How to Win at Marketing with SEO and AI-Based Search

April 22, 2024 | AI, Content Marketing, SEO

AI is not just a buzzword—it’s the future of effective marketing. Whether your website thrives on organic traffic or you’re looking to boost your leads, our new guide to AI-based search has everything you need to harness the power of AI in your marketing strategy. Learn about AI-based search, its impact, and how to prepare your business for the AI revolution. Enter your info in the form to download a PDF, or keep reading to learn more. Don’t miss out on these expert tips!

 
 
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We created this guide for business owners and marketers like you. It is for those who recognize that artificial intelligence (AI) is changing things and want to be fully prepared for whatever comes next.

You’ll find this guide helpful if:

  • Your company’s website generates leads from organic traffic (and you want to keep it that way).
  • Your website isn’t generating many leads from organic traffic (i.e., the search engines), and you’d like to fix that problem.
  • You want to understand how to implement AI in your marketing strategy to improve efficiency effectively.

AI is everywhere. Whether on the news, social media, or in discussions around the office, AI is top of mind for many of us. You might be excited about it, scared of what could go wrong, waiting to see what happens, or a combination of all three. Or, you might be ready to stick your head in the sand like the proverbial ostrich.

Wherever you are on AI, it’s not going away. Its presence and prominence will continue to increase and accelerate in just about every area of life, especially in business and even more so in marketing. And that means changes are happening—whether you’re prepared or not.

While AI promises to deliver greater business efficiency, it will very likely include significant pitfalls for unprepared businesses.

Consider this: What would happen if your website’s traffic dropped by 25% overnight? What impact would that have on your sales growth?

Unfortunately, this isn’t a hypothetical scenario—it’s a reality we’re facing with the advent of AI-powered search engines. However, for businesses that are prepared, the outcome can be not only different but better. And we want you to be prepared! That’s why we created this guide—to prepare and equip you to take action on marketing with AI. By the end of this guide, we feel confident that you will 1) know what’s happening with AI marketing and 2) feel confident about how to leverage AI to market your business effectively and efficiently.

In this guide, we will answer the following questions so you can be prepared to act:

  1. What is AI-based search?
  2. How will AI-based search engines impact your website traffic and lead generation?
  3. What can you do to be ready for AI marketing?
  4. What else can you do to increase your company’s visibility with buyers?
  5. How can you use AI to create content your buyers will love?

First, Let’s Talk About Buyers and Search Engines

Before we discuss search engines and AI, let’s consider how people use search engines to make buying decisions. This context will help you understand and use AI in your marketing strategy.
Generally speaking, when someone is buying a product or service, they are trying to solve a problem. Depending on how much they know about the solution, they will probably turn to search engines to find answers.

Let’s say you are searching for bookkeeping services for your business. If you haven’t used this type of service before, you might start by searching for things like “What does a bookkeeper do?” or something similar. Eventually, when you are closer to making a decision, you’ll narrow your search and look for specific bookkeeping service providers. In each step of the process, you’re asking questions, and the search engines are helping you find answers.

How do the search engines determine what to show you? When you search for something, search engines try to show you the best match for what you’re looking for. They do this by checking things like the words used on websites, how fast the site works, how it’s set up, and if other websites link to it. They aim to give you the right answers fast, without needing lots of clicks. There are a lot more details, but that’s the basic idea!

A downside to traditional search engines is that sometimes you will have to do a lot of digging to find what you actually need. Search engines were designed to provide you with information, not to give you direct answers to your questions—until now (enter AI, which we’ll get to shortly).

The most valuable place to be on any search results page is at the top of page one because it will get the most clicks and traffic as a result. So marketers work diligently to get their websites to rank on page one of search results. This process is called search engine optimization, or SEO for short. SEO is a process that takes time. The goal is to prove your website’s relevance and quality to the search engine algorithms that determine whether or not to put you on page one. Again, this is a baseline explanation, but if you want to learn more about SEO, we can answer your more in-depth questions.

Keeping all this in mind, now we are ready to jump into AI-based search and why it is so significant for both buyers and sellers.

AI-based search uses AI to generate more specific answers to searches performed in Google and Bing. One of the biggest changes—and advantages—of AI search is that the generative nature of AI helps search algorithms understand the context of questions. These results often summarize what AI discovered across multiple websites and eliminate the need to visit a website to get the needed answer. This style of search is known as “zero-click search” because you don’t have to click to get more information.

