AI and SGE are a long-overdue wakeup call for B2B SEO

Even before AI and Google SGE came gunning for everyone’s search traffic, B2B was struggling with SEO. Despite endless effort, lots of pages languish in SERPs while the cost of paid search keeps growing. It’s a problem.

Even the pages that get that sweet search love aren’t doing brands a lot of good — often because they’re not optimized for terms that matter to qualified buyers. (So what if you win big on “What is data architecture?” when you’re trying to sell to experienced IT leaders?) 

In perhaps the saddest cases, the pages that “win” SEO by effectively playing the system fail to elicit real interest. Content that lacks depth, credibility and a point of view is inherently unsticky. 

And the state of SEO affairs is about to get worse. Actually, our CEO Stan recently wrote an article on the B2B SEO malaise, and SGE is just a part of it.

AI — ChatGPT, Google SGE, all of it — is going to crack the internet wide open and scramble everyone’s SEO investments. 

But honestly: we think this might be a good thing in the long run. We’ll get to why after the scary stuff.

Will AI replace SEO? First, the bad news.

GenAI seems like a good thing, unless you’re a writer, designer or human. 

OK, we don’t think generative AI is all bad: there are certainly efficiencies to be gained by letting AI do the boring bits — and we all need to get smart about using them or we’re doing whoever pays our bills a disservice. 

But not everyone is exercising such restraint: “content at scale” is a certain type of marketer’s sickening rallying cry. Loooots of companies are chomping at the bit to use AI to flood the internet with search-optimized drivel. Sure, generative AI tools like ChatGPT can produce decent aggregations of other people’s knowledge — about as well as most junior writers or interns. Editing can take it home. 

But frankly, marketing humans have been producing that kind of content for a long time. There’s some user benefit in aggregation: to our users, who can see the topic digested quickly or through a certain lens — and to creators, who can use it to earn search traffic.

But that value is going away. Blame AI. Blame marketers. Blame Google. 

If your intern can produce content without any point of view — and without having any substantive knowledge on the matter — then it’s at risk because anyone can do it. ChatGPT can do it at scale (cue an existential ‘ick’). 

Search engines — and their users — are about to experience the Great Blanding. AI content averages out all the other content, smooths out the rough edges, siphons off any taste. It’s the equivalent of someone showing you their ‘Live, laugh, love’ sign when you try to get to know them. 

(But if we’re honest, B2B content already had a poor track record for telling stories with mojo and humanity and a real point of view). 

Users don’t like the AI-driven content that’s flooding us. Neither does our overlord, Google. 

But right now, that kind of content is effective, and at a scale that’s jeopardizing SEO investments. What took six months to build might be undone in a week’s worth of work by someone churning out GenAI content.

SGE’s impact on SEO: Google adds generative AI search and an algo update to the chaos

As the dominant search engine, Google can be a bit of a meanie sometimes. The dominant search engine is trying to cut the middleman out of searches altogether. They’ve already tested and are talking about rolling out Search Generative Experience (SGE). It’s like ChatGPT for the internet: you ask a question and get an answer. 

Without ever visiting a website.  

Of course, there will be problems: just like with ChatGPT, some of Google’s generative AI search answers are going to be hallucinations. Worse, they’ll sound right but be full-on bullshit. Sure, that was always a problem with internet content, but it’s easier to tell on a website how likely the answers are to be reliable. 

The implications are obvious: it’s going to steal your traffic the way rich snippets did, so Google can sell more ad space.

We think the good news is the flurry of helpful content guidance updates and the big algo change Google rolled out in 2023 to prioritize content that truly serves humans — not low-value, AI-generated shit. They’ve summarized the principles as Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness (E-E-A-T). It’s a set of standards that will reward content that serves up the best user experience.

As with every algo change, SEOs are rushing to update their strategies. Which is just as Google would have it. Good SEOs are responsible for helping their brands play by Google’s rules — which Google loves — while bad ones try to game the system.

Google is also cagey about its ranking factors because it doesn’t want SEOs to game the system. But we (and some of our very advanced search clients) think Google looks for things like: 

  • Named authors who are actually experts. Our client Tebra has gone very deep with this: their content site, The Intake, names every author and their medical proofreader if relevant. It’s as far from ChatGPT as you get — it’s content with a human endorsing it. And a human who knows what the hell they’re talking about. 
  • Original research. You’re not just aggregating other’s content or making up thoughts. Google will reward you when you produce credible new information. Think surveys and other original data. (Also consider: digital experiences that produce survey data). 
  • Content overall still needs to abide by SEO best practices: technical site performance, content that’s relevant to your brand and written with intent to match keywords, off-site endorsements (AKA backlinks) from authoritative domains and other ranking signals still matter. Quality indicators like grammar still matter, too, but what’s new is that sources should be cited and reputable. If it’s good enough for your professor, it’s good enough for Google. 
  • Google wants to reward sites, content and experiences that best serve the user — in terms of finding what they need quickly and being a reliable source they can trust.

So the good news we promised several hundred words ago…

In the long run, the AI content apocalypse may prove a good thing. B2B buyers don’t want shallow answers; they want deep insight, credible information, and — hear us out — not to be bored. And they’re not going to get that from SGE or ChatGPT.

And the sheer scale of all that AI content is very likely to collapse under its own weight, with Google helping it along with some well-timed kicks to the shin. The just-for-search content — which was already a big problem, whether a content grindhouse, an intern or ChatGPT wrote it — should die.

So who’s going to win in this new world? One thing never changes about SEO: play the long game with integrity and commitment, and you have a good chance of coming out on top. In the end, the companies who really invest in original, expert-created, useful content that users want will win. 

That doesn’t mean you don’t need an SEO strategy. It just means your SEO strategy has to get smarter. As smart as your buyers.

Lower-volume, higher-quality content is likely to get outsized results because the scale of the content Google favors will actually go down. It can’t be scraped and repackaged from the internet; it needs something special. Heart, personality, an opinion, unimpeachable facts.

It’s not just search that’s changing

A lot of smart people in B2B are talking about the era of humans, too. For instance, Zapier’s very smart CMO predicted B2B will have its creator moment, taking a cue from influencers. 

Because it turns out, people trust people — not brands. (Or robots). Companies may start to put their best thinkers forward. 

Some other trends: 

  • LinkedIn is testing a feature to allow brands to pay to promote their employees’ posts — and the beta test showed a 70% higher CTR and 60% increase in engagement (for thought leader promotions vs traditional static ads).
  • Some people may make a living as B2B thought leaders and do paid collaborations with brands they trust. 
  • Google isn’t the default search engine of choice for younger users. Huge numbers are going to TikTok or Instagram first. In B2B, there are other search engines: think Capterra and G2m YouTube, the AWS marketplace, forums and even Reddit.  
  • Having a person own the content adds credibility for Google and trust for readers. People are already suspicious and bored by generic, unowned content. Having a point of view and a voice is gonna be stickier for Google and for your users.

Gear up for new battles

2024 is going to bring lots of changes. SGE’s impact on SEO and the content-at-scale-pocalypse are scary — but maybe a long overdue wakeup call for B2B SEO. We all need to get smarter and more sophisticated about how we reach and actually engage the prospects we want to talk to. 

What are you predicting? Does AI’s HAL 9000-like role in the B2B-SEO malaise have you horrified? Have your say in the comments.

Enjoyed this article?
Take part in the discussion

Source link

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *