By Michael Ferrari
| September 19, 2023| Content Creation, SEO, SEO Technologies
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.
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.
Rankbrain is the core of Google’s search algorithm. This machine learning tool increases the accuracy of the search results.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
About the Author
Michael Ferrari owns and operates Pen Cap Online Marketing, an agency specializing in search engine optimization. He’s been working in the marketing space for almost a decade, helping small, medium, and enterprise businesses with their search engine optimization needs. When he’s not helping businesses dominate the search rankings, he’s most likely hanging out with his wife, son, beagle, pit bull, and a very aggressive cat.