See zero-click search in action on our blog post: AI-Powered Search Engines Are Changing SEO, Is Your Website Ready? 

Some folks are already seeing how Google and Bing generate and show AI-based search results. Bing introduced AI last year and recently rebranded it, calling it Copilot. Google’s AI-based search is called SGE, which stands for Search Generative Experience.

Leaving Search Engines Behind: How Advanced AI Users Find Information Online

As AI becomes more mainstream, people will begin using AI tools, like ChatGPT, Gemini, and Copilot, to search for information rather than actually going to a search engine.

In this case, AI is like having an assistant who does the legwork for you. Instead of having to search half a dozen websites to get the information you’re looking for, AI can do the searching for you and give you an answer or summary, saving you time and energy.

One crucial difference between traditional search and AI-based search is that AI can understand more complicated questions. Let’s keep using the bookkeeping service example:

  • Traditional search: bookkeepers near me
  • AI-based search: please look for bookkeepers near me who specialize in small construction companies. I’d prefer someone who has other team members rather than a one-person show. Can you help me with that?

AI allows you to get much more specific. It can even create comparisons for you:

  • Please give me a list of the pros and cons of using a local bookkeeping company vs. a nationally prominent company. Put the results in a table for side-by-side comparison.

You’re probably starting to see the power of AI-based search and how it affects your customers’ search for answers to their questions online.

How Will AI-Driven Search Engines Impact Your Website Traffic and Lead Generation?

This evolution towards “zero-click searches” presents a double-edged sword for businesses. While it helps searchers find answers more easily, it also threatens to reduce organic traffic to websites significantly. Your challenge is to understand this shift and respond strategically.

Many websites will see a decrease in organic traffic (i.e., traffic that comes to your website through the search engines; this doesn’t include paid ad traffic). This is due to the impact of the zero-click search noted above.

We think the drop in visitors will mostly affect searches for general “top-of-the-funnel” info (these people are just beginning to think about buying). It’s not clear yet how this will affect getting leads. But when people are closer to buying and want more specific info or have complex questions, they’ll probably visit your website to find answers.

Read More: AI and Search Engines: See the Implications and Start Adapting

It’s also worth noting that if the sales process is complex, as may be the case in some B2B companies, the buyers will still come to your website because AI isn’t generating all the information they need.

While AI may cause a decrease in organic traffic, there is also an opportunity to prepare your website so that it has the potential to be one of the sites the search engines use and recommend as part of the AI search results.

We have several clients whose sites have been referenced by both Google and Bing in AI-based search results for buyer searches. After all, the search engines need to get their information from somewhere. Why not your website? We’ll talk more about how to do this shortly.

PRO TIP: What is SEO?

SEO stands for search engine optimization, which is the ongoing process of updating and improving your website so that it ranks higher in search engines. SEO makes it easier for potential buyers to find your website when searching for what you do and the problems you solve.

What You Can Do to Rank in AI-Driven Search Engines

The good news is that there’s a lot you can do to prepare for AI-powered search that will help you rank well. And, believe it or not, AI can help you do it faster and better.

As AI-driven search reshapes how buyers gather information and digital marketing, it’s essential that you start answering all of your buyers’ questions on your website (and we mean ALL of their questions).

Here’s the thing: AI understands the context behind the questions, not just search phrases and keywords. So, it’s looking for website content that answers questions.

This shift towards directly answering people’s questions requires a different approach for some companies who have kept information to a minimum on their sites or who, at best, don’t directly answer these questions on their sites. 

To rank in search results and attract sought-after traffic, you must create content that is compatible with search engine algorithms and meets your buyer’s information needs. In this spirit of answering buyers’ questions, we’ve guided our clients to take a question-focused approach to marketing content for years. It’s a proven strategy that builds trust with potential customers, increases your website’s credibility with search engines, and results in more qualified traffic and leads for your business. And now the shift towards AI-based generative search is putting even more emphasis on the need for question-based content.

What does question-focused content look like, practically speaking? It starts by creating question-answering content for your website: service/product pages, articles, videos, and other relevant content that your customers (and the search engines) will find helpful and informative.

