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Preparing for the Future of AI and SEO

SEO will still have a place in an AI future. Make sure your brand is prepared.

Generative AI has been around for decades but exploded in public popularity when ChatGPT launched in November 2022. Within two months of ChatGPT’s launch, generative AI reached over 100 million users. This sudden rise of ChatGPT and other AI answer engines has left many digital marketers concerned about the future of SEO — will people stop using Google and turn to ChatGPT, Bard, Azure, Perplexity, or another AI answer engine that doesn’t pass traffic onto our website?! 🤯Gasp!

Before you panic-submit a grad school application or hire a career coach to pivot roles, take a deep breath. Disruption to the SERP landscape and search performance is expected. But SEO still has its place in a generative AI-focused future. 

Change Is Part of the SEO Game

LLMs (large language models) and gen AI aren’t the first disruptors to shake up the SEO world and they won’t be the last. Since its inception in the ‘90s, SEO has seen change after change, and we, as marketers, have continued to adapt. 

Think about the early days of Google when the first results page showed nothing but 10 blue links, or Google rewarded the website with the most exact match iterations of a word. Those days are long behind us, and we learned to optimize for map packs, featured snippets, People Also Ask, zero-click search, and more. And that’s not including all of the major algorithm updates that changed how we approach content — and sometimes forced us to rework our keyphrase strategies completely.  

Remember 2018/2019, when voice search was all the craze and we thought it would take over? Yes, voice search rose in popularity, and we evolved our strategies and web page structure to capture voice searches. But here we are in 2024. Traditional SEO is still going strong and voice search is just another channel to think about, like social media and email. (And voice search users mostly ask questions about the weather and local businesses.)

Over the decades, we’ve encountered major changes to the search landscape. As Google and other search engines have changed, so have our SEO and content strategies. We can expect the same to happen with the prevalence and integration of AI into the search experience.

Expect (and Monitor) Disruption 

We’ve already seen AI causing traffic and visibility disruptions, especially with Google’s Search Generative Experience (SGE) rollout. We can expect continued disruption as users engage more with chatbots (like ChatGPT) and integrated generative AI tools in search (like SGE).

Gartner predicts that by 2026, AI chatbots and other virtual agents will comprise more of the search marketing market share, with traditional search engine usage dropping by 25%.

A recent study by Authoritas revealed some of the impact SGE has had on search so far. This study found that when the SGE box is present and expanded, it pushes organic results down the page by an average of 1,200 pixels, significantly decreasing your brand’s visibility even if you have the top result. Additionally, 62% of SGE links were from websites outside the top organic results. Pair that with the fact that SGE results for branded queries can include competitors’ sites, and you could be looking at a more competitive landscape for visibility. 

Keep in mind that SGE is currently being tested with a limited number of users, so these results are early and show the potential impact SGE might have as it becomes more widely available and used. It’s crucial to monitor changes and adjust your strategy accordingly. Test how you can continue to optimize content for traditional search while also getting a leg up with SGE, and consider targeting more non-branded terms as competition grows. 

Accept Nobody Has All the Answers 

As humans, we don’t like uncertainty. We want answers, and we want them now — which is precisely why search engines like Google exist. But we don’t have all the answers when it comes to AI in SEO and content marketing. We might not for a while. 

Despite generative AI’s overwhelming popularity, we have to remember it’s still new. We don’t fully know the extent of AI’s impact on search because it’s still happening and developing daily. We don’t know how much user behavior will change over the coming months and years or what share of the space AI will ultimately get. For now, we can only continue to watch the situation and adapt as change happens. 

Control What You Can

With so much uncertainty, focus on what you can control, like your website and benchmarks. 

Make Your Website Available to LLMs

For the most part, generative AI doesn’t just make up information 😜; it has to pull from somewhere. Ensure your website is available to LLMs, has expert content, and meets technical SEO standards. Don’t block GPTbot in your robots.txt file. For AI to source information from your website, your site still needs to be seen as a quality, trusted source. It needs to be easy to access, fast to load, and follow a logical folder structure. (Oh lookie, there! That’s all technical SEO!) 

By addressing website health and content structure for SEO, you’re not only setting yourself up for search and ADA compliance, but you’re also better preparing for AI.

Adapt Your Benchmarks: Gen AI Is Just Another Search Channel

Like social media and email, generative AI is simply another traffic channel. It won’t replace traditional search. Instead, it will exist alongside traditional search. You need to prepare to adjust your benchmarks, just like you did when other sources such as Facebook and TikTok started contributing to site traffic. 

