How AI changes the SEO landscape: a conversation with Kevin Lee and Steffen Horst

I had the pleasure of speaking with Steffen Horst, CEO and Co-Founder of Symphonic Digital, on his podcast entitled, “How AI Changes the SEO Landscape.” It’s a huge topic — not just for SEOs but for consumers, content marketers, and marketing itself.

Our talk begins with a quick discussion of my background in advertising and search marketing, a brief history of Didit, the eMarketing Association, and Giving Forward, and then dives into the question of how generative AI systems such as ChatGPT are changing the traditional “10 blue links” SERP and how they can be used to accelerate content ideation and production for content teams. As I note, “When it comes to ideation, or helping to create topics and delve deeper into topics, (a generative AI system) is like having an encyclopedia plus at your fingertips. It’s sort of Wikipedia on steroids.”

At the same time, given what we know about how good search engines have become at detecting and downranking spammy, low-quality content over the past two decades, there are some excellent reasons to be cautious with AI-generated content, especially when it’s used “out of the box.” As I note, “I think it’s going to become pretty clear to the search engines when it’s being used straight out of the box to spam. And the question is, how lucky do you feel, right? Do you really want to go out there and use it to spin up spammy articles, even if they’re relevant? And even if they’re quality? I don’t think that Google and Bing are going to take kindly to content forms being AI generated.”

Another important question pertains to how consumers will adapt to AI-assisted search results, which typically generate one, and only one ostensibly authoritative answer, rather than multiple results from which the user must choose. As I note, “Systems providing a single answer had better provide the right answer, otherwise the user’s information needs won’t be satisfied, which may cause many to refuse to grant this kind of decision-making power to AI. It will be interesting to see if people learn how to use the prompts of Bard and ChatGPT in order to give themselves the level of choice that search engines have conditioned them to expect.”

Steffen and I address the emergence of powerful AI graphic tools such as Dall-E and Midjourney, touch on the unique copyright issues pertaining to AI-generated content, and delve into the question of whether the traditional SEO optimization techniques used in the past will remain effective when attempting to win visibility in an AI-assisted search environment.

“The strategy I’m recommending at the moment really isn’t that much of a divergence from the strategy I was recommending three or four years ago,” I note. “Which was to not think about SEO purely from the perspective of getting your own domain to rank, but more about getting content that speaks positively about you and your brand out there in the broader ecosystem, so that you can increase the odds that you show up in the SERP in a positive context. (Content) is still king, but it has to be great quality content that solves a need, solves a purpose and puts the consumer first. Don’t put the algo first, put the consumer first. If that’s been your mission, and that’s been your guiding light, your North Star, from a content creation perspective, it should continue to be so.”

I very much enjoyed my talk with Steffen and hope you get value out of it. You can listen to the podcast here: or just by clicking on the image below.