What impact will AI and generative tools have on the future of SEO? Alexander de Ridder of SmythOS dives deep into how the supply and demand for these tools can dilute website traffic, and just how to come out a winner in the long game.
SEO & AI Strategy Episode Summary
- Rich and Alexander discussed the impact of personas in business, and the challenges of AI and SEO. They also talked about the importance of creating authoritative content, building trust with the audience, and the potential consequences of using generative AI tools in content creation.
- Alexander explains that AI can write articles just as well as humans, but the value of personal experience and expertise is what sets humans apart. He also mentions that in the future, AI assistants will browse the web for users, so the focus for businesses should be on making their websites attractive to AI bots to ensure they are chosen by the AI assistants.
- The future of SEO, where websites will be optimized for AI assistants through APIs and personalized agents. They mentioned that major companies like Google, Microsoft, and Meta are already integrating AI assistants into their platforms to enhance user experiences and keep people engaged.
- The significance of AI assistants and the importance of positioning oneself as an authority in the future economy of AI systems. Alexander emphasized the need for businesses to establish their brand as an authoritative figure by creating trustworthy and comprehensive content focused on a specific area of expertise.
- Rich and Alexander had a fascinating conversation about SmithOS.com, a cutting-edge multi-agent operating system that aims to revolutionize the future of work.
SEO & AI Episode Transcript
Rich: My guest today is the co-founder and CTO of Smyth, which is at the forefront of revolutionizing artificial intelligence systems. Recognizing that the future lies not in monolithic AI, but in a network of specialized agents. Smyth provides a foundational platform, SmythOS, to bring this future to life for governments and enterprises worldwide.
He is an equal part computer scientist, entrepreneur, and marketer. He co-founded and sold multiple large marketing agencies, is a thought leader in both SEO and AI, and widely respected for his innovation and vision.
Today, we’re going to be taking a look at SEO, and the impact that AI is having on this critical traffic source for your business, with Alexander de Ridder. Alexander, welcome to the podcast.
Alexander: Thank you. Thank you for inviting me, Rich.
Rich: This is going to be exciting. Alexander, when you and I first chatted, it was in early June, seemingly a lifetime ago in terms of AI. It seems to me that when we’re talking about AI and SEO, there are certain things that we are hands on and in control of, and other things that are happening with the search engines themselves that we can’t control, but maybe we can change our approach. So with that in mind, I’d like to start with some of the hands-on aspects of SEO, if you don’t mind.
Alexander: So today, the best practices of SEO are more true than ever create helpful, authoritative content that shows your expertise that builds trust. Don’t just change topics every other article. Really cover one topic really well so you become the authority – not an authority – the authority on a topic.
Build and invest in your brand. Build trust with your audience. Build great engagement with fast loading websites, enjoyable user interfaces for people to consume your content. Go beyond just text and add amazing images, infographics, video, and other material that keeps people engaged for longer with your brand, and you are sure to have SEO success. Those principles are still true. Oftentimes it’s back to basics and focus on doing the basics really well.
What is changing is the search engines themselves. And there’s a lot of change on the horizon. I was just talking to a longtime friend and SEO expert, and she was basically saying that there’s a lot of uncertainty among SEOs right now around what the future will bring for the career. You have to understand something. If I were to describe what makes a great SEO and why SEOs are so good at what they do, it’s because SEO is always changing. And so people that are great at SEO are actually energized and passionate about change.
Google releases new algorithm updates. Let’s dissect this. Let’s figure out how to move forward from here. Let’s see how we can optimize our clients for this. That is the very ethos of being in SEO. However, the changes that are on the horizon right now for content marketing and SEO are so profound. So profoundly different, that people who have this gene of excitement for change are feeling anxiety, I think, for the first time.
Rich: That is an interesting concept, and I definitely want to come back to that. For now, I want to talk a little bit about, there’s obviously broad and specific AI tools for content creation. So I’m curious to know from your perspective, how should we approach generative AI tools if SEO is one of our marketing goals?
