Artificial Intelligence (AI) is one of the hottest topics in marketing right now, especially for the SEO industry. Although AI has been available for years, the velocity of tools being created, and the hype associated with them, has reached a blistering peak.
Naturally, marketers are starting to ask a few questions. What’s real? What’s possible? And how can I maximize my impact with this technology today?
To answer all those questions and more, let’s take a look at where we see the opportunities and limitations of AI tools for SEO in 2023.
What is AI?
It’s also important to keep in mind how Google and other search engines use and define AI. For example, Google says AI “is a set of technologies based primarily on machine learning and deep learning and is used for various functions, including object categorization, natural language processing, recommendations, intelligent data retrieval, and more.”
What is AI-Driven SEO?
Marketers in the SEO industry are increasingly using AI to quickly understand what makes a specific site or piece of content rank on search engines. Then, with the rise of generative AI tools, they can even use AI to generate and optimize content before the competition.
ChatGPT, an AI-powered chatbot developed by OpenAI, has been especially disruptive when it comes to generative AI. While we don’t see this technology replacing human writers anytime soon, the quality of ChatGPT responses has people excited and wondering if it will dramatically shift the search landscape in the immediate future.
A Brief History of AI in SEO
Given the waves ChatGPT has caused recently, some may not realize that Google has been a major force in AI research and has incorporated AI-driven algorithms into products like Gmail and Google Search for years.
On the SEO side, Google launched RankBrain in 2015 to better understand searcher queries. This announcement was the first time Google officially went on the record as using an artificial intelligence system in their algorithm. This was a significant step forward in Google’s understanding of the importance of sentence structure in queries. It also signaled the shift in SEO from the importance of keywords to the importance of entities.
Fast forward to 2019, and Google announces the launch of BERT (Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers), a neural network-based technique for natural language processing to better serve results for the large percentage of unique queries they receive every day.
With these groundbreaking technologies, a flood of SEO tools and use cases hit the market to incorporate similar systems into common SEO activities such as content creation, image optimization, and forecasting.
The most buzzworthy new tool, ChatGPT, was launched in 2022 and builds on GPT-3 that was launched in 2020. This instance of generative AI exploded onto the scene, and the results have been truly impressive. The boasts of this technology still appear to over-promise and under-deliver, but this is the closest we’ve gotten to date and foreshadows a rapidly approaching future.
How You Should be Using AI for SEO
It seems like no matter where you look, there’s always someone proposing a new way that tools like ChatGPT can help propel your SEO strategy forward. However, it’s not clear which use cases are helpful, and which aren’t a great use of your time. Here are four ways we recommend using AI for SEO:
Creating SEO Content with AI
Generative AI tools like ChatGPT can be incredibly useful in the brainstorming and idea-generation phase. With the ability to rapidly produce lists and ideas, you can conquer the tyranny of a blank page quicker than ever. Refining your prompts and going deeper on the ideas that spark your interest can illuminate your own original ideas and novel connections you wouldn’t have arrived at otherwise.
One caveat here is that the large language model it uses to populate answers makes it likely that tools like ChatGPT will give you the most common answers related to your prompts. This may be fine in certain situations, but you won’t always want the most common answer.
We also recommend heavily editing your content to help your brand’s voice shine through while adding personality and asserting your expertise. Keeping the human element in the equation will help you better connect with your customers.
Using AI for Content Optimization
Where AI can be more helpful is on the content optimization front. For shorter snippets of content using a template, such as product descriptions or meta descriptions, using generative AI tools to scale can lead to major efficiencies. Again, you’ll want a careful human eye to review for accuracy and adjust as necessary to reflect your brand’s expertise, but this can save you a ton of time.
Finding natural language processing connections can also help you build authority around entities and provide another avenue for optimization. This should align naturally with the topics your brand talks about anyway and the topics your customers are interested in, but it provides another valuable lens.
Automating SEO Workflows
While the text-based generative AI models are getting all the press right now, image classification was one of the first areas for AI to make waves and is arguably more advanced than the text content AI can create right now. AI tools for naming image files and creating ALT text can automate tedious manual processes. Using AI tools to generate reporting insights and distilling large data sets can also be extremely valuable.
Scaling Your Existing SEO Strategy
While advances in AI over the past five years haven’t dramatically changed SEO strategy, it has enabled the ability to scale quickly. While blindly relying on AI negates the value of deep expertise in a field, it would be equally alarming if your SEO team didn’t employ any artificial intelligence at all.
The Limitations of AI for SEO
As with any emerging field, there are not only limitations in the outputs but also considerable challenges and considerations around the impacts of these tools. We need to be thoughtful and cautious in our approach because we don’t know the things we don’t know.
Here are a few of the current-day limitations of AI for SEO, especially generative AI tools.
