Is There Value in Using AI for SEO?

Is Artificial Intelligence (AI) completely revolutionizing Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and restarting the industry at ground zero? Or is it just the next step in the constantly evolving digital marketing landscape?

While the noise and attention this subject is getting makes it feel like the former is happening, that would be an exaggeration. Digital marketing does not stand still. This newest technology is a change in an always changing field. The real question is, how do we apply what we are learning about AI to adapt what we already know about SEO?

 

What is Artificial Intelligence?

AI has been around far longer than the news would have you think. It has been running in the background of technology for decades. The newest iterations making headlines are just the most obvious user facing versions.

AI is computer programming that is designed to find patterns in data, then use those patterns to make predictions. Think about weather forecasts, credit approvals, or planning for new housing developments.

Data gets fed into a formula that determines the likelihood of future events, and people make decisions based on the formula results. If you have ever used a chatbot, plugged information into a symptom checker, or test driven a self-driving/self-parking car, you have used AI.

These newest public facing AI models are being used to help people analyze more data to make decisions, solve problems, generate ideas, create algorithms, write summaries, and perform business tasks.

Any business owner or marketing manager that has been working in SEO for a while has already wondered how these new AI models are going to change search engine performance.

 

How is AI Being Used for SEO?

Google and other search engines have been using AI for years to evaluate how websites perform in the Search Engine Results Page (SERP). The search engine’s job is to match the information in the search bar against the totality of the internet and display results that make the most sense. If humans had to do this matching work, it would take days to post the SERP. AI is what makes it turn up instantly.

Search engine companies develop AI to create machine learning tools to continually get better and faster at reading the internet to perform high quality searches.

Machine learning uses computer science and algorithms to train machines to improve their performance on a task without additional programming. As the machine repeatedly performs its task, it collects positive and negative feedback. It then self-adapts to produce more positive feedback. When applied to search engines, the machine learns to weed out spam to protect the end users and recognizes higher quality content to benefit them.

Machine learning is further enhanced by Natural Language Processing (NLP). This AI tool learns to read and understand the content on web pages to return search results that align with the user’s query.

This tool is also necessary for weeding out spam because it recognizes and discards machine or poorly written content.

 

Benefits of AI for SEO

The benefit of AI on the search engine side is that it efficiently interprets queries and returns information that matches user intent.

Do you remember the early days of internet searching when you usually had to click to the 2nd or 3rd page to find a website that was actually useful? With that in hindsight, it’s clear how much AI has improved this function.

When was the last time you clicked to the 2nd page of your search results? Thank AI for that!

For businesses, AI means better revenue for your investment. If you are producing high-quality content on your website, and that content includes the terms people are actually searching when they need your product or service, you will get that web traffic and resulting sales. SEO specialists, digital marketers, and copywriters take this awareness of AI and use it to build website content.

Our job is to know what users are searching for and what will meet the search engine’s standards. The result is that well-written content will rise to the top of the SERP.

 

ChatGPT on Phone
Tools like ChatGPT have become useful for various SEO tasks.

 

AI for Search

Google and other search engines do not perform a full internet search for every single query. Another way they use AI is to catalog all the pages on the internet so that they are easy to load into the SERP.

Once Google’s tools read a web page, that page gets indexed into their database. When a user performs a search query, AI goes into the index and pulls the pages that have relevant terms.

The machine learning and NLP components are constantly evaluating both the user search language and the web page language to create better matches. The AI continues collecting data on the user’s interaction with the SERP and the websites they engage to produce improved results in other queries.

This means that one user’s behavior will influence the SERP for other users. But, individual users will also influence their own future search results. AI within the browser will begin to customize results based on that user’s past behaviors, location, and device type.

 

Examples of AI Used in Search Today

Companies all use their own proprietary codes to develop AI. Each tool is custom designed to meet the needs of specific users, and most developers use a variety of tools for their applications.

 

Google

Rankbrain is the core of Google’s search algorithm. This machine learning tool increases the accuracy of the search results.

Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers (BERT) uses NLP and Natural Language Understanding (NLU) to learn user search intent. Its focus is to learn language the way we use it so that it can identify search results that match what the user is looking for.

Multitask Unified Model (MUM) is even more powerful than BERT. It is designed to decipher the context and meaning of user intent, cutting through errors and variance in language and grammar.

 

ChatGPT by OpenAI

ChatGPT is at the top of everyone’s mind these days. This large language model is trained in deep learning by scraping the internet and learning how humans use language. In simple terms, it is a giant chatbot. It uses NLP to interact with user queries in a human-like way.

