AI and SEO: How AI is going to change SEO and what you need to do to be ready

It’s September 1998 and you sit in front of your computer, waiting for a webpage to load. 5 minutes fly by as your webpage miraculously appears. “This internet malarkey is brilliant, isn’t it?” you think to yourself as “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” blasts from your Sony Walkman. The article headline catches your attention: “Google Emerges as Threat to Yahoo’s Search Engine Dominance.” You chuckle at the thought, dismissing Google’s chances as likely as your Tamagotchi going out of fashion. If anyone is going to threaten Yahoo, it’s probably Ask Jeeves! Yet, fast forward over two decades, and the tables have turned. Now, it’s the future of Google searches that inspires anxiety, and not just for marketers and SEO professionals. The emergence of chatbots and AI has ignited sleepless nights across the industry. So, what measures can you take to ensure you’re not left trailing in the wake of AI and SEO advancements?

Is SEO a dying industry?

No, but changes will occur and marketers must adapt. Gartner’s prediction that “by 2026, traditional search engine volume will drop 25%” has caused concern. They predict AI platforms like Gemini and ChatGPT, will supplant user inquiries that were once handled by conventional search engines. This shift will compel companies to reconsider their marketing channel strategies. If such prophecies are realised, SEO will become a thing of the past.

Yet, this SEO and AI dystopian future is unlikely to occur. Between 2023 and 2024, Google’s market share decreased by only 1%. This is despite Microsoft integrating their AI chatbot, Copilot, which is built upon OpenAI’s ChatGPT language model. However, this is still early days and new search habits can take time to form. Moreover, Google has over 90% of the search engine market, meaning the real threat may come from Google once its AI tools are rolled out.

AI needs content. SEO will continue to thrive

However, before pushing the panic button consider this. AI requires data to function properly. From a search perspective, we can assume a significant proportion of that data will come from websites. Therefore, it is not in the interests of search engines like Google to discourage people from creating content. After all, why would you bother creating content if it’s not going to be discovered?

SEO is set to be impacted by AI leading to questions as to the future direction for companies like Google. But original content will still be needed
Data is required for AI to function, meaning search engines will need to keep incentivising people to create content

Furthermore, 77.8% of Google’s revenues come from advertising. These adverts appear in search results which send traffic to the advertiser’s website. Yet, if everyone uses AI tools in the future, that revenue will disappear. If you can be sure of anything, it’s that no company would ever willingly kill such a significant proportion of their own business. Moreover, according to Neil Patel, Google sent more traffic to websites in 2023 than in 2022, which is after the emergence of ChatGPT. Therefore, the key question to ask is how will AI and SEO co-exist.

What will happen to SEO with AI advancements?

Marketers need to embrace themselves for a few uncertain years. Yet the best will continue to thrive. Going forward it is likely SEO and AI will converge meaning best practices will need to evolve. Some of the key changes with the emergence of artificial intelligence in search engines will be:

  • Search Generative Experience (SGE): This is the practice of search optimising for AI tools contained within search engines. Moving forward more search engines like Google will integrate AI tools, enabling their users to both search as they currently do, whilst also leveraging AI chat functions. Whilst this may lead to a reduction in the number of organic results on result pages, as it takes up space, it is likely to generate opportunities to rank higher. Developing quality content with deep knowledge of niche subjects is likely to be a game changer for many. Moreover, SGE is likely to become an enhanced form of search engine where specific answers are returned with links to the best sites. AI and SEO will go hand in hand.
  • Answer Engine Optimization (AEO): Similar to SGE, this will be the practice of optimising specifically for AI chatbots and voice assistants like ChatGPT and Gemini. Understanding user interactions and how language models work will be key. This will add additional complexity for SEOs as they grapple with AI but rather than remove their need it will mean there is more demand.

However, it will become increasingly important to understand how each AI search engine works and the type of traffic it will attract. Only then can you start preparing your next-generation SEO and digital marketing strategy.

Preparing for an AI and SEO future

In 1966 Time Magazine predicted that by 1984 “only 10% of the population will be working” because machines will have replaced us. For the remaining 90%, they will be able to chill at home as working extra jobs will be “as socially unacceptable as bigamy.”

Hmm…unless there is some global TikTok trend that has brainwashed everyone to jump on the bigamy bandwagon, I am assuming this prediction was wrong.

