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AI and the SEO Connection: A Quick Primer

You can’t talk about SEO and artificial intelligence without mentioning Google RankBrain, an AI program that helps process search inquiries. This AI is trained by data, which helps it understand patterns and behavior to determine whether people like your content and whether search engines should send you more traffic. But what does this mean for marketers and SEO?

Artificial intelligence takes search much deeper, because RankBrain looks at search results differently. According to Greg Corrado, a senior research scientist at Google:

RankBrain uses artificial intelligence to embed vast amounts of written language into mathematical entities — called vectors — that the computer can understand. If RankBrain sees a word or phrase it isn’t familiar with, the machine can make a guess as to what words or phrases might have a similar meaning and filter the result accordingly, making it more effective at handling never-before-seen search queries.

Google says that RankBrain has become the third most important factor in the search engine’s overall algorithm for ranking web pages. That’s because it can analyze a search query and return relevant content — regardless of whether the keyword phrases are included in the search. So, what should you do differently to enhance SEO and engineer B2B content for bots and AI?

Here are a few tips:

  1. Create better snippets. Ensure that your page titles and meta descriptions stand out and entice the user to click for more. When possible, craft content that is perfect for being featured in the “snippet” position in search results (more on this in a minute).
  2. Rethink keywords. Yulia Khansvyarova, head of digital marketing at SEMrush, said in a recent article on Search Engine Land, “Stop creating pages or content tailored to only one keyword or keyword phrase. For maximum effect, try composing your semantic kernel of both your targeted keywords, as well as their variations and related keywords, and additional words that most commonly appear in the same context as your targeted keywords.”
  3. Relate to your customers. Surprisingly, AI means that you need to write for people, rather than for machines. Creating content that sounds human keeps readers engaged and on the page and on your website longer.
  4. Optimize with RankBrain in mind. In the past, you could follow a set of rules to optimize content, but AI is changing this. You can’t use a checklist anymore, but instead need to optimize with RankBrain in mind. Sometimes this means that you need fresh new content, or in-depth content, but, regardless, you must always think about the readers’ needs and what they’ll like best.
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AI has fueled changes in how search engines operate and in SEO, but what about intelligent assistants — is there anything special you should be doing to be found more easily by them and to drive greater results? Well … absolutely. But first you must think about the new way your prospects are searching.

Artificial Assistants and Search Queries

The use of intelligent assistants is transforming the way people are using search technology, and it starts with two major categories:

Facts and information. You might ask Alexa: “How fast does XYZ’s hardware run?”, and she would read an answer pulled from search results. The words a searcher typically uses during the voice search, however, are different from those typed into Google as an inquiry. As a result, this opens up a major opportunity (more on this in a minute).

Local guides. When searching, you might ask a virtual assistant: “Who are the SaaS firms within a 50-mile radius of San Francisco?” The assistant conducts a quick inquiry and returns results that are the best fit. This, too, is a great SEO opportunity.

For both of the above situations, this technology often pulls from “featured snippets,” which appear before all other results at the top of the page. When your content secures this position, you automatically get featured during many voice command searches fueled by AI assistants. But achieving this coveted position takes deliberate strategy and effort.

Ranking for Featured Snippets

When ranking for snippets, Google detects pages that answer a user’s specific question and then displays the top result as a snippet in featured search results. For example, if I search: “What is AI in marketing?” I receive the following response:

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Artificial intelligence marketing (AIM) is a form of direct marketing leveraging database marketing techniques as well as AI concept and model such as machine learning and Bayesian Network. The main difference resides in the reasoning part which suggests it is performed by computer and algorithm instead of human.

The text above is the “Google snippet” and shows in the “0” position, which displays before all other search results.

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