 

Wolfram Alpha

Wolfram Alpha is a math and science focused AI tool. It performs complex math and physics calculations, and it can analyze data. Like ChatGPT, it uses NLP and machine learning to identify user intent and communicate in a human-like way. Unlike ChatGPT, it returns a single answer to queries rather than a list of results.

 

Voice Search Engine Optimization (VSEO)

If you have ever talked to Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, or your Google Assistant, you have used voice activated AI. These tools identify long-tail keywords and perform question-based searches.

In terms of search results, ranking in these tools is the most competitive since they only provide the top result to the user.

 

Upping Your SEO Game with AI

AI hasn’t just been relegated to the back end all these years. Digital marketers have also had access to all kinds of AI tools to produce data-driven and measurable work.

We maintain that foundational understanding of how search engines apply AI to user queries so that we can build the most effective SEO strategy.

These tools are available to anyone – business owners, SEO specialists, marketing managers – willing to learn how to use them to improve SEO.

 

Data Analysis

Use AI to analyze large volumes of data to identify patterns and trends, then use the information to drive actionable insights. Locate and fill content gaps in your own website, and compare your performance with the competition’s to get the rankings edge.

 

Content Creation

Using search pattern analysis, common queries, and top keywords, site owners can build new content that is optimized to rank well in the SERP. AI can be used to perform faster content planning, analysis, and optimization. Should AI be used to generate web page copy and blogs? We’ll get to that shortly.

 

On-page SEO

Use AI to come up with optimized headers and meta descriptions that fit the character limit. AI is also a useful guide for structuring the website itself. Using the previously mentioned data analysis, learn which combinations of keywords and calls to action produce the best conversions.

 

Keyword Research

Identify common search terms and queries, see what kind of phrasing users have in mind, and discover the highest ranking keywords. Various keyword research tools compile a ton of data that can be used to hone website content to the target audience’s search behavior.

 

Internal Linking

Internal links help search engine AI tools see your website as a cohesive property. Links allow machine learning tools to navigate the site in a way that helps them understand how it all works together. This translates to creating a higher quality user experience, and that results in better SERP ranking.

 

Technical SEO

AI is a great tool for website audits. Use it to find errors, duplicate content, content that does not perform well, broken links, and opportunities for better optimization. Duplicate content is especially important to catch, as your web pages could be competing with each other and hurting your search ranking.

 

Rank Tracking

Keep track of how keywords perform over time and continually optimize the site to improve their rank in the SERP. This history is especially helpful when the algorithms get updated and performance changes. Your time-tested data will help you make the smart tweaks to maintain your competitive position.

 

Drawbacks of Utilizing AI in SEO

It’s clear that AI is a huge part of the digital marketing process and has been for a very long time. Without these smart tools running around the internet at speeds only machines can attain, online marketing could never be as effective as it is today.

But right now, the big question on everyone’s mind is how we can leverage AI to make our actual content marketing more efficient. Here is where we really need to tread carefully. Can an AI tool write a web page, social media post, or blog article? Yes. Can that machine-written copy be used immediately as is? No way.

First, large language models like ChatGPT and similar tools are not being trained on real-time data. They are also not performing actual research. So while the model may return some very convincing information, it might be completely fabricated or outdated. Always fact check anything an AI model says is true.

Next, search engines train their tools to differentiate machine writing from human writing. Believe it or not, Google can identify AI-generated content, and it will penalize it under its spam guidelines. It’s great to get a first draft from an AI model, but the content should then be fully revised and edited by a person.

The other reason a real person needs to be involved in content creation is to maintain Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness (E-E-A-T). These are the factors that Google evaluates when determining a page to be high quality, and therefore, high ranking.

Finally, if we all start using machines to do our content creation, those machines are going to run out of things to say eventually. AI cannot create new ideas. It can only use what already exists and rearrange it in different combinations. We humans need to keep having new ideas to keep our own creativity sharp and to force the machine learning tools to keep improving.

 

Conclusion

Artificial intelligence is operating in every corner of the internet. It is a necessary tool for SEO in research, analysis, and creation. Learning how AI impacts SEO is what makes for the most effective strategies.

AI allows us to research efficiently, gather mass quantities of data and organize it into useful reports, and optimize content for the best performance. A marketing budget that leverages the power of AI tools will achieve better returns than one that is invested in guesses and gut feelings.

While the benefits are excellent for business, we need to be careful of becoming too dependent on these tools. Human thought, analysis, and creation are still a requirement in every aspect of SEO marketing. Content writing needs the human element, and humans still have to decide how to apply the information gleaned from keyword research. We can’t outsource everything to the machines; the job still requires our talents and skills.

