SEO in the Age of Generative AI: Mastering Topical Authority and Content Strategy with Bernard Huang

By Skyword Staff on July 1, 2024

A Content Disrupted podcast with Bernard Huang, founder at Clearscope.

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How is generative AI disrupting Google search and what does that mean for brands and content creators? In this episode of Content Disrupted, Clearscope Founder Bernard Huang sits down with Skyword EVP Dan Baptiste to discuss the current and future state of SEO and AI-powered search. They delve into the cannibalization of search traffic, the new way to approach topical authority, and how to use content to build trust and credibility in a landscape flooded with commoditized information.

Bernard is the co-founder of Clearscope, the leading SEO optimization software for high-quality content teams. Before Clearscope, Bernard started an SEO consulting agency, was a growth advisor in residence at 500 Startups, and led growth at a YC startup called 42Floors.

Episode Highlights:

  • [01:16] Google's Algorithm Updates and the Changing SEO Landscape – Bernard shares his journey from being a growth hacker at the Y Combinator startup 42 Floors, where he experimented with various SEO strategies, including black hat tactics. He highlights the importance of major Google updates such as Penguin, which devalued spammy links, and Panda, which penalized thin, duplicate content. Hummingbird shifted the focus to comprehensive and quality content, leading to the rise of in-depth guides. RankBrain introduced dynamic user engagement signals, making search results more responsive to user interactions. The Helpful Content Update emphasized creating content for humans, highlighting expertise, authority, and trustworthiness. Bernard's insights underline exactly how Google's evolving algorithm updates have pushed SEO strategies from a game of manipulation to a focus on creating valuable content that genuinely serves users.

  • [11:41] The Challenges and Opportunities of Content Creation in the Age of AI – Bernard explains how Google's increasing integration of AI-generated answers and featured snippets is leading to a significant reduction in traditional search traffic for many informational queries. Huang highlights that this trend isn't new; technological improvements have always redirected specific queries away from Google. However, AI's capability to generate content directly, such as job templates or recipes, represents an unprecedented level of "cannibalization." He advises content creators not to fear this shift but to adapt by focusing on areas where AI falls short, such as providing unique perspectives, firsthand experiences, and trustworthy recommendations. Huang points out that while AI excels at consensus-based answers and structured "stuff" like itineraries; it lacks the perspective, depth, and credibility users seek in certain types of trust-based searches, such as product reviews or specialized guides. As a result, the challenge for content creators lies in differentiating their work by emphasizing human elements and expertise that AI cannot replicate, thereby maintaining relevance in the ever-changing digital landscape.

  • [18:44] From Black Hat Tactics to Trustworthy Content – Bernard discusses how Google's algorithms have evolved now valuing content that offers genuine opinions and perspectives. This evolution suggests that search is becoming better, as it encourages content creators to produce valuable, authentic information rather than just filling pages with SEO keywords. However, Google still faces the challenge of the vast amount of AI-generated content skewing the information landscape and the need to differentiate between authentic information and commoditized content. Bernard points out that while AI can generate content rapidly, Google's focus on user engagement signals still creates a complex environment where brands with higher domain authority tend to dominate. This dynamic now needs content creators to leverage their subject matter expertise, authenticity, and unique insights to stand out in a crowded digital space. Bernard explains how brands can capitalize on the way search associates topics and things with an "information gain" approach that focuses on additive content within networks of topics where subject matter expertise or firsthand expertise is assumed or required.

  • [29:35] Topical Authority As the New SEO Playbook – Bernard highlights that the traditional method of targeting high search volume keywords and creating basic content or content clusters around them is no longer sufficient. Instead, smaller publishers should focus on specialization within their niche, delving deeply into various aspects of a topic to establish authority. He explains that Google now emphasizes a site's focus score, which assesses the depth and relevance of a website's content on specific topics. This shift means that creating comprehensive, unique content that explores the nuances and intricacies of a subject can help smaller sites rank higher in search results. For example, rather than just covering general information about marathons, a site should include detailed content such as personal training experiences, common mistakes, and unique insights into marathon preparation. This approach not only differentiates smaller publishers from larger competitors but also aligns with Google's efforts to combat the flood of commoditized content produced by AI. Although the search volumes for these specialized topics might be smaller, the aggregate effect of a well-developed library of granular, authoritative content can drive significant traffic over time.

  • [36:07] Brands Need to Focus on Owning a Niche – Bernard emphasizes the importance of defining specific topics or "ownable lanes" that are aligned with your brand's identity and target audience. He further advises that brands should adopt a multichannel content creation approach, producing engaging content tailored to different platforms like TikTok, LinkedIn, YouTube, and Instagram. He points out that search now functions less as a discovery channel and more as a mid- to bottom-of-funnel channel, so brands need to plan to create content for search that captures interest generated from other platforms. This strategy requires moving away from generic, high-volume keyword content and focusing on adding unique value to niche topics. Smaller brands should narrow their focus to specific aspects where they can provide unique insights, rather than trying to dominate broad topics. Overall, a niche-oriented strategy demands effort and thoughtful planning, offering significant rewards for producing high-quality, detailed content. Instead of spreading efforts thinly across broad topics, brands should identify high-level topics that are both relevant and manageable.

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Featured image by ugguggu at Adobe Stock.


Skyword Staff