How Artificial Intelligence is Shaping the Future of Search Engine Optimization

Artificial intelligence is increasingly useful as a tool in online marketing and search engine optimization. It’s seen widespread usage in keyword research and proved invaluable from a content marketing standpoint. Some AI platforms can even offer functionality such as related keywords, recommended word counts, and semantic analysis summaries. But it goes deeper than that.

Google’s search engine – really, every search engine – is, at its core, AI. Increasingly-advanced algorithms designed to trawl and analyze content in order to determine the best fit for a particular user. This algorithm evolves in tandem with the algorithms SEO specialists are increasingly using to examine and tweak their own content.

What this means is simple. 

“Content for content’s sake won’t rank,” explains Tony Adam, Founder & CEO of digital marketing agency Visible Factors. “You need to cater more specifically to user intent, and not just one intent, but as many as you can imagine…the ideal strategy is to develop marketing efforts that put the user back in the spotlight.” 

Google’s own AI pushed this evolution forward, but AI platforms can be instrumental in helping your organization adapt to it. With the right analytics platform, you can provide advertisers, marketers, and content creators alike with invaluable insights into not just your audience, but also your products and brand. Throughout this process, the most important thing to remember is that in order to be one hundred percent effective, machine learning requires a human touch.

No method is entirely error-free. AI doesn’t mean you no longer have to rely on the insights of marketing professionals, nor does it mean you can do away with editors and proofreading. Rather, it allows you to augment what you’re already doing, creating compelling, data-backed content for your readers that also aligns with Google’s algorithms. 

AI also allows you to breathe new life into old strategies, automating tasks like keyword research and technical SEO. It can also be applied practically in the content creation process, optimizing and tweaking elements that might otherwise go untouched. Again, though, be careful.

Although machine learning has advanced a great deal in recent years, it’s still not on the same level as human intelligence. A spun article – one generated entirely by algorithms – is still fairly noticeable. It should be looked at more as a means of supporting your marketing team’s efforts rather than a way you can replace them entirely.

Over time, whatever AI platform you decide to use will gradually adapt to your business, and learn how to most effectively optimize for your brand. But again, you still need to teach it.  As for what the evolution of AI means for the immediate future?

As search engines become more intuitive, the quality and relevancy of the content they retrieve will increase. Content marketing teams, meanwhile, will be able to dedicate more towards ensuring that level of quality, and less towards mundane tasks like data logging and analysis of metrics. AI can generate and parse all of this data in real-time, at a scale impossible for the human mind to achieve.

You don’t need a degree to understand the benefits of AI. At its core, it’s not just about improving the intelligence and capabilities of machines – it’s about leveraging those improvements for better business outcomes, greater efficiency, and more compelling insights. Even now, it’s a valuable resource in the arsenal of every marketing professional.

That value will only increase as we move forward into the future.

What to Do With Google My Business During COVID-19

As you might expect, the coronavirus has had a significant impact on local businesses. Many have had to either close their doors completely or work on severely-reduced hours. To its credit, Google has been relatively quick to respond with several updates to Google My Business. Here’s what you need to know.

By now, if you’re a small business owner, you’re likely feeling the strain of the coronavirus. 

Maybe you’ve been marked as nonessential and forced to close temporarily. Maybe you’re working reduced hours, keeping your doors open with a skeleton crew of employees. Or maybe you’re struggling with the challenges of digital work and ecommerce, things you were never fully prepared to support. 

Whatever your situation, you now face a challenging landscape. The most important thing at this stage is that you keep your customers up-to-date about what’s going on. Let people know about your current situation, and what they can expect in the coming weeks (and possibly months).

Google has provided some excellent guidance on the topic, which we’ve summarized below. 

