Almost Timely News, April 7, 2024: 🗞️ Generative AI Optimization and Content Marketing Strategy

Almost Timely News: 🗞️ Generative AI Optimization and Content Marketing Strategy (2024-04-07) :: View in Browser

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Almost Timely News: 🗞️ Generative AI Optimization and Content Marketing Strategy (2024-04-07)

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What’s On My Mind: Generative AI Optimization and Content Marketing Strategy

Eric asked a very interesting question that’s worth addressing: given that at least some consumer behavior will change toward the use of generative AI as a replacement for traditional search, how do you get ahead of the curve? How can you and I avoid losing a substantial part of our organic search traffic to generative AI?

This is a big topic to tackle, so let’s go over the pieces to understand what we might want to do and what advice I’d give Eric – and you.

Is Generative AI-Based Search a Thing?

First, is generative AI-based search a thing? Yes, it is. A recent piece (paywalled) in the Wall Street Journal cited statistics of 20-40% traffic loss from things like Google Search Generative Experiments and other forms of AI-based summarization. Why? Because in general, the search process today is somewhat broken. Go to any mainstream publisher’s site and you’re bombarded with ads while trying to get the information you want.

For example, there was a piece of clickbait on one of the sci-fi entertainment sites I have in my Google News reader. It took 14 scrolls of the page to get to the useful information, what tiny little bit of it there was, and a solid half of those swipes were past ads – none of which I can remember, so the ad dollars spent by those advertisers was futile.

If I point Perplexity, Gemini, or Bing/Copilot at that URL? I get a one paragraph summary that doesn’t require me to read 7 pages of ads to get the useful information. Generative AI-based summarization and content delivery is just a better user experience.

The more people find out that it’s not only possible but straightforward to get the information you want in a more compact form and a substantially better user experience, the faster AI-generated search will take off.

The second aspect of generative AI-based search that we forget about is the aggregation aspect. When you search for something like “best practices for writing case studies”, as an example, you have to click back and forth from search result to search result, putting the information together. When you use generative AI, all the results are mashed together and summarized into one tidy document. You don’t have to mentally do that part any more, and that’s a huge benefit as well.

So, generative AI-based search is already a thing and will likely be more of a thing going forward as long as the user experience is better than traditional search and publisher-produced content that bombards you with unwanted content like ads. (There’s a whole rabbit hole here about the future of publishing, but that’s a separate topic)

How Do Generative AI Models Know What To Recommend?

With that understanding, we need to know how generative AI systems get content in them to summarize for us. Today’s tools get their information and knowledge from three major sources: their long-term memory made of the training data they’ve been trained on, their short-term memory made of the data we provide in a prompt, and their retrieval augmented data that they obtain primarily from search. Tools like Copilot, Gemini, ChatGPT, and Perplexity have all three systems in play.

So how do we influence these systems? Well, influencing a user’s prompt is all about brand and mindshare. If someone’s searching for you by name, it’s because they know who you are and want more specific information. If brand building isn’t a core strategic pillar of your marketing strategy, you’ve basically lost the plot for modern marketing. Brand is EVERYTHING, because we live in a world of brand. We live in a world where people recall only the things that have emotional importance to them and that’s what brand is. Ze Frank said back in 2006 that a brand is the emotional aftertaste of a series of experiences, and that statement has never been more true.

As an aside, I’ve seen people call this AI Engine Optimization, Search AI Optimization, Generative Engine Optimization, etc. These all sound silly. I guess we’ll see which one wins.

Can we influence training data? To a degree, yes, but it’s neither easy nor fast. Training data for models comes from a variety of sources; if you look at what model makers like Meta disclose as their training data sets, you’ll see things like book archives, programming code repositories, and an entity known as Common Crawl.

Common Crawl is a non-profit organization that basically makes copies of the entire public web, in text format. It’s a massive, massive archive; a single snapshot of the public web is about 7 petabytes of data. To put that in context, if you took all the text from all the books in the entire New York Public Library, that would work out to about 2.7 terabytes. A single snapshot of the web is 2,500 New York Public Libraries.

Within Common Crawl is every site that’s publicly available, from the most bespoke publications to your drunk uncle’s Reddit shitposts and that Blogspot blog you started in 2003 and forgot about. All that text is ingested by model makers and converted into statistical associations that form the foundation of a language model’s long-term memory.

How Do You Influence Generative AI Models?

Thus, if you wanted to increase the statistical associations in the model for your brand with key terms, you’d have to increase the amount of text in archives like Common Crawl, books, code, etc. By a substantial amount in your domain. That means being in tons and tons of text content in public.

How would you do that? Well, for starters, you have to publish and make available tons and tons of text content. You should be creating high quality content at high velocity on your site, your blog, your digital media properties. You should be creating podcasts, videos, etc. And providing subtitle files with everything.

Once you’ve got your own properties in order, the next step is to be everywhere you can be. Say yes to everything you can practically say yes to. Be on any podcast that publishes transcripts, even if the show itself has 2 listeners. Collab with other creators on YouTube.

This is, in some ways, an inversion of normal PR strategy. Normal PR strategy is all about getting placements in great publications, publications that get a lot of public attention. PR professionals will often talk about publications like Tier 1, Tier 2, etc. Tier 1 publications are well-known outlets like the New York Times, Asahi Shimbun, the Sydney Morning Herald, etc. PR clients want to be in those publications for obvious reasons – they get a lot of attention.

But in the world of model training, one piece of text has no more weight than another. An article in the East Peoria Evening News has the same weight as an article in the New York Times – and there’s a good chance of getting a placement in the former. From a language model perspective, you’re better off getting 100 easy to obtain articles in small publications that are on the web rather than 1 difficult to obtain article in a large publication.

