In this special SEO Strategy Brief, we’ll explore:
- How NLP (Natural Language Processing) and Generative AI is disrupting the organic search channel.
- What risks this poses for your company’s growth, and how to bypass those risks to ensure a steady stream of new revenue from organic search long into the future.
- What a Kansas City Shuffle is, and why it holds the key to navigating the Generative AI Boom that’s coming.
- How to finally make SEO and content marketing pay off for your business – with real leads, trials, and revenue – not just a trickle of low converting traffic.
Dispelling The Myths About AI Generated Content
Let’s set the stage by dispelling a few common myths about generative content:
Myth #1: Google is Actively Working to Remove All AI Content
The truth: Google has already come out to say they are not against AI content. As long as content is “helpful and created for people” Google has no issue. This make sense considering they have leaned in hard on the generative content space themselves.
Myth #2: Even if Google Doesn’t Ban It, Generative Content Won’t Rank High In The Search Results
The truth: Reports continue to come in from across the SEO community refuting this. One case study even compared AI and human written blog posts with identical word count and target keywords, and found the AI content received higher rankings. This is not to say AI generated content is universally better, which you’ll see more clearly as we dive deeper in a moment. But the truth is, generative content can rank well.
Myth #3: AI Chatbots Will Replace Google Search
The truth: Factual accuracy is a big roadblock to this happening, as you can see in the chart below from OpenAI highlighting their own internal accuracy tests on a variety of topic areas. If people don’t trust what a chatbot is telling them, they’ll be less likely to make it a default tool vs. Google search.
Another overlooked point is that Google search is very low friction to use. The top 58 Google search queries by search volume in the United States contain only one word, and the average keyword is only two words long. With questions making up just 1.73% of total search volume. This makes Google search extremely low friction vs. having a drawn out conversation with a chatbot. Just imagine formulating every Google search as a detailed question a chatbot could understand.
Google search is also highly effective, with sites in the first ranked position receiving 39.8% click through rates on average. And users who clicked the first position link showing a 96% task completion rate (i.e. the users found what they were searching for). Google’s featured snippets, where Google grabs a snippet of text from a website to include in the search results, have an even higher CTR of 42.9%. Highlighting a much more symbiotic relationship than vacuuming up intellectual property and including it in chatbot outputs without any credit to original authors.
The Generative AI Boom
Key Principle: New Technologies Don’t Change Human Behavior, They Amplify Existing Behaviors
To understand what the future looks like with generative AI, it’s important to understand what the typical content production pipeline looks like today. Look behind the scenes of many small teams and agencies today and you’ll likely find a content creation process along these lines:
- Brainstorm a topic based on loose criteria
- Identify a search keyword related to that topic that isn’t too competitive
- Have a junior writer review the top ranked pages for that keyword
- Write an article that rehashes the content from those pages
- Manager/editor reviews for readability and grammar
Generative AI plugs into this pipeline quite easily, and massively increases it’s efficiency:
- Instead of brainstorming with your team, you can brainstorm with a chatbot.
- Instead of reviewing top ranked pages for key concepts, an NLP algorithm has already ingested content on that topic and can write a complete draft from a simple prompt.
- An editor still needs to check for factual inaccuracies (in an ideal world), but junior writers without deep topical knowledge were probably already making a lot of those mistakes anyway.
As you can see, generative AI simply takes the existing content production pipeline and puts it on steroids. This reflects the principle of new technologies amplifying existing behaviors.
The Kansas City Shuffle
Put simply, a Kansas City Shuffle is “when your competitors look right, you go left.”
The Kansas City Shuffle was originally a confidence game, where a con man would trick a mark by making a bet that the mark couldn’t identify the State that Kansas City was located. The mark, thinking they understood how they were being tricked, proudly declared that Kansas City is in Missouri. While in reality the con man was referring to the smaller, less known town of Kansas City that is indeed in the State of Kansas. They key element of the con is to mislead the mark to think in one direction, while the truth is hiding in the other direction.
The con was popularized in the movie Lucky Number Slevin which featured it’s own Kansas City Shuffle.
Today, everyone is “looking right” thinking about how they can amplify their existing content marketing and SEO pipeline with generative AI.
Instead of following them, we’re going to “go left” and look more deeply at what exactly you should be amplifying (hint: it’s not the same old content marketing and SEO strategy your competitors are using).
