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Opportunities & Limitations for Marketers [2023]

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Opportunities & Limitations for Marketers [2023]

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is one of the hottest topics in marketing right now, especially for the SEO industry. Although AI has been available for years, the velocity of tools being created, and the hype associated with them, has reached a blistering peak.

Naturally, marketers are starting to ask a few questions. What’s real? What’s possible? And how can I maximize my impact with this technology today?

To answer all those questions and more, let’s take a look at where we see the opportunities and limitations of AI tools for SEO in 2023.
 

What is AI?

 
It’s also important to keep in mind how Google and other search engines use and define AI. For example, Google says AI “is a set of technologies based primarily on machine learning and deep learning and is used for various functions, including object categorization, natural language processing, recommendations, intelligent data retrieval, and more.” 
 

What is AI-Driven SEO?

 
Marketers in the SEO industry are increasingly using AI to quickly understand what makes a specific site or piece of content rank on search engines. Then, with the rise of generative AI tools, they can even use AI to generate and optimize content before the competition. 

ChatGPT, an AI-powered chatbot developed by OpenAI, has been especially disruptive when it comes to generative AI. While we don’t see this technology replacing human writers anytime soon, the quality of ChatGPT responses has people excited and wondering if it will dramatically shift the search landscape in the immediate future. 
 

A Brief History of AI in SEO

 
Given the waves ChatGPT has caused recently, some may not realize that Google has been a major force in AI research and has incorporated AI-driven algorithms into products like Gmail and Google Search for years.

On the SEO side, Google launched RankBrain in 2015 to better understand searcher queries. This announcement was the first time Google officially went on the record as using an artificial intelligence system in their algorithm. This was a significant step forward in Google’s understanding of the importance of sentence structure in queries. It also signaled the shift in SEO from the importance of keywords to the importance of entities. 

Fast forward to 2019, and Google announces the launch of BERT (Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers), a neural network-based technique for natural language processing to better serve results for the large percentage of unique queries they receive every day.

With these groundbreaking technologies, a flood of SEO tools and use cases hit the market to incorporate similar systems into common SEO activities such as content creation, image optimization, and forecasting.

The most buzzworthy new tool, ChatGPT, was launched in 2022 and builds on GPT-3 that was launched in 2020. This instance of generative AI exploded onto the scene, and the results have been truly impressive. The boasts of this technology still appear to over-promise and under-deliver, but this is the closest we’ve gotten to date and foreshadows a rapidly approaching future. 
 

How You Should be Using AI for SEO

 
It seems like no matter where you look, there’s always someone proposing a new way that tools like ChatGPT can help propel your SEO strategy forward. However, it’s not clear which use cases are helpful, and which aren’t a great use of your time. Here are four ways we recommend using AI for SEO:
 

Creating SEO Content with AI

 
Generative AI tools like ChatGPT can be incredibly useful in the brainstorming and idea-generation phase. With the ability to rapidly produce lists and ideas, you can conquer the tyranny of a blank page quicker than ever. Refining your prompts and going deeper on the ideas that spark your interest can illuminate your own original ideas and novel connections you wouldn’t have arrived at otherwise. 

One caveat here is that the large language model it uses to populate answers makes it likely that tools like ChatGPT will give you the most common answers related to your prompts. This may be fine in certain situations, but you won’t always want the most common answer. 

We also recommend heavily editing your content to help your brand’s voice shine through while adding personality and asserting your expertise. Keeping the human element in the equation will help you better connect with your customers.
 

Using AI for Content Optimization

 
Where AI can be more helpful is on the content optimization front. For shorter snippets of content using a template, such as product descriptions or meta descriptions, using generative AI tools to scale can lead to major efficiencies. Again, you’ll want a careful human eye to review for accuracy and adjust as necessary to reflect your brand’s expertise, but this can save you a ton of time. 

Finding natural language processing connections can also help you build authority around entities and provide another avenue for optimization. This should align naturally with the topics your brand talks about anyway and the topics your customers are interested in, but it provides another valuable lens.
 

