Decoding the SEO Success Secrets of Personio

Personio started as an HR platform for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in 2015. After having raised $270M on a $6.38 valuation in 2021, the company expanded into workflow automation. It now provides recruiting, onboarding, payroll, absence tracking, and other major HR functions in an all-in-one platform aimed at European SMEs of typically 10-2,000 employees.

In this post, we’ll discuss how Personio reaches SMEs on Google thanks to SEO and how you can copy their strategies for your business. We’ll also dedicate special attention to how Personio successfully built an HR lexicon to drive traffic.

Start from a Clean Website Structure

Having a solid website structure is crucial for SEO success. Yes, you can optimize individual pages but the results will never be as great when those pages aren’t built on a solid foundation. That means that when you get started with SEO, your website structure is the first thing to analyze and – if needed – improve on.

A good website structure makes it as easy as possible for Google to understand what your website is about. Because Google uses an algorithm to interpret content, the best way to help it interpret your website pages is by grouping content about the same larger topics together.

Following the image above, that means that all of your articles on individual types of fruit will be organized together in the category “Fruits” and internally linked with a large pillar page on fruits in general. You’ll also have only one page dedicated to the banana which holds all the information one may need about bananas.

It also means that keywords are mapped or assigned to different sections of your website depending on their search intent. Personio has done a really good job at this. Below, you can see how it has mapped transactional pr bottom-of-the-funnel keywords onto pages related to its product and product features:

Personio has analyzed the different needs of its target audience and has created dedicated landing pages for those needs that all target a specific and relevant keyword. For example, it has a page for people who are looking for an “online absence management software”, which is also the keyword those people would type into Google.

Aside from being easy to understand for Google, this type of content structure also allows Personio to meet potential customers where they’re at in the customer journey.

Now, if you perform a Google search for terms such as “online absence management software” and “employee self-service software”, you’ll probably see a lot of listicles (“x best online absence management tools”, for example) in the results. However, Google also likes to show some landing pages on the first page for queries like this and if your website has a high Domain Authority, you have a chance of ranking.

Plus, if a potential customer doesn’t feel like weeding through long listicles to find the software they need, you want your landing page to be the first one they come across – even if it’s on the second page of Google.

Produce SEO Content at Scale

This chart from Ahrefs shows the number of keywords Personio has ranked for over time. While the company launched in 2015, you can see that they were practically invisible on Google until 2020 when it started ranking for a few keywords. Mid-May 2022, it ranked for around 75,000 keywords and also started to gather an increasing number of page 1 positions. A huge difference! 

What did Personio do to start ranking? 

It started producing SEO content at scale and adjusted its website structure in line with that. 

Sometimes, brands shy away from publishing a lot of SEO content at once – say, 20 blog posts in a week – because it could be overwhelming for their audience and it would take away attention from their feature updates and company news.

Personio’s solution was to create an HR Lexicon and while we don’t have the inside details, it’s clear that the company did a good job at preparing its website structure to reap the benefits of this (for them) new type of content.

The brand redesigned its website in the spring of 2020 and by fall, it had replaced its regular “Blog” link at the top level of its menu with a “Resource” dropdown that included downloads and an HR Lexicon. Around the same time, rankings started to take off:

Personio is not the only company with an online lexicon. Especially in the software space, creating glossaries has become a popular SEO strategy thanks to the many benefits to be gained from them.

Reap SEO Benefits from Publishing Glossaries

The type of lexicons or glossaries we’re discussing here are more than just online dictionaries. While dictionaries usually contain short entries for each explained term, these glossaries are more like wiki pages: complete pages dedicated to specific concepts. It’s that completeness that makes it easier for them to rank.

Take for example the search term “attrition rate”. The search result that wins the featured snippet for that term is a page of 2,262 words. That’s not short! 

Personio’s HR Lexicon is no different. All of its lexicon entries are long-form SEO guides such as this one. While this means that creating lexicon entries isn’t a quick-win strategy, it does allow you to put your own spin on it and add in examples, stories, and some of your brand voice.

Personio’s lexicon comprises a total of 205 pages at the time of writing, and all of those are internally linked with the brand’s HR Lexicon pillar page to enhance the website structure even further.

This strategy has served the brand well. Of the 440 English ranking pages at the time of writing, 199 are lexicon pages, and of its top 20 SEO pages, 17 are part of the HR Lexicon. 

So what do these lexicon pages allow you to do that makes them so effective?

