SEO and AI: What Does the Future Hold? Q&A With Specialization Instructor Ian Lurie
SEO and AI: What Does the Future Hold? Q&A With Specialization Instructor Ian Lurie

As Google realized when it launched its search business 25 years ago, enabling internet users to quickly find the information they need can be worth billions of dollars. And as long as web search engines have been around, people have been trying to figure out how to get their content to rank highly in those listings.

This practice, known as search engine optimization (SEO), has become a key component of any marketing plan. To compete on the web, marketing pros need to understand the principles of SEO and how to apply them strategically.

Ian Lurie

Ian Lurie

Of course, technology doesn’t stand still. With the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) and tools like ChatGPT — a popular new generative AI tool that produces a detailed text response to a user’s prompt — the search business is facing a period of upheaval. If AI can provide instant answers to any question, what does that mean for the future of search engines, not to mention SEO strategists?

To get some expert insights, we spoke with Ian Lurie, the lead instructor in our Specialization in SEO, a new, 12-week, fully online program that launched in fall 2023. A self-declared “marketing nerd,” Lurie has been in the digital marketing field for more than two decades and has much to say on the subject.

When did you start working in this area, and how has SEO evolved since the early days?

I’ve been working in SEO since what most practitioners would call the very beginning — around 1995. In those early days, search was about keywords and, later on, links. If you had your keyword on the page a certain number of times and you had more links than everybody else, you’d rank higher. That was easily manipulated and abused.

The next step was for search engines to understand when the content was junk, right? Then it was understanding when links were being added to boost SEO and removing those. Then it was grasping the meaning of a set of words in a sentence; not just a word but a set of words, which meant we were getting into natural language processing.

As Google’s algorithm has become more sophisticated, we’ve had to become more strategic. Where we used to be able to say, “Add this word three more times” or “Get more links,” now we have to look at content quality, user experience, technical website optimization and natural language processing. We have to be better at getting into the heads of the human audience and the workings of the search engines themselves.

Why is understanding and studying SEO critical right now?

Search is going through a period of profound change, because of some new developments that are coming out around large language models (LLMs) and AI. LLMs are tools trained on vast amounts of text gleaned from the internet and other data. ChatGPT is a chatbot based on one such model, and the major search engines are heading in this direction as well.

As search evolves, it’s becoming even more important for organizations to understand SEO, and for SEO professionals to develop more sophisticated strategies. Two years from now, it’s going to be much harder to ensure your content is optimized for a large language model-generated search result than it is now.

Will something like ChatGPT replace search engines?

ChatGPT is a demonstration of large language models; it doesn’t even count as a search engine because the body of language it’s using is at least one to two years old. So, you don’t want to use ChatGPT as a search tool, because you won’t be getting the latest information.

Many folks ... think generative AI will take over, write content, give advice, etc. It won't. It will put many more tools at our disposal. 

Ian Lurie, instructor for the Specialization in SEO
Overall, I think AI will change the way search engine pages look. And it's going to change how people use them much more profoundly than the search-page changes in the last decade.

How do you expect these changes to influence SEO?

Search engines are looking at using large language models and generative AI to provide an answer to your search prompt at the top of the page, pushing down all other ranking content. So, it’s even more important that your content is SEO-optimized, because people probably won't see you if you're not #1 or #2 in the regular rankings. It’s critical to ensure that your content is included in that AI-generated result, because Google’s AI answer should show where it got that content.

How can marketers use AI tools to help with SEO?

We as marketing professionals can create tools to make us better at our jobs. We can automate a lot of repetitive tasks without programming. I can generate meta description tags for an entire site or create schema markup. I can work with ChatGPT to write a script for Google Sheets that helps me with basic SEO tasks.

I think that’s what many folks are missing — they think generative AI will take over, write content, give advice, etc. It won’t. It will put many more tools at our disposal. 

Besides keeping an eye on AI developments, what other tips do you have for SEO marketers today? 

What we're calling AI right now is sexy, but it's not the most important topic in SEO. Yet.

If you’re going to be good at SEO, you must be good at marketing. You must understand your audience, their questions and why they’re asking them, or else you will fail. Google understands those things, because of its rich data set and powerful analytic tools. In generating content through a large language model, so-called AI tries to do the same thing but fails. You need to be at least as smart as Google and better than AI.

Also, you must have a basic understanding of websites and how they work. Knowing HTML and a programming language or two is great, but knowing what makes up a web page and how a browser interprets the code on a page is essential. That’s how search engines find your content.

Keep Learning

You can further explore the impact of AI tools on different business functions with our Generative AI for Business course. Also, check out our full list of specializations, which are a great way to level up your career skills in a short timeframe (typically three to six months).

For more career tips and industry trends, visit the News & Features section of our website, and subscribe to our email list. To learn more about UW Professional & Continuing Education certificates, specializations, degrees and courses, explore your options or contact us.

Author David Hirning

David Hirning

David Hirning is an accomplished writer and editor with extensive experience in both tech and higher education. He began his career in journalism, then spent over a decade as an editor at Microsoft, where he worked on Encarta Encyclopedia and related reference products.

David worked for six years as a full-time writer and content manager at UW Professional & Continuing Education. He also operated his own editorial consulting business, with stints at leading companies like Amazon and Expedia, and taught English for two years in Costa Rica.

David has served as an instructor for the UW Certificate in Editing program and as a teaching assistant for the UW Certificate in Storytelling & Content Strategy. He holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Stanford University and a Certificate in Literary Fiction from the UW.

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