SEO is finally getting the recognition it’s due. According to Krish Kumar, COO at SEO leader BrightEdge:
“We recently conducted a survey of over 200 SEO professionals and digital marketers and one of the things we asked them was who in their organizations is using SEO techniques and insights. They told us that, essentially, every content or demand generating marketing discipline is applying SEO insights in their work at varying degrees.”
Because of this, brands are demanding more than ever from SEO and the professionals responsible for it. This, says Kumar, is making artificial intelligence a necessity.
“AI is able to extract insights from data at scale,” he notes.
“That makes the technology perfect for SEO, which generates tons of data and is driven by insights. And AI isn’t just making it easier to extract better insights from search data—it’s making it possible to do so in real-time.”
That all sounds well and good. But how can marketers actually start to understand and apply SEO?
At Marketing AI Institute, we’ve spent several years investigating AI applications across marketing disciplines, including SEO. We also actively experiment with AI in our own marketing efforts and track thousands of AI vendors.
And we’ve found some useful ways marketers can start using SEO today.
A 2-Minute Definition of AI
You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to understand the basics of AI.
If you ask 10 different experts what artificial intelligence is, you'll probably get 10 different answers. But one simple definition we like comes from Demis Hassabis, CEO of DeepMind, an AI startup acquired by Google.
Hassabis calls AI the "science of making machines smart."
We can teach machines to be like humans. We can give them the ability to see, hear, speak, move, and write.
Those machines would be called AI if they could then teach themselves to get better at seeing, hearing, speaking, moving, and writing—without human involvement.
That’s exactly where we stand with AI today.
Thousands of AI tools exist that have the ability to see, hear, speak, move, and/or write, then get better at those things without being explicitly programmed to get better.
A voice assistant like Alexa is a great example of this.
Let’s say you tell Alexa to “Play my workout playlist on Spotify.”
Alexa hears your words, processes them, then responds and takes action. At no point is Alexa being directly told by a human how to interpret your words, how to respond, and how to take action.
Alexa is using artificial intelligence to make predictions on its own about what your words mean, how to respond to them, and what action you’re requesting.
Alexa is not being programmed explicitly to get better after each user’s query. Instead, Alexa is using data from each interaction with users to improve its interactions with the next one.
Which is why, in December 2018, Alexa improved its answers to queries by 12 percentage points (up to 73% accuracy) compared with July of that year.
So, how is this different from traditional software?
Traditional software needs to be explicitly programmed to improve.
If Alexa were not powered by AI, it wouldn’t exist as a consumer product. If you asked Alexa to play your workout playlist and it didn’t understand, a human would have to manually correct it before it could improve and get it right next time.
That is impossible with millions of Alexa users giving millions of commands in real time.
But, with AI, Alexa can use machine learning algorithms to learn from data at scale, then improve at speed.
As we’ve heard it put:
It’s not magic, it’s math.
AI can improve its accuracy at speed and at scale, which both destroys the traditional, non-AI competition (human or machine) and unlocks entirely new capabilities.
And AI is doing just that in SEO today.
How AI Is Used in SEO Today
Artificial intelligence is used in a range of applications in SEO today.
Text and Voice Search
Your favorite search engine relies on artificial intelligence to provide relevant results for your queries. Search engines use sophisticated AI, machine learning, and deep learning to process searches, then predict which results will satisfy any given search. As any SEO expert following Google algorithm updates knows, search engines don’t reveal exactly how their AI systems work, but do give clues.
That means, whether you care about AI or not, the technology has a powerful effect on how your content ranks and how your brand gets found. It also dictates how search engines read and categorize the content on your websites.
The relationship here between voice search and AI can’t be ignored. Voice search relies on AI technologies like natural language generation and processing to function. And voice is only becoming more prevalent. Notes marketing expert Mitch Joel:
[Voice] devices are plentiful and filling up our homes, cars and available in smartphones. The battle for voice rages on, while brands need to rethink everything about their digital presence and how to connect with consumers. With this technology comes new realities.
He suggests every marketer have a voice strategy, which means every marketer needs to understand AI (this resource is a great place to start).
Topic Discovery, Keyword Research, and Content Optimization
Figuring out what searches, words, or phrases to optimize for is more than half the battle. Artificial intelligence tools are able to help. AI excels at finding patterns in large sets of data, including data on search volume.
In fact, tools like MarketMuse, Frase, and BrightEdge offer suggestions on what you should be creating content about to own search traffic for specific keyword clusters. They use AI to extract topics from search data, so that you can see what other top-ranking sites are doing to appear first in search ranking around any given query.
Creating new content around search results is one thing. But AI can also help you optimize your existing content to better rank for queries, too. All the tools listed above also include this capability. They’ll offer suggestions on how existing content can be improved to rank higher for specific terms.
Overall, these tools showcase a simple truth about artificial intelligence:
There are a lot of manual tasks that marketers do every day, such as topic discovery and keyword research, that they aren’t very good at doing, they don’t enjoy doing, and that a machine can do far better and at scale.
Making sure your business shows up accurately in search across many different locations isn’t always easy. And the effects of inaccurate local search results can kill business within a geographic area. AI is great at solving this type of information-based problem at scale.
A platform like Yext uses AI to make sure changes to your business’ search listings are reflected across different search engines and voice assistants quickly and easily.
Pillar Page and Topic Cluster Creation
Creating pillar pages and topic clusters is an effective SEO strategy that helps brands own entire topic areas by producing content on a number of related search terms in a given category. AI is being deployed to streamline this process.
HubSpot offers AI-powered capabilities as part of its marketing automation platform. With HubSpot, sophisticated machine learning is used to “understand the themes that search engines associate your content with,” and then suggest how to build out the perfect pillar strategy to capture search traffic.
How to Get Started with AI in SEO
If you're an SEO professional or rely on search rankings to power your marketing, chances are that AI can help you increase revenue and reduce costs. That means now is the time to get started with AI, no matter your skill or comfort level.
To do so means you build a potentially insurmountable competitive advantage. To delay means you risk getting left behind.
Good news, though:
There are two ways to accelerate AI adoption in your career and your company.
The first is by accessing our free Ultimate Beginner's Guide to AI in Marketing.
The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to AI in Marketing is a free resource with 100+ articles, videos, courses, books, vendors, use cases, and events to dramatically accelerate your AI education. It's based on the years we spent on research and experimentation—and you can access this knowledge in a fraction of the time.
The second is by attending our Marketing AI Conference (MAICON).
MAICON brings together top authors, entrepreneurs, AI researchers, and executives to share case studies, strategies, and technologies that make AI approachable and actionable for marketers.
Last year's event brought together 300+ marketers, including attendees from 12 countries and 28 states. The conference is simply the best way to learn how to adopt AI, straight from marketing leaders already using the technology.
About Mike Kaput
Mike Kaput is the Director of Marketing AI Institute and a senior consultant at PR 20/20. He writes and speaks about how marketers can understand, adopt, and pilot artificial intelligence to increase revenue and reduce costs. Full bio.