Shannon Hayner: How AI Is Disrupting Our Industry, and What We Can Do About It

An Interview With Cynthia Corsetti

Assess and Adapt Your Business Model

AI is continuously changing the rules of the game. A few years back, in 2019, I was using an AI-powered tool that scrapes data from the internet to give on-page optimization recommendations for SEO. Fast forward to 2024, and everyone is using some version of that tool, including some LLMs that can produce ready-to-rank content.

Artificial Intelligence is no longer the future; it is the present. It’s reshaping landscapes, altering industries, and transforming the way we live and work. With its rapid advancement, AI is causing disruption — for better or worse — in every field imaginable. While it promises efficiency and growth, it also brings challenges and uncertainties that professionals and businesses must navigate. What can one do to pivot if AI is disrupting their industry? As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Shannon Hayner.

As a seasoned author and speaker at the intersection of technology and wellness, Shannon Hayner brings a wealth of insights to help readers navigate the evolving digital landscape with a focus on personal well-being. In her book “Surviving Creative Evolution,” she tackles automation anxiety, championing human gifts like creativity and critical thinking.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive into our discussion our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

As an author, speaker, and Head of SEO Content at Mover Search Marketing, the essence of my work lies in guiding individuals and organizations through the dynamic and often daunting world of AI and digital transformation.

Drawing from the knowledge in my book, “Surviving Creative Evolution,” let’s delve into this unique blend of expertise.

At the heart of my approach is the belief that understanding and leveraging AI is crucial for navigating the future of work.

My mission is to demystify AI, making it accessible and actionable for everyone. This involves breaking down complex concepts into understandable terms, providing practical strategies, and inspiring confidence in embracing these technological advancements.

The book was inspired by my staff of writers and my creative colleagues on the design side of the marketing team. In early 2023, they were gripped by a palpable fear of AI. Daily news headlines read of how this emerging technology was a threat that could render their skills obsolete. Observing their apprehension, I was inspired to write the book.

I emphasized the importance of seeing AI not as a replacement but as a tool that could enhance and complement their skills.

Through discussions and hands-on experiments with AI in our SEO practices throughout 2023, the transformation was remarkable. The team began to see AI as an ally, a source of empowerment that could elevate their creativity and efficiency.

This experience with my team was pivotal for me. It underscored a critical message that I often share in my talks and writings: embracing AI is not about surrendering our humanity or creativity but expanding it. It’s about recognizing the potential of AI to augment our capabilities and help us navigate a demanding, fast-paced digital world.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

The three dominant character traits that have been instrumental to my success as a business leader are adaptability, continuous learning, and empathy.


A significant part of my journey involved steering businesses through the unpredictable waves of digital transformation. My role as an SEO leader has taught me to roll with the punches.

Story: In 2022, one of Google’s algorithm updates affected the site I was working on. Our traffic dropped massively after a long spell of everything going up and to the left. Our long-held strategy that was producing great success was no longer working, and we needed to push forward in a new direction.

One staff member was in awe as we adapted so quickly to a new reality where we needed to pivot on a dime and try new things to adopt a successful strategy. She remarked, “Just like that, everything you do in your day-to-day changed?” Yes, yes, it did.

I embraced the change. This involved restructuring our strategy and encouraging the team to think flexibly. The result was a 50% recovery in traffic over the next quarter and a more adaptable team culture. The cornerstone of my success as an SEO leader is the ability to navigate change with agility and resilience.

Continuous Learning:

In my career, I’ve always valued learning, a trait that’s been crucial in keeping pace with an ever-evolving industry. This trait has served me well as an SEO and massively improved the quality of my life.

Story: An episode that encapsulates this was when AI and SEO started becoming game-changers in our field. Despite my extensive experience, I recognized that I needed more depth in these areas. I immersed myself in learning everything I could about these topics; I read every book and listened to every relevant podcast. I attended workshops and even took online courses. This commitment to learning enhanced my expertise and set a precedent for my team, fostering a culture where ongoing education is valued and pursued. I was inspired to write “Surviving Creative Evolution,” which catapulted me into my author career.

Empathetic Leadership:

Empathy has been a cornerstone of my leadership style. A memorable instance demonstrating this was during a period of high stress within the team. SEO requires that we are adaptable and manage uncertainty and constant change.

