In this episode of Talk Marketing Made Easy, John McDougall and John Maher talk about how AI affects SEO. They explain why site owners shouldn’t necessarily post AI-generated content, and then, they talk about different ways to leverage AI to improve content.
The bottom line for marketers — AI won’t take your job, but someone who knows how to leverage the power of AI, might.
John Maher: Hi, I am John Maher and welcome to Talk Marketing Made Easy. I’m here today with John McDougall and today we’re talking about how to avoid drops in rankings and win with AI and SEO in 2023. Welcome, John.
John McDougall: How you doing?
Staying Up to Date on SEO and AI
John Maher: Good, thanks. Yeah. So we’re talking about AI. It’s a huge topic right now. What the heck is going on with AI and SEO and how can people stay up to date with changes?
John McDougall: It really is a massive shift. I think it may be as big as since the beginning of the internet. Elon Musk is on the news warning that AI could be a threat to civilization. He said he met with Larry Page and it seems funny, but at the same time it’s got some wild implications.
He met with Larry Page and years ago they were friends and they would hang out and talk about AI late at night. And Larry basically was kind of mocking Elon, he called him a specie-ist for being overly concerned just about people. We need to create this God of a computer that’s the ultimate Star Trek computer that you can just talk to and that has all these incredible skills.
So it is changing all the time. Google is trying to basically take the entire information in the universe and squeeze it into this little black box. And so that can be great, but it could have risks in terms of SEO that we’re really focused on staying up to date on this stuff. I think Search Engine Land is the simplest place to go. There are others like Search Engine Round Table and Search Engine Journal that are great. A lot of good places.
But Search Engine Land is one of my favorites. And especially get on their email list and every day take a look at what the conversation is because they’re talking about just how much SEO is going to shift because of this, because of AI tools. Now, it remains to be seen if that’s going to really help SEOs or take your job. There’s a lot of stuff going into it, but again, to stay up to date, check out Search Engine Land.
John Maher: Yeah, there’s like new articles almost every day on AI stuff on there.
John McDougall: Yeah, it’s crazy. Especially at the turn of the year here, it was nuts. It seemed like every day just people blowing up. How some people are saying like, oh, it’s amazing. Just pump out content with the push of a button. And others are like, wait a minute, that doesn’t make sense. So yeah, there’s two sides to the argument, which we’ll get into in a minute.
How AI Affects Search Engine Results
John Maher: Right. What are some of the ways that AI is affecting search results now?
John McDougall: Yeah, I think where this is headed is that instead of only getting regular search results, which if you go back to the 90s when we first started doing this, it was 10 blue links. A search engine was just a library of, just like flipping open the yellow pages. and then they added ads, and I’m like, hey John, go run ads. And you were running Yahoo ads at the very beginning before Google Ads, right?
John Maher: Right.
John McDougall: What were they, five cents a click then?
John Maher: Yeah, Generally five, 10 cents. If something got up to 20 or 25 cents a click, you were like, oh my gosh, that’s so expensive. It was a different time.
John McDougall: And we were like, what the hell are these ads doing at the top of the search results?
John Maher: Right.
John McDougall: That changed things and pissed us off a bit as original SEOs doing it early on. But now it’s like there’s map listings, there’s Google preferred, Image Carousel, there’s all kinds of stuff at the top of Google search. But I think if you go to Bing right now, you can try the Microsoft Edge version, because I think they invested 10 billion in open AI and ChatGPT essentially.
So Bing’s trying to get leverage to compete better with Google. And so this is actually working a bit. Their rollout was far more successful than Google’s rollout of Bard, their AI. Even though technically some of the things that made open AI possible are from Google. So it’s not like, oh, Google’s just going to get crushed because Bing came out with this fancy thing. Google has, I think at one point it was two thirds of the world’s AI talent and Elon Musk was like, that’s not cool. We can’t have this life changing civilization changing tool, 75% in the hands of one company.