Alexander: We’re in the Goldilocks zone right now. Where AI and generative tools can help you accelerate your quality process, and you can do a lot more a lot faster. Unfortunately, it also has the impact and consequence that if everyone’s doing that and everyone is doing this, the content supply is trending exponential where demand is still linear. And so the gap between supply and demand is growing exponentially. Which means that over time, we are facing more competition than before, which means that the traffic is being diluted by these activities. And it’s not something that is your fault. It’s something that’s just everyone is contributing to.
But because it is not yet, it has not yet overwhelmed the search engines. We’re in a Goldilocks zone phase where if you don’t use it, you’re at a disadvantage. And if you use it, you still have a chance to create remarkable content campaigns. Now, the key thing is, you I’m just going to give you the principle and the audience, the principle, right? If AI can generate this article without you, then why the heck should Google send traffic to your site if it has the same AIs that can generate the same content?
Rich: So what you’re saying is, I just want to make sure, because that’s a huge point. So if I can write an article, and generative AI can write an article just as well as I can, that AI could be used by Google.
If somebody asked Google a question, why would they send the traffic to Rich Brooks or Agents of Change when the next version of BARD could just show the answer, write an article right on the spot, that would be of equal content? Is that the dystopian future that you’re describing?
Alexander: No, that’s the present. That’s the present. If your content does not add any value over the generic AI model, and generic AI model could say the same things you wrote, then why should people go to your website? Why should Google give up its traffic, its potential for ad generation and revenue on its homepage? Why should it not just be zero click?
Think about this. The only reason why Google would send people to your site is because you have something to add to the conversation. A personal experience, expertise, a real-life use case, information that otherwise these AIs don’t have access to. That is what’s creating expertise.
So use generative tools. Take advantage of them to do the editing, the spell checking, making it more readable and enjoyable. Use it for all those things to accelerate your process. But do not remove the opportunity for you as a human to add your personal experience and expertise to content. Because that is what’s the difference between being found and being an authority, than becoming obliterated by search generative experience.
Rich: All right. That’s fantastic. It’s not fantastic, it’s terrifying. But it’s still amazing advice. Moving away from generative AI, but still hands on kind of things that we can do, how might AI make SEO more efficient or automated in the future? Things like keyword research, link building, technical SEO. Is there a role for AI to help us there as well?
Alexander: Yeah. There definitely is. It’s hard to think of anything that AI cannot help improve the process. I don’t know, you can think of making a banana smoothie and I can probably think of an AI that can help you make a more consistent banana smoothie every single time. Every single thing in the world is affected by it. So yes. Yes. Easily yes to all the things you said.
However, the current way that we look at SEO is a lot like radio, and the future is a lot like video. And so there’s this song, Video Killed the Radio Star, but we still have podcasts. So is the radio star really dead when you have Joe Rogan and you have Rich Brooks, right?
So current SEO websites, traffic, keywords, backlinks, those things are not going to go away. However, people inherently want instant gratification. And browsing the web, browsing search engines, reading webpages, comparing results, is too much work. If you don’t believe me, try shopping for a printer. I needed a new printer, I probably visited over 30 web pages, and I still can’t figure out which is the right printer for me. And then I end up buying a printer, and then two years later I just regret it, I hate that brand. And I say never again, until the cycle repeats four printers later, and I’m back at that brand again.
Anyways. Because of that, AI assistants will take out so much web traffic to your website, because we do not want to do that browsing. Think about this. On a given day you interact with maybe 50 different websites. Every one of these websites needs to be optimized. Some of them have spam, some of them have too many ads, some of them load too slow, some of them have the content scroll down five pages down. Some of them do have the information, but impartial. Then you have to go click on links to find even more websites and go and compare for yourself. My friend, that’s way too much work. We don’t like to do that work. AI assistants can do that work for you.
