The Best and Worst SaaS Platforms in the Covid Era

A Breakdown of Crucial, Useful, and Luxury SaaS Products
Brett Friedman

We're about to launch a SaaS platform into one of the worst economies of all time. But like every startup, we think we've found the holy grail of tech - something that every business will one day consider crucial to their success. To find out what SaaS platforms companies currently find central to their survival and which tech products are considered 'nice-to-have', we asked over 50 founders to tell us. Collectively, they mentioned more than 70 unique platforms, 6 shades of Google, and several software transitions to free tiers or cheaper alternatives.
Here's what we learned.

What We Learned about SaaS

Finding #1: SaaS is Core

Above all else, SaaS platforms are essential to running a company today. Every company needs a website and an email address. These are the first subscriptions every startup uses. While only 18% of respondents mentioned web hosting, it's implied the rest are using some kind of platform to keep their sites up.

Email on the other hand is something that can be cut if absolutely necessary, though no one mentioned getting rid of G Suite or Outlook. They're both cheap and they're both part of day-to-day interactions for most, if not all companies.

Finding #2: Freemium pricing needs careful analysis

A more surprising finding on communications software is that people are four times more likely to pay for Slack Pro than for Zoom Pro. Speculatively, this is due to the paywall points in each program. Slack blocks your old messages once you hit 10,000. If you've ever used Slack, you know how important past conversations are, so you're willing to spend a bit to get them back. Zoom's main pause point is amount of time on a call. You get 40 minutes, then the call is automatically ended. Of course, there's an easy workaround of starting a new call afterwards, which means you'd have to care about having multiple hosts and over 100 participants to bother spending on Pro. Lesson learned: choose your freemium bottlenecks carefully. Test them if you can.

Finding #3: Email marketing is alive and well

Companies that get freemium right are big winners. Just look at the email marketing industry. Tons of differentiation, lots of competition, and all considered key to business. Seventy-eight percent of softwares mentioned in this category were unique and eighteen percent of respondents considered their email marketing tools for transactional emails, abandoned cart reminders, newsletters, and even cold outreach too important to remove.

Finding #4: SEO is more important than ever

One in every three respondents said their SEO software is a major part of their continued existence. In today's digital market landscape, the largest impact Covid has had is on sales and marketing processes. Getting customers is impossible offline as evidenced by the measly 8% of founders using sales software.
While everyone is stuck home, with less commute times and more free time, they're browsing the internet more frequently. They are also looking for solutions to problems otherwise solved through more traditional means. As a result, there's an uptick in SEO software. More interesting is the fact that there's one SEO software to rule them all: Ahrefs. Almost half of all SEO users used Ahrefs, one person switching from SEMRush to Ahrefs, and three others cutting SEMRush altogether. A couple people held on, but it's clear what service provides the most value. More than anything, the jump in SEO usage indicates how powerful Google is to today's economic landscape. They control web traffic which means they control growth.

Finding #5: Google is a shape-shifting behemoth that remains on the tech throne

The single largest shift in services to save costs is from Microsoft 365 to Google Docs, getting four discrete mentions. While that's a relatively small number, it only adds to the five other forms of Google that showed up on the master list: Google Analytics, Google Apps, G Cloud Computing, Google Alerts, and of course G Suite. That's not including Google Domains and Google Ads, two services most founders use without thinking much about, though they may not be traditional SaaS platforms by definition. Either way, Google continues to dominate the increasingly digital marketplace.

Finding #6: There are many forms of successful SaaS companies

Most SaaS platforms are applicable across many industries. Take design tools for example. Any company that needs marketing materials - ads, flyers, branding, site design - needs tools like those of Adobe Creative Cloud. From e-com to car dealerships, all companies need good design. That's why sixteen percent of respondents called their design tools crucial. Now consider payments software, cloud storage, customer support, data analytics... these are all tools that companies across any industry can use. That's what makes SaaS platforms truly succeed. In fact, SaaS platforms are so wide reaching, eight percent of respondents need integration software to collect all their information in one place.

