AI is the hot new marketing topic and competition between the big tech giants, namely Bing (Microsoft) & Google (Alphabet) has heated up quickly (sorry IBM/Watson). Microsoft dropped ChatGPT in November 2022 and then surprised everyone by integrating it into their primary search prompt to start 2023. Google, scrambling, released Google Bard in February 2023 and likewise, declared its intent to integrate the technology into the primary search functionality, but has yet to do it.
This has everyone in the SEO and content marketing communities buzzing about the possibilities and fear of what could happen to digital marketing for small businesses in the wake of such a seismic shift in search. To what extent will AI cut out humans in the process? Is it possible for humans to still win in SEO & content marketing when AI not only sources, but redistributes source material?
Things to remember about search engines.
SEO has been (and will continue to be) entirely driven by content. The two are tied at the hip. Without strong content, a website cannot be properly optimized. Without content expansion, a website’s traffic and ranking opportunities are unable to grow. AI will not entirely change the importance of content, but it will shift the ways in which it’s prioritized and utilized in search.
The ideas of “content is king” and “write for humans” have been staples of the SEO and content marketing communities for years, if not decades at this point. AI has now advanced to a point where it can mimic a human-like presentation of ideas in flowing, well structured content. So while the importance of the content itself and who the consumers of this content are will still remain important, the avenues to get there are wildly changing.
Search engines are still bound to serving their users. Even with the introduction of AI, the quality of result, no matter how curated, will still need to be of relevance and quality.
As a reminder, search engines are also still businesses. While super helpful, their intent is to make money. In order to make money, they will still need to lean into advertising as a profit driver.
How AI will help SEO & content marketing.
The introduction of AI doesn’t necessarily mean the death of SEO and/or content marketing for small businesses. There are many ways that AI will help make these tactics more efficient and in ways even more effective.
Keyword research is a critical part of executing both SEO and content marketing tactics in a meaningful way. This work is largely a manual process of using preferred research tools such as Moz, SEMRush, ahrefs, etc. to compile data to find keyword opportunities to go after. AI will introduce the ability to do this in one automated step.
In addition to keyword research, the ideation of topically relevant content for a brand’s audience will also be a game changer. By including AI in the early stages of content planning, teams can jump start the brainstorming process and save both time and effort that can later be dedicated to expertly written content by humans.
Up until this point, SEO tools have used fairly rigid page crawling techniques to judge web content against firm rules such as title length, number of links, keyword density, etc. as a way to aid SEOs in improving their ranking probability. AI will be able to take this once step further, by not only identifying lacking or improper techniques within a page, but also suggest actual content updates to fix the weaknesses.
This improvement in content is more of a side-effect rather than a direct benefit. The ease at which content will be able to be produced will likely also result in the generalization of topics with broad strokes that lack authority. This will push human authors to firmly lean into addressing their audience with a very unique viewpoint that is specifically relevant to the reader. Content is not just about SEO and this effect will drastically bump the additional uses of content in sales and customer engagement tactics.
How AI will hurt SEO & content marketing.
There’s no doubt that AI will also make SEO and content marketing more complicated. It may be the biggest shift in search since its inception in the 1990s. It will no doubt change the playing field. The question that remains is, how will this affect startups and small businesses?
Ranking AI Content
Google has said it will still index and ranking AI generated content highly if it deems it to be qualified (source: Search Engine Journal). It will be interesting to see this one play out as it’s held up against the quality of results to maintain search’s viability as a tool. The only defense against this is to constantly strive to have the highest quality page possible on a topic you believe you should rank for.
While informative, AI generated content will likely come off as vanilla and dehumanized. While this may be good for all the recipe pages we wish didn’t have life stories at the beginning of them (badumptshh), this will strip author perspective and point of view from a lot of authoritative content that ranks in search. The aspect of perspective and applicable relevancy of content is what makes it a valuable tactic for small businesses. That is an aspect that AI will not be able to reproduce on its own.
Domain Authority (the hardest website metric to grow) will become even more important. Right now it is still possible for a highly relevant, well written page on a small or new website to rank for a keyword. This is especially true when it comes to local and long-tail search. AI will want to make sure it’s giving the best answer to a search query and it will favor well established, link earning, content rich websites. It will make it harder for the “small player” to gain traction quickly and cheaply without amassing link-backs and growing its domain authority score.
Predictions for AI in search.
The introduction of AI generated answers to question driven inputs could (should) cause “Top 10 List” content to fall out of favor in search results. The AI itself will curate the list from individual sources and use those pages as the new “list” as citations for the answer. Bing search has already shown this in its citation linking.
AI content will likely rank heavily early on and everyone will be annoyed by it. Publications like Buzzfeed have publicly announced they’re turning to AI content to fill their sites and publish even more content. SEOs, content writers, and likely even users, but the search engines will course correct like they always do. In the past they’ve learned and applied fixes for spam linkbacks, keyword stuffing, and duplicate content as a way to fine tune their algorithms. This will be no different, but will take a learning period before being able to adjust.
Search preference has the potential to decentralize to niche third-party websites that may become even more relevant as AI reveals biases over time. Websites like Angi, Indeed, Autotrader, etc. could gain more usage as their brands will start to take over as the top search engine for very specific queries as they own the data and processes for users to tailor the results more specifically to themselves.
Paid search may see a bump in utilization as small businesses and startups get left behind by the AI algorithm. Google will still need to generate revenue and paid search placements in and around the AI tool will be the last spot for these small players to get facetime with users. This same theory could also lean towards the idea that social media and traditional advertising may get a bump as well as new channels are sought out for paid placements to highly targeted audiences.
There’s a lot to consider when thinking about how AI will shift the SEO landscape, but one thing is certain, it will change. High quality optimized content is still the best play to earn visibility and linkbacks regardless of the introduction of AI.