The 30th of November 2022 was the day that ChatGPT had its initial release. At the time, you could not find a good marketer who was not somewhat perturbed by this release or the advent of artificial intelligence (AI). Not because it marked an end to marketing or search engine optimization (SEO) as we knew it, but because it signified a radical change on the horizon. With any significant change in the marketing environment or the introduction of a revolutionary piece of technology, the response of marketing professionals is not to catastrophize, but to plan, strategize, and evolve.
Now, the cat has well and truly been let out of the bag, and back in it will not go. AI has revolutionized the marketing industry and, by extension, SEO – but not in a negative way.
It is true that AI can automate many aspects of the SEO process. However, this ultimately allows SEO professionals to focus more on the highly strategic aspects of SEO, such as content strategy, user experience, and overall website optimization – all of which are essential to cracking the code of ranking well.
Some of the areas in which AI is a tool for SEO, and not a replacement, are:
The two pillars of online prominence that work together in intricate unison – SEO and pay-per-click (PPC) – are likely to encounter the necessity for rapid merger. Marketers have long known that an integrated approach to SEO requires a calculated application of both organic and paid marketing. PPC has offered the kind of immediacy that many website owners yearn for, yet it has needed to be balanced by the arduous, but ultimately longstanding, endurance of organic ranking.
The introduction of AI and its continued advances are only going to reshape and reformulate how these pillars work together – and, perhaps for the better. The future of SEO and PPC may look a lot like one, solid, multifaceted pillar, where each component works in synchronicity with the other.
A significant number of Google searches are in the pursuit of a clear answer – regardless of that answer’s complexity. In the past, search engines were a one-stop-shop for getting answers to just about every question. Now that AI has entered the arena, users have another way to quickly find answers with the added benefit of brevity. The problem is that not everyone is just looking for answers. Products, services, advice, and expertise are all items that users search for.
Beyond asking questions of “Is SEO dead?” or “Will AI replace search?” marketers should be asking, “Will search engines ever let SEO die?” In 2022, Google garnered an annual revenue of 279.8 billion U.S. dollars, however, the third quarter of 2023 exceeded that of 2022 despite AI turbulence. Advertising, though, accounts for more than half of Google’s entire revenue.
As the irrefutable online traffic hub, Google processes over 8 billion searches in a single day. What drives those searches, and what keeps Google’s ad revenue afloat, are creators of every kind. Websites, platforms, information portals . . . these are the vehicles that keep search going. Without creators, there is no incentive to search. Without competition, search engines will have no means to advocate for ads. And without SEO, the competition is baseless.
Quick, snappy, and direct answers are always going to appeal to users and, perhaps, that is where AI may hit search engines with their best shot. Consumers need access to products and services and, more importantly, sources of information with actual experience and expertise behind them.
According to Ahrefs, SEO has died five thousand deaths – yet it persists, alive and well. Any SEO professional will tell you that SEO is a minefield, filled with peaks and valleys and ever the curveball. Evolution is what grounds it, the unrelenting, adaptive exploration of what works and what does not. In the not-so-distant past, SEO professionals relied on both locating the right keywords and building backlinks to a website. These were the ingredients to the recipe of ranking well. This, of course, changed rapidly; and if you did not adapt, you plummeted.
It is also to be noted that AI is not the first search engine disruptor; not that long ago, the presence of social media startled the solidity of search engines. No doubt you could find those proclaiming the death of SEO back then, too. Yet, SEO is here – some 16 years after Facebook surpassed Myspace as the most popular social media website.
The reality is that marketers have transformed their practice as many times as SEO has been purported to have died. They’ve moved on from isolated practices to integrated approaches, from backlinks to on-site optimization, and from keyword stuffing to E-E-A-T. And, throughout the evolution of their discipline, the need for SEO has remained constant, because the desire for answers and services has remained constant. AI is an SEO disruptor – no one can dispute this. But it has been met, just as social media was met, with calculated and exacting transformation.