Automating SEO Workflows

 
While the text-based generative AI models are getting all the press right now, image classification was one of the first areas for AI to make waves and is arguably more advanced than the text content AI can create right now. AI tools for naming image files and creating ALT text can automate tedious manual processes. Using AI tools to generate reporting insights and distilling large data sets can also be extremely valuable.   
 

Scaling Your Existing SEO Strategy

 
While advances in AI over the past five years haven’t dramatically changed SEO strategy, it has enabled the ability to scale quickly. While blindly relying on AI negates the value of deep expertise in a field, it would be equally alarming if your SEO team didn’t employ any artificial intelligence at all. 
 

The Limitations of AI for SEO

 
As with any emerging field, there are not only limitations in the outputs but also considerable challenges and considerations around the impacts of these tools. We need to be thoughtful and cautious in our approach because we don’t know the things we don’t know. 

Here are a few of the current-day limitations of AI for SEO, especially generative AI tools.
 

Biases

 
The outputs of tools like ChatGPT depend on their training models, and when your data set is sourced from the internet, the problematic things that are posted when it comes to offensive language and stereotypes are going to be reflected in the tool’s outputs, which can also serve to perpetuate them.
 

Training Data

 
It’s essential to know the training data for your tool. For example, ChatGPT doesn’t access the internet, so when it gives an answer to you about viewing webpages, that isn’t an accurate description of how it operates. Its data set also only goes until 2021 (they make updates regularly), so it’s not the best resource for current events.
 

Accuracy & Understanding

 
While the technology behind something like ChatGPT is incredible, the accuracy leaves a lot to be desired. A common issue is “hallucinating” or sounding very confident about an incorrect answer. 

The efficacy of using ChatGPT as a search engine right now is like considering me, a member of the SEO team, a search engine for paid search advice. With ten years of SEO experience and a wealth of experience working closely with our Paid Search team, I know a decent amount of the terminology, and I can give you a plausible-sounding answer if I need to. But what is the value in that? If you ask our paid search experts directly, you will be in much better hands. 

Since these tools don’t understand the material, their answers lack the requisite nuance of expertise. 

Knowing the potential pitfalls of your AI tools will help you use them more effectively. When you know what to look for, you can diligently review their outputs to avoid adverse outcomes for your brand.
 

AI-Driven SEO Tools to Try in 2023

 
With a steady stream of AI tools released every week, the impetus is on adding AI tools to your arsenal more than needing to use a specific tool or process. 

If you’re just starting to experiment with ChatGPT and getting excited about what AI can do for your program, here are some tools to try this year:
 

Low-Budget Content Tools

 
Our first bucket is budget-friendly content tools. Depending on your preferences, tools like Jasper, Copy.ai, and Frase are great options in this tier that can cost you less than $100/mo. Each tool has particular strengths, ranging from helpful templates to robust competitor research, that can elevate your current content process.
 

Enterprise-Level AI Insights Tools

 
Enterprise SEO clients have unique needs. The tools and platforms servicing this market have been experimenting with AI for better business insights for years. While these tools are significantly more expensive, if your website has millions of web pages or brings in millions of dollars of revenue through organic traffic, they can help you stay on top of the competition.

All of the following brands have an AI offering for data analysis and providing SEO recommendations:

 

There are AI-assisted tools for just about every aspect of SEO, but the important thing is to match that with your team’s expertise and the goals you’re trying to accomplish. These tools won’t replace your experts, but they can make their work easier and more impactful. 
 

Looking Ahead: Future State of AI in SEO

 
One of the time-honored traditions in the SEO field is to ask if SEO is dead. This question is revisited in countless think pieces every year, and the dawn of ChatGPT was merely another occasion to opine on the industry’s mortality. 

So will ChatGPT finally spell the end of search engines? Doubtful. 

While it will probably siphon off some usage from search engines, it’s difficult to imagine a wholesale change in global user behavior that completely upends Google in the short term. 

