Programmatic SEO - What Is It And How To Do It

Programmatic SEO: What Is It And How To Do It

As an internet user, you’ve undoubtedly landed on pages like Tripadvisor, Yelp, and Zillow a billion times. They have thousands of pages of content that seem to always be at the top of hyper-specific search results. 

Why? An SEO (search engine optimization) geek can determine the only answer that makes sense. It’s because of SEO! Without realizing it, programmatic SEO is actually a large practice in digital marketing.

In this article, we’ll go over what programmatic SEO is, how to do it, and the best strategies for building landing pages at large scale.

Let’s jump in!

What Is Programmatic SEO?

Simply put, programmatic SEO is a method that addresses the growing amount of search traffic by publishing landing pages on a large scale. 

As an example, Tripadvisor has a page for almost everything travel related. Yelp has a page for all business searches. That’s because they use programmatic SEO to reach their target audience. 

If someone searches “top things to do in (city),” Tripadvisor is always in the top results. 

Search - Things To Do in Washington

And, they have thousands of pages exactly like this for every city in the world — the same design and type of content.

What’s the point of this? 

They know mass amounts of people are searching for these keywords and want to reach as many users as possible. Therefore, they must create thousands of landing pages so their links get clicked on most. The landing pages are reached through mobile, voice, and local searches. 

There has been a lot of talk in the SEO community about 10x content and how it will make your search rankings climb. While 10x content is the best, programmatic SEO is a way to bypass the agonizingly slow SEO process. It’s less about authoritative and quality content and focuses more on creating good user experience and high-volume landing pages with transactional intent. 

Without further ado, let’s get into how to do programmatic SEO.

Find a TON of Keywords

Keyword research is already a very well-known SEO strategy, but here we’re going to modify this practice to a larger scale. Here’s what to do:

1. Find Your Head Terms 

In nearly any programmatic SEO, there is what we call head terms. These are the broad level categories you will try to rank for. Here are some examples:

  • Tripadvisor: things to do, hotels
  • Yelp: restaurants, barbershops, gyms
  • Walmart: groceries, electronics

Head terms usually hold a great amount of search volume and are often searched with modifiers (more on this later). 

Once you find a few head terms, check their search volume using a keyword research tool. Google Trends and Keyword Generator are great tools to find new keywords and see keyword search volumes.

Here’s what Google Trends shows:

Head Terms - Google Trends

Google Trends is especially useful since you can see the seasonality and compare different keywords.

2. Find Your Modifiers 

Your head terms will generally have the largest search volume. However, it’s likely the real volume comes when combining them with a modifier. 

You can use the same tools (Google Trends and Keyword Generator) to see your modifiers’ search volume.

Modifiers are separated into primary and secondary modifiers. Here are some examples of each: 

Primary modifier:

  • Suitcases: suitcases with wheels, leather suitcases, suitcases with many pockets
  • Restaurants: Japanese restaurant, Chinese food, Indian cuisine, fancy restaurant
  • Clothing: clothing for men, clothing for children, floral clothing

Secondary modifier:

  • Suitcases: cheap suitcases, carry-on suitcases
  • Restaurants: vegan restaurants, cheap restaurants, restaurants near me
  • Clothing: jackets, socks, clothing with stripes

While primary modifiers create a whole new category, secondary modifiers describe the head term. On the same note, secondary modifiers can either modify the head term or the head term and the primary modifier. 

Tip: Is your business targeting local intent? If so, your modifiers should be [head term] + [location]. 

3. Put Them All Together

Lastly, you want to put all of your primary and secondary modifiers together in a big list. 

Many recommend using Python to code as well as organize your keywords. It’s free, and if you have a Mac, it’s already downloaded in your applications.

But you can use any coding software you’d like. They all present relatively the same outcome.

It’s recommended you organize your head terms and the modifiers in Google Sheets to have an extra copy. 

How many keywords should you have?

100,000 or more keywords may seem like a lot, but it’s actually perfectly normal when doing programmatic SEO. 

You don’t always need so many keywords, though. As little as 2,000 will give you good enough insights.

Do a Competitive Analysis of Search Results at Scale

Next, it’s time to find the biggest players for the keyword you’re shooting for. 

Typically, you want to analyze the top results, as those are the links with the most keywords. 

You can search your targeted keywords in Google to see who your top competitors are. 

Competitive Analysis of Search Results

If you’re using the keyword “vacations,” your top competitors are Travelocity, Expedia, Kayak, etc. 

You can then find out the number of keywords each competitor has by searching their domain in a keyword tool. Also, look for your direct competitor’s backlinks, common UX patterns, and the tools they prefer for title tags.

We suggest tools such as Ahrefs, SEMRush, Moz, and Ubersuggest.

You can use Ubersuggest for free. All you need is to sign in if you want to make multiple searches. 

Here’s what we see when doing a competitor analysis for the keyword “hiking trails” on Ubersuggest:

UberSuggest - HikingTrails

While it doesn’t show the keywords for every website, you can get a general idea of how many keywords they are ranking for. 

Creating Landing Pages at Scale

Now that you know how to find keywords on a large scale and you’ve done your competition analysis, the next step is to make landing pages. 

