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Programmatic SEO: How to Dominate SEO Like TripAdvisor, Yelp and Zillow

Last updated 5/15/17. How do you use unique data to create SEO-driven landing pages? Programmatic SEO (large websites, 25k+ URLs) presentation for 500 Startups Distro Dojo Toronto by Mushi Labs.

Topics covered include:
* What is programmatic SEO?
* Elements of programmatic SEO
* SEO Research & discovery
* Commonly overlooked technical mistakes
* Does Google actually like your content?
* How to fix your SEO content woes
* Recommended SEO Tools

Programmatic SEO: How to Dominate SEO Like TripAdvisor, Yelp and Zillow

  1. 1. PROGRAMMATIC SEO Bernard Huang 500 Startups Distro Dojo Toronto
  2. 2. Hello! I’m Bernard Huang SEO specialist and partner at Mushi Labs. Growth advisor in residence at 500 Startups. You can find me at:
  3. 3. OVERVIEW What we’ll be covering today
  4. 4. Overview ● What is programmatic SEO? ● Elements of programmatic SEO ● Research & discovery ● Commonly overlooked technical mistakes ● Does Google actually like your content? ● How to fix your SEO content woes
  5. 5. 1. PROGRAMMATIC SEO What is programmatic SEO?
  6. 6. Programmatic SEO Creating SEO landing pages that target search queries using metadata on a large scale. Websites that have successful programmatic SEO: ● Yelp ● TripAdvisor ● Zillow
  7. 7. Programmatic SEO
  8. 8. 2. IMPORTANT ELEMENTS Research & discovery, technical, content
  9. 9. Elements of Programmatic SEO Research & discovery ● How’re people searching for things related to your business? ● What types of pages does Google think are relevant for search queries? ● How many searches are happening per month? Technical ● Can Google crawl all the pages on your website? ● Can Google actually view the content on each of the pages? ● How do we get Google to constantly crawl the pages we want? Content ● How trustworthy does Google think our website is? ● Does Google think our content is relevant for the search queries we’re targeting?
  10. 10. 3. Research & discovery Quantify searcher intent, competitive analysis, identify modifiers
  11. 11. How’re people searching for keywords that will be relevant to your business? ● quantify searcher intent ● competitive analysis ● identify modifiers Research & discovery
  12. 12. R&D - quantify searcher intent SEO is about figuring out how to capture the most relevant search traffic for your business. Search intent varies based on keywords: ● [housekeeper] - informational ● [house cleaning ny] - location ● [need house cleaning services near me] - transactional + location
  13. 13. R&D - quantify searcher intent Start by identifying the head keywords you want to rank: ● [house cleaning] ● [home cleaning] ● [maid services] ● [kitchen cleaners]
  14. 14. R&D - competitive analysis Learn what keywords your competitors are ranking for using competitive analysis tools: ● SEMrush ● SimilarWeb ● SpyFu
  15. 15. SEMRush Export competitor’s keywords and look for interesting terms you never thought of.
  16. 16. R&D - identify modifiers Google likes to help users with their searches by providing popular automatic search suggestions
  17. 17. R&D - identify modifiers Find all those suggestions by using Ubersuggest with your head keywords to create lists of keyword modifiers:
  18. 18. R&D - identify modifiers house cleaning a...
  19. 19. R&D - identify modifiers kitchen cleaning e...
  20. 20. R&D - identify modifiers Bucket keyword modifiers by categories and intent:
  21. 21. R&D - quantify search intent Determine size of search opportunity by looking at monthly search volume and keyword intent.
  22. 22. R&D - quantify searcher intent Now we know how people are searching for things related to our business. Looks like people searching for [home cleaning] want to know rates and see options for kitchens, bathrooms, and garages.
  23. 23. 4. COMMON TECHNICAL MISTAKES Internal linking, URL parameters, pagination, crawl errors, sitemaps, and other stuff
  24. 24. Common technical mistakes Large websites usually suffer from these technical mistakes: ● internal linking ● URL params ● pagination ● crawl errors ● sitemaps
  25. 25. Internal linking Google views your internal distribution of links as internal votes for your most important pages.
  26. 26. Coverage - not linking to every page somewhere in your website. Prioritization - not correctly linking enough to your high SEO value pages. Depth - the SEO pages you want to rank in Google take too many clicks to get to from the homepage. Internal linking - problems
  27. 27. RetailMeNot Ever wonder why pages like this exist?
  28. 28. Trulia Or these never ending footers?
  29. 29. Internal linking - coverage If Google can’t find a way to get to pages on your website, how will Google know the page exists? When you don’t link to a page on your website, that’s like a vote of no confidence for that page.
