What do B2B marketers need to know about search in 2023?
B2B marketing and search have always had a complex relationship, and 2023 will undoubtedly see new shifts arise in numerous areas, from how search engines deal with human versus artificial intelligence (AI)-generated content, to indexing a partially or fully-siloed metaverse, combating dwindling organic search opportunities, where to best invest paid search advertising dollars, and key SEO fine tuning challenges.
Let’s turn our attention to each of these five areas of search in B2B marketing, and take a look at the changes marketers will need to adapt to in 2023 and beyond.
One algorithm at a time, AI has continued to play an increasingly sizable role in our lives, and search technology is one of the areas at the forefront when it comes to using and iterating on it.
B2B marketers certainly find AI in search and a growing number of areas — not only search — as I recently explored in “Riding The Razor’s Edge of AI in B2B Marketing.”
There’s been a proliferation of AI-generated content, from AI-powered image generation applications including DALL-E, Meta AI’s Make-A-Scene, Stability AI, and the like, to AI writing tools such as Jasper.ai, Writesonic, Article Forge, Ink, WordAI and a growing cadre of others.
These AI content creation tools can produce fully automated content with very minimal human input, however most are still used to augment and fine-tune content produced by a human hand.
How are search engines dealing with the proliferation of AI-generated and AI-augmented content, and do people want to be able to identify or even filter out such content?
Danny Sullivan, public liaison for search at Google, has urged creators to focus on content that is primarily crafted by people and not AI.
“If you’re an SEO trying to figure out how AI fits in with being successful or not on Google, you’re too focused on the tool not the content,” Sullivan recently tweeted. “Is the content you’re producing helpful, reliable and people-first in nature?” he added, referencing Google Search Central’s guide to “Creating helpful, reliable, people-first content.”
One of the bigger challenges search technology faces is how to handle this type of content. Just as AI can create content, to some extent it can also help identify AI-augmented writing, images, and video.
In 2023 the amount of content touched by or entirely created through the use of AI will continue to explode, and it remains to be seen whether this will create a backlash among consumers, or whether AI-generated content will forever battle it out against human-created efforts, with the best-answer content rising to the top regardless of whether it was created by a computer program.
The combination of AI and search will certainly continue to evolve in 2023, as technologies such as neural search-as-a-service and others mature and expand.
Stock photography giant Getty Images recently announced that it was taking a stand against AI-generated imagery, due to the unsettled nature of the myriad copyright laws that protect stock photos and the artists who created them.
Another player in the stock photography business has taken a different approach altogether to AI-generated images, as Shutterstock announced an expanded partnership with OpenAI, that will see Shutterstock offering AI image generation from natural language text prompts.
The expanded Shutterstock partnership with OpenAI will use the DALL-E application programming interface (API), and even allow its users to manipulate certain existing images within its massive database, while also implementing a new framework to provide compensation to the photographers and artists who have played a part in helping develop the AI models.
It remains to be seen how search technology in the B2B landscape will handle ever-greater amounts of AI-generated content, however the vastly different approaches taken by the search functionality of Getty and Shutterstock show that this issue has only just begun bubbling to the surface.
The metaverse — a term coined in a 1992 novel — isn’t quite done cooking yet, but with a world that needs to eat right now and chefs who need to cook, how will search technology adapt to indexing the metaverse, and how will this affect B2B brands?
A primary danger the metaverse faces is falling into the siloed social media platform trap, with walled gardens of innumerable metaverse-like instances each owned by separate entities and all not being able to — whether on purpose or otherwise — talk to one another, or even willfully trying to prevent people from leaving their particular slice of metaverse pie.
I explored this danger in detail in “5 Timely Ways B2B Brands Can Conquer Metaverse Marketing,” as well as some of the powerful opportunities the metaverse holds for B2B brands.
In 2023, search technology will increasingly be faced with indexing a partially or fully-siloed metaverse. Luckily, search itself seems more than up to the task, however the primary obstacles include the formation of a cohesive and unified metaverse, with each player allowing their portion to be indexed by traditional search engines such as Google and Bing, or forthcoming metaverse-specific search engines such as Hyperpeach or Nvidia’s DeepSearch.