While SEOs are well-accustomed to grappling with their mortality, the past year is the first time that think-pieces threatened Google’s existence. First with Gen Z’s extensive use of TikTok and now with the AI chatbots. It’s not to say that empires don’t fall, nor that they can’t collapse quickly. Any good financial advisor would caution that past performance isn’t indicative of future results, but even OpenAI CEO Sam Altman said in this article with The Verge, “I think whenever someone talks about technology being the end of some other giant company, it’s usually wrong. I think people forget they get to make a countermove here, and they’re like pretty smart, pretty competent. I do think there’s a change for search that will probably come at some point – but not as dramatically as people think in the short term.”    

While it can’t move as quickly given its position as the incumbent, Google has already flung itself headfirst into the AI arena by announcing Bard, an AI-powered chat feature, to compete with ChatGPT and Microsoft’s integration of OpenAI technology into its products. 

While we anticipate the arms race between the search engines to continue, we also expect GPT-4 (available now) is the next step forward in generative AI and will be multimodal, expanding from text capacity to video, images, and sound. 
 

Conclusion

 
It seems like the world has changed since ChatGPT burst onto the scene, and in some ways, it has, but in others, this is just the next step in a decades-long process. It could portend rapid change or it could be a flash in the pan as people realize they don’t actually prefer a conversational model of search results. 

What we do know is this; it’s worth paying close attention to every development, maximizing the tools we have at our disposal today, and ensuring we have expert practitioners to make these tools valuable. 

The outlook today could look very different in the second half of the year – so it’s important to have a partner who keeps a close eye on the industry. If you’d like help navigating this constantly changing search landscape, reach out to our SEO services team or contact us today.

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Why We Are Always ‘Clicking to Buy’, According to Psychologists

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Why We Are Always 'Clicking to Buy', According to Psychologists

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A deeper dive into data, personalization and Copilots

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A deeper dive into data, personalization and Copilots

Salesforce launched a collection of new, generative AI-related products at Connections in Chicago this week. They included new Einstein Copilots for marketers and merchants and Einstein Personalization.

To better understand, not only the potential impact of the new products, but the evolving Salesforce architecture, we sat down with Bobby Jania, CMO, Marketing Cloud.

Dig deeper: Salesforce piles on the Einstein Copilots

Salesforce’s evolving architecture

It’s hard to deny that Salesforce likes coming up with new names for platforms and products (what happened to Customer 360?) and this can sometimes make the observer wonder if something is brand new, or old but with a brand new name. In particular, what exactly is Einstein 1 and how is it related to Salesforce Data Cloud?

“Data Cloud is built on the Einstein 1 platform,” Jania explained. “The Einstein 1 platform is our entire Salesforce platform and that includes products like Sales Cloud, Service Cloud — that it includes the original idea of Salesforce not just being in the cloud, but being multi-tenancy.”

Data Cloud — not an acquisition, of course — was built natively on that platform. It was the first product built on Hyperforce, Salesforce’s new cloud infrastructure architecture. “Since Data Cloud was on what we now call the Einstein 1 platform from Day One, it has always natively connected to, and been able to read anything in Sales Cloud, Service Cloud [and so on]. On top of that, we can now bring in, not only structured but unstructured data.”

That’s a significant progression from the position, several years ago, when Salesforce had stitched together a platform around various acquisitions (ExactTarget, for example) that didn’t necessarily talk to each other.

“At times, what we would do is have a kind of behind-the-scenes flow where data from one product could be moved into another product,” said Jania, “but in many of those cases the data would then be in both, whereas now the data is in Data Cloud. Tableau will run natively off Data Cloud; Commerce Cloud, Service Cloud, Marketing Cloud — they’re all going to the same operational customer profile.” They’re not copying the data from Data Cloud, Jania confirmed.

Another thing to know is tit’s possible for Salesforce customers to import their own datasets into Data Cloud. “We wanted to create a federated data model,” said Jania. “If you’re using Snowflake, for example, we more or less virtually sit on your data lake. The value we add is that we will look at all your data and help you form these operational customer profiles.”