So anyway, Bing’s the most dramatic way to see the shift in results. So you can go to Bing and as an alternative to regular Bing search, you can click and open Microsoft Edge and do more like what you’d see in ChatGPT. Where you can just, instead of searching a search engine, you’re using a chat prompt and you hit go and you say, what are some good HVAC installation companies in Boston? And it spits back a few. And then it says, if this isn’t enough information for you, try a Bing search for HVAC installation companies Boston. And you can click that link and go to regular old Bing.
AI Search Suggestions From Bing and Bard
John Maher: Right. So it’s giving you search suggestions.
John McDougall: Yeah. And then it gives you links to those websites that it’s recommending. Now, personally for me, I don’t find that that useful because I’m going to do a lot of research no matter what I do. Maybe I’m an over researcher. Maybe that’s what made me get way into SEO when it first came out. It was like, oh, I love researching, this is so unusual. But anything I’d buy or do, organic gardening to SEO or hiring someone to put in an HVAC system in my house, a wall mounted air conditioner or whatever, there’s no way on earth I’m just going to take their word for it that the three that they give me are the ones to call. I’m going to go to their website. So I don’t know that there’s a huge benefit for that kind of search to just getting a quick answer and then getting some links like a search result. I’d actually prefer the old Google or Bing for those kind of searches.
Now there are going to be some searches where it makes more sense, how to make french toast or how long to boil an egg or something. Sometimes you see those zero click search results at the top of Google, instant answers or things like that. Sometimes for some percent of searches. I think that makes total sense. What I’d kind of like to see is, yeah, sure, you go to Google or Bing and you have an option to search regularly or search chat style.
And I think I would like, again, to think that the future is more where you have more choices. And SEO has made it so people are creating this long in-depth content to try and rank good and it does work. But sometimes you get kind of pissed because you’re like, I just want a quick answer for God’s sakes. What’s this long crazy page?
So I think right now it’s just too early to see it fully because I signed up for the wait list when the Bard waitlist happened, I think it was March 21st. So I just went there, bard.google.com, and it’s like ChatGPT. You can just search and you get quick answers and then you can go to other websites like the Bing thing. Bing has already made the move when you’re searching Bing to push it on you to go to this other interface.
John Maher: Right. There’s a link there for try the new Bing or try the chat feature.
What Do People Want: Quick Answers or Research?
John McDougall: Yep. So who knows? I’d have to read up even more to see or I don’t even know if anyone has an exact crystal ball. When will you be able to search Google or Bing and it’s all just fully integrated and you’re going back and forth? And to what percent does that remove people’s desire to go research more?
Again, just personally for me, I just can’t see taking some robot’s word for it every time and just like, oh, ask something. Except for things where searches require just a quick answer.
John Maher: I mean now they’re kind of separate. Like you said, you go to Bing, you can do the regular Bing search or you can go to the chat feature and do the ChatGPT type of search. And then Bard is the same way. You can go to Google, you can get regular search results or you can go to Google Bard and you can do the type of ChatGPT AI search.
And I think that right now you just need to know, well, what kinds of questions are just search result type of questions? And what type of questions am I asking where it would be helpful to have the AI? So if you’re just looking for top HVAC contractors and in the Boston area, that might just be a regular type of Google search. But if you are saying, hey, I have all of these drink ingredients, what types of cocktails can I make with these ingredients that I have?
John McDougall: That’s a good example of that.
John Maher: That’s like a ChatGPT type of AI kind of answer that a regular Google search just isn’t going to give you a good answer for.
John McDougall: Yeah.
John Maher: I think one of Bing’s examples was give me a three course menu for my guests who are vegetarians. You wouldn’t necessarily get great results from a regular old Bing search or Google search for that. But the AI could do a potentially good job with that.
So right now it’s knowing, well, what am I really looking for? What type of help do I need? So do I need a regular search or do I need a ChatGPT type of AI search? But you’re saying eventually you’re seeing that it might end up being integrated into regular search.
John McDougall: I can’t imagine it’s not going to be, it’s just way too useful. It’s crazy useful.
John Maher: Right.
John McDougall: ChatGPT is amazing.
The Future of Search in the Age of AI
John Maher: But maybe it’s a case where Google or Bing, they’re going to have to parse your question and maybe it’s Google deciding whether or not the answer is more appropriate for the AI or whether or not the answer is more appropriate to just give you search results.