When I first went online in 1984 operating a 300-baud bulletin board system, it would be six years before Archie’s FTP site search arrived in 1990, followed three years later by Excite and the other early web search engine innovators, and if there’s one aspect of search and SEO that has remained constant throughout the ensuing decades, it’s been unending change.
The years and decades have also seen dwindling organic search opportunities, accompanied by rising search engine screen real estate dedicated to all manner of paid search placements.
As we’ll look at, there are thankfully still a plenty of viable ways for B2B marketers to overcome diminished organic search visibility — through SEO, content marketing and B2B influencer marketing, to name just a few.
Despite fewer organic entries appearing on today’s search engine result pages (SERPs), marketers can make the most of them by continuing to implement SEO best practices, and by making sure that B2B brands are visible on social media platforms including LinkedIn* and an ever-growing number of others.
In light of the dwindling organic search opportunities we’ve mentioned, there’s no denying that B2B brands that are able to dedicate budgets to paid search advertising do often gain increased findability in search results, however whether this is the best use of marketing dollars is not so clear-cut.
Search advertising is expected to account for 40.6 percent of overall digital ad spending in the U.S. in 2022, up some 1.5 percent from 2021, according to newly-released eMarketer and Insider Intelligence forecast data.
In 2023 B2B content marketing and B2B influencer marketing are both likely to continue vying for the title of the specific marketing tactic offering the greatest bang-for-the-buck, however, despite the growth of paid search spending.
Influence likely holds more value in B2B marketing today than ever before, which is why growing numbers of major B2B brands have turned to influencer marketing, as shown in our comprehensive 59-page 2022 B2B Influencer Marketing Report, rich with survey insights, case studies from B2B brands, predictions from leading marketers, a list of 20 top influencer marketing practitioners from major global B2B brands, and much more.
That doesn’t mean that savvy B2B marketers should ignore the opportunities paid search marketing presents, however with today’s often-restrained marketing budgets, alternative methods can at the very least augment paid search strategy.
When Sir Tim Berners-Lee invented the Web, as we detailed in “Classic Marketing Insights to Celebrate the Internet’s 50th Birthday,” one of his biggest goals was to make it easier for people to find information on the Internet — an ambition that has undoubtedly seen tremendous success perhaps beyond any other technology in history.
I was involved in the SEO industry from the time I accessed early websites in 1993 and then began building them in 1994, until just before I joined TopRank Marketing in 2018, after spending a decade as lead editor at search conference Pubcon. During those 25 years I witnessed vast changes in the search industry, including the rise and eventual mainstreaming of SEO.
SEO however isn’t a standardized practice with oversight by an administrative body, but rather a living and breathing practice that’s evolved in the back-and-forth between search engine firms and the webmasters, marketers, programmers, and others who have for decades kept SEO in a constant swirling sea of activity and change. Sometimes this sea is murky and tumultuous, and at others — at least for a brief while — clear and calm.
Where SEO shifts in 2023 will likely involve some of the areas we’ve touched on, and others yet to surface.
Certain SEO fundamentals remain, thankfully. When putting SEO to use in B2B marketing, there are a few elements to make note of when it comes to your efforts:
Part of what makes SEO and search compelling is that they are always changing, even as certain fundamental aspects remain the same.
“Search is never guaranteed, and there are tons of sites that are trying to push their updates into Google,” John Mueller, webmaster trends analyst at Google recently observed. “I think what ultimately works best is that you prove to Google — and users — that the updates you’re providing are valuable: unique, compelling, high-quality, and not something that’s already published elsewhere,” Mueller added.
Whether you pursue one or all of the areas of search we’ve explored here in 2023, we hope that these insights will energize your own B2B marketing efforts on the search front.
2023 will be a fascinating year as B2B marketers see how search technology ends up dealing with AI-generated content, indexing the metaverse, combating dwindling organic search opportunities, paid search strategy, and continuing SEO challenges and opportunities.
More than ever, crafting award-winning B2B marketing that elevates, gives voice to talent, and humanizes with authenticity takes considerable time and effort, which is why more brands are choosing to work with a top digital marketing agency such as TopRank Marketing. Reach out to learn how we can help, as we’ve done for over 20 years for businesses ranging from LinkedIn, Dell and 3M to Adobe, Oracle, monday.com and many others.