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8 Pillar Page Examples to Get Inspired By

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8 Pillar Page Examples to Get Inspired By

Pillar pages are high-level introductions to a topic. They then link to other pages, which are usually more detailed guides about parts of the main topic.

Altogether, they form a content hub.

Example of a content hub

But not all pillar pages look the same. 

In this guide, we’ll look at eight examples of pillar pages to get your creative juices flowing.

Excerpt of beginner's guide to SEO by Ahrefs

Key stats

Estimated organic traffic: 1,200
Backlinks: 6,900
Referring domains: 899

Overview of Ahrefs' beginner's guide to SEO in Ahrefs' Site Explorer

This is our very own pillar page, covering the broad topic of search engine optimization (SEO)

Why I like it

Besides the fact that I’m biased, I like the custom design we created for this page, which makes it different from the articles on our blog. 

Even though the design is custom, our pillar page is still a pretty classic “hub and spoke” style pillar page. We’ve broken the topic down neatly into six different chapters and internally linked to guides we’ve created about them. There are also custom animations when you hover over each chapter:

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Examples of chapters in the SEO guide

We’ve also added a glossary section that comes with a custom illustration of the SERPs. We have explanations of what each element means, with internal links to more detailed content:

Custom illustration of the SERP

Finally, it links to another “pillar page”: our SEO glossary

Takeaway

Consider creating a custom design for your pillar page so that it stands out. 

Excerpt of Doctor Diet's ketogenic diet guide

Key stats

Estimated organic traffic: 92,200
Backlinks: 21,600
Referring domains: 1,700

Overview of Diet Doctor's ketogenic diet guide in Ahrefs' Site Explorer

Diet Doctor is a health company focusing on low-carb diets. Its pillar page is a comprehensive guide on the keto diet. 

Why I like it

On the surface, it doesn’t exactly look like a pillar page; it looks like every other post on the Diet Doctor site. But that’s perfectly fine. It’s simply a different approach—you don’t have to call out the fact that it’s a pillar page. 

Diet Doctor’s guide is split into 10 different sections with links to its own resources. The links bring you to different types of content (not just blog posts but videos too).

Video course about keto diet for beginners

Unlike the classic pillar page, Diet Doctor’s guide goes into enough detail for anyone who is casually researching the keto diet. But it also links to further resources for anyone who’s interested in doing additional research.

Takeaway

Pillar pages need not always just be text and links. Make it multimedia: You can add videos and images and even link to your own multimedia resources (e.g., a video course).

Excerpt of Wine Folly's beginner's guide to wine

Key stats

Estimated organic traffic: 5,600
Backlinks: 2,800
Referring domains: 247

Overview of Wine Folly's beginner's guide to wine in Ahrefs' Site Explorer

Wine Folly is a content site devoted to wine knowledge and appreciation. Its pillar page, as expected, is about wine. 

Why I like it

Wine Folly’s pillar page is a classic example of a “hub and spoke” style pillar page—split into multiple sections, with some supporting text, and then internal links to other resources that support each subsection. 

Supporting text and links to other resources

This page doesn’t just serve as a pillar page for ranking purposes, though. Given that it ranks well and receives quite a significant amount of search traffic, the page also has a call to action (CTA) to Wine Folly’s book:

Short description of book; below that, CTA encouraging site visitor to purchase it

Takeaway

While most websites design pillar pages for ranking, you can also use them for other purposes: capture email addresses, sell a book, pitch your product, etc. 

Excerpt of A-Z directory of yoga poses

Key stats

Estimated organic traffic: 11,100
Backlinks: 3,400
Referring domains: 457

Overview of Yoga Journal's A-Z directory of yoga poses in Ahrefs' Site Explorer

Yoga Journal is an online and offline magazine. Its pillar page is an A-Z directory of yoga poses.

Why I like it

Yoga Journal’s pillar page is straightforward and simple. List down all possible yoga poses (in both their English and Sanskrit names) in a table form and link to them. 

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List of yoga poses in table form

Since it’s listed in alphabetical order, it’s useful for anyone who knows the name of a particular pose and is interested in learning more. 

What I also like is that Yoga Journal has added an extra column on the type of pose each yoga pose belongs to. If we click on any of the pose types, we’re directed to a category page where you can find similar kinds of poses: 

Examples of standing yoga poses (in grid format)

Takeaway

The A-Z format can be a good format for your pillar page if the broad topic you’re targeting fits the style (e.g., dance moves, freestyle football tricks, etc.).

Excerpt of Atlassian's guide to agile development

Key stats

Estimated organic traffic: 115,200
Backlinks: 3,200
Referring domains: 860

Overview of Atlassian's guide to agile development in Ahrefs' Site Explorer

Atlassian is a software company. You’ve probably heard of its products: Jira, Confluence, Trello, etc. Its pillar page is on agile development.