Choosing The Right Things to Amplify
Pareto’s 80/20 Principle: 20% of Your Knowledge Generates 80% of Your Results
According to the Pareto Principle, 80% of effects come from 20% of the causes.
After 25 years in digital marketing, I’ve seen this principle play out over and over again. A small portion of a company’s marketing and growth activities will be driving the bulk of their results.
In the context of content marketing and SEO, this can be refined to say that 20% of your company’s collective knowledge will drive 80% of your results. This includes, but isn’t limited to, things like:
- User generated knowledge
- Knowledge of user behavior
- Knowledge of your product
- Knowledge of your industry
- Knowledge of your market’s problems
- Knowledge of how to solve those problems
- Domain specific expertise
Why knowledge as a focal point? It sits at the foundation of everything your company does. But in the context of content marketing and SEO, it’s especially crucial. Knowledge is what your potential customers are seeking to help solve their problems. And knowledge is the key ingredient that can sway them to choose your company instead of a competitor.
This lead to the creation of my 80/20 Knowledge Bull’s Eye.
In the diagram above, you can see that:
- 20% of your knowledge will be responsible for driving 80% of your traffic.
- 20% of your knowledge will be responsible for 80% of your conversions.
- 20% of your knowledge will be supporting 80% of your successful customer outcomes.
In my experience, there is often a lot of overlap between these three areas. Although circumstances will dictate where and how much they will overlap with each other. For example, knowledge used deeper in the content funnel to make a sale will often be different than knowledge used to attract visitors into your site with SEO. But other knowledge will be equally valuable for both driving traffic and converting visitors into customers.
Generative AI As a Consensus Engine
If 20% of your knowledge is driving 80% of your results, where does the knowledge generated by AI fit into the mix?
I believe most generative AI outputs will fall into the 80% of knowledge driving 20% of results i.e. low value knowledge.
Generative AI works as a kind of consensus engine. With NLP algorithms ingesting billions of pieces of information, and then determining outputs based on statistical probabilities. So, if the majority of the data used to train the algorithm supports a specific idea about a topic, the statistical nature of the algorithm means that idea will be included in any text output related to that topic.
In other words, whatever the majority of the information the algorithm used for training says – the generative outputs will say, too.
That means everything you create with generative AI tools will be pulling your unique ideas back toward the average. This gravity toward the average will lead to…
- Less unique positioning in your market
- Less uniquely beneficial ideas for solving your market’s problems
- Less unique insights from your company data
- Less human connection from sharing your unique experiences with the market
- And less trust if you fail to not just remove factual inaccuracies, but fail to step into your role as a trustworthy expert authority by sharing your unique knowledge
All of the above things are the core of who you are, who your team is, and what your company is all about. And in my experience, this unique knowledge is the essence of what makes up the 20% of knowledge driving 80% of your results.
Google Is Primed for Your Unique, Human Insights
I’ve seen a lot of talk lately about “AI content detection” as if it’s a black and white issue, and AI content is a universally bad thing that Google will “detect” and ban.
In reality, Google has already built one of the most sophisticated tools in existence – that happens to be very good at filtering out content that lacks unique human insight.
For the last several years, Google has been pushing its algorithms more and more toward prioritizing what it calls E-E-A-T. This stands for:
E-E-A-T isn’t a single ranking factor, but instead taps into Google’s broad array of data and metrics about each web page it ranks. This could include UX signals like bounce rate and time on page, authority signals like the types of websites linking to the page or what other authority sites mention the author’s name, as well as hundreds of other metrics that feed into Google’s sophisticated set of algorithms.
But as sophisticated as the measurement tools are, what Google is trying to measure is pretty straightforward. You can read a snippet taken from their Quality Rater Guidelines below:
And to simplify it further: what’s the interconnecting thread weaving itself in and out of experience, expertise, and authoritativeness – and tying them all together? It’s your unique knowledge and human insight. It’s the 20% of knowledge that drives 80% of your results.
The “average” outputs that AI generates can’t capture your unique life experiences.
And if you’re taking your unique experiences and distilling them into expert knowledge, AI content will also fail to replicate that. Because it only encompasses the average or consensus on a given topic, which is already outdated if you are pushing the boundaries of a subject as an expert in your field.