Here are specific recommendations:

Take a Conversational Approach to Optimizing Your Website Content

Since AI understands context, searchers will talk to AI conversationally, like it’s a person (creepiness aside).  That means using longer keyword phrases instead of single-word keywords. For instance, “bookkeeping services for businesses in Memphis” is a better keyword phrase to use than using “bookkeepers” as a keyword.

Implement Google’s E-E-A-T Principles

E-E-A-T stands for experience, expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness, and it’s the framework Google uses to evaluate your website’s content. Follow these guidelines, and you’ll stand a much better chance of ranking high.

Add Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) to Your Website

Create concise, question-based content in the form of FAQs that you add to your articles and product/service pages. Consider the questions your potential clients or customers ask before buying — and answer them on your website. Don’t hold back. Remember—customers make 80% of their buying decisions before they contact a business. Think of your website as a 24-7 salesperson. Give your customers the answers they’re looking for. 

Leverage the “Big Five” to Answer Your Buyer’s Questions

Research shows that buyers ask questions that fall into five categories:

  1. pricing
  2. problems
  3. comparisons
  4. best of
  5. reviews

Answer questions and you’ll not only do better in the search rankings, you’ll have better-qualified prospects and customers.

What are Other Ways to Increase Your Brand Awareness?

Creating content that answers your buyers’ questions not only helps you with AI-based search, but it also gives you content you can use in other ways, such as, in your sales process, on social media, in email marketing, etc.

Let’s dig in a bit more, shall we?

  • Using content in your sales process.  If you have a salesperson in your company (maybe that’s you!), consider using content with your prospects. Send them content that you’ve created for your website that you know will answer their questions proactively. This is a great way to not only educate your buyers—it’s a great way to streamline your sales process by reducing the amount of time you spend answering the same questions on your calls so you can spend more time finding the right solution to their problem.
  • Creating social media content.  Much of your content can be broken down into smaller, bite-sized chunks that you can use on your social channels. You can create graphics, videos, images, and other formats to share with your followers and create engagement beyond your website.
  • Email your buyers and customers. Share your articles and other content with your buyers and customers through email. Not everyone will see the latest article you put on your website or your most recent LinkedIn post, but they’re very likely to see your email. And don’t worry about oversaturating folks by putting content on multiple channels. Repetition is a good thing.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by creating more content—don’t be! The great news is that with the latest AI tools, it’s never been easier to craft helpful content that not only ranks well but also builds trust and credibility with your buyers and customers.

How Can You Use AI to Create Content Your Buyers Will Love?

By following these foundational principles, you’ll create content that excels in this new world of AI-based search engines. While we recommend using AI tools to help create content, remember that they’re not a replacement for your expertise and experience. Be sure to train AI and review the content it creates. Tweak it and make it your own.

Identify and Answer Your Buyers’ Key Questions

Begin by brainstorming the questions you get asked the most in the sales process. For example:

  • What questions are prospects asking your sales team?
  • What questions are emailed to your customer service team?
  • When you meet someone new, what questions do they usually ask about your company?

You can also use tools like AnswerThePublic to discover other questions your audience might be asking. Use your content to address their questions in full. Doing so positions your articles as authoritative resources in the eyes of your buyers and search engines.

We’ve consistently seen this approach deliver results with our clients (e.g., increased website traffic and leads), and even more so now that search engines are using AI to answer user questions. By implementing SEO best practices, our clients have been able to rank in Google’s SGE and Bing’s Copilot results, in addition to already ranking high in traditional search results.

One more tip for you. Try using one of the AI tools—ChatGPT, Copilot, or Google Gemini—to help you brainstorm questions. Provide the AI tool with detailed customer info, including age, job description, where they live geographically, the problem they’re trying to solve, and any other relevant info derived from your marketing strategy. Then, ask it to give you a list of the questions they might ask from the start of the buying process all the way through making a buying decision. You might be amazed at what it comes back with.

Draft and Outline Your Content with AI

AI tools like ChatGPT or Google’s Gemini are invaluable marketing tools for generating content drafts or outlines centered around specific questions. For instance, when researching a topic, we might prompt ChatGPT with instructions like this:

  • Create an outline for an article that answers the top questions about CRM systems for small businesses.
  • What questions would you ask about marketing firms if you were a potential client?
  • What are the factors that differentiate one marketing firm from another?
  • What questions would a potential client ask to get those answers?

These are super simple examples, but hopefully, they give you an idea of ways you can use AI tools for marketing. You can also instruct AI to write a blog post (or other types of content) based on the outline it creates. The first step to great AI-generated content is using good prompts.

