Here's Why You Mustn't Use GenAI To Represent Your Brand | Podcast 34

Here's Why You Mustn't Use GenAI To Represent Your Brand | Podcast 34
Interview by Nikola Djuric
Published: February 16, 2024

The 34th episode of the DesignRush Podcast brings us a conversation with AJ Kohn, a marketing veteran with a 25-year-long record of managing both online and offline marketing programs.

Tune in to the full episode to find out:

  • Why generative AI poses a threat to businesses, blogs, and expert sources that rely on website traffic
  • How has the increase in spam and low-quality content affected SEO strategies
  • How to prioritize SEO for large websites - AJ Kohn offers a three-tier schedule

As AJ told our editor Vianca Meyer, "No one's screaming at the rooftops about McDonald's being great. If you get the right voice, the right content, and the right originality, you're going to convert the right people into fans. They become your marketing army."

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Who Is AJ Kohn?

With decades of marketing experience and a successful track record of managing marketing programs, AJ Kohn specializes in performance marketing with an emphasis on search engine optimization (SEO), pay-per-click marketing (PPC), and emerging marketing channels. AJ combines a deep understanding of search marketing with a passion for product strategy and iterative product development, fusing design and user experience with quantitative analysis.

What inspired you to create an SEO blog named Blind Five Year Old?

Blind Five Year Old was conceived as a metaphor for how search engines should be treated.

The idea is to think of them as blind five-year-olds: they can't visually perceive your site, and like a child, they need clear and sometimes repetitive instructions to perform desired actions.

"Jimmy, go and put your clothes on. Jimmy, I need you to go upstairs and put your clothes on. Jimmy, go upstairs and put your clothes on!"

This concept emphasizes simplicity and clarity in communicating with search engines, inspired by the principle of "Don't Make Me Think" by Steve Krug.

I aimed to make SEO more accessible by encouraging people not to complicate things for search engines when I started this blog 15 years ago.

Interestingly, after naming the blog, I discovered a quote from former Google engineer Matt Cutts who described Google as a hyperactive four-year-old, which validated my choice of blog name and its foundational philosophy.

Starting a blog served two main purposes for me:

  • It was a crucial part of my branding strategy
  • It was a platform for sharing unique insights

I focused on writing content that wasn't just echoing industry consensus unless I genuinely had something new or contradictory to add based on my experience.

Your article "It's Goog Enough!" from November 2023 resonated well with the SEO community. What inspired you to create it?

The essence of the "It's Goog Enough!" piece was to address the noticeable decline in search result quality, emphasizing how larger brands have managed to dominate rankings due to a brand bias within Google's algorithm.

So you wind up with somebody like Forbes ranking for the best VPN service, which I just don't think they're the best result for that.

Forbes - Best Free VPN Service | Image Source: Blind Five Year Old

This situation has led to less relevant and authoritative content being overshadowed by content from these big brands, which may not be the best source for certain queries.

I delved into the challenges users face in discerning the quality of content, often misled by the brand rather than the content's actual value.

I also touched upon the "dark forest" theory, suggesting a shift away from public web spaces to more private, inaccessible platforms like Reddit or Discord, impacting the variety and quality of content available for search engines to index.

Considering the decline in the quality of SERP, what do you see as a potential solution?

Google is actively working on addressing these issues.

The challenge lies in the complexity of the problem and finding a balance that doesn't penalize genuine innovation or restrict new sites' ability to break through.

I've suggested that Google might need to refine how they balance click signals and user guidance, as users often can't discern the best content, leading to a preference for "good enough" results, akin to fast food.

No one's screaming at the rooftops about like, "McDonald's is great. I love it!"

Despite the current state, I believe in the long-term value of original, personality-driven content. This type of content has the potential to build a genuine brand and convert the right audience, ultimately improving ranking and visibility as these genuine voices gain traction.

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With AI tools revolutionizing content creation, how do we maintain a brand's authenticity?

