Mastering SEO in the age of generative search.
Our go-to SEO expert’s advice on thriving in the era of AI.

It’s no secret: AI is here, and it’s evolving quickly. With it comes a wave of potential implementations and implications for your business. In a world where search is transforming from search queries into more discussion-based inputs and outputs, how do you maintain the visibility that comes with competitive search ranking? Do you even need a blog anymore? Is there a way to rank on ChatGPT? I have questions. And, luckily, we also have collaborators who are SEO specialists, so I called the best one I know: Merove Heifetz.

Can you start by explaining at a high level how generative AI search is affecting SEO?

Sure. When we’re thinking about ChatGPT, Gemini, or even Google’s Search Generative Experience (SGE), these AI tools’ foundations are based on information that’s on the internet. They’re pulling from content that brands and other entities are generating. These tools still need websites, social media, video content, and images (because all these AI tools are now interpreting images and video as well), so these platforms are going to need new information on an ongoing basis.

Knowing that, I’m doubling down. Brands still need websites. They still need to be active on social media and email. Not only do these AI tools need to consume your unique expertise and information via your website and blog, but your website, social media, and email newsletter are also still places where prospective customers are going to learn about your company once they’ve decided they want to learn more.

Google has been trying to generate its own answers and keep people on Google for longer. We’re seeing that trend continue through SGE.
In Google search results, when there are SGE results visible, the page layout is different.

Okay, brands should still create content to feed the engine, but what happens to all that traffic and attention they were getting? Should brands be concerned with search-driven website traffic declining?

One of the main things that really is, and always has been,  changing is the layout of these search results pages. In Google search results, when there are SGE results visible, the page layout is different. For example, where the ads live versus the organic content, either or both are being pushed down further by SGE depending on the day or query. So one challenge is that everything else is being pushed further down the page.

Historically, Google has continuously made changes to the layout of its search results pages. Take, for example, the “People Also Asked” section. That practice has already been degrading website traffic for years as Google has been trying to generate its own answers and keep people on Google for longer. We’re seeing that trend continue through SGE.

Knowing that, I do think we will continue to see the trend of less traffic. There will still be traffic coming from search engines to brands’ websites, but over time I think it will continue to decrease because a lot of the answers are just going to be available directly on the search results page through SGE or otherwise. This is something referred to as zero-click search.

With this in mind, brands need to generate a strategy to be able to appear in SGE results. Generally, the way to do that is not significantly different from SEO today. One tactic I recommend, now more strongly than ever, is using schema for structured data.

One tactic I recommend, now more strongly than ever, is using schema for structured data.

Schema is a specific markup to better help search engines, and now these generative AI tools, to better understand and categorize specific types of content. There’s a whole list of different types of schema that exist, such as basic entities, which include company type, address, location, and name. If you tag some of those basics with schema, then you may have a greater chance of appearing within regular search results and generative AI search results.

Other types of schema markup are related to different articles, events, reviews, and product details such as product name, product color, product size, product cost, etc. There’s an endless list of different types of schema markups that brands can apply to their content and that’s really important in enabling brands, their products, and their content to potentially appear in search results.

There’s an endless list of different types of schema markups that brands can apply to their content .

It sounds like the SEO challenges that brands faced yesterday are similar to today. What are the biggest SEO challenges for brands today and how, if at all, do you think that will change?

I think the same challenges exist just under a different lens. If brands are focusing on what I call the “four buckets of SEO” then, for the most part, regardless of whatever algorithm changes are happening for “regular” SEO or SGE results, you should still be good. Those four buckets are:

  1. Content: High-quality, authentic, and ethical content that is generated or updated regularly and is unique, showcasing the expertise and authority that only your brand can demonstrate.
  2. Technical SEO: Make sure you are using schema wherever you can, your site speed is fast, you minimize site errors, ensure your site renders correctly for Google if it uses a lot of JavaScript, and there are no blockers to search engines from crawling the areas of your site that you want them to crawl.
  3. Credibility: This relates to reviews, general sentiment online about the brand and its products/services, and links to your site from other websites that are contextually relevant and authoritative.
  4. UX: Build an intuitive website user experience and user flow to maximize visitor engagement and conversions.

In terms of content creation, you can actually use these AI tools to feed those SEO buckets. I use ChatGPT, Gemini, and Claude all the time to get ideas for content topics or to enhance content that I or my clients have written. I think these tools can help to make content better.

The problem is that other people are also using these tools in the same way. So, while these tools can help cut some corners and maybe save some time, it’s so important to make sure that it’s still quality content, that it’s accurate, that it’s authentic to the brand, and that it is unique. You have to change it up in some ways because, again, someone else could have used the same prompts and generated the same piece of content as you. That’s negative from an SEO perspective.

Are there certain industries that are more affected by this evolution than others?

Yes. For Google specifically, they have always held “YMYL” websites to a higher standard. “YMYL” is a category that stands for Your Money, Your Life, and it includes any website that provides information that could substantially affect someone’s money or life. Most commonly, these are brands in health, medicine, finance, and safety. These websites have a higher bar to meet for quality, accuracy, and ethics. So, usually when there is an algorithm update, YMYL websites that aren’t high quality get dinged badly. If a brand is in one of those categories, they have to adhere to the four buckets, but make extra sure that they’re generating content on a regular basis that is high quality, accurate, unique, and ethical.

For example, we recently saw how the March 2024 Google core update negatively impacted the organic traffic of several websites that tried to game the system by generating a large volume of low-quality and/or unoriginal content through the use of AI tools. Some of those websites’ organic traffic may never recover.

It is also going to be harder for new and small brands to be visible in SGE results. For these brands, while they should focus on all four buckets, they will need to put in extra effort on the content and credibility sides. They should continuously be generating and updating authoritative, high-quality content, which in turn supports credibility and makes it easier to acquire high-quality backlinks. Digital PR is also going to be extra important for smaller brands.

Are there other resources or tools that you recommend for marketing professionals looking to stay ahead of the changes that are happening within search?

AI tools themselves! AI is changing so, so quickly. Get in there and test these new tools; figure out how you can use them to your own unique brand advantage; use these platforms to generate content ideas, outlines, draft content, etc. There are so many tools out there that can help make our lives much easier.

Alongside using the tools, I’m often reading about AI developments. There are a million and one newsletters and sites that are tracking these things. One that I subscribe to is Ben’s Bites. It gives you all the AI news of the day and shares new tools.

Merove Heifetz, founder of Acquisition Digital and our go-to-SEO partner.

Merove Heifetz is a cross-channel digital strategist and founder of Acquisition Digital. When it comes to digital strategy and marketing, she has an ocean of knowledge and experience, and for select clients, she also serves as a Fractional CMO. For over 20 years, she’s helped a range of industries and clients take their digital strategy to the next level, including Walmart Grocery, Glossier, Penguin Random House, Adidas, DCL Logistics, and Make-A-Wish Foundation. At Teak, we often refer to her as our “secret weapon” when working with clients on website redesign projects. Follow Merove on LinkedIn or schedule a call with her to learn how your brand can improve your SEO and digital strategy.

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