In any industry, emerging technologies can bring a sense of intense urgency. Nobody likes change, but time and time again, businesses that can adapt and embrace new tools often stand to gain the most in the long run.
In the digital sphere, mainly the SEO and digital marketing industry, 2023’s hot topic has been AI.
Since ChatGPT debuted in late 2022, digital marketers have become fascinated with the tool’s capabilities and are finding new ways to improve efficiency in digital campaigns and everyday workflows.
Even casual searchers are experiencing the power of AI for themselves in the new Microsoft Edge and Google’s Search Generative Experience in Chrome.
To many, it feels as though the arrival of AI-powered tools heralds a new digital golden age. But to others—especially those who’ve invested in SEO to enhance their online visibility and grow digital revenue—AI feels like a looming tidal wave poised to upend their hard-earned results.
If you’re concerned about this latest disruption, you’re in the right place.
This article will cover the current state of AI in SEO and how AI and SEO can work together, along with some cautionary considerations. We’ll also examine just how disruptive AI may prove in the coming months and years.
Rankings, conversions, and revenue are top-of-mind for digital marketing managers, and anything that threatens these KPIs will surely attract attention.
Let’s start by addressing the most significant question for businesses that depend on their digital channels: Since searchers can use AI-powered search tools to find answers without clicking through to a link (also known as a zero-click search), is SEO dead in 2023?
Well, it depends on who you ask. Since Google handles 90% of search queries, let’s ask them.
You don’t have to dig particularly deep into Google’s published guidance to understand their goal. Google wants to make the internet a useful, valuable place where people can learn, connect, and find reliable answers. If the content on your site contributes to that end, you can rest assured that your brand’s digital fundamentals are strong.
In late 2022, Google rolled out its Helpful Content Update, which altered the search engine’s algorithms and caused serious fluctuations in search rankings. Why would the team at Google cause such a stir? Just like the rest of us, they had to break a few eggs to make their omelet.
The Helpful Content Update succeeded in rewarding high-quality, informative, user-focused content with the highest SERP rankings. Simultaneously, content that Google deemed thin or manipulative fell to the bottom of the stack.
Google’s ethos is clear: The internet is not, first and foremost, a place for people to make money.
Rather, Google envisions an online community that’s well-intentioned, educational, and full of rich content that we can all use to create a better world.
Does this mean non-profits and international NGOs are the only organizations that should expect to build awareness and capture more traffic from organic search?
Millions of searchers are looking to enrich their lives with new music, products, fashion, cuisine, and more. Whether you’re an eCommerce retailer, B2B giant, or virtually any other type of business, nothing is stopping you from publishing quality, informative content to answer searchers’ questions and help more users discover your brand online.
But what about all the SERP real estate that’s suddenly dominated by those huge AI-generated answers? With all the links pushed so far down the page, is there even any value in investing to boost SERP rankings going forward?
Remember, the internet isn’t a dictatorship—it’s an ecosystem and is more organic than some might think. From a digital marketing perspective, the most valuable searches—the ones based on keywords that demonstrate some form of commercial intent—aren’t one-and-done.
Sure, if you’re a take-and-bake pizza place, there’s plenty of value in a user Googling your store’s address, then closing the tab without clicking through to your site.
But most searchers are looking deeper to find more information, and it’s unlikely that those AI-generated snippets on a search page will satisfy them entirely.
Expect them to either follow the links cited by Google in its AI-generated answer—links which, ideally, take users to pages featuring your own high-quality content—or scroll down to explore more results.
As users investigate beyond the generated answer, should you expect to see improved CTRs for pages ranking outside the top 10? Not quite. But the ROI of SEO is still clear, especially when your revenue-driving pages rank in the top three SERP spots, whether Google refers to them in its AI-generated answer or not.
Bottom line: AI may be the newest tool used by search engines like Google to provide a valuable experience to users, but the end goal hasn’t changed.
Search engines want to help people find the answers and information they’re looking for faster. Publishing high-quality content is still key to increasing your search visibility, which leads to higher conversion rates, enhanced revenue growth, and improved ROI.
It’s a fundamental truth of organic search marketing, and AI isn’t going to change it.
As you know, content is the backbone of any successful SEO strategy, and this is where marketers are finding AI tools to be game-changing. However, there’s been much discussion about using AI SEO content and some less-than-clear answers on both sides of the argument.
Can you copy and paste something ChatGPT wrote directly on your blog? Is this practice acceptable in the eyes of Google, or will it get your site penalized? Is this how AI recreates the internet as the exclusive home of pages created by and for machines?
