Almost Timely News, 8 May 2022: AI and Inequality, Epic Content Marketing

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Almost Timely News, 8 May 2022: AI and Inequality, Epic Content Marketing (5/8)

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What’s On My Mind: AI and Inequality

This week, I was talking with the Trust Insights team about our marketing strategy, looking at our April results. I said something kind of funny: let’s just jettison our SEO focus. Now, on the surface, that seems kind of silly, doesn’t it? Ignoring a channel you don’t pay for seems like a poor idea. But let me dig into the reasoning behind this.

When I started doing what we now call SEO, back in the 90s, there were no artificial intelligence algorithms at work. There were no deep neural networks, no fancy recommendation engines, and during that time, small companies had a real shot at being found as often and as prominently as big companies.

When deep neural networks really started becoming the backbone of search engines (around 2015), the game changed. What happened? Big web properties became bigger, ranked better, accrued more traffic and attention. Small web properties got squeezed out for top volume searches.

Why? It has nothing to do with SEO. It’s not a global conspiracy to let big corporations win. It’s much simpler than that.

Inequality is built into AI with a bias towards letting bigger entities win.

Here’s the simple explanation. To build an AI model – which is fancy for machine-written software – you need data. You need a LOT of data. There’s a reason Google gives away so many services like Google Photos, Google Voice, Google Search, etc. Their AI models need material to train on, so the more they collect – and the more we volunteer – the better the models perform.

Well, when you’re ranking content, who can create better content at scale? Brands that have the budget and resources to do so. It’s that simple. A company that has 5 employees on its content marketing team will inherently create less content than a company that has 500 employees on its content marketing team.

And when you’re building an AI to return search results and you crawl the web, weeding out the obvious crap, you’re left with what? A pile of good content where by simple mathematics, more of that content was created by larger organizations that had the resources to build it.

Add in features like Google’s reliance on “Expertise/Authority/Trustworthiness” (as documented in their Search Quality Ratings Guidelines), and you have an even bigger bias towards larger brands with larger budgets. Why? Who do you trust? You trust entities you’ve had positive experiences with, and you trust brands that deliver consistent experiences – as well as investing heavily in brandbuilding.

Thus, by definition again, a brand that can put a million Euros into brand building is going to have more recognition, authority, and trust than a brand that doesn’t invest in brand building.

Here’s a simple thought exercise:

  • Name a coffee shop brand.
  • Name a fast food brand.
  • Name a store brand you shop in.
  • Name a mobile phone manufacturer.

Did any of the choices you mentally summoned just now spend nothing and no effort on brand building? Probably not. Chances are you thought of brands that invest incredible amounts of money and effort in brand building.

Because of its nature of needing a lot of data to build models, AI will always favor the larger data sources. And larger data sources will correlate strongly with larger brands and larger budgets, because that’s who can afford to create the data that AI needs to train on.

So what are you supposed to do if you don’t have big budgets? How do you survive in a world where the deck is firmly stacked against you by big budget competitors and artificial intelligence algorithms working against you?

Wind back the clock 50 years. How did small businesses stay alive in a world where all media was controlled by large corporations and they had absolutely no voice? Three simple things worked for challenger brands.

  1. Create a product/service that is substantially better. This is table minimum. If your product or service isn’t noticeably better to your customers, your marketing efforts will be in vain. Get this right first.
  2. Create a community. Whether it’s something modern like a Discord server or something old school like a mailing list, have a way for people to interact with you – especially your most loyal, ardent fans. This is your insurance policy against AI – when customers spread news of your brand by word of mouth through communications channels that aren’t mediated by algorithms – like chat groups, SMS, direct messages, emails, etc. – AI can’t interfere with the spread of your brand.
  3. Create a memorable brand. At the end of the day, search engines can’t interfere with customers if customers don’t have to search for you. If you are top of mind in your customers’ heads, they will turn to you directly instead of needing an intermediary. There’s no way for an AI algorithm to intercept you typing in my company’s URL directly in your browser.

So how will I be putting this to work? Have I given up on SEO? Sort of. As we discussed in our team meeting this week, we’re pivoting towards a strategy of SEO as a nice-to-have, rather than a core marketing channel. We’ll still create great content, but our intent and our focus is to create content that real people – you – actually ask for, because we know at least one person will read it!

We’ve been saying since 2006 on Marketing Over Coffee that the most sound SEO strategy in the world is to operate as though there were no search engines at all, that Google didn’t exist. That strategy is more true now than ever. How would you market if search didn’t exist at all? How would you stay in front of customers, remind them that you exist in ways that still provide them value? Whatever that strategy is, do it.

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ICYMI: In Case You Missed it

Besides the new Search Console course I’m relentlessly promoting (sorry not sorry), I would recommend reading the pieces on epic content marketing. They were fun!

Skill Up With Classes

These are just a few of the classes I have available over at the Trust Insights website that you can take.



Get Back to Work!

Folks who post jobs in the free Analytics for Marketers Slack community may have those jobs shared here, too. If you’re looking for work, check out these five most recent open positions, and check out the Slack group for the comprehensive list.

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Thank You Notes

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What I’m Reading: Your Stuff

Let’s look at the most interesting content from around the web on topics you care about, some of which you might have even written.

Social Media Marketing

Media and Content

SEO, Google, and Paid Media

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Tools, Machine Learning, and AI

Analytics, Stats, and Data Science

All Things IBM

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Events I’ll Be At

Here’s where I’m speaking and attending. Say hi if you’re at an event also:

  • Social Media, June 2022, Montenegro
  • MarTech Conference, June 2022, virtual
  • MAICON, August 2022, Cleveland, OH – use code PENN150 for $150 off any conference ticket
  • MarketingProfs B2B Forum, October 2022, Boston

Events marked with a physical location may become virtual if conditions and safety warrant it.

If you’re an event organizer, let me help your event shine. Visit my speaking page for more details.

Can’t be at an event? Stop by my private Slack group instead, Analytics for Marketers.

How to Stay in Touch

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Required Disclosures

Events with links have purchased sponsorships in this newsletter and as a result, I receive direct financial compensation for promoting them.

Advertisements in this newsletter have paid to be promoted, and as a result, I receive direct financial compensation for promoting them.

My company, Trust Insights, maintains business partnerships with companies including, but not limited to, IBM, Cisco Systems, Amazon, Talkwalker, MarketingProfs, MarketMuse, Agorapulse, Hubspot, Informa, Demandbase, The Marketing AI Institute, and others. While links shared from partners are not explicit endorsements, nor do they directly financially benefit Trust Insights, a commercial relationship exists for which Trust Insights may receive indirect financial benefit, and thus I may receive indirect financial benefit from them as well.

Thank You!

Thanks for subscribing and reading this far. I appreciate it. As always, thank you for your support, your attention, and your kindness.

See you next week,

Christopher S. Penn


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