Now, that will change over time, but the reality right now and for the near-term is that model makers are ravenously hungry for any data they can get their hands on. Companies like OpenAI, Meta, and many others are vacuuming up data as fast as they can, licensing and buying it from wherever they can obtain it.

Is SEO Dead?

So, should we just toss out our content marketing strategy and publish whatever we can, wherever we can? Not so fast. Remember that the long-term memory is just one of three sources that models use; the third source is search data. This is where traditional SEO strategy still matters, because if you look at what’s happening behind the scenes when we talk to a search-aware model, part of the process is to consult existing search databases as the model synthesizes results.

You can see this, for example, in Microsoft Bing. As you talk to the GPT-4 model that powers it, you’ll see it rewriting your conversation into Bing queries, querying the Bing search catalog, and returning search results that the language model then synthesizes into a written summary. In other words, traditional SEO still matters because that language model is being fed partly from search data.

If anything, this makes your overall SEO strategy even more important, because you want those search-enabled language models to recommend your content for inclusion in its summaries. This means you should absolutely be consulting Bing Webmaster Tools (since Bing is the underlying engine for both Microsoft Copilot and ChatGPT) as well as Google Search Console (because Google Search is unsurprisingly the underlying engine for Gemini’s search-powered results) and optimizing your content appropriately.

Here’s the simple reality: those who are better at content marketing will do better in a generative AI-powered search world. Big or small, rich or poor, whoever has the most content out there that’s decent quality will win. I say decent quality because model makers are finding out (completely unsurprisingly) that using a smaller subset of high quality content leads to better models than models that use everything. Everything incorporates a lot of garbage, and so you’ll see references to libraries like C3, which is a subset of Common Crawl that’s somewhat curated.

This means, for content marketers, if you want to win in a generative AI world, you have to create both high quantity AND high quality content. You can’t just churn out garbage. You also can’t just publish one bespoke piece of content a quarter. Best isn’t enough, and most isn’t enough – your content strategy has to revolve around creating the most best content in your space.

You also want to embrace the transmedia content framework, something I’ve been advocating for a decade now; we have a version at Trust Insights called the video-first transmedia content framework. This means creating content in every format you can. This newsletter is a perfect example. Yes, it’s text, and that text is published both on my personal website and Substack (thus double-dipping in terms of what’s in Common Crawl). But I also load the video and subtitles to YouTube. We know for a fact that language models and multimodal models scrape YouTube like crazy (another reason to embrace accessibility) for caption content. And I load the audio from the video each week to Libsyn as a podcast.

I’ll add one more twist to your content marketing strategy. In the content you create, make sure your brand is getting mentioned in it. Make sure your name, your brand, and the terms you want to be known for are making it into each piece of content that gets published, because when models ingest this data, they form statistical associations among all the words in the content. If you’ve got a thousand blog posts on the web that are high quality content, but none of them mention your company name, then you’ve given model makers a thousand pieces of great training data that excludes you. At the very, very least, make sure your main content is injected with boilerplate copy at the end of every piece, something like this:

This post about content marketing and generative AI first appeared on Christopher Penn’s marketing AI blog.

You’ll hear in content I produce with Katie on the Trust Insights properties that we mention our products, services, company name, and major digital properties at the end of every episode. This is partly for the humans, but partly for the machines ingesting all that content. No matter what we’re talking about in the In-Ear Insights podcast, it ends with us name-checking the company so that content gets incorporated into the text, and in turn that gets incorporated into language model training data AND search results. You’ll see this in our livestream and other content as well.

There’s one final power tip for jump starting the process, but that’s intentionally behind the paywall in my Generative AI for Marketers course.

Wrap Up

So let’s summarize (surprisingly, not done with AI):

  • Yes, AI-enabled search is a thing (and is probably going to be more of a thing)
  • Get ready for it by being everywhere
  • Make content in as many formats as possible so multimodal models train on it
  • Make sure you’re mentioning yourself in all your content somehow
  • Keep investing in SEO, it’s not going anywhere

What’s your AI-enabled search strategy and content marketing strategy?

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ICYMI: In Case You Missed it

Besides the new Generative AI for Marketers course I’m relentlessly flogging, I did a piece this week on curation and creation in content marketing.

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.



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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 recent open positions, and check out the Slack group for the comprehensive list.

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

Advertisement: Business Cameos

If you’re familiar with the Cameo system – where people hire well-known folks for short video clips – then you’ll totally get Thinkers One. Created by my friend Mitch Joel, Thinkers One lets you connect with the biggest thinkers for short videos on topics you care about. I’ve got a whole slew of Thinkers One Cameo-style topics for video clips you can use at internal company meetings, events, or even just for yourself. Want me to tell your boss that you need to be paying attention to generative AI right now?

📺 Pop on by my Thinkers One page today and grab a video now.

Tools, Machine Learning, and AI

Analytics, Stats, and Data Science

All Things IBM

Dealer’s Choice : Random Stuff

How to Stay in Touch

Let’s make sure we’re connected in the places it suits you best. Here’s where you can find different content:

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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:

  • Society for Marketing Professional Services, Boston, April 2024
  • Society for Marketing Professional Services, Los Angeles, May 2024
  • Australian Food and Grocery Council, Melbourne, May 2024
  • MAICON, Cleveland, September 2024
  • MarketingProfs B2B Forum, Boston, November 2024

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.

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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2 responses to “Almost Timely News, April 7, 2024: 🗞️ Generative AI Optimization and Content Marketing Strategy”

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