Having a solid SEO strategy can make or break a business — it can mean the difference between having a steady flow of customers and getting lost in cyberspace.
The holy grail for most busy CEOs is having an optimized website that results in customers finding the business rather than constantly having to find new leads.
But how do we get to that holy grail?
The truth is that cutting through the noise of millions of online users and competitors is no longer just a case of finding the right keywords and integrating them onto the website.
Like many developments in the world of sales and marketing, the goalposts are constantly moving and the tools that may have worked just a few months ago are no longer enough for us to get the results we’re really looking for.
Traditional SEO wisdom tells us that in order to climb the Google ladder, we should strive to create high-quality, keyword-optimized content that differentiates us from the rivals.
Of course that is still true. But we now live in a world where everyone is doing just that.
So how do you stand out from the competition when everyone is trying to be different?
And this is where AI is a game-changer.
Because there is only so much we can physically do before we start drowning in constant updates, algorithms, SEO tactics and data.
By combining traditional wisdom with machine learning, it is possible to build a solid SEO strategy that makes your business stand out from the crowd — even when everyone else is trying to do the same thing.
In this article, I will dive deeper into exactly how AI can help you to achieve your goals and I will highlight the main principles and techniques you can use to dominate the search rankings.
The most simple definition of AI is that it is technology that makes it possible for smart machines to essentially think for themselves and perform tasks that typically require human intelligence’. Computers are programmed to do this by taking in information from the surroundings, and responding based on what is learned or sensed.
AI often conjures up images of the robots we see in Ex-Machina and the Avengers, where the intelligence of machines supersedes that of us mere mortals.
But the truth is we’re using it on a regular basis without even knowing it — Google search is one such example. In fact, according to Gartner, 80% of emerging technologies will have an AI foundation by 2021.
AI is broadly grouped into two distinct categories: Narrow AI and Artificial General Intelligence (AGI).
Narrow AI is the most common form that we often see in use today. This type of AI is focussed on performing a single task extremely well. While Narrow AI machines appear intelligent, they are a long way off mimicking even the most basic human intelligence.
This is closer to what you may see in the movies. It is a machine with general intelligence and operates on a universal algorithm that can apply to any tasks. While the search for a universal algorithm that can respond to any task or environmental stimuli isn’t new, experts agree that we are no closer to realizing that goal.
So although we’re a long way off from The Avengers , it still presents exciting opportunities for today’s business leaders.
In this article, we will focus on how AI helps brands connect more closely with their customers and achieve the kind of insights that isn’t possible through manual labour.
3 Key Ways AI Can Supercharge SEO
There are many applications of AI, but there are 3 main ways that companies can use it to power their SEO strategies.
There is only so much data that the human can process. Nowadays the issue is not a lack of data but an abundance of noisy, unstructured data that makes it difficult to extract meaningful insights.
For example, some of the most important data points include site performance analysis, market trends, competitor insights, SERP performance, SEO and PPC spend management.
However, manually sifting through all of those data points is a tedious, time-consuming and repetitive process. The labour needed to gain detailed insights is often expensive and incomplete. Furthermore, human error leaves too much room for uncertainty.
Conversely, AI can process and interpret patterns in data at a scale that is impossible for humans to replicate. This can give rise to new insights that may otherwise go unnoticed.
Some companies are already ahead of the curve when it comes to AI.
Social media giant Facebook uses AI to interpret images, identify individuals, and understand the context of visual content. Here’s an example of Facebook’s AI research, which involves identifying the subject matter of various images.
Facebook also uses AI technology in its news feed algorithm to ensure that it tailors content to user preference.
Google itself is also investing in machine learning. Google RankBrain is a machine-learning AI system that helps refine search queries, which Google processes and designates as the third most important ranking signal. This improves the trustworthiness and relevance of organic search results. In 2014, Google purchased DeepMind, a UK-based artificial intelligence start-up.
Once SERP evolves to become a multidisciplinary channel, then it will become increasingly important for brands to gain invaluable data from these innovations in AI.
These insights can help you to understand the underlying challenges of your customers at each stage of the customer journey. They can also help you to identify opportunities in the competitive environment so that you can tailor the appropriate content to your audience. This can make it easier for businesses to map intent to content and ensure that their websites can be crawled and surfaced easily.
All of these insights can make it much easier to personalize your content to make it more relevant and user-friendly for customers. AI can help brands to achieve this on a mass scale.
