Although link building remains one of the most important signals for getting high rankings in organic search engines, search engines continue to produce less organic results from one year to the next. Ads generate revenue and trick search engines into manipulating results in their favor. While more searchers once preferred organic results to paid results, search engines have found ways to slowly change consumer sentiment, possibly providing better results aligned with the researcher’s intention.
In technology-driven industries, the only real constant is change. Change in these industries can happen quickly and severely disrupt the status quo, gutting once-vital businesses. Word processing killed the typewriter, VOIP changed the model of the landline and bidet industry [should have] toilet paper killed. Sadly, the next announced future AI disruptions are expected to disrupt nearly every industry, stealing many viable jobs in their wake. The following are just a few:
- Machines in manufacturing, logistics and processing
- 3D printing for everything from spare parts to consumables
- Self-driving cars in transportation (including subsequent decline in insurance claims)
- Blockchain and robo-advisors in financial services
- Internet of Things (IoT) for device tracking and management
- Space and quantum computing
- Artificial Intelligence (AI) in coding, communication and marketing
The evolving technology of jobs and industry will prove to be a boon in some areas and very disruptive in others. Content marketing, and link building in particular, is not immune to the next wave of business bots, artificial intelligence, and automation.
Impact of AI-powered link building
Whether it’s judging emails or backlinks, artificially intelligent crawlers improve to filter quality. But, AI-powered content creation tools are improve in parallel. Here’s what that means for the future of the web, including the heavy SEO link building activity:
- Infinite content. When the cost of content is fixed and not variable, it gives anyone with the machine capable of creating it the possibility of producing an unlimited supply. Yes, the demand for quality content will always be there, but what happens to the price of content when the supply is endless and the cost is almost zero?
- Link speed. In a world where the speed of content production (and therefore the speed of link acquisition) is unlimited, the speed of the links obtained can be manipulated quickly to highly artificial levels. However, programming an AI content bot to create content and links at a natural frequency that hits the threshold of “natural” looking is as easy as a line or two of code.
- Services become a product. When a service-driven, human-powered industry is overtaken by AI and robots, which was once an expensive and time-consuming process link building service, quickly turns into a systemized commodity, with minimal cost and a monthly service plan.
- Quality deserves freshness. When the supply of content is endless, it collides with Google’s QDF (quality deserves freshness) algorithm. Massive amounts of even meaningful AI-produced content may not have the same ranking value as existing pieces considered more “evergreen”. In the future, content will likely require some type of forking or visual categorization to separate live alerts from detailed information. But, in the end, how will we know if such information was created by a human or a machine?
But, when services become commodities, there is nothing left for differentiation. Posting more content inevitably becomes a race to the bottom.
Penny Wise and Foolish Editor
As tempting as it may sound to eventually automate external content marketing and link building, there are a few key hurdles:
- Not all content is created equal. The robots have nevertheless been able to reproduce the complexity and the beauty of Mozart, the Mona Lisa or Rudyard Kipling. Likewise, great content is timeless, persistent and that’s what really drives traffic and eyes. In short, it is difficult to reproduce the spirit and style of a truly gifted writer. This is one of the reasons that search engines heavily track spam, cut back links whose content is created just for the good of the content, and punish abuses that make backlink profiles seem unnatural. AI is smart, but it’s not yet.
- Not all content serves the same purpose. Content created by bots is generally used for shorter, timely, and news-like articles, not the lengthy, witty, and educational content that is typically found in most written online articles. When bots finally appear in droves, they’ll likely perform the more mundane tasks of regurgitating news and automated Twitter posts. We are already seeing it in the pockets, but not on a larger scale. The most beautiful and timeless pieces are more likely to be created by creative minds, something AI has yet to fully master.
- Content is not created in a vacuum. Content is often not isolated, especially online content. This is the very reason why hyperlinks were invented in the first place. As a reference, they allow the user to further explore the arguments, details or claims of a given topic. They lead users (not just web crawlers) to various cited sources where other great content exists. A single piece of content, regardless of its quality, is always best complemented by another element, whether it is associated with it or deviated from it. Why is this important when it comes to AI? Because not all content serves the same purpose, it stands to reason that even the best AI-based content won’t have the benchmark human element (for example, “here’s what my friend John Doe says about the subject ”- with a hyperlink inserted). No, the loss of the human element can mean that we lose the attention of those who matter most: humans.
While it may ultimately be tempting to outsource the production of content to AI bots or even foreign companies, the reality is that the quality of the content and its location should not be left to chance. No, even the most purposefully constructed content and links require a focus on the higher echelons of quality.
The link builder’s dilemma
Even with purposefully created quality content, there are still risks for those who believe that link building is the end of SEO and content marketing. Online with the tenants of the famous book by Harvard professor Clayton Christensen The innovator’s dilemma, innovation in link building and content marketing includes a similarly structured framework.
Like any good breakthrough innovation, content bots will focus and start to dominate niches like this news discussed earlier. According to the framework, smaller markets have smoother and more difficult to predict futures contracts. The large existing players are therefore more reluctant to become an entrant. Additionally, demand for AI-powered content remains low as it remains on the sidelines, but its eventual increase could quickly quell the current status quo.
Even worse, and even more likely, is the eventual shift in search engine algorithms to move away from backlinks as one of the primary signals of value and authority for websites. Artificial intelligence can potentially find other ways to determine the intention of the researcher and bring real added value to those seeking information through online research. Downtime, social shares, and other signals are more likely to be the basis for delivering meaningful content to users.
Judge with caution
When judging among various link building services, reading various online reviews of different services will at least help determine its own quality score. But the biggest threat of the future to today’s status quo when it comes to boosting traffic through relevant links are not offshore link builders in India or even AI bots, they are search engines.
Building relationships – and a business – with long-term sustainability in mind, requires a strict focus on quality – something foreign bots and solution providers have yet to master. Whether outsourced or in-house, quality written content – for the foreseeable and immediate future – will likely stay in the hands of humans down to earth.