As AI models improve, and they are always improving, I hope to see more simplification for the layperson. Easy to read reports, simple charts, and streamlined keyword research tools will lower the barrier to entry for small business owners who aren’t yet ready for a full-time digital marketing team.

If you aren’t quite sure how well your marketing investment is being allocated, contact us for an SEO audit. Pen Cap SEO specializes in data-driven SEO strategies that help your business reach your target audience.

Writing can be difficult for a lot of people. Even those of us gifted with a passion for wordsmithing can often find ourselves hitting walls when it comes to creating the right copy for the right occasions. This perhaps happens most often in the world of SEO copy.

For many, SEO copy is a difficult beast to wrangle. Not only does it involve checking off all the boxes of any other writing (easy to read, good grammar, economy of words, etc.) but it also needs to include the kind of content that will catch the favor of search engines. A lot of writers tend to get hung up on that last part, sacrificing their normally stellar writing styles for a difficult-to-read, keyword-stuffed tome that could only be enjoyed by search bots.

The one thing that a lot of people don’t realize about creating search engine optimized copy is that it doesn’t need to be approached much differently than one would normally approach their copy. With a few small tweaks and a solid plan, you can easily strike a balance between engaging content and SEO-friendly content.

Here are a few ways to create great SEO copy that will be loved by spiders and humans alike.


Keyword Research

As with many SEO-related tasks, you’ll want to start with a solid keyword research plan. There are a lot of ways you can do keyword research. Using SEMrush or Ahrefs are good options, but they costs money. If you’re coin purse is feeling a little light (especially if a certain coronavirus has crushed your business and budget), try Keywords Everywhere (which is mostly free) or Keyword Keg, which offers some free options and some very affordable paid options.

Once you have a list of optimal keywords, it’s time to brainstorm. Pick a handful of the most relevant and highly-searched keywords and jot them down. Next, begin thinking of synonyms and related terms. Feel free to use a thesaurus, if you like, or a free online tool like KeywordTool.io or the Google Keyword Planner. Once you have some related terms, put them aside—we’ll come back to those in a minute.


Organize Your Thoughts

You likely already have a pretty strong idea of what you want to write about. And while jumping head first into writing may seem like the next best step, consider making an outline first.

An outline not only helps you stay focused during the writing process, but it also allows an opportunity to contextually organize what you want to say. Why is this important? Because search engines, Google in particular, are all about context and relationships these days. Just like a human would, spiders often figure out the purpose of a page by comparing its content against itself and against the content on the rest of the site.

For instance: Before smart phones really took off, people used to search with single words or concepts. For instance, someone looking for a local pizza joint might type something like “pizza place” or “pizza place in Philly.” But because mobile searches and voice searches have gotten so popular, the average person has evolved to the point of asking Google questions instead, such as “What’s the best pizza place in Philly?” or “Which pizza places in Philly sell beer?”

To take advantage of this, you need to anticipate potential questions a reader may have and fashion your content towards that. This can be difficult, however, a quick brainstorming session can go a long way.


Don’t be afraid to go long

It’s no secret that Google tends to rank longer-form content a bit better than shorter content. This isn’t because Google is “rewarding” higher word counts, but usually because those longer pieces are more comprehensive and answer more potential questions for users.

So, when creating your copy, consider writing something a bit more long-form that covers all the possible topics that could relate to your theme. By doing this, you’re essentially casting out a larger net and may end up ranking for more relevant searches than you might with a shorter piece of content.

That said, you don’t want to add words to a document just for the sake of it. Adding fluff doesn’t help readers, so it likely won’t help in Google’s eyes, either. Always practice “quality over quantity.”


Don’t use too many keywords (or use certain keywords too often)

You have your keywords, you have your outline, you have all the topics you want to cover—you’re ready to write. But unfortunately, this is the part where a lot of people get hung up. The reason? Keywords.

As mentioned earlier, the right keywords are essential to a successful SEO campaign, however, sometimes we put a little too much emphasis on them. When this happens, we often end up with hard-to-read, keyword-stuffed content that borders on nonsense. Not only does this suck for readers, but it sucks for search engines, too—and they’ll show you how much it sucks with lower rankings.

The best way to combat this? Be yourself! Put the keywords aside and start off by writing as you normally would, using the verbiage you normally would. Once you get a draft committed to paper, go back and think about places where keywords could organically fit into the copy without affecting readability. By being yourself and not thinking about keywords, you may find that you’ve already done this naturally!

