim over 60% of total ad spend. Only UKG and Breezy HR missed the memo, spending 3% and 0% on Linkedin respectively.
Most companies are spending a percentage on YouTube, and a few are venturing into OTT streaming ads.
Monthly Spend vs Impressions, Jan 2023-Sep 2023:
Excluding Breezy HR, every company produced over 100 different creatives in the past 12 months. Creatives can be used interchangeably with ʻadʼ. The ʻnumber of creativesʼ figures represents the estimated unique ads served or loaded on a page. Paycom is far and away the leader here with 919 creatives in the past 12 months, but a higher number of creatives doesn’t always indicate a win.
Let’s dive into what these individual companies are doing with their ad spend and creative.
Bamboo HR spends 73% of its budget on Meta ads, with more budget allocated to Facebook (52%) than Instagram (21%). 20% of spending goes to LinkedIn ads, and we can see that Bamboo HR’s campaigns are the same across all three platforms.
Nearly all of Bamboo HR’s ads offer “The Definitive Guide to Onboarding,” a content piece intended to help HR professionals navigate employee onboarding with ease. The content is gated behind a form-fill.
On YouTube, BambooHR published a video series wherein actors personify each BambooHR offering, including onboarding, hiring, reporting, payroll, time tracking, and performance management. After each character is introduced, they assist HR employees whose experience is depicted like a horror film, complete with dark lighting and eerie music. The Bamboo HR characters, dressed in bright monochromatic outfits, assure that HR leaders “don’t get scared” because they start using BambooHR. Additional scenes show the characters doing their job in various scenes. The entire 25-video campaign, published in June 2022, is no longer actively appearing in ads, but you can watch the saga here on Bamboo HR’s YouTube.
Gusto spends 61% of its ad spend on Meta, heavily favoring Facebook; 22% on LinkedIn; and 16% on YouTube - the strong leader in spend on this channel by an entire 9 percentage points.
Gusto’s ad copy varies largely, but the brand’s visual identity is strong across all platforms and creatives.
Gusto occasionally uses their creatives to indirectly but not-so-subtly call out competitors, including HR software behemoth ADP and Rippling. The ads condemn a particular flaw in their competitors’ offering, and invite users to head over to Gusto where things are done differently and better.
Rippling invests 30% of its ad spend on Facebook and Instagram and 62% on LinkedIn.
Nearly all of Rippling’s creatives are focused on the software’s global capabilities. Most ads’ CTA is “Learn More,” but Rippling is also running a campaign offering $100 gift cards to individuals who spend 30 minutes on a demo call.
On LinkedIn, Rippling drops the global workforce copy and exclusively runs creative calling out their competitor Paylocity.
Workday is the second largest OTT spender in our sample, with 12% of ad spend fueling campaigns on Hulu, Paramount, and Pluto TV.
Their streaming ads’ creative juxtaposes the stereotypically stuffy business world of HR with that of rock and roll. “The Rockstars of Business” campaign message is that HR leaders who use Workday are rockstars. However, in the campaign any mention of “rockstar” in the workplace incites a visit from a real rockstar, who is completely offended at the inappropriate use of their title. Workday even paid for one of these ads to appear in the 2023 Super Bowl.
Campaign landing page:
Super Bowl commercial:
Paycom’s software suite includes a payroll and time-keeping solution meant for employee use. Paycom’s offering enables employees to approve their own timecards, freeing up HR from dealing with inaccurate pay and never-ending payroll tasks.
Paycom uses video creative on YouTube and on OTT platforms Hulu, Pluto TV, Peacock and Tubi to make HR professionals aware of Paycom’s unique payroll system and persuade that employees can - and are actually willing to - do their own payroll. Paycom positions itself as the obvious and future-focused solution for antiquated HR payroll practices.
Check out some examples here:
- Corporate Natalie Presents: The Time I Called My Boss on Vacation
- The Truth About Employee-Guided Payroll
Paycom spends 13% on TikTok ads, but the creative are exclusively recruiting videos that highlight Paycom culture, perks and benefits.
Their LinkedIn creative gets 63% of ad spend, and messaging is a combination of their product and recruiting messaging.
Zenefits spends 70% of its spend on LinkedIn, and the other 30% on Meta. Their ads offer lots of resources, including customizable employee handbook templates and a recruiting tool book. Zenefits’ LinkedIn campaign seems to be full-funnel, with CTA’s ranging from “Learn More,” “Download,” and “Sign Up.”
