Elliot Haines Of Botify: How AI Is Disrupting Our Industry, and What We Can Do About It

An Interview With Cynthia Corsetti

Be aware of the hype cycle with new technology. Do not overlook your industry fundamentals. Companies that thrive will know when to stay the course and when to rapidly pivot their strategy by integrating new technology.

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 Elliot Haines.

Elliot Haines, currently serving as an SEO Consultant at Botify, brings over six years of extensive experience in the field. His professional journey includes spearheading successful campaigns for multinational corporations, yielding top-tier results. Notably, Elliot held the position of Head of SEO at Hallam prior to joining Botify, where he demonstrated his prowess in optimizing strategies for maximum impact. Beyond his roles, Elliot has actively contributed to the industry through public speaking engagements, judging prestigious digital marketing awards, and crafting comprehensive SEO courses.

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. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

Thanks for having me! I’m looking forward to chatting about all things AI. When it comes to my background, because the SEO industry hasn’t been around for 50+ years, I often find most SEO professionals that I speak to come from unusual and diverse backgrounds. “I’m not sure how I got here but I love it” is a commonly shared sentiment. This is certainly true with the more experienced professionals I work with and true for myself — I fell into the SEO industry and my career path changed from that point on.

When I was at school, ‘SEO Consultant’ wasn’t your typical job offer at the career fair. A lot of my educational choices were based on “I’m not ready to decide yet and want to learn as much as possible until the time that I do”. I kept my A levels (pre-university education courses in the UK) as broad as possible: biology, chemistry, history and geography and later my university degree was American Studies at The University of Nottingham. This course included modules on History, Literature, Politics, Philosophy and Media. Looking back on my academics, this choice to keep my education as broad as possible has fed nicely into working in SEO, as my job is incredibly varied and multi-disciplined.

After graduating from university, I was at a crossroads. I didn’t know what I wanted for a career, so I looked at graduate schemes in connection with my university. My first job was a graduate scheme at Hallam. I worked across different disciplines in digital marketing, including SEO, PR and Paid Media. I settled on SEO and worked my way up to Head of SEO at Hallam. I joined Botify last year as the first hire of the new consultancy team and I’m really loving my time here. I work with the biggest brands in the world on complex, interesting websites and I’m surrounded by incredibly talented people. What’s not to like!

Truthfully, my career path is probably more structured than I give myself credit for. But most of it is just going out and trying stuff I find interesting.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

So many great things make Botify one of a kind! Founded in 2012, Botify built the interface and methodology that connects the largest, most complex sites with all the major search engines to drive more traffic and revenue from organic search. We combine industry experts with best-in-class technology to deliver tangible business results for our clients.

CEO Adrien Menard and his co-founders, Stan Chauvin and Thomas Grange, had a long-standing relationship prior to starting Botify. They had worked in France together when Adrien was working as a product manager at iProspect and Stan was his boss and Thomas was a client. Whilst working together, the three collectively identified a major gap in how companies were addressing organic search.

Today, Botify provides a comprehensive SEO solution with a full-funnel methodology and unified data model. Using machine learning, it automates SEO processes and prescribes actions for maximum impact, ensuring effective optimization of websites for improved visibility and conversions.

Used by more than 500 brands across retail, ecommerce and travel, Botify is VC-backed with $82M in funding and offices in New York, Seattle, Paris, London, Singapore, Sydney, and Japan.

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

Thank you — that’s very kind. There are a variety of different character traits that I believe are important to succeed in this industry. I’d say the first character trait is a strong willingness to consistently push yourself beyond comfort zones. An example from my own experience would be on my fourth working day at Botify, my manager couldn’t fly to the UK to deliver a talk on AI and SEO at a big industry conference. I stepped in and presented the talk on the manager’s behalf. I’d never spoken publicly about AI and it was something I had to educate myself on (and fast). It turned out really well! By saying “yes,” I could help my new company and grow my skill set at the same time.

The second character trait is surrounding yourself with experts, which is a no brainer for me. SEO in particular requires deep industry expertise, and I’ve always made an effort to surround myself with people that know more than me. People I can learn from. An important lesson is there’s no such thing as stupid questions. Don’t be afraid to make a mistake in front of people who know more than you. It’s how we learn. This is true from my early days and remains true to this day.

The third character trait is connecting with people. Everybody’s unique, with their own drives, strengths, and weaknesses. It’s about really getting them, understanding what makes them tick, so you can bring out their best. So, tailoring your management and leadership style to suit each person becomes pretty essential.

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?

In our industry, we view the expanding AI landscape as more of an opportunity than something to shy away from. At Botify, we’ve always been at the forefront of embracing AI. It’s part of our DNA.

Yet, we acknowledge that AI is shaking up the industry. I mean, think about it — Google started integrating machine learning into search results with RankBrain way back in 2015, nearly a decade ago. And the momentum has only been picking up since then.

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

Generative AI (GenAI) in search results will impact our industry. In fact, it already is with Google testing variations of their Search Generative Experience (SGE) since May 2023. Further testing has rolled out worldwide in late 2023.

