SEO & AI: How These Worlds Will Collide And Cause Chaos

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SEO and AI trends graphic that includes creator Ross Simmonds, a laptop, and a robot arm symbolizing AI

Less than a year after launch, ChatGPT reported over 100 million weekly users according to OpenAI’s CEO Sam Altman.

Our latest research found that there were roughly 127 million monthly visitors to OpenAI’s ChatGPT platform as of May 2024. According to TechCrunch, ChatGPT’s mobile app has had over 110 million installs across iPhone and Android devices.

Download Now: Free State of Marketing Report [Updated for 2024]

The result of all this success?

Reports in the New York Times suggested that the tool triggered a “code red” for Google’s search business.

Since then, it seems as if the reports might be true since there’s been a significant amount of shifts and changes that have happened around Google’s search business and the impact that AI has had on the SEO industry at large.

As the founder of an SEO agency that has helped some of the top brands in the world use Google to drive millions of visits — I can appreciate their concern around the shifting behaviors of users.

In this article, we’re going to dive deep into the trends happening in the SEO industry and the role that AI is playing in the constant shifts within the market.

Let’s get to it.

Understanding SEO and Artificial Intelligence

The intersection of SEO (search engine optimization) and AI (artificial intelligence) is having an impact on the entire human experience.

Every single day, billions of people visit Google and other search engines to navigate the web. As these people explore online, they’re sent to landing pages and websites filled with stories, content, videos, messages, and insights.

It’s very possible that the only reason you’re even reading these words today is because a search engine experience led you here.

But here’s what not a lot of people realize.

On the backend of Google’s search engine are a ton of AI-related technologies helping determine what content it should or shouldn’t show based on the search term typed into Google. Search engines use everything from machine learning to natural language processing to help users find the right content at the right time.

Over the last few years, the search experience has been pretty straightforward: A user types in a few keywords, and Google identifies a URL that’s relevant to those keywords and serves it up on a page.

In some instances, the page might include text like a featured snippet which has a part of the content directly on the page, or even rich content like thumbnails for video or an interactive experience like a calculator.

Google calculator

Today, the search engine results page (SERP) is a lot more complex, and the introduction of Google’s Search Generative Experience is an even richer AI-driven experience. Here’s a look at what the experience looks like with Google’s new AI Overview feature incorporated directly into the SERP:

Google AI overview example

As you can see, the new search experience gives the user the answer to their question directly at the top of the SERP.

The user can decide to click on a link and explore other sites if they would like to, but for some informational queries, all the information they will need can be found directly on this page without having to click and navigate elsewhere.

The fusion of AI and SEO is set to redefine the rules of online visibility and searchability in ways we are only beginning to understand. This collision, though ripe with innovation potential, also harbors the seeds of chaos which can be found in a few key areas:

  • The rise of AI-generated content
  • Search engines need to maintain quality
  • Increased usage of AI tools for search queries

Let’s discuss these trends:

The Rise of AI-Generated Content

When we surveyed marketers on what they thought about AI-generated content, more than 40% said that they thought AI did a worse job creating content than humans:

AI written content graphic

The sentiment that AI-generated content is bad is held by many. But the truth is that most people can’t tell the difference between AI-generated content and human-generated content unless it’s prompted or the team doesn’t have any human filter between the AI and publishing team.

It’s my belief that the best workflow for teams using AI to create content is one that is inclusive of real human editors to review a piece before it goes live.

Here’s a diagram of the modern AI content marketing workflow that I believe is needed today:

Content creation workflow graphic

In this approach, humans are still implementing the upfront research and identification of core elements of the content but then allowing AI to support the development of a draft.

As a content marketing agency, we have access to a combination of writers, editors, strategists, and designers who all have unique experience and expertise.

When a client comes to us looking to achieve a certain goal, the strategy team works closely with SMEs to develop plans that incorporate everything from SERP analysis to keyword research to guide the stories that will be written, recorded, and published.

In our experience, AI tools like Hubspot’s Free AI Blog Writer are great for getting an initial draft and outline developed. Once the draft is completed by the AI, a human expert can be assigned to the content for edits and revamp it to make something great.