Story: I noticed the signs of burnout and initiated open dialogues to understand their challenges and anxieties. This led to new policies focusing on mental well-being and work-life balance. By showing empathy and understanding, I was able to create a supportive work environment, which, in turn, improved team morale and productivity. This incident highlights how empathetic leadership can build trust and foster a positive, collaborative work culture.

Let’s now move to the main point of our discussion about AI. Can you explain how AI is disrupting your industry? Is this disruption hurting or helping your bottom line?

Ah, the intersection of AI and SEO-–it’s not just a disruption; it’s a revolution, altering the very fabric of how we approach SEO and digital marketing.

In the SEO landscape, AI is reshaping everything from on-page optimization to content creation and even user experience optimization. AI-powered tools can now analyze vast amounts of data, identify trends, and predict future patterns with unimaginable precision. This capability allows for more targeted and effective SEO strategies.

For instance, AI algorithms are now sophisticated enough to understand user intent in a way that goes beyond simple keyword matching. They can interpret the context and nuance of search queries. SEO strategies must focus more on creating content that answers users’ real questions and needs rather than just incorporating keywords in a specific quantity.

But is this disruption hurting or helping the bottom line? It’s a definitive boost to the bottom line, provided you adapt and leverage it correctly. AI opens up opportunities for more efficient and effective SEO practices. It allows us to fine-tune our strategies, personalize content for specific audience segments, and optimize websites for better user experiences. Once we all learn to harness it, the result should be better and more useful search engine results.

Which specific AI technology has had the most significant impact on your industry?

The record-breaking widespread adoption of large language models (LLMs such as ChatGPT) has accelerated the velocity of content creation, but this does not always benefit the user.

The internet has been flooded with massive amounts of content produced solely to rank on Google. The intersection of these technologies necessitates that SEO professionals build more meaningful content that resonates with the end user and not simply check boxes to optimize for search engines.

The record-breaking adoption of LLMs has indeed accelerated the velocity of content production. The ease and efficiency with which these models generate content have led to an unprecedented influx of material on the internet. Initially, this seemed like a boon for SEO, offering endless content to bolster search engine rankings. However, this quickly evolved into a double-edged sword.

The crux of the issue is the sheer volume of AI-generated content that, while technically proficient, often lacks depth, authenticity, and real value to the end user. Its content is produced primarily to rank well, not necessarily to engage or inform the reader. Google’s algorithm has trouble discerning this as a machine can’t easily measure it, so some boring content makes it to the first page.

Can you share a pivotal moment when you recognized the profound impact AI would have on your sector?

This epiphany was during the massive adoption of LLM technologies like ChatGPT. December 2022 stands out as a pivotal point that underscored AI’s profound impact on SEO practices. My boss asked me if I had used this exciting new technology yet, and I set out to learn everything I could starting that day.

The introduction of AI-driven tools capable of generating almost human-like text marked a moment of realization for me: the landscape of content creation in SEO was about to undergo a seismic shift. AI’s ability to rapidly produce content at scale presented an incredible opportunity for SEO, where content is king and the need for constant updates is always looming.

However, alongside this opportunity came a significant challenge. The influx of AI-generated content had the potential to flood the digital space with volumes of subpar watered-down content, which has diluted the quality of search engine results.

This realization was pivotal. It meant that, as SEO professionals, we had to be strategic and discerning in how we integrated AI into our content creation processes.

For my staff, we shifted the focus to using AI as a tool to enhance creativity and efficiency rather than as a means to replace human input.

We began leveraging AI to aid with research, content ideation, and initial drafts but emphasized the importance of human expertise in refining and ensuring the quality of the final content. I made a protocol that ensured we focused on E-E-A-T (experience, expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness), the guidelines used by Google’s Search Quality Raters to evaluate the quality of website content with every work we produced.

How are you preparing your workforce for the integration of AI, and what skills do you believe will be most valuable in an AI-enhanced future?

Preparing my workforce for the integration of AI is the most important work I am doing as a leader in this space. This multifaceted endeavor hinges on fostering adaptability, continuous learning, and an innovation mindset. In our AI-enhanced reality, specific skills will stand out as particularly valuable. The best time to foster these skills was yesterday, but the next best time is today.