Machines have not replaced people despite earlier predictions. Expect the same for SEO as AI advances
Despite earlier predictions, machines have not replaced all workers

And, that’s the point.  Predictions often overstate the future. In reality, SEO and AI will converge and marketers will need to evolve in their roles. After Google’s Penguin update, black-hat backlink tactics no longer worked as effectively. Instead, webmasters were forced to focus on quality. This trend is likely to continue with the emergence of AI within SEO.

As we move forward the key to understanding the future of AI and SEO is to understand the ultimate goal of search engines like Google. For them, it’s to provide high-quality, valuable content so they can attract and retain customers. Remember, their customers are your customers.

Google’s quality rater guidelines, E-E-A-T, can provide some insights into where we will be heading.  E-E-A-T stands for “Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness.” From our experience, this has caused a lot of confusion in the industry. After all, how do you evidence experience? This is where AI will help change the game.

Experience and Expertise

As ranking factors, experience and expertise are perhaps the most difficult to understand currently. In short, they are looking to assess, do you have experience with the advice you are giving and if are you an expert. For example, as a digital agency, we have experience of working with SEO and AI and have vast corporate experience. Yet, writing this alone is not enough. Google doesn’t directly measure experience but rewards content that demonstrates it, likely based on user reactions. Going forward Ai is likely to be more intelligent and understand these factors based on multiple factors across your website and other digital channels. Therefore, consider:

  • Content: Since the launch of AI tools like ChatGPT, there has been a growth in Ai generated content. Yet, does this really show your experience and expertise? No, and that’s why Google has updated its search algorithms to de-index AI-generated content. Going forward you need to consider the key steps to building a winning content strategy that provides quality content for your users and meets Google’s goals.
  • Uniqueness for SGE and AEO: These AI tools will use content that has been created. Therefore, it will be critical to develop content that is unique.

Google is busy updating its algorithms to fight against AI generated content, leaving many SEO's to rethink their strategy
Google is already cracking down on AI-generated content

Authoritativeness

Authoritativeness pertains to your general standing within your field, particularly among specialists and influential figures in your niche. How is this demonstrated? Currently, backlinks form a key part of this strategy. Yet, obtaining backlinks is time-consuming and difficult. Quality backlinks are those that are natural and organic. But, how do you get that if your site isn’t ranking, you don’t have the budget for PR and you don’t get reach on your social channels? The current system is not fit for purpose as it naturally enables established brands to get ranked as they naturally have backlinks. The result is that only 3.45% of websites receive traffic. But with advancements in AI, SEOs will need to consider:

Trustworthiness

Trustworthiness will see the biggest change for SEOs and AI. This is the extent to which your content and site can be trusted. Trust is going to be the key ranking factor in the future. To ensure you are prepared you need to develop a trust strategy. As Google develops their algorithms and pushes advanced AI, SEOs will need to factor in:

  • Tactics: As part of our research here at Antlerzz, we reached out to and evaluated SEO link builders from across the world. Yet, we were left shocked. In our small sample, we were provided poor-quality links, often in contravention of Google guidelines. Moreover, we were presented with links from websites whose domains had been manipulated. At best they were worthless. At worst, they could impact search rankings. Google is getting smarter and with AI, SEO’s will need to focus on good white hat practices. In particular, off-page SEO tactics will be transformed and marketers need to be prepared.
  • Tools: AI and SEO are also facing another challenge. The rise of AI tools that help with everything from keyword analysis, and content creation to technical optimisation. Be careful of the tools you select and make sure they contribute to the mission of providing a better quality experience. If they don’t, reconsider using them.

Backlinks are about creating links from multiple authoritive websites. Yet these should be natural
Many use blackhat tactics to build backlinks. This should be avoided and AI will get smarter at detecting when such tactics have been used

How will SEO services change? AI will make it more important than ever

It is easy to assume that AI will eradicate the need for SEO professionals, content creators and others in the industry. Yet, the sheer complexity of AI and SEO will likely mean SEO services are needed more than ever. From analysing data to interpreting user intent to specific understanding of AI and search platforms, marketers will need to adapt. Having deep knowledge of an industry niche with a combination of AI and marketing knowledge will be key.

AI and SEO are evolving

Rather, than worry about the future of search, it’s imperative marketeers focus on how they will adapt to the changes. AI will enhance user experience and it may impact the amount of search positions available. Yet, this brings new opportunities.

AI will likely be used for questions that require significant research and not readily available from one source. The type of query that has a very low search volume. But that doesn’t mean you should stop evolving. These types of queries are likely to increase and you need to ensure your website is a part of the answer.

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