  30. 30. Internal linking - coverage [fix] Make sure that every page on your website is linked to within your website. This provides search engine bots a crawl path to discover all of the content on your site. ● Common places to stuff links include: footer, nav bar, user sitemap
  31. 31. Internal linking - prioritization Internal links are valued differently. For example, ● STRONG - homepage, above the fold link ● MEDIUM - every page, nav bar links ● LOW - some pages, side bar links ● TRASH - every page, footer links
  32. 32. The type and # of incoming links to each of the webpages are internal votes. Vote wisely: Internal linking - prioritization
  33. 33. TripAdvisor Notice how TripAdvisor carefully targets their “popular destinations” pages
  34. 34. Internal linking - prioritization [fix] Make sure SEO pages you want to rank are linked to properly throughout your website. ● Use a nav bar menu to target your highest value SEO pages. ● Strengthen your internal linking with the use of breadcrumbs schema.
  35. 35. Internal linking - depth Link depth is the # of clicks that it takes to get from your homepage to other pages.
  36. 36. “Keep important pages within several clicks from the homepage.
  37. 37. Internal linking - depth The deeper pages are in your website, the less valuable they are to Google.
  38. 38. Amazon Why do you think Amazon has these mega menu nav bars?
  39. 39. Amazon Nav bar mega menus gives Google a link depth 1 crawl path to many important pages.
  40. 40. Internal linking - depth [fix] Make sure you can get to your highest value SEO pages within 2 clicks and almost all of your pages within 5 clicks from the homepage. ● Create a user sitemap to decrease the link depth of all your pages. ● Use a nav bar mega menu to target your highest value SEO pages.
  41. 41. URL parameters URL parameters are common ways to pass data to a page through its URL. For example,,data=value
  42. 42. URL parameters Google treats every URL parameter as a separate and unique URL. Which means these are 3 different pages in Google’s eyes: ● ● ●
  43. 43. Duplicate content - URL params can accidentally create lots of duplicate pages. Crawl inefficient - Googlebot resources are spent crawling URL param pages which may bottleneck crawling your other pages. URL clutter - URLs may look messier which can lower click-through-rates (CTR). URL parameters - problems
  44. 44. Google is confused about which page to show… URL parameters - duplicate content
  45. 45. Google tries the different URL param pages in the search engine results page. Most of the time, it’s duplicate content… URL parameters - duplicate content
  46. 46. Google only crawls a certain % of pages on your website every day: Letting your crawl budget go to unexpected URL param pages bottlenecks the crawling of your other content! URL parameters - crawl inefficient
  47. 47. Do you have URL param pages accidentally being shown in the SERPs? Search Console: Pages filter containing “?” URL parameters - crawl inefficient
  48. 48. Which URL looks most friendly for a Canon Powershot SD400 Camera? - 4145?v=glance&n=502394&m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&n=3031001&s=ph oto&v=glance - egoryid=145&modelid=11158 - URL parameters - URL clutter
  49. 49. URL parameters - [fixes] Depending on how your website uses URL parameters, you could: ● <link rel canonical> URLs with params back to non-params URLs ● disallow URL params in robots.txt ● configure URL params in Search Console ● replace params pages with unique non-params URLs
  50. 50. Pagination Websites use pagination to divide the content on a page into several component pages.
  51. 51. Pagination - problems Crawl inefficient - Google will crawl all the paginated pages if you let it, which can bottleneck your crawl rate for other pages. Duplicate content - if implemented improperly, the content on your website could look duplicate on paginated pages. Thin content - paginated pages often don’t have significant amounts of quality content.
  52. 52. Pagination - [fixes] The preferred pagination implementation referenced by Google: <link rel="prev" href=""> <link rel="next" href="">
  53. 53. Thumbtack Do you even need pagination? Purposely no pagination, just “top 10” lists.
  54. 54. Yelp Pagination for user experience but doesn’t allow Google to index paginated pages. view-source:,+CA&start=10
  55. 55. Sitemaps Creating a valid sitemap and submitting them to Google and Bing will help the search engines better understand the site. Bing relies more heavily than Google on sitemaps to crawl websites.
  56. 56. Sitemaps - problem Cleanliness - your sitemap should only contain URLs of SEO value. Search Console > Crawl > Sitemaps > Specific Sitemap
  57. 57. “Your Sitemaps need to be clean. We have a 1% allowance for dirt in a Sitemap. Examples of dirt are if we click on a URL and we see a redirect, a 404 or a 500 code. If we see more than a 1% level of dirt, we begin losing trust in the Sitemap ster-tools-with-duane-forrester/
  58. 58. Sitemaps - cleanliness [fixes] Make sure each of the URLs in the sitemap: ● are unique ● return status code 200 ● aren’t <link rel=’canonical’> to a different URL ● aren’t `no indexed` in robots.txt or on the page
  59. 59. Crawl errors Crawl errors occur when Googlebot crawls a page on your website and receives an error. Google correlates the # crawl errors with website quality.
