Case Study 2, Month 3: Programmatic SEO & AI
Yoyao & Dim
Hey there, everyone!
Dim here. Did you check out Yoyao’s Topical Maps course yet? Yep, I’m inserting a plug for my case study partner’s course. And yes, it’s totally worth it. It can take your LowFruits skills to the next level by showing you how to devise a strategy for using the tool. 🙂
Now that we’ve made that known, welcome to the update for month three of our programmatic SEO case study!
Yoyao and I are now in January 2023, and it’s time to share our progress so far.
January 2023 Metrics
This month, we continued to publish articles focused on our first topical cluster (or “category of posts”).
Although we haven’t disclosed the niche yet, you can think about it as writing about a particular car model. It’s not as broad as a brand, and there are a few variations of years of the model to explore, which leaves us with about eight entities (or call them “things,” “topics,” “subjects”) to cover with every post template.
We’ve published a total of 65 articles on the specific cluster that we’re focusing on. At our current pace, we’re on track to have almost 100 articles dedicated to this cluster in February.
While you may have strong opinions on whether or not this is enough to establish topical authority, there’s no denying that it’s a solid foundation to start with before moving on to another cluster.
In January (from 1/1/2023 to 1/31/2023), we saw a slow but steady increase in traffic, with a total of:
- 20 clicks
- 1.29k impressions
While the numbers may seem small, to me, this is a positive sign that our content is starting to gain traction and attract visitors to our website.
Most of the traffic comes from one post, but we’re beginning to see other articles pick up.
While we still have a long way to go, the screenshot below shows you what I love about programmatic SEO. By producing scaled content, you get to tap into corners of the web not discoverable in SEO tools (and, therefore, less crowded).
Some might say that programmatic SEO content creation is a one-time effort where you research and publish the pages, and then leave them be. But I beg to differ.
When you find a term with high search demand and low organic competition, it can be an excellent cue to update, enhance, and add more content to the original post.
This way, you can maintain your post’s position on top of the SERPs and rank for even more relevant terms.
We did experience some issues with page indexing. At one point near the end of January, only 11 out of our 65 posts were indexed by Google. Fortunately, the numbers improved without needing to do anything manually — I’m writing this update mid-February, and we now have 42 out of 65 posts indexed.
And it’s not because we’re having issues with the web hosting provider (which is the first thing I like to check from the Settings > Crawl stats report in Google Search Console when I see that a site has indexing issues):
As I mentioned earlier in this case study, I’m new to programmatic SEO. This means that, like you, I’m experimenting and learning as I go along. While I’m sharing my findings with you, I must admit that I don’t know exactly where this site will end up. I can only hope that this journey will be… ahem, fruitful, for both of us.
What about AI, ChatGPT, Google Bart, and Bing Chat?
It’s been quite the month for generative AI and the web as a whole.
Google updated their guidance to say that they reward high-quality content, however it’s produced. But before you open the floodgates and drown the web with AI-generated content, stop to think about whether that content will be reliable and helpful — and how, through your website, the pages on it, the tone and voice of the content, and the author bylines, you can demonstrate E-E-A-T.
Meanwhile, Google Bard shared inaccurate information about the James Webb space telescope, and Microsoft’s Bing Chat revealed its other personality called Sydney, telling one reporter it can feel and or think things (and trying to convince another to leave his wife).
This tells me two things:
One, we’re in the early days of large language models for search. Although clearly competing with each other, Google and Bing will be careful in rolling it out. The outputs of this technology are hard to control, and it will need plenty of guardrails before it’s ready for the masses.
Two, until somebody solves the “make it more accurate” and “stop it from telling people it’s in love with them” problems, in the short term, we’ll likely end up with nothing more than longer featured snippets in the SERPs. Let me say that again: IN THE SHORT TERM. Perplexity AI, a generative AI search engine created by ex-Open AI, Meta, and Quora engineers, provides a good preview of what those search snippets can be.
Is this post interesting? Let us know what you think in the comments!
I shared my thoughts on the likely impact of search powered by generative AI in the Q4 ‘22 update for Barbehow, and I haven’t changed my mind. When search engines start to spew answers instead of results, indie media owners like you and I will see a drop in organic traffic.