And likewise, AI will not be able to “game” true authority in a field. Because authority is ultimately something earned from the community you are involved in. If the humans in that community don’t see your content as delivering the most valuable knowledge, you’ll lose their vote. Whether that’s measured by the time they spend on your site or your bounce rate, or the number of websites in the community linking to your content.
I believe these effects will only be amplified as the web gets flooded with generative content. Sites with the best reputation for regularly publishing innovative, expert content will win all the organic traffic in their market. Because they’ll easily outrank sites who fall into the trap of publishing average content that can be found anywhere.
Use AI to Amplify Your Unique Knowledge
Ultimately, AI is not the savior or the villain in this story. It’s simply a tool in your toolbox. And the best way to use this tool is in amplifying your unique knowledge.
Some of The Ways Generative AI Can Amplify Your Unique Knowledge:
- Speeding up content production
- Re-purposing existing content across multiple channels
- Experimenting with different communication styles
The fundamental value proposition of generative AI doesn’t change when you focus it on your unique knowledge. It just involves a different approach in how you use the tool, and generates much better results for your business and your customers.
Rather than completely handing off creative and intellectual control to generative tools, you’ll have clarity on what your 80/20 knowledge is. This clarity will allow you to ensure all the content generated by AI is tightly focused on the 20% of knowledge that drives 80% of your results.
The biggest step in your workflow to ensure this focus and quality is simply human editing. And in cases where your knowledge sits far outside the bubble of consensus that AI tools draw from, it will likely look a lot more like co-writing. Or even writing that is lightly supplemented with generative text where it makes sense. This article, for example, deals with concepts at the leading edge of the topic so there is almost no AI written text in it. But I’ll likely use AI to help me re-purpose some of this content for other channels like social and email.
What Does The Future Hold?
There is also potential in advanced prompt engineering or fine tuning algorithms with your unique knowledge. I believe this will be where the biggest breakthroughs happen over the next couple of years.
Today, it’s possible to pre-load your unique knowledge in long form prompts (many tools support prompts with thousands of words) to enhance outputs. And tools like Mem.ai attempt to draw on your personal knowledge base when generating AI outputs. But these approaches are far from perfect, because they still rely on the billions of pieces of information used to train the algorithm. So you always need to be mindful of the “gravity of the average” diluting your unique ideas.
I believe in the months and years ahead we will see more formal SaaS solutions that make it easy for anyone to fine tune algorithms with their unique knowledge base. And algorithms themselves will likely become more sophisticated and better at adapting to each user’s unique knowledge. But even if these technologies get extremely good, it will still be up to you, the human, to determine what your uniquely valuable knowledge is and how you want to wield it. So company’s who start developing processes and workflows around that today will be primed and ready to take full advantage of the technologies of tomorrow.
What’s Your Role In The AI Revolution?
If you’re a Founder or CEO: It’s up to you to set the priority to clarify you’re company’s collective knowledge, and define the strategy for acquiring new, uniquely valuable knowledge. You can also create a company culture that values the knowledge of all your individual team members, and encourages the sharing and exploration of that knowledge.
If you’re a VP of Marketing or Growth: You can start building the processes and workflows for how uniquely valuable knowledge is identified, cataloged, and prioritized in the use of growing your company. You’ll also empower your team with the right tools and knowledge for maximizing the impact of your company’s collective knowledge – whether it’s being used in generative content, SEO, conversion optimization, paid acquisition campaigns, or customer success.
If you’re a Writer: Your role on the team is now more important than ever, not less. Not only will your expert writing skills still be in high demand, you will be the focal point into which all your company’s collective knowledge flows. It’s up to you to develop your own expert level understanding of this knowledge, and learn to leverage AI tools to make your workflow more efficient while also guarding against the knowledge dilution they cause. You’re expected outputs will grow with the help of generative AI, but so will your salary.
Create an 80/20 Knowledge Growth Loop
Your company’s collective knowledge is one of its greatest assets. In this strategy brief, we looked at how you can use AI to amplify this unique knowledge – rather than replacing it with generic AI outputs.
If you’d like to unlock the full potential in your company’s unique knowledge, ask me about building an 80/20 Knowledge Growth Loop.
With an 80/20 Knowledge Growth Loop, you can create a growth loop that leverages the 20% of your company’s knowledge that drives 80% of your results.
This focused approached to business growth will allow you to achieve more growth, with significantly less effort, at a higher velocity. And is completely driven by organic traffic and product led virality.