SEO with ChatGPT: The New Digital Marketing Frontier

Since its debut in November 2022, ChatGPT has been considered the biggest disruption in SEO since the industry's inception more than twenty years ago. Some even went so far as to say it was the end of SEO as we know it. But is this really true? Let's analyze it.

Will ChatGPT replace SEO?

The truth is that, so far, ChatGPT and other generative AI products have had a very small impact on SEO. Despite the huge wave of interest in ChatGPT, Google's share of global search traffic has remained steady at 91% over the past 12 months. However, generative AI looks set to change SEO in a number of ways in the coming years.

For example, on the search engine side, there will be more "no-click" interactions where visitors stay in the Google ecosystem conversing with a chatbot. And on the marketing side, content creators will use generative AI tools to better research, summarize complex web pages and generate graphics quickly, raising the standard for content.

Da Vinci style drawing of a human hand interacting with the machine.

Why won't generative AI replace SEO?

Before we get into the details of why SEO won't be overtaken by generative AI, let's start with a question: do you use ChatGPT to make important decisions about how to spend your time or money? Or do you mostly play with it, ask it interesting questions and watch it compose amazingly human-like responses?

If you still don't trust chatbots to make important decisions for you, you're already getting to the first reason why SEO won't be replaced any time soon.

People don't trust generative AI

To this day, we don't trust generative AI enough to use it as a replacement for Google. Why? Because it often gets it wrong, doesn't have up-to-date information on many topics, and doesn't give specific and useful opinions to commercially oriented questions.

Given these limitations, generative AI is not ready to replace Google's core function of helping people make decisions. And if it can't do that, its chances of displacing SEO as a marketing channel are low. After all, the fact that we rely on Google to advise us when the stakes are high is the main reason SEO is such a powerful channel in the first place.

Of course, not all Google queries are high-stakes; a substantial percentage of them are in the realm of basic research, e.g., "what is a parquet floor?" - precisely the type of queries that generative AI is best equipped to answer. However, losing users to chatbots for these types of searches is not very impactful for Google. Basic research queries have always been a loss leader for them, as few companies want to advertise on searches with low purchase intent. Most of the investment in both SEO and paid search is on transactional keywords like "interior designer in Brooklyn" or "best parquet flooring brands".

Of course, Google would like you to stay in its ecosystem for all information discovery, but none of us are too far from it between Google Search, Gmail, Google Maps, Chrome, Android and Drive.

Generative AI cannot write expert content

Marketers hoping to use generative AI products like ChatGPT or Google Bard to write content for them find an interesting phenomenon: the content is acceptable, but not very persuasive. It has an even-handed tone that conveys neutrality at the expense of persuasion.

Marketers who rely too heavily on generative AI to produce SEO content will find that their content is mediocre and, more importantly, of equal quality to many other marketers in their industry who are doing the same. In Google's meritocracy, where there is only one #1 result, standing out is essential. Therefore, true thought leadership written by subject matter experts will continue to outperform AI-produced content in the realm of SEO and in the broader context of grabbing the attention of potential buyers.

Legal and competitive barriers will limit effectiveness of generative AI

A common response to the claim that generative AI is inaccurate or less reliable than a human expert is "It's only going to get better." While this is true, this idea ignores the inevitable legal and competitive resistance the technology will face. Simply put, intellectual property rights holders and content creators will not give away their content for free.

For years, Google has maintained an environment where website owners voluntarily share their knowledge publicly in exchange for exposure in search results. If generative AI companies use this knowledge to feed their chatbots without giving the same exposure, website owners will lose their incentive and stop creating free content. ChatGPT avoids this problem by using training data that is outdated anyway. Bing AI, on the other hand, collects newly created content from websites, and in doing so breaks the tacit agreement that website owners made with Google in the 2010s that incentivized the creation of this content in the first place.

If search engines continue down the path of feeding chatbots with user-created content without the consent of those users, they will discourage users from creating it. Major intellectual property rights holders such as Dow Jones, Reddit and Twitter have already demanded that Microsoft stop scraping their data to train its chatbots.

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