Artificial intelligence (AI) is revolutionizing the way we interact with technology — including the landscape of search engine optimization (SEO).
From predictive analytics and personalized search results to natural language processing and image recognition, AI is used by SEO specialists to drive innovation in the digital marketing industry.
But AI alone does not drive innovation or excellence — it’s the human behind it.
To get a practical, hands-on understanding of AI in the SEO world today, we sat down with Senior SEO Analyst Russ Allen from (human)x. Allen shared his experiences with Google’s automated systems, AI as a brainstorming partner, and laughing off ChatGPT mishaps.
This blog is the first in a three-part series called “The Human + The Tool” on the real human applications AI with subject matter experts at (human)x in SEO, user experience design, and market research.
*Author’s note: This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.
Q: How would you characterize the relationship between AI and SEO?
RA: Google is reliant on artificial intelligence and automation because the algorithm is comprised of all these various systems. They feed this output to the search engine results page for users. There’s nobody back there pulling the strings, there’s no actual wizard behind the curtain.
People all over the world think that Google has confidential information about them, and that’s how they provide such relevant results. But the truth is that human beings are not as unique and special as we think. We have behaviors that are highly predictable, and we all share these predictable behaviors with one another.
Google can use AI and automation to provide results to us that are so relevant and perfectly attuned to our own behaviors that we think it’s conspiratorial.
Q: What sort of challenges have you seen in the SEO world with the rise in popularity of AI?
As soon as ChatGPT became available to the public, a lot of SEO specialists were obsessed. There is a section of the SEO community that is not doing what I do. What those people do is create a niche website and start writing a ton of SEO-optimized content using ChatGPT to rank high. Then they have AdSense installed on their website, and they serve those ads to people who visit their website. Then they get income from those ads. Sometimes they’ll have affiliate links on their website, which link to like Amazon products or other affiliate websites, and then they make income off that.
These people spend all day on the internet, essentially creating the type of impersonal, filler content that Google wishes they didn’t. Google wants content to be driven by humans who care about what they’re writing about, who are involved in the products, who have experience. Yet these people find an opportunity. It’s very capitalistic, like they’re finding an opportunity, a gap, and they’re trying to fill it and monetize it. When you speak with those people or listen to those people, it’s not about the quality and trustworthiness of the information, or ethics. They don’t care about any of those issues. It’s 100% how to monetize it for passive income.
There are consequences to taking these low-quality shortcuts. But being that Google is modeled after this machine learning in a lot of automated systems, there aren’t as many human content moderators, or human quality raters as would be necessary to investigate all these malicious actors. Because of that, we saw an infiltration of parasitic behavior where these bad actors get in the thick of it, but they’re not helping our industry in any way at all.
Q: What sort of opportunities have you seen in the SEO world with the rise of AI?
RA: I immediately think of scalable strategies. Our client U-Pull-&-Pay is an example. We are creating programmatic pages at scale for their website. We are building locational subpages targeting their two main business lines — used auto parts and junk car buying. Right now, our team is focused on ranking for local queries specific to Phoenix. We will begin rolling these pages out for all locations.
There’s a lot of opportunities to take a good idea that would normally require copywriter, content strategist, developer, SEO specialist, you name it, to begin to envision its possibilities. But you can roleplay on your own with ChatGPT until you get a product that fits your expectations. AI allows you to take a simple concept and grow it to a huge idea faster than you have before.
AI can fill skill and knowledge gaps. I am a nonlinear creative thinker and I always have been. I love art, reading, and playing music. And when I got into this world of marketing, I realized I’m analytical and critical. Those behavioral traits of mine really lend themselves to what I do for a living. However, I have always had a bit of a personal deficiency in math and that extends itself towards understanding code or working with Excel. I don’t have to ask anybody for help anymore with the help of ChatGPT and the AIPRM add-on, which helps with prompts.
I’m the guy who sits and thinks and I’ve got a lot of great ideas, but they’re not always organized. They might be a little crazy. ChatGPT is my first audience and my little personal assistant. It’s my brainstorming partner. And in a lot of ways, it’s really become a second brain to me.
But the human element is still an extremely important part of the process. Because you have to check it. It is often wrong. It is often confidently wrong.
Q: Everyone is racing to market with their AI platform, where are we focusing our efforts today? ChatGPT, Bard? Why?
RA: Bard is already old hat. Bing’s AI is interesting, but Bing only has a 3% market share among search engines. I am focused on Google’s Search Generative Experience (SGE).
SGE is an experimental tool that will provide a new search experience. It’s very new tech so we’re just starting to use it for strategy for clients, like U-Pull-&-Pay. It is basically ChatGPT but on Google, similar to their Bard product but not publicly available yet.
Q: How has (human)x started educating clients on the benefits of AI?
RA: Education is interesting. We are being cautious and reassuring. We are not uploading any clients’ first-party data from Google Analytics or Search Console. We are only using content that ChatGPT or web crawlers can already access, like main content, like a blog article. We are only uploading third-party data from SEMrush or other sources that are available to anyone.
We keep clients informed on developments, but we don’t just hop on the hype train. We experiment on our own, and then bring forth any relevant ideas to relevant clients.
Q: What advice would you give to an SEO specialist starting to use AI in their work?
You’re going to spend a ton of time trying to do something, it’s going to break, it’s going to fail, and you’re going to have to troubleshoot. You’ll probably have to ask coworkers for assistance. If you just stay lighthearted and laugh about it, it can be very fun.
Remember that this is an emergent technology and it’s very imperfect. Because it’s imperfect, because it’s still in development, and because it’s the Wild West, it can be daunting. I encourage people to be light-hearted in their approach. And if it gets frustrating and SEO specialists can’t get the solution, they want out of it, my advice is to take a break. Think, think, and think, then come back and apply your new perspective.
You can’t obsess over AI. If the obsession is, “I’m going to use this for everything,” you’re just going to forget all the good stuff about it. Have fun and goof around with these AI tools.
AI is a mirror of us. Don’t forget the holistic nature of life because if AI is just a reflection of that, and then all you use it for a serious business, you’re really missing out.
AI + SEO with (human)x
Russ Allen’s hands-on insights show a nuanced understanding of cutting-edge AI technology. Here is what we learned:
- AI, machine learning, and automation are essential to the functionality of search engines like Google.
- With AI, SEO specialists can scale projects and test new ideas quickly.
- AI can act as a brainstorming partner, a personal assistant, and a bridge for knowledge and skill gaps.
- Because the technology is still new and developing, errors are to be expected. Always double-check your AI-generated information.
- Our team is careful with what client information we share with AI.
- Google’s Search Generative Experience (SGE) is a promising, up-and-coming technology that the (human)x team has invested time and energy into developing for our clients.
- Your experience with AI shouldn’t stifle your imagination. Try to maintain a lighthearted and creative effort.
AI offers new opportunities for innovation not just in SEO, but in user experience design and market research. In our next installment, we will cover AI and UX with Associate UX Producer Jake Zastrow. Our final blog in this three-part series will discuss AI and market research with our market research specialists Dr. Timothy Sauer and Eric Roland.
If you want to learn more about using AI in your SEO strategy, (human)x can help. We blend cutting-edge technology with experienced, creative experts in the field. Check out our website to learn more about our AI and SEO capabilities!