Guide to Programmatic SEO for Niche Sites

charles sipe - technical analyst
Charles Sipe Charles Sipe is a niche website investor and SEO specialist with a degree in Marketing from the University of Washington in Seattle, WA. Charles writes technical content that analyzes market trends in the website flipping and SEO industry. Connect with Charles on LinkedIn.
charles sipe - technical analyst
Mushfiq
Mushfiq S Mushfiq has been buying, growing, and selling website assets since 2008. His first exit was in 2010. Since then, he has done 200+ website flips with multiple 6-figure exits. Learn more about Mushfiq.
Mushfiq

Programmatic SEO is used by some of the largest websites in the world like Tripadvisor, Yelp, and Airbnb to generate thousands of pages that attract millions of visitors from organic search.

Since most niche site owners are not using programmatic SEO there can be great opportunities for using this approach to target low competition keywords with hundreds or thousands of variations.

In this article, we cover: 

  • Why programmatic SEO is a valuable tool for niche website builders
  • 4 examples of sites getting a lot of traffic from programmatic SEO.
  • Step by step instructions on how to create your own programmatic SEO site

Let’s get into it!



What is Programmatic SEO?

Programmatic SEO is the practice of generating lots of pages of content using templates that can dynamically insert data from a database with the goal of increasing organic Google traffic from longtail keywords. 

An example is creating a template that targets the main keyword phrase with many variations like “How environmentally friendly is {City}?” by publishing 3,000 pages with dynamically inserted data about the sustainability data in 3,000 different cities or towns. 


Why Use Programmatic SEO?

Programmatic SEO can be an effective method to scale content quickly without having to manually write unique content for each page. As a result, the cost per page of content published can be significantly lower.

It can also be a cost-effective way to create content that supplements content written by a freelance writer or the site owner. For example, you could quickly publish 1,000 pages based on a basic content template and data points collected in a Google Sheet and then have a writer improve the pages by adding some original content.


4 Examples of Successful Programmatic SEO Sites

1. WorldPopulationReview.com

World Population Review is an informational website with around 9 million AHREFs traffic as of May 2022 with about 36,000 pages. 

They have city population pages for thousands of cities in the United States and the text is very similar in the first two paragraphs. In the following screenshots, you can see that the main difference between pages are the city name and the data points.

Spokane, Washington:

CleanShot 2022 05 30 at 10.11.00

Auburn, Washington:

CleanShot 2022 05 30 at 10.11.11

The first two paragraphs are followed by a mix of uniquely written content specific to the city and more programmatic SEO content.

They include an abundance of tables and graphs which makes the content helpful to users and encourages links (the site has 36,849 dofollow referring domains and a DR of 82).

2. Zapier

Zapier received nearly 2 million AHREFs traffic in May 2022 with about 56,000 pages.

They programmatically created thousands of pages about integrating tools together, e.g. “Google Sheets WordPress integration”.

These pages have no written content but only dynamically inserted data like the popular “Zaps”, supported Triggers, and links to related tutorials.

When you filter the top pages in AHREFs to include the keyword “integration” there are 44,000 pages that result in 131,000 traffic. The average traffic is low, but it adds up to a significant amount of traffic due to the high volume of pages. The conversion rate for signups is probably high because each page matches very specific user intent.

image 19

Zapier also publishes lengthy written content about popular software tools that bring in a lot of traffic (e.g., best URL shorteners of 2022).

3. Nomad List

Nomad List is a popular informational site about the best places for digital nomads and received 31,190 AHREFs traffic in May 2022 with about 3,600 pages.

Nomad List has many city pages that use programmatic SEO to target keywords like “Cost of Living in [City]”. These cost of living pages are simply a list of data points without any written content.

image 20

4. Failory

Failory shared that they received over 50,000 users to their website in January 2022 from programmatic SEO which accounted for about 45% of their Google traffic.

They programmatically generated over 400 pages targeting the keyword formula of pitch deck + {industry}. They scraped data from SlideShare and published the pages with Webflow which took about 50 hours of work.

