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Takeaways From MozCon 2023: AI & the Future of SEO

I had a blast at MozCon 2023. It was a great opportunity to learn more about GA4 and hear what other SEOs thought about the future of search engine optimization. Check out some of the presentations that resonated with me below!

Aug 18, 2023

5 m read

MozCon 2023’s theme, the Future of Search, was quite fitting given the current digital environment and the event’s location. Seattle has a reputation as the city of the future, boasting futuristic infrastructure like the monorail and the Space Needle. It was no surprise, then, when Cheryl Draper, Senior Growth Marketing Manager at Moz, explained that this year’s theme was deeply connected to the Emerald City.

Draper, along with Cyrus Shepard and Melissa Rae Brown, hosted the conference, which aimed to provide a unique vision of the future. From Google Analytics 4 to AI and ChatGPT, the panelists covered several weighty topics, including, of course, that ole trope of “Is SEO dead?” 

Here are some of the moments that stuck with me (beyond the great Barbie and Oppenheimer SEO memes).

GA4: We’re All Going Through It Together

GA4 got you down? You’re not alone!

Brie Anderson’s sessions highlighted that we — whether we’re marketers, SEOs, or business proprietors — are all navigating this journey collectively.

No one has called GA4 intuitive, and for many of us, trial and error have littered the path to adoption. Ultimately, the ends will justify the means (or so we hope). Part of this is the Catch-22 inherent in GA4 that SEOs are now confronting.

According to Anderson, “The best and worst thing about GA4 is it’s customizable.” 

This is especially true for Reports. Having so many options can truly help a customer gather all the necessary information for their business and create a strong digital marketing strategy for their company. 

On the flip side, the surplus of data and metrics can also lead users down a rabbit hole. 

The Death of SEO? Not Yet

To misquote Mark Twain, “The reports of SEO’s death have been grossly exaggerated.” 

In his session, Tom Capper came out swinging with all the previous declarations that SEO was deceased:

  • The rise of Google Ads in 2003 
  • The introduction of Knowledge Graphs in 2012
  • The growth of ‘zero-click searches’ in 2020 posed 

Some have claimed they heard SEO’s death knell, but as Capper shared, interest in SEO continues to grow. Proof in point: Capper mentioned that in 2020 SEO software businesses made a combined $626.5 million. In 2023, SEO software businesses stand to make $1.6 billion. That’s a 99.7% increase in just a few years. 

Video Saved the SEO Star

In her session, Crystal Carter showcased how the importance of video and YouTube continues to grow. The big takeaway? Users really love video. Like a lot. 

Carter highlighted this fact with some remarkable data points:

  • On average, users watch an estimated 84 minutes of video daily.
  • 9 out of 10 users want videos from brands they use.
  • 55% of users use video in stores while they are shopping.

From an SEO standpoint, it’s no surprise, then, that the share of video results in SERPs has grown. In 2021, video made up 21% of the SERPs. Two years later and video is at 27%. As TikTok increases in popularity and users demand more video, that number is going to get much higher. 

Plus, YouTube has 48 million pages ranking in the SERPs. 

The AI Elephant in the Room

Nearly every MozCon 2023 speaker mentioned two things: Artificial intelligence and ChatGPT. 

The biggest fear among SEOs appeared to be, “Is AI coming for my job?” 

There’s good cause to be concerned about it. Bloomberg recently ran a piece that essentially stated, “AI is doing to white-collar jobs what robotics has long been doing to blue-collar jobs.” So it was no surprise that multiple speakers touched on the topic.

One that really stuck with me was Ross Simonds’ engaging session. He discussed the evolution of content and the future of SEO. 

Simonds dismantled a prevailing notion within the marketing realm: the belief that AI-generated content can never yield successful outcomes. He’s an advocate for harnessing AI to enhance and elevate one’s individual skill set. Simply put, if you want to be better at SEO, be great with AI

In a contemporary landscape excessively centered on content and the ongoing AI-versus-human creation discourse, Simonds highlighted the need for marketers to adopt a comprehensive content growth framework. 