There are many ethical questions we’ve yet to answer at a societal level when it comes to AI-generated public-facing content. But for digital marketers, the calculus is considerably simpler.
In a nutshell, here’s Google’s stance on AI content and SEO: Google’s search algorithms reward pages that feature high-quality, helpful content that’s designed for people, not search engines. Google isn’t particularly interested in determining whether that content comes from a person or a generative AI tool like ChatGPT. Its goal is to reward high-quality and unique content, however it’s produced—at least at the moment.
Considering everything we discussed earlier about high-quality content that follows Google’s E-E-A-T guidelines being critical to your digital growth, you might want to think twice about entrusting an AI tool alone with this vital work.
In fact, Results from a recent study conducted by AI content and plagiarism checker tool, Originality.ai, showed that websites with content produced by humans had better Google Search rankings.
It’s easy to get caught up in the hype about AI’s rapidly evolving capabilities and potential, but remember, generative AI isn’t magic.
Generative AI is a system—albeit a very well-trained one—that can provide adequate surface-level insights, but only based on the information with which it was trained.
As things stand, generative AI tools simply aren’t capable of providing deep insights.
Sure, they’re great if you’re looking to save time or improve your workflow. Have ChatGPT generate a list of keywords for your product pages or put together a summary of an article you wrote about summer skincare routines. But the article itself should be written—or, at the very least, edited and reviewed—by a real person with the experience and expertise Google looks for when evaluating content.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re having the content syndicated for link building or featuring it on your brand’s blog, you need to produce the highest-quality content possible. No matter your vertical, this isn’t an area to cut corners.
Generative AI doesn’t quite rise to the level of a force multiplier when it comes to content creation, but it can certainly be helpful and increase your efficiency. Just keep an eye on that tipping point and don’t sacrifice quality for quantity because Google has made it clear which it values more.
There’s no substitute for user-centric content written by a true expert.
ChatGPT and other AI tools just aren’t able to replicate this expertise quite yet. However, when used carefully, generative AI tools can help you get more done in less time, providing you with more bandwidth to produce even more helpful, informative content.
Instead of slogging through basic tasks like generating title tags, writing meta descriptions, or generating keywords, you can use AI to take care of these “housekeeping” items so you can work on posting to your socials and getting started on your next piece of content.
You could also use AI to optimize your content by appropriately and thoughtfully incorporating your brand’s most valuable keywords.
In addition, generative AI can be a solid tool for building out your pillar content strategy.
AI can provide related topics suitable for you to cover in upcoming content, giving you more robust site categories that will entice your users to stay longer and, with any luck, submit a form or complete a purchase. While you could do this on your own by spending hours Googling different and related topics, AI tools can help streamline the entire process in one window.
Is there anything this seemingly magical technology can’t do? Plenty, and it’s important to consider the drawbacks to using AI in SEO, along with some other limitations.
Using AI to write long-form content in its entirety is generally not recommended.
At a minimum, you should edit AI-produced content yourself. But even so, you’ll likely find yourself taking time to add or alter AI-generated content, as it tends to be thin and often doesn’t read quite naturally. This is especially true if you have a tailored brand voice to maintain, as many have found AI’s content to read similar, regardless of the topic or intended audience.
Additionally, whenever using AI for content creation, be prepared to fact-check the work.
We’ve already seen plenty of examples of AI “hallucinating” false information or simply getting the facts wrong, and this type of inaccuracy can lead to severe repercussions for your brand visibility and perception.
So if you want to experiment with AI, feel free, but use your best judgment and remember that much of this technology is still in an experimental phase.
Monitor how AI is used within your organization, then diligently evaluate the processes and outcomes. Above all else, err on the side of caution, and remember that using AI SEO is never a substitute for advice from digital marketing experts with a track record of success.
Capable as it might be, AI alone isn’t enough to take your business to the next level. When you’re ready for exponential growth, turn to the PPC and SEO experts at VELOX for a tailored, ROI-focused digital marketing strategy that will push your revenue-driving pages up SERPs for more clicks and conversions.
As a Google Premier Partner with a spot on the Inc. 5000 Honor Roll, VELOX uses leading-edge technology and proven techniques to deliver expectation-exceeding results for enterprise businesses. From comprehensive keyword research to world-class content creation and link building, VELOX provides a high-touch, white-glove experience to help clients realize exponential growth.
Experience sustained search engine dominance for yourself—contact VELOX today.