Fostering a culture of continuous learning is key. In the rapidly evolving landscape of AI, staying informed and educated is central to survival. I encourage my team to engage in ongoing learning opportunities through formal training, workshops, webinars, or self-directed learning. I run training and share the latest news and tips in real-time as they arise. Just this month, I held a training to teach writers to optimize for Google’s Search Generative Experience (SGE).

Given the massive and abrupt changes arising in our industry, encouraging adaptability and flexibility is crucial. Adaptability is a recurring theme in “Surviving Creative Evolution,” and it’s critical in the context of AI. I emphasize the importance of being open to change and flexible in approach. This means experimenting with new tools and methodologies and being ready to pivot strategies in response to AI-driven market shifts.

As far as being human goes, our critical thinking and problem-solving skills truly set us apart.

AI can process and analyze data at unprecedented speeds, but human insight is irreplaceable when it comes to interpreting and applying this information. I prioritize the development of critical thinking and problem-solving skills within my team, ensuring they can effectively harness AI-generated insights to make strategic decisions.

What are the biggest challenges in upskilling your workforce for an AI-centric future?

In gearing our sails towards an AI-centric future, the endeavor to upskill the workforce navigates through vast and tumultuous waters. The challenges are manifold, each a unique whirlpool within the broader sea of technological evolution.

Firstly, the rapid pace of AI development presents a formidable challenge. AI technologies evolve at such a breakneck speed that today’s cutting-edge knowledge can quickly become tomorrow’s outdated skill set. Keeping the workforce not just current but also proficient in emerging technologies demands a continuous learning ecosystem that can adapt as swiftly as the technologies it aims to master.

Another significant challenge lies in the diversity of AI applications across different sectors. AI isn’t a monolith but a mosaic of technologies, each with its own complexities and nuances. Upskilling a workforce, therefore, is about more than a one-size-fits-all approach but rather about tailoring education and training programs to the specific needs and contexts of various industries. This requires a deep understanding of AI and an intimate knowledge of the sector’s unique challenges and opportunities.

Overcoming skepticism and fear of obsolescence among employees requires transparent communication, demonstrating the value of AI not as a replacement but as a tool to augment human capabilities and open new avenues for innovation and growth.

What ethical considerations does AI introduce into your industry, and how are you tackling these concerns?

As an author, speaker, and expert in SEO and digital marketing, I recognize that integrating AI into our industry brings forth a myriad of ethical considerations. These concerns revolve around data privacy, algorithmic bias, transparency, and the broader impact on employment and societal norms.

First and foremost, there are concerns with data privacy and security. AI systems often rely on large datasets, raising concerns about user privacy and data security. In my work, I prioritize the ethical handling of data and never feed proprietary company data to an LLM.

A dear friend was preparing for a job interview by asking ChatGPT questions about a company. Upon hire, they realized that some information about an acquisition they learned from ChatGPT was top secret. Either the LLM had hallucinated very precisely, or someone internally had fed it data they shouldn’t have. I would place my bets on the latter.

We all need to be concerned with algorithmic bias, as the code written today has a concrete and profound impact on the lives of actual people. Whether or not someone gets considered for a job or parole is increasingly being decided by intelligent machines. This should be a concern to everyone in every industry.

Of course, many people’s main concern is that AI will take their jobs. This has been a major concern regarding technological shifts throughout history. For example, when the printing press was invented, it put scribes out of work but created exciting new jobs in printing and book sales. The photograph put some painters out of work but changed how we look at art forever. The invention of the internet and personal computers displaced millions of jobs, but a McKinsey study found that for every job displaced by the internet, 2.4 jobs were eventually created. It can be overwhelming to think about, but we are preparing for the jobs of tomorrow that may be unfathomable from our current vantage point.

AI can automate specific tasks, leading to these concerns about job displacement. I address this by focusing on upskilling and reskilling employees, preparing them for an AI-enhanced future where they can work alongside AI, leveraging its capabilities to enhance their roles rather than replace them.


What are your “Five Things You Need To Do, If AI Is Disrupting Your Industry”?

