Search Traffic: How Artificial Intelligence Is Making an Impact Today

Artificial intelligence is a definite buzzword these days and rightfully so. The promise and potential of AI are vast. Yet for the regular business owner, the impact of AI can be mysterious and even daunting, especially when it comes to digital marketing.

The truth is that AI has been impacting digital marketing for almost a decade now and only has come into focus in the last year. One of the biggest areas of implication is search. In other words, how much traffic to your website is generated by search engines like Google (without having to pay for it).

In this article, we are going to explain how AI has impacted search engine optimization (SEO) and marketing (SEM) more than most realize. Now before we begin, if you consider yourself an SEO or SEM expert we apologize if this all seems oversimplified. In no way are we setting out to disparage the hard work and history of an entire industry. Our responsibility is to educate our clients in the best way we know how.

How Google is Changing the Rules

In the simplest terms, Google scans the entire internet and organizes everything into the results you see when you enter a search term. Obviously, getting ranked higher, like the first page of results is the coveted prize. An entire industry of experts and service firms was born to help companies figure out how to rank higher on Google.

At first, there was predictability on how to approach SEO and SEM. Professionals would analyze lots of data to look for patterns on what makes certain pages rank higher than others. Businesses that wanted higher rankings would pay for these insights and the work needed to maintain the ranking.

To name a few, examples of techniques that help search engine rankings are:

  • The right META data – code on your website you don't see.
  • Header tags – do the headlines in your website contain the right key words?
  • Backlinks – how many other (quality) websites are linking to you?
  • Engaging content – does your content align with the search and provide the best information?
  • Image tags – do you have the right pictures?
  • Mobile friendly – is your site design responsive on any device?

There are many factors but these are the more prominent ones. Optimizing any one of this list is meant to help you rank higher in Google. You could do it yourself or hire a firm to do it. 

That's how things used to work. Today, Google is changing the rules by introducing artificial intelligence. But before looking at how AI impacts search, we need to understand the basics of Google's business model.

Google Monetizes via Paid Advertising

Since search is free, many take for granted that Google is a for-profit publicly traded company. This means that making search free is ultimately not the goal of Google’s business model. Google monetizes search with paid advertising. This means companies that want to show up in Google, but aren’t making the first page, often just pay for it.

This also means that if every business could figure out how to get on the first page easily, on their own, then the entire business model would break down. This is the reason that the method in which Google ranks pages is kept a secret and always will be.

It's not that Google is an evil company. Again, they just need to make money. And they offer you a way to promote your business if you pay that money.

Enter Artificial Intelligence

Last year, it was confirmed that Google had integrated an AI called RankBrain into their search ranking algorithms. RankBrain is a game-changer all around. Basically, what RankBrain does is use sophisticated machine learning to determine which website should rank higher than other sites based upon delivering the best user experience.

The biggest difference is that this decision making process can change for every type of search.

Your Dog and Google

Let’s say you are searching for “organic dog food.” Google has already ranked the millions of web pages that might be helpful to you as the searcher. But in this case, RankBrain has determined that the best pages contain more META data than others. So, specifically for that search, Google has placed more significance on the signal of META data.

Now that you’ve found what your canine friend will be eating, you want to find a local dog walker. So, you perform another search. But in this case, RankBrain has determined that META data is not the best way to help you. In fact, the most authoritative websites have backlinks. Therefore, in this search, all sites with the most incoming links are given higher ranking. Not only that, Google will evaluate the quality of those backlinks, such as whether they come from authoritative sites or the same industry, and adjust the rankings accordingly.

Do you see how RankBrain can prevent one SEO or SEM technique from working better than others? It's not to say traditional approaches are no longer effective. For that particular search, like organic dog food, you could hit the jackpot. But there are many more factors at work here which prevents a one-size-fits-all approach. RankBrain is only one of over 200 signals Google uses to rank webpages. Bottom line is there is no single formula for success.

The only way to win is to test and measure the results for yourself.

Your Own SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and SEM (Search Engine Marketing) Efforts

Based upon our research, it seems that the top three signals that Google uses, in order of priority, are:

  1. Backlinks
  2. Words
  3. RankBrain


Backlinks requires you to have great content and proactively ask other websites to link to you. Just make sure these links are based on quality sources. Link building is easier than most people expect, especially when you trade links. You just need a focused execution plan.


Words also deal with content. Make sure everything on your webpages, including headlines and body copy, create the best user experience in terms of information searchers need and want.


Finally, there are three steps to address RankBrain. First is to look at every set of search terms you want to target on their own merit. Avoid a one-size-fits-all approach. Second, study the top sites and look for structure and composition patterns to incorporate into your own strategy. And finally, stay niche. Trying to be all things to all audiences will only dilute your search results because RankBrain won’t know where to classify your website.

Artificial intelligence is here to stay and is only accelerating in sophistication. The more familiar you are with it now, the more opportunities to stay competitive in the future. Let us know if we can help.