So, bear with me. Imagine a world where these AI systems are doing the browsing for you. You ask it a question, it’s reading the websites, it’s answering from websites, and you just get to enjoy. If you want a webpage, it will generate one for you. Dynamic server-side generation, DSG. If you want a voice answer, it will generate a voice answer for you. If you want a summary, it will do a summary for you. If you want a little dance, maybe it will do even that.
So when that future happens, what good will your backlinks do? Do you understand? What good will all of that stuff do? It won’t do any good. You will have one job, and one job alone. And that is to make sure that the AI assistant chooses your brand to interact with their customers over everybody else. And why would it do that? My friend, that’s the future of AI driven marketing optimization. That is the future of SEO.
Rich: So in this example of one very probable or possible future, depending on how you want to look at it, using your printer example. So I might say, I want a printer, I’m not going to be printing a lot. It’s got to be quiet. It needs to be small. I give the AI some parameters. I give it some parameters to tell it what I want. It goes out and scours the web and brings me back one, two, maybe three brands, three models that fit my criteria with recommendations based on reviews and based on whatever other criteria this future AI will use.
My question to you, preparing for that future, what can I do as a printer maker or reseller to make my website more attractive to these AI bots so that I will get into that top three list more often on these dynamically generated pages?
Alexander: Yes. And you can even make it even more specific. What if you already know which printer you want to buy? There may be 10 websites where you can buy it from. Why should the AI assistant recommend your website to purchase it through? This optimization is the future of SEO. And right now you’re optimizing for humans. In the future, you will optimize for humans and for AI assistants.
So how do you optimize for AI assistance? The principles are the same, but the format will be different. For one, you will not only have a website, but your website will also be consumable via an API. And the way to think about that is, imagine a company where you take the best performing franchise. And from the best performing franchise location, you pick the top performing brand representative. Now imagine if you could take that person and put it in front of every single customer that you will be interacting with. Now that right there is an amazing customer experience. That is the equivalent of a really well optimized website with an easy navigation, fast loading, and everything. Good information.
So how do you optimize for that future? You make sure that your brand agent, which is likely going to take the form of an API plugin, Alexa skill, Google Bard extension, ChatGPT plugin, Siri assistant app store, whatever. Meta is launching AI avatars for brands, and so forth and so on. That’s how that’s the form is going to take. It’s not going to take the form of a website. It’s going to take the form of an agent, which is likely over some API. And your job is to optimize that agent the same way you optimize your website today, so that you have the best possible engagement.
And the way you will do that is with a new form of analytics, a new form of data that you can only dream about today. See, today when a person visits your website, HTTPS blocks the referrer. You don’t know where they come from. If you’re very advanced, you maybe have a heat map on your software, on your site, where you can see where people click and so forth. And maybe they visit one or two pages and then they leave. Why did they leave? What was their problem? What information were they looking for? Did they find it, or did they not find it? Will they come back later maybe or not?
You are guessing. But guess what? In this new future, you have perfect user customer journey interaction logs through customer chat interface. You know exactly what they’re looking for, exactly if you delivered on it or not. And if they stop buying, you know what the last interaction looked like, and you can start A/B testing new responses with your agent to get them over that object sales objection and you can cure that. So that’s what optimization will look like.
It’s not going to be a content gap analysis, just looking at your competitor’s keywords. It’s going to be looking at customer analytics and seeing how you delivered on their questions, how you serve them. And your best salesperson, they can turn a lemon into lemonade. They can make it rain for you. And the best experiences, the best agents are going to be the ones that the AI assistants will consistently pick to serve customers. And that is how you will win the future of SEO. It’s a whole new world.
Rich: Alexander, when do you think this feature is going to start to trickle down to real life? Is this six months from now, six years from now, somewhere in between?
Alexander: I’ve been sharing this vision for a while already. And September 20th, this is a past tense, September 20th, 2023. And you can go look up my LinkedIn post history. I had a post of Yoda from Star Wars, it’s begun the clone wars have, he said “Begun the AI assistant wars have”. This is starting to happen now.
