S-E-Over? What implications does AI have for SEO?

Business Insights

The bedrock of SEO is undergoing seismic changes, driven by the unstoppable force of AI. While traditional SEO (content and links) practices remain core, AI is rapidly changing how we approach everyday tasks such as researching or planning. The longer-term implications of AI in SEO are far more significant, with the very real possibility that search engines are going to become irrelevant. Here Katie Chinn, Head of SEO at Sherbet Donkey, an award-winning digital marketing agency, explores the impact of AI on SEO, its potential downsides, and the future of organic search in a world increasingly intertwined with AI tools. 

AI: Efficiency multiplier for SEO 

One of the most significant contributions of AI to current SEO is its ability to streamline workflows. Laborious tasks such as keyword research, a time-consuming process, have been revolutionised by AI tools. These tools analyse vast amounts of search data, allowing quick identification of relevant keywords with higher search volume and lower competition. An example is Semrush, which leverages AI to offer keyword suggestions that go beyond basic keyword searches, uncovering long-tail keywords and user search intent. This allows SEO marketers to target a wider audience while ensuring content aligns with user needs. 

AI is also making its mark on content creation. AI writing assistants can generate drafts, identify content gaps, and optimise existing content for search engines. While there are many SEO marketers that would never let AI-generated content anywhere near their brand, it’s undeniable that AI is being used, very effectively, to generate content that ranks well (remember the infamous Exceljet SEO Heist of 2023?). For long term results, it’s always important to remember that AI-generated content should be treated as a starting point, not a replacement for human creativity and editorial expertise.

The double-edged sword: AI and spammy content 

While AI offers significant benefits, its capabilities are already being used in bad faith by those looking to make a quick buck. The ease and speed with which AI can generate content can lead to an increase in low-quality, SEO-focused content designed to manipulate search results rather than inform users. A recent study found that over 10% of Google results point to AI-generated content, and this is something that Google itself is acutely aware of.  

The search behemoth is constantly evolving its algorithms to identify and penalise such practices. Google completed a major update in April 2024 that it estimated resulted in a 45% reduction in “low-quality, unoriginal content” - this update was aimed directly at AI-generated content. Although Google’s AI content detection is keeping up with the skill of AI copywriting, this doesn’t mean that it penalises purely for the use of AI. Google is essentially sticking to its guns of ‘relevant content that the user finds helpful’. There’s nothing inherently wrong with using AI, if users find your website useful, or interesting. It’s the spam that Google is going after. However, spam style AI content is likely what you would get if you submitted a brief into ChatGPT and copy and pasted the output directly onto your site. On the other hand, if you undertook a huge desktop research piece and had a lot of data to sift through and then used AI to help pick out key talking points this could be helpful and timesaving. 

The Future of Search: LLMs and beyond 

The ongoing emergence of large language models (LLMs) like ChatGPT and Microsoft Copilot into everyday life throws another fascinating twist into the story of SEO. These powerful AI systems are capable of not only understanding human language but also acting as information finders, potentially changing the way people interact with the internet. Instead of relying solely on search engines, visiting several pages until they find the content they want, users might directly query LLMs for information, bypassing traditional search results altogether and receiving a more conversational approach to finding and understanding information. 

This shift presents both challenges and opportunities for digital marketers. While the playing field may change, the core principles of SEO – understanding user intent and providing valuable content – will remain paramount. The focus may shift towards optimising content for discoverability by LLMs or other AI tools, ensuring information is readily accessible and comprehensive. It’s hard to imagine Google Search will be going anywhere soon, but how users find information online is changing. Gen Z is famously favouring social channels as search engines, over Google and millennials (alongside their Gen Z counterparts) are mostly adopting AI tools and LLMs at a faster rate than other age groups. 

The human touch: The indispensable ingredient 

Despite the advancements in AI, the human touch remains essential in SEO. AI tools can analyse data and identify patterns, but they cannot replicate the human ability to understand brand voice, company goals, and target audience nuances. SEO professionals with a deep understanding of your business can leverage AI tools to create effective strategies tailored to your specific needs.

In conclusion, AI is transforming SEO, offering increased efficiency and the promise to do more with less. However, it's crucial to remember that AI is a tool, not a replacement for human expertise.  

Check out Sherbet Donkey for resources on how to boost your SEO and marketing.