It’s getting harder and harder to gain organic traffic as a software company. New players enter the field every day and Google introduces algorithm updates faster than ever. The more relevant and valuable content you have, the higher your chances of ranking.
But manually creating quality content at scale is a slow and expensive affair. So why not do it differently?
With programmatic SEO, you can create hundreds of new pages within a short timeframe, and as Kevin Indig pointed out, the recent rapid evolution in AI technology is making it easier than ever to scale your content production.
Want to add programmatic SEO to your content strategy? Read on.
Table of Contents
What is Programmatic SEO?
Programmatic SEO (pSEO) is a search engine optimization strategy that entails creating and publishing a large number of web pages using one or more databases that feed information into a page template. Each of the pages created this way targets a specific long-tail keyword pattern or a modification of a head term.
An example of such a pattern would be “x online tutor’ where “x” where “x” can be substituted to target different long-tail keywords with different pages, such as “find German online tutor”, “mathematics online tutor”, “biology online tutor”.
Programmatic SEO enables you to automate the content creation process and easily publish content at scale.
Advantages of Programmatic SEO
Quick to scale
In essence, programmatic SEO connects a database to a page template to create dozens to thousands of pages. A good example of this is shown directly on MentorCruise’s homepage where the page title is animated to continuously switch between different types of 1-on-1 mentorship:
When searching for a 1-on-1 marketing mentor, MentorCruise returns this page:
To create content like this, you don’t need to hire A-class writers. All you need is the right data to feed into your page template.
What also saves you time is that you can create a series of programmatic SEO pages based on a single search query. Instead of spending hours doing keyword research to find the right keyword for each blog post or individual page, you just have to find a solid keyword to create programmatic content around. We’ll get into how to do that later in this article.
Hundreds of ranking keywords for the effort of one
By creating programmatic content based on a head term and building a large number of pages around similar keywords, you’re automatically also targeting that large set of keywords.
Zapier, for example, targets keywords around integrations. The more tools Zapier allows integrations for, the more programmatic content they can create, and the more keywords they can rank for. Just look at these search rankings according to Ahrefs:
At the time of writing, Zapier ranks on the first page of Google for 573 keywords based on this “x integrations” query and none of their integrations pages have manually written content. They consist entirely of dynamically inserted content.
An added benefit to this is that the more content you can rank, the higher your chances of getting backlinks and increasing your domain authority.
Easy to scale
Programmatic SEO is not only quick to produce, it’s also easy to scale. There is no need to assign an article to a writer, wait multiple days for that writer to finish the piece, then send it over to an editor, and so on, before you can hit publish. Programmatic SEO allows you to ship thousands of pages in a matter of weeks or even days.
As time goes on, you can keep adding data to your data sources which means you can keep creating additional programmatic pages and updating existing ones.
When you’re pulling all of your content from a database, there is no need to hire writers or editors to manually create manually written content. As such, programmatic SEO helps keep your cost-per-page low. This is increasingly true the more programmatic pages you create around a single head term.
Risks of Programmatic SEO
Thin and duplicate content
Unfortunately, the benefits of programmatic SEO are tightly linked to its risks. If all you’re doing is filling page templates with data without adding context, an opinion, or deeper insight, you’re likely to create a lot of thin content that is frowned upon by Google.
And because you’re always using the same page structure – oftentimes with recurring headings and sentences – there is the risk that your programmatically generates pages get flagged as duplicate content.
The solution for both risks? Hire freelance writers to create unique introductions for each individual page and/or insert user-generated content such as reviews or testimonials.
While you might be able to create thousands of pages in a week thanks to programmatic SEO, Google likely won’t index them all in one go.
- Submit the URLs of new pages to Google Search Console for indexing.
- Make sure to have a clean site structure with relevant internal links.
- Build external links.
Dependence on data
Lastly, unless you’re willing to invest in quality writers to add a lot of context and insights to your programmatically generated pages, your content will only be as good as the data sources you’re basing it on.
The solution: Gather sufficient, in-depth, and clean data that answers your audience’s questions.
How to Do Programmatic SEO
1. Identify low-competition, programmatically scaleable keywords
Your first step when doing programmatic SEO, is to determine the keyword pattern you’ll build pages around. That means finding a head term that is relevant to your product (a.k.a. that is searched for by your target audience) and that can be built out into a large set of mid to long-tail keywords using modifiers.
In our earlier example, the head term was “online” tutor, while modifiers were “German”, “mathematics,” and “biology.”
It’s okay if these long-tail keywords have low search volume, as long as the encompassing theme or the group of keywords you’re targeting (all kinds of online tutors) has substantial volume for all keywords combined. Ideally, the individual keywords will also have a low keyword difficulty but the importance of this depends on whether your site already has a high domain authority or not.
