Recently, I had the pleasure of presenting at SMX London on Supercharging your SEO with AIand thought I would share some of the insights with Search Engine Land readers.
Google made global headlines with the demonstration of its new Duplex at this year’s I/O developers conference. This artificial intelligence (AI) system can “converse” in natural language with people to schedule an appointment at a hair salon or book a table at a restaurant, for example.
To pass the Turing Test, AI must behave in a manner indistinguishable from that of a human. To many, Google Duplex has proven that it can pass this test, but in truth, we are only seeing the beginnings of its future potential.
This particular use of AI made headlines because people are drawn to applications of AI that can mimic human interactions, whether in science fiction or in real life. While that response is driven by fascination, it is also host to an element of fear.
Can AI replace people?
As marketers, we typically encounter two perspectives on this. Either AI will take our jobs and render us obsolete or it will complement our skills and make us more effective.
According to a study by the Economist, 75 percent of executives say AI will be “actively implemented” in companies within the next three years, so this is more than a hypothetical discussion.
As hype turns to reality, we are realizing that the second perspective is the likely outcome. This would certainly be the most beneficial outcome, with PricewaterhouseCoopers predicting that AI will add $15.7 trillion to global GDP annually by 2030.
Moreover, AI is already all around us, embedded in products and services we use every day, like Netflix and Pandora.
Perhaps most pertinently to us as marketers, AI is deeply embedded in search, and it opens a raft of new opportunities for SEOs that embrace this technology early.
The role of AI in search
Artificial intelligence is making search more human. Although search does not yet “speak” to users in the same way the Google Duplex demo could, its objective is very similar.
Google’s RankBrain technology uses machine learning to understand the meaning of the content it crawls; it infers intent from ambiguous search queries; and it uses feedback data to improve the accuracy of its results.
In other words, it listens and it learns.
Though we may not always have visibility over these processes, we do see the outputs very clearly. Research by BrightEdge (my company) into a dataset of over 50 million keywords revealed that 84.4 percent of queries return universal search results. This occurs as Google uses AI to match the layout of search results pages to the user’s intent.
There are now 37 different search engine result page (SERP) categories, a number that will only increase over the coming months and years.
The potential for personalization has not yet been truly tapped, but Google’s Sundar Pichai recently made public its goal to be an “AI-first” company. As such, we should all expect the search landscape to change dramatically as AI takes center stage in the way it has already done in products like Google Photos and Google Lens.
As co-founder Sergey Brin put it:
“AI touches every single one of our main projects, ranging from search to photos to ads.”
The pace of development on this front is accelerating, as Google is all too aware that AI can simply deliver better, more personalized experiences for consumers. However, search marketers need to pay close attention to these technological advancements if they are to avail themselves of these opportunities for SEO.
How to supercharge SEO with AI
There are three key areas in which AI can improve SEO performance:
Artificial intelligence can process and interpret patterns in data at a scale people could simply never replicate. This makes it an essential complement to any search strategist, as AI can deliver the information we need to make informed decisions out of noisy, unstructured data.
Some common tasks where AI can aid search engine optimization (SEO) performance include:
- Market trends analysis.
- Site performance analysis.
- Competitor insights.
- Customer intent reports.
- SERP performance.
- SEO and pay-per-click spend management.
In each of these scenarios, AI can surface new insights that may otherwise have gone unnoticed. As search moves beyond the traditional SERP and becomes a multidisciplinary channel, this will be increasingly important. New developments like visual search are bringing to light the central role of AI in processing new types of media, too.
Pinterest uses deep learning to interpret the content and context of images, opening up new opportunities for retailers to capitalize on “discovery search.”
Google Lens plans to use augmented reality to blend the physical and virtual worlds, using objects as queries rather than typed keywords.
Of course, these developments will lead to the creation of invaluable data, with each interaction revealing something new about our audience. As marketers, we should employ AI to ensure that we capture, process and use this data correctly to shape our search strategies.
How can you use AI for SEO insights?
- Understand underlying need in a customer journey.
- Identify content opportunities.
- Define opportunity space in the competitive context.
- Map intent to content.
- Use structured data and markup.
- Invest in more long-tail content.
- Ensure content can be crawled and surfaced easily by all user-agents.
SEO is a labor-intensive industry that requires a huge amount of attention over the long term. Where we can automate tasks to receive the same output we could produce ourselves, we should make this a top priority. The time saved through automation can be applied to the areas that require our skills, like strategy and creative content.
The chart below shows the average amount of time spent on the essential but at times repetitive task of keyword research based on the size of the site in question.
Here are some of the tasks that are ripe for automation in SEO:
- Technical audits.
- Keyword research.
- Content optimization.
- Content distribution.
- Tag management.
- Internal linking.
In these instances, computers do replace people, but we are in control of what they do, and it is a logical decision to hand over such tasks to artificial intelligence. In the process, we can free up valuable time to take on the more challenging aspects of SEO strategy.
Some tips to get started with AI for SEO automation:
- Break down tasks into sub-tasks, then score their potential for automation from 0-10.
- Use rule-based automation to handle simple but time-intensive jobs.
- Find the right balance between human labor and automation.
- Feed ML algorithms the right quality and quantity of data.
- Focus on user experience and speed monitoring and alerts; engagement rates will only increase in importance.
Personalization allows marketers to create relevant, useful experiences for each individual customer. Achieving this at scale requires technological assistance, with AI an integral part of this process.
Amazon has long been regarded as the market leader in personalization, as it takes user data to suggest new products based on their historical activity. This allows Amazon to surface products that do not typically receive much visibility, based on their relevance to each individual consumer.
Search marketers can take a number of lessons from this approach.
By mapping content to different states of intent, we can capitalize on these opportunities to cross-sell additional products.
This starts to move beyond traditional SEO and into the realm of vertical search optimization. We can see this trend in Google’s recent announcements, namely the integration of Assistant into Google Maps and the upgraded Google News app.
Content discovery is no longer limited to the search results page, so marketers must truly understand their consumers to ensure they can engage with them, anywhere and at any time.
Artificial intelligence is of vital importance at every stage of this journey. The field of predictive analytics, which makes predictions based on patterns in historical data, can help marketers to plan their content to meet consumer demand states.
How can you use AI for SEO personalization?
- Create content by persona, customer journey stage and delivery mechanism.
- Enhance user experience and conversion through personalization.
- Use semantically specific pages to associate query and intent.
- Use personalization and audience lists to nurture leads across search and social.
- Use AI to help publish content at the right times on the right networks.
The artificial intelligence revolution is already upon us, and sophisticated marketers are taking advantage!
Most AI systems are invisible, but that does not lessen the significance of their inner workings. The search landscape is in constant flux, and consumers are creating vast amounts of data, all of which can be turned into insights.
Automation can help us make sense of these insights and free enough time for marketers to develop innovative, personalized strategies. There can be little doubt that the tech giants have gone AI-first. Marketers who follow suit can supercharge their SEO strategies by using AI in three core areas: insights, automation and personalization.