  1. Scale up your content production quickly. As mentioned higher up in this article, creating a lexicon allows you to produce and publish a lot of optimized content without flooding your main blog. 
  2. Add a complete content pillar. With your glossary homepage as the pillar page and your lexicon entries as topic-specific articles within that pillar, a lexicon provides an easy way to add an additional content pillar to your site.
  3. Neatly structure an optimized resource. Because of how easy it is to shape a lexicon into a neat content pillar, this type of resource is easy to add to your website structure in an organized way, with a target keyword mapped to each lexicon entry.
  4. Set up internal linking easily. Not only can you easily create links between the individual lexicon entries and the lexicon hub page. You can also link to lexicon entries each time the term explained in them is mentioned in one of your blog posts.
  5. Strengthen your topic relevance. Since each lexicon is highly optimized to target a keyword that’s relevant to your core business, adding a lexicon to your site increases your industry relevancy and authority with Google
  6. Build backlinks. While you’ll likely still need to put effort into link building, people are much more willing to link to educational content than to product landing pages. Personio has 2,091 links to their lexicon pages.

Optimize for featured snippets

In the UK, Personio has 107 featured snippet rankings for high volume terms like “attrition rate” “types of leave”, and “pto meaning”. These are predominantly from their HR Lexicon pages.

Lexicon entries are great for targeting featured snippets as they are meant to answer the question “What is x?” so make sure you optimize for these types of questions.

Another thing Personio does well in this regard is that it adds FAQ schema to all of its lexicon pages.

While in this case, the featured snippet for “What is attrition?” is pulling from the content itself (not the FAQ), the FAQ schema does provide extra context to search engines as to what the page is about. 

Have relevant CTAs

While not directly related to SEO, Personio has a great way of promoting its large library of downloadable content that is worth mentioning. The brand customizes its calls to action and downloadable offers based on the article the download is promoted in. That way, both the CTA and the offer are relevant to the user reading the article and where they are in the customer journey.

The screenshot above is a good example of this: in its post on 12 questions to ask during an exit interview, Personio promotes its exit interview template. The offer is a great fit for someone looking for information on how to conduct an exit interview.

It’s also a great offer through which Personio can capture a lead who is not yet ready for a demo or a free trial.

Use Pillar Pages to Carve out Your Own Niche

While Personio’s beautifully designed pillar page on people workflow automation doesn’t get a lot of SEO traffic yet, it’s a great example of how you can use pillar pages to coin a term ( “People Workflow Automation”) and carve out a very specific space for your brand within your industry and establish yourself as a thought leader.

Suggestions from Flow

Personio is doing a lot right in terms of SEO but while analyzing their strategy, we’ve also found some areas of improvement.

1. Showcase the best-performing resources

When software companies have a Resources or Blog section, that section can be a mix of blog posts, lexicon pages, and sales enablement content such as webinar recordings, case studies, and whitepapers.

Personio allows visitors of its Knowledge Hub to filter its content based on topic (Onboarding/Offboarding, Performance and Feedback, Recruiting, …) and on content type. While this is a clean and recommended way of structuring things, Flow SEO founder Viola Eva has a suggestion that could make this resource hub even better:

Show your best-performing piece at the top so people instantly see it, regardless of whether they then go on to filter the content or not. This strategy is in line with how ecommerce stores often will show their best-selling products at the top of each product category.

Another suggestion for Personio is to use the same categories for its blog and its resource library, which is something they aren’t doing now. It’s a good idea to decide on the four-five main topics that you talk about and have those be the categories for all of your content.

2. Create more pillar pages

Once Personio has streamlined its categories, it could create pillar pages for its four-five main topics. Those could be equally well-designed as the People Workflow Automation page mentioned above and highly optimized to help them rank.

3. Optimize the blog

Personio creates SEO content for its blog but in general, its blog is less optimized than its HR Lexicon is. From the list above, you can see that Personio doesn’t follow SEO best practices when it comes to creating URLs for their blog posts. It would be better if it kept its URLs short, consisting of only the target keyword when possible.

The brand also mixes its company updates with SEO content. To create a cleaner structure for both the user and Google, they could organize that news content into an “Updates” content pillar.

What Personio does do well is that its blog targets longtail keywords and avoids keyword cannibalization with its lexicon. 

There is More to SEO Content than Blogs

The SEO success of Personio proves that you can scale up your content production without flooding your blog and still get amazing results. The HR brand did this by creating a lexicon with highly optimized entry pages and neatly structuring its website so that it’s easy to interpret by both Google and its users.

What’s great is that you don’t need to wait until you have 50 pages to publish your glossary. In fact, it’s best to publish them as soon as they’re ready so they can get indexed, start to rank, generate traffic, and gather backlinks.

What is crucial is that you properly map your keywords against each of your lexicon pages as well as design a lexicon hub page. If that sounds daunting, get in touch. Here at Flow SEO, we specialize in creating keyword maps and we can help you lay the foundations for a traffic-generating glossary.

Author: Sofie Couwenbergh

Sofie is an SEO-savvy content strategist, consultant, and writer. She helps brands generate more qualified leads and keep customers engaged with engaging optimized articles like the one you’ve just read.