Looking to the Past for the Future 

In his session, Andi Jarvis reassured the MozCon audience that at the core of marketing, it’s people, not robots, who hold the key. This brought a collective exhale of relief. 

Jarvis delineated the benefits SEOs can attain by directly engaging with customers to formulate content concepts, as opposed to solely fixating on Google’s preferences. This approach aligns with Google’s user-centric perspective.

You, Me, and ChatGPT

Dr. Pete Meyers led an interesting session about AI’s impact on the search landscape. According to Dr. Pete’s theory, rather than supplanting the optimization efforts dedicated to existing queries, AI-generated chat responses within search open doors to fresh prospects for SEOs.

Generative AI has the potential to create new things when prompted properly and can answer questions that haven’t been asked before.

Dr. Pete illustrated this point by creating innovative recipes based on a specific set of ingredients and requirements through iterative prompting (asking it for help with a dinner party for six guests, making the three-course meals vegan, and having a chocolate dessert). 

He’s also used ChatGPT to formulate imaginative content for temporary website page mockups, replacing the mundane lorem ipsum filler text.

Currently, the biggest challenge with AI-integrated search is delivering accurate information for “Your Money Your Life” queries. 

Several times during the session, ChatGPT hallucinated quotes that offered deceptive financial insights and attributed them to business leaders. These hallucinations have already been documented: When a user seeks an answer and an LLM like ChatGPT doesn’t have a clear source, it tends to fabricate a response by piecing together plausible information from various sources.

Clearly, there’s a need to edit or fact-check AI output. But the hallucinations don’t take away from the fact that ChatGPT and other AI content generators are valuable tools that can help spark creativity when used wisely.

Backlinks and Local SEO

Amanda Jordan gave a very educational session about Local SEO and the importance of backlinks. Her presentation underscored the significance of classifying links into distinct categories, which can significantly impact your competitive strategy in local marketing.

Jordan examined categorized links — local links, topical links, citations, and more — for leading HVAC brands in the top 50 United States cities. She found that a substantial number of backlinks didn’t inherently translate to high rankings and that the most successful pages exhibited a substantial count of both local and topical links. This underscores the importance of these types of links over other varieties or generic links. 

Her project also found that links were the second most important local ranking factor, accounting for about 26% of local ranking factors. Only on-page optimization at 36% was of higher importance. According to Jordan, the other ranking factors are as follows: 

  • Behavioral: 9%
  • Google Business Profile: 9%
  • Citations:  7%
  • Personalization: 7%
  • Reviews: 6%

The Great Reset

Wil Reynolds ended MozCon 2023 with one of the most powerful sessions. One of his main focuses was on how SEOs are at a pivot point within the industry, and if we don’t evolve, we’re going to be left behind — or unemployed. 

One of the reasons Google has been so successful is that it’s reduced friction in the sales process for consumers. The cliche of the sleazy car salesman dwindled because consumers started to use Google to find used car deals. And it isn’t just cars, Google has made buying easier across the board. 

But over time, new friction has materialized. We’ve created so much content that it’s becoming increasingly harder for consumers to find what they’re looking for. Websites are over-bloated with content; pages are filled with words in order to meet a word count quota rather than focusing on information gain.

Faced with this dilemma, what will Google do? Pivot.

Just like Google, SEOs need to spot issues affecting the industry and rise up to meet the challenge.

Last Thoughts

There was so much more that was shared at MozCon that it’s hard to wrap it up into one blog post, but I hope you’ve found this useful. It’s a one-of-a-kind experience full of knowledge bombs (sorry, Oppenheimer joke), and if you have the opportunity, I definitely recommend attending. There’s a reason why it continues to be one of the truly stellar SEO conferences. 

Until next year MozCon!

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