CEO of Letterdrop, former Product Manager on Google Search
SEO remains one of the best ways to grow traffic and drive leads. In fact, the close rate for SEO leads is 14.6%. Meanwhile, alternative channels like cold outbound have a 1.7% close rate. Magically appearing in front of high-intent buyers is the dream for customer acquisition.
You work your butt off to get a page ranking, and you see all the leads it brings in. If only you could scale that a thousand times. Sounds expensive, right?
Enter programmatic SEO, a strategy to publish thousands of pages and reach the top spots on the SERP without your content team breaking a sweat. While it's not going to help you go after every keyword, if you have unique data and long-tail variations of keywords, you can use this strategy intelligently to bring in traffic without much cost. If you're not at least evaluating programmatic SEO as an SEO strategy for your business, you're losing out to your competition.
What Is Programmatic SEO?
Programmatic SEO is an SEO tactic where you use software to create a large number of keyword-targeted web pages at scale using templates, data, and AI, something that would be cost-prohibitive to do manually. These pages are created programmatically by a computer program. The name checks out.
Unlike traditional SEO methods, where you manually create content, programmatic SEO relies on data to generate thousands of pages with the same goal of ranking on the SERP.
You start with a template that will remain the same on every page. You can then use proprietary data and AI to fill in templates to create high-quality pages with unique information at scale.
For example, take a medical brokerage company like Fair Square Medicare. "Medicare" would be their target keyword, and there are lots of geo-specific modifiers available to them, like "best Medicare supplement plans in X state." They've programmatically generated supplement plan pages for each state.
If you take a look at these pages side by side, they look relatively the same except for an AI-generated intro and information specific to each state. They have a database populated with location-specific data and a template that they work from to present that data in a particular way.
A programmatic campaign takes weeks off your content teams' hands and lets you rank for niche long-tail keywords.
When Does Programmatic SEO Work?
There are a lot of sources out there that claim programmatic SEO only works if:
You're targeting low-keyword difficulty words
Using bottom-of-the-funnel content for those keywords
While this can be true, it's also important to note that whether or not you create content for specific keywords comes down to the ROI on that content.
Take manual content, for example. It's high investment, so you limit yourself to only focusing on content that's likely to be high return.
Programmatic SEO, on the other hand, costs next to nothing. The return on each individual keyword doesn't have to be high. It can be high, but it's not a requirement. Aggregated together, the 1000 pages you programmatically create can generate meaningful qualified traffic. A long-tail keyword with a search volume of 5 can be worthwhile if you're not putting effort into it.
Note: If you have better data than your competition on your programmatic pages, you absolutely can target keywords with higher difficultyand outrank them.
Fair Square Medicare faces a lot of competition for "Medicare" keywords, for example, but if they have the best information on Medicare plans, they're going to rank higher than their competitors — it doesn't matter whether the pages were created manually or programmatically. Google's job is to surface the best pages on the web to answer search intent, and this meets that need.
Examples of Programmatic SEO Done Properly
Generating thousands of similar pages sounds dangerously close to spam — but it shouldn't be.
I can't emphasize enough that the only way programmatic SEO works is if you keep your user's search journey top of mind and make sure each page is unique in a helpful way.
Companies like Zapier, G2, and Fast Legal Form Filing use programmatic SEO correctly. How? They prioritize user search intent over just ranking — it's the difference between getting indexed and flagged for spam by Google SpamBrain.
1. Zapier Creates Integration Pages for Every App It Connects
Zapier is a no-code integration tool that allows users to connect to over 5,000 apps.
They're well-known for generating thousands of programmatic pages for any app combination — trigger keywords are usually something like "integrate/connect X app with Y app" where X and Y are different software tools that need to be integrated.
Their pages are specific to the integrations people are looking for and are helpful, so they consistently show up in the top three results of the SERP.
For example, if you're trying to figure out how to connect MailChimp and HubSpot, they have a programmatically generated page for you.
Here's another page for connecting Salesforce and Gmail.
2. G2 Creates Comparison Pages for All Products Listed on Its Site
G2 helps users make an informed choice on software purchases by aggregating reviews. So they create pages like:
"X alternatives," with X being the software modifier
"X vs Y", where X and Y are different software products
The data is sourced from their user-generated reviews. Here's an example of results for the search "HubSpot vs Zoho"
3. Fast Legal Form Filing Creates Local Pages for Every County
Fast Legal Filing is a documentation company that helps businesses and individual clients with everyday legal filing matters.