  • If your business hours have changed as a result of COVID-19, update them by clicking Info->Special Hours on your Google My Business profile.  Note that if you fail to do this, Google may include a disclaimer on your profile that your business info may not be up-to-date. 
  • Create a COVID-19 update post. Once you’ve logged in to your Google My Business profile, click on Posts in the menu, and choose the COVID-19 update tab. Be sure to include all relevant information about how the coronavirus has impacted your business, such as hygiene practices, modified hours, and how customers can support your organization.
  • Enable messaging through the Google My Business mobile app. Once you’ve downloaded the app to your smartphone, simply tap Customers -> Messages -> Turn On. 
  • Edit your business description to include details about delivery, extra services, and whether or not customers can expect delays. 
  • Alternatively, you can mark your business as “Temporarily Closed.” Click on Info in your profile, then click on Close this business on Google. You can then click Mark as temporarily closed. Note that you should only do this if you aren’t currently offering digital or delivery services. 
  • Pay close attention to any reviews you receive during COVID-19 and make a point of responding to them in a timely manner. Note that in some regions, reviews, Q&As, and review replies may still be disabled. 

These are difficult and uncertain times for both business owners and consumers. Until the pandemic ends, the best thing any of us can do is keep in touch. Make sure people know what’s happening and what they can expect. 

Your Google My Business profile is only one way to achieve this. We’d also strongly recommend updating your Facebook Business Page and website if you’ve not already done so. Beyond that, simply keep in touch with people.

Your audience will appreciate the effort. 

The Role of Content Marketing in Local SEO

Properly-researched, properly-optimized content is at the core of every successful website. This holds true regardless of whether you’re targeting on a local scale or a global one. That said, there are a few things about local SEO that requires a unique approach to content marketing.

As the old cliche goes, content is king. Careful, targeted content marketing is one of the pillars of success with every form of search engine optimization, including local. Leveraged in tandem with other local tools like Google My Business and Facebook, it can easily help you take your business to entirely new heights.

Generally speaking, where local content marketing is concerned, you have two options. On the one hand, you can simply write on topics you know your target audience is interested in, and add a few personal touches to them. Mention a local landmark, reference a recent event, talk about your own experiences in a city, or provide advice specifically geared towards people in your area.

For instance, let’s say you own a hardware supply shop and you’re writing a guide on tiling for a backyard patio. You might add a few recommendations based on your city’s weather and climate, recommend a local contractor, or suggest a local material wholesaler. The key here is to take a light touch.

As with keywords, you don’t want to bog down your content with too many local references. Not only can this make your copy cumbersome and difficult to read, in extreme cases it could potentially lead to you being penalized by Google’s algorithms. Just write as you ordinarily would, and sprinkle in a few references. 

Your other option is to write content geared from the foundation for a local audience. This might include information on nearby activities and events, case studies or profiles of customers and business partners, or announcements about your business and its local activities. If you’re feeling stuck on content, you can use a tool like Google Trends to see what search terms are popular in your area and generate ideas from that. 

In both cases, the same rules apply to local-oriented content as to any other content:

  • Write well. Proper spelling and grammar are a must. We’d also advise steering away from any unnecessarily complex words. 
  • Make it easy to digest. Use a tool like Hemingway, and ensure anything you write is at a reading level of eighth grade or lower. Break up long walls of text with images or subheads. Keep things as concise as possible. 
  • Keep it relevant. Focus on what your audience wants. You’re trying to drive traffic and sales, sure. But you do so by serving their needs, not pushing your own. 
  • Do your research. Beyond keywords, you should also know what type of content is most frequently associated with your brand, including niche topics. 

Where local search is concerned, content marketing is part of a unified whole. Social media, business listings, on-page SEO, and customer reviews work together with created content to act as the foundation of an effective marketing campaign. If you’re to truly master local search, you’ll need to master each one in turn.

Optimizing Your Google My Business Page

Local search engine optimization, at its core, is about connecting your business with nearby sales prospects. To that end, Google My Business represents one of the most powerful tools in your repertoire. A free tool provided by Google, Google My Business allows you to create a digital profile for your organization that includes location, photos, website URL, contact information, services, and user reviews.

