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Technical SEO, INBOUND 2020 & Search Engines Using AI

In his INBOUND 2020 talk, The End Of Technical SEO: How Google’s AI Forces SEO Strategies to Be More Human, Dale Bertrand, founder of Fire and Spark, argued that technical SEO tactics are becoming less and less effective in terms of improving organic performance. Popular CMS platforms continue to offer canonicalisation, schema implementation, multi-lang configurations and other technical SEO fixes as standard, mitigating the effect of these tactics.  

It's well discussed in the SEO industry that optimisations like mobile friendly websites are no longer an advantage but rather a table stake that all websites are required to have as a minimum. Bertrand speculates that search engines are even undertaking efforts to make technical optimisations obsolete, with search algorithms using AI technologies in order to mimic and replicate human decision making. 

So what does that mean for technical SEO or even SEO as a whole? 

Bertrand stresses the need for SEO efforts to be spent on customers rather than search engines - from my point of view, this has always been the case and is not unlike the fundamental tenets of content marketing - and introduces the concept of “mission driven SEO”.

What is mission driven SEO?

Mission driven SEO here is defined as using brand purpose and strategies that “go beyond keyword targeted content”. Similar sentiments were shared by Brain Halligan in the INBOUND 2020 Spotlight talk, where he discussed HubSpot’s reaction to the growing need for woke and culturally-aware leadership. 

In his talk, Bertrand presented a case study of one of his clients, Tiny Tags, a jewellery company with a target audience of new mothers as an example of how to increase organic growth without technical SEO: 

“Instead of blogging about its jewellery products, Tiny Tags features stories about motherhood. In this blog post, a woman with diabetes relays her unexpected, yet incredibly rewarding journey to motherhood.

When building her brand, Melissa connected with like-minded women and influencers such as Jamie, the author of this blog post. This provided her with the backlinks and organic visibility, which supported her efforts to grow revenue on social and paid media.”

Tiny Tags creates engaging content that speaks to their demographic, offering helpful information that fosters a community and encourages return visits. This is encapsulated in Fire and Spark’s Human SEO Approach


Creating content that connects with your audience (Empathy) is the primary tactic of this approach. Namely, this is aligning your business with charitable or ‘worthwhile’ causes that your audience supports. This is not necessarily an original idea, corporate social responsibility has been on the cards for decades, but what Bernard argues is that companies need to conduct outreach via their mission, rather than content. For Tiny Tags, this meant writing and sharing real stories of pregnancy, loss, motherhood and more, rather than content about their jewellery. 

How to do mission SEO 

To begin a human SEO approach, you’ll need to identify a mission or cause that resonates with your business and your audience. It’s vital that this pairing makes sense and is genuine, otherwise cynicism will damage your reputation and bottom line. Optimise your website, branding and output around your new brand mission and begin sourcing partners, writers and influencers that support it. 

Next, create citable content (interviews, proprietary research, opinion pieces) that “like-minded individuals can use to advance their cause”. Again this is a well established SEO practice for gaining backlinks but is nonetheless a valid and useful tip. From here, you’ll enter the “Growth Phase”, akin to HubSpot’s flywheel, and off you go! 


Overall, Dale Bertrand’s insight was interesting, but not wholly different from inbound marketing: focus spending your marketing and SEO budget on providing content that is useful to your users. However, his focus on aligning business content marketing with doing good in the world in an authentic way was refreshing and perhaps more of what we need in the world.

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