Why I like it

Atlassian’s pillar page is split into different topics related to agile development. It then has internal links to each topic—both as a sticky table of contents and card-style widgets after the introduction: 

Sticky table of contents
Card-style widgets

I also like the “Up next” feature at the bottom of the pillar page, which makes it seem like an online book rather than a page. 

Example of "Up next" feature

Takeaway

Consider adding a table of contents to your pillar page. 

Excerpt of Muscle and Strength's workout routines database

Key stats

Estimated organic traffic: 114,400
Backlinks: 2,900
Referring domains: 592

Overview of Muscle and Strength's workout routines database in Ahrefs' Site Explorer

Muscle and Strength’s pillar page is a massive database linking to various categories of workouts. 

Why I like it

Calling it a pillar page seems to be an understatement. Muscle and Strength’s free workouts page appears to be more like a website. 

When you open the page, you’ll see that it’s neatly split into multiple categories, such as “workouts for men,” “workouts for women,” “biceps,” “abs,” etc. 

Workout categories (in grid format)

Clicking through to any of them leads us to a category page containing all sorts of workouts:

Types of workouts for men (in grid format)

Compared to the other pillar pages on this list, where they’re linking to other subpages, Muscle and Strength’s pillar page links to other category pages, which then link to their subpages, i.e., its massive archive of free workouts.

Takeaway

Content databases, such as the one above, are a huge undertaking for a pillar page but can be worth it if the broad topic you’re targeting fits a format like this. Ideally, the topic should be about something where the content for it is ever-growing (e.g., workout plans, recipes, email templates, etc.).

Excerpt of Tofugu's guide to learning Japanese

Key stats

Estimated organic traffic: 39,100
Backlinks: 1,100
Referring domains: 308

Overview of Tofugu's guide to learning Japanese in Ahrefs' Site Explorer

Tofugu is a site about learning Japanese. And its pillar page is about, well, learning Japanese.

Why I like it

This is an incredible (and yes, ridiculously good) guide to learning Japanese from scratch. It covers every stage you’ll go through as a complete beginner—from knowing no Japanese to having intermediate proficiency in the language. 

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Unlike other pillar pages where information is usually scarce and simply links out to further resources, this page holds nothing back. Under each section, there is great detail about what that section is, why it’s important, how it works, and even an estimated time of how long that stage takes to complete. 

Another interesting aspect is how Tofugu has structured its internal links as active CTAs. Rather than “Learn more” or “Read more,” it’s all about encouraging users to do a task and completing that stage. 

CTA encouraging user to head to the next task of learning to read hiragana

Takeaway

Two takeaways here:

  • Pillar pages can be ridiculously comprehensive. It depends on the topic you’re targeting and how competitive it is.
  • CTAs can be more exciting than merely just “Read more.”
Excerpt of Zapier's guide to working remotely

Key stats

Estimated organic traffic: 890
Backlinks: 4,100
Referring domains: 1,100

Overview of Zapier's guide to working remotely in Ahrefs' Site Explorer

Zapier allows users to connect multiple software products together via “zaps.” It’s a 100% remote company, and its pillar page is about remote work. 

Why I like it

Zapier’s pillar page is basically like Wine Folly’s pillar page. Break a topic into subsections, add a couple of links of text, and then add internal links to further resources. 

In the examples above, we’ve seen all sorts of execution for pillar pages. There are those with custom designs and others that are crazily comprehensive.

But sometimes, all a pillar page needs is a simple design with links. 

Takeaway

If you already have a bunch of existing content on your website, you can create a simple pillar page like this to organize your content for your readers. 

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Keep learning

Inspired by these examples and want to create your own pillar page? Learn how to successfully do so with these two guides:

Any questions or comments? Let me know on Twitter.  



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Google Unplugs “Notes on Search” Experiment

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Google unplugs Notes On Search Experiment

Google is shutting down it’s Google Notes Search Labs experiment that allowed users to see and leave notes on Google’s search results and many in the search community aren’t too surprised.

Google Search Notes

Availability of the feature was limited to Android and Apple devices and there was never a clearly defined practical purpose or usefulness of the Notes experiment. Search marketers reaction throughout has consistently been that would become a spam-magnet.

The Search Labs page for the experiment touts it as mode of self-expression, to help other users and as a way for users to collect their own notes within their Google profiles.

The official Notes page in Search Labs has a simple notice:

Notes on Search Ends May 2024

That’s it.

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Screenshot Of Notice

Reaction From Search Community

Kevin Indig tweeted his thoughts that anything Google makes with a user generated content aspect was doomed to attract spam.

He tweeted:

“I’m gonna assume Google retires notes because of spam.

It’s crazy how spammy the web has become. Google can’t launch anything UGC without being bombarded.”

Cindy Krum (@Suzzicks) tweeted that it was author Purna Virji (LinkedIn profile) who predicted that it would be shut down once Google received enough data.