Their services are very geo-specific, so they use programmatic SEO to serve customers across America. Their trigger searches would be "file small claim in X county."
In this example, here is the result from Fast Legal Filing for the query "file small claim in Lackawanna County."
And here's the result for the same query in Jackson County.
How is Programmatic SEO Different from Content SEO?
This is usually the first question marketers ask when coming across programmatic SEO. The biggest difference between the two is that content SEO (or editorial SEO, as it's also known) is made by people, while programmatic SEO relies on automation.
Here's the specifics on how they're different.
Best suited to long-form posts like blogs and guides that offer in-depth information, experience, and unique perspectives
Requires high investment, so each keyword you go after has to drive meaningful traffic and conversions to be worthwhile
Best suited for short-form content and data presentation for lists or different permutations
Requires low investment, so while a high return on an individual page is great, it isn't necessary since you can make it up in volume
You have to be realistic about what you want to do and what you hope to achieve with programmatic SEO. It's very difficult to programmatically generate long-form content that meets EEAT requirements, is of good quality, and is actually helpful to readers.
Programmatic SEO is More Powerful With AI
Programmatic SEO has always been a useful option for marketers, but it's always been heavily reliant on an engineering team and coding knowledge.
Platforms like Webflow let you design templates for pages quickly and fill in data from CMS collections.
Tools like Letterdrop integrate directly with Webflow so you can push pages right to your site.
AI can generate more detailed and unique content for each page. It can be fed prompts and mass produce information as opposed to pre-AI programmatic SEO, where it only fills in blanks using variables from a database
AI writing has made programmatic SEO far more accessible and put it on track to generate more helpful pages for users (but there are also lots of ways to misuse it.)
Types of Keywords For Programmatic SEO
Programmatic SEO doesn't work for everyone. It's best suited if you have lots of similar content around a keyword, and there's an opportunity for lots of long-tail modifiers on your head term. For example, if "Medicare" is the head term, then "how to apply for Medicare in Los Angeles" is a long-tail modifier.
Here are some common programmatic SEO categories and examples:
Location. "How to apply for Medicare in New York" or "Accommodation in Rome"
Comparison. "Top HubSpot alternatives" or "Webflow vs WordPress"
Integration. "How does Letterdrop integrate with Webflow," "How does Letterdrop integrate with WordPress," or "HubSpot Zoho integration"
Templates. "Airtable content calendar template" or "Notion content calendar template"
Aggregated data. "Stats on Facebook users worldwide" or "Average time spent on social media 2023"
How To Get Started With Programmatic SEO
1. Find Your Head Terms and Modifiers
Head terms refer to a broader topic for which you typically generate lots of content.
A sign of a solid head term is that it's easily modified to answer variations in search intent. For example, "alternatives to WordPress" has a very different answer to "alternatives to HubSpot."
Here are some qualifying questions for a good head term:
Can this head term be modified to create lots of keyword variations?
Will pages generated for these keywords actually answer search intent?
Can I realistically create helpful pages programmatically that can rank for these keywords?
Will ranking for them bring traffic?
Will this traffic result in conversions and actually drive business?
Use Keyword Research tools like Semrush or Ahrefs to find out the search volume of potential head terms. Ideally, it should be high enough that even longer tail variations would have significant keyword volume.
Next, search for modifiers that you can combine with your head terms for maximum impact. Again, you can use a Keyword Research Tool to find these.
Gather all your head terms and modifiers together in a large list.
2. Design Your Template Page
This is where you design the template page that will become the foundation of your programmatic SEO campaign. You can do this in any front end, but we'll show you how to do it in Webflow.
2. In the Webflow designer, create a CMS collection for your programmatic pages. Call it something relevant like Locations, Integrations, Glossary, etc. All your data will be stored here.
3. Go into Settings for that CMS collection and add custom fields for the variables that you want to modify for each programmatic page. For example, Location.
Here's a video demonstration of this setup.
4. Design your template page. Fill in any text or data that will be common across all pages. Then insert your variables in the relevant spots of your template. Just click on the settings icon next to an element and click on "Get text from" your collection.
