SEO in the era of generative AI in search

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A new era has come, with the rise of Generative AI in Search Google will change how it worked for years. This will influence the way we do SEO. SEO will not be about keywords anymore, we need other reason to create content and domain authority has nothing to do with E-E-A-T
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A new era has come, with the rise of Generative AI in Search Google will change how it worked for years. What we see happening is that Google will provide information and answers to the users of their search engine. More than they have ever done. The transformation from search engine to answering machine and maybe even entertainment engine is beyond obvious.

What generative AI will mean for SEOs and marketeers

What does it mean for you as an SEO or marketeer working at a business on content and SEO? It means that Google will take over some of the needs you are fulfilling: 

Google will take a part over from you: it will offer a new starting point for users. Anyone who is considering doing anything can now get some basic advice from Google and start their customer journey a little bit smarter and a bit more informed. The good news is: Google will quote the websites and give them exposure. For a long time it didn’t look like this was going to be the case.

But there are a lot of questions and things to talk about.

Topics in this long read:

But next to these questions, we also need to talk about:

Let’s start!

How to get mentioned in the answers from AI?

As you can see in the screenshots Google shared, you see some websites displayed on the right side of the answer that Google made for you.
This is a great spot for exposure, so of course you want Google to show your website and content. How to end up in that spot?

Google Bard quotes sources in generative AI in search

Well, as no one really can know the answer, let’s try to see if we can get there by doing some logical thinking.

Hint: Google tries to identify experts

We know Google is very busy identifying the real experts in each industry. In the Search Quality Evaluators Guidelines we can read about the concept of E-E-A-T which in fact is nothing more than a real life time honored signal morphed into a Google concept. In real life you also want to know who the real expert is that has a lot of experience and is considered by others to be the authority. So why not look at these criteria when it comes to online and SEO?

It makes more than sense that Google wants to give exposure to the real E-E-A-T websites and in order to do that, it needs to figure out who these experts are. If you want to be quoted by Google Bard in the answer generative AI created, it helps if you are considered to be the authority in your market.

Google tries to identify the Expert

To do: become an expert with proven authority

This already uncovers a lot from what you should be and what you should do. You cannot build up expertise overnight, so if you never shared knowledge, never did some proper outreach to build expertise (mind you, not links!) you are way behind. How should Google know YOU are the authority? You’re right, they do not.

So if you want to be shown in the best spots that Google has to offer, you need to start working your ass off and leave the tricks for what they are. You cannot fake authority with building links and mentions: you have to start building a brand name and claiming expertise.

Need to know: you cannot build EEAT with SEO and website content only

This goes way beyond SEO and just publishing website content. It is about you and your online footprint across the whole world wide web.

Do you have a podcast and are others talking about it? Did you write a book? Are you invited to speak at conferences and congresses to share your knowledge? Are you invited to podcasts and webinars? Do you cooperate with other authors and experts and do they want to get engaged with you? Do you have popular videos on YouTube? Are you a TikTok star?

The goal is: create an online track record in which Google recognizes you as a proven expert. This can't be done with website content only.

Everything you do, leaves a mark in your track record. When you’re doing remarkable things people will start talking about it, mentioning you, linking to your website etc. This will be proof of your expertise. The problem: you don’t build this overnight. A year from now, you wished you started today. Two years from now, you regret not starting today.

Focused on keywords and links? Here comes the problem zone

If you only created SEO content up to now and paid for links, you are entering the problem zone. Why? Because content that’s been written for SEO often doesn’t show expertise. Why? Because the criteria always was: is this good enough to rank in Google and not is this good enough for our reader?

In the era of generative AI in Google it’s not about keywords anymore but about real life questions, problems, frustrations, anxieties, fears, concerns, challenges, goals and misunderstandings that keeps your target audience busy. Read more about this in question 2: What content do I need to create to be used by Google in generative AI?

This also goes for links. We wanted links to rank higher but real experts don’t sell their approval. Imagine that I am a great chef. When will Google know about it? When index websites are linking to me saying I am a great chef or if Gordon Ramsay and other experts confirm I am a good chef?

What kind of content do I need to create to be used by Google in generative AI?

I already hinted at the quality of the content on your website and mentioned that the content that’s been written for SEO will not be good enough. The reason for my claim is that when you write content for SEO the criterion is: Is this content good enough to rank high in Google? And for years, you could rank high with mediocre content.

Google works on their own war on bad content. They don’t want search engine first content anymore, they want people first content.

Google geeft hint over helpful content: waarom heb jij je content gemaakt? Is dat voor SEO dan is dat niet het soort content dat wij willen waarderen

Hint 1: drop the keyword focus

My first hint is: drop the keyword focus and start thinking about your customer. Why write for SEO and not for them?

By writing for your customer I am talking about the actual way you write and what you are saying. Of course you can use keywords, but I think SEO in the era of generative AI is not about keywords anymore. 

Keywords were once the key to organic search. But what we see is that people can be searching for anything but also that Google is not sticking to keywords anymore. When you look in the SERPs you see all different kinds of subjects ranking when you search for a keyword. 
Don’t hang on to it anymore.

The SERP is not about keywords anymore

Hint 2: write about what concerns your potential customer

When you cannot write about keywords, how to decide what to write about? Well start looking at your customer.

What are their real life:

Everything that matters to them should be a topic on your website no matter whether there is search volume on it or not. If it keeps them busy, it might be something they ask Google hence an opportunity for you to be visible.

Every topic that matters should be an content item on your website, search volume or not

Are keywords the foundation of SEO?

For this part we need to first distinguish between the generative AI in search part and the “other” part of SEO.

Keywords and generative AI

When it comes to the answers that Google is providing with Bard in Generative AI, I don’t think keywords will be the base anymore. It’s just impossible: it’s about everything that concerns your potential client.

You can better see a keyword as a topic which you dissect into a lot of questions. You need to have content about every little thing that matters to them. It’s the first proof of your expert status.

Keywords and regular SEO

When it comes to regular SEO, I also think that it’s not about keywords anymore for a long time already. Why?

But maybe the most important factor:

Searched for jeans? You get content about ‘the best jeans for women at every price’, ‘the best jeans for women of all sizes’, ‘how to find your best denim jeans’ and ‘the search for the perfect jeans’.  How could we still think regular SEO is about keywords?

keywords in zoekresultaten SEO

The real role of keyword research

I think keywords are nice to check, but afterwards. More as icing on the cake. The foundation of your content strategy is based on the actual needs of your customer and after that, you optimize it for SEO by using some good keywords. But honestly: in the era of AI, we might expect Google to be smart enough to know which subjects belong to which short tail search query right? Also if you didn’t use the keywords with the most search volume?

How to know what to write about?

Do we still need to do keyword research to find out what to write about? I don’t think so. Know your customer and you will know what to write about. Search volume or not.

Can we keep justifying the creation of content on its performance in SEO?

This brings us to the following topic: can we still judge content on its performance in SEO? I think we can’t and we shouldn’t.

SEO content is written for its performance in SEO. Great content is written for so much more.

SEO content is written for its performance in SEO. Great content is written for so much more.

When you write about your actual customer needs, you are taking it bigger than SEO. This content can be re-used on a lot of other channels like newsletters, social, in podcasts, video’s etc. Your customer service department can share it with customers calling with questions. Your sales staff can share it with potential clients. 

You cannot say: I have written this page and it’s ranking x, y and z on these keywords so it generates x amount of traffic which represents x sales and x revenue. You shouldn’t say: only 50 in search volume a month, so let’s not write about it. 

No, if it matters to your customer you need to write about it. No excuse.

When it’s done, promote it in your newsletter. Make multiple social posts out of it. Enrich it with video or a podcast. So if we want to judge performance, judge it honestly.

The point is: this is really hard and almost impossible.

How attribution really works

Your customer might have read about you for the first time in a magazine because the magazine thought it’s worth mentioning you. Then they saw your company at a conference and then they decided to sign up for your newsletter.
They read something and then they Google for your brand and land on the homepage. How to attribute this? You can’t. It’s the result of the total amount of effort you put into content creation, not the work of 1 article.

It’s a team sport and all players have their share in the final result.

I think that as long as we don’t recognize that:

we are missing the real point of it.

As long as we are only looking at its rankings and amount of traffic we will never have a good business case anymore to actually create content. We need another motivation and other criteria to judge success.

We need another motivation to produce content. Real content.

The real motivation for creating content should be…

We owe it to ourselves to find another motivation to create content.

So you need great content. There is just no other way to truly make clear what you and your company add to the world then by creating content: great in-depth content that is not about you. This kind of content is not SEO content

Yes, it's about time to take content out of the SEO department

Why I tink links will be replaced by authority

Congratulations, you are almost at the end of my preaching about SEO in the era of generative AI in search and my rant about the major role of content.

I think at this point, you must be able to fill me in right? Why shouldn’t we be surprised if one day links are not the backbone of authority anymore and domain authority really says nothing about E-E-A-T?

It's becoming about the 'who'

Because it matters WHO says you are an authority and expert. And you are only an expert if other experts say you are an expert. And let’s hope these experts will not sell their approval to just anyone. If they are real experts, they have to worry about who to engage with and they will only with people they know that are experts. How do they know? Because of what each expert is doing online: sharing knowledge in attractive content. Remember this one?

Recognizing experts is not rocket science

So if you can identify a few experts, it’s not rocket science to identify the complete network. Experts with a lot of connections are the biggest experts, experts within the network with less connections are also experts but not there yet.

When you know that Google wants to give exposure to real experts, it makes sense that links from all over the place don’t reflect who the real experts are. It’s about who engages with who on a way bigger scale than links.

And of course, sometimes this comes with a link. Sometimes not. And for Google that doesn’t matter.

About Chantal

Chantal is an author, podcaster, speaker and trainer in SEO. She works as a freelance SEO and content strategist that works in the field of SEO since 2010. She worked on both agency and client side for years. 

Last year she published her first book (Dutch only) about creating better content to rank in search engines, not content created around keywords but for your ideal customer. This was way before Google released the Helpful Content Update. 

She called her approach Horizontal SEO: not ranking as high as possible but as widely as possible. 

Lees verder

With the announcement of Generative AI in Search people say: there is no more incentive to create content anymore. Well if we create content for SEO reasons only, that is definitely true. But why do we only create content if it brings us visitors from organic search? Creating content for this reason only is a flaw in our marketing strategy and by doing this we are missing the bigger value of content.