Quick. Pull up your SEO strategy.
Does it read any differently today than before AI made its big push into digital content?
We asked the practitioners and experts presenting this September at Content Marketing World. Their collective answer: Yes, it should be written for 2023 and beyond. But they vary on what to update in your SEO strategy in the AI world.
Prepare to go fast with AI
Don’t think of AI as “replacing.” Use AI for “expediting.” When used properly, it’s a content marketing department’s fast-forward button. Be as specific as possible with input, take the results, and then edit, adjust, publish, and test. You’re not changing your strategy. You’re simply speeding up the work. – Jennifer Harmon, content strategist and creator, Convince & Convert
See what SEO you missed
You might already be using AI to generate meta descriptions and suggest title tags. A lot of SEOs do that. But there’s an even better AI trick for SEO.
Copy and paste in a draft of your article and ask AI what you missed. Ask it to make suggestions for areas to go deeper. Tell it that it is an expert on the topic and ask how it would make the article better. Tell it all about the background of your reader, then ask what that reader needs to know.
SEO is about detail and quality. AI can quickly do a gap analysis and make suggestions for where to go deeper. – Andy Crestodina, co-founder and CMO, Orbit Media Studios
Read the above advice
Embrace the challenge
As search engines explore the best ways to align generation outputs with traditional search and information retrieval intent, content teams should expand their internal focus on building content that exhibits expertise throughout the buyer, customer, and information journey. Elite teams consider this potential search results page real estate a brand-new parallel optimization challenge, much like the map pack, Knowledge Graph, and other SERP features. – Jeff Coyle, co-founder and chief strategy officer, MarketMuse, Inc.
Keeping up with search engine algorithms and generative AI tools is a daunting task, and it’s anyone’s guess what changes are coming. But what never changes is the need for high-quality content that is authentic to your brand tone and voice, contains a unique point of view, solves your prospects’ pain points, and differentiates you from competitors.
Resist the need to rank at the top for broad search terms with entrenched competition. Instead, use tools like Moz and Semrush to look for more focused, striking-distance terms where you already have high-performing content and repurpose it into new form factors. Then, extend placement and promotion of that content into new channels where your prospects are looking for solutions to their pain points.
The more valuable the content is to your audience in terms of measured engagement, the better it will perform across search engines. – Wendy Covey, co-founder and CEO, TREW Marketing
Extend your search
Firstly, social networks are search engines. Forty percent of 18- to 24-year-olds use Instagram and TikTok as search engines. You need to adapt to this behavior change.
Secondly, leveraging AI to completely optimize web content has never been easier. There are even Chrome extensions that will do the leg work for you. My favorites are ChatGPT for Google, WebChat GPT, and Allie AI. It’s time to buy more time back on your content marketing efforts, so test and learn these AI tools now. – Joanne Sweeney, CEO, Public Sector Marketing Institute
Test the models for your SEO strategy
Search engines are all about generative summarization. They take heaps of results and condense them into a handful of listings for Bing. Speaking of Bing, they excel at providing useful links within their search results. That’s why it’s crucial to have a Bing Webmaster Tools account. It allows you to keep an eye on your presence and rankings on Bing, specifically for those important terms.
Now, when it comes to Google and its generative search, things work a bit differently. Google’s generated search results are still displayed below the listings. This means that securing high placements and rankings for key terms is more vital than ever. Remember, with voice search, you either grab that No. 1 spot or you’re off the charts. There’s no in-between in the realm of Google search and generated results.
But how do you achieve that coveted top position? Well, language models use word prediction to generate results. Therefore, when dealing with a specific term, phrase, or topic, test the outcomes the models produce. Then, take those results, export them, and create your own content based on them.
By aligning your content with the words and phrases that the models associated with the existing search terms, you increase your chances of being indexed and associated with them. It’s all about leveraging those propensities built by the models to enhance your content strategy. – Christopher Penn, chief data scientist, TrustInsights.ai
Let your assistant do the work
AI is offering a welcome respite from the do-more-with-less pressure as the assistant we’ve always needed. By reducing administrative content work, we have more space to layer connection, joy, and humanity into each piece that we produce. As content marketers, it’s our job to jealously guard that newly freed-up room to ensure that we’re building more useful, valuable, and relevant content that helps prospects and customers connect with our products and services. – Maureen Jann, chief marketing strategist and CEO, NeoLuxe Marketing
Use the power of tech
Evaluate your martech stack to ensure the tools you’re using are more intelligent/powered by AI. You’ll be able to analyze keywords faster, improve content for search, and rank higher.
Augmenting your SEO strategies with smarter technologies allows you to do more of what you love – writing, creating, and storytelling. As always, ranking depends on your content being sensible, interesting, and specific, so keep those humans in the loop to ensure AI’s output aligns with your strategies. – Cathy McPhillips, chief growth officer, Marketing Artificial Intelligence Institute
Possess the skills to improve AI
Don’t fear AI; embrace it. But it takes expertise to know to craft AI-generated copy into high-quality content that fuels SEO. It takes three things: 1. Subject matter expertise to qualify information derived from AI. 2. SEO expertise to use language and positioning to feed the Google machine. 3. Mad writing skills that make copy look less formulaic. – Kristyn Wilson, executive vice president of digital PR and communication, Adept
The onus has always been on producing quality content, and so that focus remains unchanged. Just as featured snippets may have removed some potential for clicks, so too will browser-based AI. But I still think many searchers will be looking for deeper content from an authoritative voice or brand. And browsers will continue to feel pressure to elevate that. Time will tell. Still evolving. – Hayden Goethe, senior content marketing strategist, WEX
Monitor searcher evolution
The jury is still out, but my spidey senses tell me that content quality will have to get way better as large language models scale and grow. Right now, there are a plethora of LLMs (large language models) in play and hundreds, if not thousands, of companies building apps that leverage their abilities with the goal of delivering accurate, quality-based conversations that understand nuance and context. And rest assured, voice search is definitely on the horizon, which might resurrect voice-activated devices like Alexa and Google Home.
