How to Leverage Programmatic SEO to Grow Your Business

SEO is essential for any business. On a basic level, search engine optimization ensures you are showing up where your customers are trying to find you. With the world now accessing the Internet, there’s also fierce competition in many industries. However, SEO isn’t an element of marketing that should be looked at in isolation; there are many strings to its bow.

SEO plays a vital part in any marketing and digital campaign, so it’s important to look at each aspect to utilize it to its full potential. One part of this task is understanding and implementing Programmatic SEO. Sounds complicated, but it doesn’t have to be!

Check out our insights on Programmatic SEO below and discover how to use it for your website to boost your business growth.

What is Programmatic SEO?

Programmatic SEO is the name given to the creation of web pages using code, but at scale. Suppose you consider how companies such as travel websites create all those listings. In that case, you’ll begin to understand the sheer volume of content that is required.

This type of SEO is used to ensure that companies can get in front of the right customers with targeted content for voice, local, and mobile searches. It’s also not just about creating duplicate pages to get the information out there. Programmatic SEO uses a technique to match the number of Google entries but with modifiable and user-friendly content.

Many aggregator style websites use this method, as the sheer amount of pages to be optimized individually would be a never-ending job. While Programmatic SEO creates pages on mass, these are used to ensure they are user-friendly and optimized to convert visitors.

While this process sounds straightforward, there are many different elements to consider when setting up this type of project.

Elements of Programmatic SEO

In most cases, Programmatic SEO has three factors to tackle that make it a success. These include:

Research

Any type of SEO task requires research. In Programmatic SEO, this typically looks at questions and answers for various aspects, such as the competition of different search results, customer intent, and how people use keywords to find the specific page. This element is a fundamental starting point in any type of SEO. It creates the building blocks for the technical attributes of the page.

Technical Aspects

There are several technical factors to think about in Programmatic SEO, similar to the processes used in on-page SEO analysis. Elements such as questioning whether search engines can crawl the page and scrutinizing how search engines view it is crucial.

SEO Content

Search engines have quality guidelines that should be met in order for your pages to appear in the right place. For example, using the basic principles of Google’s Webmaster guidelines will help Google find, index, and rank your website.

Large-Scale Keyword Research

The basics of SEO start with keywords. These words provide your website with crucial search terms that your audience is looking for. While the basics of keyword research are straightforward, applying these principles on a large scale is somewhat more challenging.

This method involves a modified way of undertaking keyword research. It starts with broad level categories, also known as Head Terms.

Head Terms

On any website, there are broader search terms related to the product or service; for example, Airbnb will have a head term of vacations and trips. While the general term ‘vacation’ is a keyword and has a volume of searches attached to it, most people don’t just type vacation into Google. They also use a modifier (or terms related to vacation) for whittling down the results.

Using keyword tools, you can drill down into modified search terms relating to your head term. There is a range of handy tools to use, including:

• SEMRush
• Moz
• Google Adwords
• Ubersuggest

You can also use the box that says ‘People also search for’ to gauge search results.

These tools will give you the search volume attributed to each keyword, and from here, you can also check out the competition. Looking at how competitors use search terms for their page title tags will give you an indicator of other modifiers to add to the list.

How to Identify Modifiers

When you type a search term into Google, you’ll notice that it brings up a selection of automatic suggestions. Some of the keyword tools mentioned above can help you populate a list of all these suggested terms alongside your head term.

To identify modifiers, they are generally split into primary and secondary categories. In most cases, you can make an educated guess about what type of modifier goes into each category, but here are some examples:

Primary Modifiers

Dresses: black dresses, bodycon dresses, prom dresses, wedding dresses

Secondary Modifier:

Dresses: best dresses, affordable dresses, comfortable dresses

Primary modifiers usually highlight a new category and are often mutually exclusive. Secondary modifiers are typically a modification of the head term. In this case, you don’t have to worry about the volume of search terms relating to these keywords.

Local Modifiers

Modifiers can also include locality search terms. This will generally look like the ‘head term + location’ in the search bar. There is a selection of local modifiers and alternatives to the way they are typed. For example, someone searching for restaurants in New York may also search for restaurants in NY. It is also important to remember that you need to include the state in the list of modifiers on a city locality level. To ensure you capture the right locality terms, using the US census is an excellent place to start.

Other search terms such as ‘head term + near me’ are also on Google’s radar, as people use this in Maps.

Putting All the Information Together in Python

Once you have compiled the list of keywords from your research, you will typically have a lot of data for your website. In some cases, there could over 100k search terms if you have a large-scale aggregator style site. However, smaller numbers could also yield fantastic insights.

The goal of this task is to get as many possible keywords and modifiers into the mix as possible. In this instance, if you focus on the keyword ‘vacation’, you can use Python script to help you populate the data.

Below is an example of how this looks:

Programmatic SEO

Programmatic SEO Today

When you run the Python script with your key terms, you will get a massive list of keyword options. The script will run all different variations of the keyword and modifier. Once you have this, you can import the data into Excel using the program’s text import functionality and get a list of keyword tags.

When you are importing data into Excel, this program does have its limits. If you have a large dataset, the search terms may reach the spreadsheet capacity. If you have this issue, other programs such as Google BigQuery plus SQL can help.

Programmatic SEO

Things to Watch Out For

Are your modifiers universal?

In some cases, modifiers may not make sense when used with your head terms. If they are not universal, then creating separate sheets of modifiers for each base term could give you better results.

Do you need to include secondary modifiers?

For this exercise, you may want to include secondary modifiers, but it is not often needed.

Python for beginners

If you’re new to Python, there is a range of online resources where you can learn the basics. If you have a Mac computer, it has pre-installed coding software and you can use the example above (with your own modifiers and keywords).

Keyword Search Volume

Once you have your key terms, getting the search volume for each is the next step.

The easiest way to do this is by using Google AdWords. This tool doesn’t give accurate data, but you don’t need precise information for this task. The Adwords planner tool and many similar examples, often have low keyword limits. To overcome this, you’ll have to block these into chunks and run the data. You can also use Keyword Keg, which allows large batches of data to be run (charges apply).

When you have the search volume for your keywords, you need to marry these up to your keyword list in Excel. To compare the data, the easiest solution is to use a VLOOKUP. As before, if your dataset is large and maxes out the spreadsheet, you can also upload the information to SQL tables and join them.

On completion of this task, you’ll have an extensive list of keywords with your head terms and modifiers, plus search volume.

Keyword Analysis

After compiling the data, analyzing it for ranking against competitor data will give you some great insights. Ranking is one of the most valuable factors when looking at how well you stack up against your competition.

Companies that have lots of keywords in the top 10 positions are considered key players in specific niches. You can see this by running a search.

To get a good picture of the competition, try running at least 5000 keywords. It is important to see where the top competitors get their links and determine what tools they utilize for title tags. You will also be able to identify common UX patterns they use.

If you’re looking for a simple way to access competitor analysis data, try out tools such as SEMRush, Ahrefs, Moz, and Ubersuggest.

Creating Landing Pages

When you have compiled all the above information and analyzed your competition, it’s time to start creating landing pages.

As every page needs to be unique (Google doesn’t like duplicate content!), this can be one of the most challenging aspects of Programmatic SEO.

Getting the content right and avoiding common mistakes is the hard part. Your web development team will carry out the coding aspect and you’ll have a template you can follow.

To get started, there are some key areas to think about, including:

Create One Page Per Search Intent

You don’t have to create a page for every single keyword you have listed. Google is intelligent and can identify synonyms and related topics. However, you do need to create landing pages per searcher intent.

It’s vital to understand what your user intent is or what Google defines, as user intent is crucial. Search engines use user data and their own algorithms to establish this, but as you know, it’s not perfect.

To figure out what user intent is, use your previous competitor analysis or search the SERPS to see what keywords rank for different terms. It’s important to notice what Google highlights in bold on the searches and check out the section ‘People also ask’ for more insights.

searches and check out

In some cases, this decision on intent is down to a judgment call, but if it doesn’t quite work the first time, it can always be changed later on.

Avoid Doorway Pages

Google has a specific definition for doorway pages (see below).

unfortunate part

The unfortunate part is that this definition basically describes SEO! However, to overcome this obstacle, Google has put together a list of questions to avoid creating this type of page:

• Is this page a vital part of the user experience or purely for the purpose of search engine optimization?
• Is the content intended to rank for generic search terms, but is based on specific information?
• Do the pages include duplicate content to capture more traffic?
• Does the page merely facilitate a route for affiliate traffic?
• Is the page an ‘island’? (hard to navigate from other parts of the site)

You may think that all pages are created for SEO purposes, so what’s the issue? However, Google doesn’t mind them if there’s a valid reason for their creation.

As long as you can demonstrate that there is a reason other than stuffing a load of keywords in to get rankings and search results, you’re good to go. The main factor is that your content should add value and show the algorithm it does so. Plus, it’s a bonus if you can also get people linking to it.

Filling out Landing Pages with Useful Content

Two-sided marketplaces – Customers and sellers can contribute reviews and content. The marketplace also has access to data from vendors to fill the content on pages.

Examples include eBay, Houzz, Expedia, and Rover.

Community websites – This type of website is consistently producing unique content due to active contributors and users. Q&A sites do exceptionally well, and you often see these sites rank on Google.