The outputs of tools like ChatGPT depend on their training models, and when your data set is sourced from the internet, the problematic things that are posted when it comes to offensive language and stereotypes are going to be reflected in the tool’s outputs, which can also serve to perpetuate them.
It’s essential to know the training data for your tool. For example, ChatGPT doesn’t access the internet, so when it gives an answer to you about viewing webpages, that isn’t an accurate description of how it operates. Its data set also only goes until 2021 (they make updates regularly), so it’s not the best resource for current events.
Accuracy & Understanding
While the technology behind something like ChatGPT is incredible, the accuracy leaves a lot to be desired. A common issue is “hallucinating” or sounding very confident about an incorrect answer.
The efficacy of using ChatGPT as a search engine right now is like considering me, a member of the SEO team, a search engine for paid search advice. With ten years of SEO experience and a wealth of experience working closely with our Paid Search team, I know a decent amount of the terminology, and I can give you a plausible-sounding answer if I need to. But what is the value in that? If you ask our paid search experts directly, you will be in much better hands.
Since these tools don’t understand the material, their answers lack the requisite nuance of expertise.
Knowing the potential pitfalls of your AI tools will help you use them more effectively. When you know what to look for, you can diligently review their outputs to avoid adverse outcomes for your brand.
AI-Driven SEO Tools to Try in 2023
With a steady stream of AI tools released every week, the impetus is on adding AI tools to your arsenal more than needing to use a specific tool or process.
If you’re just starting to experiment with ChatGPT and getting excited about what AI can do for your program, here are some tools to try this year:
Low-Budget Content Tools
Our first bucket is budget-friendly content tools. Depending on your preferences, tools like Jasper, Copy.ai, and Frase are great options in this tier that can cost you less than $100/mo. Each tool has particular strengths, ranging from helpful templates to robust competitor research, that can elevate your current content process.
Enterprise-Level AI Insights Tools
Enterprise SEO clients have unique needs. The tools and platforms servicing this market have been experimenting with AI for better business insights for years. While these tools are significantly more expensive, if your website has millions of web pages or brings in millions of dollars of revenue through organic traffic, they can help you stay on top of the competition.
All of the following brands have an AI offering for data analysis and providing SEO recommendations:
There are AI-assisted tools for just about every aspect of SEO, but the important thing is to match that with your team’s expertise and the goals you’re trying to accomplish. These tools won’t replace your experts, but they can make their work easier and more impactful.
Looking Ahead: Future State of AI in SEO
One of the time-honored traditions in the SEO field is to ask if SEO is dead. This question is revisited in countless think pieces every year, and the dawn of ChatGPT was merely another occasion to opine on the industry’s mortality.
So will ChatGPT finally spell the end of search engines? Doubtful.
While it will probably siphon off some usage from search engines, it’s difficult to imagine a wholesale change in global user behavior that completely upends Google in the short term.
While SEOs are well-accustomed to grappling with their mortality, the past year is the first time that think-pieces threatened Google’s existence. First with Gen Z’s extensive use of TikTok and now with the AI chatbots. It’s not to say that empires don’t fall, nor that they can’t collapse quickly. Any good financial advisor would caution that past performance isn’t indicative of future results, but even OpenAI CEO Sam Altman said in this article with The Verge, “I think whenever someone talks about technology being the end of some other giant company, it’s usually wrong. I think people forget they get to make a countermove here, and they’re like pretty smart, pretty competent. I do think there’s a change for search that will probably come at some point – but not as dramatically as people think in the short term.”
While it can’t move as quickly given its position as the incumbent, Google has already flung itself headfirst into the AI arena by announcing Bard, an AI-powered chat feature, to compete with ChatGPT and Microsoft’s integration of OpenAI technology into its products.
While we anticipate the arms race between the search engines to continue, Baidu unveiled ERNIE Bot and Google announced public testing of Bard, the launch of GPT-4 also provided another step forward in generative AI.
While OpenAI has been secretive about the details of GPT-4, it’s being labeled as its most advanced system, and is a multimodal model capable of receiving image and text inputs and returning text outputs. While it’s not the only multimodal large language model product out there, the early reports about its results have been promising and we expect to see continued innovation built on top of this technology.
It seems like the world has changed since ChatGPT burst onto the scene, and in some ways, it has, but in others, this is just the next step in a decades-long process. It could portend rapid change or it could be a flash in the pan as people realize they don’t actually prefer a conversational model of search results.
What we do know is this; it’s worth paying close attention to every development, maximizing the tools we have at our disposal today, and ensuring we have expert practitioners to make these tools valuable.
The outlook today could look very different in the second half of the year – so it’s important to have a partner who keeps a close eye on the industry. If you’d like help navigating this constantly changing search landscape, reach out to our SEO services team or contact us today.