What is programmatic SEO and does it work?

Programmatic is a term that has been used in marketing and advertising for some time, but usually in relation to paid media activity specifically. However, programmatic SEO is something that is now being talked about more and more. We take a look at what it is, what the pros and cons are of this type of SEO approach and how effective it is for different types of business.

What is programmatic SEO?

Essentially, a programmatic SEO strategy is for publishing unique web pages at scale to attract organic traffic, using a database and page template. A programmatic SEO strategy can incorporate anything from a couple of hundred web pages to many thousands, depending on the requirements.

An example of programmatic SEO in action is a favourite tool of digital marketers everywhere… Canva. In Canva, you can quickly design anything from a business card or poster to a social media post and animated gifs. Their landing pages utilise programmatic SEO by using the same template with custom content on each page that is tailored towards the searcher’s needs and intent.

What are the potential benefits of programmatic SEO?

We’re overviewing ‘potential’ benefits of programmatic SEO because if the practice is carried out poorly, it can be the very opposite of beneficial for a business and their online presence. However, when used appropriately, programmatic SEO can include benefits including:

  • Ability to target keywords in organic search at scale
  • Ability to generate useful and relevant content quickly
  • Can achieve good search visibility with less manual effort
  • Design and brand consistency across pages – all using the same template

What are the potential disadvantages of programmatic SEO?

  • There can be page crawling and indexing problems with search engines if a website suddenly increases significantly in size
  • Poorly executed programmatic SEO can result in duplicate and/or thin and poor-quality content
  • Keyword cannibalisation can be a problem if care isn’t taken during preparation stages

Anyone trying to use programmatic SEO to ‘game the system’ (i.e. trick or fool Google) is going to come unstuck, because it simply won’t work and will put your whole website’s organic visibility at risk. It needs to be planned and implemented appropriately, and with realistic expectations, in order to bring positive and lasting results.

What kind of websites does programmatic SEO work well for?

Not every website would benefit from even a well-executed programmatic SEO strategy. The more pages that your website has (or you want it to have) then the more likely that a programmatic approach might be effective, if done in the right way.

Some examples of types of online business that might benefit from programmatic SEO include:

  • Travel-related websites, with hundreds or thousands of locations, listings or guides. For example, Trip Advisor, Thomas Cook or Nomad List.
  • Review websites, which have pages dedicated to a large number of products, brands or organisations. For example, Glassdoor (who are also a recruitment site, another good use case for programmatic SEO).
  • Legal firms offering a very wide range of services, using programmatic SEO to create pages targeting multiple niche areas of law with long-tail keywords that have strong intent.

Things that tend to work well are sites with information to communicate on things such as:

  • Multiple locations
  • Comparisons between multiple similar things
  • Multiple templates
  • Multiple top 10 lists or ‘best’ lists
  • Unique data with broad appeal and many data points

Good keyword research is fundamental to programmatic SEO effectiveness

Finding niche keywords with some search volume alone isn’t enough to make programmatic SEO successful. You need to identify keywords that people are using, but those keywords also need to be assessed for the intent behind the person searching, along with how competitive the keyword is. Making shortcuts here will only cause problems further down the line and put a ceiling on the results for your strategy.

The holy grail here are keywords which have a decent level of monthly search volume, are not highly competitive and also have intent that is focused toward the bottom of the funnel, rather than searches that are more general and might not have any decision-making intent, or are so competitive that ranking well for them isn’t realistic.

You want to end up with a ‘head term’ for each page, which will depend on what you do/offer/sell and outcome of your research. For example, Canva’s head term could be {design type} design template, such as Instagram post design template,  infographic design template, business card design template, presentation design template, website design template etc.

People looking to design an infographic want something very different to those looking to design a business card, which is why this head term approach works.

Is programmatic SEO spammy?

If implemented poorly, programmatic SEO can certainly be spammy. For example, if it’s used in combination with AI content writing prompts or content spinning technology to produce the copy for the pages, which don’t then go through a structured and rigorous QA process before being published, you’re fairly likely to end up with very poor content that certainly doesn’t follow best practice outlined by Google’s recent Helpful Content Update or meet Google’s E-E-A-T guidelines.

However, if you have the facility to ensure that genuinely useful, credible and unique content can be produced for each page, when there is an audience looking for it, programmatic SEO doesn’t have to be spammy at all, as illustrated by the examples cited earlier.

Pages created using programmatic SEO need to offer a good user experience or they will never rank well for a sustained period of time. Search engines want to deliver results to their users that are the best possible source of information in relation to that search, and they must meet the mark on a technical SEO front too. As well as great-quality content and following SEO best practice with the on-page elements, each page needs to load quickly and be easy to use and navigate around.

Is programmatic SEO right for my business?

There are many variables that could have an impact on whether programmatic SEO is something that is right for your business. If your company has a significant potential target audience size, across lots of different areas, and you have the time and resource to invest in doing programmatic SEO properly and effectively, it’s certainly worth considering.

Do you want to know where to go next with your SEO strategy? Our team would love to discuss it with you and see if we can help you achieve your objectives. Get in touch using the form below to find out more.

Picture of Laura Rudd

Laura Rudd

I’ve worked in digital and content marketing for over 20 years, specialising in SEO since its inception. My career has spanned both agency-side and in-house roles, working alongside brands like HomeServe, Taking Care, Checkatrade, and AO.com. My expertise centres on SEO and content marketing, where I’m passionate about audience-first strategies that drive long-term organic performance.

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