John McDougall: I mean, the way Microsoft Edge is doing it now with their version of it is, yeah, they’re just giving, every question you ask gives you a ChatGPT style version of a quick answer. And then it gives you more links. But yeah, maybe in the future it directs you, hey, that search is more you’re going to want to see.
John Maher: It’s more of an AI question.
John McDougall: And just one other quick thing is that AI has been part of Google for a long time. I mean, they use AI in regular organic search algorithms, but I think when we’re calling it AI, we’re referring to this new thing of ChatGPT style.
Using AI to Improve SEO
John Maher: Where it’s giving you an answer as opposed to just search results from the index of, here’s some websites to go get an answer to your question. So what are some ways that AI can be used right now to help improve your SEO strategies?
John McDougall: One of the top things for me is to create a table of contents for an e-book or a book that is also a topic cluster. So if I say I had a company approach me, actually my brother who’s a NetZero expert.
So I said, write a table of contents for a book about NetZero for businesses and ChatGPT instantly comes back with this amazing table of contents, really well-structured and thought out. And then my brother and I just can… We finally tuned it and then we grabbed the very first chapter where it had some bullet points and then we went back in and did the next favorite thing of mine is to ask ChatGPT or this type of tool to create podcast questions. So the first chapter was maybe getting started with NetZero or how do you get started or something.
So it’s like, okay, write a series of six podcast questions about getting started with NetZero energy reduction or whatever. And then bang, it instantly comes back with these six questions. Sometimes they’re like two-part questions, I like to cut them in half and keep them a little shorter. So when you’re asking someone and you’re looking at your paper of podcast questions and notes-
John Maher: Yeah. They’re very thorough.
John McDougall: Yeah, they’re very thorough and multi-part, but you can cut them down. But I think the good news is very quickly, especially if you know what keywords you’re going after, like “NetZero, consulting services” or something, you can then steer the tool to give you an awesome table of contents, podcast questions for each chapter in the book or e-book. And then when you’re answering questions like we are right now, who cares if AI created the question.
John Maher: Right.
Writing Meta Descriptions, Making Calculators, and More With AI
John McDougall: That’s not old SEO, oh, well we don’t want any duplicate content. Well, one, the question prompt is not the thing. It’s like all this stuff you and I talking right now is original content where we have insight. So those are good things to use ChatGPT style tools for. And then meta descriptions, I will never write another meta description. They’re kind of boring to write and it’s not of concern that they not be duplicate content really. So you just say write…
John Maher: They’re not a direct ranking factor anyways.
John McDougall: Right. So you just say, I usually say “write a meta description between 130 and 160 characters for blog post titled ‘colon'” and then paste in the title of the blog post. And it’s pretty crazy. It pretty quickly comes back with something reasonable.
You can tweak it a little bit, but often you don’t have to. That’s a great thing to do. Headings and outlines for blog posts, that’s a great use of ChatGPT for SEO. Writing regex code. The list goes on. Writing calculators or link bait things like calculators or other tools. You can say ChatGPT, write a simple calculator for calculating the BTU of a room, I think it is.
We made a word count calculator on our site very quickly. We already ranked for a couple things around word count. I like wordcounter.net even though you can get word count in Word or whatever, but it’s just a kind of cool little calculator. I said, I’ll put one on my site. So that was the first thing I tried. So again, I mean the list goes on and on.
I think there are a lot of people out there more so than SEO agencies. I think one study, it was either Conductor or BrightEdge did a study. It was 10 or 15% of SEOs are using it straight up push button content. That seems risky to me.
So we don’t let our writers do that. And I know Writers Access and some other big writing sites are requiring if you’re going to write and get paid to write content through their writing Upwork type of site-
John Maher: Their platform, yeah.
Tools That Check Content for AI Generation
John McDougall: Like a Fiverr type of situation, writing platform, freelancer platform. You have to prove through their tool that you’re not stealing content, plagiarizing, that you’re not using AI to create content. Because that’s not fair. You can’t say, hey, it’s 150 bucks a blog post and then you just push a button and get it in 10 seconds. That’s stupid.
