When to Leverage Programmatic SEO and How to Scale Your Approach
If you’ve attended any webinar, conference or even blog post round up in the last 1-2 years, you’ve probably heard words like “automation”, “scale”, “personalization”, “privacy” and “programmatic” come up. That all makes sense as we enter a new era in marketing around developing a deep relationship with our customers when and where they need it, while also respecting their privacy and earning their trust.
While there’s plenty of material to cover across those 5 buzzwords listed above, the focus of this post will be on programmatic SEO marketing: what it is, when to use it, and setting it up and running it.
What is Programmatic? What is it Not?
On a broad scale, when we talk about programmatic we can be referring to paid media as well as SEO.
Programmatic is commonly used in the context of paid advertising, where we’re able to leverage consumer data from various sources to deliver ads to the right audience at the right time with the help of programmatic advertising platforms.
These platforms use real time data to understand the most targeted audiences for a given campaign and then buy ads where relevant to reach that audience. From there, ads are personalized based on that prospect’s demographics, all of this leading to extremely powerful targeting to a very specific audience.
Right now, it’s a bit less complex on the SEO side of the house. Programmatic SEO involves automatically generating pages at a very large scale, but with a similar goal - reach a very targeted audience with specific intent.
Programmatic SEO is best leveraged for industries like Travel, Ecommerce, Educational Content, Real Estate, Aggregators where users are searching for keywords across a massive amount of variations, and so on.
For example: If your website publishes travel guides across various sites and countries, then you might get a huge amount of traffic from people searching for queries like, “what to do in [city]” on such a scale that it would take ages to publish those pages manually, when users are primarily searching with the same intent. It’s also great for challenger brands who might not be able to outspend your competition, but you can create these pages at a relatively high ROI.
Programmatic SEO doesn’t make sense for everyone, though. If you’re a small, niche brand that requires very specific information for each keyword variation - then programmatic probably isn’t going to pay off for you. Or, if you’re in a very regulated industry like Pharma, there might be guidelines that'd make programmatic impossible.
Avoid Creating What Google Calls "Doorway Pages"
The difference that we’re talking about here is that we would drive users directly to the page with relevant information to a given category, region, etc. vs. funnel users to one page as a “doorway” to get to the actual relevant information, which isn’t going to be as useful. Learn more about doorway pages from Google.
Before Launch: Setting Up Your Programmatic SEO Program
Before you get started creating scripts that automate creating hundreds if not thousands of pages, let’s take a step back and consider where to start.
(1) Review Site Performance
Especially if you’re starting a programmatic SEO program for the first time, you’ll probably want to start with one category first and work out any kinks, before rolling this out to different site sections.
Take a look at your analytics data, CRM, etc. to understand what pages are driving the most demand and revenue impact. This is a good place to find your first category.
(2) Conduct Audience Research
In addition to the traditional search research you’ll do, it’s important to get qualitative from your audience not only around what terms they tend to use when searching for your product or service, but also what type of content they want to see. This way, you’re making sure you’re not creating hundreds of thin pages, but pages that take into consideration the content users are most often looking for.
You could pull this information by leveraging a combination of traditional audience interviews, site intercept surveys, moderated and unmoderated user testing - all depending on your goals and what resources you have (time & money).
With this information, you may find that depending on the category, we might want to format the landing pages differently.
For example: If someone is looking for step-by-step instructions on how to obtain a travel visa vs. where to visit in a given city, then that might lend itself to more visual, interactive content than a list of destinations.
That said, you can certainly A/B test these formats later down the line to ensure you’re iterating on what information you’re able to learn, quickly given the volume of data you’ll have at your disposal.
(3) Evaluate Search Interest
What information are users searching for at a high-level as it relates to your offering? How can you use that information at scale? Well, you have a few options…
- Pair traditional keyword research with search query data from Google Ads to understand what searches drive clicks and are converting
- Leverage site search data to understand what users are searching for as it relates specifically to your brand and what information they’re not receiving
- Scrape landing pages from competitor sites and n-gram what keyword themes are popping up that we should ensure we’re also leveraging in our content, where relevant
During Launch: Learning What’s Working vs. What’s Not
Earlier we mentioned the opportunity to A/B test page formats. We could take a ton of different routes here to test into the optimal user experience. From playing around with page layout, structure, content types, structured data to conversion rate optimization (CRO), the volume of data we have at our disposal is going to ideally allow us to make decisions relatively quickly vs. smaller websites with a handful of pages.
This strategy isn’t meant to be totally set it and forget it. After all, the search landscape changes and Google will ultimately decide the intent you need to cater to in your content in order to rank highly in search engines.
This means that it’s important to keep a regular pulse on what’s working vs. not and adjust and learn accordingly, especially in your first phase before rolling out programmatic SEO to other sections of your website.
After Launch: Maintenance Mode
One of the aspects of Programmatic SEO that folks tend to worry about most is the sheer volume of pages. This is why it’s important to keep a close eye on crawl budget and your XML sitemaps so you can help search engines prioritize what content you want it to crawl first.
Keep including these pages in your ongoing reporting - you might find there are new queries to incorporate into your copy, pages to retire, etc. as user behavior changes over time.
There’s likely more to come around how we can leverage a more programmatic approach to marketing & advertising as technology continues to advance - we may find ourselves in a time where Google itself is programmatically choosing what versions of actual site content appears when a user searches for a given query.
But in the meantime, would love to know your thoughts in the comments below and consider signing up for the Seer Newsletter for other POVs on what’s to come in the search landscape.