UKG spends a massive 46% of their spend on mobile and desktop display, an entire 13 percentage points ahead of the second-heaviest spender, Paycor. 37% of UKG’s spend is on Meta, 9% is given to OTT, and the company spends only 3% on LinkedIn.
Their campaign creatives vary widely, but ultimately focus on empowering HR professionals to create an inspiring work environment that elevates their people.
A recent partnership with female Olympians Christen Press and Sydney Leroux saddled UKG as advocates for equal pay in video creatives that feel like they came from Nike. Watch the video here:
In another campaign, UKG relies on fairy tales in its creative. The campaign videos show a fairy tale storybook and invite HR professionals to “make your fairytale workplace a reality with HR software from UKG.” Watch that ad spot here:
UKG’s LinkedIn offerings take yet another approach to workplace bliss by focusing on employee resource groups.
How to Win in HR SaaS
You’ve seen it all (sort of), but what’s to make of it? HR SaaS companies looking for a spot in the game should consider the following strategies and positions for content, SEO and paid media.
From glossaries and calculators to checklists and crisis guides, HR leaders are at no loss for quality content to help them do their job. Businesses looking to compete need to create equally helpful content for the most pressing concerns HR leaders have.
With plentiful data uncovering what things HR leaders are most occupied with, your messaging has nearly been written for you.
Find the specific problems plaguing HR leaders heading into 2024, and create content just for them. Make something that leaders will bookmark and return to again and again. And don’t forget to gate some of that more valuable content for lead generation and nurturing.
Easier said than done, remember that any content strategy is stronger when built on concrete personas and customer journey mapping.
The companies in this sample are all investing a lot of money into SEO and advertising, but much of this budget is likely wasted on content built without adequate audience research.
You can spot the difference in messaging. Most of the content reviewed here is painfully generic, full of free guides and "complete platform" rhetoric. Gusto appears to be the only company to nail it by calling out frustrations with competitors directly. A real lack of focus on problem-solving and a lot of lazily pushed content won’t make any headway in increasing leads and winning customers.
The foundation of all strategy at 97th Floor is persona and buyer’s journey intelligence. This data has inspired some of our most effective work - including ad campaigns resulting in a nearly 200% increase in CTR and over 500% increase in demo requests from an audience that is chronically ad-averse.
97th Floor’s commitment to empathetic marketing means we take getting to know our client’s customers seriously. We’d love to be introduced to your customers, too.
As far as SEO, there’s really no replacement for an experienced SEO team to help you identify the right keywords to target and navigate both front and back-end SEO. If you need a little help here, 97th Floor SEO specialists are the brightest around. They don’t leave your site rankings with the mercy of best practices. They conduct thorough research to create custom strategies that maximize on hidden opportunities and get you in front of the right people.
Note that keywords—organic and paid—aren’t the only game here as far as search. In many cases, publications are ranking for valuable keywords well ahead of actual HR software companies.
Part of your promotion strategy must include targeting these publishers, whether that is through earned PR or sponsored content. Consider what HR topics your brand can speak to, and strategically pitch your own hero content to relevant sites.
The paid media data overwhelmingly establishes that LinkedIn is essential and that Meta advertising is still important in this industry, too. HR companies find their target audience here and are spending big to get in front.
A handful of HR SaaS companies are diving into the world of streaming ads, but not all. If you haven’t invested here, and have the budget to do so, you should seriously consider video advertising via OTT or YouTube.
97th Floor partners with performance TV platform MNTN to make OTT a reality for our clients. According to studies completed by MNTN, marketers who add OTT to their marketing mix see improved conversions for both social and paid search campaigns.
Whether you take a humorous approach like Workday or an inspiring stand like UKG, these ads pull impressions. Many OTT platforms are capable of precise targeting, like you expect for social advertising, using site visits, email lists, and other data points. The excuses are getting fewer and fewer, including the excuse that you just don’t know how to start. 97th Floor can help you run successful CTV campaigns with platforms such MNTN, NBCU, Hulu and Peacock.
Finally, remember your sales funnel at all times. Have some of it all - awareness, consideration and decision-level content and ads. Make the necessary investment in advertising to the 95% of HR professionals who are not in the market to buy your product. It will all pay off when they inevitably wind up as the 5% of in-market leaders looking for a software solution to their HR headaches.