Examples include Quora, Pinterest.

Proprietary data – If a site focuses on generating data, then it has endless possibilities for landing page content. This type of content is also linkable to other parts of the website.

Examples: CoinMarketCap, Zillow

Curation websites – Some websites don’t have a lot of their own content; they curate information from others. This is done by scraping data from other sites to generate listings.

Examples: Indeed, Yellowpages

Ecommerce sites – Websites that sell goods and services use lots of different information such as pricing, quantity, product descriptions, and other details. Reviews are also a great way to display unique content. In many cases, e-commerce companies also write individual product information and photos to improve the user experience.

Examples: eBay, Amazon, Wayfair and practically every e-commerce site on the Internet

Editorial content – You can’t go wrong with creating original content. It adds bulk to pages and has many advantages, including writing specifically to the page, topic, or user search intent.

Examples: Medium, eater, Airbnbs user guides

Every single page created should have unique content. That’s the same for small and large-scale websites. There are several elements you can include on a page, please see examples below:

• Statistics
• Photos
• Video
• FAQs
• Business listings
• Reviews
• and the list goes on…..

While this provides a lot of food for thought, it can be a challenge to ensure it’s unique and tailored to the user experience on large-scale page production.

There are a few examples of where companies get it right:

Building Links for Your Content

Building links can be a challenging task at the best of times. However, at large-scale, it can be even more challenging to get right. You’ll want to steer clear of any tactics that Google deems poor link-building practice and focus on developing a link building strategy that works for your company.

Unfortunately, there’s no exact science to this section of the guide, but we’ve included some common link building strategies to help you get started.

Ego-bait links – The most common example of this type of link building is embeddable badges. Basically, it offers a visual reward for being a part of a website and many two-sided marketplaces provide it. It creates a linking back technique; for example, a badge that says, ‘check out our eBay shop’.

Going viral – Of course, this tactic is something every company aspires to achieve. The Holy Grail of going viral can catapult companies into the stratosphere, hopefully for the right reasons. Many of the top viral companies make unique, shareable content, and people can’t get enough of it.

Commissioned surveys – Everyone likes juicy facts, so using surveys is a great way to gain traction in specific topics of interest. Many companies use this resource to produce factual and shareable insights. However, it’s wise to be aware that some publications will only publish this type of content from reputable sources.

High link intent content – People write content all the time and many use resources direct from the top results pages on search engines. The key here is to be discovered as an invaluable source. To make this happen, your content has to be produced with the intention that you want to be linked to. However, to really push the results, pitching the content and guest posting can be other ways to ensure it moves into the right position.

So, above we’ve covered the basics of Programmatic SEO, including keyword research, competitor analysis, creating landing pages, and building those all-important links. However, as with all technical SEO elements, you may encounter issues along the way. Therefore, check out some of the common challenges when undertaking this type of SEO.

Common Technical Issues of Programmatic SEO

Issues with Google Crawling Your Pages

Simply put, if Google can’t crawl your page, it won’t find it.

Crawling issues can happen for any type of website page. However, if you have large-scale problems, it can be daunting to try and fix it.

In this first instance, go back and make sure that each page is categorized. For example, if you have a travel website, there’ll be categories such as Countries, States, Destination types, and Cities.

The next step is to choose the broadest term and make an HTML sitemap. It’s also helpful to create a category that links to pages such as About Us or Media, etc. Add the sitemap to the footer of your website too. All these steps will ensure that Google finds every page and that nothing is submitted as an orphaned page.

The Importance of Internal Linking

Internal links can sometimes be missed, but they are an essential part of your site’s infrastructure and ranking ability. Google passes page ranks via internal linking, so ensure internal links are used for both user experience and Google crawlers.

Here are some examples of common ways to incorporate internal links:

Breadcrumbs – This term describes the way that links go back and forth to your content. Using this method with your site hierarchy will ensure that every category has subcategories or parent categories.

Related category links – Linking to pages up and down is important, but so is linking to pages on the same level. This is done by using ‘related category’ links. It is usually shown by links on the site under captions such as ‘you might also like’.

Minimize clicks – To make your site easy to crawl, ensure the main categories are no more than two clicks from your homepage. For product pages or individual listings, try and aim for a maximum of three or four clicks away.

Make the money link the most linked – The most valuable pages should be the most linked to on a page. However, relevance is essential when linking, so be careful not to direct people to unrelated pages.

Getting Google to Like Your Content

If Google likes your content, you will typically notice by indicators such as the indexation rate and cache date. With Programmatic SEO, if the content has done well, most of the results will be cached within the last week. If this time is above average, it could be a sign the content is not doing well.

It’s also important to watch your crawl statistics in Google Console. If the number of pages crawled is going down, but the number of pages is increasing, that is also not a good sign.