So Bard got an extension store. It can now interface with your drive, with your email, and answer questions. Soon it will be in Android everywhere. AI assistant with Bard. And it’s going to interface with your calendar, and interface with your Google maps,, and GPS and home internet of things, all your smart home stuff. And you’re going to be able to have conversations with this AI. They’re going to be increasingly more valuable. So we’re moving from AI as a tool to AI as an agent, and having that personal assistant do all that stuff for you. That will include Google search, that will include web queries, that will include finding places to go eat, travel ideas, hotel bookings, and everything.
So that is what Google’s doing. But what is Microsoft doing? Microsoft wants the same thing. And every major company is taking out the big guns. They’re bringing their leverage to the table. What is the biggest asset that Microsoft has to push their assistant on people? It’s Windows. There are billions of computers running Windows.
Just like Google has billions of devices running Android. So what does Microsoft do and how do you know this is happening? They’re making copilot an integral part of Windows 11, and it’s still sucky. Windows 12 is going to be like the movie Her with Samantha. Fully voice operated, interactive. Not just a little button in the sidebar in your screen or whatnot, but like fully integrated in everything you do. And we know this is happening with the up-and-coming consumer market.
My nine-year-old is not typing anything on my wife’s iPhone. He is voice dictating. Too much work to type. Roblox has a monthly recurring user activation rate of 41%. Guess what else has 41% monthly active user ratio character? AI. Why did Andreessen Horowitz value that company at a billion plus dollars? Why? 41%. Why does Facebook launch AI avatars? What is Meta’s biggest asset? They’re reaching a billion users across WhatsApp, Instagram, Facebook, etc.
So what does Meta do? Meta says we’re in the business of keeping people on our platforms, that’s how we make money. How do we keep people on our platforms? Oh, look at the character AI, it has this really high retention rate and engagement rate. Let’s bring AI assistance in there. Let’s make a llama AI models and then let’s go and integrate them in everything we have. And let’s get people to stay longer on Facebook. And let’s make it the default AI to be everywhere in your life. Hey, here’s some Ray Ban glasses that you can talk to. This all happens. All these announcements have happened since September 20th.
And then you’ve got Apple, and Apple’s got USBC. That was a joke. They are working on next versions of their language model. There’s no doubt they’re going to come in and do amazing things there, too.
But you have Amazon. Why did Amazon launch 20 new hardware devices all powered by the next generation Alexa? Why are they announcing new chat conversational modes, and why do they want to be everywhere? Amazon owns the house. Google owns Android, owns the mobile global mobile phone market, along with Apple. Microsoft owns the desktop but Amazon has the Home. And so what are they doing? They’re doubling down because the assistant you will end up using is the assistant that is already everywhere you are.
And so going back to your question. When is this happening? The AI assistant wars have officially kicked off. And I think I’ve given you enough proof now that these companies are dead serious about winning it. This is the single greatest economic opportunity in the history of the universe, assuming humans are the only ones alive. Maybe aliens have something to say about it.
If you control the interface for every question people have, every purchase, every action in the real-world people take, if you control the pipeline to that, you control the entire consumer economy. If you become a category leader, you own 80% like Google Chrome owns the market share of browsers.
If you become the leader in the AI system wars, you own the customer. You own a customer market. It’s incredibly valuable. You can influence people. You can sell people anything. It is incredibly powerful and that’s why this is happening. This is going to accelerate next year and continue to accelerate. And then the next few years, we’re going to see that unfold.
Chat GPT may just go down in history, like the Netscape browser. They pioneered it all, but they may not end up winning. We’ll have to see what happens. In these games it’s all about leverage of big systems and big data, and so that’s why they’re leveraging that. So as these assistants become more popular, the new form of SEO becomes mandatory.
Rich: I’m glad you brought that up because I wanted to come back to this. I want to come back to something you said earlier. You talked about SEO these days, despite their ability to change with the times, are expressing anxiety or feeling anxiety. And I’m sure that anybody who’s listening to this podcast, a small to medium sized business owner who is just thinking about how do I drive more qualified traffic to my website, is feeling those same level of anxiety.
