Five Ways New AI Search Engines Could Impact Your Online Business

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In this op-ed, Jack Telford, SEO Group Business Director at media agency Zenith follows up on his previous piece about generative AI for B&T and explains how it might affect digital businesses.

Back in January, I wrote about the potential of a newly launched phenomenon called Chat GPT to change the online content world. Since then, it has become impossible to ignore the stream of high-profile AI predictions – lurching from panacea to apocalypse.

What’s more, search giants Google and Bing have both announced that generative AI either is either powering or will soon power their core search experience. So, what better time, with the world still broadly intact, to talk about how these AI-powered search engines will impact our online businesses?

Jack Telford, SEO group business director, Zenith

Organic Search remains by far the biggest driver of traffic on the Internet. A fundamental change to this format could transform how websites perform. I’ve listed below what I see as the five most likely impacts of AI search engines, as well as outlined how imaginative digital marketers can adapt in this changing search landscape.

You could see less traffic

In recent years, search engines have been increasingly answering searches directly on their results pages, either using their internal Knowledge Graphs or with Featured Snippets. This has meant websites are seeing lower click-through rates, as users no longer need to visit a website to get answers. Generative AI will widen the range of queries that search engines can answer themselves, accelerating this trend.

This isn’t a new challenge – web publishers have been dealing with increasing zero-click searches for years – but it compounds an existing dilemma. If you’re looking to grow or maintain your web traffic in the future, you may need to diversify your content and target areas less prone to generative results. Paid ads will also show around AI search snippets, so could offer another avenue to bolster visibility.

If you’re not recognised by customers, you’ll lose out

It won’t be long before search engines can produce as relevant content as humans on their results pages via AI. In these cases, why would users click a web result?

The simple answer is that people want information from brands they trust. Sites can significantly outperform expected click-through rates when they are established leaders in their category. Building topical brand recognition through the various media channels available to you could determine your success as site clicks become harder to get.

Shopping Graphs will become critical

Google has been careful to highlight in its Search Generative Experience documentation the role the Shopping Graph will have on generative search results. Unlike ChatGPT, Google’s new AI will be constantly updating its inventory of product data for search results.

Products with rich, detailed, and dependable information online will be more likely to show up in results. The key will be ensuring your Merchant Centre listings are up to date, as well as optimising other product signals – images, reviews etc. – across the web.

You’ll have to re-imagine funnel targeting

Generative AI will redefine search results across intents. Traditionally, it’s been effective to target informational searches with SEO content (to engage researching prospects), whilst paid search has more heavily targeted brand and product queries.

If generative AI results cover informational searches, advertisers may need to invest more in paid search to retain visibility. Conversely, if AI results plaster commercial searches, we’ll need to infiltrate generative results and gain a citation link.

Humanistic content will stand out

Generative AI systems scour the Internet for content, validating from various sources the correct answer for each search. They can’t produce anything truly original or rely on lived experience to give a humanistic take on a topic.

If your content strategy looks like that employed by generative AI, you’ll struggle to stand out. If you can come up with something genuinely different, crammed full of EEAT signals, you’re more likely to perform in search.

It’s important to note we’ve also seen Australian regulatory attempts to protect publishers’ interests working with giants such as Google and Facebook and we may see more if AI platforms are unfairly benefitting whilst publishers lose out.

It’s too early to say exactly how – and how widely – generative AI will impact the web, but we’ll likely see significant performance disruption as it’s fully incorporated. Despite this, it’s reassuring to know that billions of users want to engage with relevant web content, and that search engines’ core business remains to surface it.

Broad changes to search impact the tactics we use for success but can’t disrupt the principles upon which we should build our strategies. Website owners have dealt several times in the past decade with major changes to search engines and their ranking factors. Consistently, it’s the brands with sustainable, people-first strategies that win out; those that focus more on their end users than the latest algorithmic development.

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