SEO is dead! A phrase thrown around in the industry, now more frequently than ever and we totally get it. The past few years have been one of the most game-changing periods in not just SEO, but digital marketing as a whole. And that simply boils down to one thing, the rise of AI tools.

Today’s digital landscape practically sees the word AI plastered on almost every software and digital offering. We see tons of websites and companies promoting the latest AI-powered tool, be it an advanced writing software or a human-centric chatbot, all of these seem to indicate that AIs are here to stay.

Well I am no computer engineer nor a scientist. Being a digital marketer for the past 5 years, I have seen a rapid paradigm shift in the general public’s perception on technology adoption especially in digital marketing. Today, we are going to look into the rise of AI in this specific context and what it means for digital marketing, especially SEO. 

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Quick history of Artificial Intelligence development

Artificial intelligence, or AI for short, is not something new to us. We’ve seen glimpses and vivid imaginations of AI applications in Hollywood blockbusters as early as the 1960s. 

However, real world practicality always seemed far-fetched back then with technology struggling to keep up with the vast processing power required for effective AI development. With advances in chip manufacturing, companies are now truly able to unleash the power of machine learning. 

The Birth of AI (1950s-1960s): The field of AI was officially established in the 1950s, marked by the Dartmouth Workshop in 1956. Early AI focused on symbolic reasoning and rule-based systems, aiming to create machines that could mimic human cognitive processes.

AI Winter (1970s-1980s): Optimism gave way to an “AI winter” as early AI systems failed to deliver on grand promises. Funding decreased, and progress stagnated.

Expert Systems (1980s): AI saw a resurgence in the 1980s with the development of expert systems, which encoded human expertise in rule-based software. However, these systems had limitations.

Machine Learning Revival (1990s-2000s): Machine learning and neural networks gained prominence. The 1997 victory of IBM’s Deep Blue over Garry Kasparov in chess showcased AI’s potential.

Deep Learning and Big Data (2010s): Deep learning, powered by massive datasets and improved hardware, led to significant AI breakthroughs, including the success of deep neural networks in image and speech recognition.

AI Integration (Present): AI is now ubiquitous in daily life, from virtual assistants to recommendation systems. It’s being applied in various fields, including healthcare, finance, and autonomous vehicles.

As AI’s capabilities expand, so do concerns about bias, privacy, and ethics. Governments and organizations are working to establish regulations and ethical guidelines for AI. This has proven to be a challenge as there are seemingly endless applications of AI.

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When did AI become mainstream?

One of the earliest forms of AI that quickly gained mainstream recognition was the release of Apple’s voice assistant Siri. First released as one of the flagship features of the iPhone 4S in October 2011, Siri was more of a novelty feature in reality. 

Apple states that Siri is “an intelligent assistant that helps you get things done”. One of Siri’s greatest strengths lies in its ability to pick up contextual meaning and understand casual conversations. Things like sending a text or setting an alarm or reminder can now be done via a voice command.

However, earlier versions of Siri received fairly mixed reviews. Many criticised Siri’s inability to move away from rigid command-based instructions. These have slowly improved over the years of course, and Siri is now one of the most reliable Voice Assistants available on the market. With Siri gaining popularity, other companies started releasing their own version such as Alexa, Google Assistant, Cortana and more. 

Being more designed for the tech savvy, voice recognition AIs still did not change the overall landscape as much as people initially assumed. The real game changer came in the form of OpenAI. OpenAI was initially conceived as a non-profit venture, with a mission of developing “safe and beneficial” artificial general intelligence.

Their research proved to be one of the most groundbreaking as shown in the culmination of their brainchild, first brought to the masses in the form of the generative AI ChatGPT. During its public release back in November 2022, the world was simply put – dumbfounded by the capabilities of a language predictive modeling AI. People immediately hopped on the hype train and social media exploded with many trying to see how far it can go. 

In fact, ChatGPT became the fastest software to hit 100 million active users within two months, a feat that took the next closest competitor TikTok 9 months to achieve. Even Instagram when it first launched, took almost 2 years to hit the same milestone. 

This trend indicated that people are now more receptive and are readily adapting to newer technologies. As people get their hands on experiencing what a simple language model AI can do (the word “simple” is used VERY liberally), many are left wondering what other real world applications can AI be capable of in the very near future.

And this is where the topic about Search Engine Optimization (SEO) comes in, as Google has always been a pioneer in algorithms and machine learning in the form of the world’s most popular search engine. In fact, the parent company of Google, Alphabet Inc also launched their own version of a generative AI in the form of BARD. 

This is obviously seens as a comeback against the popularisation of ChatGPT, and Google definitely did not want to miss out on a piece of the very lucrative pie. Since then, admittedly the hype surrounding generative AI has slowly plateaued but it also started a ripple effect that has profound implications on tech in general. 

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So how does it affect digital marketing?

Today, a lot of people and marketers will tell you that writing content or ad copies is made so much easier with AI-assisted help. That is certainly true as there is a significant rise of language model AIs geared towards helping writers generate content faster and more accurately. Aside from ChatGPT and BARD, there are plenty of other smaller companies getting into the AI writing space such as Jasper, Rytr, CopyAI just to name a few. 

Predictive text modelling has been improved upon so much that some companies even considered using them instead of human content writers. From an operational perspective, this makes perfect sense as AIs almost never make human errors such as typos, grammatical errors and poor language. Coupled with the fact that it is able to generate a complete article in less time needed to finish a cup of coffee, people are starting to seriously question the cost-effectiveness of human resources. 

Now before we go all Terminator on how AI will eventually be the downfall of mankind, we would like to first take a look at how it improves the way we work. 