Not only does your business profile provide another avenue through which you can interact with your audience, but it also gives you a huge leg up in discovery. Local users looking for products or services your business offers have a chance to see your business profile listed right at the top of the search engine results page. If you’ve played your cards right, this can result in a ton of leads.

Creating Your Business Listing

Before you get started, it’s important to note that you can only create a profile if your business has a physical outlet that customers can visit. Digital agencies or organizations without a customer-facing office are ineligible. With that in mind, your first step in creating a Google My Business Page is to check if one already exists. 

  1. Navigate to the Google My Business landing page
  2. Type your business name into the search bar. 
  3. If a listing already exists, you’ll be directed to it. 
  4. Click on Claim this business.
  5. If someone else has already verified the business profile, you’ll need to fill out a form to request access.
  6. Once the form is filled out, click Submit. The current profile owner will have between three and seven days to respond. 
  7. If you don’t hear back or your request is approved, sign in to Google My Business. There should be a Claim or Verify button on your dashboard. 
  8. If your request is denied, you’ll have to contact Google Support and work with them to claim ownership. 

Your next step is to provide your business details. The idea here is that customers who visit your listing have a complete picture of who you are, what you do, and how to get in touch. You’ll want to add the following business information. 

  • Name. 
  • A brief description of your business and what it does, up to 750 characters in length. Google has published a set of guidelines for what this description should include
  • Address, including street, city, and zip code. 
  • Business hours. 
  • Phone numbers. 
  • Website.
  • One primary category which describes your business. Take care to be as specific as possible. 
  • Whether or not your business delivers goods and services, and the service area in which it operates. 

Next, you’ll want to verify your business listing. Google provides multiple options for verification, including phone, email, and physical mail. Choose whichever is easiest for you, then wait for the verification process to complete. 

Once your business is verified, it’s time to start adding photos to your profile. You can add as many of these as you want. They can be used to showcase products, services, physical location, and anything else you feel accurately represents your brand. 

Make sure at least one of these photos is uploaded in a 16:9 aspect ratio. This will be featured at the top of your profile and be the first thing prospective customers see. You might also want to upload your business’s logo, as well.

Beyond the above, all photos aside from your cover photo should follow Google’s best practices.

  • JPG or PNG format.
  • Between 10 KB and 5 MB in size. 
  • A resolution of 720 by 720 pixels. 
  • No significant alterations, excessive filters, or poor lighting. 

You can also upload videos to your business listing. These can be up to 30 seconds long and up to 100 MB in size with a resolution of 720p or higher. 

Monitoring and Interacting With Your Business Listing

Your job isn’t done once your listing is complete. Google offers multiple insights that help you understand how customers find and interact with your profile which can be used to tweak both your listing and your website. You’ll also need to monitor suggested edits to your profile and respond to user reviews. 

We’d advise thanking users for positive reviews, and responding to negative reviews with candor and accountability. Per Google’s guidelines for responding to reviews, be honest about your mistakes, but don’t take responsibility for things that weren’t your fault. For legitimate grievances, encourage the customer to get in touch with you to fix the problem. 

Google My Business is an incredibly powerful tool for just about any local organization. If you’re not using it already, you need to start. Otherwise, you’re just letting potential customers slip through your fingers.

Website Not Ranking? The Problem Might Not Be Your SEO

Search engine optimization (SEO) is not foolproof. There are no guarantees. Rather, it’s about continually improving your site, continually working to grow your site and climb the search engine results page. 

Sometimes it’s possible to do everything right and not see any improvement in your ranking. In situations like this, there are a few possibilities. First, you may not be targeting the right keywords or generating the correct topics for your audience.

In this scenario, it doesn’t matter if you’re producing compelling, high-quality content. It’s not targeted at your primary demographic, which means you’re pulling in traffic from users who aren’t particularly interested in your brand. The good news is that this is a relatively easy fix.

All it requires is that you do a bit of market research. 