As humans get better at teaching LLMs and LLMs get better at learning, we’ll see a quick shift in how people search for, find, and consume information. AI is already disrupting the traditional search engine, but Google and Bing still have a long life ahead, at least until the student surpasses its teacher. – Karen McFarlane, chief marketing officer, LetterShop x KMC
Tread lightly in your SEO strategy
It’s too early right now to make a drastic change. Google has repeatedly emphasized its EEAT (experience, expertise, authoritativeness, trustworthiness) guidelines when it comes to ranking, so teams should use caution before creating a content factory that is fully AI-driven.
Generate an article on any topic using generative AI. What you’ll get is most likely the least innovative content possible because ChatGPT is trained to synthesize massive amounts of information. It will mostly default to the most common denominator. In short, tread carefully for the near future until there’s more clarity.
That being said, if you feed a tool like ChatGPT your original long-form content, it can be super useful in synthesizing it and breaking it into smaller pieces. That maintains the original insightfulness while saving you time, but you’ll probably still have some editing to do. – Inbar Yagur, director, content and product marketing, Lusha
Check the facts
Content marketers specializing in technical topics should be careful when deploying AI writing tools. While this software is becoming more accurate, it still makes frequent mistakes when writing about niche subjects. Be prepared to spend plenty of time fact-checking and rewriting your work. – Jesse Harris, digital marketing coordinator, ACD/Labs
It can be tricky to balance your SEO strategy today. On one side, your strategy needs to play the long haul, especially considering that it takes around six months to see an organic lift. And on the other side, technologies that have a direct impact on search continually change.
No matter what changes, one thing always remains the same — your unique thoughts. Many people mess up their SEO strategy by trying to win the numbers game. With generative AI, you can’t win the numbers game. You can win SEO the same way you can win your entire content strategy by focusing on what your audience cares about and how your company is different than everyone else.
Help your audience learn by sharing your expertise. Continue to provide the key answers to their questions. And make it easy for them to find you, engage with your business, and keep them moving down the buyer’s journey (hello content design!). – Amy Higgins, director, content strategy, Lyra Health
Dive into search talk
Regardless of generative AI, we’ve seen search behaviors move towards natural language queries and searches in the form of questions for a number of years. If your brand was already optimized for voice search and natural language search, your content is already ready. However, if you haven’t made a concerted effort to produce content that reflects how your customers in your industry research (e.g., top brands in X and Y vs. Z brand, best features for ABC), then you better get moving. – Zontee Hou, director of strategy, Convince & Convert
Talk about yourself
Focus on quality, thought leadership, and branded keywords. There is already a glut of content on the internet, so this isn’t new advice. But it’s more important than ever to have a unique point of view and to share it authentically. Focus on branded keywords or longtail keywords that answer specific questions. – Ahava Leibtag, president, Aha Media Group
Keep the customer front and center in your SEO strategy
SEO hasn’t really changed. It’s just that we have faster, better access to tools and content. Companies can have all the AI in the world, but if they don’t have the guts to produce the content their customer truly want, then none of it really matters, does it? – Marcus Sheridan, vice president, Marcus Sheridan
Battle for better
Relevance, clarity, and storytelling skills will remain the top SEO strategies. As more people start using the same tools – and generating a higher volume of so-so content – “good” content will still be measured and ranked by how well it answers questions in trending or familiar terms. – Mariah Obiedzinski, assistant vice president of content marketing, Stamats
Be the choice in the SEO game
The heart of any SEO strategy is to create valuable, compelling content for your particular audience. That won’t change.
What will change is the number of options that search engines have to choose from due to the influx of AI-generated content. Chances are that search engines will lean more heavily into a site’s trustworthiness and expertise in a particular area.
The search engines will always want to provide the best answer for a user, and, as we saw with featured snippets, you will need to provide the very best answers to be included in the AI-generated response.
The commonly asked questions will be answered by conversational AI, but people will depend more on trusted, go-to sources to answer their more detailed and important questions. – Brian Piper, director of content strategy and assessment, University of Rochester
Focus less on search
Conventional search engines will lose relevance over the long term, which is why Google issued an internal “code red” in late 2022 (i.e., shortly after OpenAI released ChatGPT). While you still want your content to rank well, this is a great time to spend less time optimizing for the search engines and more time optimizing for your audience of humans. – Dennis Shiao, founder, Attention Retention
People connect with people, and if there’s doubt about whether AI wrote a social post or not, people will disregard it and fail to interact. We need to start tagging content with #NoAI where AI didn’t assist so followers can start to appreciate content that wasn’t created with AI. – AJ Wilcox, host of the LinkedIn Ads Show, CEO B2Linked, B2Linked.com
Same principles apply
People will always search for information. So whether that search is on Google, Bing, in ChatGPT, or via a voice assistant, content teams will always want to be the provider of the top answers to those queries. Aim for keywords and topics you can win on. Provide the best content you can. But in the end, consistency always wins. – Michael Brenner, CEO, Marketing Insider Group
Are you prepared for AI’s impact on search engine optimization?
Unless you revisited your brand’s SEO strategy in the past few weeks, it’s due for a review but probably not an overhaul.
Look for opportunities to incorporate the benefits of AI (hello testing and help with mundane tasks to free up time), but you don’t need to go overboard. After all, you still must deliver content that will surface for your targeted searchers.
All tools mentioned in the article are identified by the author. If you have a tool to suggest, please feel free to add it in the comments.
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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute