SEO Is Dead. Long Live SEO!

By Adam Townsend

Founder and Chief Brand Advocate, Townsend Creative Imaging LLC


[Estimated Reading Time: 3 minutes, 33 seconds] Some market watchers who don’t know any better have started buzzing about the demise of search engine optimization as an industry. 

An increasingly opaque and aggressive Google has been pushing every website to start advertising with them or lose ranking. AI-assisted search threatens to end search engine link-ranking as we know it, providing information directly in a knowledge graph without ever acknowledging the source.

It is a scary time in SEO if you don’t know what you’re doing. 

If you do know what you’re doing, you know ALL times in the history of SEO were scary. That’s because the latest, AI-powered leap forward in search technology mirrors the constant and often punishing updates to Google’s search algorithms since the company’s founding.

Every marketer, let alone SEO, is familiar with the sinking feeling of seeing your web traffic fall off a cliff. Then, the murder investigation starts as you scramble to figure out what the great Lords of Google want now.

Sure, generative AI is a game changer not just for search, but for humanity. 

But Google introduced knowledge graphs to search results in 2012, which summarized an answer to a user query with a brief paragraph assembled from info on multiple sites. Sound familiar?

The latest flurry of AI-assisted search is certainly an advancement like we’ve never seen, but it didn’t come from nowhere.

What Is SEO? It’s the New Framework for Good Communication.

Some SEOs who spend their time purchasing sketchy backlinks, setting up spammy aggregator sites, and generally gaming the system won’t be able to make money anymore. The “Black Hats” have always been a problem across tech industries, not just in SEO.

AI-assisted search, however, may be the “One Weird Trick” that can ultimately scour these types from our search results. White-hat SEOs like myself and my fellow members of the AMA here in Columbus should applaud this.

Because the point of Google’s continuously refining its algorithms is to be more humanlike in choosing query results. Core SEO practices are also what humans value in communication.

The better and more clearly you write, the better and more clearly you organize your information, the more meticulous you are about accuracy and usefulness, the faster you’ll rise to the top of results in any topic.

In 2023, though, other factors are putting pressure on this dynamic. Google’s aggressively monopolistic advertising shakedowns are one factor. Now, Google’s algorithms are more heavily prioritizing advertisers and punishing non-advertisers even more than they always have.

This is a bad strategy. Compromising the usefulness of your product to pad profits is a recipe for failure. Even Google is susceptible to the market and regulators. MySpace was a juggernaut until it wasn’t. AOL once occupied a similar space to the one Google does now (adjusting for the tech at the time). 

Whatever happens to Google, the principles of technical and content SEO remain because they are the principles of good writing, effective communication and conservation of computing power.

Long-Term, SEO Will Save the Internet

ChatGPT, Jasper, Claude and others are generative AIs using LLMs or large language models to generate text. This technology generates stunning results through linguistic formulas that allow it to predict what the most likely next word in a sentence is.

But these things hallucinate and spit out nonsense sometimes. Unless you are a trained communicator, even your factually accurate outputs are going to be milquetoast and generic.

Unfortunately, a tidal wave of this mediocre content is washing over the internet right now. Much of it is created by spammers and dilettantes who couldn’t personally achieve even the basic level of quality or accuracy that comes out of even a poorly-prompted AI. 

In the short term, this is messing up search results with garbage content. Add Google’s larding the SERP (search engine ranking position) page with tangentially-related content from pay-to-play ad clients, and you have an over-monetized, highly polluted information stream.

White hat SEOs like myself and other responsible marketers and publishers are not changing the core of what we do, nor should we ever. These core practices guarantee we’re writing clearly with authority and expertise, transparency about authorship, citations to primary sources, utility for the user and efficiency for the bots.

No matter the search technology, those qualities in content never go out of style. When the reckoning comes with AI-produced content, plummeting traffic across platforms will punish marketers who use AI as a crutch.

  • Jessica Burchard
    November 14, 2023 at 6:56 pm

    Adam, thanks for sharing your knowledge and perspective on the evolution of SEO in the age of AI.

    As am AMA Columbus board member, I am delighted when local marketers share helpful information with our community. Thank you!

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