SEO and AI: The New Future


AI is on everyone’s mind.

The reason is AI could potentially revolutionize how we consume information.

People are already beginning to use chatbots for research purposes.

And in response, Bing and Google are embracing generative AI into their platforms.

This begs the question…

How will AI impact the SEO industry?

What will SEO look like in the next few years?

Now since I can’t find my crystal ball (my kids were playing with it), I don’t have all the answers.

That said, in this post, I’ll explore where I think the industry is going and how we should react.

But first…

AI Chatbot Market Share

If you look at Similarweb data, you’ll see the rise of ChatGPT.

ChatGPT data showing the site rapidly gaining market share

The chatbot is rapidly gaining market share over sites like Quora, Redditt, and Wikipedia.

And…

As chatbots improve, people are likely to search them for everyday things.

People can literally ask them anything.

Google and Bing – The AI Arms Race

What’s more, it looks like we are already in an AI arms race.

Arms race

Bing made Google look a little silly when launching its chatbot feature in Bing Search.

Will Google take this lying down?

Not for long.

Google just presented its new AI search engine as well as a list of other AI tools.

And, it looks like Google has learned a thing or two over the last few months by vastly improving its AI offer.

What’s more, the new search engine will present a chatbot answer at the top of the search results.

The big question is, will this result in more zero-click searches?

That brings me to the second question SEOs seem to be asking.

Is SEO dead (again)?

Now, if you’ve been in the SEO industry for a while, you’ll have noticed that people have been proclaiming that SEO is dead for years.

We are still here, aren’t we?

That said, it makes no sense to bury your head in the sand and hope for the best.

So before I show you where SEO could be going, let’s explore how the user will use the new search engine.

How Will the User Experience Look Like in Chatbot-Driven Search Engines?

We are seeing both Bing and Google attempting to include links to content in their chatbots.

Bing did a great job of this out the gate by adding citations.

Bing Chat showing citations

Google initially dropped the ball on this and eventually made up for it during its Google I/O 2023 conference.

Google's I/O chat demo showing links to creator's content

As you can see, both search engines are attempting to include ways that users can click through to content.

What is the SEO community’s response?


There are many more examples of this.

SEOs are afraid that chatbots will mean substantially fewer clicks or worse, zero-click searches.

Now, I will admit that I’m concerned too and I have no idea how this will play out.

But, as soon as I have some data to share I’ll happily do that.

Until then, here are some thoughts.

Is SEO Really Dead?

The zero-click problem is complex.

Let’s break this down into different search intents. Because there is no question that commercial searches will behave differently from informational searches.

And, this means each will require a different strategy.

So here goes.

Now before I get any complaints, this is my opinion and nothing more.

Commercial Intent

I suspect commercial searches will result in the same number of clicks. I’m not saying that the SEO actions we take will be the same, just the clicks.

My point is simply if you query a search engine or a chatbot with a transactional term like ‘buy New Balance Fresh Foam 1080v11’ you are likely looking to buy something.

And Google is not likely to process your credit card any time soon.

This means this search is likely to result in a click.

What about review content?

That all depends on the level of detail the searcher is looking for.

For instance, I asked Bing Chat if a Dacia Jogger is a safe car. As you can see the chatbot gives an answer to the question.

Bing Chat answering a product review query

Bing Chat quotes the Carbuyer, however the user might want to research this further. I might want to know if the other reviews say the same thing.

I queried the chatbot a few more times to see if the car is for me.

The answers I got were at best generic.

This means, there is no question that as it stands, if you are researching an expensive purchase like a car, you will still have to click through to the review sites.

At this point, I’m not discussing optimization. Just the user journey and whether the user will potentially click through to content or if they will continue using the chat. I’ll mention optimization later.

Informational Intent

My best guess is that informational searches will likely see the biggest impact.

Users looking for simple answers are not likely to click through to results.

So let’s explore this by comparing Google Search to a Chatbot.

So if I were to Google the query ‘What is self-defense?’, I might be looking for a dictionary definition.

And, we’ve seen this trend over the last few years in Google Search.

Think Direct Answers, Featured Snippets, etc.

That said, people who search for general information are often at the beginning of a search journey.

This means a segment might be satisfied with a dictionary definition, but another segment might not.
Google search results for the beginning of a search journey
As you can see from the screenshot above, Google is serving a multiple search intents. The direct answer serves users that were literally looking for a definition.

The People Also Ask box and the People Also Search For features serve people who are researching the topic and are at the beginning of their search journey.

This result means different things to different people.

To some, it’s a quick answer.

To others, it’s the beginning of a journey. A doorway to understanding different aspects of the topic.

And, since I work for Similarweb I have access to data.

So, here it is…

Using Rank Ranger data, I pulled around 3300 keywords made by users at the beginning of their search journey and dropped them into the Similarweb Keyword Analysis.

What the data shows is that 52% of these searches result in an organic click. To be clear, this metric tracks if someone clicks through to a website.

In other words, clicking a SERP feature like a People Also Ask box to see the answer in the search results is not considered a click. Clicking on a link that directs the user to a website is considered a click.

Similarweb zero-click data for beginning of the search journey

This means roughly half of this audience is at the beginning of their search journey and they are actively looking for resources.

Now to be clear, I didn’t query long-tail queries. I suspect long-tail queries will result in a much higher percentage of clicks.

The question is, how does that translate to a chatbot audience?

I asked Bing Chat the same question and this is what I saw.
Bing Chat result for the beginning of a search journey

Personally, I feel this is a similar user experience to Google Search.

If I wanted a definition, the chatbot has given me one.

If I am exploring, there are enough citations on the page to look further.

Also, Bing suggests queries at the bottom of the page. These queries are similar to People Also Ask queries.

So this poses the question.

Will the audience segment at the beginning of its search journey continue with the chatbot or will it result in a click?

Because the Google audience did have a chance to click the People Also Ask box and instead chose to click through to a website instead.

Food for thought.

Now, this is just half the equation.

If chatbots are generating clicks the big question is…

Can we optimize content for those chatbots? Because if we can’t then even if people are clicking, we won’t be able to control the results.

Can We Optimize Content for Chatbots?

I imagine that chatbots offer sites more than one way to win clicks.

For instance, we already see citations in Bing Chat. (Google is catching up with this.) How do you optimize your content for citations?

On the other hand, looking at Google’s I/O presentation, Google presents links to relevant content in visual cards that include elements like image thumbnails.

Google Chat showing links to creator's content

Where do those results come from?

Perhaps Google considers them to be relevant to the search query and surfaces them the same way that Google ranks results now.

In other words, these might be considered positions #1, #2, and #3.

If that’s true, optimization will be the same as it is now. Build authority, and trust, and answer the search intent, etc.

If my analysis is true, we will be able to optimize for both citations and top-ranking results.

And that brings me to the final question.

How will we track the results?

The Evolution of Rank Tracking Tools

If this is all possible and we can optimize for these new evolving search engines, our analytics tools will have to track these results in new ways.

For instance…

If I was to query a chatbot for a list of running shoes for men over 60, I see a list of brand names.
ChatGPT results for a product query
In the future, will chatbots feature links in these results?

If so, rank trackers will have to track these results.

The Future of SEO

As you can see things can go either way.

After looking at how zero-click searches seem to fluctuate over the years, I suspect that there are still clicks to be won from chatbot searches.

The question is will we figure out how to optimize for those clicks?

Because the SEO industry has seen seismic shifts over the years. I mean, remember the Penguin update? Back then, many SEOs gave up but those who were in it for the long haul are still here.

And if we are seeing another seismic evolution in the SEO industry, Rank Ranger will be there to support you all the way.

This post is subject to Similarweb legal notices and disclaimers.



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