Can AI Make SEO More Human?

Why is AI Important?

According to chief envisioning officer at Microsoft, “AI is the most important technology that anybody on the planet is working on today.”

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And in many ways, it is. Consider its impact on search engine results thanks to Google’s AI powered algorithm, RankBrain.

RankBrain is Google’s AI to Build Page Ranking

RankBrain is an AI program that Google launched in 2015 to make search results more relevant. If the program sees a search query that it isn’t familiar with, it can guess which words have similar meanings and filter results accordingly. As a result, searches are now more unique.

RankBrain is important for digital marketers and entrepreneurs since it serves as a benchmark on how Google ranks pages.  Unfortunately, the existence of RankBrain is making SEO professionals believe that they can achieve the same results by fooling the algorithm with automated content from AI driven software.

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At this point, it’s important to keep in mind that Google considers RankBrain as the third most important ranking factor. The first two are backlinks and content. SEO practitioners who think that focusing on the AI aspect will help them rank well are therefore, mistaken.

What AI Is and What It’s Not

In general, Artificial Intelligence is the capability of a machine to imitate human behavior.

But keep in mind, the purpose of AI is to imitate human behavior, not copy it completely. So, contrary to what some SEO service providers would have you believe, an AI program can’t be used to create SEO campaigns. For instance, it can’t completely mimic how we use human reason and cognition to say, write an insightful article or provide answers to specific questions on an online forum.

You Can’t use AI to Write an Article

SEO service providers would disagree by citing various instances where AI is being used to do just that. But if you look again, you will realize a pattern in the adoption. Consider the software’s application in journalism. The industry currently uses Artificial Intelligence to sort through data and present it in a coherent way, not write entire posts.

In a post by HBR, professor at New York University Sam Bowman argues that creating systems that can “form an abstract idea or a set of facts to a long-form coherent text” isn’t plausible at the moment. As an example, consider the Quill platform from Narrative Science which can put together short stories and reports from raw data. But software like this one can’t replace manual content creation.

AI is Not Intelligent Enough to Answer Questions

Online forums are useful because they give people access to industry experts who draw on their experience to answer questions. For example, developers use Apple’s online forum to get in touch with the brand’s engineers if they run into problems while creating apps for its platform.

In a perfect world, AI can be like Iron Man’s intelligent assistant Jarvis, who:

  • Searches what people are talking about online
  • Writes articles on these subjects
  • Answers and engages with people as they read and comment on it

But the technology hasn’t advanced far enough to create platforms that can do all of this yet, even if SEO practitioners who (claim to) offer these platforms say otherwise.

To illustrate, consider NLG (Natural Language Generation), a subfield of AI that can automatically turn data into human friendly prose. However, NLG driven platforms can’t produce prose on their own. To create content with software (e.g, Wordsmith), you have to write a template and upload data. The ‘content’ the software produces instantly sounds like it’s from a soulless machine, not a person.

AI Software is a Collection of Analytical Applications

AI driven platforms today don’t rely on reason to produce results, but analytics. Facebook uses AI to detect word patterns that indicate a fake news story. Journalists and business owners rely on Quill’s ability to make sense of data and make it sound more human. And it even fails to do that completely.

Don’t be Fooled

We are still several years behind a time when AI software will be intelligent enough to write insightful articles by itself. Some SEO practitioners would make you think otherwise, but there are ways to call their bluff.

For instance, if you look at SEO service providers who offer “intelligent” services, you will see that their services are run by people, not machines. Blogs are written by copywriters and linking strategies are created by SEO professionals, as well. Don’t be afraid to call them out on it.

How AI Can Benefit Online Marketing

At this point, you might be asking yourself if AI can help you create SEO campaigns that give pages more chances to rank well on intelligent search engines.

The answer is a definite ‘no’ if they only rely on AI software to do all the work, and ‘yes’ if you focus on factors other than RankBrain to improve your online marketing efforts.

Keep in mind, the job of a search engine is to evaluate and understand how people evaluate a page. The more “human” it thinks, the more effective it will be.  What actions would a person launching new business take to ensure that it shows up on popular search results? It’s questions like these that digital marketers should be asking themselves now rather than focusing on AI as an autonomous content generating tool.

On that note, here is how business owners should really be optimizing their SEO efforts today:

  • Focus on Quality Content and Relevant Keywords: Content will always be king. Artificial Intelligence helps search engines determine the relevancy of a page according to the queries it targets. So your online marketing efforts should focus on user intent rather than the role of AI.
  • Think Like a Business Owner: If you want anything done right, you do it yourself. Instead of relying on automated AI driven SEO tools to generate ideas, ask yourself questions. What would it take for people to read your content? What will you have to do to make this content rank well for the audience you are targeting?
  • Relevant Keywords: Gone are the days when it took a few well placed links and keywords in a meta tag to make a page rank well on Google. Thanks to AI, search engines are more adept at analyzing content like people do.
  • Use a Conversational Tone: One of the most important factors in optimizing for RankBrain is to create content that sounds human. So focus your attention on providing a good user experience. Content produced by an automated content generation tool sounds mechanical and will only confuse RankBrain. For a start, read your content aloud. Will it sound good to someone else?

Business owners who want their SEO efforts to be successful should understand how AI thinks and where it falls short in mimicking human behavior.