Programmatic SEO is a method that allows you to produce content at scale without sacrificing quality. Our experts created this guide to help you learn how to use pSEO to accelerate organic results.
Here, you’ll find:
- What is programmatic SEO?
- Why should you use programmatic SEO?
- Programmatic SEO examples
- How to do programmatic SEO
- Programmatic SEO tools
- Challenges to watch for with pSEO
- Programmatic SEO checklist
A successful search engine optimization strategy doesn’t always focus on blog posts and backlinks. With programmatic SEO (pSEO), you can build landing pages at scale and start driving search traffic immediately.
Although pSEO can lead to impressive search visibility and organic traffic, there’s a caveat: It doesn’t work for every website. Not only that, but it requires a relatively complex setup.
So, is it a good fit for your website? In this guide to programmatic SEO, we’ll cover everything you need to decide and get started — including a workflow, tool recommendations, pSEO examples, and a checklist.
What is programmatic SEO?
Programmatic SEO is a method of publishing a lot of optimized web pages efficiently. Using pSEO, marketers can produce content at scale to improve search engine visibility and increase organic traffic.
This method shares some of the same basic tactics as standard SEO. For example, pSEO also uses keyword research to understand search intent and internal linking for on-page optimization.
So, how is programmatic search engine optimization different?
Templates and automation
While standard SEO tends to result in completely unique content, pSEO doesn’t. Instead, programmatic SEO uses automation to plug data into landing page templates.
That doesn’t mean pSEO content is generic or low quality. This tactic is designed to create high-quality content that responds to user intent
A typical content marketing strategy addresses every stage of the funnel, from awareness to conversion. You can use standard SEO to create content for any stage, but pSEO aligns best with the bottom of the funnel.
As a result, programmatic SEO works best when you need to target transactional keywords. This approach is ideal for creating quality content that drives conversions at a large scale.
Volume and scale
A standard SEO strategy typically includes ongoing content creation. The amount of content the team produces depends on the goals of the website and the business’s budget. There’s no minimum requirement.
In contrast, a pSEO strategy generally includes a large volume of landing pages to be published simultaneously. Scaling content creation quickly and cost-effectively tends to be the main goal.
“We effectively rank for search queries important to the client by creating many landing pages incredibly efficiently,” explains Joel Messner, SEO Lead at Konstruct Digital.
“What would take a significant number of hours is trimmed down substantially with a programmatic implementation. This allows us to rank our client’s website for usually hundreds more keywords at an affordable price and have it live on their site in a shorter timeline.”
Why should you use programmatic SEO?
At a quick glance, programmatic SEO may seem like a quick and easy way to drive more organic search traffic. But when done right, it offers a much wider range of benefits. Here are some of the biggest perks.
Increased search visibility
For most brands, the biggest benefit of pSEO is the increased search visibility. Most programmatic SEO strategies target low-competition keywords with relatively high search volume, which makes ranking easier.
In fact, with the right combination of low competition, high volume, and quality content, you can begin ranking at the top of Google search engine results pages (SERPs) quickly. In many cases, you can do so even without high domain authority or extensive link building.
For example, HawkSEM used a programmatic SEO approach when working with Moneta Group. As a result, our team helped the wealth management firm grow its keyword portfolio by 3x.
If you create content at scale with a standard publishing workflow, you’ll likely find that updating each page challenging. It typically requires a lot of manual work, which can cause your team to fall behind.
Because pSEO pulls content from databases and plugs it into templates, keeping pages up to date is easy — even at scale. In fact, brands like NerdWallet (see below) update content daily to ensure it’s accurate.
Compounding growth effect
A standard SEO project involves original content creation, which requires a steady stream of new ideas. If your digital marketing team doesn’t have capacity for this level of ideation and content creation, they’ll burn out quickly.
Programmatic SEO can have a compounding growth effect that’s much more sustainable. With pSEO, you can find what’s working, turn it into a template, and increase production at a reduced cost.
“Some may think programmatic SEO is just another buzzword, but if you plan out and architect your content with the right principles, you can easily rinse and repeat content production in a programmatic way,” explains Rambod Yadegar, President of HawkSEM.
“For example, let’s assume you’re a tax expert. There’s a plethora of knowledgeable insights you can share on ‘how to’ do something — say ‘how to claim deductions’ or ‘how to claim dependents.’ If you create the right architecture on your ‘how to’ content, you can reapply it toward an endless number of expert topics with confidence it’ll rank.”
Programmatic SEO examples
- Travel programmatic SEO
- Restaurants programmatic SEO
- Software programmatic SEO
- Legal programmatic SEO
- Finance programmatic SEO
- Wildlife programmatic SEO
Tavel programmatic SEO
TripAdvisor and Yelp are often cited as the best examples of travel sites using programmatic SEO. However, many top-ranking travel sites use pSEO to drive traffic to landing pages optimized for conversions.