I believe that content meant to embody a brand’s voice or personality shouldn’t rely on generative AI.

Despite its efficiency, generative content often lacks the soul or uniqueness that brands strive to communicate. There are practical applications for AI in content creation, like generating summaries, alt text for images, or improving titles on user-generated content platforms.

However, using AI to create in-depth articles or content central to a brand's identity can dilute its authenticity.

An intriguing use of AI is generating content that wouldn't exist otherwise, such as summarizing school board meeting minutes for community interest. This introduces new information that's beneficial and wouldn't be available due to resource constraints.

While AI can quickly produce content that might rank well temporarily, this strategy risks undermining long-term brand credibility and audience trust.

This makes it difficult for SEO professionals to toe the line with clients to say like, no, don't do that. They turn around and it's like, look at these jackasses. That clearly came out from ChatGPT. What's going on? Like, hello?

Despite the potential short-term gains, investing in genuine, expertly written content remains the best approach for sustaining brand authenticity and achieving long-term SEO success.

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How has the increase in low-quality content influenced your SEO strategies?

The rise in spam has created a distraction for those committed to producing high-quality content.

It presents a dilemma, especially when low-effort content appears to rank well, tempting businesses to deviate from ethical SEO practices.

Despite my advice, I've observed clients experimenting with generative content, drawn by its potential for quick results at a lower cost. Executive teams, in particular, show a keen interest in leveraging AI for content generation to reduce expenses, which challenges the task of maintaining a focus on authentic content creation.

My approach remains centered on advocating for real, well-crafted content, although it demands more effort to dissuade the appeal of cheaper alternatives.

Some may see an opportunity to exploit this trend for quick gains, but it lacks long-term fulfillment and risks compromising a brand's integrity.

Unless you want to be an internet pirate throughout 2024, then go for it. I mean, it's just like, hey, if you have a niche and you're like, OK, I'm just going to spin up some generative content, make money, and when it gets burned, it gets burned. I can't blame people for doing that.

How do you advocate for SEO in large organizations where it might not be a top priority?

Convincing large brands of the importance and resource cost of SEO is challenging, particularly when they're accustomed to the direct ROI seen with paid search and programmatic advertising.

Many companies prefer these straightforward investments because they can easily measure the return.

In contrast, SEO's benefits are less immediate and harder to quantify, which can be frustrating for those looking for clear in-and-out financial metrics. 

1+1 could equal 0, but 1+1+1 could equal 12. You just don't know.

To tackle this, I emphasize that SEO requires ongoing effort and investment — it's not something you can pause and expect to maintain its benefits.

SEO is a zero-sum game.

Another approach I use is to explain that SEO success accumulates through continuous small optimizations rather than one-off changes; I liken it to "success through 1,000 optimizations."

A strategy that has proven effective with some organizations involves integrating SEO tasks into the agile framework engineering teams use. Assigning point values to SEO tasks, similar to how engineering tasks are evaluated, helps quantify the effort needed for SEO and ensures that sufficient resources are dedicated to it each quarter.

For a large website with many SEO fixes needed, how do you prioritize these tasks?

I approach SEO using a concept I liken to Mozlow's hierarchy, with technical SEO forming the foundation.

Maslow SEO Hierarchy | Image Source: Moz

It's crucial to ensure the site's technical elements are optimized first, as they lay the groundwork for all other SEO efforts.

Crawl efficiency, for instance, is paramount for large sites with millions or even billions of URLs. Google needs to efficiently crawl the site without encountering numerous errors or irrelevant pages.

After addressing technical SEO, the next priority typically involves on-page elements.

This might include optimizing page types, ensuring cross-links are present for better navigation and user experience, and refining title tags to accurately reflect user search queries. Interestingly, many sites struggle with title tags, but focusing on user-intended search syntax can simplify this task significantly.

Further down the list are creating and optimizing new page types to fill content gaps, which is often the most resource-intensive step.

This phase requires developing new pages, designing them appropriately, and establishing effective internal linking.

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