Right now, it’s positioned to have a large impact on website traffic and is evolving how people use search engines. When complex queries can be accurately answered in the search results, people may not click on an actual website. This could be disastrous for certain industries like affiliates and publishers.

However, the final form it will launch in is unknown at the moment. There is much more to discover with this specific AI technology — including handling future costs, adding value to the user and the business model long term for companies like Google.

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

For me, most of this comes down to ChatGPT. AI has been around for decades, but it felt like it was in the dark. Something we all know existed but hadn’t used directly ourselves.

This all changed with the advent of ChatGPT in late 2022. It came out from the shadows and made AI accessible to anyone with a connection to the internet.

I use ChatGPT in my workflows. It helps me build regular expression rules, summarize text, structure emails and much more. It’s helpful for improving my efficiency.

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?

As I said earlier, AI has been core to our products from the start. That said, as we continue to apply it within future product roadmaps, a key point is to remain agile and know how fast things can change — which is more of a mindset rather than a set of skills for me. Choosing abundance over scarcity. And I mean mindset both as an individual and as a business.

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

There’s a lot of uncertainty out there. I mean, we’re dealing with unknown unknowns, which makes it tricky to plan ahead. This is the real challenge when it comes to upskilling ourselves and our teams.

The key, I believe, is to stay informed about the tech landscape and potential advancements. That way, you’re better equipped to adapt. But hey, it’s okay to feel a bit thrown off when disruptive tech catches you by surprise. It’s all part of the game.

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

For me there are two big ethical questions facing our industry. Intellectual property and Generative AI’s impact on content quality.

For intellectual property, media companies and content producers have already begun to file lawsuits against AI research organizations like OpenAI, claiming that they illegally train various large language models (LLMs) on copyrighted content. At Botify, because we work with many publishers, this is always something top of mind for us. Who owns the content? Is it ethical for OpenAI to train ChatGPT on this content without paying for that access? Should these companies let LLMs train themselves on their property — which could erode their own business models?

For Generative AI’s impact on content quality, I spoke earlier about public access to AI and the barrier for entry being lowered significantly. The biggest downside is that now everyone can mass produce AI-informed content with extraordinary ease and at a scale we haven’t seen before. Flooding the internet with low quality AI content is ultimately bad for the ecosystem. Google Search aims to reward websites that demonstrate E-E-A-T (Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness). Low quality AI content does not do this. It does not offer information gain. If major issues like this aren’t addressed, the real concern then becomes, are we destined to fill the internet with unoriginal, homogenous gibberish?

Google recently released a core algorithm update that targeted websites with this exact strategy, resulting in some websites that had swathes of low-quality AI content to be de-indexed completely in Google search results. Time will tell.

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

Invest time and resources in understanding new technology.

  1. Ask yourself:

Do you have time carved out to keep up to date with the latest technology?

How could AI impact my industry?

How can it practically be integrated into your day-to-day life?

How can it be integrated into my long-term business strategy?

Understand that disruptive technology follows a cycle.

We know from the past that certain things happen (almost every time) when disruptive technology appears.

Disruption of established players

Shifts in Consumer Behavior

Increased competition

New business models

Regulatory changes

2. By understanding this, you can see disruptive technology as an opportunity to grow, not something to be afraid of.

It’s happened in the past, it’s happening now, it’ll happen again. You can’t control it. But you can control your response.

3. Be aware of the hype cycle with new technology. Do not overlook your industry fundamentals. Companies that thrive will know when to stay the course and when to rapidly pivot their strategy by integrating new technology.

4. Remain agile. This is easier said than done. How agile is your business to react to new trends? How fast would it be to change marketing, sales, operations, etc.?

5. For our industry specifically, educate your business on Google’s direction of travel. Google is still the giant of search in our space.

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

The public breakthrough with GenAI and ChatGPT has caused AI to become such a broad term. It’s the flavor of the month in every business I speak to. People use it interchangeably with Large Language Models (LLMs) and Machine Learning (ML). It’s important to understand the differences between the types of technologies and those that fall in and under AI itself. Educating yourself on each and how it might impact you is the first step.

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

Nelson Mandela’s famous quote, “It always seems impossible until it’s done” is a nice one to choose here.

My grandparents lived in South Africa for 15 years. We visited a couple of times and had a tour around Robben Island. Nelson Mandela spent 18 years of his 27-year prison sentence there.

It amazes me that even after 27 years of incarceration, Mandela came out with the mindset that he could make a difference and change South Africa for the better. His story puts into perspective how fortunate I am to have my safety and freedom. Something many people in the world do not have right now.

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. 🙂

Kindness. Three questions to ask yourself: Is it kind to me? Is it kind to others? Is it kind to the planet?

This is something my Dad has dedicated his life to and I’d like to see that movement pick up pace.

How can our readers further follow you online?

Connect and follow me on LinkedIn here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/elliothaines/

For more information on Botify, please visit us here:

Website: https://www.botify.com/

Twitter/X: https://twitter.com/botify

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/botify/

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.