Will search engine optimization be replaced by optimizing for artificial intelligence? And where does that leave YOU?
The reality is that AI is quickly starting to influence many spheres of life, and its influence is guaranteed to expand.
As a website owner trying to be seen in Google…
Where does that leave YOU?
First, let’s see how AI search works:
Right at the top (below the paid ads, we assume – it is still experimental), you will have a block with a colored background, which will display the results from AI.
The AI block gives you a response which it deduced from exploring different search results – and it can include both website content and social media posts.
It will give you the option to expand, and view the sources for its given result.
So already you as a website owner is going to compete for a few available spots – and hope that the majority of people searching on Google will actually expand the response to view the sources.
However, the reality is that the better it gets, the fewer people will worry where the information came from. Not to mention that even though some may look at it, not everyone will bother to visit any of the source websites.
Also, the better it gets (and Google has been working on it since 2016), the lower the probability that people will need to scroll down and view the organic search results.
And of course, the AI results are at the top, pushing the organic search results even lower down the page.
It doesn’t end there either.
Once the AI posted its response, you can engage and ask further questions – or narrow down/provide context for your search right in the chat box. Since the AI is keeping track of your conversation, it can then easily figure out what you are really looking for, and serve it to you in seconds.
So – in short:
1. Once again, it comes on top of the organic search results, making it even harder to be seen.
2. It will probably replace the Google Business Listings too, just giving you the info on those suppliers close to your actual physical location, which it will get from your browsing device.
3. It will engage the searcher in conversation, which is likely to – in most cases – eliminate the need to scroll down to the organic search results.
4. Through all of this, the traffic left over to be sent to websites in the organic results will – in many cases – be less than ever before.
5. As the AI gets better and better at providing the information requested, fewer people are likely to bother exploring the sources of its information.
So even if yo are able to make it into the AI results, you will eventually still see a drop-off in organic search traffic.
Next, let’s talk about AI optimization:
Search engine optimization will only get you so far. And in most cases, it won’t send you loads of visitors.
Once again, we have a repeat of all of the major updates we have seen on Google in the past:
1. You have to work even harder to be seen.
2. The little guy is bound to get the sort end of the stick – because the bigger, established websites already have lots of backlinks pointing to them (and are more likely to show up in AI search), so the little guy has even less chance of competing than before.
Not to mention that, in many cases, people will simply accept the answer given by the AI, and not explore the sources at all.
So, as a small local business owner, what can you do?
You have one of 4 choices:
1. Create epic content – regardless of where you display it. It can be a blog post, a Youtube video, or a post on a Facebook page, but it has to be something that stands head and shoulders above the rest.
Given the quality of the results on the current home page of search, that can be challenging to most people.
2. Go after (very) long tail keyword phrases, which have little to no competition. While the searches for each of the may be low, you can still generate decent amounts of traffic if you keep stacking up the content pieces aimed at different search terms.
3. Focus on social media – fair enough, eventually AI will come to social media too. But at least on social media, if you have amassed a decent following, many of them will see whatever you post by default. You can also focus on (very) long tail keywords in your social media posts – for when AI arrives there too.
4. Send paid traffic. There are many options to choose from, both in search, social media, and advertising agencies offering loads of different formats.
Fair enough, paid advertising is a learning curve which costs money – but once you have it figured out, it’s like turning on a tap.
As soon as full-on AI search becomes mainstream, many people will shift to optimize for AI – which will require more work than optimizing to rank in organic search results.
What remains to be seen, however, is this:
1. How long before AI becomes to good (and trusted) that people no loner bother to explore the sources?
2. Some industries and topics will be affected more, and others less. Which is which remains to be seen.
3. Eventually, with AI search penetrating both search and social, more and more business owners are likely to move to paid traffic. At least with paid advertising, you get what you pay for.
So to answer the original question:
“Will SEO be replaced by AIO?”
Yes and no.
a. There will still be cases where people will prefer to browse the search results. How many, remains to be seen.
b. For a while, many business owners and bloggers will rush to optimize for AI. In time, we suspect that their efforts will yield fewer and fewer results.
c. The better the AI results become, the more we expect to see a shift to more paid advertising.
At the end of the day, the guys selling the ad space win. At your expense.