The future role of AI in SEO
Artificial Intelligence (AI). A popular trope in science fiction, it is typically represented as a sapient, self-aware computer system capable of independent thought and reason. While we’re a long way from that kind of technology, a version of Artificial Intelligence is already a reality in our digital lives. Consider how Facebook recognises and tags your friends in photos, how Google Maps remembers where you’ve parked your car, or how Netflix and Spotify suggest new TV shows and music respectively based on what you’ve previously watched or listened to. Even the predictive text on our smartphones is constantly learning our individual typing patterns.
When it comes to SEO, marketers must be aware of the impact that AI can have on our techniques. Gone are the static ‘set and forget’ days, if they ever truly existed. We’re now fluid and dynamic and must consider how machine learning changes not only SERPs, but also our overall marketing strategies.
Let’s take a look at the current role Artificial Intelligence has in SEO and tease out our predictions for the future.
The current role of AI in SEO marketing
Artificial Intelligence is currently used in a number of practical ways for both customers and marketers, typically through algorithms. By following a process of calculations, AI algorithms provide customers with better search results based on their locations, interests and demographics.
Think about when you search for “good coffee near me”. Google’s algorithm recognises where you are and reviews local information, along with your previous search history and interests, and compares it to similar searches performed prior. Then it delivers the relevant sites for you to peruse.
These AI algorithms provide marketers with advanced analytics, including demographics, interests and locations, allowing us to perform in-depth research and target websites with relevant keywords.
But AI’s role in SEO is evolving and there are new opportunities and learning experiences emerging every day.
Understanding visual content
As Artificial Intelligence develops, one SEO factor that will change significantly is the importance of visual content. Initially a tool to capture attention, break up text and create an emotional response, it will now also become a more significant ranking factor. Already we’re seeing hints of this, with Google favouring video content in SERPs over text-based webpages.
But how will it know what’s what? One way is through annotations. Facebook trained its AI to understand images by showing it billions of public Instagram photos that had been annotated by users with hashtags. Alt text, image names and descriptions will become more important than ever before, and if Facebook’s AI training is anything to go by, Google will soon know if you’re misrepresenting the images you’re displaying.
The rise of virtual assistants
As technology improves, Siri, Alexa, Cortana, and even “Hey Google”, are fast becoming a part of our day-to-day vernacular. We’re using smartphones, driving smart cars and living in smart homes that have voice-activated virtual assistants who can wake us up, advise us of the weather, make appointments and answer our questions. This changes things dramatically for SEO.
When we type something into Google, we’re typically concise. Just like the “good coffee near me” example above, we focus on the keywords that get our message across and Google does the rest. When it comes to speaking to our virtual assistants though, we’re far more likely to ask them in a conversational manner. For example, “Hey Siri, where can I get a decent coffee nearby?”
As this technology becomes the norm, marketers will need to start performing keyword research on conversational queries and optimise websites for long-tail search terms.
It’s all about user intent
Over the years, Google’s focus has shifted to user intent. Rather than showing any webpage that contains your search terms, Google’s AI system will determine the information you’re trying to find by comparing results from similar users who have made similar searches. For example, when you search “good coffee near me” Google must consider whether you’re looking for a barista or somewhere to buy coffee beans.
This means that when performing keyword research, the intent behind the words is actually more important than the words themselves. Returning to the above coffee example, “a decent coffee” would likely never be a typed search term, but it would definitely be something we would say aloud and, through context, we would understand it to mean the same as “good coffee”. These are the riddles SEO marketers will have to consider moving forward.
Say goodbye to “gaming” the system
Over the years, there have been a number of tricks designed to “beat” Google. Think back to the days of keyword stuffing, walls of white text on white backgrounds, or duplicated content as images. As Artificial Intelligence continues to learn, these short-term strategies that try to outsmart algorithms will cease (if they haven’t already!).
Marketers must invest in long-term best practices, rather than trying to game the system. This means actually giving your customers valuable content, whether that be copy, images or video. As time goes on, SEO has and will continue to become more intuitive and natural, focused purely on the customer experience.
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