Guide to Finding Head Terms for Programmatic SEO

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If you’re doing programmatic SEO, it comes down to finding good head keywords or head terms that you can target.

In a way, the head terms/keywords are the main factors if your programmatic SEO campaign is going to be successful or not. So, you have to put more effort into finding keywords that your users are searching for and that you can rank for.

I have created this complete guide to finding head terms for programmatic SEO.

At the end of this guide, you will have a spreadsheet full of keywords and you only have to deal with the technical parts of programmatic SEO.

But first…

What are head terms?

In programmatic SEO, a keyword is broken into two parts — head term and modifier (which you can see in the image below).

Head Terms and Modifiers Make a Keyword

Head terms or head keywords are the broad-level categories that you will want to rank for. Generally, the head terms are short and not more than 3-4 words.

Ranking for head terms alone is very difficult and the coming traffic is not very targeted either. But combined with carefully selected modifiers, the final keywords become long-tail keywords that have generally low competition and bring very targeted users who are ready to make a transaction.

The head terms are then combined with multiple modifiers to construct several long-tail keywords that you will actually target with your programmatically generated pages, as you can see in the image below.

Head Terms Combined with Modifiers

For example, if the head term is “email templates”  and the modifiers are “link building”, “guest posting”, and “newsletters” then the complete keywords would be:

  • Email templates for link building
  • Email templates for guest posting
  • Email templates for newsletters

You get the idea, right?

Finding head terms for programmatic SEO

While there are no fixed methods to find these keywords, I have collected some tricks and hacks to find profitable head terms.

Before we get started, just know that finding head terms is just like doing regular keyword research. You just have to keep in mind the fact that the keywords (head terms) you are choosing can be modified by using several modifiers.

You have to select only the head terms which you think allow you to create 100s or 1000s of pages when combined with modifiers.

1. Brainstorm your own products and services

This is another underrated yet timeless technique to find interesting head terms for programmatic SEO.

At the very first, I recommend brainstorming various aspects of your own business before you start using a tool or any other method to find the head keywords.

Try thinking about the problems that the potential user might be facing and what they will be searching to get to the solution.

Note down every possible thought on a piece of paper (or in a mind mapping tool) and then re-evaluate it to see if there is any programmatic SEO pattern. There will be many terms, for sure.

For example, if your business offers a note-taking app then you can brainstorm down all the features of the app, possible use cases, target audience, & competitors, and try connecting the dots.

Brainstorm Different Aspects of Your Business

You can see in the above image how I found some interesting head terms that can be used to create different landing pages targeting different users.

2. Research related websites

You might have already come across this advice of finding keywords by looking at what others are doing. This, kind of, also works while doing programmatic SEO.

First, you need to find who your competitors are, and who rank for the similar keywords that you’re trying to tap into. These can be the websites that operate in the same niche as yours and related forums & communities.

After creating a list of websites that you want to research, it’s time to open them one by one and try to find interesting terms by…

  • Looking for categories that have lots of content
  • Going through their sitemap
  • Analyzing their blog page and the type of content, etc.

While analyzing the sites manually helps you find the head terms, you can also take the game to the next level by using the following tools and methods:

Screaming Frog SEO Spider

Screaming Frog SEO Spider helps you create a visual representation of all the content of the whole website. You can run any website through the tool and analyze its categories and other pages/posts.

You will certainly be able to find some interesting head terms from here.

Using Screaming Frog to Find Head Terms for Programmatic SEO

As you can see in the above screenshot how easy it’s to visualize a site structure and find interesting head keywords.

Use Google’s site: tool

A Google tool that I absolutely love is the site: search operator. It lets you list all the pages of a website that are indexed in the Google Search.

You can run any website through followed by the topic you’re researching and find some interesting head keywords.

Using Google Site Tool to Find Head Terms for Programmatic SEO
Using Google’s site: tool to find head terms

For example, I was trying to research CRMs from HubSpot and got so many head-term ideas just by using the operator crm in Google.

SEMrush or Ahrefs

SEMrush and Ahrefs are well-known SEO tools that help you analyze the content, keywords, and backlinks of any website.

You can just run the selected website through the tool and you should be able to find something interesting.

Using SEMrush to Find Head Terms for Programmatic SEO

For example, if you run HubSpot Blog through the tool then you will see some interesting keywords that the site is ranking for. If you think that the terms can be modified by using modifiers, just note it down.

3. Use Google Search Console

Many SEOs don’t realize that Google Search Console is a great SEO tool for finding keywords and optimizing the existing content. You analyze the GSC data from your own website to find some interesting head terms.

However, this method doesn’t work if you don’t already have a website and a few months of Google Search Console data to analyze.

But if you have all the data, you can find and analyze the keywords that your site is getting impressions for, it shows that those are the exact keywords that the people actually search on Google.

Try finding a term that you think can be modified by using some modifiers and you’re good to go.

Using Google Search Console to Find Head Terms for pSEO

For example, after looking at the GSC data for Untalked SEO, I found out that the website is getting impressions from the keyword “programmatic seo for dentists”, as you can see in the above screenshot. Here, the head term is “programmatic seo” and the modifier is “for dentists”.

Now, how about adding some more similar modifiers? Something like…

  • programmatic seo for lawyers
  • programmatic seo for accountants
  • programmatic seo for ecommerce, etc.

The possibilities here are limitless, there can be 100s of such modifiers that can be combined with the head term.

4. Use keyword research SEO tools

There are plenty of keyword research tools available out there. You don’t have to try them all but I have listed out some of the tools that I have personally used for keyword research.

Most of the tools are free and a few are paid. Let’s take a look at them:

  • Google Trends: Free to use and helps you find fresh head keywords related to a topic
  • Google Keyword Planner: A free keyword research tool by Google that helps you find related keywords for a topic
  • Answer the Public/Also Asked: Helps you find long-tail and question-type keywords that people search and ask in forums
  • Ahrefs/SEMrush: Paid tools that are the market standard for doing keyword research

There are many other tools that I can’t cover all. Just go with the ones that work the best for you.

Validating the head terms

You should now have a spreadsheet full of tens of head terms… but are all of them worth targeting?

Probably not! And, it’s time to validate the terms if they are good enough.

And… to make this worse, let me break this to you that this is all a manual process. You will have to google all the terms one by one and analyze the SERP.

For the validation process, you just have to check…

  • If the ranking pages are long-form articles that are manually written, and
  • If the domain authorities of the ranking sites are too high that you can’t compete with

And both of the above conditions are TRUE, then pursuing that head term is NOT a good idea.

You have to select only the terms which have low competition and not all the ranking pages are long-form articles.

But it’s not a good idea to create 1000s of pages just on the feeling that they might be good.

I recommend creating a few pages for each head term first, wait for a few weeks, analyze GSC data, and see if they rank.

And if they show all the good signs, you’re good to go with creating 1000s of programmatically generated pages.

But make sure you’ve created the page template carefully and there’s enough information on the pages.

Related: Challenges associated with programmatic SEO

Final words

No doubt, finding the head terms is the most time-consuming part of the whole programmatic SEO process. But hey… keyword research is the new market research and you should invest more time in it.

While researching head keywords, there are some things that you should keep in mind that…

  • the finalized keywords have the transactional intent
  • no two or more head keywords are closely related, and
  • there are enough modifiers possible for the each selected head terms

And that’s it!

You should now have the final list of head terms for doing programmatic SEO. To proceed further, check out this 4000-word Programmatic SEO guide.

If you have any related queries, feel free to let me know in the comments below.

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