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In order to be more visible on the web, businesses use different SEO tactics to make their content rank well on search results. For example, keyword usage in your content and your site’s metadata can greatly effect your ranking. Other factors include the relevancy of your content and backlinks, to name a few.
But before artificial intelligence came into the mix, search engines weren’t very good at understanding searcher intent. For example, it could not understand stop words like “without” and “the”, words that we usually use to describe the intent behind our queries.
Then came RankBrain, a machine learning ANI (artificial narrow intelligence) system that is able to understand the intent behind search queries better by connecting phrases that Google Search was unfamiliar with, with words that might have a similar meaning. By understanding search queries better, Google now had a more precise ability to match users with websites that were more relevant to them.
Google Search could now think for itself. Ever since RankBrain was introduced, online marketers and SEO practitioners have speculated how artificial intelligence may impact SEO.
So, how is artificial intelligence changing SEO? Let’s find out.
In general, black hat SEO techniques try to exploit weaknesses in search engine algorithms to obtain higher rankings for websites. However, further advancements in AI search signals like RankBrain might soon increase demand for SEO strategies that focus on content relevancy and basically prevent black hat SEO practices in their tracks. Amongst all black hat techniques, AI may impact black hat practitioners who use spam and keyword stuffing in an attempt to rank well:
There are billions of links on the web but not all of them are relevant. However, this doesn’t stop some marketers from trying to pass off these irrelevant links through promotions, emails and even on web pages. Consider spam backlinks in forum contents or web pages that have nothing to do with the topic being discussed.
Irrelevant links are penalized by Google. For example, if your website’s content is about interior decorating services but has a lot of backlinks from plumbing services, RankBrain will not see it as relevant to your company and may penalize your ranking for it.
Keyword stuffing is a practice where marketers peppered their content with either one or multiple keywords to rank well. There are two problems to this approach:
Thanks to Google’s algorithm updates like the Penguin 1.0, these tactics don’t work anymore. However, this doesn’t stop some SEO practitioners from attempting this exploit by using synonyms of keywords. As artificial intelligence search signals become more adept in processing natural language, websites that have keywords which occur naturally in content may enjoy a higher rank, which means keyword stuffing as we know it could become obsolete.
From news updates to stock market reports, there is value in receiving data at the time you need it. It’s why Google Search took off as it did. The answer to every question became available immediately after typing a few keywords.
With artificial intelligence, it is now possible to harness real-time data and make it work for us. To illustrate, consider a fitness smartwatch that can personalize your workouts based on the data it has on you so far, like miles run and your current blood pressure.
Imagine the implications if online service providers could use AI programs to use real time data to improve their services based on factors like time, place and location. To illustrate, consider factors like price adjustments and shopping speed:
High quality analytics and real time pricing requirements allow some online service providers to change prices immediately. For example, consider Uber’s price surge that changes with the time of the day or on occasion of special events.
In the years to come, we might be looking at AI that adjusts price points the same way. For example, consider a future where marketers are able to use artificial intelligence programs to automatically adjust pricing on their product pages (e.g discounted airline tickets for frequent fliers) according to a special event (e.g during Memorial Day weekend).
How long does it take you to order an item with an AI powered chatbot? Minutes? Seconds? Regardless, the time is far less than using Google to search for it on the web, choosing an ecommerce site that has the item in stock and looking for it there.
Chatbots are able to provide users with relevant and quick information about services or products. The speed of this exchange is almost the same we are talking to a real customer service representative.
How is this relevant from an SEO perspective? Website page speed is already a ranking factor on Google. If conversational shopping takes off, it could call on site load speed to be reduced by milliseconds or as much time it takes for customers to have face to face correspondences with sales personnel.
With search crossing mobile and desktop, the way people are searching for information is changing rapidly. Thanks to AI capabilities like NLP (Natural Language Processing) we aren’t just typing search queries anymore. We are speaking them too on voice interfaces on our mobile phones like Siri and Cortana.
Thanks to artificial intelligence, online search is becoming more conversational. In time, online marketers might take a different approach to content optimization by focusing on keywords that are more conversational.
Here is a possibility from an SEO perspective:
We rarely type the way we speak. When we type, we use shorthand, so you would type “weather Germany” into a search bar. But when you speak (like in a voice query), you are likely to ask a complete question, “What’s the weather today in Germany?”
As more users start using programs like Siri and Google Now to search, search engines might catch up and start ranking websites with content that are optimized with keywords that are conversational.
For example, consider the fact that voice searchers typically use words like “Who”, “What”, “When” and “Where” when looking for answers for immediate needs. To appeal to voice search, marketers can use these adverbs to optimize web pages while using a conversational tone throughout the content.
If you want to learn how to tie shoelaces, would you rather read an article about it or a video? The answer is obvious, and Google knows it too. Type “how to tie shoelaces” and a video tutorial will show up on the first page.
Search engines are getting better at understanding the value of visual content like images and video. To make the most of their SEO efforts, digital marketers may need to pay more attention on what is on their images and optimize tagging accordingly.
Optimizing video means optimizing a video’s description according to popular keywords, its length and tags. Artificial intelligence has gone so far as to allow people to search for information within videos without having to watch the entire video itself. Consider Google’s Video Intelligence API, which allows developers to extract actionable insights from video files without requiring any machine learning.
When applied to SEO, we might be looking at a future where marketers might consider aspects like specific scenes or characters as keywords in meta descriptions and tags. For example, a long viral video of a horse attacking an alligator would have the climax as the keyword (horse stomps on gator).
Object detection might add a new ranking signal: Artificial intelligence has taken image recognition to an all new level. For example, consider the Amazon Rekognition service for app developers which uses deep learning neural models to identify human faces and can even identify a dog down to its breed.
It will be very hard for SEO practitioners to pass incorrect metadata to make certain images rank well through search engines with this capability. For example, it will be hard for them to pass images of people riding bicycles with keywords that say “people riding private jets.” Object detection will be able to identify that there are no “private jets” in the images and penalize the website.
If you would like to learn more about how artificial intelligence can improve marketing efforts, check out the impact of Big Data and machine learning for marketing.