Case Study 2, Month 2: Our Programmatic SEO Formula

Yoyao & Dim
Updated on

Hey there, LowFruits fans!

It’s Dim here to bring you the latest update on our programmatic SEO case study.

It’s hard to believe that we’re already into Month 2 of this project. But time flies when you’re having fun (and when Google’s keeping you busy with one algorithm update after another).

Last month, we started the process of creating content at scale with programmatic SEO

As far as I’m concerned, programmatic SEO is simply a way to get things done. And in our case, that “thing” is creating quality content at a rapid pace.

We’ve made good progress so far, and we’re seeing some early signs of success. But — as with any project — there have been a few challenges along the way. 

In this update, we’ll talk about what we’ve accomplished and discuss the obstacles we’ve faced.

Month 2: Early Signs We’re Onto Something

By December 31st, 2022, the case study website had a total of 33 posts generated from 6 templates covering a total of 8 entities from 1 topical cluster.

Topical Clusters1
Entities Covered8
Templates Live6
Posts Published33

We’re seeing good indexing, although it could be better:

Screenshot of Google Search Console programmatic SEO results

And some early rankings and traffic:

Screenshot of the google search console programmatic SEO results for a new website

Not bad for a brand-new site!

Creating content for the website was a slow and tedious process at the start.

It took time to get used to WP All Import and establish a workflow with the backlog, the Google Docs templates, and the Google Sheets database.

The first couple of templates we wrote had a lot of manually inputted content, and scaling them was difficult and time-consuming.

However, we learned from this and made an effort to create content that was as “programmatic” as possible.

What do I mean by that?

How We Refined Our Programmatic Formula

The first few templates consisted of 50% fixed content in the Google Docs documents and 50% variable content in the Google Sheets spreadsheet. Yes, they took half the time to write because the introduction, conclusion, and part of the content itself were templated, but they weren’t templated enough.

To make the content creation process more efficient, we created the next templates differently.

We included 70-80% fixed content in the Google Docs documents and 20-30% variable content in the Google Sheets spreadsheet. 

We also used Google Sheets formulas to automate the creation of some of the variable content based on the existing inputs in the spreadsheet. This helped streamline the process and reduce the amount of manual work required.

Here’s how this works:

Suppose you’re creating a programmatic SEO content template for a post about cars.

Your template contains the structure of your post, including the introduction, headings, paragraphs, and conclusion. 

But some of the content inside that structure — the part that relates to the specific entities, such as the brand and model of the vehicle, the type of vehicle, the size of the tires, and so on — will go into the database and be referenced as variables in the content.

For example, instead of typing this into your database and outputting it into your template:

[The Ford F-150 is one of the most popular and best-selling pickup trucks in the United States. It has been in production for over 70 years and is known for its ruggedness and versatility. Whether you need a pickup truck for work or personal use, the Ford F-150 is an excellent choice.]

You’d only store the parts of the text specific to the entity in the database and leave the rest in the template:

The [Ford F-150] is one of the most popular and best-selling [pickup trucks] in the United States. It has been in production [for over 70 years] and is known for [its ruggedness and versatility]. Whether you need a [pickup truck] for work or personal use, the [Ford F-150] is an excellent choice.

And so, a lesson learned: To make the content creation process more efficient, you have to put in the extra time upfront to streamline the templates. 

This involves drafting and editing them carefully. It may be a lot of work, but it pays off because you will spend less time writing content for the spreadsheet that powers the template in the future.

Sounds obvious, until you start doing the work — and then it isn’t.

How We Make Programmatic SEO Work

The Plugin

Before starting this case study, Yoyao and I tried several different programmatic SEO plugins for WordPress. After testing various options, we settled on WP All Import because it offered the flexibility, power, and pricing we were looking for.

WP All Import is a WordPress plugin that allows you to import content from XML and CSV files. 

We also tested some SaaS tools with their own UIs for creating, editing, and configuring posts before they are imported into WordPress — but found them limiting.

One of the features of WP All Import that I liked the most was its ability to remember, repeat, and edit imports. 

This is essential if you want to create more posts for new entities using an old template, and it’s also extremely helpful if you make a mistake and need to run an import again (which, trust me, happens more often than I’d like to admit).

WP All Import also allows you to run custom PHP functions on your imports, which means that your ability to produce programmatic content beyond your regular blog post is limited only by your PHP programming skills and imagination. 

Overall, I’ve been happy with our choice and would definitely recommend it to others looking for a solid programmatic SEO plugin for WordPress.

The Workflow

Step 1: Topical Mapping

In Month 1 of our programmatic SEO project, Yoyao and his team created a comprehensive topical map for the website. 

This involved researching and identifying the various: 

  • Topics
  • Subtopics
  • Recurring patterns within our chosen niche

… all to create a roadmap for our content in the coming months!

Once the topical map was ready, Yoyao and I had a discussion about its contents and agreed on which entities and entity groups to prioritize.

Step 2: Content Backlog

In English, we identified the categories of posts about similar things we wanted to create content for first, based on a variety of factors such as: 

  • Competition
  • Anticipated search volume
  • Ease of content creation

With the decisions made, we then created a backlog of post templates and started working through them one by one.