And remember to always review and edit what AI creates because it still can’t replace your experience, expertise, or perspective. (Although, it might spell better 😉 )

Improve Content Continuously

Make sure to regularly review your content to make sure it’s on point and covers everything it should. And don’t neglect your website’s analytics, as this info can give you valuable info about how visitors interact with your content. For example, if one of your service pages is only viewed for a few seconds per visit, you probably need to improve your content in some way to keep them there longer. Remember—the goal is adding value and giving strong answers to questions.

Educate Yourself

Try AI for yourself. Experiment with using Bing’s Copilot to search. Try ChatGPT or Google Gemini to create content. Ask questions that relate to your company’s products and services to get a sense of what your buyers will see.

Optimize Your Site’s Architecture

You might need a skilled SEO web developer for this part. It’s all about making sure your website is easy to use and makes sense, not just for people, but also for Google’s web crawlers. The goal is to have a clear and simple URL structure that everyone can navigate easily.

Use the strategies outlined in this guide to increase the likelihood that your website will be featured in AI-generated search results. These could include using FAQs on your website and consistently writing website articles that answer your customers’ questions.

Wrapping It Up: Your Next Steps with AI-Driven Search Engines

As AI reshapes how we connect and engage, it feels a bit like venturing into the unknown, doesn’t it?

While AI holds the promise of simplifying tasks like content creation and optimization, it’s no replacement for the human touch and strategic direction.

Getting to marketing success and seeing a good return on investment is like a journey – it’s slow and steady, and you’ve got to stick with it for the long haul. Creating top-notch content that answers people’s questions is key. Now, seeing a real impact in search results? That could take anywhere from six months to a year. And with all the changes in AI and how it affects searches, it’s kind of hard to pin down exactly how long it’ll take. But patience is the name of the game here!

We haven’t talked much about how often you should update your website with new content, but it’s worth mentioning. Keeping a steady pace—like posting 2-3 articles each week—can really help move things along faster than if you post only occasionally. Plus, with the help of AI, maintaining this schedule is a lot more manageable than it used to be. The key is consistency. Regularly offering content that answers your audience’s questions is a surefire way to keep them engaged and to keep your SEO game strong.

There’s more detail and nuance to all of this that we decided not to include in this initial guide. Stay tuned for our upcoming workshops where we’ll spend half a day showing you how to build a content strategy and use AI tools to create awesome content that both your customers and search engines will adore.

Whether you choose to navigate these changes on your own or work with a marketing partner, be wise and strategic. And always focus on building trust with your customers.

We’ll see you out there on the AI frontier!

FAQs

What is AI-based search?

AI-based search refers to search engines using AI to understand and process buyer searches in a more human-like way. This means search engines can provide more accurate, relevant results by interpreting search intent behind searches, not just matching keywords.

How will AI search impact my website and lead generation?

The impact of AI search on your website and lead generation can be significant. As search engines transition their focus to delivering answers to questions, your website will likely see a decrease in organic traffic if your content isn’t optimized for these new standards. However, it also opens opportunities for more targeted lead generation – being in the top results should bring visitors with a genuine interest.

What should I do to adapt to AI search?

Focus on creating high-quality, relevant content that answers your customer’s questions. Use natural language in your content to match the conversational tone users might use when searching. Also, optimize for featured snippets and other search engine results page (SERP) features, as AI is increasingly using these to provide quick answers. Keep abreast of SEO trends and adapt your strategies accordingly.

What else can I do to increase my company’s visibility with buyers?

Beyond optimizing for AI-based search, diversifying your digital marketing strategy can increase your company’s visibility. This includes leveraging social media platforms, engaging in email marketing, and using video content. Paid advertising can also boost visibility in the short term. Additionally, fostering online reviews and testimonials can enhance your credibility.

How can I use AI marketing tools to help with content creation?

AI can be a powerful tool in content creation, generating ideas, creating drafts, and even optimizing content for SEO. AI tools for marketing, like AI writing assistants, can take a prompt and produce a draft on a given topic, saving you time and providing a foundation to build on. AI marketing tools can also analyze data to identify trending topics and content gaps, ensuring your content strategy remains aligned with your audience’s search behaviors. Remember, while AI can assist in the content creation process, human oversight is essential to ensure quality and relevance.

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