The integration of AI into SEO workflows heralds a new era of productivity and efficiency. According to Nielsen Norman Group, generative AI systems improve employee productivity by more than 66%. The increase in productivity for more technical jobs like computer coding was even greater than that, as seen below.

Productivity in AI graphic

This shift means that SEO experts, writers, and marketers who understand AI can do more than those who avoid it. HubSpot AI provides marketers with a suite of different AI tools that will help them accelerate their productivity levels and efficiencies in hours.

The Desire for Search Engine Quality

As AI-generated content increased significantly after the launch of ChatGPT, the quality of content in the SERP declined. Here’s what most people think of the results:

Google quality X poll results

More and more complaints were posted daily on channels like X and LinkedIn suggesting that AI was ruining the search experience for users and that more people were moving their search queries to Reddit, TikTok, and Quora.

As a result, Google rolled out a significant algorithm update that targeted any site that was filling the internet with spam and low-value content.

This update to the Google algorithm wreaked havoc on brands who pressed “publish” on content filled with AI-generated copy but also on a few small publishers who played by the rules but weren’t seen as a source as trustworthy as top media publishers.

In November 2023, Google’s Helpful Content Update took place, and the rise of Reddit domains in the SERP skyrocketed in just a few weeks:

Reddit's impact on organic search graphic

In an episode of Create Like the Greats, I talked about how Reddit can be used as a marketing tool and why more brands should consider it as a part of their mix. Reddit announced a partnership with Google in February 2024, and then Reddit announced a partnership with OpenAI in May 2024.

If these partnerships are a sign of the future, it sounds like Reddit might play a bigger role in training two of the most powerful large language models (LLMs) in the industry. As such, it might make perfect sense for brands to start investing in Reddit as a marketing channel to drive results.

Will AI tools replace the search engine?

Google has over 8.5 billion searches a day.

ChatGPT has over 127 million monthly visitors.

The scale that ChatGPT still requires to compete with Google is significant. It’s been predicted by some experts that Google will lose 25% of its user base in the next four to five years.

The probability of such a significant shift in human behavior on a global scale feels impossible at this stage, and I’m not a believer that this change will happen so quickly.

I believe that now is the right time to continue to invest in SEO and double down on creating content that is highly valuable and insightful to your customers.

If there’s anything that should shift about your strategy, it’s the inclusion of Generative Engine Optimization (GEO) in the marketing mix.

The idea of GEO is like SEO — except instead of trying to influence the content that is seeded back from search engines, you’re trying to influence the responses and content that is given back from the generative engines being used by your ideal customers.

GEO is a concept that was studied and submitted for review by Pranjal Aggarwal along with peers of Princeton, Georgia Tech, and IIT Delhi.

The top-performing optimizations cited in the report for GEO efforts included:

  • Quotation additions
  • Statistic additions
  • Fluency optimization
  • Cited sources
  • Technical terms
  • Authoritative comms

The beauty of these findings is that, overall, they’re aligned with best practices for good SEO content. The shift here is simply reassuring the importance of creating high-quality content and making an effort to create content with research, data, experts, and insight.

What do you do with this information?

The best companies and marketers will take this information and view it as the beginning of a new age. We’re going to see shifts and volatility in SEO for the next few years, and it will be increasingly important for brands to monitor the way AI influences both user behavior and technology at large.

The way the search engine results page looks today is likely to change quite significantly in the next 10 years. If there’s one thing I can be confident about, it’s that change in this industry is not only coming — it’s going to happen regularly.

My advice to marketers, brands, and businesses is to stay on top of the trends. Subscribe to newsletters (like Foundation Labs) YouTube channels (like Marketing Against The Grain) and podcasts (like Create Like The Greats) talking about these subjects on the regular.

Follow the industry experts who are sharing information as they learn it. Study the trends, and be intentional about creating things that are valuable for the internet.

Do these things, and I’m confident that you will ride whatever chaotic wave comes our way in the next few years. Buckle up. It’s going to be a fun yet rewarding ride.

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