Manual Vs AI-Powered Search Engine Optimization: Which is Right for You?

17 / Feb / 2022 by Manoj Kumar Pandey 0 comments

Has AI changed the SEO industry? With Google using artificial intelligence to fuel its search engine algorithms, this question has been around for a long time now. SEO professionals are divided in thoughts – most of them claim that manual SEO is still better and relevant while there is a section of professionals who think that AI-powered search engine optimization is the future.

Let us discuss this in more detail in this post!

Most of us in the digital marketing space, often receive emails promising a 10X rise in organic traffic or all keywords on the first page of SERP results in no time. While this is hard to believe for someone who knows how search engines work, no one can deny the fact that there are automated SEO tools available in the market that can optimize your website, saving you time and money. However, the real question is to what extent it can match the expertise of manual research and efforts?

What is Artificial Intelligence?

Artificial intelligence (AI) is a combination of several different technologies, including machine learning (ML), natural language processing (NLP), computer vision, deep learning, and other, still emerging technologies.

Until the last decade, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) has been a purely manual effort where you optimize your website based upon Google’s Quality Rating Guidelines. But with the advent of AI in one of the major Google algorithms – RankBrain in October 2015, the situation has changed drastically.

What is RankBrain?

According to Moz, one of the proven SEO news platforms:

RankBrain is a component of Google’s core algorithm which uses machine learning (the ability of machines to teach themselves from data inputs) to determine the most relevant results to search engine queries.

Before the RankBrain update, Google utilized its basic algorithm to determine which results to show for a search query. Post this update, the query now goes through an interpretation model that can apply possible factors like the location of the searcher, personalization, and the words of the query to determine the searcher’s true intent. By discerning this true intent, Google can deliver more relevant results. Hence, all this is nothing but Artificial Intelligence in SEO to interpret the query and show the relevant results.

For example, a hypothetical query, “covid vaccination near me” performed in New Delhi, India in February of 2022 is returning these nearby results:

How RankBrain Works?

However, the same query searched from Jabalpur, India (approx. 850 KM away from Delhi) is returning these nearby results:

Manual SEO vs Automated SEO

This indicates that Google’s RankBrain can account for the search locations that are very distant from each other and then, return the nearby results. And this query would have returned different results for different locations.

How AI is used in SEO Today?

Keyword Research, Topic Discovery, and Content Optimization

We all know how important keyword research is for SEO. It is the foundation stone of any SEO strategy. I believe that investing a good amount of time on keyword research at the optimization onset will save you time and money later. For beginners, the Google Ads Keyword Planner is a straightforward tool to go to.

But as you grow with the experience, you will notice that picking the suggested keywords by Adwords Keyword Planner tool with good searches is not enough as you might rank on SERP with most of the chosen keywords but will not be able to generate leads or sales, which is the end objective.

AI-powered SEO tools like BrightEdge are believed to find patterns in large sets of data, including data on search volume. These tools use AI to extract topics from search data, so that you can see what other top-ranking sites are doing to appear first in search ranking around any given query. There are a lot of manual tasks that marketers do every day, such as topic discovery and keyword research, that they aren’t very good at doing, they don’t enjoy doing, and that a machine can do far better and at scale.

Local Search

There are automated tools available like Yext that ensure the changes to GMB listings are reflected across different search engines quickly and easily. These tools make sure your business shows up accurately in local SEO across different locations with just a little monitoring of the tool.

Pillar Page Creation

Tools like HubSpot have AI-powered capabilities in their marketing automation platform that understand the themes that search engines associate your content with and then propose how to create a perfect pillar strategy to enhance search traffic. In no time, these tools help brands own entire topic areas by doing content marketing on several related search terms in a given category.

Text & Voice Search

Whether we accept it or not, AI technology has a strong effect on how content ranks and how brands get found, irrespective of which search engine you use.

Voice search is based on the AI technologies like natural language processing that works by reading the result that is pulled into the featured snippet, which is in position zero. So when you ask a question to your Voice Assistant (Siri, Google Home, Amazon Echo, etc.) they will be using the information in the Featured Snippet to answer your question. So, it is imperative to rank on Position Zero for as many long-tail keywords as possible.

Manual vs AI-Powered SEO

Manual SEO involves an individual or a team of SEO professionals implementing various SEO techniques like tag optimization, content optimization, page speed improvement, link building activities, etc. AI-powered SEO or Automated SEO, on the other hand, involves the use of SEO software to implement the SEO strategies into a site.

Advantages of Manual SEO

The following are the trusted advantages for Manual SEO that you should know:

  • The manual audit helps in identifying various technical prospects that need optimization such as XML sitemap, internal linking, mobile view, footer information, content, navigation, etc.
  • You can control where your website is linked from; the quality of the linking domains and the quality of the content for backlinks
  • You have full control over the strategies you implemented for search engine optimization
  • You can plan your next SEO strategy based upon the learning and outcomes gained from the previous SEO strategies. You can be sure of what has worked for you and what, not in your SEO strategy
  • You can choose and optimize for relevant keywords that might be missed by automated tools
  • A manual audit suggests if the user experience would be affected due to redundancies such as lengthy enquiry form, incorrect CTA, difficult website navigation, etc.

Disadvantages of Manual SEO

The following are the cons of manual SEO:

  • Manual SEO takes time and results appear slowly as the optimization progresses
  • It involves the technical expertise of the SEO professional and dedication that cannot be matched by an automated tool
  • Since you need a team of SEO experts, it is not cheap and comes at a good cost
  • It can get slower with large websites of thousands of pages as doing SEO manually will take time

Now that we have established the merits and demerits of Manual SEO, let’s take a look at what AI-powered SEO has to offer.

Advantages of AI-powered SEO

The following are the pros of Automated SEO:

  • Automated SEO is economical as available software have a predefined cost for different packages
  • You will be able to handle the time-consuming SEO tasks like Site Audits, Broken links, etc. as the tool will suggest these for your site
  • You will have up-to-date keyword rankings all the time
  • It can help you to analyze how competitors are performing in real-time, what are their backlinks, etc.
  • You are not required to hire a big SEO team

Disadvantages of AI-powered SEO

The following are the cons of Automated SEO:

  • Automated SEO can create low-quality backlinks from the sites you never wished for resulting in your site penalization
  • The SEO audit reports generated by such tools have standard results in their terminology and are basic at times such as title meta description, heading tags, image alt attributes, social media existence, etc.
  • Most SEO software focus on quantity over quality resulting in problems in the longer run
  • Most of the backlinks/spam created by automated SEO tools do not yield traffic to the website
  • Optimization around UI/UX cannot be done using AI-powered SEO tools
  • No matter how much data you collect from automated tools, you will need to invest your time to understand it and make use of the gathered information

It is important to choose your options wisely. You need to think about short-term and long-term business objectives. And of course, choosing the cheap over quality won’t help your long-term objectives.

At present, a combination of both manual and automated SEO seems to be a wise decision but that can increase your cost and ROI will not be encouraging. Remember, not everything on a website can be audited through tools. Some elements or sections require manual intervention.


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