Search engine optimization (SEO) is essential for any digital business, but is easily one of the most misunderstood of all digital marketing services. Business owners understand that SEO can assist growth, but the how, what, and why of SEO remains shrouded in mystery.
With good reason - it can be overwhelming to keep up with the ever-changing algorithms and trends.
Add to this the emergence of AI - and this mystery box seems to only get more complicated.
We wrote this guide to demystify AI SEO. We're covering:
- The Basics of AI SEO
- Keyword Research
- AI Writing
- On-page AI SEO
- Off-page AI SEO
We’ll explain how AI is helping out with a lot of the heavy lifting in SEO, the different types of AI tools available, and how to get started with AI SEO.
By the end of this guide, you’ll have a better understanding of how AI can help you get the most out of your SEO efforts.
As the name of this section suggests, we’ll cover the fundamentals of AI SEO, and cover at a high level how businesses are leveraging AI to enhance their SEO.
What is AI SEO?
AI SEO, (sometimes known as AI-powered SEO or Automated SEO), refers to the use of Artificial Intelligence to improve search engine optimization of a web page or a website. Taking away tasks that were historically manual and time consuming, and automating them.
When talking about why AI SEO is becoming so important, Mark Traphagen of seoClarity said it best:
It's easy to see why marketing teams of all shapes and sizes are jumping on the AI bandwagon.
AI can be used to quickly identify and capitalize on trends, create personalized experiences, and gain better search engine results page rankings (SERP's) over their competition much faster than a person (or team of people) can do if analyzing these changes manually.
Why is SEO important?
People generally pick one of the top few search results, so a higher ranking usually leads to more people visiting your website or page resulting in more inbound leads.
Search traffic is unique due to its consistency, since the number of searches typically remains steady from month to month.
Because these visitors aren't paid for (though SEO, even AI SEO, has investments in time and money), and the lifetime is typically longer than other channels (social media for example), this traffic is highly desirable.
Add to this that SEO drives 1000%+ more traffic than social media and SEO-generated inbound leads have a 14.6% close rate compared to 1.7% for outbound, you can see why an SEO strategy is vital for business fighting for market share.
When executed properly, SEO will help you rank higher and drive more organic traffic (and hopefully conversions).
An increase in quality leads landing on your website leads to increased sales, brand recognition, customer engagement, trust, credibility with your target audience - all those good things.
The big caveat here: the rules behind search algorithms are always changing.
With good reason - Google's shiny north star is to improve the quality of searches, and offer users the best possible results.
This means that SEO practices have to be regularly updated and tweaked in order to stay effective - continually assessing and modifying your approach like a fantasy football manager as trends come and go.
This means that SEO is a long play - but businesses that invest in SEO strategy win big when organic traffic and inbound leads start flowing in for minimal cost.
Does Google rank AI Content?
One of the biggest misconceptions about AI SEO (especially with AI content creation), is that Google could punish content created with AI. The Helpful Content Update released at the tail end of 2022 only compounded fears.
Because of these concerns, Google has clarified its position on what types of content should be avoided in order to avoid penalties.
"At Google, we've long believed in the power of AI to transform the ability to deliver helpful information. In this post, we'll share more about how AI-generated content fits into our long-standing approach to show helpful content to people on Search."
This quote is taken directly from Google's latest statement regarding AI created content. They go on to clarify:
This seems like a clear shift from the apocalyptic predictions coming out of the content creation community, but this is keeping in line what has always been important for Google.
Google's focus has always been to put good content on the table - regardless if it's created by humans or AI. This is the foundation of their helpful, reliable, people-first content policy.
Google (still) suggests that writers follow their E-E-A-T guidelines. Content that is beneficial and people-oriented, while also displaying expertise, experience, authority, and trustworthy.
Attempting to manipulate search result rankings through automation or artificial intelligence is a breach of Google's anti-spam regulations - and potential penalties are severe.
But with Google betting big on AI itself (looking at you Bard), it's clear they're not going to ban AI content from search.
Google will continue to make sure we only see content that is relevant, and adds the most value to the people.
AI can assist in crafting content that adheres to Google's E-A-T guidelines with precision, thus leveraging AI technology may actually enhance your chances of achieving higher search rankings.
Is AI Content 100% Original?
The short answer - yes.
The long answer requires covering a little bit about Natural Language Programs (NLP).
These programs are built on huge data sets, and designed to mimic the way that humans use language. This allows them to create sentences that are semantically correct and stylistically similar to what us, the people, write.