The trick here is to be careful not to use a keyword too much. Instead, bring out those synonyms we discussed earlier. Part of Google’s charge toward understanding context included understanding the relationships between words (for instance, Google likely knows that a hoagie, a sub, and a grinder are all the same thing). Take advantage of this by using some of those synonyms you found earlier in your copy. This could potentially help the content rank for a wider range of searches as it could potentially answer a wider range of queries.


Layout matters

To varying degrees, search engines take readability and usability into account when ranking a page. To take advantage of this, you’ll want to make sure your post isn’t just a giant block of text but is instead broken up in a way that makes it easier for a reader to consume.

One of the easiest ways to do this is by breaking up your content into sections—similar to how you did earlier with the outline. Make sure each section is designated with its own subhead line, and that said subhead line is contextually relevant to the section it’s introducing (also make sure you’re judiciously using keywords to create it).

Also try to take advantage of numbered and bulleted lists, if it makes sense for your copy. Not only does this make it easier for users to process the copy, but Google tends to favor these as well.


Final Thoughts

There’s a lot to process in the above steps, but if I can impart one primary lesson it’s this: Stay true to your writing! While it’s tempting to write copy for rankings, what’s most important is the message you’re trying to convey and doing it in a way that resonates with readers. If you write great content, great rankings are likely to follow!

This post originally appeared on BlogPaws.com

Let me start by getting personal for a moment: I love content. I love it so much, in fact, that I kind of hate calling it “content,” as I think the term makes it too easy to generalize and commoditize the amazing work that comes from the writers, artists and developers of the marketing community. Make no mistake about it: content has (or at least should have) its roots deep within the creative arts.

Because content is such a creative, artistic endeavor, it’s so easy to screw it up. Yes, content should be a creative venture. But it should still be a profitable venture, too. Sometimes, that can make for a tough balancing act during the content creation process—something I’ve learned from experience over the past few years.

Leaning too far to one side of the creation/profit camp or the other, you (and by extension, your team and clients) open yourself to a host of issues that could very easily derail your entire content creation process—which could in turn derail your entire content strategy, and maybe even your marketing goals as a whole.

The following is a list of some of those derailing factors that I’ve encountered in my content creation experience, as well as the lesson I’ve learned from said derailments. Some of these may be no-brainers, some of them may not be—either way, I’ve learned from the challenges these experiences have brought upon me, and I’m hoping you can as well.

Setting An Unrealistic Timeline

Like I mentioned, content is often a creative venture and any creative venture worth doing requires time to breathe and bloom. Because of that, it’s important to make sure you have the time needed to properly dedicate you and your team to a project. By time, I mean not only billable hours, but literally the calendar time needed to properly build and execute content.

Like everyone else in the marketing world, I’ve tried my hand at using infographics as the backbone of a content strategy. On the surface, infographics seem easy: you have some facts and copy laid out over some pretty graphics. You have a copywriter and designer on your team—this should be done in a day or two, right?

Wrong. Surprisingly, a lot goes into an infographic. For one, you don’t just need copy; you need interestingcopy—often in the form of facts or statistics. Facts and statistics require research, which requires time. Know what else requires time? Building a dozen unique vector images to accompany each point laid out in the infographic.

Lesson Learned:

No matter how simplistic a content piece may be, it’s going to take time to do it in a way that stands out above the competition. Communicate with your team to get a better idea of just how much time each player needs to create their absolute best work. Once you have that time estimation, increase it by 25 percent to cover any incidents or revisions that will inevitably occur.

Not Setting Up Regular Milestones & Meetings

I listed these first two derailments next to each other for a reason: setting adequate time for a project is the first half of the equation, while setting up milestones and meetings within that timeframe is what makes it work.

I’m a firm believer that the creative mind works best when it’s unhindered by the realities surrounding it. That’s my flowery way of saying that if you want a creative to hand in their best work, you need to leave them alone and let them do what they do best.

That said, one of the biggest mistakes I’ve ever made was following this philosophy to a fault. By not keeping up with copywriters and designers, it’s not only easy to lose track of the project’s progress, it’s also nearly impossible to catch any errors that may occur during the content creation process. Next thing you know, the project deadline is a day away and you have 10 pages of copy on the wrong topic because the copywriter misunderstood an aspect of the project.

Lesson Learned:

In a perfect world, creative minds would get to work in the kind of vacuums they need to develop the best possible work. But it’s not a perfect world and mistakes happen—in fact, they happen all the time. To prevent that, build frequent milestones and meetings into your timeframe.

This is sort of a no-brainer, but most people hate meetings, which make them easy to shrug off in a crunch. By planning milestones and scheduling meetings to discuss said milestones, you ensure that a project is still on track while there’s still time to handle any problems that may crop up.

