AI and the Future of SEO
Artificial intelligence is taking the SEO industry by storm.
With the emergence of smart chatbots that can perform all kinds of tasks – seemingly – as well as humans can, and the integration of AI-powered features into the two prominent search engines, Bing and Google, there are a lot of questions on how this may change SEO and whether it is going to survive.
The most popular chatbot, ChatGPT, has no doubts as to whether SEO is going to be just fine:
And no, Artificial Intelligence doesn’t think it will ever replace web search if that’s your concern:
People will need search engines to access more diverse and advanced information and to find content that fits their personal tastes.
With that being said, SEO is going to change dramatically under the impact of quickly developing AI technologies.
And here’s what may happen:
Search Engines into Conversational Answer Engines
Google has been pioneering the idea of an “answer engine” for many years now. Instead of generating search results in response to a user’s query, Google has been providing quick answers and follow-up questions, suggesting related news and videos and guessing the context behind each query.
With the emergence of AI technology, this trend has become even more obvious. Bing has become the trend setter at integrating AI into online search, for a change. They were the first to introduce AI-powered conversational features into their search engines. The AI bot called Bart answers search queries in real time and even suggests follow-up questions to continue the conversation:
The bot interacts with searchers conversationally just like a human does but it does provide clickable links to allow them to access the articles it used to give the answers.
Google announced its AI features a few days later: Their bot is still in private beta, so we could only see the GIF giving a glimpse into how it would work.
Google’s bot responds to a user’s query in real time typing answers right in front of their eyes. Unlike Bing, it doesn’t look like the chatbot is willing to reveal its sources which seemed concerning for two reasons:
- Just like Bard, Google’s bot is scanning billions of documents across the internet to come up with answers. Not giving access to the sources seems very unfair to the publishers who created those documents.
- The fact that the bots are using third-party information means there can be human errors in the answers. Without an ability to access two or more sources, it will be hard to verify the information provided by the AI technology.
Google is claiming that they are still working and welcoming feedback, so there’s hope they will rethink the way it is set-up now and get more transparent with their sources.
In both ways, so far AI-powered search engines look an extension to what they were previously: Answer engines that strive to instantly help their users with additional information. If they cite the sources, optimizing for these kinds of real-time answers won’t be much different from optimizing for featured snippets. All you need is to do your best to answer your target audience’s questions, and the chatbots will likely cite you.
The only difference is that it is not quite clear how to measure your progress: We don’t know yet how those clicks from the bots’ answers will be recorded and tracked. But I suppose, search engines will be transparent in that respect allowing you to see which of your pages got cited by search chatbots most. Google already offers this kind of reports for its highly personalized Discover section.
AI and Its Impact on SEO Profession
With ChatGPT being able to perform all kinds of traditional SEO tasks – including content creation and optimization, writing emails, and even creating Schema code – there have been a lot of concerns as to how many SEO professions are going to become obsolete.
Well, at its current phase ChatGPT is not a threat to any profession. It can eliminate some outsourcing needs enabling SEO teams to handle more tasks at home, including basic coding needs.
But with its current possibilities most of those performed tasks will require a lot of human interference. Its written content is basic and detectable, so it cannot be used for content creation but it can turn useful in creating content outlines and briefs. Its code usually requires fine-tuning. Its keyword research is basic.
So far ChatGPT is simply a little helper that can make your work faster rather than replacing you in any task.
It may change in the future as it becomes more advanced but an SEO profession is so much more than simply performing tasks. It involves planning and strategizing. It is all about relationship building and collaboration. But more importantly, it requires understanding of unpredictable human reactions which AI will hardly ever learn to relate to.
The Key Lies in Mutual Benefits
So in the above section, we’ve seen how AI can actually make an SEO’s job easier. It is clear that the technology can benefit us all – users and web publishers. The key is to start using AI technology to understand how we can safely co-exist without threatening each other.
If you have been in the SEO industry for at least a couple of years, you’ve surely seen how SEO always thrives with the emergence of new technology. Tools that make SEOs more informed and productive have never killed SEO. Instead they made the industry more advanced and integrated.
When SEO was born, we were merely focusing on identifying keywords and integrating them into the web document for Google to match them with the exact query. We’ve come a long way since them. We’ve gone through years of Google learning to use semantic analysis to understand intent behind search queries, penalizing and filtering out low-quality backlinks and giving direct answers to their users in the form of featured snippets and People Also Ask results.
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A decade or so ago, SEOs needed considerable development skills to put together sites and publish digital content but with the emergence of advanced site building platforms, anyone was able to create websites and design landing pages. Web analytics has also become accessible and easy to understand to just about anyone, whether they have any SEO expertise or not.
None of those changes has killed SEO but made it stronger.
AI technology is not brand new to the digital marketing industry. It has been integrated into customer support tools (IVR and chatbots) for years. There are AI-driven accessibility tools, AI-powered on-page engagement tools, AI-driven social media listening tools, etc. We have all learned to use multiple AI tools to improve digital marketing strategies.
New technology has been helping SEOs reverse engineer Google’s algorithm, analyze competitors, improve your keyword strategy and build web pages for users to easily get exactly what they came for. SEO is now integrated into product development, user experience testing and niche relationship building. It has become more than creating content for search engines and letting search crawlers access it easily. SEO is getting harder and harder to kill because it got smarter and smarter.
If AI technology seems to threaten you, get to know it better. Learn to benefit from it, and you will see that it can benefit everyone, including your users.