Let’s learn more about Einstein Copilot

“Copilot means that I have an assistant with me in the tool where I need to be working that contextually knows what I am trying to do and helps me at every step of the process,” Jania said.

For marketers, this might begin with a campaign brief developed with Copilot’s assistance, the identification of an audience based on the brief, and then the development of email or other content. “What’s really cool is the idea of Einstein Studio where our customers will create actions [for Copilot] that we hadn’t even thought about.”

Here’s a key insight (back to nomenclature). We reported on Copilot for markets, Copilot for merchants, Copilot for shoppers. It turns out, however, that there is just one Copilot, Einstein Copilot, and these are use cases. “There’s just one Copilot, we just add these for a little clarity; we’re going to talk about marketing use cases, about shoppers’ use cases. These are actions for the marketing use cases we built out of the box; you can build your own.”

It’s surely going to take a little time for marketers to learn to work easily with Copilot. “There’s always time for adoption,” Jania agreed. “What is directly connected with this is, this is my ninth Connections and this one has the most hands-on training that I’ve seen since 2014 — and a lot of that is getting people using Data Cloud, using these tools rather than just being given a demo.”

What’s new about Einstein Personalization

Salesforce Einstein has been around since 2016 and many of the use cases seem to have involved personalization in various forms. What’s new?

“Einstein Personalization is a real-time decision engine and it’s going to choose next-best-action, next-best-offer. What is new is that it’s a service now that runs natively on top of Data Cloud.” A lot of real-time decision engines need their own set of data that might actually be a subset of data. “Einstein Personalization is going to look holistically at a customer and recommend a next-best-action that could be natively surfaced in Service Cloud, Sales Cloud or Marketing Cloud.”

Finally, trust

One feature of the presentations at Connections was the reassurance that, although public LLMs like ChatGPT could be selected for application to customer data, none of that data would be retained by the LLMs. Is this just a matter of written agreements? No, not just that, said Jania.

“In the Einstein Trust Layer, all of the data, when it connects to an LLM, runs through our gateway. If there was a prompt that had personally identifiable information — a credit card number, an email address — at a mimum, all that is stripped out. The LLMs do not store the output; we store the output for auditing back in Salesforce. Any output that comes back through our gateway is logged in our system; it runs through a toxicity model; and only at the end do we put PII data back into the answer. There are real pieces beyond a handshake that this data is safe.”

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Why The Sales Team Hates Your Leads (And How To Fix It)

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Why The Sales Team Hates Your Leads (And How To Fix It)

Why The Sales Team Hates Your Leads And How To

You ask the head of marketing how the team is doing and get a giant thumbs up. 👍

“Our MQLs are up!”

“Website conversion rates are at an all-time high!”

“Email click rates have never been this good!”

But when you ask the head of sales the same question, you get the response that echoes across sales desks worldwide — the leads from marketing suck. 

If you’re in this boat, you’re not alone. The issue of “leads from marketing suck” is a common situation in most organizations. In a HubSpot survey, only 9.1% of salespeople said leads they received from marketing were of very high quality.

Why do sales teams hate marketing-generated leads? And how can marketers help their sales peers fall in love with their leads? 

Let’s dive into the answers to these questions. Then, I’ll give you my secret lead gen kung-fu to ensure your sales team loves their marketing leads. 

Marketers Must Take Ownership

“I’ve hit the lead goal. If sales can’t close them, it’s their problem.”

How many times have you heard one of your marketers say something like this? When your teams are heavily siloed, it’s not hard to see how they get to this mindset — after all, if your marketing metrics look strong, they’ve done their part, right?

Not necessarily. 

The job of a marketer is not to drive traffic or even leads. The job of the marketer is to create messaging and offers that lead to revenue. Marketing is not a 100-meter sprint — it’s a relay race. The marketing team runs the first leg and hands the baton to sales to sprint to the finish.

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via GIPHY

To make leads valuable beyond the vanity metric of watching your MQLs tick up, you need to segment and nurture them. Screen the leads to see if they meet the parameters of your ideal customer profile. If yes, nurture them to find out how close their intent is to a sale. Only then should you pass the leads to sales. 