So all these things are happening. But for the little people on the planet in the trenches, what advice would you give them to best position themselves for these changes that really are out of their control?
Alexander: Yeah. It starts with knowledge. Listen to Rich Brook’s podcast because he brings on people like me.
Rich: Brilliant speakers. Yes.
Alexander: So yeah, be informed. But practically speaking, one day you’re going to have a brand agent. And maybe smithos.com will be able to help with that in the future. Although we’re focusing on enterprise to start with. And the question was about smaller to medium sized businesses, what you can do in the future of internet marketing. The principles that have propelled brands to be authoritative will translate to the agents that are hosted on the same web domains.
That’s an important statement because it means that you using current best practices for SEO, you can already establish your brand as an authority. This is going to be an important ranking factor in this future economy of AI assistance, interacting with brands online. And the reason for it is really simple.
If you wanted to have a heart surgeon work on your parents, and one came with a very high reputation and another with a very low reputation, you know what you would pick every single time. Even if there’s a new treatment out there, you would go with the person that has the better reputation. The new treatment may be the AI agent. And God knows all the other things that are going to come down that we don’t know about yet. The best way you can position for that is to be that heart surgeon with the best reputation. Be a topical authority, do everything you can to create content that is not generic, but really oozes with your personal expertise and experience that is trustworthy and is comprehensive about one thing.
I’m wanting to make this point clear. If you’re about more than one thing, you’re probably not going to be authoritative for anything. I’m going to use the analogy one more time. If I do foot surgery and heart surgery, and another one does just heart surgery, they have equal years of experience, which one are you going to go with?
Rich: Heart surgeon only every time.
Alexander: Every single time. Please think about what I just said in relation to your blog, in relation to your social media strategy, about the content you’re putting out there. Every time you put content out there, you’re telling the world something about who you are as a brand. Make sure that content counts.
Every single piece contributes, like a trickle effect, to your overall authority and perception in the marketplace. You want to be positioned to be the number one in authority for when this time comes and this change comes. And it is coming, and it’s coming quickly. You will already be in a great position of authority so that when you launch your agent or whatever it is that the future brings, you are already really well positioned over your competitors.
Rich: That is fantastic advice. Mind is blown. I need a few hours after this to decompress and think through everything you’ve shared. But Alexander, if people want to learn more about you, learn more about Smyth, where can we send them?
Alexander: Smythos.com, a great place to go. We are, I would say, cutting edge. We’re doing things nobody has done yet. We’re building a multi agent operating system, which means that you’re going to have brand agents SOP for your company process and then collaborate to get complex work done.
We’re creating the operating system to make the future of work possible. It’s going to be the foundation layer of the future of the knowledge economy. It’s a quite ambitious statement but we’re working on that.
And so if you want to follow some of my musings and ask me questions or stay up to date with what we’re working on, what’s going through my mind, follow me on LinkedIn or Twitter. My handle is @ADRitter, A D R I D D E R on both platforms. That’s where I post. So that’s a great place to be.
Rich: Awesome. And for those of you who are going to check out his website, we’ll have those links in the show notes, but it’s S M Y T H O S. com.
Alexander, this has just been fantastic. I want to thank you so much for coming by and sharing your vision of the future and what’s already happening.
Alexander De Ridder is a multi-talented entrepreneur and tech visionary, revolutionizing marketing and business with AI. He spearheads the creation of Smyth OS, a cutting-edge collaborative AI platform. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn to stay up to date on the future of AI.
As President of flyte new media and founder of the Agents of Change, Rich Brooks brings over 25 years of expertise to the table. A web design and digital marketing agency based in Portland, Maine, flyte helps small businesses grow online. His passion for helping these small businesses led him to write The Lead Machine: The Small Business Guide to Digital Marketing, a comprehensive guide on digital marketing strategies.