The future of SEO: Harnessing emotional intelligence in the age of AI
Written by Owner of Distl, David Metcalf
SEO has enjoyed constant evolution over the last 20 years largely due to advancements in big data and technology. The recent launch of ChatGPT has been a reminder the progress shows no sign of abating.
Despite the significant advancements in technology, there remains one critical area where machines cannot compete with humans: the ability to generate creativity, emotion, and imagination. As a result, these uniquely human qualities will play a vital role in driving successful SEO outcomes in the years to come.
It is inevitable that anything that can be automated, eventually will. Anything that doesn’t require human intervention will ultimately be done in some form by machines.
As Orwellian as all this sounds, it is a reality that offers a competitive advantage to SEOs prepared to think ahead.
The evolution of SEO
When I reflect on late 1990’s SEO, I am reminded how far we have come. Back then, rankings were achieved almost entirely with keywords stuffing and link building. The relative simplicity of the Google algorithm made results predictable and the process easy to replicate for any client.
In the years since, we have seen the algorithm grow more sophisticated and nuanced, yet infinitely more effective.
Updates like Panda, Penguin, Hummingbird, Pigeon, RankBrain, Medic, BERT and Helpful Content each created an initial groundswell of fear amongst the SEO community when launched. We would fixate on addressing the latest technical challenge and feeding the hungry algorithm beast.
Although each would impact client rankings (some positively, some negatively) in the fullness of time it is hard to argue that collectively they have strongly improved Google’s ability to deliver the best results to our search queries.
The guiding star that has driven this change has been Google’s focus on meeting the needs of its users.
While the wild-west style link building and keywords stuffing practices I mentioned earlier were completely acceptable at the time, they rarely ranked the best quality results and had little to do with the needs of users.
Compare this to today, when web pages are ranked on a sophisticated range of personal factors, fine-tuned to the needs and desires of users.
Evidence can be seen in Google’s E-E-A-T search raters guidelines. If you’re not familiar with these, it’s a 174-page document used by Google’s team of Quality Raters (real people!) to determine if the quality of a page aligns with its ranking. In turn, this information is used to drive perpetual improvement in the algorithm.
The four attributes of E-E-A-T (Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness) are what Google believe to be the pillars consumers use when making decisions. It is no coincidence that these are the same attributes we generally look for when making real world purchasing decisions.
E-E-A-T presents a clear case for the way Google prioritise human factors in determining the best pages to rank in the Search Engine Results Page (SERPs).
User Experience (UX)
More proof of the way rankings reflect the unique needs of humans can be seen in the way website UX impacts SEO.
Recently, Google introduced Page Experience and Core Web Vitals, a set of metrics that measure real-world user experience for loading performance, interactivity, and visual stability of the page as ranking factors.
While website load speed has traditionally been a crucial technical factor for ranking, Google’s recognition of a wider range of user experience elements, such as layout, design, navigation, and interaction signals, highlights their emphasis on the intricacies of creating a user experience that connects with your desired audience.
Some of these factors are of a logic nature, however the creativity and insights needed to create the best user experiences and identify the one-percenters, require the experience and skill of a UX expert.
Unless you live a hermitic existence, you’ll have heard about ChatGPT.
ChatGPT is a powerful artificial intelligence (AI) driven natural language processing tool that uses deep learning to generate human-like content.
I’d say the operative word is human-like. While its goal is to mimic human thinking, it is still a machine lacking the ability to empathise with emotions.
As SEO’s grapple with the most effective way to harness the massive power of AI generated content in their workflow, it is important to remember that tools like ChatGPT are equally available to everyone. Sure, there is an opportunity to use it in a more efficient way than other SEOs do, but it offers no strategic advantage. Suggesting ChatGPT as a strategy to achieve results is like saying running shoes are your strategy to win a marathon.
Brand personality and SEO
Back to the ‘human-like’ content creation of ChatGPT.
If you have ever been moved by a film, painting, book or conversation, you’ll understand the immense power of human emotion and personality to influence us. We are by nature complex beings affected by subtle nuances. Over the course of our lives our experiences continue to develop our ability to read the myriad intricate cues that move us at an emotional level.
So, while AI has mind boggling power to organise information and predict our thought patterns, they lack human emotion.
If AI generated content growth at the rate predicted, the internet will eventually be flooded with an avalanche of homogeneous content that may be big on accuracy, but small on soul.
You might ask, what has this got to do with SEO?
With more and more information at our disposal, the greatest differentiation we are left with are uniquely human characteristics like personality. Content and strategy that is driven by real people, real life experience that is deeply differentiated.
The power of brand
Which leads me to the true x-factor.
Branding is the art and science of creating memorable, differentiated identities that build trust and loyalty with their audience. It’s how we connect the head and heart of your business, with the head and the heart of your audience.
It’s why people will queue for hours to pay full price for a new Apple product. Or why some people won’t think twice about spending $1,000’s on a Louis Vuitton bag.
Loyalty like this doesn’t happen by accident. And it’s not machine generated.
Great brands are strategically created by humans who understand other humans.
A business brand purpose built with a strategic understanding of its own identity and the needs of its customers will drive increased engagement, conversion and loyalty. It stands to reason that Google will reward good branding with improved SEO performance.
The future of SEO
There’s no doubt big data and tech has gifted us all (SEOs included) significant opportunities and efficiency improvements.
But at the end of the day, SEO is as much art as science. The most game changing results are generated by experienced experts, using efficient processes and tools like big data and AI, who can understand and communicate their clients uniquely differentiated position in a way that engages and moves their audience to action.
Here at Distl, we’ve built our entire business model on the belief that a building unstoppable brands requires more than keyword stuffing or link building.
In a world where machines will increasingly level the playing field, it’s human empathy that will prove our biggest differentiator and the game changer that no machine will ever deliver.
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