Why AI & SGE Means More Revenue Opportunity for SEO Agencies

Dec 13, 2023

14

min read

Automation doesn’t mean fewer possibilities - it means the potential to focus on things that matter more. That’s why to those who are truly capable, automation opens up the possibility to earn more, while to those who lack true credentials and ability, automation becomes a threat.  

There’s this notion out there that more automation somehow means fewer revenue possibilities for SEO agencies. To me, it’s an absurdity fueled by those who feed off mundane task production over actual growth. For true professionals automation should open up revenue opportunities. Did better SEO tools that do more for you suddenly mean fewer revenue possibilities? 

AI and Google’s SGE (Search Generative Experience) are no different. To the nickel and dimers out there - the advent of this technology is threatening. To those SEO agencies that can and that do provide real value and real results, the SGE ecosystem will mean even more revenue opportunities. 

Here’s why.

Why Do SEOs Feel Threatened By AI and SGE?

Before we get into why AI and SGE won’t kill SEO and will only mean more revenue opportunities for providers, let’s try to understand why there is a feeling of being threatened by it. 

Take AI writers per se. I speculate that most of the conjecture here is that folks will be able to ask AI writers to write a title tag and optimize headers or whatever and no one will need an SEO ever again. Who needs an SEO to handle structured data markup if AI can write it (as if we don’t use structured data markup generators to write the code itself anyway)? 

As for SGE, it’s pretty clear that it’s not the title tag or the headers that are getting results shown within the initial SGE text summary. In fact, what Google seems to show in the “SGE box” in terms of organic results seems “beyond” the targeting of a specific keyword per se. Oh no, what does this mean? Will sites no longer need keyword research or on-page optimization? SEO must be dead! 

I can go on and explore these arguments in greater detail but I think you get the gist of it. 

Clearly, my tone tells you that I don’t agree. I do not think AI and SGE will mean the end of earning money by providing SEO services. 

I have seen this argument 1,000 times before due to my role at Wix and it doesn’t hold water. 

“Oh Wix automated structured data for all products, events, blog pages, etc. How am I going to earn money if you do that for me?”. Sure, if that’s the real benefit you offer to clients, copying and pasting code from a structured data markup code generator, no you won’t earn money from working with a Wix client. If, on the other hand, your true value isn’t in mundane tasks then being free from menial SEO labor will mean your time is spent actually growing your client’s site. 

It is the same for AI and SGE. But instead of just telling you how and why you’ll earn more money in the SGE era I want to first explain the underpinnings of what we’re dealing with here. 

In order to understand why SGE won’t kill your ability to make a living running an SEO agency we need to contextualize what’s been going on right before our very eyes. 

SGE and Ever-Changing Ecosystem Are Good for SEO Business

It’s easy to get caught up in the great AI race. It almost feels that each day brings a new change and a new announcement that alters the SERP and SEO with it. However, “AI” is a bit of red herring. The focus on SGE as it currently stands, in my opinion, is far more about search engines vying for competitive dominance than it is about user needs being met. 

Google didn’t sound a red alert (I know it’s a “code red” but Star Trek reigns supreme) because Bing had a technology that would provide a far more advanced user experience than what it offered at the time. No one at Google raised the shields and armed phasers because Bing had a way to bring far more accurate and far better search results to users. Google went into alleged panic mode because Bing was the first to capitalize on the perception that it, not Google, was poised to integrate AI into its SERP.

The AI race is a marketing and perception race first and foremost. It’s a race to see who can position themselves as the most advanced and the most evolved.  

Think about it for a second. Does SGE actually and fundamentally do a lot more for users than what a Featured Snippet basically does? In some ways, SGE can go beyond a Featured Snippet but only if the user really engages with it. Are Featured Snippets the end of SEO as we know it? 

At a certain point, things are going to come to a head. Search engines are going to have to stop targeting each other and bring the user back into focus.  

Think back to what was happening before AI and SGE and what we were all talking about. MUM. Google’s MUM, to me, is far more interesting from a user satisfaction point of view than AI and SGE and whatever. 

Which helps users more: a language model spitting out web regurgitations or the ability to parse a query to the finest detail and according to multiple possible meanings with the ability to cross-reference multiple forms of media? 

MUM’s theoretical ability to take a query like “go to the yankees” game and parse the words “go to” to mean anything from where to buy tickets to how to get to the game to the proper decorum of going to a Yankees game if you’re going to root for the other team while sitting in the bleachers (for the record, keep a low profile especially if you’re rooting for the Red Sox) is a huge leap for users

Image source

The integration of MUM into the algorithm is far more meaningful than SGE from a user satisfaction point of view. 

AI and SGE don’t fundamentally open the SERP for true exploration of a topic from multiple vantage points with multiple forms of media. 

I’m not saying SGE is going away or that it even should. What I am saying is that it’s not the end of the road. Far from it. SGE and the SERP are going to have to come back around to serving a very skeptical user base with a more layered approach to search results. 

