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How AI is Changing SEO and Content Strategy

7 min read

Online content today is chaos. Shocking and provoking headlines abound in the news, and some content marketers are still living in the wild west. They produce content with abandon despite a lack of data-driven insights.

While we won’t venture to guess what will happen next in the world, we can find comfort in knowing what’s in the pipeline in terms of technology.

Namely, we know for sure that Google and other search algorithms will continue to use artificial intelligence to rank content. RankBrain, which first appeared October 2015, continues to be a part of the Google algorithm. It uses A.I. to derive meaning from search terms and deliver relevant pages to users.

We also know that voice search on mobile devices is becoming more common. Search engines will need to utilize natural language processing, a type of A.I., to handle those queries more effectively.

First, let’s dive a little deeper into what RankBrain is, how it improves both text and voice search, and why this is relevant to you.

RankBrain and its Effect on Search

RankBrain auto-optimizes SERP results. When a user inputs a query, the algorithm selects and ranks a set of pages, then RankBrain monitors the searcher’s behavior. If the user clicks on a link in the SERP and stays there a while, that sends a signal to RankBrain. It knows that page does a good job of answering the query and will boost its ranking for that particular search query.

If RankBrain observes a lot of pogo-sticking (i.e., a user bouncing from link to link) on a SERP, it will adjust the algorithm to weigh factors differently. The goal is always to deliver more relevant results. Google engineers also do this, but, as Dean notes, humans can’t do it as effectively as RankBrain.

At MarketMuse, we welcome our new search-bot overlords. This method of ranking ultimately puts people back in the driver’s seat.

Since user satisfaction – also called searcher task accomplishment or user intent – is the most heavily weighted factor for RankBrain, the goal shifts from optimizing for keyword phrases to optimizing for usefulness. That, in a nutshell, is the future of SEO in a world of smarter search engines.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t make your job easier. Stuffing a bunch of keywords into a blog post is simple.

On the other hand, figuring out what your audience is asking is difficult. Providing them with comprehensive answers is equally hard. So, let’s talk about what A.I. means for SEO strategies and how they can adapt to the times.

What Does SEO Look Like in the Future?

Keyword optimization as we know it will become less important. As machine learning gets better at matching queries to related concepts, it will rank pages accordingly. This is due to both the introduction of RankBrain and the increased prevalence of voice search.

Another fundamental change to ranking factors will be a reduced emphasis on off-page signals like backlinks. Sure, Google will continue to recognize authority sites based on backlink profiles. But the algorithm’s A.I. component is becoming increasingly adept at semantic analysis and user behavior examination. Soon, the content itself will be the most important ranking factor.

Keyword stuffing and other black hat search engine optimization techniques are becoming irrelevant. Title tags also have less impact on search results. Content writers can rejoice in knowing that they’re once again writing for people and not search algorithms.

They’re also going to love the extinction of the long-tail keyword. It’s a proverbial thorn in the side of anyone who’s ever had to shoe-horn overwrought phrases into their work.

The search algorithm no longer creates unique SERPs for semantically similar terms. So it’s possible to rank for a broad range of long-tail keywords. All you need to do is optimize for a particular topic or question. This means you can use more natural language and focus on covering topics comprehensively. Then sit back and watch your rankings rise.

Does this mean we’ll see a rise in the use of long-form content? Not necessarily. Content length is not indicative of high-quality content. Hopefully, concise writing will become the norm as content marketing aims to create a better user experience.

With the rise of searcher task accomplishment as a ranking factor, consider using the inverted pyramid style of writing. Place the most important information up top. This ensures when someone lands on your page, they find what they’re looking for.

In the same vein, you’ll want to ensure you have succinct yet descriptive titles and subheadings. Use lists, tables, and graphics to break up your content. Research shows that people tend to scan pages in an F shape. So make your pertinent points visually stand out on the page.

Next, let’s talk about how you can update your SEO strategy to optimize for A.I.-empowered search and voice queries.

How Machine Learning Can Help Your SEO Content Strategy

Often, the solution to a problem lies in the problem itself. Optimizing your content for a search engine that utilizes machine learning requires using machine learning to craft your pages.

Succeeding in SEO requires marketers to answer their audience’s questions. But therein lies the rub: How do you know what they’re asking?

Looking at the search queries bringing people to your site is a good step toward knowing. However, it doesn’t give you all the insights. In fact, it may not give you any ideas whatsoever.

There’s a big difference between observations you can make when looking at Google Analytics data and a genuine insight. Observations are easy – just look at the trends, assume they’re statistically significant, and make changes accordingly.

However, you know what they say about making assumptions.

An insight is a data-backed trend observed over an extended period. Unfortunately, they’re harder to obtain than you might think. They require sophisticated processing of big data sets. Realistically, many marketers aren’t equipped to carry this out.

With content optimization software that uses machine learning to uncover the gaps in your content, you can ensure you’re developing a strategy around insights culled from the top pages currently ranking for your target topics.

MarketMuse evaluates your content using the same principles of A.I. as Google to tell you how you score and how you can do better. It provides specific, actionable insights that let you write content that answers all the essential questions, and the minor ones, too.

Instead of optimizing around keywords, MarketMuse encourages you to optimize around topics. Creating topic clusters sends strong quality signals to Google that your site is the authority in your chosen area.

Why This Digital Marketing Change Should Excite You

If you’re a mission-driven marketer, you most likely care about people receiving relevant and helpful messages. You know, the ones that help them live a more comfortable and convenient lifestyle. You probably also care about your company’s ability to efficiently make decisions and use its resources to the maximum potential.

The A.I. revolution on search facilitates both these things. It ensures the best content ranks highly and that marketers have an organic way to build their brand.

You don’t need a high-authority domain or a large backlink profile to create high-ranking content. That’s a massive win for digital marketers. It’s a big boon to those at new or growing companies with limited resources.

You now have the opportunity to stop thinking about what Google wants. So start thinking about what your users want. This is a strategy that will serve you well beyond SEO. Getting inside the head of your audience and delivering answers is bound to increase trust and engagement. As a result, many of your customers will become evangelists who refer, share, review, and come back for more.

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Rebecca is an experienced writer with a demonstrated history of working in the online media industry. Skilled in search engine optimization (SEO), journalism, magazine writing, AP Style, and content marketing. You can follow her on Twitter or LinkedIn.