But it’s important to note that these programs don't take from one source, but an aggregate of all of the sources it was trained upon, to build a broad picture of that topic.
Then, taking prompts from the user, these NLP models predict what the most useful result will be – building content word by word - based on the relationship to the parent or root word.
The NLP process itself looks something like this:
This process ensures content is 100% original, and not replicated elsewhere.
As a fail safe, Mark has partnered with Copyscape to scan your text and check the originality of new content before putting it live. By avoiding duplicate content, your site becomes more valuable to your customers and more visible to search engines as well.
What are the benefits of AI SEO?
AI SEO offers several benefits over traditional SEO methods. All of these topics are covered in more depth in other chapters, but we wanted to give you a high-level overview early:
- Improved keyword targeting: AI-driven SEO tools can sift through massive sets of data to determine the most effective keywords and phrases to focus on, depending on user intent, relevance, and competition. This can help you optimize your content for the right keywords, increasing your rankings and drawing more visitors to your site.
- SEO strategy: AI-powered SEO tools can also help you optimize your content for search engines by analyzing factors such as readability, keyword density, and semantic relevance. This can help you create high-quality content that both search engines and users will love.
- AI content creation: AI-powered content creation can offer benefits such as efficiency, consistency, personalization, optimization, and scalability. Helping you create high-quality, engaging content quickly and cost-effectively.
- Social media optimization: AI-powered social media optimization tools can help you identify relevant topics, create posts, and optimize them for maximum engagement. AI-powered tools can also analyze user behavior to understand what type of content resonates with your target audience, allowing you to tailor your content to better meet their needs.
- On-page SEO: AI-powered SEO tools can automate many of the repetitive and time-consuming tasks involved in SEO, such as meta tag optimization, link building, and content creation. This can save you time and resources while improving the quality and effectiveness of your SEO efforts.
- Identifying high-quality link prospects: AI-powered tools can analyze vast amounts of data to identify high-quality websites that are most likely to link back to your site. These tools can take into account factors such as the domain authority, topical relevance, and link profile of potential link partners.
Defining your target audience
Think of your ideal customer. What are the characteristics that make up that person? Based on this, what is the best way to communicate with them?
Taking the time to define your ideal customer, your target audience, is essential. These are the people that you want to land on your website, and fill their bellies on your delicious buffet of content.
- Demographics: Consider the people interested in your product - think about their age, gender, occupation, location, level of education, etc.
- Interests: Think about what topics and activities your target audience is interested in and use this information to create content that appeals to them.
- Behaviors: Analyze how your target audience behaves online - what websites do they visit? What types of content do they interact with? More on content types in the AI Writing section of this guide.
- Goals: Understand what your target audience’s goals are and how you can help them achieve these goals through your content (and hopefully your product or services).
- Analyze your existing customers: If you already have customers, analyze them: think about who they are, what they like, and what is important to them. This information can help you identify patterns and characteristics of your target audience.
There are a bunch of tools out there to help you with defining your target audience - Hubspot's Make My Persona template generator is a great free tool to get you started.
By understanding your target audience's pain points, needs, and preferences, you can tailor your SEO strategy to meet their needs - attracting the right people to you.
Benchmarking and goal setting
Establishing your baseline is the first step to setting objectives, monitoring progress, and evaluating what is successful and what needs improvement. To do this we need to look at:
- Organic traffic
- Keyword ranking & Average Click Through Rate (CTR)
This tells us everything about how your site has been performing, and is currently performing. From here, we can take what is working well, and what might need to go back to the drawing board (or recycling bin).
The amount of visitors that come to your website from unpaid search engine results is referred to as organic traffic.
Organic traffic is derived from the SERPs and is the result of clicks from organic search results. Traffic that is sourced from paid ads, social media, and other external websites (like directories) is not classified as organic.
To find out your current organic traffic, you can use your preferred SEO tool or Google Analytics to find this out in no time.
Benchmarking your organic traffic makes it easier to track SEO progress, and start setting goals around what good looks like.
Keyword ranking & Average Click Through Rate (CTR)
Keyword ranking is where your website ranks in organic search results for a specific keyword. The better your keyword ranking, the higher your position on search engine results (SERP's)
And the higher your position on SERP, the more organic traffic you get.
Why is this important? Backlinko analyzed 4 million Google search results to see at what is up for grabs:
- The #1 result in Google’s organic search results has an average click through rate (CTR) of 27.6%.