Automation in Digital Marketing

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One of the most profound impacts of AI in digital marketing is automation. Automation in digital marketing refers to the use of AI-powered tools and algorithms to perform repetitive and time-consuming tasks, thus increasing efficiency and allowing marketers to focus on more strategic, creative, and high-level tasks. Several areas within digital marketing have experienced automation’s benefits:

Data Analysis: AI algorithms can analyze vast datasets in real-time, helping marketers gain insights into consumer behavior, market trends, and campaign performance. This allows for data-driven decision-making and more effective targeting. Aside from that, AIs can often minimize if not eliminate human errors completely, ensuring that your data-driven decisions are often made based on the best possible calculations. 

Content Creation: AI-powered tools can generate content, such as product descriptions, social media posts, and even articles, saving time and resources for businesses. Writing a long–form content may have taken days or even weeks, but is now available with the right prompts. This significantly reduces turnaround time and increases output.

Email Marketing: AI can personalize email content and timing based on a recipient’s behavior and preferences, leading to higher engagement and conversion rates. 

Chatbots and Customer Support: AI-driven chatbots can provide instant responses to customer inquiries, enhance user experience, and even handle transactions, thus improving customer satisfaction and efficiency. Most importantly, such AI chatbots are available 24/7 which means that your customers have access to constant support around the clock. While initial setups and investments might be costly, ultimately chatbots can help to save resources in the long run, allowing you more flexibility to divest into other areas of your business. 

Social Media Management: AI can schedule posts, optimize ad campaigns, and analyze user engagement, enabling a more effective and consistent social media presence. A proper social media content calender can be completed within a few prompts, making campaign setups a breeze. 

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Job Replacement Concerns

While AI’s automation capabilities have undoubtedly improved efficiency and effectiveness in digital marketing, concerns about job displacement have arisen. As AI systems become more sophisticated, some tasks traditionally performed by human marketers could become automated, leading to potential job displacement.

This has led to significant unrest especially when it comes to those mainly responsible for content creation. The common denominator that people saw was that AIs can potentially completely replace SEO writers, journalists, copywriters and more due to the vastly faster creation speed. 

From an employers’ perspective, it makes sense to cut down on manpower costs if the same work can be done through a few prompts. However, before we jump into employment armageddon, it’s essential to consider a more nuanced perspective. While AIs have demonstrated unprecedented potential, there are still numerous kinks and wrinkles that have yet to be ironed out completely. 

For example ChatGPT, at least the free version, may still struggle when it comes to certain human interactions. Information that AIs churn out are also mostly scrapped content from the internet, that may or may not be completely accurate. Marketers are still strongly advised to use their own discretion when using information obtained from such sources. 

For us, we’d rather welcome the integration of AI in the workplace as a supplementary role rather than as a permanent replacement. Rather than replacing writers completely, AIs can be used to give inspiration for topic ideas and craft content framework. This helps to spark the writers’ creativity while also giving them something to work on immediately. 

Shift in Job Roles: As some routine tasks are automated, the roles of digital marketers are evolving. They are required to interpret and apply AI-generated insights, create high-quality content, and develop innovative strategies. In that case, the roles of execution may be shifted to become one of oversight and management. Job displacement may be mitigated by the creation of new roles focused on AI integration and interpretation.

AI-Enhanced Decision-Making: Marketers increasingly rely on AI-generated insights to make informed decisions. AI augments human capabilities, making marketing professionals more efficient and effective in their roles rather than replacing them outright. Statistics and complex calculations can be completed in a matter of seconds with zero errors. Again, this helps to improve overall efficiency. 

Human Creativity and Strategy: AI may assist in content generation, but the creative and strategic aspects of marketing remain firmly within the domain of human marketers. Building brand narratives, devising creative campaigns, and understanding cultural nuances are skills that AI cannot replicate, at least not for now. Typically AIs require a detailed set of prompts and instructions, and creativity is not something that can be simply delivered through that. Human ingenuity and creativity still stands shoulders above the most advanced AIs and that is probably not going to change anytime soon.

Quality Assurance & Ethics: Human oversight is essential in digital marketing, especially when it comes to ensuring brand consistency, ethics, and alignment with company values. Human judgement is irreplaceable in these areas. In fields of ethics, AIs can provide advice on ethics by referencing established principles and analyzing data; it may not fully replace human judgement when it comes to complex, nuanced, and culturally sensitive ethical dilemmas. Ethical decisions often require a deep understanding of human values, context, and cultural norms, which AI currently may not fully grasp. Therefore, AI should be used as a tool to aid ethical decision-making rather than a sole authority on ethical matters. This is the main area where AIs still fall short as the human touch is still required. 

Future Outlook

The future of AI in digital marketing is one of coexistence and collaboration between AI and human professionals. Businesses that successfully integrate AI into their marketing strategies can expect to gain a competitive edge. Marketers must adapt and acquire AI-related skills to remain relevant in the industry.

AI is not just a tool for automation; it’s a valuable ally in understanding, predicting, and engaging with audiences. The human element of creativity, empathy, and strategic thinking is integral to creating authentic, meaningful connections with consumers. AI’s role is to support, optimize, and enhance these efforts, not to supplant or replace them.

AI’s impact on digital marketing is significant, particularly in terms of automation and the concerns of job replacement. Automation has streamlined various marketing processes, making campaigns more data-driven and efficient. Job displacement concerns, while valid, should be viewed in the context of shifting roles and new opportunities for marketing professionals. 

We believe that the future of digital marketing lies in the collaboration between AI and humans, harnessing the strengths of each to create more effective and impactful marketing strategies.