AI and SEO: What does the future hold?

Generative AI has the potential to upend the norms of how we interact with search.

If you’ve been paying attention to the business or tech news beats recently, you’ve probably picked up on the major trend of generative artificial intelligence. From the ability to write prompts at the click of a button to the apprehension around automated tech felt by some employees regarding their job security, AI is popular right now.

But one issue that most communications pros aren’t currently considering is how AI will impact SEO. We spoke with experts in both the comms and marketing fields to better understand what the path forward might look like.

The influx of generative AI and its impacts

Seeing as AI is poised to automate many functions of our day-to-day work lives in terms of informational input, it’s necessary to consider how this might impact how organizations interact with search data. With a recent report from the New York Times that search giant Google is devising ways to combat AI rivals, the SEO space took heed of this warning.

Fernando Angulo, senior market research manager at Semrush, echoed this sentiment, predicting that generative AI has the potential to usher in major changes to search, and pointed to some tangible examples.

“It may become harder for search engines to differentiate between human and AI-generated content, leading to changes in how they rank and evaluate content,” Angulo said. “As generative AI understands user intent better, SEO may focus more on natural language and conversational keywords. Automated content creation tools may become more prevalent, which may lead to lower-quality content that can harm your SEO strategy.”

James Fratzke, partner and head of client success at Fratzke Consulting, agreed with Angulo and added that content for and by humans is the most desirable at this point on the AI timeline.

“I think as human beings, we’re going to be able to tell if there is poorly generated content showing up in our searches because of an AI and filter that out,” he said.

“People aren’t going to want to interact with poorly done content. I think you’re going to see that impact the search results — and that’ll cause us to see more human-generated content dominating those top three positions on the first page of a search.”

The comms approach

One of the biggest implications of AI doesn’t directly have to do with what its technical capabilities are,  but how we talk about and interact with it. With SEO making up a big part of comms and marketing strategies, AI is bound to stir up some conversations on how it’ll change things for both fields.

According to Fratzke, AI isn’t going to replace the thoughtfulness that comes from human beings, and communicators should take care to inform their teams of this.

“AI is a tool that’s best used in addition to human-centric thought and strategy, rather than instead of it,” Fratzke said. “It can’t ever fully replace a comms or marketing department, or automate how you work with SEO.”

He added that AI can be a great starting point for teams to create general comms or SEO strategies, but that its usage is best kept as a tool for outlining or general ideation.

“AI is a great tool for structure. It can take a lot of data or other information and split it up into digestible blocks that can be interpreted by a person on a comms or marketing team,” Fratzke said.

“But as communicators, if we’re looking to share a story with the world about our core messages or how people can find us on search, AI probably isn’t the best tool to use throughout that process. We still need people who can tell stories.”

The path forward

With AI advancing at the rate it has over the recent months, it’s worth asking what lies ahead. While there are still many unknowns, Fratzke thinks that there will be short-term gains to be had by those that focus primarily on AI in search, SEO is still going to be done best by people who have a deep knowledge of their organization and those seeking it out.

“Search engines are still going to reward content that is valuable and thoughtful,” he said. “My bet is that brands and organizations that put effort into human-centric content will continue to win in SEO, and AI will become a supporting tool in those efforts.”

Sean Devlin is an editor at Ragan Communications. In his spare time he enjoys Philly sports, a good pint and ’90s trivia night.


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