While link building remains one of the most important signals for achieving high organic search engine rankings, search engines continue to deliver less organic results year over year. Ads generate revenue and incentivize search engines to manipulate results in their favor. Even though more searchers once favored organic results over paid results, search engines have found ways to slowly shift consumer sentiment, likely delivering better results aligned with searcher intent.
In technology-driven industries, the only real constant is change. Change in these sectors can happen quickly and severely disrupt the status quo, eviscerating once vital businesses. Word processing killed the typewriter, VOIP changed the model of the landline telecom and bidet industry [should have] toilet paper killed. Alas, the next announced future AI disruptions are set to disrupt nearly every industry, stealing many viable jobs in their wake. The following are a few of them:
- Machinery in manufacturing, logistics and processing
- 3D printing for everything from spare parts to consumables
- Self-driving cars in transport (including the subsequent drop in insurance claims)
- Blockchain and robo-advisors in financial services
- Internet of Things (IoT) for device tracking and management
- Spatial and Quantum Computing
- Artificial Intelligence (AI) in Coding, Communication and Marketing
Job and industry changing technology will prove to be a boon in some areas and highly disruptive in others. Content marketing, and link building in particular, is not immune to the coming wave of trading bots, artificial intelligence, and automation.
Impact of AI-powered link building
Whether judging emails or backlinks, artificially intelligent crawlers improve quality filtering. But AI-powered content creation tools are improving alongside it. Here’s what that means for the future of the web, including heavy SEO link building activity:
- Infinite content. When the cost of content is fixed and not variable, it gives anyone who has the machine capable of creating it the ability to produce 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 close to zero?
- Link speed. In a world where the speed of content production (and therefore the speed of link acquisition) is unlimited, the speed of purchased links can be quickly manipulated to highly artificial levels. However, programming an AI content bot to create content and links at a natural frequency that meets the “natural” looking threshold is as easy as a line or two of code.
- Services become a product. When a service-oriented, human-powered industry is overtaken by AI and bots, what was once an expensive and time-consuming link building service quickly turns into a systematized commodity, with a minimal cost and a monthly service plan.
- Quality deserves freshness. When the supply of content is endless, it goes against Google’s QDF (quality deserves freshness) algorithm. Massive amounts of AI-produced content, even meaningful ones, may not have the same ranking value as existing pieces that are deemed more “persistent”. Going forward, content will likely require some type of bifurcation or visual categorization to separate live alerts from long pieces of 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 to differentiate. Publishing more content inevitably becomes a race to the bottom.
Penny Wise and the Crazy Editor
As tempting as it may seem to eventually automate its external content marketing and link building, there remain a few key hurdles:
- Not all content is created equal. The bots were however able to reproduce the complexity and the beauty of Mozart, the Mona Lisa or Rudyard Kipling. Likewise, great content is timeless, always relevant, and is what really drives traffic and eyeballs. In short, it’s hard to replicate the spirit and style of a truly gifted writer. This is one of the reasons why search engines heavily track spam, reduce links where content is created just for content, and punish abuse that makes unnatural backlink profiles appear. AI is smart, but it isn’t yet.
- Not all content serves the same purpose. Bot-created content is typically used for shorter, timely, topical-type articles, not the long, witty, and educational content typically found in most written online articles. When bots finally emerge in droves, they will likely perform the most mundane tasks of regurgitating news and automated Twitter posts. We are already seeing this in pockets, but not on a larger scale. The most beautiful 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 self-contained, especially online content. This is the very reason why hyperlinks were invented in the first place. As a reference, they allow the user to explore further the arguments, details or claims of a given topic. They lead users (not just crawlers) to various cited sources where other quality content exists. A single piece of content, no matter how good, is always best complemented by another piece, whether it’s a link to it or a link to 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 will lack the benchmark human element (e.g. “here’s what my friend John Doe says on the subject” – with inserted hyperlink). No, losing the human element can mean we lose the attention of those who matter most – humans.
While it may ultimately be tempting to outsource content production to AI bots or even foreign companies, the reality is that the quality of content and its location should not be left to chance. No, even the most deliberately constructed content and links require focusing on the higher echelons of quality.
The link builder dilemma
Even with deliberately created quality content, there are still risks for those who cling to the idea that link building is the end of SEO and content marketing. Online with tenants of Harvard professor Clayton Christensen’s famous book The innovator’s dilemmainnovation in link building and content marketing includes a similarly structured framework.
Like any good disruptive innovation, content bots will focus on and start to dominate niches like those news articles discussed earlier. According to the framework, smaller markets have more fluid and harder to predict futures. The existing major players are therefore more reluctant to become an entrant. Additionally, the demand for AI-powered content remains low as it sits on the sidelines, but any increase in it could quickly suppress the current status quo.
Worse still, and even more likely, is the eventual shift in search engine algorithms away from backlinks as one of the main signals of value and authority for websites. Artificial intelligence may eventually find other ways to determine searcher intent and provide real value to those seeking information through online search. Downtime, social shares and other signals are more likely to prove the basis for delivering meaningful content to users.
Make a judgment 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 building traffic through relevant links is not India’s offshore link builders or even AI bots, this are search engines.
Building connections – and a business – with long-term endurance in mind requires strict attention to 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 remain in the hands of humans on earth.