Wouldn’t your clients be benefitted from a group of people who fundamentally understand the ecosystem that is the SERP and who can advise them as to how to prepare not for right now but for the eventuality of what will be? 

Thus we are placed at the doorstep of another question. In an AI-first world, what is the role of an agency focused on SEO services?

The Role of the SEO Providers In An SGE World

First and foremost, I want to say that I don’t see SGE as being the death of the 10 blue links. To me, it’s far more likely that strong topical parsing like I mentioned above with MUM will be the death of the 10 blue links. 

In a way, you already see this “death” with the expanded version of SGE Google initially showed via an icon at the top right of the “SGE Box.” When you expand the initial offering of the SGE you get a topical parsing of the summary created and along with it organic results that align. (This is now down via down-arrows within the text itself that expand to reveal additional result cards). 

This, in my opinion, is far closer to the SERP of the future than the initial SGE summary we tend to focus on as this provides unique value to users. 

Editor's Note:

The Google SERPs have been constantly evolving to provide better value for users. We've seen dramatic SERP changes in time with features like Direct answer or Featured Snippet. And every time click behaviour has changed.

Currently, a SERP with both a Direct Answer and Images loses almost half of organic clicks, as the most recent CTR data set (October 2023) shows. For these searches, 43.2% of people never click on any organic links.

It’s safe to assume that, with the full roll-out of SGE, we'll be seeing even bigger changes in click behaviour. But only time (and data) is going to show us just how big these changes are going to be.

While I don’t think SGE means the death of organic results and organic traffic I do think it moves things away from “the keyword” and closer to “the entity”. 

Which site should appear in the above when talking about Bryce Canyon and hiking trails that do and don’t allow dogs? There are only three results shown here. It’s quite competitive in a way. Google has to get this right. It’s not like you can scroll here endlessly like you can on mobile and take your pick of results. Google’s got to get these three results here right. So again, what should appear here; a site that optimized a page for “bryce canyon and pets” to the extreme or a site with multiple pages dedicated to the topic and whose entire identity is wrapped up in this? 

Does that mean SEO is dead or does that mean that SEO just got a lot more strategic and a lot harder? 

This is a microcosm of the overall shift presented by SGE. The immediate and foundational work done by SEOs needs be coupled with a wider strategy and a far more comprehensive understanding of the ecosystem. You’re no longer charged with ‘optimizing pages’ your job as an SEO provider is to create an entity that aligns with the ecosystem (for the record this always was your job, SGE just forces us to admit it). 

Understanding the ecosystem will be the job of the SEO providers. Being able to understand where the failures of the ecosystem currently stand and what the natural corrections will be is your job as an SEO provider. Setting your clients on a trajectory that not only doesn’t contradict where the ecosystem is heading but allows for thriving to occur, is your job as an SEO provider. 

The opportunity SGE offers is in how ever-changing it is. What could be better for providers than a constantly changing ecosystem that demands real expertise in order to make heads or tails of it all? 

AI and SGE Create Demand for Mature SEO Providers

SGE is going to weed out quality sites from the rest of the noise. There will be less opportunity to gain organic visibility. And despite the fact that many will kill me for saying this, it’s a good thing. It will force Google to take a far more entity-centric approach and it will place quality sites above the rest (in theory). And it will do the same for SEOs themselves. 

Do you want to earn more by providing SEO services? In the age of AI writers and SGE, nickel and diming your clients for all sorts of “optimization” is not going to get you there (again, it really never has). Finding the “best keywords” and creating the most optimized title tags is not going to cut it. 

If a client feels that optimizing a title tag or a header is not a unique skill because an AI writer can do the same, is that really a bad thing for the industry? Is your value as an agency that you can write title tags? Or is it that you know and understand all of the positive and negative implications of taking the title tag in that direction? Is your unique value in being able to add a keyword to a line of text? Or is it understanding the wider strategy and implications of adding that keyword? 

Obviously, this is a bit of an extreme example but the point is true. For so long so much thoughtless SEO has been offered to so many people that the very industry to this day has a bad name among many. What is being portrayed as the death of SEO is really the death of “thoughtless SEO” - of SEO that lacks conceptual understanding and strategic focus. That is dead and that is fine by me. 

If you’ve gotten this far without flinging the computer out the window and hurling profanities at me - it’s a good thing. It means you’re in a position to be more in demand than ever. Clients are not going to fall for the same old surface-level SEO in an AI environment and that gives you the opportunity to show how differentiated you are. You have the ability to earn more revenue because the consequences of an AI and SGE world create them for you. 

AI and SGE take the value of mundane SEO tasks and place it on brain power - on strategy and ingenuity that accounts for the current and future state of the SERPs.

But you might have to move out of your comfort zone in order for it to all work.      