Indeed, navigating the disruptions caused by AI in any industry requires a strategic and mindful approach. Here are my “Five Things You Need To Do If AI Is Disrupting Your Industry:”

1 . Embrace Continuous Learning

In an AI-driven world, staying informed is crucial. I remember when AI started impacting SEO significantly; it was a wake-up call. I dedicated time to learning about AI trends and their implications.

This continuous learning helped me adapt my strategies effectively to leverage AI rather than be sidelined by it. I developed SOPs and rigorously trained my staff to utilize the power of this tool ethically in our work. I work hard to upgrade these SOPs continuously.

I took the uncertainty that AI put me through and harnessed it as creative energy. I was inspired to write “Surviving Creative Evolution” to help others navigate automation anxiety.

2 . Assess and Adapt Your Business Model

AI is continuously changing the rules of the game. A few years back, in 2019, I was using an AI-powered tool that scrapes data from the internet to give on-page optimization recommendations for SEO. Fast forward to 2024, and everyone is using some version of that tool, including some LLMs that can produce ready-to-rank content.

More than ever, the human touch adds value to that content. It’s about finding where you can connect deeply with the user in a landscape littered with sub-par regurgitated AI-written articles.

We also need to be creative about our use of AI. Adaptation could involve integrating AI technologies to streamline operations, enhance product offerings, or create personalized customer experiences.

3 . Invest in Human Skills AI Can’t Replace

In the broader context of creative evolution, the focus often shifts towards enhancing uniquely human abilities.

This includes fostering interpersonal relationships, developing leadership qualities, and cultivating an innovative mindset that can adapt to emerging challenges in a way that AI cannot. These skills empower people to excel in the future of work.

AI provides data-driven insights into opportunities for improving an SEO campaign. Our team’s creative interpretation of that data and skillful implementation lead to a successful strategy. Investing in and nurturing these uniquely human skills in tandem with technological advances is vital.

4 . Develop an Ethical Framework for AI Use

With great power comes great responsibility.

An ethical AI framework guides organizations in the responsible development, deployment, and use of AI technologies, emphasizing the need for AI systems to be fair, transparent, and accountable.

Ethical considerations were the primary concern when implementing AI in our content operations. We developed a framework to ensure our AI uses respected data privacy, consent, and transparency, aligning with our company’s values and societal norms. We still only use human-written content and AI to accelerate the process and analyze data.

5 . Foster a Culture of Flexibility and Resilience

AI can bring unexpected changes. Change in the workplace can cause a great deal of discomfort and loss of productivity during the transition. In the evolving landscape of the workplace, fostering a culture of flexibility and resilience is becoming increasingly crucial, especially with the rapid integration of AI and the shift towards more dynamic work environments.

Flexibility in this context means being open to change and adaptation, whether in response to new technologies, market demands, or unexpected challenges. It involves encouraging a mindset that views change as an opportunity rather than a threat and being willing to experiment and take calculated risks.

Resilience goes hand in hand with flexibility, focusing on the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties. It’s about building a supportive environment that encourages persistence and learning from failures rather than fearing them.

Together, these qualities create a dynamic and robust environment where creativity and innovation flourish.

During 2023, many marketers experienced a sting as employers drastically pulled back budgets while expecting to meet the same goals. This became stressful, to say the least. The goal became to make our processes more efficient and effective so we could produce the same quality of content with fewer resources. By cultivating flexibility and resilience, my team was able to push forward and gain productivity in the face of significant discomfort.

What are the most common misconceptions about AI within your industry, and how do you address them?

In the realms of SEO and digital marketing, where AI is increasingly becoming a pivotal tool, misconceptions often surface. Here are some of the most common misconceptions and how I address them:

Misconception: AI Will Replace Human Marketers

Reality: AI is a tool to augment human skills, not replace them. I often emphasize that AI excels at handling data-heavy tasks, like analyzing trends or optimizing ad bids. Still, it lacks the creative and empathetic nuances that human marketers bring to the table.

Misconception: Implementing AI is Overly Complicated

Reality: The thought of integrating AI can be daunting due to its perceived complexity. I address this by breaking down AI implementations into manageable steps and emphasizing the importance of starting small.

