10 mins | 21 Mar, 2024

Beating AI through SEO & Content Marketing

Last year was a transformational one for SEO and content marketing. Coming off the back of some recent shifts from major search engines in what they consider valuable, we had the exponential growth of AI tools that enable anyone to create and craft insightful content at a pace never imaginable previously. Research has never been easier, and access to expert knowledge has never been cheaper. On top of that, it's all made available through tools so easy to use, that the idea of engaging a subject matter expert to manage your marketing seems… distant.

There is of course a problem… If content is so easy to create and it only takes a small amount of knowledge to ensure it’s hitting the right audience, won’t everybody start doing it…? At scale…? Won’t the internet start filling up with exponential amounts of cookie-cutter content that all sounds the same…? Well, yes… and it's already started.

So, how then in 2024 can you hope to compete with the inevitable flood of SEO-optimised content available online? How can you stand out and be seen by Google and other search engines? The good news is, that it’s very clear what search engines are interested in (and it's not volume). Read on to discover how to adapt your content marketing strategy to a new era of optimisation (or skip to the end for some tips on how to beat ai through your own marketing efforts).

What do we even mean by Content Marketing?

First off, let's define what we’re talking about here.

Marketing in its broadest sense, is the activities you do to help promote your business. Traditionally, this meant TV and Radio advertising, Billboards, Directory listings, PR activities, etc. Then the internet came along and created all sorts of avenues for advertising online. It became cheaper and more accessible to reach specific audiences and created more of a level playing field where smaller businesses could compete with the big guys. If you don’t have a big budget to spend, you can still get in front of potential customers and nowadays, creativity is as much a currency as pounds spent.

When brands talk about content marketing now, they’re usually focused on digital formats (which can be wide-ranging). Typically, some form of content will be created that will align with a business's target customers and then pushed out through digital channels in the hope it will catch the attention of a prospect and draw them into learning more about the business offering.

This could take many forms, but are often:

  • Website articles (blogs)
  • Social media posts (either platform-hosted articles or more often short text or image-based posting)
  • Videos (embedded on your site, or hosted on platforms like Youtube, Vimeo, etc)
  • Short-form video (typically on social platforms like TikTok or Instagram)
Engaging with digital content

There are lots of ways to approach getting content out and some companies do very well from getting creative with it. It’s nearly always one of or a mix of text, imagery, and video, and the content itself will live on either your own website/app, or be posted to a social platform or community-based forum of some kind.

An effective content marketing strategy will place your content where potential customers are most likely to see it, then direct them to a page which through engaging website design will provide an opportunity to make a purchase decision or create an enquiry. We call this a lead magnet, or the sales funnel.

How should SEO fit into your content marketing strategy?

Some businesses like to separate Search Engine Optimisation and Marketing into distinctly separate activities. They are often considered different roles. Whilst it is true that there are different skills required for each, it has also never been more important to ensure your content aligns with each. The rationale behind this is Google’s new emphasis on genuinely helpful, user-focused content (more on that below).

Whether you’re creating content that is aiming to get found by search engines (and direct people to your website), or to be posted on social media (also to direct people to your website), the hook and end result need to be the same. Your content should be:

  • Interesting so it grabs a user's attention
  • Engaging enough to keep their attention
  • Helpful enough to solve their problem

So, a great piece of content should help solve your potential customer's problems whilst aligning itself with your overall business proposition. It should include all the relevant information to align with a user’s search intent and also be digestible for use on your social platform of choice… If you can get that mix right, it will get picked up by search engines and also have great onward marketing potential.

The current state of SEO

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), is an ever-evolving field and some will say it's changed dramatically in the last year or so. There is somewhat of an arms race happening at the moment, with content creators finding ways to create more content volumes (something that was beneficial in the past), whilst search engines are creating more sophisticated tools for understanding the quality of content on offer (in order to ensure they carry on delivering quality search results).

There a 3 significant areas that are important to understand if you want to stay ahead of what’s happening:

  • The emphasis on User Experience (UX)
  • The quality of content matters
  • Advances in AI and Machine Learning

The emphasis on User Experience SEO metrics

Google has had a focus on UX Design for years now and has always been the leader in the space for measuring the experience users have after landing on a website. It has some very effective ways of doing this and will award websites that provide a better user experience with higher rankings. Check out our in-depth article on how user experience effects your SEO for more on that.

Some key concerns for understanding UX in your SEO strategy are:

  • Core Web Vitals: are a set of metrics rolled out by Google that measure things like the stability of a web page, the time it takes to load, whether elements shift around, and how interactive elements effect the experience. You can think of it as the technical aspects of the visual page design and it's a key ranking factor. Studies have shown that improving your Core Web Vitals metrics can lead to significant boosts in performance.
  • User behaviour metrics: Google is also very good at understanding how users interact with a website whilst there. There are some important metrics to consider like, bounce rate, dwell time, number of clicks, etc. Everything a user does, where they navigate to and how long they spend interacting with content are all recorded and this data is used to form a judgement on how good an experience the site provides.
  • Mobile-first indexing: the majority of users now access the internet via their mobile* (60% of all Google searches are done through a phone). Because of this, Google started prioritising mobile experience over desktop around 5 years ago.