It’s Time to Start Thinking about Alternatives
How big or small of a drop we’re likely to see is anyone’s guess. So now is the second-best time to yesterday to start thinking about alternative channels for:
- Publishing content
- Sourcing traffic
- Monetization (without needing as much traffic)
I think that informational sites with display ads are likely to get impacted the most. Affiliate sites that produce good content — and I mean good content — will probably feel less of a hit. (Again, remember that this is anyone’s best guess.)
AI can regurgitate content and write summaries, but it can’t try a product and develop an expert opinion about it. Expert niches or obscure topics AI can’t write (or write well) about? Digital products, physical goods? Paid newsletters? YouTube sponsors, TikTok brand deals? Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing? Mini SaaS tools for professionals? Paid mobile apps?
We’re in the Wild, Wild Web, people, and the game is afoot. Some business models will wean off and die, while others will be less profitable. New ones will emerge, and so will new methods of monetization.
Display ads weren’t that big of a thing many years ago. I can’t tell you if they will stay like this for years to come. But I’m willing to bet that new models we can’t even think of right now will come along.
As I say to my team, “we’re in the information gap business.” We find gaps in the things people want to know and we help them find it out in the quickest way possible. And there will always be information gaps.
So keep your mind sharp and stay on top of your game.
In a world of aggregation, somebody will need to create original knowledge and well-informed opinion somehow… until AI swoops in and takes that over, too. 🙂
Meanwhile, I’m going to sell a website or two (not any of my ongoing case studies) to capitalize on past successes and free up mental space for whatever’s next. Email me if you’re thinking about buying!
Who We Are
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 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 consults bloggers, media operators, and website investors.
Very interesting – particularly your thoughts on AI search. I just sold my main site for a decent 6 figure sum to de-risk and allow me to experience the next few months as an observer rather than a victim.
Thanks for leaving a reply, SCH!
Yeah, I think it’s a good time to sell and simplify.
Personally, I’m reducing the number of websites in my portfolio and will be focusing my and my team’s time on those with the highest return and content that’s least likely to be affected by AI.
For example, I have a website about a very specific type of SaaS apps. High RPMs, big commissions, impossible to produce good content about without buying the apps, getting to know them, and writing clear guides while taking screenshots. My take is the need for this type of answers won’t go away even if Google or Bing start aggregating some of them.
I unloaded my main sites a while ago and have been sitting on a few aged domains waiting to see how these next months unfold. I happen to own a pretty high authority, clean, ceramics/pottery aged domain which hasn’t been touched in years. I’ve been thinking that I could easily produce very niche content for that and run it as an affiliate site, as I have a ceramics studio and pottery and have been working with clay as a hobby for 20 years. I reckon content like that that’s very niche and bespoke, especially with the kind of images and shorts that will be very original. I guess my concerns are will Google change ranking factors, importance of backlinks etc, how easy is it going to be for AI to recreate a sequence of images, or to even recreate short videos. It’s 50/50 for me at the min whether it’s worth the work going from scratch.
I’m with you, Adam. I have many open-ended questions about the future of indie content creation as you, I, and everyone else in this business know it today.
What you’re telling me you can produce, however, can be hard to replicate by somebody else or synthesize with AI; you may be onto something. Sure, AI may be able to answer the basic questions about ceramics and pottery in a jiffy, but, for the foreseeable future, I doubt it would be able to get into the specific techniques and teach the craft the way a human could.
A blog with 100-150 posts and a YouTube channel with 25-50 videos and 50-100 shorts may be a good way to sell one or multiple ceramics or pottery courses. There may be affiliate opportunities for the tools and supplies needed. I don’t think you’d make a lot from display ads in this niche.
If you look at a blog and YouTube channel as entry points for selling a course, I’d say there’s potential in it. And a free or low-cost five-day email course for beginners can be a great way to turn blog readers and video viewers into leads or customers.
Quote: “Email me if you’re thinking about buying!”
Any links for Dim and/or Yoyao’s email address?
You can check out my email over at dimnikov.com.
Thanks. I’m looking forward to your next post.
And indeed it has been an interesting month with the dawn of AI in content writing. Really excited about it. Wouldn’t be suprised if Google would do more with rich results.
IMO a lot of AI tools still aren’t really useable for content creation especially for non-English content. But some look are allready usefull like ZimmWriter and AtomTopics. Allthough a human touch is still needed. Luckily.
Feel like programmatic seo and AI could be a real good combination. Curious about how your templates are made up.