How should your SEO strategy change now that generative AI is being used in search results?

As Google continues to roll out trials of Generative AI search, marketers are looking for signals about how the changes will affect the way they connect with prospects and customers via search engines. But we believe that at a very high level, your SEO strategy doesn’t really need to change as a result of search engines investing in and rolling out features based on generative AI and large-language models.

Google has been working on answering searchers’ informational queries right on the search results page (SERP) with a growing variety of featured snippets for years. And this could be a fairly big contributor to that trend, further increasing the prevalence of zero-click searches (searches where the user doesn’t click on a result, so doesn’t leave Google wants to retain the user as much as possible, because, of course, it is fundamentally an advertising company and it makes more money if visitors stay on its sites. To be fair to Google, for some types of searches this is also better user experience.

Our point of view is that it is still better to have your name attached to or included with a result, even if it does not result in a visit to your site. That will still be true with generative AI to an extent, though a generated response is an amalgamation of many inputs, so there may be less opportunity for attribution, depending on the query and the implementation. As of right now, it appears that Google does want to include links to sources, so that’s very good news.

The most interesting aspect of all this to me is the impact on the search landscape as a whole. Google has had an apparent monopoly on search for a long time, but that is likely to change. I say “apparent” because in reality, Amazon, TripAdvisor, Spotify, etc. all act as specialized search engines. With ChatGPT and other large-language models for hire, the barrier to entry is a lot lower. If you wanted to, you could take a few Coursera courses and spend a few hundred dollars on API fees and build your own niche search engine based on a hobby or interest in less than six months. I’m already starting to use generative-AI-based tools that have nothing to do with Google in my everyday life. E.g. Github Copilot, Notion AI, and Dall-e 2 – each one of these serve a need that I would have addressed with Google before. So, among other things, I recommend keeping an eye on how people are changing the ways they look for and find information in your industry.

In addition, here are a few direct recommendations:

  • Regarding technical SEO and UX: site performance, structure and markup are possibly becoming even more important as it becomes easier to create topical content.
  • High-funnel, purely informational content is still a valid part of an SEO strategy, but align it as much as possible with your brand’s differentiators and target market. Searchers are perfectly happy to get a definition or formula from Google, but they want an authoritative source for many of the topics your brand probably specializes in.
  • The long-term consequences of generative AI are hard to predict, but you can and should be using it today to help improve the quality and velocity of your content production. My colleague Randy likened ChatGPT to a smart coworker that you can use to get help with wordsmithing and brainstorm topics. And unlike the coworker, you don’t have to buy it coffee in return for help 🙂
  • When you create long-form content, try to intersperse common questions throughout in semi- or very-structured ways. Google has gotten a lot better at indexing and directing searchers to fragments of content versus the top of a page. This is especially important for showing up in featured snippets, generative AI or otherwise. And keyword research is still one of the best tools we have for understanding what people care about and the questions they ask in relation to a topic, even if search engines have gotten better at semantic understanding.

In short, we believe that a well-functioning website with well-written content that adds value for your audience and incorporates your brand differentiation will continue to be a strong way to connect with your prospects and customers. But as it has been since the dawn of search engines, the details of how we do that will continue to evolve.

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