- The #1 organic result is 10x more likely to receive a click compared to a page in the #10 position (27.6% vs 2.4%).
- Only .63% of Google users clicked on something from the second page.
To track how your keywords are performing, there are a bunch of tools out there, but Google Search Console is the golden standard.
So to benchmark how your keywords are performing:
- Go to Google Search Console
- Click on Search Results (located under the Performance tab)
- Click “Average CTR” and “Average Position” (the data should populate below)
- Scroll down and sort by CTR (low to high)
- Choose those keywords that are ranking well but not getting many clicks
- Make content and metadata edits targeting these words
This is how you can not only benchmark your keyword ranking, but start to identify potential keywords that can be used to improve existing content or create new content that meet users’ search queries.
We cover keyword strategy in a lot more detail in the Keyword Research section of this guide.
The more websites that link to you, the higher your organic search ranking is likely to be.
In general, people only link to sites that they trust and offer value. So it makes sense that Google would use this as one of the factors that determines page ranking. If several reliable sites link to you, search engines will love you all the more for it, and this reflects on the SERP.
To benchmark how your backlinks are performing, there are a bunch of free tools out there - Ahrefs Backlink Checker is one of the most comprehensive free tools available.
It will show you your:
- Domain rating: The strength of your target's backlink profile compared to the other websites in their database.
- Backlinks: The total number of links from other websites pointing to yours.
- Linking websites: The total number of unique domains linking to yours.
- Referring Page: Shows Title and URL of the page that contains a link to a target website or URL (as well as their Domain rating).
- Anchor & Target URL: Shows the anchor text of the backlink (along with a snippet of the text that surrounds it) and the URL where the backlink points to.
Take note of the domain rating, backlinks, and linking websites, as these are great indicators of performance. As these numbers start growing, we can be confident that our SEO strategy is headed in the right direction.
For more on backlinking best practices, check out the Off-Page SEO section of this guide.
Rank tracking refers to the process of monitoring the position or ranking of a website or webpage in search engine results pages (SERPs) for specific keywords or phrases. The goal here is to understand how a website or webpage is performing in search results for target keywords, as well as to identify opportunities for optimization and improvement.
If you were to monitor a single keyword, and all the top search engine results belong to your website, then your visibility will be at 100%. This is because your website will capture all the possible visitors from that particular keyword.
If your website is only visible in one spot on Google, with the rest of the spots taken up by competitors, your visibility will be lower than 100%. A higher visibility means that SEO is working in the right direction.
Vanity metrics in SEO are data points that may look impressive or satisfying, but don't necessarily provide meaningful insight into the success of an SEO campaign as they aren't tied to revenue.
- Keyword rankings: While it's important to track the ranking of your website or pages for relevant keywords, it's a vanity metric if it's not tied to actual traffic or conversions.
- Page views: Page views alone can be misleading, as they don't necessarily represent actual engagement or conversions.
- Social media followers: While social media followers may seem like a good indicator of a brand's reach, they may not necessarily translate into traffic, leads or sales.
When should you see results?
Businesses often mistake SEO as a quick fix, with instant results. This is not the case.
There are so many variables including the size and complexity of the website, the level of competition in the target market, the current state of the website's SEO, the goals and objectives of the strategy, and the resources allocated to SEO efforts etc; that asking for a timeline on when results should start pouring in is more or less a stab in the dark.
SEO is not a silver bullet for a company that wants to increase sales.
SEO is a long term strategy that requires consistent effort and continuous optimization.
Because of this, the timeline for seeing significant results from an SEO strategy can vary, but most agree implementing a proper SEO strategy can take anywhere from 4 – 12 months.
- AI SEO is the use of AI in the practice of improving a website’s visibility in organic search engine rankings.
- It is crucial for websites to rank well because it ensures free, passive, and consistent traffic on a monthly basis.
- Keyword research, content creation, on-page SEO, link building, and technical SEO all make up the SEO process.
- AI can help optimize all of the above
- Google does not punish AI generated content - their goal has always been to put good content in front of people - no matter how it was created.
- Content created with AI tools is 100% original - but just in case we can check :)
- Defining your target audience is key to understanding what content needs to be made. Everyone doesn’t find information in the same way.
- Set realistic goals for your SEO strategy early.
- SEO is a long term strategy - defining and tracking success and maintaining consistency is crucial to success.