Will artificial intelligence (AI) put marketers out of work?
It’s a question I’m seeing a lot lately, and to me, it’s a strange one. It’s like if everyone 150 years ago was asking: “Will the tractor put farmers out of work?” Of course, John Deere didn’t put farmers out of business; better tools just made them more efficient and better able to scale.
Granted, the tractor did reduce the demand for horses and farmhands. So, no, AI will not put you out of work…as long as your work is creative, innovative and intelligent. If all of your daily work can be done by a machine, eventually it will be.
To be the farmer rather than the horse, you need to understand what AI can do to augment and scale your efforts, not replace them. Here’s what AI can do to improve your digital marketing efforts right now.
#1: Artificial Intelligence and SEO
If there’s one area of digital marketing that is most affected by AI right now, it’s SEO. Machine learning is directly affecting site visibility right now, and its influence will only increase in the future.
A machine learning algorithm called RankBrain (link to Backlinko’s incredibly useful guide) is currently Google’s third most important ranking signal. In the past, Google’s developers monitored search results and tweaked algorithms to better suit search needs. SEO experts then tried to reverse-engineer each algorithm change to better position their content.
With RankBrain in the driver’s seat, though, no human being will know why content is ranked up or down. The algorithm will continuously be testing and refining settings based on user behavior.
This switch means some traditional SEO activities, like keyword lists and backlinks, will decline in importance. The ranking signals that will matter most will be those related to user activity:
Time on page
Any indicator that shows how a user found your content valuable is now an SEO indicator. SEO experts and content creators will need to work more closely together to ensure content meets a specific search need, addresses a specific audience, and is compelling to read.
That’s not to say technical SEO is dead, but it is evolving. SEO experts should focus on structuring data, applying schema, implementing AMP, and optimizing for voice search. What do these tasks have in common? They’re all candidates for automation. SEO experts of the future will be feeding data into their own AI and using it to apply these ranking factors to content at scale.
#2: Artificial Intelligence and Chatbots
Chatbots are AI-driven programs that interact with users in a natural-language environment. These programs are rapidly becoming a major area of interest for marketers, as an increasing amount of social media traffic takes place on private messaging services like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. Buffer’s annual social media report found that there are more people on the top four messaging apps than on the top four social media apps (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn). That’s an engagement opportunity that’s hard to ignore. And, of course, chatbots can live on your brand’s homepage, answering questions and providing support.
Most digital marketers see chatbots as a way to provide personalized customer service at scale – which is tangentially related to marketing, but not directly a marketing function. However, chatbots can also help guide users through a customer journey to a sale.
A lot of the chatter (no pun intended) around chatbots is how to make them indistinguishable from interacting with a human. Marketers seem to care a great deal about this issue, but I would argue customers don’t. Customers want their questions to be understood and quickly answered; it doesn’t matter if it’s Robby the Robot or Robby the Call Center Rep who has the answers.
Marketers can make use of chatbots themselves, too. There are a growing number of smart assistants available that can aggregate and report on data in real-time, through Slack and other private messaging services.
#3: Artificial Intelligence and Content Marketing
If you’re a content creator, talking about AI and content marketing likely makes you feel the cold fingers of obsolescence tighten around your throat. Gartner says by the end of the year, 20% of business content will be authored by machines. AI is already being used for everything from white papers to earning reports. It’s enough to make you feel like a horse watching the farmer start up his tractor.
Should you be worried about your job? Neigh. For one, AI right now isn’t quite ready to draft content with personality and a strong hook for the reader. Since SEO is increasingly about the reader’s experience, that means human-crafted content will win out for the foreseeable future. And even when AI can write convincingly like a human, it will still need creative input from humans.
So think like a farmer: Use AI to take care of repetitive, mindless tasks like metadata tagging and adding recommended content to blog posts. And use it to deliver personalized content at scale. AI can use data from your site’s visitors to dynamically customize and display the content you create.
As the content creator, part of your new AI-enhanced job will be to look at how your audience can be segmented by behavior, and draft modular content that the AI can put together based on user behavior.
#4: Artificial Intelligence and Email Marketing
Email marketing remains one of the most effective forms of marketing out there. Sixty-one percent of consumers enjoy receiving weekly promotional emails. Which may explain why email marketing has higher conversion rates than social media and search combined.
AI is making email marketing even better, both for you and your customer. Personalization at scale is every marketer’s dream – and AI makes it possible. AI can use data to create personalized emails to every one of your subscribers, based on their previous interactions with the brand. It can customize based on what content they’ve consumed, what’s on their wish list, what pages they have spent the most time on, and more. For example, if one user always visits links to product pages in your email, but another skips those links and goes straight for content, the AI can send different messaging with the most relevant links for each user.
AI is also making drip campaigns more sophisticated. Instead of one or two triggers and a few customized emails, you can use “If/Then” statements to customize emails for dozens of different triggers. Rather than, “send an email in two weeks,” or “send another if they opened the last one,” you could say, “if they visited three product pages, send an email with a link to a related blog post and recommended products other people have purchased.”
#5: Artificial Intelligence Influencers to Follow
As AI continues to evolve, one thing’s for sure: None of us know as much about it as we should (myself included). These four influencers are among the select few who really have a handle on AI’s potential to transform marketing.