First, take a look at your competition. Use a tool like Moz or Google’s Keyword Planner to see what keywords they’re targeting and give you an idea of where your own focus should be.   You should also draw on data you’ve collected from your own users, through their interactions with your site, your social feeds and any surveys you’ve sent out. 

It may also be that you are spinning content, or writing content that Google has identified as low-quality. Again, this is a fairly easy fix. Either shore up your own content marketing efforts or bring in a contractor who can handle that for you. 

The third alternative is that you have a branding problem. This one’s a bit more complicated. It requires that you first understand what’s wrong. 

Ask yourself the following questions: 

  • Are my competitors doing anything particularly unique or noteworthy that I’ve failed to address? 
  • Has my brand been involved in any recent scandals, such as a faulty product or a viral post gone wrong? 
  • Are consumers speaking negatively about my brand, or worse, not talking about us at all? 

Each of the above issues requires a slightly different approach. If you’ve been involved in a scandal, start making amends. Reach out to your audience, explain that you understand what you did wrong, and detail what you’re going to do to fix it. 

If your brand has grown outdated or is being outperformed by competitors, you’ll need to figure out what they’re doing that you’re not. Why have you fallen so far behind? What can you do about it? 

SEO doesn’t guarantee results. It never has. And it also cannot fix problems such as thin content, poor targeting, or a broken brand. These are all issues that must be addressed separately. 

3 Excellent Free Resources for Topic and Keyword Research

Keyword and topic research can be tedious and tiresome even at the best of times. However, it’s also a necessary step in the creation of high-quality, compelling content. While you’re likely to be well-served through an all-in-one platform like Moz,  don’t underestimate the power of the myriad free tools available online.

Here are a few we’d highly recommend if you’re suffering from a spot of writer’s block.  

Keyword Sheeter

Although it’s not quite as full-featured as Google’s Keyword Planner (which is also free), Keyword Sheeter mines Google autocomplete data to generate a huge list of possible search terms and phrases. It also includes filters to help you either eliminate irrelevant entries or narrow your search to entries containing certain words or phrases.

It can take a bit of time to generate a list for niche topics, but it’s nevertheless an excellent starting point. Note that the free version of the tool doesn’t show search volume or any other data about the entries. You’ll need to use a secondary tool in order to glean that information. 

Alternatively, you can purchase more comprehensive results through the platform, wither with premium currency or for a nominal fee. 

The Content Strategy Helper

It might not look like much at first glance, but the Content Strategy Helper is downright incredible. Developed by marketing strategist Daniel Butler, it searches across the web for content related to your keywords. The network of sites it pulls from is frankly almost overwhelming and includes Google, YouTube, Reddit, Hacker News, and How Stuff Works.

And that’s just the ideas tab. Source & Place leverages Twitter search tool Followerwonk to track down influencers and thought leaders related to your topic. Whether you’re looking to connect with people for their social influence or trying to track down guest post opportunities, it’s an invaluable addition to your repertoire.

Finally, if you’re interested in newsjacking, you can check out the Trending tab, which displays popular articles and news pieces. 

WikiBrowser

Created by the SEO toolkit developer topicseed, WikiBrowser is a bit more sophisticated than the other software on our list. When you enter a keyword, it provides a visualization of the topic’s outline on Wikipedia, while also generating a list of related topics and concepts that you can use to help spark your creativity. You can click on any of the generated topics to see topics related to them, and so on. 

What’s in Your Toolkit? 

The tools outlined above only represent a tiny cross-section of what’s available online. We chose three that we felt really stood apart from the rest, both in terms of what they did and how they functioned. We’re certain you’ll find them as useful in your own research as we did in ours.

What You Need To Know About Online Reviews and SEO

According to research collected by Statista, online reviews are a major deciding factor when determining what brands to support or what products to purchase. In the U.S., for instance, 62 percent of respondents indicated that online reviews were very helpful to them, with 36 percent of users aged 25-34 using them for research. Reviews are, in other words, a powerful marketing tool.

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