Does AI have a role to play in SEO?
AI has gained a bit of a reputation, especially in the SEO industry. Discussions about the role it plays in SEO, its ethics, and its future impact are all hot topics. However, it’s important to dispel some of the fear mongering that can arise. AI itself is a neutral tool that can either be used well or poorly. The application of AI is where things can get a little murky. Here we’ll be going through some common questions about AI and SEO, as well as best practices for those of us who are interested in using it.
Will AI replace SEOs?
Quite simply, no. AI won’t be able to replace SEOs because the uniqueness of the human mind cannot be replaced by machine learning. AI is really good with numbers, facts, and logic. But it has been programmed to learn from existing information, rather than designed to think for itself. Its approach to problem solving and creativity is limited by this. It cannot think for itself, and therefore do what a human brain can do.
For example, AI is never going to be able to fully write its own kind of unique, high quality content that’s created with readers in mind. As a parallel example to AI, think of Photoshop. Photoshop can’t replace graphic designers. It’s a tool that has to be used – it can’t do anything on its own. However, this isn’t to say that AI isn’t useful for SEOs, as we’ll explore next.
How can AI support SEO?
AI can certainly support SEO efforts across content, technical, and off-page. In fact, it can significantly streamline and improve workflows. Let’s take a closer look at what AI can do for SEO.
First, and probably most famous for AI, content creation. Now AI shouldn’t be used to completely create new content. It can however be used as a tool to help scale content recommendations. Think meta descriptions, page titles, and so on. For example, take the H1 tag ‘Shop New Dresses in London’. You can use the formatting of this tag to create alternatives of this tag at scale with AI. This can be ‘Shop New Jackets in Manchester’, ‘Shop New Shoes in Birmingham’ etc. AI allows you to automate and scale tasks like these that typically take a lot of time.
AI can also be used for content ideation and starter points. Not only can this streamline the content writing process to an extent, but it can also help with off-page campaign ideas.
Now let’s look at how technical SEO can benefit from AI. AI is fantastic for data analysis, especially for large volumes of data on loading times, information architecture, linking opportunities, even keywords. When it comes to backlink analysis, AI can help summarise important metrics like domain authority on a given SERP along with the trust and citation flow of many domains. This cuts down on time spent analysing these data points, allowing SEOs to spend more time on valuable insights. Normally, you have to go through these manually to understand where the opportunities are. AI will analyse and summarise all of these quickly, allowing you to execute changes quickly.
AI is also very good at understanding the connection between things. For example, if you have a massive list of hundreds of URLs, you can ask if there are any relationships between them. It’ll be able to determine logical connections and relationships between topics, presenting internal linking opportunities, redirect suggestions, and will also cluster pages by topic. This can be incredibly useful to use in large-scale websites that have a huge amount of pages. It removes the need of having to manually categorise the data, saving time and resources.
Despite what AI can do for SEO, it doesn’t remove the need for human input. AI simply makes analysis easier by consolidating and summarising the most valuable data. It still needs humans to oversee and take action. Otherwise, things can easily go awry. Practical, large-scale analysis is where AI shines for SEO. This saves time and money, so SEOs can focus on overall strategy and what will move the needle.
What are the dangers of using AI for SEO?
Just like any tool, using AI for SEO can bring across dangers that we need to be aware of. Let’s dig into these.
Firstly, quality. Google has stated that they can detect AI content. Whilst they’re not against AI generated content, it needs to be used with caution. AI on its own will not produce high quality content that meets the E-E-A-T framework. Content still needs to demonstrate expertise, experience, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness in order to perform well in search. And remember there are repercussions for posting low quality content, including lack of rankings, lack of indexation, as well as overall lowering of perceived domain quality. The penalties of publishing low quality AI content just isn’t worth the knock it’ll have on your website.
Then there are ethical considerations, especially when it comes to written content. Without the correct guardrails in place, AI effectively takes other people’s insights and regurgitates them. This is essentially a form of stealing. As a huge amount of data is fed into AI tools, it’s also near impossible to source the original content that it pulls from. This means we are unable to credit writers and artists whose work is being used, most likely without their consent.
Now, there is an argument that humans do this too. We all refer to existing information when writing our content. So what’s the difference? Humans are able to apply our own insights and understandings to what we write, as well as write in our own individual, distinct styles. AI is unable to do this. It can only put existing information in different packaging. And remember – Google penalises duplicate content.
What are best practices for using AI for SEO?
When it comes to considering how to integrate AI into your SEO activities, there’s a key question you’ll want to ask – how can AI improve workflows whilst providing ethical and effective deliverables? The good news is that there are best practices you can implement when using AI for SEO across technical, on-page, and off-page SEO. Here’s what to consider ahead of time:
Data analysis for technical SEO
If you’re using AI for data analysis, you’re unlikely to run into any ethical implications. This functionality of AI doesn’t steal data, rather it depends on its logic functionality. This means crawling websites, internal linking and backlink analysis can be conducted without much issue. Basically anything that’s really number-heavy is good-to-go. And by extension, technical SEO is where AI shines the brightest as it’s where SEOs can get the most value from AI.
Scaling appropriate content creation for on-page SEO
When it comes to the tricky area of content creation, AI is best used to scale smaller content creation, as well as helping to plan content. It can be used to create a framework for heading structures that can be rolled out across articles, and writing quick, to-the-point product descriptions. It can even provide potential ideas on how to structure an article.
However, this all has the caveat that all on-page SEO should be reviewed and adjusted by a human. There aren’t any situations where you should just push AI content without a person reading and tweaking it. Your website may be penalised if you do.
Idea generation for off-page SEO
AI can help with digital PR campaigns with idea generation. For example, you may have data about a selection of specific products. AI can scan through this data and share its analysis. For example, you might find a particular product is selling well YoY which could be pitched as a shift in trends. You can take these data points and pitch them as a digital PR story. This can help with link building efforts, as well as building brand awareness and trust.
As AI develops, so do search engines
Remember that although AI is getting smarter, search engines are at least one step ahead. The teams that work on search engines are generally much larger, so there’s significant resources behind them to work on delivering the best results to users. As such, search engines are becoming better every single day at understanding ‘What is AI content?’ as well as ‘What is helpful content?’ Search engines can’t be gamed with derivative content generated by AI.
Google has published quite a few updates related to helpful content, specifically regarding content that is helpful to users. This seems to be in retaliation to people producing content that isn’t helpful and has been purely generated by AI. Remember that AI is not a one-and-done magic bullet for SEO success. Content still has to be useful and high quality in order to perform well.
AI should be seen as a tool, not a replacement, for SEOs. To remain competitive in SEO, organisations should be cautious when using AI, specifically for content generation. However, that’s not to say that AI should be avoided in SEO strategies. It’s all about leveraging what AI does best – data analysis and scaling capabilities – and jumping off from there.