If there are only a few relevant modifiers for your head term – and thus only a few pages you’ll be able to create – programmatic SEO is probably not the way to go. “Online tutor” is a good head term as its possible modifiers are basically anything one could receive online tutoring for.
Note: “online” is a modifier as well, but if your creating a directory of online tutors and want to use programmatic SEO to generate pages for each type of tutor, it makes sense to use “online tutor” as your head term.
A few examples of modifiers you can use are:
- Words like “versus”, “in”, and “for”:
- Accounting software for small businesses/for freelancers/for coaches/for designers/… ,
- “Your BrandName vs Brand A/Brand B/Brand C/…
- Lawyers in Berlin/in London/in San Francisco/…
- Adjectives: cheap accounting software, free accounting software, easy-to-use accounting software, team accounting software, …
How to find these scaleable keywords?
- Brainstorm away on paper or in a spreadsheet.
- Use a keyword research tool such as Ahrefs.
- Come up with a few head terms and then look at which modifiers competitors use for these head terms.
Lastly, you don’t just want to find a query pattern you can create a ton of pages around. You also want to ensure you can offer value on those pages. Google is answering more and more queries within the SERPs so unless your page offers more than what can be said in a featured snippet, your chances of generating clicks are small.
2. Create your page template
Once you’ve figured out your target keywords, you’re ready to start creating pages.
To do so, you need to design a page template. What that template will look like depends on the type of information you want to display on each page, and how you want to display it. One way to go about this is by – again – looking at how your competitors are providing similar information and then making sure your pages are better-structured and carry more value.
Another way is to simply follow on-page SEO best practices and use your insight into your market to create a page structure.
Elements you may want to add to your page template:
- Price sheets or tables
- Comparison tables
- Pro-and-con lists
- Product descriptions
Take into account:
You’re creating a template to automatically create and update pages. Contrary to manually created pages, you won’t be manually updating your pSEO pages as needed. Decide beforehand who will be responsible for this. Will the setup be automatic or need to be triggered? Will your SEO team oversee this, or your developers?
3. Collect data
When you need to start collecting data from scratch, it’s best to first create your page template so that you know exactly which data to collect. However, sometimes your idea for a programmatic SEO project can come from a single ready-to-use data source, in which case you’ll create your template based on that data.
Here are a few ways you can build databases for your pSEO project:
- Use publicly available data, such as government data.
- Collect and categorize customer feedback, reviews, surveys, etc.
- Tag and organize customer support tickets.
- Track how customers use your product.
- Track industry data relevant to your audience.
- Create a way to gather user-generated data.
- Scrape data from websites (watch out for legal issues!).
- Hire a VA to collect all the data.
Note that to truly enjoy the benefits of programmatic SEO, gathering the necessary data to populate your pages should be relatively low-effort.
4. Create internal links
Once your programmatically created pages are published, focus on internal linking to connect them with each other and other pages on your website. Do this like you would for other pages, by working with content pillars and using your links to indicate the relation between your pages.
Not only will this make it easier for Google to crawl them, it also signals that these pages have a purpose and makes them easier to find for users.
5. Create extra sitemaps if needed
A single sitemap can hold about 50,000 URLs. If you programmatically create more pages than that, you’ll need more than one sitemap and force Google to crawl each individual sitemap.
Programmatic SEO Tools
There are a lot of great tools out there you can use to support your programmatic SEO efforts, including no code tools for data collection and organization as well as page-template creation. Here are just a few examples:
- For keyword research: Ahrefs, SEMrush, Ubersuggest
- For capturing data: Simplescraper, Data Fetcher, Scraper
- For moving data to a CMS: Zapier, Make, Craftar
- For building page templates: WordPress, Webflow, Softr
3 Great Programmatic SEO Examples
Want to see programmatic SEO in action? The three examples below show how real life brands have successfully implemented programmatic SEO strategies.
G2’s category pages
Ranking category pages is important when you’re a big site like an aggregator or large e-commerce site as these will be your main link building targets. G2 is a great example of an aggregator that has used programmatic SEO to rank its category pages.
Each category page is built around a type of software, such as CRM software, animation software, photo editing software, etc. It consists of some unique content combined with a list of brands that match the software type of a specific page.
Each page also has filtering options that, when used, dynamically create new pages filled with only the brands that are relevant to the user’s needs. It’s a setup that’s very similar to that of an e-commerce site where you might have a page for shirts and are then able to filter based on color, size, price, etc.
Now, how does G2 get these pages to rank?
