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Future-Proofing Your Brand’s SEO for AI and Beyond

Published: March 17, 2024       Updated: April 23, 2024

12 min read

(This post by friend of the agency Reggie Johnson was originally published on LinkedIn.)

I have a theory about getting AI tools to accurately reflect your brand in a not-so-hypothetical world where people get their search queries answered by AI chatbots and AI-infused search engines.

This is especially relevant for smaller businesses and organizations.

But first...

A Little SEO History

When you wanted to search the internet for information, you used to have one option: Search in a traditional search engine like Netscape, AltaVista, Google, Yahoo, Bing, etc.

But times are changing and more and more people are using AI chatbots or AI-infused search engines to answer their queries more quickly. Many people want answers. Not waves of websites to surf on!

SEO used to be the process of getting your web page to show as high as possible on the Search Engine Results Page (SERP). If your title and meta description looked relevant and interesting, people would click.

Then came a whole host of features to the Google SERPs such as featured snippets, top stories, images and videos, FAQs, the Local Pack, events, and more. These rich results brought answers to users more quickly than traditional web-surfing. Some of them led to click-throughs. Others didn't.

Then came AI.

So-called "generative search" uses content from websites to answer the user's query right on the SERP without the user needing to click through to the source website. AI chatbots such as ChatGPT are even further removed from sending users through to your site.

A Google study showed that 26% of desktop and 17% of mobile queries on their search engine are "zero-click" searches, meaning there is no click through to a website. (1)

There goes your SEO, right?

Situation Analysis

Truthfully, it might not be as bad as it sounds. While zero-click SERPs are increasing, the absolute number of searches that result in a website click continues to rise year-over-year. Some suggest that what we're witnessing presently in zero-click searches is actually search refinement rather than click theft.

And Google isn't surrendering market share to AI chatbots yet. It's still holding steady at approximately 92% of the global market for search — the same as one year ago. (2)

Nonetheless, there's restlessness in the SEO industry. It's clear that AI is changing search behavior, and we can anticipate more changes as tools like Perplexity use AI to turn web search into a speedy game of Q&A rather than a surfing expedition.

Meanwhile optimizers are trying to figure out how to game the AI tools so that their brand will be recommended and accurately represented in response to relevant queries.

With a shift in perspective, you can future-proof your SEO without having to worry about every new search tool or core update.

I'm going to tell you why you don't need to try to game anything. With a shift in perspective, you can future-proof your brand's SEO without having an anxiety attack over every new search tool or core update.

Your Digital Footprint

I’m fond of pointing out that your website is the cornerstone of your digital presence, but the narrative of your brand is shaped by many different touch points across the digital landscape.

And all of these touch points are accessible to the latest LLMs and AI tools.

From a brand perspective, this comes down to ensuring you are building trust and reputation across your entire digital footprint.

From a brand perspective, this comes down to ensuring you are building trust and reputation across your entire digital footprint. That’s something you’re probably already doing for humans anyway.

At least you should be, right?

Improving Your Digital Footprint

What are some ways you can improve the impact of your digital footprint in the current environment?

  1. First off, focus on helping the user, not influencing the search tool. Keep your eye on the real goal: providing value to users so that they can have a positive experience with your brand. Having that positive experience is a big predictor of future eagerness to purchase or do business with you. So solve for the user. Consider search intent (not all users are looking for a quick answer from a chatbot). Ask, "What will be valuable to them?" That's what the search engines and AI tools with all of their constant updates are trying to do, so it helps to be strategically aligned with them.
  2. Mind your business listings. Keep your online business profiles and industry listings up to date and ensure they accurately and consistently reflect your important details and brand values. Enhance listings with media where available.
  3. Establish your presence on social media and other relevant channels. This is easy to say and much harder to do, but it's worth mentioning: Having a broad online presence across different channels enhances a brand's credibility and trustworthiness... but only if you're making regular use of the channels. Don't just create an empty TikTok account so you can say you have one. "Dress your channels" to create the type of impact that will help accomplish your goals. Depending on your team and resources, you could take this to the next level beyond posting on your brand account. The more you can develop experienced, trustworthy thought leaders to represent your brand on places like LinkedIn and industry blogs (which are no doubt being scraped by AI's), the more the search engines and AI tools will find you to be a credible source of information. Humans will too! Bonus!
  4. Garner online reviews (and respond appropriately to reviews on platforms that allow responses). Positive reviews are wonderful, but remember that negative reviews are a golden opportunity to engage with someone and turn a bad experience with your brand into a positive one. Plus, negative reviews can also contain valuable feedback for what your brand could be doing better.
  5. Invest in public relations. The AI's know who is being talked about in the media — with or without a backlink. So invest in PR: It may just be the most impactful thing you can do for all kinds of SEO. (3)
  6. Use consistency to your advantage. A) Employ “Lexicon Triggers” when describing your company to create associations between your brand and specific key words and phrases or "branded keywords". (4) B) Be consistent in emphasizing your key differentiators and unique selling proposition. C) Keep the important details about your brand consistent across touch points — business name, phone, URL, address, etc.
  7. Use multimedia. AI tools are quickly advancing in their ability to break down media in order to serve relevant pieces of content according to search intent. Include engaging, authentic, and high-quality imagery where possible. Even if most AI tools aren’t including pictures in their responses right now, it will be helpful down the line. Plus, this is incredibly important for engaging humans — which is the end goal after all! Include video versions of your content or relevant brand videos in touch points that allow it as well. People increasingly prefer video format and AI tools and searches will try to meet that user expectation.
  8. Use structured data on your website. (5) There are "schemas" that provide meta data in a standardized format for things like books, media, events, organizations, people, places, products, and reviews. Structured data makes it more likely you'll be included in rich SERP features. Also, pulling info from structured data is easier for bots than analyzing the page to gather the details. And, like people, crawlers try to conserve energy. Don't miss this opportunity to make it easier for them to get the important details of your brand and your content! At the very least take advantage of the LocalBusiness or Organization schema as applicable. Visit Schema.org.
  9. Follow accessibility best practices. (6) Not only will this make your content available to more people without leaving certain groups out, but it's also a good way to make your content more accessible to bots since it involves helpful habits such as providing contextual info in alt tags for images and titles and transcripts for videos. Bots appreciate this too. Search engines prioritize accessibility in their listings and it's a reasonable assumption that this will make a difference with AI tools as well. It's also the right thing to do from an ethical and inclusivity perspective.
  10. Test the expected use cases in AI chatbots and AI-infused search engines. Query different AI tools for A) the kinds of questions that your content is intended to answer; B) brand recommendations or comparisons for your industry and geographic area; and C) a summary about your brand specifically. By getting familiar with these and other use cases for generative search you can get a better feel for the outcomes you’re looking for and the obstacles you face.