Lead Quality Control is a Bitter Pill that Works

Tighter quality control might reduce your overall MQLs. Still, it will ensure only the relevant leads go to sales, which is a win for your team and your organization.

This shift will require a mindset shift for your marketing team: instead of living and dying by the sheer number of MQLs, you need to create a collaborative culture between sales and marketing. Reinforce that “strong” marketing metrics that result in poor leads going to sales aren’t really strong at all.  

When you foster this culture of collaboration and accountability, it will be easier for the marketing team to receive feedback from sales about lead quality without getting defensive. 

Remember, the sales team is only holding marketing accountable so the entire organization can achieve the right results. It’s not sales vs marketing — it’s sales and marketing working together to get a great result. Nothing more, nothing less. 

We’ve identified the problem and where we need to go. So, how you do you get there?

Fix #1: Focus On High ROI Marketing Activities First

What is more valuable to you:

  • One more blog post for a few more views? 
  • One great review that prospective buyers strongly relate to?

Hopefully, you’ll choose the latter. After all, talking to customers and getting a solid testimonial can help your sales team close leads today.  Current customers talking about their previous issues, the other solutions they tried, why they chose you, and the results you helped them achieve is marketing gold.

On the other hand, even the best blog content will take months to gain enough traction to impact your revenue.

Still, many marketers who say they want to prioritize customer reviews focus all their efforts on blog content and other “top of the funnel” (Awareness, Acquisition, and Activation) efforts. 

The bottom half of the growth marketing funnel (Retention, Reputation, and Revenue) often gets ignored, even though it’s where you’ll find some of the highest ROI activities.

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Most marketers know retaining a customer is easier than acquiring a new one. But knowing this and working with sales on retention and account expansion are two different things. 

When you start focusing on retention, upselling, and expansion, your entire organization will feel it, from sales to customer success. These happier customers will increase your average account value and drive awareness through strong word of mouth, giving you one heck of a win/win.

Winning the Retention, Reputation, and Referral game also helps feed your Awareness, Acquisition, and Activation activities:

  • Increasing customer retention means more dollars stay within your organization to help achieve revenue goals and fund lead gen initiatives.
  • A fully functioning referral system lowers your customer acquisition cost (CAC) because these leads are already warm coming in the door.
  • Case studies and reviews are powerful marketing assets for lead gen and nurture activities as they demonstrate how you’ve solved identical issues for other companies.

Remember that the bottom half of your marketing and sales funnel is just as important as the top half. After all, there’s no point pouring leads into a leaky funnel. Instead, you want to build a frictionless, powerful growth engine that brings in the right leads, nurtures them into customers, and then delights those customers to the point that they can’t help but rave about you.

So, build a strong foundation and start from the bottom up. You’ll find a better return on your investment. 

Fix #2: Join Sales Calls to Better Understand Your Target Audience

You can’t market well what you don’t know how to sell.

Your sales team speaks directly to customers, understands their pain points, and knows the language they use to talk about those pains. Your marketing team needs this information to craft the perfect marketing messaging your target audience will identify with.

When marketers join sales calls or speak to existing customers, they get firsthand introductions to these pain points. Often, marketers realize that customers’ pain points and reservations are very different from those they address in their messaging. 

Once you understand your ideal customers’ objections, anxieties, and pressing questions, you can create content and messaging to remove some of these reservations before the sales call. This effort removes a barrier for your sales team, resulting in more SQLs.

Fix #3: Create Collateral That Closes Deals

One-pagers, landing pages, PDFs, decks — sales collateral could be anything that helps increase the chance of closing a deal. Let me share an example from Lean Labs. 

Our webinar page has a CTA form that allows visitors to talk to our team. Instead of a simple “get in touch” form, we created a drop-down segmentation based on the user’s challenge and need. This step helps the reader feel seen, gives them hope that they’ll receive real value from the interaction, and provides unique content to users based on their selection.