She shared:

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“It was actually @purnavirji who predicted it when we were at @BarbadosSeo – while I was talking. Everyone agreed that it would be spammed, but she said it would just be a test to collect a certain type of information until they got what they needed, and then it would be retired.”

Purna herself responded with a tweet:

“My personal (non-employer) opinion is that everyone wants all the UGC to train the AI models. Eg Reddit deal also could potentially help with that.”

Google’s Notes for Search seemed destined to never take off, it was met with skepticism and a shrug when it came out and nobody’s really mourning that it’s on the way out, either.

Featured Image by Shutterstock/Jamesbin



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15 Reasons Why Your Business Absolutely Needs SEO

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15 Reasons Why Your Business Absolutely Needs SEO

The need for quality SEO keeps increasing.

Brands that execute an organic strategy the right way are standing out early and often – and it’s more important now than ever, thanks to the emergence of AI and other technological innovations.

Blend those emerging technologies with the tumultuous few years that made up the COVID pandemic – where millions of consumers were pushed online to do their business, make purchases, and stay entertained – and you can begin to scratch the surface of SEO’s importance in marketing’s modern-day ecosystem.

SEO is the most viable, sustainable, and cost-effective way to both understand and reach your customers in key moments that matter.

Doing so not only helps build trust while educating the masses – it also establishes an organic footprint that transcends multiple marketing channels with measurable impact.

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But while it will certainly improve a website’s overall searchability and visibility, what other real value does SEO offer for brands willing to commit to legitimate recurring or project-based SEO engagements?

And why does SEO continue to grow into a necessity rather than a luxury?

Here are 15 reasons why businesses need SEO to take their brand to the next level – regardless of the industry or business size.

1. Organic Search Is Most Often The Primary Source Of Website Traffic

Organic search is a massive part of most businesses’ website performance and a critical component of the buyer funnel, ultimately getting users to complete a conversion or engagement.

Google owns a significantly larger portion of the search market than competitors like Yahoo, Bing, Baidu, Yandex, DuckDuckGo, and many others.

Screenshot from gs.statcounter.com, February 2024

That’s not to say that all search engines don’t contribute to a brand’s visibility – they do. It’s just that Google owns a considerable portion of the overall search market. Thus, its guidelines are important to follow.

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But the remaining part of the market owned by other engines is valuable to brands, too. This is especially true for brands in niche verticals where voice, visual, and vertical search engines play an essential role.

Google, being the most visited website in the world (and specifically in the United States), also happens to be one of the most popular email providers in the world.

YouTube is the second most-used search engine, with at least 2.5 billion people accessing it at least once a month, or 122 million people daily.

We know that a clear majority of the world with access to the internet is visiting Google at least once a day to get information.

Being highly visible as a trusted resource by Google and other search engines will always work in a brand’s favor. Quality SEO and a high-quality website take brands there.

2. SEO Builds Trust & Credibility

The problem for many brands is that building trust and credibility overnight is impossible – just like in real life. Authority is earned and built over time.

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And, with the AI revolution we’ve experienced over the last year showing no signs of slowing down, building real credibility has become even harder to achieve – and even more critical.

Following Google’s E-E-A-T guidelines is vital to ensure successful results when creating content for your audience.

The goal of any experienced SEO professional is to establish a strong foundation of trust and credibility for a client. It helps to have a beautiful website with a clean, effective user experience that represents a quality brand with a loyal customer base – or at least the potential for one.

A brand of this nature would be easily discoverable in search with the right SEO strategy. The more channels you’re comfortable publishing on and partnering with, the more discoverable you will be.

This can also be attributed to being a respected brand offering quality goods or services to customers, being honest and forthcoming with the public, and earning the trust and credibility among peers, competitors, and other stakeholders.

This becomes a lot easier to succeed with when the brand already has trust signals tied to it and its digital properties.

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So many varying elements contribute to establishing that authority with search engines like Google. It starts with building that credibility with humans.

In addition to the factors mentioned above, authority is accrued over time as a result of aspects like:

But now, in the age of AI, establishing that authority continues to become even more complicated and difficult to do.

Yet still, doing so the right way will do more for a brand than most other digital campaigns or optimizations.

Establishing a brand as an authority takes patience, effort, and commitment that relies on offering a valuable, quality product or service that allows customers to trust a brand.

3. It’s An AI Battlefield Out There & It’s Getting Even Harder

Since what seemed like the overnight emergence of AI going mainstream and becoming available at every person’s fingertips, search engine results pages (SERPs) are now more competitive than ever.

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Organic real estate keeps shrinking.

Bots, scrapers, and other AI-led technologies are stealing content and regurgitating things they learn along the way, which are often inaccurate or confusing, all while clouding the competitive market with duplicated or plain awful content.