For Bots or for People?

Note that these are mostly the same steps you would take in creating a consistent narrative about your brand for humans.

Yes, none of it is terribly new or innovative for AI.

That's the point.

AI tools look for the general consensus across their available data. It’s based on probability predictions. By being consistent and strategic about the content in your touch points, you can reinforce the most important details about your brand... just as you would for humans.

By being consistent and strategic about the content in your touch points, you can reinforce the most important details.

And remember that AI tools are trying to create the best experience for human users. When you focus on doing the same by building trust and managing your online reputation for humans, you are more likely to find success in the way your brand is represented in relevant queries made in AI tools and generative search.

Shelley Walsh, SEO Content Strategist at Search Engine Journal and ShellShock, says that we need to stick to the never-changing fundamentals during this time of upheaval:

“One of the foundations of good marketing is to put the user first.”

She adds, “Tools are tools and should be treated as such. They can never replace applied knowledge, experience and expertise. When everything is changing, hold on to what is timeless”. (7)

Is There Any Support?

Tips and ideas from industry resources and SEO experts echo many of the same key points as this strategy. They emphasize focusing on providing value to the user instead of the engine, utilizing structured data, making use of multimedia, and thinking in terms of touch points across the online realm rather than simple, traceable buyer journeys. (8)

SEO guru Neil Patel did a study on SEO for AI (9), identifying six factors that can help with getting your brand recommended in AI chats:

  • Brand Mentions
  • Reviews
  • Relevancy
  • Age (how long your business or domain name has been around)
  • Recommendations
  • Authority

What I find interesting is how similar these factors are to current best practices for standard SEO and optimizing your overall digital presence.

These six factors are all indicators of a brand that has built trust and reputation across the digital landscape. They're some of the same concepts emphasized in the list above.

Furthermore, Patel reassures us that AI is not going to kill search. While it's a new way of searching — just like voice search through Alexa and Siri was new a few years back — it's still just another tool and search engine optimizers will continue to be critical to brands' online success. (10)

"Tools are tools and should be treated as such. They can never replace applied knowledge, experience and expertise."

Who Took All the TOFU?!

While it’s not all doom and gloom for SEOs, it’s not all roses either.

Many content marketers are seeing AI-infused search engines and chatbots effectively chopping off the top of their funnel and taking it for themselves. The AI's grab the content from your website and serve it to users on a zero-click SERP or in a chat tool without you being able to give the user an opportunity to move further down your funnel.

When a user clicks on your website to look at your top-of-funnel (TOFU) content, you have the chance to provide a call-to-action that leads them to take the next step. But if they get what they need from your content right on the SERP or in the chat without clicking on your page, you lose that opportunity, right?

So what do you do?

  • Do you go straight for the middle of the funnel, using search intent to find users who are already looking for something that an easy AI answer or summary can't satisfy?
  • Do you try to get your content included in those AI-generated answers and snippets, hoping that will enhance your brand image (through the halo effect and perceived credibility) or somehow lead back to your site?
  • Do you create higher quality authentic content showing off the one thing humans have that AI's do not: personal experience?
  • Do you treat the AI mentions like media coverage and track brand searches to measure impact?

The answers to these and other questions about the impact of zero-click SERPs on content marketing are still in flux. And they're also a bit beyond the scope of this article.

But still, it’s important to acknowledge this "Chopped TOFU" Effect, be aware of how your content marketing may be impacted, and note that It’s probably going to require some rethinking of search intent and brand alignment of your content at some point.

I'd love to hear your plans and ideas in the comments!

TL;DR

The more you intentionally shape your overall digital footprint to communicate a consistent narrative about your brand while building trust and reputation across your online touch points, the more AI tools will accurately represent and emphasize your brand, your key differentiators and your value propositions.

Keep in mind that this is a long-term strategy to benefit your brand in search for years to come — no matter what the next search tools and interfaces may be.

Good luck!

References

  1. Danny Goodwin, Google search study: 25.6% of desktop, 17.3% of mobile are zero-click
  2. Statcounter Global Stats, Search Engine Market Share Worldwide
  3. Scott Baradell, Trust Signals, p. 214,
  4. Kai D. Wright, Follow the Feeling, p. 94-95
  5. See Schema.org
  6. See https://www.w3.org/WAI/
  7. Search Engine Journal, 2024 AI & SEO: Your 24-Expert Guide To Successful SERPs
  8. As an example, see 2024 AI & SEO: Your 24-Expert Guide To Successful SERPs
  9. Neil Patel, Post on X (formerly Twitter) in December 2023
  10. Neil Patel, How ChatGPT, Bard, and AI Will Impact Search

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Reggie Johnson is digital media and content manager and website manager at Fort Worth Country Day.

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