Biting Off More Than You Can Chew

By and large, ambition is one of the best things about working in the creative space. It’s a potent, volatile fuel that burns hot within the creative mind and forces it to push out the kind of work that transcends simple “content” and pushes it closer to being a piece of art.

Unfortunately, ambition can be every bit as dangerous as it is advantageous. I was recently reminded of this when tasked with creating—what else?—an infographic. Where others saw the opportunity to create a by-the-numbers infographic, I found the opportunity to go bigger by creating an animated infographic that would truly express the content while stimulating the imagination of its viewers.

Had I ever created an animated infographic before this? Nope! Was I going to let that stop me? Of course not! I’ve created regular infographics before; How hard could an animated one be?

So, I promised the client an animated infographic in a relatively short amount of time. What could go wrong? Spoiler alert: Everything.

Aside from taking way longer than I should have to establish a workflow and research the information needed for the copy, I also burned through an embarrassing amount of time while trying to master the basic mechanics of the animation. Even after figuring out the process, the actual implementation caused me to push back the deadline repeatedly (something that could have been avoided if I had been mindful of the first derailment).

Lesson Learned:

There is no shame in having limits. In fact, recognizing and appreciating your limits—whether they’re creative or something else—is the first step to surpassing them.

With that said, it’s not really a good idea to test your limits on the client’s dime. It’s not fair to them and it puts you in a terrible position, especially if you fail. If you’re going to push yourself (and your creative team) past your limits, make sure it’s something reasonable and attainable.

Losing Track Of Goals/KPIs

By now, it’s pretty obvious just how much I view content as a creative endeavor. Marketing, of course, is a natural fit for those of us in the creative field, as it provides a lucrative way to do what we love for a living. Unfortunately, that love can sometimes cause projects to derail, especially when creativity runs out of hand and leaves the original goals and KPIs in the dust.

The fact of the matter is, the whole reason a content piece is being created in the first place is to reach some sort of goal and, ultimately, profit from reaching said goal. It may be link building, it may be opening up a new traffic channel, it may be getting more contact forms filled out—whatever the goal is, it’s the sole reason for creating a content piece.

As much as we creative types believe it’s about making artistic and stunning content, the fact remains that it’s ultimately going to be used as a marketing tool. It’s when that fact is forgotten that problems arise such as missed milestones, missed deadlines or delivering a final product that looks much different than originally planned.

Lesson Learned:

Don’t let creativity run out of control. While it may be more enjoyable to let creativity reign supreme over any content creation project, it offers more opportunity to stray from the original, metric-based goal of the content in the first place. Finding that happy place between creative harmony and marketing success is really the key to any successful content marketing strategy, and striking a balance between the two is paramount.

Not Holding Your Clients Accountable

A lot of people feel that the content creation process goes like this: A client hires you to do something and you do it for them. That process is very true to a degree, however, pedantically following that rationale is going to leave both you and the client holding a half-assed piece of content that may never perform to its full potential.

This fact bit me hard a while back. After creating what was a great content piece to use as linkbait, we handed it back to the client as planned. In order for this content to build links as it was intended to, the client needed to be involved in various promotional tactics such as posting it on their site, sharing it through their social networks, creating press releases and more. Instead, they sat on their hands (and the content) and didn’t do much of anything with it.

The content went largely unseen and the client never saw a return on the time and money spent creating it. In retrospect, this all could have been avoided if we had held the client more accountable. When a client hires you to create content, they’re entering into a partnership with you. That partnership should be dedicated to creating the best possible content and making sure it drives in the best possible results. If they’re not holding up their end of the deal, the success of the campaign could suffer for it.

Lesson Learned

The fact of the matter is, nobody knows the audience the content is meant to reach better than your client. Because of this, they can not only offer great insight on the project, but can also elevate its success in the marketplace.

Just because they’re paying you doesn’t mean they should be hands off on the project. Keep them in the loop as much as possible—from conception to execution—and make sure they’re held accountable for their milestones just as you are.

Looking Forward (And Backward)

Whether you’re an independent contractor, working within an agency or part of an in-house team, there’s a lot that can go wrong in the content creation process. Ideally, most creative teams would have processes and practices in place to prevent the sort of issues listed above, but even if they do, it’s still possible to derail the content creation process by overlooking the tiniest of issues.

How do you avoid that? Once a project is done, take time to reflect on it before moving to the next one. Spend an hour brainstorming and writing down whatever thoughts about the project fill your head. Do it as a team if that helps. By taking a minute to breathe and look at the project after it’s complete, you can learn from past mistakes while preventing new ones from occurring in the future.

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