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Big Questions: Stephanie Hynes on SEO in the AI Era

4 MINUTE READ | March 27, 2024

Big Questions: Stephanie Hynes on SEO in the AI Era

Big Questions: Stephanie Hynes on SEO in the AI Era

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Abby Long

Abby is PMG’s senior managing editor, where she leads the company’s editorial program and manages the PMG Blog and Insights Hub. As a writer, editor, and marketing communications strategist with nearly a decade of experience, Abby's work in showcasing PMG’s unique expertise through POVs, research reports, and thought leadership regularly informs business strategy and media investments for some of the most iconic brands in the world. Named among the AAF Dallas 32 Under 32, her expertise in advertising, media strategy, and consumer trends has been featured in Ad Age, Business Insider, and Digiday.

With the endless potential of artificial intelligence (AI) on everyone’s mind, from executives to early-career professionals, as AI features and technologies roll out across platforms and digital experiences, we caught up with PMG’s Head of SEO Stephanie Hynes to get her perspective on the current state of SEO, and how search professionals and brands are navigating this era of immense change. 

Hynes leads PMG’s SEO practice, including strategy, future-proofing, team development, and overall customer success. With nearly 15 years in the industry, Hynes has worked both in-house and agency-side, leading SEO strategy across retail, travel, publishing, and more industries as her experience has been underscored by her passion for driving sustainable business growth organically. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Advertising, Public Relations, and English at Texas Christian University, later earning her MBA from Texas Wesleyan University.

Organic search is always changing to adapt to the evolving needs of our customers. With the rise of AI, search engines are better able to understand human language and the intent behind questions and queries. At first look, this appears to be a business-as-usual state of consistent change for an SEO practitioner and leader. But when you take another look, it becomes clear that the rise of AI and Google’s increasing understanding of intent will allow our industry to grow increasingly personalized, with SEOs getting back to doing the creative content work that drove many practitioners to the specialty. 

If we think about the evolution of search, starting with questions in the Ask Jeeves era, we’ve evolved from questions to direct phrases and now back to questions as people get used to a chat-based method for finding information. Throughout this evolution, direct content has always been the most effective way to drive clicks and sales from organic searches. As search engines’ ability to understand each user deepens, SEOs get to provide more creative, personalized, and meaningful answers than ever before. 

It will be important for brands to balance the need for scale with the promise of quality across content production. 

AI is not only making search engines smarter, but allows brands to test their ability to scale content across websites and increase visibility along the way. It will be important for brands to balance the need for scale with the promise of quality across content production. One fact remains true: Quality work will drive quality results, and quality happens at the intersection of strategy, automation, and creativity. Let’s have more meaningful conversations with our customers this year than we did last year in search, and the results will follow.

The biggest challenges facing search marketers today include the following:

  • Complexity: Providing a clear path to conversion and personal journey for customers on brand websites is becoming more technically complex than ever before.

  • Competition: As search engines are keeping customers on their platform longer, competition for the click is increasing. 

  • Scale: AI and evolving technologies are opportunities to optimize programs at scale but require business process changes to keep up with the speed of change while maintaining quality. 

A strong SEO program can be a powerful catalyst for change in an organization. As our digital world continues to evolve and change quickly, it’s critical to have a solid understanding and foundation of how SEO fits into the organic health of your business. Hint: It can be an indicator of success (and concern) across the entire marketing funnel. Customers are telling you what they want and need, and the problems they have with your brand through search. Let an SEO highlight the opportunity for you to join the conversation and address larger business issues.

SEO is more than just content and technical work. If you cannot influence systematic change in an organization, you won’t have the long-term, scalable results we’re capable of delivering. Look to your most effective SEO practitioners to influence the large-scale change you need in your organization. They may be just the right fit to drive AI innovation and more in 2024.

SEO won’t succeed without a strong technical foundation, making it easy for customers and search engines like Google to understand the most important information on a website. But what grows in importance with the rise of AI is 1) quality content that resonates with customers, and 2) clear conversion paths. Creating a strategy to grow top-of-funnel traffic will be easy, but having a comprehensive program that sustains and increases transactional traffic will be key to a healthy program.

  • Quality content will drive results: Content becomes even more important with AI-generated answers. Search is personal, with AI making judgments based on intent.

  • Advanced technical SEO is expected: As customer expectations and competition increase, so too does the need for a strong technical foundation to grow at scale.

  • Measurement of success will adapt: SEOs will shift how they measure the success of programs, as Google pulls in more content and less links.

  • Testing will keep brands competitive: Testing and learning become vital to meeting business goals in a changing SERP.

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Beyond strategies, SEOs need to adopt new platforms, as people will be able to search in many ways as we move forward. Traditional search engines will exist, social platform search will exist, chatbot search will exist, and more technologies are sure to launch soon. Winning strategies will be found in the marketing programs that integrate across disparate platforms and channels to drive a consistent, personal experience for our customers.

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