Real SEO – including thorough keyword research, industry analysis, and competitive benchmarking to create high-value content for your customers and loyalists – allows brands to stand apart from the lowly regurgitated spam that floods our SERPs daily.

The challenge of optimizing websites and content for search engines that are relying more on their own AI technologies to enhance the user experience within their platforms than they ever have before is just another layer of complication exemplified by the emergence of AI.

It’s no secret Google’s Search Generative Experience (SGE) hasn’t exactly been the magic touch to take search to the next level. And, in some instances – up to this point – SGE has even taken Google backward in terms of user experience and information retrieval on a boatload of varying topics and queries.

SEO will undoubtedly help brands navigate and distill – and stand out among – the search engine noise that is littered with D-list content and AI-generated mediocrity.

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4. Good SEO Also Means A Better User Experience

User experience has become every marketer’s number one priority.

Everyone wants better organic rankings and maximum visibility. However, few realize that optimal user experience is a big part of getting there.

Google has learned how to interpret a good or unfavorable user experience, and a positive user experience has become a pivotal element to a website’s success.

Google’s Page Experience Update is something that marketers in all industries will need to adhere to and is part of their longstanding focus on the customer experience.

Customers know what they want. If they can’t find it, there will be a problem with that website holding up against the competition, which will inevitably surpass it by offering the same, or better, content with a better user experience.

We know how much Google values user experience. We see the search engine getting closer to delivering answers to search queries directly on the SERP every day, and it’s been doing it – and expanding its integration – for years.

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The intention is to quickly and easily offer users the information they are looking for in fewer clicks.

Quality SEO incorporates a positive user experience, leveraging it to work in a brand’s favor.

It also understands the importance of leveraging Google’s updated on-the-SERP-delivery tactics for high-value content that has garnered significant traffic and engagement for sites in the past, but is now losing significant portions of it to the SERPs themselves.

5. Local SEO Means Increased Engagement, Traffic & Conversions

The mobile-first mindset of humans and search engines has shaped local search into a critical fundamental for most small- and medium-sized businesses.

Local SEO aims to optimize digital properties for a specific vicinity so people can find a business quickly and easily, putting them one step closer to a transaction.

Local optimizations focus on specific neighborhoods, towns, cities, regions, and even states to establish a meaningful medium for a brand’s messaging on a local level.

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SEO pros do this by optimizing the brand’s website and its content, including local citations and backlinks, in addition to regional listings relevant to the location and business sector to which a brand belongs.

To promote engagement locally, SEO pros should optimize a brand’s Knowledge Graph panel, its Google Business Profile, and its social media profiles as a start.

There should also be a strong emphasis on user reviews on Google and other third-party sites like Yelp, Home Advisor, and Angie’s List (among others), depending on the industry.

I recommend following the local SEO tips on SEJ here.

6. SEO Impacts The Buying Cycle

Research is becoming a critical element of SEO, and the importance of real-time research is growing.

Using SEO tactics to relay your messaging for good deals, ground-breaking products and services, and the importance and dependability of what you offer customers will be a game-changer.

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It will also undoubtedly positively impact the buying cycle when done right.

Brands must be visible where people need them for a worthy connection to be made. Local SEO enhances that visibility and lets potential customers find the answers and the businesses providing those answers.

7. SEO Is Constantly Improving & Best Practices Are Always Being Updated

It’s great to have SEO tactics implemented on a brand’s website and across its digital properties.

Still, if it’s a short-term engagement (budget constraints, etc.) and the site isn’t re-evaluated consistently over time, it will reach a threshold where it can no longer improve because of other hindrances.

Or, it will require such lift that brands will end up spending far more than expected to reach a place they could have otherwise obtained naturally over time through marketing efforts that included SEO.

How the search world evolves (basically at the discretion of Google) requires constant monitoring for changes to stay ahead of the competition and, hopefully, on Page 1.

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Being proactive and monitoring for significant algorithm changes will always benefit the brands doing so.

We know Google makes thousands of algorithm changes a year. Fall too far behind, and it will be tough to come back. SEO pros help to ensure this is avoided.

8. Understanding SEO Helps You Understand The Environment Of The Web

With the always-changing environment that is the World Wide Web, it can be challenging to stay on top of the changes as they occur.

But staying on top of SEO includes being in the loop for the major changes taking place for search.

The AI renaissance has been a clear indication of that.

Knowing the environment of the web, including tactics being used by other local, comparable businesses and competitors, will always be beneficial for those brands.

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Observing and measuring what works and what doesn’t only strengthens your brand further as well.

Knowing the search ecosystem will be beneficial 10 out of 10 times.

9. SEO Is Relatively Cheap & Extremely Cost-Effective

Sure, it costs money. But all the best things do, right?

SEO is relatively inexpensive in the grand scheme of things, and the payoff will most likely be considerable in terms of a brand’s benefit to the bottom line.