Finding #7: SEO platforms are also the least popular

But that's primarily on the local level. People are no longer trying to get their businesses to show up first on Google Maps, Yelp, or similar services. SEO also hosts the winner of most cut platform: SEMRush. Notably, Ahrefs, SEMRush's direct competitor, won the Most Important Platform (MIP) Award (tied with Slack of course). Other than that, Social Media Management tools and Sales Tools are getting cut, aligned with Finding #4, content is overcoming traditional sales methods. It also bolsters Finding #5 that Google runs the internet. While other social media platforms are considered non-essential tools, getting to Google's audience is still imperative.

Finding #8: Optimism

We surveyed participants over the last few weeks, when Covid had already taken its toll on the economy. While lots of businesses have been severely impacted, SaaS companies are still around and its now clear are here to stay. Many people said they'd take their software to their company's graves if necessary. Moreover, there were more than three times as many platforms considered crucial than were canned as luxury. Even some of those services considered unworthy of paying were kept in free versions or the functionality was transferred to a less expensive product. That all goes to show how relevant SaaS is today.

The Caveats

These responses were gleaned from HARO - a list of journalists and bloggers, Slack communities, social media sites like Reddit, and personal conversations with founders. So the fact that SEO tools and Slack were the primary platforms mentioned comes as less of a surprise. That being said, the current economy is made primarily from SEO advocates, social media mavens, and content producers. So the results are still highly generalizable as trends.
Below you'll find the actual list of platforms listed by our audience. Where it says General Mention, this refers to someone saying 'SEO tools are crucial', but not naming a specific tool. They were not included in the unique counts, but they were included in the percentage of respondents who use a SaaS tool in that category. To see full comments, hit the Sources button at the bottom of the page.

Kept & Crucial: 57 Unique SaaS Platforms

SEO: 34% Respondents

Ahrefs x8
SEMRush x2
General Mention
Google Analytics
Yoast Premium
Sitecheck Pro

Communications: 32% Respondents

Slack x8
GSuite x6
Zoom x2

Payments, Payroll, & Accounting: 22% Respondents

Stripe x2
General Mention x2
Zoho Invoice/Subscriptions
Shopify Recharge

Email Marketing: 18% Respondents

MailShake x2
Mailchimp x2
Active Campaign

Web Hosting: 18% Respondents

General Mention x6
AWS x2

Design: 16% Respondents

Adobe Creative Cloud
Adobe Spark

Auxiliary: 16% Respondents

Airtable x2 - Spreadsheets
Google x2 - Free Apps
Typeform - Survey Forms
OAuth - Security/Authentication
AdEspresso - Ad Spying & A/B Testing
Grammarly - Grammar Correction Plugin

Cloud Software: 12% Respondents

Cloudflare x2
DO Cloudways

Sales Outreach: 8% Respondents

LinkedIn Sales Navigator
General Mention

Integration: 8% Respondents

General Mention x2

Project Management: 6% Respondents


CRM: 4% Respondents

General mention

Help Desk/Ticket Software: 4% Respondents

Help Scout

Analytics: 2% Respondents


Transitions and Downgrades: 10 Unique SaaS Transitions

Microsoft 365 -> Google Docs x4
TalkWalker & Social Searcher -> Free + Google Alerts
HR, Benefits, payroll software->
Cloud Server Automation -> Single Server
G Cloud Computing -> Firebase
Right Signature -> PandaDoc
Basecamp 3 -> Free version
Intercom -> Chatbox only
Adobe -> Sketch
SEMRush -> Ahrefs

Cuts: 18 Unique SaaS Platforms

SEO: 18% Respondents

Local SEO General Mention (e.g. Google My Business) x3
SEMrush x3
Proxies for Scrape Box
Bright Local

Auxiliary: 12% Respondents

Investment Software

Social Media: 10% Respondents

General Mention x3
Youtube for Influencers

CRM: 6% Respondents

General Mention

Project Management: 4% Respondents x2

Design: 4% Respondents

Adobe Creative Cloud
Stock Photo Libraries

Email Marketing: 4% Respondents

General Mention

Entertainment: 4% Respondents


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