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AI and Google – An SEO Guide

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Google includes within its fundamental missions ‘bringing the benefits of AI to everyone’, marketers saw the launch of Google RankBrain back in 2015, plus machine learning and intelligent algorithms are a necessity in the world of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO).

But what does AI mean for SEO in 2018 and beyond?

This is what I will explore in detail and look to answer this post.

Bringing the benefits of AI to everyone

First, let’s clarify what is meant by Artificial Intelligence (AI).

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the ability of a computer controlled bot (robot) or a digital computer to complete tasks typically associated with needing human / intelligent being involvement. In effect, AI is the simulation of intelligence within an artificial/computer environment.

Common characteristics and features of AI include:

  • Ability to learn (self-learn and taught)
  • Adaptability to changing circumstances
  • Vast data and processing power
  • Objective decision-making capabilities  
  • Action completion based on goals

What does Google have to do with AI?

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is what enables Google to function at a pace, accuracy, and understanding inaccessible by any other means, and Google aspire to bring AI to everyone!

In a quote from GoogleAI

“Our mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful, and AI is enabling us to do that in incredible new ways – solving problems for our users, our customers, and the world.

AI makes it easier for you to do things every day, whether it’s searching for photos of people you love, breaking down language barriers, or helping you get things done with your own personal digital assistant. But it’s also providing us with new ways of looking at old problems and helping transform how we work and live, and we think the biggest impact will come when everyone can access it.”

Google RankBrain and SEO

In October 2015 Google, AI and the SEO world were formally introduced. Google has built its search empire on intelligent algorithms and AI was always going to be a natural path for the data and information giant.

For digital marketers and marketing experts, some of the core questions surrounding RankBrain included:

  • What is RankBrain?
  • What impact will RankBrain have on SEO? / How can I optimize my content for RankBrain?

So let’s answer some of these questions…

What is RankBrain?

RankBrain is a form of Artificial intelligence which processes a large proportion of Google search queries, building on the previous core search platform update – Hummingbird. Like Hummingbird before it, RankBrain was created to interpret the intent and meaning behind user search queries and provide the most relevant results based on that contextualization.

In a previous post I created on RankBrain, soon after its inception, I commented that:

“RankBrain has a core function of effectively answering new search queries and understanding what results should appear for topics with limited, if any, historical data to base relevancy and therefore ranking on.”

What impact will RankBrain have on SEO?

When you consider the main characteristics of RankBrain (examples below), ironically AI actually wants very humanistic signals to effectively work with.

RainkBrain features include:

  • Understanding
  • Interpreting
  • Context
  • Meaning
  • Limited historical data

To rank well with RankBrain in mind, you need to put your audience (real people) first.

Content needs to be created that is valuable to your niche, reflects your expertise, trust, and authority within the industry, and ideally, have a unique stance and clear purpose for being (outside of content for SEO).

Technically content should be marked up with schema (where appropriate), quick to access, readable by search engines, and perform on all devices and locations.

External trust (links, mentions) matter. These help RankBrain assess authority with limited data to go on.

When you think holistically about your website John Mueller put it well when he Tweeted:

Here is a guide I wrote on creating content with RankBrain in mind which I hope will also help with your practical next steps.

A new era of SEO and AI

The impact of Artificial Intelligence for search engine optimization goes much further than ticking the right boxes for RankBrain. AI, machine learning, intelligent algorithms and Google are a much bigger opportunity than this.

AI and machine learning empower digital marketing teams to:

  • Expand the scale at which we can gather, process, understand and act on data. Deep data and recombining data sets for new meaning and tactical marketing to SEO is a foundation for effectiveness in 2018 onwards.  
  • Deliver new and exciting insights from existing and ever-changing data sets. For me personally, it is the ability for AI and machine learning to tell me something that I didn’t know which excites me the most. Having Apollo Insights tell me “did you know about this new opportunity?” rather than me always asking the question and looking for the answer in a typically human and inefficient way, supports creativity, business advantage, and customer success.
  • Understand and personalize peoples experiences online. Whether this is the use of chatbots to expedite access to information and expertise, or tailored content creation and delivery leveraging audience and personal insights (or something else completely), we are in an age of high expectations and personalization.
  • Predict the future by using data forecasting and other machine learning predictive modeling techniques. Be it seasonal trends, declining performance, or projected growth patterns on topics and landing pages, this type of marketing insight help SEO experts to prioritize focus, make the most out of potential and new opportunity, and react to threats before they materialize.
  • Automate many things and free up manual labor so that the experts can focus on expert actions and human interactions rather than get bogged down and swamped under with spreadsheets and human processing of computer tasks.
  • Provide advanced analytical expertise that shares its knowledge and insights without the need for people to learn the minutia. This can speed up experts acting on the insight rather than spending a vast majority of their time looking for it (often without success and fuelled by historical bias).

Practical examples of AI in the travel sector

To help contextualize some of the varied approaches and applications of AI to SEO and the wider marketing industry, here are some tips, insights, and snippets from a recent blog post the company I work for (Vertical Leap) created discussing AI in the travel industry.

  • The AI chatbot and concierge boom – chatbots are the perfect accompaniment to websites and support teams. AI chatbots and automated concierge services can help with; places to visit, bookings, set and send travel reminders and document storage.
  • Enriching the travel planning stageStudies have shown that the typical one of the most enjoyable part of holidays is the planning stage. With increasingly complex user journeys and more touchpoints in the user conversion funnel, AI and machine learning help SEO experts identify and act on user needs, intent and making the key stages of their information seeking and buying process faster, more effective and ultimately more fun.
  • Empowering people to act faster – with access to automated insights travelers can see the latest exchange rates, speak with virtual expert advisors and unlock currency markets within a few clicks.
  • Optimising for AI – A key focus is an awareness of where AI gets it information and ensure your business is present in those sources. This includes; third-party directory listing platforms like Yell and Yelp, as well as the US having local searches powered by CitySearch, OpenTable, Yahoo! Local, Yelp and ReserveTravel. Another example of this relates to booking flights, where Google uses an ad system to get flight info and prices from Expedia and other online booking sites.

Conclusion

In this post, we have helped demystify Google and AI, explored RankBrain, and provided some practical insights into the approaches SEO agencies and experts can take by working with AI, machine learning, and intelligent algorithms.

Ultimately AI, Google, and SEO always come back to a few core factors, and the user remains paramount.

If you are creating an approach to SEO that reflects your audience needs, matches your expertise areas, and works with data to provide a comprehensive and thorough approach to delivering SEO (on a scale insurmountable without effective human/computer collaboration), then you are likely to be on the right track.

Lee Wilson on GoogleLee Wilson on LinkedinLee Wilson on Twitter
Lee Wilson
I’ve been leading digital marketing teams since the early 2000’s, and headed up the SEO department for a top 10 leading search and digital agency (VerticalLeap) from 2010 to present. In 2016, I had my first solely authored industry book published (Tactical SEO – the theory and practice of search marketing).
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