Ginny Marvin, Editor-in-Chief for Third Door Media spoke with Site Strategics CEO Erin Sparks about automation and machine learning in digital marketing and SEO during episode 314 of the award-winning EDGE of the Web podcast. Here’s what we learned:


Leveraging Automation and Machine Learning in SEO

One question that comes up about automation and machine learning is whether or not digital marketers, in general, have the discipline to really take full advantage of the opportunities the modeling presents. 

Digital marketers need to invest in a lot of professional development if they’re going to leverage automation and machine learning into better digital marketing results. But the vast opportunities available even now with automation and machine learning make it worth the extra effort needed. And it’s the early adopters who will benefit the most. Make no mistake, automation and machine learning are here to stay, so the sooner digital marketers get on board, the better. 

There are always excuses to hesitate and not embrace the opportunities. What if you worry you don’t have enough data or enough information? Pedro Alves is the CEO of Ople, a software startup that automates the model building process, and he says, “Now, you don’t need to have perfect datasets to get valid predictions. You can have holes and inconsistencies and still manage to find the solutions you’re looking for. Basically, if you can continuously tweak models, you can overcome not-so-clean data challenges. You just have to let the machines do the work and learn from it” (source).


Embrace the Future Now with Eyes Wide Open

You do want your data to be as good and as clean as possible, but the presence of a few gaps in the data isn’t the end of the world and can be worked around. This has been a big evolution in the machine learning models the big platforms are using – they need much less data now to make predictions – they can back off the learning and start acting. Take Google, for example. They have more data than anyone, so it makes sense their models, which have been training for years on ginormous data sets, can now execute and get results with fewer data. But you still want to ask lots of questions rather than just blindly trusting the models are always good to go. You have to play to win, but you can still be skeptical and critical as you evaluate your campaign results.

Digital Marketers and SEOs need to be having conversations and sharing their experiences with each – something that is definitely happening through various online forums and at all the big conferences. Everyone needs to embrace automation and machine learning but do so with your eyes wide open. Be strong advocates for transparency inside and outside your organizations as well as more transparency from the platforms.


The Risks of Automation and Machine Learning

Embracing automation and machine learning with eyes wide open means you have to go into it in a smart way. Don’t jump in without having a plan for analyzing the outcomes. In many instances, you’re not going to have a choice around the automation mechanisms being used by a platform, which is all the more reason to pay very close attention to short-term and long-term results. Sometimes short-term metrics look great but then downstream metrics go south. And the reverse is also true, where short-term metrics feel off and so you put on the brakes when in reality you would have gotten great results downstream. Sometimes you have to have some patience in terms of getting results. Everyone always wants instant results, but it doesn’t always work that way. It’s all one big experiment, so it’s up to you to keep track of what’s being done and how well it’s working.


Three Big Benefits of Automation and Machine Learning

There are three main benefits to be reaped from embracing automation and machine learning for digital marketers and SEOs:

  1. Big-Picture Strategy: When you let automation handle some of the huge, time-consuming tasks in digital marketing, it frees you up to take a step back in order to see the bigger picture and be more strategic in what you do. 
  2. Better Results: When you let the machines do what they’re better at than you and can do much faster than you, then there is the promise of getting much better results with less effort. And everyone wants better results with less effort! Some are saying it’s working for them, others are less sure.
  3. More Collaboration: When automation and machine learning are embraced, there is an opportunity for start thinking outside the silos, to look across channels and departments and teams and engage in a much deeper level of collaboration.

Data underpins everything when it comes to automation and machine learning. The big opportunity for digital marketers is to think about how to be data leaders in their organizations. The new role of “data officers” is emerging across the corporate landscape, and digital marketers are the ones who have already been working with audience data, performance metrics, and so on.  There are great opportunities for those who can be good stewards of data.


Connect with Ginny Marvin, Editor-in-Chief for Search Engine Land, Marketing Land, and MarTech Today (note that all three offer daily newsletters to stay up-to-date)

Twitter: @GinnyMarvin (


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