Analysis: AI and the Rapid Changes Coming to SEO in 2023

Bing’s ChatGPT and Google Bard will begin answering questions using AI in search engine results pages.

What does this mean for your web traffic or business?

By: Walton Kay, Search Marketing Manager, RyTech LLC

If you haven’t heard about ChatGPT or Google Bard yet, I will assume you’ve been living under a rock like Patrick Star. If that reference didn’t land, perhaps you’ve been stuck in isolation on Gilligan’s Island and haven’t heard about the recent advancements in artificial intelligence (AI). These cutting-edge AI chatbots have been discussed ad nauseam in nearly every major publication and on every TV network. They are also affecting every industry from higher education to software development to the art world. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and, consequently, your website will soon be joining the ranks of those affected, so the time to take action is now!

Let’s explore what we know about this technology, a few predictions for the future regarding your website, potential liability/risks of AI, and what you can begin doing now to ensure future business success.

AI is happening: here’s what we know

Around 93% of all global web traffic comes from Google Search. Google has traditionally shared revenue (in the form of web traffic) with people and businesses who create content to answer questions that are, in turn, served on their search platforms.

That’s all about to change with the introduction of next-generation language and conversation capabilities within Google Bard. Essentially, Google’s AI chatbot will assume ownership of answering some questions instead of forwarding traffic to the most authoritative website for answers. This is likely to have rippling effects across the digital landscape.

Early renderings show Google’s AI answers will take up prime real estate at the top of search results.

This may cause drops in traffic for some websites.

Generating AI text takes a massive amount of computing power and is expensive to serve at this juncture. So answers generated by AI will be short and sweet at first and may not go into details. That means if someone is searching for a deep answer with cited sources, they will still need to click through to an authoritative and trustworthy website. For this reason, Google’s Bard product includes a button in its responses that redirects users to find more detailed answers on Google Search. However, as with all things technology-related, we can expect this technology to continue to gain steam and develop new capabilities over time.

Predictions for the future of websites

  • Some drops in web traffic may occur for certain niches: While the introduction of AI will likely impact everyone at some point, some may notice it sooner than others. Websites that focus on ad-based revenue from mundane topics such as weather, sports scores, and others will be the first to notice drops. However, companies that continue to provide original thought leadership and analysis on topics of expertise will still be necessary and rewarded in this new world. After all, AI has to ‘learn’ information from somewhere.
  • Most web traffic takes no action on websites: Average conversion rates across industries range between 2.35% and 5.31% which means that ~95% of the traffic hitting your website takes no action. Leadership teams and marketers are used to seeing high traffic numbers but the reality is that a lot of it is just noise and likely not a potential customer. New benchmarks need to be created, and it will take some time to adjust to the new normal. However, the future is not all doom-and-gloom for websites. If you have a strategy that is created with all of this in mind, it is possible to see drops in web traffic without real drops in revenue to your business. 
  • Content strategies will need to adapt: Gone are the days of grabbing traffic on search engine results by answering common questions. Mundane and “safe” topics will be the first to be overtaken by AI. Smart and well-thought-out content strategies will still find success in this new world. Examples that will not likely be immediately affected by AI include: in-depth product reviews, legal analysis, medical information, businesses using proprietary data to create innovative content, and much more. Rewriting content that’s already ranking (low-value content) or using gray-hat SEO techniques (buying links) will yield even fewer results moving forward. AI chatbots will swallow that search traffic. This is nothing new to seasoned SEO teams who have already adapted from the introduction of featured snippets in 2014. Additionally, since search engines are writing their own AI content, it is not advisable to use AI to write your own website content. The RyTech content team has a strict “no AI for writing” policy at this time. All of our written content is human generated by our US based teams in Chicago and Milwaukee. What are some industries or topics that you think would be hard for AI to “be the expert on” at this point?
  • Search engines will always be incentivized to create revenue: This means that Google may charge consumers for advanced AI features at some point, which would limit the overall effect on Search. It’s also imperative from a financial standpoint that the Google Ads platform will still be prioritized in results. For context, Google generated $162 billion in revenue last year from ads placed in search results – they aren’t about to let their main sales source fall off. Additionally, ‘transactional queries’ that have a high conversion potential such as “24/7 plumbers near me” likely won’t be answered by AI because of Google Ads + Competition in the Market — Google isn’t incentivized to provide one single answer to that. Smart SEO strategy should remain high on the list for this reason.

Risks: AI creates increased liability for big tech

If AI takes over generating and serving content or answers on search engine platforms, they also take responsibility for it. This increases the liability that they have so long avoided by outsourcing information to external parties. This means that when someone is harmed by following bad legal or health advice presented by AI, Google could be held liable.

This creates a strong reason to believe they’ll keep passing on lots of referral traffic to savvy websites. Smart content and SEO strategies are still very much in play.

Additionally, AI has to learn what it knows from somewhere. Google’s AI is likely sourcing knowledge from existing content. This means that there will inevitably be a lawsuit from someone saying Google is profiting from their proprietary and uncredited content. A result of this could be that the chatbots will be forced to show sources and links similar to the way featured snippets do now. 