To get your pages in front of Google, create an XML sitemap for each category. You can create one using free tools online. Submit your sitemap to Google, and this will highlight the elements that have been indexed. You should aim to have an indexation rate of 90% or above.

How Page Speed Can Affect Results

Page speed can affect how your site ranks overall. Large aggregator-style sites require the most up-to-date information available. Still, in some search instances, you don’t want certain information to be requested every time someone loads a page. In this case, a caching solution is required, and your web team should be able to help with this.

Issues with Duplicate Content

Duplicate content can be a prevalent issue in Programmatic SEO due to the nature of creating thousands of similar pages. However, we also know that Google frowns upon duplicate information, and in the long term, you could see a significant impact on how pages on your site rank.

In some cases, you may also find that as your site continues to grow, there will be a mediocre page ranking above a money page. To avoid this, you need to identify why it’s happening.

Checking URL structure and fields to see if they match the desired landing page is essential. If it’s not, you can either leave it (sometimes an easy option, if the page is ranking well and it’s a one-off). The other option is to reword the page to include fewer keywords or try and send more link equity to the main page. There is also the option of consolidating pages with a 301 redirect.

How to Measure Performance in Programmatic SEO

Once you’ve implemented Programmatic SEO strategies, monitoring their impact and performance is key to driving results and making necessary amendments.

Here are some of the top KPIs to monitor in Programmatic SEO:

Organic Traffic

How many people visit your website organically is one of the most important factors of SEO. As Programmatic SEO focuses on creating many pages for both user experience and search ranking, it’s vital to see how your techniques are ultimately working against the competition.

Taking Google Analytics as an example, you can track daily searches and traffic for your head terms and modifiers, and see performance on specific pages. This tool will also show correlations with total sessions.

Search Rankings

It’s no secret that with all the hard work you’ve put into your Programmatic SEO content, you’ll want to see it actually rank on search results. Search rankings directly relate to SEO success. Higher positions, of course, lead to hitting other objectives such as traffic and conversation rates.

Tracking where your keywords rank is vital, so use tools such as Ahrefs or Serpstat to see their positions and changes within the rankings. These tools also give you a snapshot of how you stack up against competitors. Plus, you can get information on their rankings and keywords.

Search Visibility

Another way to monitor Programmatic SEO is to view how many times your search terms pop up in results. You can track these dynamics in Google Search Console, and this can help drive changes if required. The data shows you where you’re showing in keyword searches, even if users don’t click through. This can help monitor what pages are potentially underperforming or not showing in the right place to help you tweak content and categories.

Monitoring Links

Links can boost your content into higher rankings. They are a key SEO metric, and part of any marketing strategy should be to optimize them. Gaining high-quality links is crucial, so monitoring your pages for spammy links is vital to ensure nothing affects their visibility in search results. Using tools such as majestic, Ahrefs, and Moz’s Links Explorer can help with this.

Key Industry Terms Glossary

Click-Through Rate (CTR) and Bounce Rate

Crawling – process where search engines find your web pages

Indexing – storing and organizing web pages when a website is crawled

Ranking – the order of search results in search engines

SERP – stands for Search Engine Results Page

XML sitemap – list of URLs on your website that are crawled and indexed

Python – computer programming language

Link building – activity of earning links from other websites to build your site authority

KPI – stands for Key Performance Indicator

Every website wants to achieve a high CTR. This means people that find you are coming through to your site. CTR is another important signal for Google as low CTRs could represent your pages not meeting user’s expectations. CTR can be monitored in Google Search Console. This will help track and monitor results to make necessary changes if required.

Bounce rate is also another critical metric, similar to CTR; it shows how many leave your pages without taking any action. Typical bounce rates are between 40 and 60%, depending on the industry. So anything higher can indicate that the page content is not relevant to the search term the user inputted. Again, bounce rate can be found on Google Console and is an important aspect to keep tabs on.

There are several KPIs that every Programmatic SEO marketer should monitor. Other examples include:

  • Average session duration
  • Cost per click (CPC)
  • Return on Investment (ROI)
  • New and returning users
  • Demographic and user data
  • Ecommerce conversion rate and revenue

So, that concludes our guide on Programmatic SEO. While it may seem technical and challenging to implement, getting it right could boost your website in the long term.

Key Industry Terms Glossary

Crawling – process where search engines find your web pages
Indexing – storing and organizing web pages when a website is crawled
Ranking – the order of search results in search engines
SERP – stands for Search Engine Results Page
XML sitemap – list of URLs on your website that are crawled and indexed
Python – computer programming language
Link building – activity of earning links from other websites to build your site authority
KPI – stands for Key Performance Indicator