One somewhat controversial example of this is that used by the American retailer, Target. It was able to achieve enhanced personalization using AI by assigning every Target customer a Guest ID number after their very first interaction with the brand.
That ID is used to store the customer’s demographic information, ranging from ethnicity to job history, and to track buying behavior. The most controversial aspect of their AI-powered personalization came after Target was successfully able to predict that some of its customers were pregnant before the customers themselves were aware of it. Its marketing analysts were able to form a “pregnancy prediction” score, which allowed them to determine which purchasing patterns indicated that a customer was in the early expectant stages.
Other retailers such as Amazon also use AI to make personalized suggestions and recommendations, while Spotify utilizes similar technology to rank songs and inform customer preferences.
Automation and AI are often used interchangeably, but in reality, they are two separate fields that complement each other. Automation refers to technology that can perform tasks without or with minimal human intervention, while AI is more focussed on creating algorithms that enables machines to think and learn like humans.
However, when automation is powered by AI then it can not only give you more comprehensive insights into your customers, but it can also eliminate the manual legwork involved.
SEO by its nature is a labour-intensive endeavor that requires vast amounts of input over time. So it makes sense to automate the tasks if by doing so, we could receive the same results that we would if we conducted the tasks ourselves.
The main areas that are ripe for automation are technical audits, internal linking, tag management, keyword research, content management and optimization.
In order to get started with AI for SEO automation, brands should start by breaking down tasks into subsets, in order to gauge which aspects can be automated.
Rule-based automation can then be deployed to handle simple but time-intensive jobs. However, it is important to feed ML algorithms the right quality and quantity of data in order to get accurate results.
Regardless of how automation is implemented, the key focus on any SEO strategy should be in adding value to the customers and focussing on user experience and engagement. Without those elements, any technology or tools used are likely to be ineffective.
How Businesses Can Utilize AI to Dominate Google/Power Business Insights
Nowadays it’s no longer just a question of optimizing for search results, it is important to manage every aspect of the online customer journey. The goalposts change every day in the SEO world, but there is one thing that remains the same: Google rewards those who make life easier for their online audiences. This means not only creating relevant and useful content, but also correctly tagging data, offering great customer service and personalizing content without being intrusive.
Aggregating data is and has always been a balancing act. Although you don’t want to alienate your customers by getting too personal, you want to understand them well enough to offer them the services they want at the right time.
With that in mind, here are a few other ways to use AI and SEO to your advantage.
1. Data cleanliness and structure
The sheer volume of data from searches, interactions and digital footprints has created tons of unstructured data. Therefore, in order to make sense of all of this information, it is important for brands to properly tag and structure the information to make it easier for search engines to match to those queries.
One easily available tool is Google’s rich snippets, and cards that enable you to expand and enhance your search results, which makes them more visually available. It also adds functionality and makes it easier for consumers to engage.
It is important to properly mark up all content so that when a rich search feature becomes available, you can take advantage of the opportunity.
2. Real-time response and interactions
Real-time data analysis significantly changes the ways systems can use data to predict outcomes and suggest alternatives. It allows you to detect patterns and trends that can have a major impact on your business more quickly.
The most common way of gathering this data is to use AI-powered chatbots to gather and harness that data. Search query and online behavior data can make smart bots so compelling and efficient in delivering consumer data that customers may not even realize they are interacting with a bot.
AI makes it easier for brands to deploy deep learning and empowers machines to make decisions, and respond in real-time.
3. Optimize content for voice search
This means that in order to stay ahead of the curve, brands should consider optimizing content for voice search.
The popularity of virtual assistants, such as Siri and Alexa means that consumers can now get responses to queries within seconds.
Therefore, content should be optimized for question keywords to understand the conversational phrases and journey.
AI-powered tools allow marketers to scale research across various locations and languages, all on one platform and to quickly identify conversational keyword phrases that make it easier to deliver a real-time voice strategy.
Will AI and automation reduce marketing spend?
While there are many opportunities presented by AI, we often hear of apocalyptic scenarios of AI-powered robots replacing human jobs.
According to a Gallup and Northeastern University online survey, seven in ten Americans, six in ten Canadians, and six in ten UK residents believe the advent of artificial intelligence will eliminate more jobs than it creates.
However, there is also a lot of evidence to suggest that while AI can replace lots of the menial, repetitive tasks associated with SEO and marketing, it cannot replicate the kind of creativity that only comes from people.