We’ve already seen liability issues play out for Microsoft’s Bing – even at these early stages. You may have read the February New York Times column about a creepy conversation with Bing’s chatbot. This encounter has been written about numerous times and has already led to a slow down in the rollout of AI technology and a response from Microsoft’s CEO. Since then, there have been numerous calls to slow the public rollout of this technology. This is just further proof that we are in a very fluid situation with new information and changes coming out frequently.

Real SEO strategy isn’t going anywhere for now

A recent academic paper from Cornell University on how AI generative text technology will impact the labor market shows, surprisingly, that SEO has some of the lowest exposure. The findings indicate that the importance of science and critical thinking skills are strongly negatively associated with exposure. This suggests that occupations requiring these skills are less likely to be impacted at this juncture.

Early analysis suggests that occupations such as translators or interpreters are at higher risk of occupational exposure from AI than SEO.

Proper SEO strategies are highly based on scientific experiments and critical thinking. Our team has to formulate hypotheses based on prior knowledge or research, predict how changes/optimizations will work (or not work) in Google results and measure/report results using advanced analytics.

Action plan: the marketing mix is more important than ever

Let’s face it – the internet is changing and we must all adapt. Long gone are the days when you get so much traffic you don’t need to worry about bringing engaged people back. It’s never been more important for businesses to reinforce their owned properties and focus on retention. The PESO (Paid, Earned, Shared, Owned) marketing model focuses on not putting all of your eggs in one basket. Many businesses are investing in a siloed marketing strategy rather than a diverse one involving multiple channels, but it’s not too late to begin.

It’s time to shore up your owned assets to build a prosperous future for your business:

  • Build an email list database:

Many companies regard their email marketing list as one of their most valuable assets. After all, by subscribing to your list, individuals are giving you a way to directly contact them and permission to do so. Even if you aren’t currently generating enough content to warrant sending emails regularly, it would be smart to begin collecting email opt-ins while your web traffic still has unaffected windfall from Google. Mailchimp’s free plan is perfect for beginners who want to begin building a database. In fact, you don’t have to pay until you surpass 500 contacts in your database. Don’t be shy with building your list and consider investing with incentives: offering a discount, a free resource, or digital emailed receipts to those who opt-in is a great start.

Start building your email list 

  • Build your social presence:

When you share content on social media, you’re opening up a direct line of communication between your business and your audience. This creates an opportunity for you to showcase your content to a larger audience, connect with them and build relationships to help grow your brand. Additionally, social media algorithms are designed to help content that is engaging and relevant gain traction and visibility. By using your existing high-quality content you can increase the likelihood that your content will be seen by more people and ultimately drive more engagement.

  • Build a website designed to convert:

95% of the traffic hitting your website probably takes no action and doesn’t result in increased revenue. If executed properly, most of the traffic lost to AI will be this traffic. Potential customers who are looking deeper and are unsatisfied with the short AI answers will likely still scroll down to click through to websites. Total traffic may decrease, but the quality of traffic will increase if this is the case. Having a website with an infrastructure designed to capture the maximum amount of conversions is more important than ever and will pay dividends to those who invest.

  • Enable infrastructure for full-funnel advertising:

Smart advertising strategies segment how they market to different audiences already. Remarketing all website users can be an inefficient use of a remarketing audience — and a potential drop in organic traffic to informational pages won’t necessarily result in worse KPIs for your advertising mix. Instead of using informational / blog content as your top of funnel audience, consider building your advertising mix to include channels including Reddit, Quora or Youtube.

  • Double down on core SEO:

There’s a risk that some may see a drop in traffic and throw in the towel on SEO. While SEO tactics and strategies are likely to change, the right partner will be transparent about this and look for ways to help your business continue to succeed and thrive. Ditching SEO altogether is a knee-jerk, ill-advised reaction since we have established that people who want to deep dive topics will still need third-party websites to complete research. Additionally, competition for top spots on search engines is likely to change if there is an exodus. Continuing to improve technical SEO, on-page SEO, and the authority of your site through link building is still of utmost importance and could yield higher ROI in the future if done wisely. Investing in SEO means that a team is analyzing data and trends to help you stay informed of changes before it’s too late.

Chat with our SEO team about how staying on top of trends is critical in 2023

  • Innovate your content strategies:

While website traffic drops may sting at first, conversions can stay strong with the right content strategy. This is because the readers who are most engaged with a topic will not accept a short AI answer and will still click through to websites. The award-winning content team at RyTech is already coming up with strategies and marketing experiments that we believe will cut through the noise and help our clients emerge from AI implementation unscathed and set up for future success. Clients can expect to see changes in proposed content from our teams over the next year as we continue to study and keep on top of data trends. Businesses who are willing to engage and participate in the ideation process with us will see even more success. It’s time to leverage a mix of your own data, products, and services to engage with people and grab more market share.

  • Monitor and use web data proactively:

RyTech SEO clients are already getting in-depth custom monthly reports with honest metrics highlighting the current state of their website, noticeable trends, action items from the previous month and recommendations moving forward. Clients can expect to stay informed of changes to the search landscape and receive recommendations to proactively leverage data in future strategies. We provide custom analysis tailored to each business and also have access to data in a wide variety of industries to compare and contrast against.

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