CleanShot 2022 05 30 at 10.13.21

3 Disadvantages of Programmatic SEO

1. Potential Duplicate Content Issues

Google may not display a page in search results that it thinks is too similar to another page on your site. 

It is usually beneficial to add some unique content like a unique introduction paragraph written by a freelance writer. You could also include user-generated content like a comment section or reviews like Yelp or Tripadvisor.   

2. Google Indexing Issues

Since Google has limited resources, it may not index all your pages right away, especially if you add hundreds or thousands of pages quickly. 

Implementing a good site architecture with many internal links and building external links can help your site get indexed faster.

You can also submit your sitemap or specific URLs to Google in Search Console. 

image 16

3. Google Penalty for Automatically Generated or Thin Content 

In their official documentation, Google discourages “automatically generated” or “thin content” which contains keywords but does not help the user.

They say they will “take action against domains that try to rank by just showing scraped or other cookie-cutter pages that don’t add substantial value to users.”

Adding features like user-friendly design, useful charts or graphs, user-generated content, or some unique written content can help avoid this issue.


5 SEO Considerations for Programmatic Sites

1. Add an XML Sitemap

An XML sitemap is an automatically generated list of URLs on your site. This helps Google find and crawl all your URLs and add them to the Google Index. Google says that in most cases your site will benefit from a sitemap and recommends it for large sites.

SEO plugins like Yoast SEO can create and update your XML sitemap automatically. Starting in version 5.5, WordPress added a feature to create a sitemap by default at the URL /wp-sitemap.xml.

2. Add Internal Links

A lot of internal linking between pages of your site is usually beneficial when you have a large site with hundreds or thousands of pages.

Like having a sitemap, it helps Google find and crawl more pages on your site. I use and recommend the Link Whisper plugin for WordPress because it helps you add internal links much faster.

Tripadvisor uses breadcrumb navigation links on many pages to help improve the internal linking on their programmatically generated pages.

image 17

3. Use an Organized and Flat Site Architecture

To keep a large site organized and provide SEO-friendly information about topic clusters, you can use subfolders with descriptive names.

For example, if you had thousands of city pages you could use subfolders for the state name like example.com/statename/cityname

In WordPress, you can set the URLs to use the category name of each post as the subfolder name in the Permalinks section of Settings.

image 18

To keep the site architecture flat, make sure each page is within about 1-2 clicks from the homepage to make it easier for Google’s bots to crawl all the pages. 

image

Using the site architecture in the above diagram, you could have thousands of pages within 2 clicks of the homepage.

4. Consider Link Building or an Aged Domain

Having a higher link authority can suggest to Google that you deserve to have a lot of pages indexed. According to the Google Search Central blog, they tend to crawl pages more often if they are “popular on the Internet”.

It may make sense to build your link authority with a link building campaign or outsource links to an agency or marketplace.

Another option is starting with an aged domain that already has some link authority and may rank faster than a brand new domain. 

5. Improve Site Speed

In addition to being a small ranking factor in Google, Google says that increasing site speed will increase Google’s crawl rate. A slow server response time and slowly loading pages may lead Google to slow down the crawl rate.

Using a lightweight and fast-loading WordPress theme and an image compressing plugin like Short Pixel are some easy ways to optimize your site for speed.


3 Methods for Creating a Programmatic SEO Site

1. Zapier Google Sheets to WordPress Integration

Using Zapier’s integration with Google Sheets is one of the easiest ways to publish programmatic content on a WordPress site.

Check out our tutorial at the end of the article to learn exactly how to publish pages to WordPress automatically whenever a new row is added to a specific tab in a Google Sheet.

2. Import CSV Data into WordPress as Custom Fields

Using a WordPress plugin that imports CSV data into WordPress allows you to upload data as Custom Fields that can then be used in WordPress pages or posts.

One example of a WordPress plugin that imports CSVs is WP All Import.

3. Hire a Developer 

Hiring a developer from Upwork or another marketplace is the most expensive method but also the most flexible. 

It is usually easier and cheaper to have the developer use a popular CMS like WordPress rather than complex web application frameworks like the MERN stack which could be more expensive to maintain.