Hold up. How can you make thousands of different landing pages? Building landing pages is the most tricky part of programmatic SEO because thousands of pages all need to be different.

Don’t panic, we’re about to teach you how to create a large volume of unique landing pages. 

Create Pages Around Search Intent

Ok. You have your 100,000 + keywords. Do you need to create a unique page for every one of the 100,000+ keywords?

The answer is no. Since people look for, process, and use search results differently based on their ultimate goal, creating pages around search intent related to keyword research is the best strategy. 

It’s important to remember that you do not get to define what is search intent for your users. Instead, Google uses user algorithms and their own data to determine this. While the algorithms aren’t always 100% accurate, it’s better than shooting in the dark by guessing yourself.

You need to do some research to find what Google considers as that specific keyword’s search intent. You can spend some time browsing the serps to see which key terms rank for which terms. 

Pro tip: Check for “Searches related to” in the bottom of the search page in the Google search console.

Searches related to Vacations

Sometimes Google also highlights certain words in bold. This is a great indicator that the keyword may be a good choice.

Even if you’re only making landing pages per search intent, it’s still a lot of pages. Here are some strategies to create unique landing pages at large scale.

Landing Pages at Large Scale Strategies

All of your landing pages will likely include the same elements: pictures, lists, price sheets, maps, reviews, etc. They’ll likely also all have the same design and layout. However, every page can’t have the exact same images, information, etc. This is where it gets challenging. 

The best way to learn is by looking at what other companies have used as a strategy to build landing pages at scale. Here are the top 3 landing page strategies companies are using for programmatic SEO in real-time. 

1. Community

Reddit Community

Reddit is a community forum that naturally generates a ton of unique content that can be made into landing pages. 

If someone searches “computer mites,” a Reddit forum is in the top search results. And there are thousands of forums like this answering different questions.

We’ve also seen Quora and Stack Overflow in the featured snippet. Their strategy is Q&A forums, which creates an inflow of written content. They categorize their questions into topic pages to rank for more terms.

Pinterest is a leader in this space, as well. People searching for plants, outfit ideas, design, and basically anything may land themselves on Pinterest scrolling through images.

2. Two-Sided Marketplace 

eBay Two-Sided Marketplace

A two-sided marketplace is one of the best and most well-known ways to do programmatic SEO. The vendors fill up the pages with content, including images, listings, Q&A, product descriptions, and more. 

You also have the customers who leave reviews. This generates unique content on each page. 

Yelp, Rover, and Expedia all follow this strategy. 

3. E-Commerce

Amazon E-Commerce

On an e-commerce site, many of the product pages may have the same general info, but you’ll be in charge of filling out unique product details for each page — benefits, specifications, prices, etc. 

The user-generated content that makes each page more unique is the reviews section. Make sure you have a review collection strategy. 

Amazon, Wayfair, Etsy, and a million other e-commerce stores all use this strategy.

Stay Away from Doorway Pages

Google doesn’t like doorway pages. If you aren’t sure what it is, here’s Google’s definition

Doorway Pages

Google defines doorway pages as “sites or pages created to rank highly for specific search queries.” Well, it looks like we’ve been caught red-handed. 

Before you throw the idea of programmatic SEO in the garbage, remember that Google forbids any kind of link building that isn’t “useful content.” 

The entire point of this article is to teach you how to build at scale, while still making useful content for your users. 

As long as your content has a real reason to exist, Google won’t kick you out. 

Building Links at Scale

There is no process set in stone for link-building in programmatic SEO. Companies are on their own to find out what works best for them. However, with experience, we can suggest a few strategies:

Ego-Bait that Scales

Two-sided marketplaces like eBay and Yelp use some kind of ego-bait to get backlinks. Backlinks often come in embedded codes. 

Have you ever visited a website, and it has a Tripadvisor logo that says “ Tripadvisor Recommended”?

You can offer an embed code of a visual reward (a badge, a star, etc) to a business on your platform. The business then may feel compelled to show their badge on their website. 

Give out as many badges as you can to grow your backlinks faster.

Content that Goes Viral 

To make content go viral, you need to be pretty creative. Think Buzzfeed. They didn’t start with a large budget, but they suddenly grew into a monster publication. 

They did this by creating content that people enjoy, share on social media, and give likes. They got so many backlinks from other sites that their content consistently went viral. 

Data

Statista initially did some surveys, and now they are one of the most popular places to link back to for reference. 

With data, they generate content at a mass scale. They have original data on almost every topic, state, and country, which produces more and more content for them. 

Conclusion 

Programmatic SEO is no walk in the park. However, any business looking to gain organic traffic by publishing at scale is going to see the positive impact of this marketing strategy. Remember to create content that is useful to users. Otherwise, Google will see your pages as problematic, and all your work will have been done for nothing. Follow the strategies in this article for a successful programmatic SEO outcome.

Jason Berkowitz

SEO Director


Jason leads the Break The Web Search Engine Optimization team.

Based in New York City, when he’s not nerding out to SEO, Jason can be found falling from the sky as an avid skydiver.

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