This isn’t a marketing cost; this is an actual business investment.

Exemplary SEO implementation will hold its own for years to come. And, like most things in life, it will only be better with the more attention (and investment) it gets.

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Not only is it cost-effective, but it’s scaleable, measurable, and rarely loses value over time.

10. It’s A Long-Term Strategy

SEO can (and hopefully does) have a noticeable impact within the first year of taking action – and many of those actions will have a lasting effet.

As the market evolves, it’s best to follow the trends and changes closely.

But even a site that hasn’t had a boatload of intense SEO recommendations implemented will improve from basic SEO best practices being employed on an honest website with a decent user experience.

And the more SEO time, effort, and budget committed to it, the better and longer a website stands to be a worthy contender in its market.

The grass is green where you water it.

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11. It’s Quantifiable

While SEO doesn’t offer the same easy-to-calculate return on investment (ROI) as paid search, you can measure almost anything with proper tracking and analytics.

The big problem is connecting the dots on the back end since there is no definitive way to understand the correlation between all actions.

Tracking and attribution technology will continue to improve, which will only help SEO pros and their efforts.

Still, it is worth understanding how specific actions are supposed to affect performance and growth – and hopefully, they do.

Any good SEO pro will aim at those improvements, so connecting the dots should not be a challenge.

Brands also want to know and understand where they were, where they are, and where they’re going in terms of digital performance – especially for SEO when they have a person/company being paid to execute on its behalf.

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There’s no better way to show the success of SEO, either.

And we all know the data never lies.

12. SEO Is PR

SEO helps build long-term equity for your brand. A good ranking and a favorable placement help elevate your brand’s profile.

People search for news and related items, and having a good SEO and PR strategy means your brand will be seen and likely remembered for something positive.

Providing a good user experience on your website means your messages will be heard, and your products or services will sell.

SEO is no longer a siloed channel, so integrating with content and PR helps with brand reach and awareness alongside other worthwhile results.

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13. SEO Brings New Opportunities To Light

High-quality SEO will always find a means of discovering and leveraging new opportunities for brands not just to be discovered but to shine.

And that becomes a lot easier when experienced SEO pros can help distill the millions and millions of websites competing – and flooding – the SERPs daily.

This goes beyond keyword research and website audits.

SEO is also extremely helpful for understanding the voice of your consumers.

From understanding macro market shifts to understanding consumer intent in granular detail, SEO tells us what customers want and need through the data it generates.

SEO data and formats – spoken or word – give us clear signals of intent and user behavior.

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It does this in many ways:

Hiring an SEO professional is not always an easy task either. It requires money, time, vision, communication, more time, and some other things that will undoubtedly need to be fixed over the course of time.

Executive SEO on behalf of brands means immersing an SEO team in everything that makes that brand what it is. It’s the only way to truly market something with the passion and understanding that its stakeholders have for it: becoming a stakeholder.

The better a brand is understood, the more opportunities will arise to help it thrive. The same can be said about SEO.

New opportunities with SEO today can come in many ways – from content, digital, and social opportunities to helping with sales, product, and customer service strategies.

14. If You’re Not On Page One, You’re Not Winning The Click – Especially With Zero-Click Results

SEO is becoming a zero-sum game as zero-click SERPs show the answer directly at the top of a Google search result.

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This has only intensified with AI, SGE, Gemini, and more sure-to-come technologies that continue to shape our industry.

Early data showed about 56% of queries in a testing sample triggered SGE automatically directly on the SERP as part of an answer to a specific query in 2023, largely based on the semantics and intent of the query.

SGE results are also still incredibly volatile; sometimes they show up automatically, other times not at all, and other times there’s even an option to use SGE for results or not.

Regardless of that or any speculation on the future, there’s one thing for sure: Zero-click results in searches are winning.

If you’re not on Page 1, you need to be.

There are still too many instances when a user types a search query and can’t find exactly what it’s looking for. And sadly, SGE hasn’t been great at changing that until now.

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15. SEO Is Always Going To Be Here

Consumers will always want products and services online, and brands will always look for the most cost-effective way to connect them with each other.

While the role of SEO may shift and strategies will surely change, new avenues are constantly opening up through different entry points such as voice, apps, wearables, and the Internet of Things (IoT) AI is another prime example, and we can already see its impact greatly.

Outdated SEO tactics aren’t going to work much longer. New organic search opportunities will always arise. SEO helps find the best ways to capitalize on them.

Conclusion

The role of SEO has expanded significantly over the last few years, and it’s only becoming more challenging and expansive in the face of AI.

New technologies are constantly creating new processes and even shortcuts and workarounds that are changing the game, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse.

One thing is certain, though: Without giving SEO efforts some significant attention through a brand’s fiscal year, you are doing your business a disservice. Try it and see. Analyze the results. Test some more. Try new things.