*It's not always appropriate to focus on mobile first. Depending on your industry or target audience, you may have more users accessing your site from a desktop or tablet device. You should always check your analytics to understand which devices your users prefer.

How Google understands the quality of your content

Google rolled out an update in 2022 called the ‘Helpful content update'. Its primary concern was to start prioritising content that was genuinely helpful to humans. Importantly, another priority was to actively suppress content that was not considered helpful or content that was deemed to have been created for search engines, rather than people. The update even suggested removing unhelpful content could boost your other content that was genuinely helpful. So, this was (and continues to be) a firm statement of intent that Google will do everything they can to support quality over quantity.

Users engaging with helpful content.

Genuinely helpful content is considered to be:

  • Subject matter expertise: providing accuracy and depth of knowledge around topics relating to search queries
  • Situational content: understanding users' problems and providing clear and accurate resolutions on specific scenarios
  • Visual elements: graphics, video, and imagery can be very helpful to humans looking to understand a topic (we take in imagery often more quickly and easily via visual means rather than reading text).

Creating content of this nature can significantly enhance your ability to be helpful. The quality of it will be judged by actual user interaction. So, it's not enough to just appear helpful, you need to be genuinely helpful and the more users that spend time interacting with it, the more credibility your content will receive.

How AI is changing content creation (and understanding)

There is no doubt that the rise in machine learning and artificial intelligence is and will continue to have a significant effect on search. There are 2 sides, with some using this new technology to try and gain a competitive edge, while search companies are using it to provide a more in-depth and accurate understanding of user intent and content topics.

It’s unclear at the moment where this will end up, but here are a few things to consider on how the field is developing:

  • AI-powered research: the tools available to us now make research into (just about anything) easier than ever before. This is where lots of content creators are using AI to great effect currently.
  • AI-powered algorithms: big tech is using AI to leverage data at an incredible pace, providing critical understanding around search intent, analysing online behaviour and providing more and more personalised results. Another update from them (Rank Brain) was intended for exactly this purpose.
  • Generative AI: using generative technologies for content creation is a complex and controversial topic currently. It is also not considered fair play by Google who have stated they will punish you for it if you do. It’s unclear how this might change in future and could become more relevant as things evolve.

Quality over quantity

So, taking all that into account, it seems very clear that the search industry and Google in particular will continue to favour quality content over large quantities of filler. If you want to get ahead and present your website as a good candidate for higher rankings, you should focus on creating genuinely helpful content for your target audience. Going niche on certain topics is a good idea and being specific about who you’re trying to help will also provide relevance to your content. This extends out to your social media channels too which should serve as an extension of your main marketing topics (reaching out to wider audiences and grabbing attention that draws users back to your website).

Remember that there are sophisticated technologies in place that will analyse content potential and real user interactions. This can’t be faked (and nor should you try). The future of content marketing online is about really understanding a user's problem and helping them solve it in a genuine way.

Tips for content creation that will help beat AI

Here are some key points to focus on when thinking about your SEO strategy that will help your content rise above the inevitable flood of AI-generated posts.

  • Understand the core problems of your audience: Have a deep understanding of who your users are and why they are reviewing your content in the first place. Speak to them about the problems they are trying to solve and craft your messaging to help them with that.
  • Create genuinely useful content: Look for ways you can help people before they even think about spending money with you. Provide value and foster engagement through your posts.
  • Show expertise and credibility: Demonstrate your expertise through the content you create. Provide data to back up your arguments and social proof (reviews, testimonials) that show how you’ve helped others in the past.
  • Create unique and fresh content: Keep it fresh and look to build on past successes with new ideas. As theories and techniques develop, provide updated insight and analysis into these.
  • Focus on quality over quantity: Do not concern yourself with creating large volumes of mediocre articles. Focus on creating well-researched and useful quality content.
  • Research your competitors: Look at what others are doing in your space (and what they are not doing). Look for missing gaps and find ways to stand out from the crowd.
  • Consider new features: Content isn’t just about words, images and video. Consider what features you can develop that will add value to your target audience.
  • Use AI as a research tool: Tools like ChatGPT and Gemini really excel at research. Use them as a starting point to generate ideas and learn about new topics.
  • Target your keywords strategically: AI may be able to suggest keywords to target, but it doesn’t know the nuances of your particular audience. Use your own expertise to identify the most relevant and high-value keywords for your user search intent.
  • Follow technical SEO best practices: Following best practices to ensure your content is marked up correctly, easy to find and understand, and loads in a way that compliments the user should always be a top priority.

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