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So, if they select I need help with crushing it on HubSpot, they’ll get a landing page with HubSpot-specific content (including a video) and a meeting scheduler. 

Speaking directly to your audience’s needs and pain points through these steps dramatically increases the chances of them booking a call. Why? Because instead of trusting that a generic “expert” will be able to help them with their highly specific problem, they can see through our content and our form design that Lean Labs can solve their most pressing pain point. 

Fix #4: Focus On Reviews and Create an Impact Loop

A lot of people think good marketing is expensive. You know what’s even more expensive? Bad marketing

To get the best ROI on your marketing efforts, you need to create a marketing machine that pays for itself. When you create this machine, you need to think about two loops: the growth loop and the impact loop.

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  • Growth loop — Awareness ➡ Acquisition ➡ Activation ➡ Revenue ➡ Awareness: This is where most marketers start. 
  • Impact loop — Results ➡ Reviews ➡ Retention ➡ Referrals ➡ Results: This is where great marketers start. 

Most marketers start with their growth loop and then hope that traction feeds into their impact loop. However, the reality is that starting with your impact loop is going to be far more likely to set your marketing engine up for success

Let me share a client story to show you what this looks like in real life.

Client Story: 4X Website Leads In A Single Quarter

We partnered with a health tech startup looking to grow their website leads. One way to grow website leads is to boost organic traffic, of course, but any organic play is going to take time. If you’re playing the SEO game alone, quadrupling conversions can take up to a year or longer.

But we did it in a single quarter. Here’s how.

We realized that the startup’s demos were converting lower than industry standards. A little more digging showed us why: our client was new enough to the market that the average person didn’t trust them enough yet to want to invest in checking out a demo. So, what did we do?

We prioritized the last part of the funnel: reputation.

We ran a 5-star reputation campaign to collect reviews. Once we had the reviews we needed, we showcased them at critical parts of the website and then made sure those same reviews were posted and shown on other third-party review platforms. 

Remember that reputation plays are vital, and they’re one of the plays startups often neglect at best and ignore at worst. What others say about your business is ten times more important than what you say about yourself

By providing customer validation at critical points in the buyer journey, we were able to 4X the website leads in a single quarter!

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So, when you talk to customers, always look for opportunities to drive review/referral conversations and use them in marketing collateral throughout the buyer journey. 

Fix #5: Launch Phantom Offers for Higher Quality Leads 

You may be reading this post thinking, okay, my lead magnets and offers might be way off the mark, but how will I get the budget to create a new one that might not even work?

It’s an age-old issue: marketing teams invest way too much time and resources into creating lead magnets that fail to generate quality leads

One way to improve your chances of success, remain nimble, and stay aligned with your audience without breaking the bank is to create phantom offers, i.e., gauge the audience interest in your lead magnet before you create them.

For example, if you want to create a “World Security Report” for Chief Security Officers, don’t do all the research and complete the report as Step One. Instead, tease the offer to your audience before you spend time making it. Put an offer on your site asking visitors to join the waitlist for this report. Then wait and see how that phantom offer converts. 

This is precisely what we did for a report by Allied Universal that ended up generating 80 conversions before its release.

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The best thing about a phantom offer is that it’s a win/win scenario: 

  • Best case: You get conversions even before you create your lead magnet.
  • Worst case: You save resources by not creating a lead magnet no one wants.  

Remember, You’re On The Same Team 

We’ve talked a lot about the reasons your marketing leads might suck. However, remember that it’s not all on marketers, either. At the end of the day, marketing and sales professionals are on the same team. They are not in competition with each other. They are allies working together toward a common goal. 

Smaller companies — or anyone under $10M in net new revenue — shouldn’t even separate sales and marketing into different departments. These teams need to be so in sync with one another that your best bet is to align them into a single growth team, one cohesive front with a single goal: profitable customer acquisition.

Interested in learning more about the growth marketing mindset? Check out the Lean Labs Growth Playbook that’s helped 25+ B2B SaaS marketing teams plan, budget, and accelerate growth.


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