AI Thought Leadership Strategy Content Marketing

Thought Leadership is the New SEO Currency 

By Kersa Haughey

SEO is notorious for being a moving target. For years, Google’s ever-evolving search algorithm has had marketers on their toes with a steady stream of reasons to tweak and optimize web content. Now, the search engine is about to throw its next curve ball.  

Google is introducing a handful of new search features aligned with how generative AI is changing the way people access information. The changes will drive a significant change in content visibility, ranking, and how brands reach their audiences through organic search.  

Google’s new search features indicate that a successful marketing communications program in the age of generative AI will revolve around the unique perspectives and expertise of a company’s thought leaders.

Google’s New Search Features

At Google’s annual I/O developer conference, it was clear that the company is making AI an integral part of its search engine. As its CEO Sundar Pichai put it, “over time, this will just be how search works.” Since then, the company has been busy rolling out AI and AI-influenced tools and integrations.  

Below are the ones to have on your radar right now and why they are significant to your marketing program:  

Search featuring generative AI –  

People are increasingly using generative AI tools to access information instantly instead of reading through multiple articles and websites. With its chatbot, Bard, Google has played a role in this behavior shift. Now it’s incorporating that same generative AI user experience into Google search with the rollout of Search Generative Experience (SGE).  

Available now if you opt-in, SGE provides users with an AI-generated answer to their query at the top of their results, as well as cited links and the option to ask follow-up questions. While it’s a helpful search feature, it pushes organic results further down on the page, making users less likely to reach them and challenging traditional SEO strategies.

Since generative AI chat tools are particularly effective for answering general and evergreen questions, the addition of SGE puts a major dent in the value of neutral and educational content brands use to drive organic traffic to their websites. If a chatbot can deliver that knowledge instantaneously, users are less likely to dig through pages of results to find it.

Brands must now focus on creating content that serves a need not filled by Google’s AI-generated answers or attempt to become a cited source for those answers.

Search results favoring thought leadership –  

Generative AI can spit out a lot of impressive information, but there is one thing that it can’t replicate — original thoughts. That’s why Google is quietly adjusting its results to favor more thought leadership content (and likely encourage the use of SGE for everything else).  

  • Perspectives Filter – Just like how you can filter your results to display news articles, Google’s new perspectives filter exclusively shows content posted by individuals. This includes long- and short-form videos, images, and written posts shared by people on discussion boards, Q&A sites, social media platforms, and blogs.  
  • Helpful Content System update – Last year, Google Search launched its helpful content system to improve the quality of results and show less click-bait. Now, alongside the perspectives filter, it’s planning to issue an update to this system that prioritizes content with personal and expert perspectives in its results.  

Now that search queries are more likely to lead to expert posts across social platforms and blog pages, companies need to place a greater emphasis on elevating the unique perspectives and presence of their executive spokespeople and SMEs across these channels. 

Other Platforms Following Suit

The domino effect of Google’s shift towards expert perspectives has already started. LinkedIn made a recent algorithm change that prioritizes posts promoting knowledge and expertise over those with more personal news. Using AI, LinkedIn will assess the content and author of each post for relevance and expertise, and then serve it to those who might find it valuable based on their interests and professional field. 

Paired with Google’s perspectives filter and helpful content update, LinkedIn’s thought leader-heavy platform is becoming a critical piece of companies’ communications programs.  

Aligning Your Communications Program

The importance of thought leadership has been building for years, particularly with the success of tactics like data storytelling and newsjacking, and the growing demand for business leaders to speak out on societal issues. While Google’s new features are just the latest example of a larger turn towards thought leadership, the power and influence of the search engine make these changes profoundly significant in steering the future of how brands reach audiences online.   

So, what can you do to prepare? With strong indications that thought leadership is becoming one of the most critical communications strategies, here are some ways you can strengthen this piece of your program and align with Google’s new features: 

Organize your experts – Determine your key SMEs and identify topics where their areas of expertise and passion overlap.  

Update existing content – Transform older, basic articles by incorporating insights from your SMEs. Consider using a round-table format for a fresh take. 

Optimize for Google’s perspectives ranking –  

  • Showcase diverse viewpoints – Feature the unique insights of your SMEs and boost distribution through their social networks.  
  • Speak clearly – Avoid jargon and adopt a conversational tone to ensure your content is both informative and accessible. 
  • Get your executives active on LinkedIn: This is one of the best platforms for B2B thought leadership right now and a central source for Google perspectives content. Leverage it to enhance your SME presence and encourage meaningful interactions. 
  • Use multiple channels: The more platforms a piece of content is shared on, the more likely it is to be favored by Google, which sees number of shares as a signal of quality and relevance. While Facebook is dated and X remains a question mark, test expanding to the other platforms that Google is crawling for thought leadership perspectives such as YouTube and discussion forums like Reddit.  
  • Incorporate visual content: Include impactful videos and images, as Google gives preference to these content types. 

Be a resource for SGE – The main thing SGE will be looking for is clear resources to back up the answers it generates. Identify specific queries and trending topics your key audience is likely to be focused on, then push out thought leadership content and commentary around them. A few key tactics include: 

  • Highlight original data: Build compelling data insights specific to your audience’s interests and publish across brand and spokesperson channels.  
  • Newsjacking: Develop expert commentary tied to a trending topic and pitch it out to media, post it to your spokespeople’s social accounts, and use it to anchor a blog on the topic.  

A New Age of Thought Leadership SEO

Company spokespeople and their perspectives are more critical than ever to a brand’s marketing communications program. The rollout of SGE and perspectives is just the beginning of how AI will change marketing. The future of B2B communications is here, and right now, it’s rich with opportunities for those who embrace thought leadership.