Misconception: AI Can Fully Automate SEO and Marketing

Reality: While AI can automate certain tasks, it can’t replicate the entire SEO and marketing team’s skill sets. Human expertise is crucial for strategy, content creation, and relationship-building.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

One of my favorite life lesson quotes is: “Change is the only constant in life. One’s ability to adapt to those changes will determine your success in life.” This quote, attributed to Benjamin Franklin, resonates deeply with me personally and professionally. It encapsulates the essence of adaptability and continuous evolution, themes that are central to my work and philosophy.

A story that brings this quote to life occurred during the early days of my career in SEO and digital marketing. The industry was (and still is) characterized by rapid and relentless change, especially with the advent of AI and evolving search engine algorithms. Initially, I found this constant change daunting. As soon as I mastered one technique or strategy, it would become obsolete, and a new challenge would arise.

I recall a specific instance when a major search engine algorithm update turned our existing SEO strategies on its head. Rankings we had worked hard to achieve were suddenly disrupted. It was a moment of reckoning. Instead of viewing this change as a setback, I embraced it as an opportunity to learn, grow, and innovate. We delved into understanding the new algorithm, experimented with different approaches, and eventually developed more effective and resilient SEO strategies. My ability to persist in the face of significant change is the cornerstone of my career.

Off-topic, but I’m curious. As someone steering the ship, what thoughts or concerns often keep you awake at night? How do those thoughts influence your daily decision-making process?

As we navigate the precipice of technological evolution, where AI’s capabilities continue to accelerate at an unprecedented pace, there’s a palpable tension between the promise of AI and its potential perils. Steering the ship through these turbulent waters, particularly from the vantage point of someone deeply entrenched in the realms of AI’s impact on work and societal dynamics, brings a unique set of concerns and contemplations to the forefront.

One of the paramount concerns is the ethical use of AI. As AI matches or surpasses human intelligence, the line between tool and autonomous agent becomes increasingly blurred.

This evolution begs the question: How do we ensure that AI systems act in the best interest of humanity? The answer lies in developing advanced guardrails and cultivating a robust ethical framework that governs AI’s application.

Another significant concern is the socio-economic impact of AI, particularly in terms of employment and wealth distribution. The potential for AI to automate jobs has been widely discussed, but less attention has been given to how AI could exacerbate economic disparities. This concern drives a commitment to exploring and advocating for AI applications that augment human capabilities rather than replace them, promoting a future where technology serves to uplift and empower rather than marginalize.

The potential for AI to influence and manipulate public opinion and behavior through platforms such as social media is also a pressing issue, especially in an election year. A deepfake voice of Joe Biden was already used to encourage voters to stay home during the New Hampshire Democratic primary this election cycle.

Moreover, the existential risks associated with AI, including the potential for autonomous weapons and the loss of control over superintelligent systems, cannot be ignored. These concerns underscore the importance of international cooperation and dialogue in developing AI safety measures and governance structures akin to those used to govern nuclear weapons.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

If I were to start a movement that could bring the most significant amount of good to the most people, it would be centered around the concept of “Empowering Digital Literacy for All.” This movement would aim to bridge the digital divide by making digital education accessible to everyone, regardless of age, location, or socioeconomic background.

Digital literacy is no longer just a skill; it’s a necessity in our increasingly digital world. It encompasses understanding how to use technology effectively, safely, and ethically. This includes everything from basic computer skills to more advanced knowledge like understanding AI, cybersecurity, and digital marketing.

How can our readers further follow you online?

There are several ways readers can follow me and stay updated with my insights and endeavors in the realms of SEO, digital marketing, and navigating the ever-evolving landscape of AI. Here are a few platforms where I’m active:

Professional Blog:

Please check out my book “Surviving Creative Evolution” on Amazon for more insights into taking care of yourself while navigating the future of work.

Social Media:


Twitter: @Shannonhayner

Instagram: @shannonmaryhayner


Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

About the Interviewer: Cynthia Corsetti is an esteemed executive coach with over two decades in corporate leadership and 11 years in executive coaching. Author of the upcoming book, “Dark Drivers,” she guides high-performing professionals and Fortune 500 firms to recognize and manage underlying influences affecting their leadership. Beyond individual coaching, Cynthia offers a 6-month executive transition program and partners with organizations to nurture the next wave of leadership excellence.