SEO Providers Must Expand Their Focus To Earn More Revenue

One last note to wrap this all up. Yes, I think quality SEO agencies are set to earn more revenue not less, and that a lot of the chirping that says otherwise is coming from low-quality providers.

However, I have a caveat… that’s only if SEO providers get with the program that other considerations are going to come more staunchly into focus. Meaning, we’re going to have to broaden our horizons just a bit. 

I’m a bit biased here because the change I recommend falls right into my wheelhouse as I spend a considerable amount of my time focused on brand marketing. But that doesn’t mean I’m wrong. 

One of the advents of an AI and an SGE world is that companies are going to focus on their branding as a way of differentiation. It’s not very hard to see this change in focus coming. AI writers are going to flood the web with content and brands with a bit of smarts are going to understand they need to create differentiation. They’re going to realize that the consumer, in a world filled to the brim with AI-written content, is going to be seeking some semblance of personality and persona and actual experience from the content they consume.   

For the record, this is a trend that has already begun because many brands have taken a “stale” approach to their positioning and have taken the consumer for granted. Folks, particularly younger folks, are looking for information from people they can connect with and not from static sources. Hence, they’re flooding platforms like TikTok in search of information. 

The generic state of content is only going to worsen when the floodgates of AI writers fully open. As a result of this and of current content consumption preferences, brands are going to more consciously focus on their positioning, tone, and beyond. 

Now imagine you’re an SEO provider showing up with your list of keywords and search volumes. How out of touch would that be? 

If you want to fully align with SEO in an AI world with the intention of earning big money from big brands you’re going to have to adapt and expand your horizons. If not, you run the risk of coming off as tone-deaf.

Showing up at the client’s doorstep with a content strategy that doesn’t consider how it positions the brand is going to put you behind the eight ball. Smart brands are going to be concerned with how your SEO work positions them. If there isn’t alignment there won’t be adoption. 

At times “SEOing” content runs the risk of being counter to the branding of a company. It’s been a problem for quite some time at the enterprise level, but it’s going to come far more into focus as AI proliferates and user demand for a more personal and conversational tone increases. 

The change that I see coming isn’t going to make it any easier. The tone a lot of our marketing content takes now (think landing pages that spew promises like “get actionable ultimate insights….” or whatever) is going to sound like a used car commercial in 2-3 years from now. 

Consumers of content are far more skeptical and savvy. And as mentioned they’re looking for a personal take (it’s not an accident E-A-T got an extra “E” for experience - that didn’t happen in a vacuum). Good content is going to become more conversational. 

Throwing a keyword in and “optimizing” is far easier when working with the traditional web content we’ve become accustomed to. A more conversational (or ‘authentic, expert voices’ as Lily Ray describes it) approach to content is going to require a bit more creativity and holistic thinking on the part of SEO providers. 

So yes, you are in a position to earn more revenue than ever but it will mean you need to adjust and align with not just the ecosystem that is the SERP but with the ecosystem that is reality as a whole.

We asked Lily Ray what her current predictions are for the role branding will play for SEOs as the impact of AI increases:

Director of SEO, Amsive Digital

Despite the fact that generative AI is already incredibly impressive, in terms of its ability to create engaging, creative, and valuable content, there is still a significant gap between the type of engaging, authentic content written by humans and that of an AI tool. 

Although AI content tools can do amazing things, they still can't provide all the qualities that humans truly value when they read content written by other people, such as real-life experiences, humor, understanding interpersonal connections, or sharing relatable emotions.

These nuances will become increasingly valuable over time, as they're hard to "fake" with AI tools. The more a brand can double down on providing that type of authentic, relatable content, the more that brand's messaging will resonate with its audience.

So yes, you are in a position to earn more revenue than ever but it will mean you need to adjust and align with not just the ecosystem that is the SERP but with the ecosystem that is reality as a whole.

A New Hope

As ironic as it sounds, contraction can also mean more opportunity. I think the net result of SGE might very well be contraction. There’s a real chance that it means honing in on authoritative and staunchly topically relevant sites. 

That would mean a contraction of traffic at the macro level but it also means more opportunity for the sites that deserve it, and not the ones spinning up fluff, copy-cat content, etc. The sites ready to thrive are the sites that are also going to need guidance. Those sites are going to need your smarts, ingenuity, and know-how.

I’m excited about the web. Platforms for agencies (like Wix) are advancing and the web is gearing up to need our expertise more than ever. The opportunity for the right players will be out there. More than it ever has been before.  

Mordy Oberstein

Article by

Mordy Oberstein

Mordy Oberstein is the Head of SEO Branding at Wix. As a prolific author, speaker, and webinar & podcast host, Mordy is probably one of the most well-known and respected names in the SEO industry. In addition to all this, Mordy still somehow finds the time to get his hands dirty and produce some epic content of his own, including the recent ‘complete Wix SEO guide’.

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