Generative AI is another traffic channel. It won’t replace traditional search. Instead, it will exist alongside traditional search.

At this moment and in the near future, you’ll need to rely more on speculation if you experience traffic decreases. But as AI continues to grow in popularity and has a greater impact, it shouldn’t take long for reporting tools to crop up. Once you have the ability to attribute traffic or impressions to AI, think about what measurements will matter most to you. As you create your AI performance benchmarks, adjust your organic search benchmarks accordingly. 

Continue to Invest in High-Quality Content

Even if the future is uncertain, we can still work to set ourselves up for success by continuing to create and publish quality content. To optimize your content for LLMs and human searchers, you want to keep your content conversational, target long-tail keywords, provide direct answers, understand the entire scope of the search, and watch your use of AI-generated content.  

Stay Conversational

ChatGPT and other chatbots took off because the interactions are conversational, simulating the experience of talking with a human. We’ve always said to write content for the human behind the search. With the prevalence of AI, that means taking a conversational approach to your content and ensuring it feels natural. 

Optimize for Long-Tail Keyphrases

Targeting long-tail keyphrases has always been a fantastic strategy in traditional search, but it becomes even more crucial with AI. Long-tail keyphrases are usually less competitive, and they can help you keep your content conversational and answer the questions users ask AI. 

Let’s say you want to talk to a friend or shoe store employee about running shoes. Would you just walk up to them and say, “Running shoes,” or would you ask a specific question like, “What running shoes are good for flat feet?” A user isn’t likely to go to AI with a broad search like “running shoes.” They’ll be more specific in their asks. 

Answers vs. Search

Think about creating content for AI in terms of answers instead of search. Consider how we talk about our interactions with different interfaces. When using generative AI tools, we say, “I asked ChatGPT for movie night snack ideas.” But for search engines, we say, “I searched for a kettle corn recipe.” Users are turning to ChatGPT for direct answers, not to browse multiple web pages or sift through a full article. Your focus should be providing straightforward answers (that you can further elaborate on in your content). 

Meet the Search Scope

Most searches, even on Google, aren’t a one-and-done deal. Users frequently perform multiple searches to gather all the information they need, and the conversational flow of generative AI makes that easier. To stay competitive, try to fully understand the searcher’s end goal. Determine what their follow-up questions might be (Google’s People Also Ask feature will be handy here), and include those questions and answers in your content.

Publish Where AI Models Are Looking

“In a post-generative AI world, citations are the new rankings. For brands to win, they need to be the cited source,” claims Search Engine Land. Doing so may involve shifting your content production strategy to publish on other websites such as Quora, Wikipedia, Investopedia, and Reddit. Google’s SGE links to Quora most often, while Perplexity cites Wikipedia, Amazon, and Reddit, and tends to mirror the same results as traditional Google search. Is your brand publishing content where the AI models are crawling?

Strategically Use AI in Your Content Workflows

You want your content to remain authentic and reliable. While searchers might turn more toward AI-generated answers, that doesn’t mean you should let use AI to generate all of those answers.  Create guidelines for responsibly using AI to generate content, and ensure everything you publish is accurate and meets your brand’s standards. Search engines like Google are increasingly penalizing low-quality AI content, and you don’t want to miss out on traditional search traffic while chasing after AI. 

Trust, But Verify Your AI

As helpful as AI answers can be, they aren’t perfect. Verify the validity of your AI tools and content, or run the risk of joining companies like Air Canada. 

In early 2024, Air Canada had to rethink its use of a chatbot. The bot gave a customer incorrect instructions for a bereavement refund and caused him to spend $483 more than he should have. While Air Canada argued that the chatbot is a “separate legal entity,” the court saw otherwise. The court ruled in favor of the customer, stating, “There is no reason why [the customer] should know that one section of Air Canada’s webpage is accurate, and another is not.”

Quartz reports, “Google and OpenAI rushed to have AI chatbots pushed out into the world, but the technology behind them is very new. AI is being tested in real-time, in front of everyone, and the pace at which these companies are shipping new products is unprecedented. They’ve made great advancements, but some pretty big errors as well.”

Trust, but verify your AI usage and tool integration. Use AI to help you stay an expert in your industry and provide helpful answers to customers, but be careful where and how you integrate AI tools. 

Prepare for the Future with GPO

Nothing is concrete, but there are still steps you can take to prepare for search changes caused by AI. GPO has the SEO strategies to help you succeed in an AI-driven future. Our SEO consulting and content services help your brand appear in search today so it can be found by AI tomorrow. Get in touch to learn how our products and services can help future-proof your organic search.

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