Artificial intelligence (AI) is a scary sounding word. It conjures images of cyborgs and rogue robot wars. But the way that AI affects SEO is not scary at all. It’s actually a good thing.
And it’s a good thing for one major reason: It helps search engines provide users with more relevant, high-quality content.
But in order to use the effects of AI on SEO to your benefit, you should know exactly how AI will affect SEO so that you can prepare for it. This blog will help you do just that.
Affect 1: AI goes beyond keywords to look at meaning. Gone are the days of keyword bombing. Google’s AI, called RankBrain, has a better comprehensive grasp on what a piece of content is about than rigid algorithms did in the early days of SEO. As a result, it elevates the intent and meaning of content over indicators like keywords, and it rewards things like emotion, audience interaction, friendliness and engagement.
- Prep Tip 1: Write to communicate meaning. You don’t have to focus on packing meta titles and descriptions with keywords. In fact, loading keywords into these descriptions may actually hurt you, because you may be seen as trying to manipulate the system. RankBrain can understand meanings and synonyms without excessive repetition of specific keywords. So focus on what someone is really trying to learn or experience. Helpful hint: that may even include directing them to the information that they will want to know after reading your article.
Affect 2: “Intelligence” means that algorithms will constantly change based on different factors, including the medium that you’re searching on (mobile, desktop, voice), geographic location and search history. Algorithms aren’t going away. But RankBrain is called “intelligent” because it can alter algorithms based on additional factors. For example, if you ask Siri about the best type of salami while standing in line at a deli in New York City, your SERP may look different than if you typed the query “best type of salami” from a desktop computer in Kansas.
Rank Brain is taking into account the format of the results and your location (among other things). The searcher ends up getting more helpful results, but it makes it more difficult to consistently rank at the top.
- Prep Tip 2: Create content with the best user experiences for your target audience. If you’re an artisanal salami producer in Connecticut that supplies mainly to delis (but not grocery stores) in a 200-mile radius, you want to make sure that content is skimmable (people will probably be looking at it on mobile devices in actual delis), with a friendly tone for the person searching at a deli. You may decide to make a lot of specific geographical references, and not worry about ranking outside of your territory. But if you’re a large meat production company that has a presence in grocery stores nationwide, you may decide to intentionally make your content relevant to people across a wide geographic range and who will be looking at desktops as well as mobile devices. There’s no perfect answer to this, but if you’re consistently making decisions to create content with your target audience in mind, that is the best starting point.
Affect 3: User engagement will trump on-page and off-page optimization. For years, there have been a variety of ways to optimize SEO using techniques like keywords, metadata, backlinks and more. It’s not that all of those factors will necessarily go away, but AI allows search engines to take into account user engagement as a very significant factor. This means it will make ranking decisions based on people’s interest in signing up for your email list, clicking on your suggested articles, spending time on your page, and conducting their next search. It will deprioritize old, rigid factors that are not as good indicators of people’s interest.
- Prep Tip 3: Make sure your content is designed around user experience. A few practical ways to do this include:
- Create your content with intent and purpose.
- Optimizing your click through rates (CTR) on SERPs. Use meta titles and descriptions that clearly communicate what your content is about and generate people to act on that information.
- Pay attention to how long users are spending on your content. Are they able to find additional resources when they’re done with the initial piece of content? How long are they spending on a blog?
- Optimize your conversion rates to emails.
- Instead of getting a large volume of backlinks, get relevant and authoritative ones.
- Amplify your content on your targeted social channels for increased engagement on your website property.
All these little steps will “tell” AI that the content on your site is useful to visitors. And the more useful it is, the more optimized your content will be for search engines.
Affect 4: AI will make search engines better at recognizing and understanding the meaning of visual content like photos and videos. Enough said.
- Prep Tip 4: Make the content around the videos and photos just as relevant as you have been making the name, descriptions and alt tags all these years. (And keep up the production of that video and photo content.)
Affect 5: Google RankBrain does something called “deep learning” that will define approaches to communicating different pieces of information as “good” and “bad." For example, it will be able to distinguish that the best practices in site content and structure for a pizza shop will be different than a digital marketing firm. But once it determines what the optimal set up is for a certain industry, it will judge other sites in the industry by that very specific set up. So for example, it would probably penalize a digital marketing firm for setting up their content and website like a pizza shop.
- Prep Tip 5: Produce content. Stay in your niche. Get your content as widely seen as possible. By narrowing your focus on what types of topics you produce content around, you’re more likely to be seen as an expert. You’re also more likely to reduce competition. But a key part of owning your reach is creating good content in the first place and then amplifying your content as much as possible so that the masses can show they appreciate you.
Affect 6: You’ll have to know your audience: the brain. Google RankBrain, that is.
- Prep Tip 6: Talk to the brain. Schema or structured markup is one SEO element that you should keep doing because it’s a way of talking to a search engine’s artificial intelligence. Just like communicating with your family makes your relationships better, communicating with AI can help your content perform better.
At the end of the day, the thing you need to remember is that AI helps an audience get the information they need. So if you create content that meets the needs of your audience, you and your new SEO AI buddies should get along just fine.