  60. 60. Crawl errors - problems [fix] Go to Google Search Console and resolve the underlying cause of your crawl errors.
  61. 61. Other potential technical issues site load speed - how fast is your website loading? mobile friendliness - Is your website mobile friendly?
  62. 62. 5. DOES GOOGLE LIKE YOUR CONTENT? Indexation %s, last cache date, crawl budget
  63. 63. Does Google like your content? There are quite a few ways to figure out if Google likes your content: ● Indexation %s ● Last cache date ● Crawl budget
  64. 64. Content - indexation %s Just because Google crawls all the pages on your website does not mean it will put all those pages into the SERPs. Indexation % is the ratio of pages Google has chosen to index divided by the total # of pages on your website.
  65. 65. Content - indexation %s ● Google “” How does the # compare to how many pages you have total?
  66. 66. Content - indexation %s How does the # compare to how many pages you have in total? ● Check Search Console > Google Index > Index Status
  67. 67. Content - indexation %s ● Check Search Console > Crawl > Sitemaps
  68. 68. Split up sitemaps into different buckets for granular content analysis of your pages: Content - indexation %s
  69. 69. Content - last cache date Every time Google crawls your page, they save a snapshot of what they find in their database. Last cache date is the last date which Google came to a page and saved its contents into their database.
  70. 70. Content - last cache date You can find the last cache date in the SERPs:
  71. 71. Content - last cache date Which’ll bring up a page where you can see the last date Google cached your page: screenshot taken 6/10
  72. 72. Content - last cache date For competitive queries, most search results on the first page have been cached within the last 14 days. screenshots taken 6/10
  73. 73. Content - last cache date When last cache dates are > 1 month it’s an indication of poor content on the page. Or if Google hasn’t even cached your page: screenshots taken 6/10
  74. 74. Depending on a variety of factors, Google will only crawl a certain % of pages on your website every day: Content - crawl budget
  75. 75. Crawl budget isn’t distributed evenly. Internal linking and content quality play big roles in deciding where the crawlers go: Content - crawl budget
  76. 76. You can see if you have content problems by looking at the following stats: ● avg. pages crawled per day / total pages ● submitted / indexed pages (sitemap) ● last cache dates on pages > 1 month old Content - problems
  77. 77. 6. HOW TO TACKLE YOUR SEO CONTENT WOES de-index / remove pages, enhance existing content, get more user generated content
  78. 78. Content - [fixes] The common fixes to content problems include: ● de-index / remove pages based on content criteria ● enhance existing content with more unique data, editorial content, etc. ● get more user generated content through onboarding or incentives
  79. 79. Google grades your website as a whole. Which means poor content on some pages actually drag down the quality of your entire site. De-indexing, removing, or consolidating pages is a great way to recover crawl budget and improve website quality. Content - de-index / remove pages
  80. 80. Determine poor performing SEO pages by looking at: ● last cache date ● organic traffic to page (Google Analytics) Content - de-index / remove pages
  81. 81. Content - de-index / remove pages Axe the pages that aren’t getting search traffic: de-index ● <meta name=”robots” content=”noindex”> remove ● return status code 410 consolidate ● can categories / geos pages be grouped into more content rich pages?
  82. 82. Content - enhance existing content Find ways to enhance existing content that’ll benefit the user based on what types of content Google is already showing in SERPs: ● photos ● videos ● market reports ● more listings ● editorial content
  83. 83. REI Combines long form editorial content with photography to rank.
  84. 84. KhanAcademy Google recognizes video content can be more relevant than other content types.
  85. 85. 42Floors Creating market reports from crunching #s in your database can be easy & fruitful
  86. 86. Yelp Having almost all the restaurants in Yelp’s database has secured its Google rankings.
  87. 87. Content - user generated content Find ways get more user generated content: ● extracting more information from onboarding process ● incentivize users to create content ● displaying anonymized user content
  88. 88. Thumbtack Ask unique questions while onboarding forces user to create unique content.
  89. 89. stackoverflow Give user privileges based on the quality of content users produce.
  90. 90. Thumbtack Anonymize recent user inquiries into unique and relevant content.
  91. 91. Feel free to reach out: Thanks! Any questions?
  92. 92. Recommended tools Keyword research & discovery ● SEMrush ● Keyword Tool Technical diagnosis ● Search Console ● Screaming Frog SEO Spider Content improvements & strategy ● Clearscope