Building a Templated Approach to SEO

SEO, in my opinion, is in many ways about scale. You want to rank for as many relevant keywords as possible as content is the leading factor in achieving that scale. Because let’s face it, who can rank for thousands of keywords with one blog post or piece of content? You want to ensure that ‘content’ can be positioned in such a way that it’s scalable and can do such things. This is where the templated approach for SEO comes in. Whether it’s about optimizing product descriptions or creating filtered pages, it’s often the way to go to target many (both head terms and long-tail) keywords simultaneously.

Getting Started

Step 1: Keyword Research

Especially for industries with lots of search volume, the big topics arise quickly. Quick initial keyword research provides an insight in most cases on where to start with creating templates, while at Postmates, it wasn’t rocket science to figure out that the most popular keyword themes were around:

  • {food category} delivery, for example, sushi delivery, Chinese food delivery.
  • {food category} {city name} delivery, example: burger San Francisco delivery
  • {food category} near me, example: sushi delivery near me

Note: There were many more other categories, but as the ambition was to compete for crucial high volume head terms, this is certainly where we got started.

Step 2: URL Structure

Decide on your URL structure, this isn’t too complicated either. But often, I’d recommend laying out what you’re planning on long-term with other projects as well so that specific projects don’t create overlap. You want to avoid that certain pages will be cannibalized over time by other terms that are served on similar URL structures.

In the case of our examples, we used:

Step 3a: Engineering Briefing

  • Internal Linking: Probably one of the most important pieces of a templated approach as you want to make sure that enough other pages are 
  • Headings, Titles & Content: Most of the content, including headings and titles, will be pre-formatted in a certain way so that it can be easily replicated across all the pages that you’re going live with. Usually, templated pages contain listings (restaurants, homes, products, you name it).
  • Random tags
    • META Description: Obvious, should this be templated, or do you have a way to write this manually for many pages?
    • META Robots & Canonical: Likely always has a default, although you want to override this information in some cases.
  • XML & HTML Sitemaps
    • Build an XML sitemap for all the URLs that are part of your templated approach.
    • HTML Sitemap: Is your overall structure big enough for it to need an HTML sitemap? For a big rollout of potentially thousands or more pages, you might want to think about doing this.
    • Robots.txt: Add the sitemap to the robots.txt, and don’t forget to list it in the XML sitemap index file.

Step 3a: Content Briefing

What type of content do you want to show up on the page? What should the headings and titles be? As you likely have to start on this with a templated approach as well you need to make sure that you can rely on a Content team to take care of this. Depending on the briefing this can be a longer or shorter briefing to gather the right assets.

Step 4: Launch & Iteration

Launch early & often is often my strategy around SEO so that it can be picked up as soon as possible by search engines. The same applies to the templated approach, getting them indexed is the first priority after which you can worry about optimized crawl patterns and getting them to rank higher in the search engines.

Examples

The templated approach isn’t new for many SEO teams in a B2C world, as it’s common to have a large inventory of products or services that can be segmented in many ways. In B2B, the approach is a little less common (but still often a good practice). Where I often see strategies fail around templated approaches is the entire focus of teams on content creation this way versus writing blog posts. They work hand in hand, but often, the long-term value lies more towards templated pages than content as it’s more scalable.

The caveat, a templated approach for smaller sites might take longer to perform than an actual blog post, for which you can right after hitting publish, start racking up visits via other channels (social, email) as well.

Let’s look at an example of good templated pages that have kept SEO in mind:

The Things to Do Places approach of Airbnb (especially for Places) is a great example (previously part of the Neighborhoods project, I believe) of a templated product approach that consistently works for SEO. While in their case, I bet it’s not just made for SEO, it does have a lot of great features that are easy to call out as being important for SEO.

  • Content Structure: It’s clear what the essential headings & titles on the page are.
  • Internal Linking: Take a look at how it collects all the relevant links to Places to Stay, Experiences, etc. There is a reason why they’re there.
  • Find the other ones yourself ;-). It was always a great learning exercise for me to dive into category pages and figure out why every little element on the page is there and how it could add value for SEO.

How to do this yourself?

Are you running an e-commerce store, are you a media company, or are you a marketplace? Chances are, you’re already more than likely set up to support this within your existing business model and organizational structure. So give it a shot if you haven’t explored this and let me know how it’s working out for you!

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What’s next after SEO?
Calculating TAM (Total Addressable Market) for SEO

Comments

  1. Great intro Martijn. A good B2B example is G2. They have taken this templated approach + UGC to generate viable search pages for the highest value commercial-intent searches.

  2. Trevor fox shared this URL. I was always looking for scalable approach like templates method instead of tedious content writing. Unique and Long piece might be good but it’s not scalable. Very useful read. Reminding myself the launch early is a great advice

    Would be happy to learn from your blog with more examples and specifics, so we can experiment the same. Signed up for the future newsletter 🙂

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