3. Collect Your Data
For this step, the easiest choice would be to create a spreadsheet to capture your data.
Every row corresponds to one new programmatic page
Every column corresponds with a type of data that you would want to insert dynamically on your template pages
There are lots of sites you can pull public data from, including Data.gov and the r/datasets community on Reddit.
Now that you've got everything set up, you can choose to populate your pages with unique AI-generated content.
Suppose you're focused on generating programmatic pages for specific locations, and you'd like there to be a short description of each city. That's where AI comes in.
Without programming, you would need to use ChatGPT for your outputs and copy and paste them row by row into a CSV.
Remember that free programmatic SEO tool I mentioned earlier? It can help you generate thousands of AI-written articles based on a CSV file of your selected keywords. The result goes straight to your inbox, or you can choose to put in your OpenAI key and get a more personalized result.
Here's a quick overview of how to use the tool.
Free Programmatic SEO + AI Tool
Generate thousands of pages. Just provide a spreadsheet with keywords and data. Bring your own OpenAI key.
All that's left is to connect your template and your database so that you can start creating your programmatic SEO pages.
It's easy to upload your spreadsheet as a CSV file to Webflow or Letterdrop, which integrates directly with Webflow, WordPress, Contentful, and more.
The Risks of Programmatic SEO
As with all things, programmatic SEO comes with several potential drawbacks for you and your business if you're not careful.
Google can mistake your pages for spam. The line between thousands of genuinely helpful landing pages and spam pages is a very fine one. If you're not careful in making each page uniquely helpful, you risk hurting site performance.
It's easy to exceed your crawl budget. Indexing content generated through programmatic SEO can be slow. The sheer volume of pages generated can seriously delay search engine crawling. Every website has a crawl budget, and if you suddenly generate thousands of pages, it's very likely Google won't crawl them immediately. You'll need to build internal links and backlinks to these pages for Google to deem them worthy of being crawled.
It risks putting quantity over quality. AI-generated content is all good, but AI like the one used in ChatGPT is prone to hallucination and can make up facts. You need to be very careful with your prompts and unique data to make sure you control your outputs to make them useful.
Your pages aren't fully optimized. Programmatic SEO doesn't account for much SEO optimization beyond keyword relevance and a basic understanding of search intent. You may still struggle to rank if your content isn't technically sound, has poor link structure, and doesn't properly adhere to EEAT guidelines.
What Not to Do for Programmatic SEO
Do not create purely AI-generated pages. Lots of services have popped up where you provide a list of keywords and get back purely AI-generated pages. Publishing these to your website without human editing puts you at risk of being flagged as spam by Google. I recommend approaching programmatic SEO using templates and data. AI writing is just a tool to help modify your underlying template and data. Without a source, AI can hallucinate, make up facts, and lacks the unique insights your customers are looking for.
Avoid creating doorway pages, ie. thin pages that don't serve any actual information themselves but exist just to rank. Make sure you're using data to make your programmatic pages a valuable destination for search visitors.
Make your pages as unique as possible. This is to both to answer specific search intent. This is especially important as Google prioritizes information gain and perspectives. Programmatically include proprietary data wherever you can to both stay useful and differentiate pages.
Letterdrop is actively thinking about the future of SEO and has a smart SEO tool to help optimize your programmatic campaign from top to bottom. It can:
Identify and automatically fix technical optimization errors.
Tell you whether your keyword search intent is actually transactional with its Search Intent feature
Suggest topics and new angles that haven't been covered yet with the Information Gain feature.
Gives you an EEAT guide specific to your content to make sure all your bases are covered.
Help you automatically add internal links in bulk across your pages.
Help you keep track of your pages with automatic content refresh monitoring.
Here's a quick video rundown of all of these features.
Programmatic SEO: Scale Quickly and Efficiently
While programmatic SEO isn't some magic formula for success, it can help you accelerate your SEO strategy by a thousandfold — and you can certainly see how successful it is for companies like Tripadvisor and NerdWallet.
The trick is to keep your users' search intent top of mind. If you do that, your pages will be seen as genuinely helpful to both prospects and Google, boosting your rank and your visibility.
We're always thinking about SEO and how to better the user experience. Feel free to talk to us if you want to streamline your content ops.
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