For example, GetYourGuide ranks near the top of the SERP for travel-related search queries like “[CITY] tours” and “best tours in [CITY].”
These landing pages all use a format that’s identical to the Las Vegas page below. They show different categories of activities in the city, top activities in the city, and unique sights in the city.
They also provide sample itineraries to help tourists plan their visits. Because these landing pages target the bottom of the funnel, they also have numerous conversion opportunities.
Restaurants programmatic SEO
Looking for the best restaurant in a certain city? No matter which major city or neighborhood you search for, you’re likely to find Eater at the top of the SERP for “best restaurants in [CITY].”
All of Eater’s restaurant roundups use the same format as the Los Angeles page below. After a short introduction, they display a map of the restaurants and a complete list of the top recommendations.
Software programmatic SEO
Software review sites like G2 often use pSEO to attract search traffic from B2B buyers at scale. For example, they generate pages that rank for queries like “best CRM software” or “HubSpot alternatives.”
Programmatic SEO is also a good fit for some software as a service (SaaS) companies. For example, automation tools like Make use pSEO to drive traffic to their no-code templates.
Like the Gmail automation page below, these landing pages typically include a short explanation, a call-to-action (CTA) guiding users to use the template, and lists of additional templates and workflows to try.
Legal programmatic SEO
Legal sites can also be great candidates for pSEO, especially if they offer downloadable forms. For example, eForms often ranks at the top of SERPs for queries like “rental agreement template for [STATE].”
Each landing page uses a similar format. Like the Nevada page below, each includes a brief explanation of the template, downloadable agreement forms, and language on disclosures and deposits.
Finance programmatic SEO
While not every finance topic will work for pSEO, calculators tend to be excellent candidates. For example, NerdWallet often ranks for financial search terms like “[STATE] mortgage calculator.”
Like the Alabama mortgage calculator page below, all include a brief overview of the state’s housing market, an interactive calculator, current mortgage rates, and property tax charts.
Wildlife programmatic SEO
Websites that catalog animals and wildlife can also be a good fit for pSEO, especially if relevant keywords have a relatively high search volume. For example, All About Birds is often a top search result for “[BIRD] call.”
Like the blue jay page below, all landing pages include explanations of the bird’s songs and calls as well as call recordings and range maps.
How to do programmatic SEO
Use this five-step workflow to implement programmatic SEO on your website.
- Start with competitive and keyword research
- Identify head terms and modifiers
- Build out a database
- Create a landing page template
- Sync with your CMS
1. Start with competitive and keyword research
The easiest way to get started with pSEO is to do competitive research. Are other websites in your niche publishing certain types of content at scale? Can your team create something that’s even better?
To find templated content quickly, use an SEO or keyword research tool. Input your top competitors’ websites one at a time. Scan the keywords that drive the most traffic to each website.
Do you notice any patterns or any repeated words? For example, the search terms that drive the most traffic to eForms include keywords like “contract,” “template,” “form,” and “sample.”
Remember that you don’t have to emulate your competitors — and in many cases, you shouldn’t. If your competitors aren’t using pSEO or if their approach won’t work for your brand, do some brainstorming.
Ask questions like these to begin thinking about content that can easily scale:
- What are some frequently asked questions you often hear? Do they apply across products or locations?
- What are some top 10, 25, or 100 lists you could create for your target audience?
- Does your product integrate with other platforms? Does your business have a vendor marketplace?
Input some potential keywords into your SEO tool. Keep competition level and search volume in mind. Ideally, you’ll target long-tail keywords with decent search volume and relatively low competition.
2. Identify head terms and modifiers
Programmatic SEO is about much more than just one great keyword. Instead, it requires a repeatable combination of keywords. To implement pSEO, you need:
- Head terms: Think of the head term as the main category you’re targeting. In the Eater example above, the head term is “best restaurants.”
- Modifiers: Think of the modifier as the secondary category that makes the search more specific — such as a location or a type of software. In the Eater example, the modifier is “in Los Angeles.”
Together, head terms and modifiers create long-tail keywords, such as “best restaurants in Los Angeles.” Use your keyword research tool for SEO forecasting and to check search volume and competition.
If the competition appears too high, consider targeting even more specific keywords. For example, you might target “best restaurants for sushi in Los Angeles.”
As you build out a list of target keywords, keep the template concept in mind. Ideally, you’ll create SEO-optimized content that fits into a template that you can easily fill in.
3. Build out a database
After deciding on the long-tail keywords to target, build the database before plugging the pSEO content into your website’s content management system (CMS).