In other words, brands will still need marketers, because the need for digitally-savvy creatives is unlikely to disappear any time soon.
As more companies adopt marketing automation, content creation and strategy services will be in higher demand than ever before. For example, revealed that AI-related job creation will reach two million net-new jobs in 2025.
For example, a report published by the World Economic Forum showed that automation will displace 75 million jobs but generate 133 million new ones worldwide by 2022.
AI and automation can bring the data — but it still needs human oversight to intelligently interpret those results in a way that meets the specific needs of your business.
The introduction of any new technology naturally brings fears that it will end jobs as we know it. The same fears existed about the internet itself — and many worried it would wipe out traditional industries such as retail, journalism and marketing.
Although machine learning can reduce the need to hire as many staff, it is important to remember that the marketing industry is constantly changing. Therefore, the real key to building a sustainable business lies in adaptability and a willingness to keep ahead of the trends.
In other words, it is not time to scrap the CMO just yet.
AI and SEO Best Practices: Key Tips to Remember
So how can brands adapt to the changes that will inevitably come as a result of AI and automation?
The key to any successful SEO strategy really lies in adhering to traditional marketing principles that are independent of any major tech developments or industry changes, and that is providing value. Remember, Google rewards websites that are better at engaging their target audience.
The way to do that in the SEO world is to create content that really answers the questions your target audience may have. The data accumulated by AI and automation can help you to identify the challenges and needs of your target audience.
Your content should be unique, with links to helpful information and resources where your audience can find further information.
The temptation for many brands is to stuff their content full of keywords in hopes of manipulating the Google algorithm. Not only is this off-putting to your readers, it also has the opposite effect. Keyword stuffing runs the risk of getting your site penalised by Google.
Instead, your strategy should target long-tail, conversational keywords that sound natural when read within the context of your article. Use tools such as Ahrefs, MOZ, and Longtail Pro to find the most relevant, low competition keywords.
The data gathered by AI and automation tools can speed up this process and give you additional insights into your demographics, the content they have viewed before, the times they are online and their challenges.
Once you have access to this type of content, it will make it easier to create unique, laser-focussed content that targets your customers more effectively.
While fears have been expressed over AI, all indications show that the benefits to business will be largely positive.
A report by Gartner revealed that AI embedded in analytics and other marketing software will free up more than a third of data analysts in marketing organizations by 2022. This gives them more time to focus on business priorities instead of spending time on manual processes like personalization, lead scoring, anomaly detection.
So what’s the endgame with all of this?
When deployed successfully, the end result will be more accurate and targeted personalization that adapts to meet the needs of the modern consumer. The challenge will be to use this data in a way that does not feel intrusive or Orwellian.
Many of us have experienced the phenomena of talking about a product or service via our mobile phones or online, and then seeing an advert for that very same product pop up- a few minutes later.
While this may once have been an effective marketing strategy, this may actually harm our reputation in the long run, if customers feel as though they are being digitally stalked or monitored by overbearing marketers.
It’s hardly surprising that several and revealed that online ads were increasingly being viewed as creepy, intrusive and overbearing.
In other words, data can only give you half the story.
To form a truly effective marketing strategy, it is necessary to strike a balancing act. The most effective way to utilize the new insights AI can bring is to use it to create helpful content that solves an existing problem, as opposed to spamming readers with accurate but annoying marketing ads.
AI is here to stay. As with any tool, its success depends upon how well it is used. When marketers stick to tried and tested best practice principles in their SEO strategies, the results can be startling.
According to Adobe, top-performing companies said they are more than twice as likely as their peers to be using AI for marketing (28% vs. 12%). Furthermore, analysis of data is a key AI focus for businesses, with on-site personalization the second most commonly cited use case for AI.
With so many opportunities to be had, brands should stay ahead of the AI trend as it will only grow, get bigger and continue to evolve as the algorithms get more sophisticated.
It won’t eliminate the human just yet, but it will make the job of formulating an SEO strategy more targeted, focussed and efficient. Ultimately, it will do a better job of connecting people to the brands and content they love.
Markateur is an online copywriting agency that specializes in creating high-quality content marketing strategies for businesses and organizations. If you don’t have the time or resources to put together a comprehensive SEO strategy, let us take on the recurring work for you. Speak to one of our experienced SEO professionals today to find out more about the services we offer.
By Janine Griffiths