Today, after months of rumors and premature demos, we finally got a glimpse of what generative AI will actually look like in Google search. At their highly-anticipated Google I/O 2023 event, the team announced and demoed the new Search Generative Experience (SGE), which will be slowly rolling out in the coming months.
As Jasper's resident SEO and content marketing nerd, my head was buzzing with thoughts and questions around what these changes mean for us marketers. While AI's impact on SEO has been a heavily-debated topic for some time now, I don't think there's really any debating that times are a'changing after today's sneak peek.
Bard in the SERPs
In case you missed it, here's what it will look like to incorporate Bard in the search engine results pages (commonly and affectionately referred to as "the SERPs").
There are a few things to note and ask ourselves here:
- They're linking back to sites & sources way more than anticipated — yay!
- Still, how will this new interface impact already-declining click-through-rates?
- How will Bard choose which sources to pull in?
- How will the ability to search using hyper-specific questions impact traditional keyword research?
Including more site links & article sources
Back in February when Google made their original announcement about Bard, the SEO community was nervous. And for good reason. The demos showed little-to-no links back to sites and publishers in Bard's responses to users' queries. It was a little shocking, considering the symbiotic relationship Google shares with content publishers. The biggest question I saw during that time was, "if Google isn't going to send us traffic, why should we keep publishing content?"
Cut to today, and I think a lot of us breathed a collective sigh of relief when seeing more inclusion of content sites and sources in the AI chat interface.
While it's great they've clearly implemented the feedback of SEOs and site owners, there are still lots of questions to be answered here.
How will this new interface impact click-through-rates?
I've got no predictions to offer you here. Sites were already seeing CTRs decline from a constantly-changing SERP that in some cases featured more ads, videos, and Google SERP features than it did actual website links, so I'm afraid to say I think that trend is here to stay as AI chat results will push organic links even further down the page and out of sight.
I do think that Google will continue to evolve how they're sending traffic to sites because, like I said, symbiotic relationship. They need us to produce content just as much as we need the traffic.
How will Bard choose which sites to pull in?
This is the biggest question on my mind right now, both from a general SEO standpoint and from a how-to-approach-Jasper's-content standpoint.
While I believe we'll eventually get some kind of Google Search Console data for Bard search performance, we just don't have any true insight into how Bard will choose to pull in certain sites over others.
The two most likely scenarios:
- It might just straight up pull in the top 3-5 existing search results.
- We could see an even bigger emphasis on Google's content quality E-E-A-T guidelines (Expertise-Experience-Authority-Trustworthiness) as Bard tries to pull in only the most trustworthy sources for its users.
Either way, I think it's safe to say content quality is gonna have to skyrocket to stay competitive in this future landscape.
How will this change keyword research?
If you watched Google I/O, you probably saw that Bard allows for more natural, super specific queries vs. the traditional keywords or question fragments we see today.
In the screenshot below, you'll see an example of this:
"What's better for a family with kids under 3 and a dog, Bryce Canyon or Arches National Park?"
This query is a hyper specific, long-tail (long-long-long-tail) keyword, so what's the keyword volume here? Keyword volume = 1?
At its core, this functionality is just the natural next iteration of semantic search in that Bard will now be even better at figuring out the context behind your query, not just what "keywords" you're using. So what does this mean for the future of keyword research?
I don't think keyword research is going away. I think it'll evolve to fit this new world just like everything else, especially as we start to get more data around AI chat usage in search. But I do think this gives us marketers even more of a reason to actually talk to our customers.
Keyword research is great, but actually knowing your customers' needs and pain points, and knowing how they're searching for products like yours will help make sure you're creating the right content.
A few predictions for the future of SEO
Even before today's announcement, I've been thinking a ton about how AI will impact SEO. How could I not? I do SEO and content at an AI company — it's kind of all I think about.
I actually just wrote about this in my newsletter, Not Another AI Newsletter, and I stand by my thoughts even after the Google I/O event, maybe even more so. Here are the biggest changes to SEO on my mind right now.
We'll see a diversification away from blog-only content strategies.
SERP changes were already making competition fierce, but in addition to the complications from AI chat interfaces in search, the competition will be even fiercer as companies ramp up their content creation and compete for that increasingly-limited Google real estate.
With a flood of new content competing for just a few existing site link spots, it has never been more important to diversify away from a blog-only content strategy and distribute your content via other platforms that are showing up in search, like LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube, and TikTok.
We might have to learn TikTok now, and I’m truly sorry for us all.
This doesn’t mean you should ditch your blog or other on-site content, but it does mean that it shouldn’t be your only tactic for driving organic growth via search engines.
Which means that…
You can no longer put SEO in a silo.
The gap between SEO as a performance channel and SEO as a brand channel was already closing, and with all these new changes from Google, we’ll see that gap start to diminish at an even more rapid pace.
To diversify your content mix in search, SEO can’t be in a silo. SEO now needs to be one of your most collaborative marketing channels. I think we’ll see SEOs work a lot more closely with:
1. Social media: This is a no-brainer given the inclusion of LinkedIn articles, tweets, and TikTok links in search. Especially since Google is rumored to be implementing more social and creator content into the very-near-future of its search engine.
2. PR: This collaboration was probably already happening to some extent on your team, but as competition increases, off-page brand signals like media mentions and high-quality backlinks will become even more important.
Partnering with PR to make sure your company and its products are being talked about properly across other sites could also prove to be really important for future AI chat optimization.
Example: Let’s say I want Bard to spit out a couple sentences about Jasper every time someone asks “how can I use AI for marketing?” Because I don’t fully know where Bard will pull those responses from every time, it may be helpful to collab with PR to really tighten up our brand presence and make sure other sites are talking about us in a way that tees us up as an answer to that question.
3. CRO (Conversion Rate Optimization): Low- or zero-click searches have been here for a while thanks to SERP features like featured snippets and people also ask, but Bard could reduce click-through rates even more.
This means that the traffic you do get needs to convert, and that’s why I think…
Content CRO is gonna be a whole Thing™️.
Reduced traffic doesn’t necessarily have to mean reduced returns if the traffic you get converts.
While traditional conversion rate optimization (CRO) efforts are focused more on big money pages and sign-up flows, I think we’ll see a lot of SEOs and content marketers start to use CRO tactics to make sure their content is actually performing and readers are taking the intended action.
This is an area I’m really excited to grow in and experiment with at Jasper, so don’t be surprised if there’s a future blog on the topic.
Ultimately, I think AI in search will force SEO to be better.
As more companies adopt AI and we see that explosion of content competition and AI in the SERPs, we don’t need to panic.
It may sound scary, but I think it’s really just a chance for us all to take a step back, look at what we’re creating, where we’re creating it, and figure out how to make it better.
And isn’t that we’ve been wanting more of all along?