Nick Baird

Nick, the SEO guru, specializes in catapulting businesses to the forefront of search engine rankings. With a keen eye for cutting-edge tactics, he’s dedicated to maximizing client revenues. Elevate your online presence with Nick’s tailored strategies for unparalleled success

How SEO Changed in 2023

There’s a heated debate among SEOs. Most of the conversation is about using ChatGPT effectively, but most miss the point: Google search is changing. Websites that rely on national traffic are sailing into a storm.

National SEO vs Local SEO

The difference is exactly how it sounds. 

National SEO tries to earn traffic from anywhere in the country. With Local SEO, the goal is to earn Google traffic from people physically within a short distance of your business. This is relevant for:

  • Financial advisors
  • Family law lawyers
  • Tax advisors
  • Tattoo artists
  • Plumbers
  • Dog groomers
  • Home inspectors
  • Handymen
  • Restaurants
  • And more…

Two things, which I’ll explain below, have lead me to focus on local SEO. But first let’s lay out the state of the AI debate.

The AI Debate: Everyone Agrees We Should Be Using It

This is completely uncontroversial. AI accelerates what a single person can accomplish. I use ChatGPT nearly every day. 

Perspective One: Petal to the Metal, Scale Baby Scale

Jake Ward, a well-known SEO influencer with over 100,000 followers, created and promotes a tool called “Byword.” In a nutshell, you give Byword a single keyword phrase, and it uses various software tools to create 100s of articles related to that keyword; then, it programmatically posts to your website. 

One-click, hundreds of articles and tens of thousands of words appear nearly instantly. He cites a case study demonstrating its effectiveness.

Look at that! One year later, traffic went from nearly zero per month to 750,000 hits.

Not so fast… 

AI can be used to churn out spam. This didn’t really change SEO. There have been spam farms for a decade or more. But AI gave us a new toy to play with.

Earning Google traffic comes down to two things:

  • Content
  • Link building 
Link building refers to getting other websites to hyperlink to yours. In a world with lots of content, Google sees these links as “votes.” The more & better votes you have, the higher your “domain authority” becomes.
For more, read my article: What is Link Building?

Content is easy enough to understand. Everyone writes. And Jake’s tool is a powerhouse for churning out content (spam?) at scale! From here, a diligent SEO will keep an eye on which pieces are getting noticed by Google, edit the articles with a human touch, and hope they can climb from rank 50 to rank 5. 

But Byword’s spectacular growth case study omits something crucial: link building. Jake’s site started with authority from their link profile. 

Domain authority is a conversation of its own, but for our purposes, 50 is “really really good.” It means that their spammy content would get noticed by Google, and even outcompete better content, because of the “votes” they had already received. 

Perspective Two: Use AI to Enhance, but Not Replace, Human Writers

Despite the debate missing the point, I take this stance when I have to. SEOs talk about writing for humans, and AI content is not for humans. It’s cold, robotic, and lacks voice. Still, I use ChatGPT nearly every time I write for an accounting firm client. 

How?

  • Generate outlines
  • Ask questions to help me better understand a topic.
  • Fill gaps by asking  “if I were a business owner reading this article, what information is missing?” 

Perspective Three: Anti-AI

Hannah Szabo is an absolute gem and influencer in the making. She grew her following by ~3000 in 2023 by showing up as an authentic person in people’s comment sections. 

I’ve laughed so many times at her jokes!

Her stance is almost entirely anti-AI. And I respect it, but ultimately disagree.

Perspective Four: Train AI to Sound Like a Human

As a person, I’m wholeheartedly concerned with how AI is going to impact the world. My crystal ball says this is  where we’re headed:. Straight through the uncanny valley and beyond. In my quiet moments, it gives me exestential dread. 

But as an SEO professional, I have to evolve to keep up with the times.

Steven Wilson, SEO extroidanairre and industry veteran, is producing a tool which seeks to humanize AI text.  I had the pleasure of being a beta tester and can’t wait to see Steven’s progress. Check his website linked behind “tool” to judge the content for yourself: that site is entirely AI.

What Point Does The Debate Miss?

We’re arguing details over how to get better at sailing a ship while headed directly for a storm. 

It’s much easier to sail calm calm waters; that’s why I’m focusing on local instead of national SEO.

The Future of National SEO for Small Websites Is Bleak

Exhibit A: Algorithm Updates

In public, most SEOs say the same thing. Keep on best practices and everything will be OK: better content, more links, etc. But when they’re anonymous, as they are on Reddit.com/r/seo, they’re honest. 

Google’s 2023 algorithm updates demolished small websites. The aim was to combat AI spam, like Jake Ward’s Byword. To do so, they put more weight on backlinks (votes) and less weight on content quality. This means that newer and smaller websites, which naturally have fewer links, yielded search traffic to big websites.

Here’s a handful of the most popular reddit.com/r/SEO posts from January 2024:

In short, the rich got richer.

Exhibit B: Cluttered Search Results 

Have you noticed that Google is getting filled with more and more… junk? I have. And the more crowded the results page becomes, the less valuable the work of an SEO becomes. The same amount of traffic is getting divided nto smaller and smaller pieces. 

That trend is only set to continue. Google is experimenting with “Generative AI” directly in the search results.

That big block of text at the start? It’s Bard powered, Google’s ChatGPT competitor.

It fills half the page, answers your first Google search, allows you to ask follow up questions. Generative AI will cut website traffic by stopping people from leaving Google in the first place. Gartner, a respected National consulting and research firm, predicts that as Generative AI is adopted, website traffic across the board will drop by as much as 50%.

Why Local SEO Is Here to Stay

AI is shaking up SEO, but the nature of local search protects it from the problems I talk about above.

Here’s how local SEO works from a customer’s perspective.

  • Someone decides they need a family lawyer
  • They don’t know any
  • They Google “family lawyers near me”
  • A handful of lawyers, which are within 1.5 miles, appear
  • They check reviews
  • They vet the website for quality
  • They call and ask for a consulation 

Generative AI won’t change this process: talking to ChatGPT isn’t going to change that you’re getting a divorce. You need professional help.

Plus, while Google’s algorithm updates favored websites like Reddit, Quora, and Trip Advisor for national SEO rankings, local SEO was actually bolstered by the update. 

“Google’s October 2023 update gives more weight to local search signals. This means improved visitability for businesses catering to local audiences.” – Markitors.com

Conclusion

Local SEO is protected from algorithm updates and ChatGPT. Websites that want to rank nationally may struggle, but businesses that cater to local customers are positioned to thrive.

My most recent client, Indigo Tattoo Estudio, launched their website in early January 2024. I write a monthly article where I report on progress and build in public. Want to follow our progress? Subscribe here for emails or read all of our progress updates here.

For a complimentary website audit and strategy session, reach out! You can DIY with my findings and I also offer done for you services.

Discover the secrets to skyrocket your business’s visibility and dominate search engine rankings in 2024.

Nick Baird

Nick, the SEO guru, specializes in catapulting businesses to the forefront of search engine rankings. With a keen eye for cutting-edge tactics, he’s dedicated to maximizing client revenues. Elevate your online presence with Nick’s tailored strategies for unparalleled success