For the last few years, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning have been the most important trends in… well, many areas, from scientific research and healthcare to art and manufacturing. Of course, marketing in general and search engine optimization (SEO) in particular also have been and will continue to be influenced by AI. This is not a passing fad – AI is very likely to determine the entire future of SEO and associated practices in a variety of ways.
Video and images
For a long time, search engines have been entirely text-based. Of course, video, audio, and images have played an essential role in online life (all the more so with the growth of average bandwidth). However, videos, audios, and images remain invisible to the search engines themselves – for now, optimizing them for SEO means equipping them with text descriptions and tags containing the most relevant keywords.
However, breakthroughs in AI and machine learning mean that very soon search engines will get smart enough to understand what has been the prerogative of humans: namely, audiovisual signals. This means they will be able to not only look at videos’ meta-tags but will be able to see and discern the videos’ contents and rank them accordingly. Cisco projects that video will constitute 82% of overall web traffic by 2022, which means it is growing in importance. This will also lead to the emergence of an entirely new category of video content creators who will specialize in creating SEO-optimized videos, the same way it happened with writers. Thus, we are likely to see a completely new kind of video dominate the market, for better or for worse. The same goes for images and other types of non-text content – which means that Pinterest and Instagram marketing will remain important, albeit in a somewhat different form than it exists.
Few things impress customers more than companies that put thought and effort into personalizing messages addressed to them. Once things like “You may also like” recommendations appeared, customers very quickly got used to having their messages personalized to a greater and greater extent. Local SEO is a growing field as marketers specialize in promoting a product or a service to people in a specific area. At the current level of technology, the potential development in this direction is limited – but we may have an answer in AI and machine learning. The more data a business collects, the more AI algorithms can help them make better future decisions, ideally leading to hyper-personalization – where every customer receives a personalized message aimed solely at themselves.
The first significant shift in search preferences happened when the number of mobile searches overcame desktop ones. Now we live in the middle of the next great shift – from text to voice search. It is estimated that by 2020, up to 50% of all searches will be voice searches – and it means the nature of search is going to change as well. Most text searches are made in a concise manner – e.g., “Boston sushi inexpensive.” However, when we deal with virtual assistants, we are more likely to be conversational, saying something like, “Siri, where can I get cheap sushi in Boston?” As voice searches get longer and more like a real conversation, AI will have to adapt to decipher them better and provide meaningful answers.
Black hat techniques
Black hat techniques aim at exploiting known flaws in search engine algorithms to ensure higher rankings instead of making websites more attractive and valuable for users. However, the smarter AI gets, the more likely they are to recognize those patterns and penalize the sites that use them. Thus far, we’ve seen an arms race between black hat SEO specialists and search engine programmers, but quite soon search engines will likely become smart enough to deal with them on their own, without human intervention, and the demand for underhanded tactics is likely to drop in favor of those that focus on content relevancy.
It is hard to predict how exactly AI and machine learning will change SEO, but one thing is certain – the change will come sooner rather than later. And it is best to be among the early adopters.
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