John Maher: Right. So those platforms have their own AI content checkers now so you can’t get away with that.
John McDougall: Yeah. Thank God. And maybe in the future, I know ChatGPT is thinking about or is working on a watermark to have some way that the way that they phrase things is discernible through a tool like a watermark.
Right now, originality.ai is the best tool that I’ve found to check things. But I have tried a 100% original content that got scored 50% AI and I know it’s not.
John Maher: Okay.
John McDougall: So there are a lot of false positives and that tool has a video on YouTube about false positives. So it’s kind of a cluster right now with discerning what’s original content. But think about that. If the writing sites are requiring you not to use it, if you are just some small business and you’re like, yay, free content, just push button, know that it could be an issue.
Drawbacks on Relying on AI for Original Content
John Maher: Right. So talk a little bit more about that and some of the potential drawbacks of relying on AI for SEO optimization.
John McDougall: So our student in Talk Marketing Academy where we teach people every week, Thursdays at one o’clock, how to do SEO and how to deal with issues like this. One of our students was like, oh man, my SEO all of a sudden is tanking. What did you do differently?
Well, I noticed that the writer is kind of pumping out stuff kind of generic and overly fast. So we ran it through Originality.ai And they had numerous 100% AI articles. Now, I don’t know 100% if the reason for their tanking in SEO is from that, but that is the main thing that they did differently.
John Maher: Right. Previous to that they had been writing original content and building out pages on their site and going up and up and up. And then they started writing this sort of AI content and putting it on the site and then all of a sudden they’re going down. So the correlation there seems pretty strong.
Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness (E-EAT)
John McDougall: Yeah, right. They didn’t do anything major different otherwise. Now Google has done some updates and we got to look at their Core Web Vitals. I think their Core Web Vitals was a little bad too, but if that was bad before then it wasn’t the main factor.
So it’s complicated when you look at factors. But again, whether that one is directly from AI or not, or even if Google is ranking stuff right now, we don’t know if they’re not going to just start penalizing AI content more. Or if not penalizing it, just not ranking it.
And they did in December right after ChatGPT came out, they added an E to their EAT acronym. So now it’s experience, expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness (E-EAT). And this is a Google acronym. I didn’t make this up. This is Google directly saying it’s okay to use some AI, but your articles need to demonstrate you have experience, you have expertise and authority and trustworthiness. So how are you going to do that if you’re a robot?
John Maher: Yeah.
Your Money or Your Life (YMYL)
John McDougall: So it’s kind of like they never want to give away the farm of what their algorithms are really about. But suffice it to say they aren’t requiring for ranking EEAT, but they’re saying they like that. Especially your money or your life, that other Google acronym, YMYL.
So if you search for what temperature is important to take my two year old to the hospital, at what level of temperature? And it’s like, oh, don’t worry about it. If it’s 110 degrees, then maybe you should go. If there’s some crazy article where people just don’t even know what they’re talking about or AI gives you a mistake, you could kill someone.
John Maher: Right.
John McDougall: Or if it’s like what’s the best stock to invest in? Oh, definitely Silicon Valley Bank or something. It could bankrupt you or kill you, that’s your money or your life. And so it’s even more important that you highlight that experience. But in general, even getting an air conditioner installed, we have an HVAC client and John, you’ve been interviewing them for six, seven years.
John Maher: Right.
Creating Content With Expertise and Experience
John McDougall: Podcast videos. Yeah, we write blog content also, but that accumulation of content from the voice of the customer talking about their experience and standing in front of… I mean if I’m talking about guitars, here is how I use this Gibson Les Paul.
Or as you do with Mike from NETR, you go, oh, he is standing in front of the hyper-heat Mitsubishi ductless system. And it’s like, in my experience, this is a good unit because of X and we’ve written a whole e-book authority, authority on this subject.
John Maher: He clearly knows his stuff. And you can tell that from what he’s saying.
John McDougall: And so I think to counteract the potential, and it’s already happening, people just push button content developing right now, which is to me crazy and sad. I love writing and I love creativity.