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Stay up to date with changes and guidelines, and make sure you’re offering unique content that is valuable. And if it’s not originally yours, include proper citation and linking.

SEO will continue to help consumers when in need.

Implementing robust, quality SEO updates on a brand’s website and digital properties will benefit them and their marketing efforts in measurable ways, and the impact will be felt.

There will be challenges, but when done right, there can also be success.

More Resources:


Featured Image: Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock

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What Is Programmatic Advertising? How Does It Work?

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What Is Programmatic Advertising? How Does It Work?

Programmatic advertising has been a buzzword in the marketing industry for quite some time. But what does programmatic actually do? And how does it differ from traditional display marketing?

Programmatic advertising is a perfect realm where precision meets automation, and where your ads reach their perfect audience – almost as if by magic.

Gone are the days of casting wide audience nets and hoping for the best returns. In a digitally dynamic world, programmatic stands out as a blend of efficiency and effectiveness.

Ready to learn more? Read on to learn everything you need to know to be successful and harness the power of programmatic advertising.

What Is Programmatic Advertising?

Programmatic advertising uses automated technology and algorithmic tools for media buying. The term programmatic relates to the process of how ads are bought and sold in the advertising space.

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Programmatic advertising differs from more traditional media buying methods in its use of automation.

It analyzes many user signals to ensure that ads serve the right person, in the right place, at the right time.

Essentially, it automates the decision-making process of ad placement – without having to manually negotiate prices or placements like other platforms.

This means your ads aren’t just thrown out into the digital void of the internet, hoping your audience will notice.

Instead, they’re strategically positioned when and where they’ll make the most impact.

Think of programmatic as the umbrella in this category, where different types of programmatic buying are categorized beneath it.

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Read more: 7 Power Benefits Of Using PPC Advertising

What’s The Difference Between Programmatic And Display Ads?

It’s easy to confuse display and programmatic ads, especially with the strides that Google has made in its automated and real-time bidding capabilities.

The largest difference between programmatic and display is:

  • Programmatic refers to how ads are bought.
  • Display refers to the format in which ads appear.

Display ads are typically colorful banners, videos, or other interactive media that catch your attention on websites and apps.

Programmatic advertising, on the other hand, is considered the “behind-the-scenes” expert. It’s the technology-driven process behind the ads that decides which display ads you see, based on a whole host of factors such as:

  • Interests.
  • Behaviors.
  • Demographics.
  • Time of day.
  • And more.

The second biggest difference between display and programmatic is the ability to buy ads across platforms.

Display ads are more commonly referred to when placing ads within one specific ad network, such as the Google Display Network. Programmatic advertising, on the other hand, takes display media to the next level.

Multiple platforms exist for programmatic, such as sell-side platforms (SSPs) and demand-side platforms (DSPs), allowing advertisers to buy ad inventory across an open network of platforms.

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With both programmatic and display, advertisers typically have control over the following:

  • Audience.
  • Bidding strategy.
  • Budget.
  • Creative and assets.
  • Placements.

Read more: How To Develop Your PPC Strategy

Programmatic Advertising Platforms

Automated technology has made significant strides throughout the years.

In the early days, programmatic platforms offered basic automation and targeting capabilities using simple data points.

As the digital landscape grew, so did the complexity and capabilities of these platforms.

These days, programmatic platforms are mostly powered by advanced algorithms, artificial intelligence, and machine learning.

To go even further, there are many types of programmatic platforms available today.

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The three main types of platforms are:

  • Sell-side platform. Also known as a “supply-side platform,” this platform allows publishers to sell their ad impressions to advertisers in real-time. This platform encompasses both DSPs and ad exchanges. They’re equipped with technology that allows publishers to set minimum prices for their inventory, choose which ads appear on their site, and block ads from certain advertisers – if needed.
  • Demand-side platform. This platform allows advertisers to purchase ad inventory across multiple platforms at once. This is where most advertisers fit into this landscape. DSPs enable advertisers to manage their ad inventory bidding and target specific audiences using sophisticated data sources.
  • Ad exchanges. This is how SSPs flow their ad inventory to DSPs. DSPs connect to an ad exchanger, where ad prices fluctuate based on the competitiveness of that inventory. Think of the ad exchange as the neutral ground where transactions between SSPs and DSPs occur.

Understanding the key differences between SSPs, DSPs, and ad exchanges is crucial for navigating the programmatic landscape.

To familiarize yourself with the different platform types, let’s take a look at some of the major players in each category.

Sell-Side Platforms

A comprehensive list of SSPs for publishers includes:

  • Google Ad Manager.
  • Amazon Publisher Services.
  • OpenX.
  • SpotX.
  • Sovrn.
  • TripleLift.
  • PubMatic.
  • Adform.
  • Xandr (Microsoft).
  • Index Exchange.
  • Magnite.
  • Media.net.
  • Sharethrough.
  • StackAdapt.

