AI is already changing SEO – what happens next?
As major search engines start to integrate generative AI, what does this mean for traditional SEO best practices?
Twenty years ago, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) was a nascent technology that allowed hobbyists to fine-tune their personal websites to rank high in search results. However, today the landscape has changed dramatically. While it is still technically possible to achieve high rankings through SEO, it is far less straightforward. This is due to the complexity of today’s search algorithms, which are sophisticated enough to detect spammy or low-quality websites that try to game the system.
The newest wrench in the machine of traditional SEO practices was thrown by Microsoft’s Bing. Bing now features a built-in generative AI, and it’s shaking things up – since the new AI was implemented, Bing’s page visits are up 15%. This isn’t surprising considering the world’s hunger for AI - ChatGPT continues breaking records for speed of user adoption. Following Bing’s move, Google announced its Search Generative Experience. Both of these products offer a “snapshot” answer to your query before showing any links. This will radically change the user experience of search, and businesses need to be ready.
Search has been powered by AI for a long time, in the form of machine learning algorithms. But generative AI is a different beast altogether. No longer should businesses care only about appearing in the first page of results, or even in the top five. Instead, they need to ensure that these AI models are trained to include their business in the snapshot answer to a searcher’s question.
In the same way that it's a competition now to be included in the top five links, a new competition will emerge, to be included as a cited source in the generative text blurb.
One of the main challenges of using AI for SEO optimization is the lack of transparency in how search engines like Google and Bing use AI algorithms to rank websites. This can make it difficult for businesses to understand why their website is not ranking high in search results, or what they need to do to improve their rankings. AI algorithms can be complex and it is difficult to predict their outputs, which can make it challenging for businesses to optimize their websites effectively.
In some cases when it comes to SEO optimization, businesses may need to rely on trial and error to determine what works and what doesn't. In the same way that it's a competition now to be included in the top five links, a new competition will emerge, to be included as a cited source in the generative text blurb. For now, that likely means following current SEO standards so that live search picks up the content, but as AI training methods evolve, they could very well include sources, in which case, it will behoove businesses to evolve with the industry.
Where is all of this heading? That’s a tough question, but my bet is on pay-to-train AI models. With the dominance of an answer being locked in each time an AI model is trained, I can see a world where the Googles and Bings of this world will offer to train their AI on your website for a fee, while performing a new, organic training session on a slower cadence. That’s my best guess, but either way, businesses should update their SEO strategies sooner rather than later. Next time I’m hiring, I’ll certainly be asking any future SEO strategist applicants about their familiarity with AI.
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