1. They get the basics right
When you set up these categories for the first time, take SEO best practices into account and make sure you:
- Have the main keyword in
- The URL
- The page title
- The meta description
- The H1
- Optimize your CTR
- By including the year, when relevant
- By including reasons for users to trust your page. G2 does this by mentioning they provide “unbiased reviews” and don’t accept paid placements.
2. They fill their category pages with content
From an e-commerce perspective, you want your category pages to be slim, guiding the user toward the action button. However, for your category pages to rank, they need content. This is where you need to find the balance between your conversion goals and your programmatic SEO goals.
G2 has done a great job adding a lot of content to their category pages. Just look at this page for “CRM software,” for example:
- It starts with a short intro that is expandable. This way, people can read more if they want to, but they can also skip straight to the…
- List of CRM software brands, because G2 knows that’s what people are really there for.
- But following the list is a large amount of optimized text that is basically a guide to CRM software and that helps the page to rank.
You don’t always need to add a whole guide to your category pages, but you do want to make sure there is enough content for the page to be competitive in Google.
3. They manage indexing and faceted navigation
While you want your category pages to be indexed, you want to avoid this for all of your dynamic filtering options. For example, G2’s CRM software page has filters for the rating each tool gets, the language it’s in, its pricing, etc. Each time a user selects one or more filters, the page dynamically generates a new list of filtered options on a new URL.
Because this new URL is highly similar to all of the other URLs generated by filtering, it could create duplicate content issues when indexed, and so G2 only has the main category page indexed, none of the dynamically created pages.
4. They create topic clusters
G2 created supporting articles around the main category pages. For example, for the CRM software page, they have supporting articles about enterprise CRM software, CRM resources, small business CRM, etc. All of these articles are indexed and have unique content.
The result? A true topic cluster around the topic of CRM software, rather than just a single page on the topic. All of these supporting articles link back to the main category page, increasing its chances of ranking.
5. They gained relevant backlinks
When we look at the backlinks to G2’s category pages, it’s highly likely they have a strong outreach tactic. Just look at how strategic the anchor texts for the CRM software page are:
Want to learn more about the SEO success of G2? We’ve decoded their secrets here.
Trello’s public boards
Trello ranks for hundreds of keywords through the indexation of their public Kanban boards. And the best part? These boards are created by Trello’s users. Oftentimes, large online communities use public Trello boards to share information and prgnize themselves. By doing so, they are creating content for Trello for free.
One example of this is the public Trello board for the game Project Jojo which is searched for around 46,000 times every month.
This is another way of doing programmatic SEO: by leveraging user-generated content, rather than by putting data sources together yourself. However, there is a risk to this as well. Once the community behind a board decides to move their content elsewhere, Trello loses a ranking page and therefor a traffic driver.
Luckily, that’s not all the brand is doing for SEO. Found out more about there strategies here.
A third way of doing programmatic SEO that is particularly interesting for SaaS companies is creating integration pages. The more tools a SaaS integrates with, the more integration pages it can publish, and ideally, these pages all follow the same format which means they can be based on a page template.
There are two kinds of integration pages:
- Hub integration pages that list all of the tools a SaaS is able to connect with.
Example: BambooHR’s Integrations page.
- Individual integration pages that show how the SaaS connects to a specific tool.
Example: this integration page for integrating Lattice with BambooHR.
BambooHR has a user-friendly integrations page that acts as a pillar page and links to all of its individual integration pages. Both the hub and the individual integration pages follow on-page SEO best practices and the individual pages are all built using the same page template.
And while these pages aren’t entirely optimized for a branded integration keyword (the H1, for example, is simply “Lattice” in the case of the integration page for Lattice), they do include a lot of these keywords in the body of the page. A few examples are:
- “BambooHR into Lattice”
- “Integrate BambooHR with Lattive”
- “BambooHR to Lattice”
Programmatic SEO: a Powerful Tool for Scaling Your Content Efforts
Programmatic SEO allows you to quickly and easily scale your content production. And with the rise of AI tools such as ChatGPT, it’s more cost-efficient than ever.
However, you can’t just product a high number of pages and hope for the best. To programmatically create pages that rank and draw in qualified leads, it’s essential to:
- Find the right keywords to target. Take into account relevance, keyword difficulty, and how many usable modifiers there are for that keyword.
- Build a strong page template that allows for optimization.
- Use or build high-quality, in-depth data sources.
- Build internal links from and to your pages.
- Make sure your pages are indexed (by creating and additional sitemap if necessary).
Want to know how you can use programmatic SEO to boost your organic traffic? Get in touch to discuss how we can help create a successful programmatic SEO strategy.