Step 3: Template Creation and Database Building

Our content creation process is as follows:

  1. We create templates in Google Docs.
    We use yellow highlights to mark all the words, phrases, sentences, and paragraphs that will be generated programmatically.
  2. In parallel, we build the database that powers the templated content.
    We keep all our data in a single Google Sheets spreadsheet for the entire website.
    Each template has its own tab in the spreadsheet.
  3. Every highlighted term or section of the template is added to the template’s tab in the spreadsheet.
  4. Then comes the research — we use books, databases, research papers, and articles from reputable sources.
  5. We keep track of the sources and cite them as references in the content using the Modern Footnotes WordPress plugin.
  6. Once the work on a single template and its database is done, the template goes through proofreading and editing, and the tab in the spreadsheet goes through a quick quality check.
  7. Finally, the publishing process begins, with the programmatic content being generated and imported into WordPress using WP All Import.

There’s a lot more that goes into it, of course, but this is the workflow in a nutshell.

Programmatic SEO: What It Is & What It Isn’t

Programmatic SEO is a technique for scaling content creation. Still, it’s important to understand that it isn’t a shortcut to success, especially if you’re new to affiliate websites or blogs.

If you are just starting out, it’s best to learn how to build a site the “regular” way:

  • Learn keyword research and topical mapping. 
  • Publish 50 to 100 posts.
  • Give them 6 to 9 months to rank so you can see what works and what doesn’t.

Once you’ve gained experience and understand what works for your particular site, consider incorporating scaled content creation techniques. 

One way to get started is to use brand swapping. You’d write templates and manually find and replace the specific elements to publish a dozen or more articles.

Only then would you start a new site and use it as an experiment to get into programmatic SEO.

Take everything you’ve learned from your main site — which should be earning money by then — and approach the new site as an opportunity to experiment. 

Publish a few hundred posts in 1-2 months, then allow 3-4 months of learning. 

Then, decide whether to use programmatic SEO to grow your main site or continue growing the experiment site and have two sites in your portfolio. 

All in all, the key is to approach programmatic SEO with a solid understanding of the basics and a willingness to make mistakes and learn.

Remember, this is NOT a get-rich-quick scheme.

ChatGPT: The Elephant in the Room

Before you ask, yes, Yoyao and I are planning to use ChatGPT for this project moving forward. 

We’re still figuring out exactly how we’ll incorporate it, but some potential uses we’re considering involve using it as a VA for keyword and content research. It’s also possible that we’ll use it for content creation, but not in the way you probably think.

More on that in the coming months’ updates! =P

I believe that ChatGPT and the upcoming release of GPT-4 have the potential to significantly impact the Internet and society as we know them.

While many people may not fully realize it yet, I think it’s clear that AI will play a major role in the future. We might as well be on the brink of a new Industrial Revolution. 

But this time, it will be knowledge workers and the white-collar economy that will be impacted.

If you want to stay competitive and succeed, it’s important to start getting comfortable using AI before it becomes the norm.

Even I, someone who was previously skeptical of its applications, have seen the benefits of using ChatGPT firsthand.

What’s Next

We’re taking it slowly and learning lessons along the way. In the coming months, the focus will be content, content, and content.

I’ll also be onboarding Craig Britton, a top talent on my team, onto this project so he can help us scale and grow faster.

Stay tuned!

Who We Are

Yoyao

Yoyao manages his portfolio of niche and authority sites, publishes the Niche Surfer weekly newsletter, and has a topical map service that helps sites build topical authority and drive organic traffic. 

Learn more about NicheSurfer.com and TopicalMap.com

Dim

Dim runs a small media company. He started his first website in 2007 and has been building, buying, scaling, and selling online media properties since. Every now and then, Dim publishes case studies and coaches bloggers, media operators, and website investors.

Learn more about Dim

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7 Comments

Thanks for the follow-up.

Please be careful with using GPTChat on a website if you use Open Ai.

It looks like Open AI will watermark its content: https://twitter.com/mezaoptimizer/status/1610851124965216262?s=20&t=AzK6uJnM8IAkvx_XaYTlSg

And that Google is going after GPT Ai content based on this new publication https://storage.googleapis.com/pub-tools-public-publication-data/pdf/5b0ee640ce63282da38de23fe90748d5de63fef6.pdf

It’s best to only use Ai content which produces content using a “deep learning” model.

Reply

Can you share more about deep learning tools for content creation? Thanks

Reply

Hi, Brian,

Thanks for following along!

Yeah, I wouldn’t recommend using ChatGPT (or any GPT-X based tool) as a writer at this moment. The watermarking through wording and punctuation and the fact that Google’s likely to crack down on AI content in one way or another in the coming quarters is a risk.

I do think these tools are underutilized, though. More to follow in the coming updates.

Dim

Reply

Good points, but also could be highly useful for helping write code, PHP for WordPress, etc.

Reply
Constantine La January 12, 2023

This whole case study reeks of “lack of starting capital.” Begging that formulaic content now or ChatGPT content in the future would rank is betting that an earthquake won’t destroy your cheaply built house.

Just hire a writer. Jesus Christ.

Reply

Yup, we’re a bunch of poor kids trying to make a buck while pretending to know what we’re talking about 🙂

Dim

Reply

Awesome reponse. Kudos

Reply

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