Other Options to Consider:

  • Webflow CMS with CMS Collections (“Collections” are data that can be referenced dynamically).
  • Sheet2Site.com can generate a fully functional website from a Google Sheet.
  • Hugo static site generator and Jinja2 (python template language) Allison Seboldt used this to build Garden Auntie.
  • A custom full stack application with the MERN stack (MongoDB, Express, React, Node). This is the most complicated and expensive option. 

4 Sources of Data for Programmatic Sites

1. Government Statistics and Data

The US Government has tons of free data available on sites like BLS.gov (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics) and Census.gov. 

An example is annual wage estimates by state for hundreds of occupations. 

2. Scraping Websites

There are many tools that allow you to scrape useful data from websites. Keep in mind that there can be legal issues with scraping some types of data such as intellectual property or personal information.

An example is the Scraper Chrome Plugin which helps you to easily scrape text from any webpage and export it to Google Docs. 

image 21

Another tool is URL Profiler, which can scrape specific content from a list of thousands of URLs using Regex, XPath, or CSS selectors that you provide.

3. Data APIs

There are numerous third-party data APIs that you can access to pull data into your site. 

Usually, this requires some programming to make requests to the API and display the data on pages of your site. 

An example is EPA.gov has an API that provides the current UV index for a Zipcode or city.

4. Hire VAs to collect data

There are many VAs available on marketplaces like Fiverr and OnlineJobs.ph who can do data collection and data entry for a low hourly rate.

This can be a much less expensive method of content creation compared to paying a freelance writer 6-10 cents per word.


Tutorial: Create Your Own Programmatic SEO Site Without Code

You can use Zapier to automatically publish new posts to WordPress from a Google Sheet. This brief tutorial will show you how to easily publish posts programmatically from this Example Google Sheet.

  1. Create an account with Zapier and install and activate the Zapier plugin on your WordPress site.
  2. Make a copy of this Google Sheet when logged into your Google account.
  3. Set up a “Zap” in Zapier with the following workflow: 
image 22

In this example, we will have Zapier create a new post every time a new row is added to the “Ready to Publish” tab in a Google Sheet. 

4. Under “Set up trigger”, select the Google Sheet and tab (Worksheet) you want to pull data from. 

image 23

5. Enter your WordPress login credentials under “Choose account”


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6. Create a Template 

Under “Set Up Action”, you can create a template and insert variables (column names) into the template.

Basically, you are writing an article with fill in the blanks and data will be inserted automatically into the blanks.

image 24

You can also add a variable to the page title and select the specific author and a specific category. You can set the status to “Published” to publish immediately or “Draft” if you want to review the posts before they go live.


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7. Turn on the Zap

Lastly, turn on the Zap so that Zapier can watch for when a new row is added to the “Ready to Publish” tab in your Google Sheet and automatically publish the post on WordPress. 

Here is an example of what was published to WordPress when the Zap was triggered:

image 25

If you add multiple rows to the tab “Ready to Publish” tab, then multiple posts will be published to WordPress. It may take Zapier a few minutes to “notice” that the new row was added and to publish the post.

Note: The Zapier free plan allows 100 tasks per month, so you would be able to add 100 posts before needing to upgrade to a paid plan.



Wrap Up

Programmatic SEO can be a powerful tool to add to your toolbelt as a niche site builder that can allow you to quickly capitalize on opportunities to target long-tail keywords with low competition. 

As we have seen from some of the successful programmatic SEO site examples shared in this article, it is possible to create a lot of pages programmatically that are helpful and useful to searchers.

Make sure to follow the SEO best practices for large sites and create valuable content that helps people and you can build a successful site without having to spend thousands of dollars on content. 



charles sipe - technical analyst

Analyzed by Charles Sipe

Charles Sipe is a niche website investor and SEO specialist with a degree in Marketing from the University of Washington in Seattle, WA. Charles writes technical content that analyzes market trends in the website flipping and SEO industry. Connect with Charles on LinkedIn.



Mushfiq

Analyzed by Mushfiq S

Mushfiq has been buying, growing, and selling website assets since 2008. His first exit was in 2010. Since then, he has done 200+ website flips with multiple 6-figure exits. Learn more about Mushfiq.

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