If you’re looking for a video SSP, some of the leading companies include:

  • SpotX.
  • Teads.
  • SpringServe.
  • Verizon Media.

While there are many more available to publishers, these are companies you may have heard of but might not have associated with programmatic technology.

Demand-Side Platforms

If you’re a media buyer, this list is for you.

Like SSPs, these company names may ring a bell and offer DSPs.

Some of the top DSPs include:

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  • Display & Video 360 (Google).
  • The Trade Desk.
  • Amazon Advertising.
  • MediaMath.
  • Xandr.
  • LiveRamp.
  • Adobe Advertising Cloud.
  • StackAdapt.
  • PubMatic.
  • Quantcast.
  • AdRoll.
  • Simpli.fi.
  • RhythmOne.
  • Criteo.
  • DemandBase.

Some of the larger DSPs for Connected TV and video include:

  • Display & Video 360 (Google)
  • OneView (Roku).
  • MediaMath.

Again, there are many more DSPs available to advertisers. It’s important to choose a DSP with the features and inventory you are looking for.

Some DSPs offer self-serve advertising, while others offer both self-serve and full-managed service (likely to larger advertisers or agencies).

Ad Exchanges

Some of the more well-known ad exchanges available to publishers include:

  • Xandr (Microsoft).
  • Verizon Media.
  • OpenX.
  • PubMatic.
  • Google Ad Exchange.
  • Index Exchange.
  • Magnite.
  • Smaato.
  • AdRoll.
  • InMobi.
  • Amazon.

Remember: not all ad exchanges are equal.

It’s important for publishers to research options carefully and choose platforms that align with their goals.

Read more: The 8 Best PPC Ad Networks

How Much Does Programmatic Advertising Cost?

Simply put, programmatic advertising can cost as little or as much as your budget allows.

It’s a common misconception that small businesses can’t benefit from programmatic technologies – but we’re here to correct that.

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Programmatic ads are typically bought on a cost-per-thousand-impressions (CPM) basis. This means advertisers pay a set amount for every 1,000 impressions their ad receives.

CPMs typically range between $0.50 and $2.00; however, premium inventory can be upwards of $50 and more.

These prices are based on factors such as:

  • Which DSP you chose.
  • Your target audience and specificity.
  • Ad inventory quality.
  • Ad format.
  • Bidding strategy.
  • The level of competitiveness and demand.

A good rule of thumb for programmatic ad cost: the more niche your audience, the higher CPM you will pay.

So, whether you’re a multi-million dollar advertiser or a small business just getting started, you can likely fit programmatic into your advertising budget.

What Are The Benefits Of Programmatic Advertising?

There are many benefits to incorporating programmatic advertising into your marketing strategy.

Some of the top benefits include:

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  • Large-scale audience reach.
  • Efficient and low-cost awareness.
  • Real-time data and analysis.
  • Ability to utilize first-party data.
  • Opportunities for cross-device campaign strategies.

Large-Scale Audience Reach

Arguably the biggest benefit of programmatic advertising is the ability to grow and scale.

Programmatic is the best way to buy ad inventory to reach the masses due to the abundance of cross-platform inventory.

Advertisers can also quickly adjust their audience strategies to capitalize on what is or isn’t working, ensuring their ads are always optimized.

Not only is it easier to scale your audience, but you can do so much more efficiently thanks to more precise factors like weather or time of day, coupled with real-time bidding.

Efficient And Low-Cost Awareness

Related to the above benefit of scaling reach, programmatic is one of the most cost-effective types of advertising that exists today.

Earlier, we discussed average CPMs for programmatic averaging between $0.50-$2.00.

Even with a small budget, your marketing dollars can go a long way toward reaching your target audience and increasing awareness of your product or service.

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You can then take that audience further by setting up retargeting campaigns to guide users down their purchase journey, increasing incremental purchases and leads.

Real-Time Data And Analysis

Because programmatic platforms rely on real-time bidding, advertisers reap the benefit of receiving near real-time data.

Why does this matter?

Real-time data allows for faster decisions and pivots. It also puts you in a proactive rather than reactive mode.

Bids and strategies can be adjusted in real time based on immediate performance or even market conditions, which maximizes the chances of their ads being seen at the right time.

Utilizing First-Party Data

Another benefit of programmatic advertising is the type of data segments available to advertisers.

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For example, advertisers can upload owned first-party data in a secure way and target those people directly using real-time bidding signals.

This avenue opens the door to finding new customers similar to current ones.

Cross-Device Campaign Strategy

It’s important to note that programmatic advertising is typically seen as an awareness tactic.

Because of this, companies that look solely at last-click success often overlook the true potential of programmatic advertising.

So, how does programmatic fit into a cross-device campaign?

The key is to capture that initial awareness to users through programmatic ads.