While ChatGPT can quickly create pretty well written content, it’s not original, it’s not unique, it’s not engaging, it’s not empathetic. Robots don’t have emotion. It’s going to be fairly generic even if it looks good to you, how do you know that the five other or 500 other HVAC companies didn’t say, write me an article about wall mounted air conditioners. And you’re all going to sound pretty much the same. And it’s really showing you talking about it.
So I think the counterbalance is talk marketing or using podcasts and videos and authoritative content to satisfy EEAT for Google, to one up those people that are just en masse going the opposite direction. They’re just dumping out crap content and they’re like, yay, I have 10 articles a day for free. But what if none of it ranks at all?
That’s what I’m seeing from some people publishing 10 articles a day from ChatGPT. I’m not seeing any rankings. Now, could that change? And there are some people doing it. There definitely are some affiliate marketers who have crushed it and fooled Google’s algorithm by running it through ChatGPT, then rerunning it through Jasper and changing the tone. Running it through Grammarly, getting it proofread or whatever, switching it up. And it’s pretty easy to create content and even pass originality.ai.
But I don’t really like to play that game with my clients’ sites. Do you know what I mean? Or my sites. Now would I do that on a test site? Yeah, absolutely. We’re testing some stuff like that. But I don’t know, I think there are serious drawbacks and risks like we saw at our student go through. And so our take at the moment is to use it to speed up your process to do certain things like we mentioned, but not the easy button.
John Maher: Not when it comes to fully writing the content for your website.
John McDougall: That’s right. Again, can some people get that to rank? Sure. But maybe those sites will get crushed later. I don’t know.
Leveraging AI to Improve SEO
John Maher: Right. Definitely risky. So in what ways do you think that AI is going to continue to shape SEO in the future? Where you think things are going from here?
John McDougall: It is scary for writers and for this industry. But again, for the reasons I just mentioned, I just don’t believe at the moment… And again, it could be shockingly the new future that robots just displace all the writers and SEOs in the world.
Maybe we’ll find some other way to work with it. But I think that you want to use those tools to your advantage and not have your head in the sand because it’s not going away that I can guarantee you.
John Maher: Right.
John McDougall: Elon Musk is like, hey, let’s put a pause on this. It actually sounds good to me if the whole world would pause it. It sounds scary, the potential of things to go wrong with AI. But China’s not going to do that. Bad people aren’t going to do that. And black hats are going to use it for SEO if you are not.
So I think it is going to shift things. I like a quote that I heard the other day. It’s something to the effect of, your job’s not going to be taken by a robot necessarily, or AI, but your job as an SEO or your rankings could be taken by somebody using AI tools.
So we are using ChatGPT in the ways we mentioned. It’s speeding things up. It’s pretty amazing. It’s useful. You can get outlines, all kinds of things to improve what you’re doing, calculators, whatever, without just push buttoning SEO. And if we weren’t doing that, I think we would be slower like the average small business that doesn’t even know what to make of something like ChatGPT. So yeah, get your head out of the sand if you think it’s just a fad. This is not a fad. AI is here to stay and it’s going to affect lots of industries.
So go to a site like futuretools.ai and check out some of these crazy tools or check out Midjourney to create images. It’s really kind of fun to use these tools. Midjourney for images. Pictory is a cool tool for video created with AI and auto-generated stuff. Again, Jasper and ChatGPT for writing tools and there’s so many more. But yeah, so the future to me at the moment is to leverage these tools to be useful, not for just push button crap.
John Maher: Right. All right. Well that’s really great information, John, and really interesting to see where things are going to go from here. We’re keeping on top of it all the time and looking at all of these different changes. And it’ll just be interesting to see what happens from here.
John McDougall: Yep. So keep in touch with the latest SEO news sites because it’s changing every day.
Check Out Talk Marketing Academy for More Insights
John Maher: All right. Well thanks again for talking with me today, John.
John McDougall: All right, see you man.
John Maher: And please rate and review us on Apple Podcasts and check out talkmarketing.com for more information about our Talk Marketing Academy. And see you next time on Talk Marketing Made Easy.