The best way to access data for pSEO content depends on your website and the types of pages you plan to build. In some cases, you may draw on owned product or marketplace data. In others, you may need an external source, such as public or scraped data.
While this step can get technical, it doesn’t have to be. You can use a spreadsheet or a simple database program to store and update the data for your programmatic SEO pages.
4. Create a landing page template
Next, build a landing page template to reuse for every page in the project. There’s no one way to design these pages. Instead, use the pSEO examples above for inspiration.
For example, your programmatic SEO landing pages may include:
- Lists of locations or products
- Maps showing relevant locations
- Downloadable forms or examples
- Buttons to buy items or book services
“Our website depends a lot on programmatic SEO to stay relevant and competitive,” says Jason Wise, Editor at EarthWeb.
“Because we deal with a lot of tech news and research-related information, we make templates for destination pages as part of our strategy. The new information, like hotel reviews, weather reports, and travel tips, is added immediately to these templates. This flexible method ensures our pages are always up-to-date and useful for our visitors.”
If this sounds overly complicated, we can help. Reach out to learn more about our landing page design services.
5. Sync with your CMS
Once you have the data, format, and template, sync it with your website CMS to start publishing. You’ll typically need a plugin, API, or automation tool for this step (see recommendations below).
While a standard SEO project involves publishing content over time, programmatic SEO content can go live all at once. Once you sync the data with your CMS, each page should update whenever you edit the database. As a result, you can avoid making constant manual updates.
Programmatic SEO tools
Your programmatic SEO tech stack doesn’t have to be complicated, but it needs a few types of tools. To succeed with pSEO, you’ll need to know how to use the following tools.
Keyword research tool
Either a dedicated keyword research tool or an all-in-one SEO tool will work for pSEO research. Popular options include:
- SE Ranking
Content management system
Most website CMS support templates and automation. Choose the most relevant CMS for your website type:
- WordPress for news and business
- Webflow for SaaS and ecommerce
- Shopify for ecommerce
Choose a database that can sync with your CMS, either directly or using a third-party tool. Popular options include:
- Google Sheets for simpler databases
- Airtable for more complex tables and tagging
An automation tool is necessary to sync the data with the CMS. Consider one of these options:
- Zapier or Make
- Dedicated API
- Website plugin
Challenges to watch for with pSEO
With the workflow and tools above, you can implement a programmatic SEO plan. But it’s important to know and watch for common challenges to succeed with pSEO.
A thoughtful programmatic SEO content strategy should result in helpful content that provides value to users. But because pSEO results in large volumes of similar pages, thin content (i.e., low-value content) may result. Since Google can penalize thin content, it’s critical to avoid publishing this kind of material.
How can you avoid thin content while still using templates? Make sure any programmatic SEO pages you publish are relevant to your target audience, create a good user experience, and provide real value to readers.
Over reliance on AI
Many digital marketers use AI-powered tools to create pSEO content even more efficiently. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with using generative AI tools to assist with content, over-reliance on them can result in low-quality content.
Instead of relying completely on generative AI tools, involve a human editor in your workflow. Make sure you have enough oversight to check any written content you publish for accuracy and tone.
“Using automated SEO jobs has helped us a lot, especially when it comes to improving our organic search presence” shares Wise.
“This is especially clear when the content changes, like when there are deals on trips or homes for sale. That being said, it’s important to recognize the ongoing challenge that search engine algorithms face. To stay ahead, we have to keep an eye on our automatic rules and make changes to them all the time to keep up with the latest SEO trends and algorithms.”
Programmatic SEO can easily result in thousands of new pages. Due to the high volume, you can expect that not all of them will be indexed automatically.
To index as many pages as possible, use SEO best practices. Generate a sitemap and submit it to Google Search Console to maximize search traffic.
One of the biggest perks of pSEO is efficiency, thanks to automated workflows. When pages or templates need extensive customization, it’s worth rethinking whether pSEO is the right strategy.
“The biggest challenge we face with this approach is when customization is requested,” shares Messner. “If a client wants specific changes to a single one of their programmatic landing pages or wants more variation between their programmatic pages, this makes it difficult to maintain the efficiency and efficacy of the strategy.”
Programmatic SEO checklist
Do competitive research
Conduct keyword research
Identify head terms
Decide on modifiers
Build out a database
Create a landing page template
Sync your data with your CMS
When done right, programmatic SEO can be a powerful tactic for improving visibility and driving search traffic. But because of the complex workflow of templates and automations, mastering programmatic SEO principles isn’t always easy.
We’re here to help with every step of your pSEO plan. Contact us for a free consultation and to learn more about our SEO services.