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That initial awareness touchpoint can be run across multiple channels and formats like:

  • Display.
  • Video.
  • Mobile.
  • Social media.
  • Out-of-home.

Likely, a user won’t purchase a product or service after the first interaction with a brand.

Once a user’s interest is peaked, you have the ability to remarket to them on other platforms based on their interaction or engagement with that initial ad.

Marrying that data together from the first interaction to the eventual purchase is key to determining the success of your programmatic strategy.

Types Of Programmatic Advertising

There are different types of programmatic advertising.

These should not be confused with the programmatic platforms themselves.

The types of programmatic advertising are simply how an advertiser purchases ad inventory.

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The four most common types are:

  • Real-time bidding. This type of bidding is open to all advertisers and most common form, where ad auctions happen in real time. This is also known as the “open marketplace.” Because it’s an open marketplace, it is naturally a highly competitive and dynamic space.
  • Private marketplace. Also known as PMPs, this bidding happens when publishers have invite-only agreements with a limited number of advertisers. These websites typically offer premium pricing because of the coveted ad space. There’s usually limited scale compared to RTB since inventory is restricted to that particular marketplace.
  • Preferred deals. Also known as “Spot Buying” or “Non-Guaranteed Premium,” this is a lesser-known type of programmatic advertising. Advertisers choose ad spots before they go on the private or open market. If the advertiser chooses not to buy the inventory, it can then be offered in a PMP or via RTB.
  • Programmatic guaranteed. Similar to a preferred deal, but there is no auction bidding. The publisher and advertiser have a direct agreement on a fixed price for ad inventory. It guarantees the advertiser a certain amount of inventory and guarantees the publisher revenue for that inventory.

Read more: What’s The Best PPC Bidding Strategy?

Programmatic Advertising Examples

Programmatic ads come in all shapes and sizes.

The beauty of using programmatic ads is tailoring the content to your chosen target audience.

A few well-executed programmatic campaigns include:

Amanda Foundation

The Amanda Foundation is a non-profit animal hospital and shelter rescue in the Los Angeles area.

It created a campaign to help at-risk shelter animals find a home during their final days.

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Specifically, it leveraged programmatic signals like location, demographics, and browsing behavior to tailor specific animal images to its audience.

If users were interested in large dogs, they would be served a banner ad with large dogs instead of smaller dogs.

As you can see, messages and images were tailored to the individual’s behavior and interests.

Image from Amanda Foundation, August 2022

Geico Insurance

You’ve most likely seen or heard some version of a Geico ad.

Have you ever thought about the different ads Geico targets for you, though?

Geico uses such ad formats as TV commercials, website banner ads, social media ads, and more to create a true cross-platform awareness campaign.

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The brand carefully chooses its content based on the platform it serves on, the target audience and demographics, and more.

Its commercials are so popular, in fact, that Geico has dedicated a resource page on its website where users can view their favorite commercials.

Progressive Insurance

While we’re on the topic of insurance, it would be remiss not to talk about Progressive’s use of programmatic ad targeting.

If you’re considered a Millennial or Gen Xer, you probably know what I mean.

Progressive created a series of commercials around the portrayal of young homeowners becoming like their parents.

As a homeowner myself, I’ve caught these commercials in the wild on my smart TV and within streaming services like Hulu.

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Even further, their advanced targeting capabilities have caught my attention as I’m watching home shows like HGTV’s “Fixer Upper.”

Like Geico, Progressive hosts a dedicated page on its website of the famous character, Dr. Rick, and his videos on how to “un-become your parents.”

Brilliant Earth

Brilliant Earth is a leader in the fine jewelry space, with both physical locations and a strong online presence.

They’ve done a great job targeting different messages based on who was viewing items on their site.

In the example below, I visited their website and browsed different products.

A while later, I was served a subtle ad with an accompanying subtle message of “Drop a Hint.”

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The brand had identified that I had been browsing rings but understands, based on user signals, that I may not be the one purchasing this item.

Its messaging based on these advanced signals is a great example of sending the right message to the right user at the right time.

Brilliant Earth programmatic ad example.Screenshot taken by author, March 2024

Programmatic Can Ensure That Advertising Budget Is Spent Wisely

The basics and benefits of programmatic advertising can help guide your existing programmatic strategy, or if you’re just getting started, create a new strategy that incorporates programmatic.

The evolution of programmatic platforms, with their sophisticated algorithms and data-driven strategies, has empowered advertisers to deliver their messages to the right people, in the right context, and with precision that was once only dreamed of.

The precision of programmatic advertising, married with efficiency and scalability, ensures that advertising dollars are being spent wisely, maximizing return on investment and driving meaningful engagement.

Understanding the functionality and features of each platform will be a critical component of your programmatic success.

More resources: 

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Featured Image: ArtemisDiana/Shutterstock

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