“The sky is falling”, they cried once more.
Every few years, there seems to be an update that rocks the world of SEO professionals, and 2023 has been no exception, with the recent meteoric rise in popularity of ChatGPT released last year by OpenAI.
Among content creators and professional search marketers, there have been concerns that generative search answers will replace traditional SERPs, and that a deluge of AI-generated content will make it impossible for human-generated, experience-backed content to find an audience on search and social amid all of the bot noise.
My take? There’s nothing to be worried about, yet. Here’s why.
Generative AI In Search Has Been a Dud
After the announcement that Bing would be integrating OpenAI’s generative chat technology into their search engine result pages (SERPs), Google responded in panic – calling a “code red” and bringing original founder Sergey Brin back on board after he had been gone for years. Why? All to reactively launch their generative chat competitor in search, called Bard.
“Search is changing! Generative chat is going to replace traditional search and eliminate the traditional search engine result page. This is going to finally be the end of SEO!” many SEOs proclaimed, or at least secretly thought.
I admit, I also had concerns… at first.
But now some time has passed, it’s fall of 2023, generative chat has been out in search for a few months now, and truthfully I don’t see much changing in the way of traditional SERPs becoming obsolete.
Why? Well, because at the end of the day, generative chat and search are two different products with two different use-cases.
Personally, I use traditional search for some purposes, and chat for other purposes. I haven’t stopped using traditional search just because Bard and Bing now have generative chat answers to search queries.
If anything, I’ve come to distrust the generative answers in many cases – and prefer doing my own research – because oftentimes the generative AI search answers will be completely inaccurate or provide completely conflicting answers. I’ve even seen some generated answers where the “sources” for those answers don’t even cover the topic at hand.
Generative search hasn’t been the game-changer we all thought it might be. Maybe I’m wrong, and if so tell me in the comments. Maybe this will change, if the experience is seriously improved. But as it stands, generative chat in search has fallen flat in my view.
What About AI-Generated Content Taking Over?
The other fear about AI taking over the web is that humans writing content at human speed will not be able to compete with the endless deluge of quickly-published, AI-generated content online.
With generative AI exploding in popularity, we can see AI-generated articles and social media posts everywhere.
Even CNET was caught using AI for writing full articles.
And Google has had to address it in their algorithm updates, initially stating that human generated content would have priority visibility, while later backtracking to say that any helpful content written for humans (not necessarily by humans) would be able to earn visibility.
Meanwhile, in Facebook groups, we’ve seen peers get irked that they can tell when their colleagues are using ChatGPT instead of speaking from experience.
Does this mean those of us who write by hand will be left in the dust?
No – in fact it’s going to give humans with real human experience a serious edge, and here’s why.
Anyone who has used ChatGPT or other AI writing tools for any significant amount of time can already spot the patterns in OpenAI’s phrasing, which is littered with the use of “unleashed” and other cheddar-cheesy metaphors and words.
The issue is that when ChatGPT answers a question, there are only so many answers it will give with basic prompting. And in those answers, many will follow the same structure and format and have the same voice. This makes it recognizable.
While researching content to create, I have already come across boilerplate blog outlines being used across multiple sites, written to answer the same topic – very obviously with the help of AI.
Eventually we’ll see that a lot of information seems repetitive, coming to a bit of an information singularity as I mentioned when in the Policy2050 report on generative AI.
As more and more lazy content creators and marketers rely on AI to generate their marketing materials, people will begin to notice trends and obvious markers of AI generated content.
Readers will be able to tell who is speaking from experience and who is speaking from ChatGPT. We’ll be able to tell who heavily relied on AI in the creation of their “original content” which isn’t really original.
And those who are relying on GPT for all of their content will begin to lose trust and blend in with the crowd. People who speak from experience will stand out easily, while the constant-GPT-ers will lose credibility.
And ethically, is it really appropriate to output content and ideas from AI as if they are your own? How can we use AI while keeping our integrity?
This is your opportunity to slip in as a non-lazy marketer and content creator, show your human experience, and gain an edge just for being you. Because no AI bot can actually be you.
In this new AI-infused world, it’s still people that are seeking information online. And it’s those human people who are going to start seeking out non-AI generated opinions and first-hand experiences.
In fact we are already seeing proof of that via “phrase + reddit” keyword suggestions that you might have noticed Google’s “People Also Ask” section of SERPs. Just type “can you”… “reddit” in Google’s search bar and you’ll get a plethora of suggestions that Google knows people search when looking for personal experiences on the social forum platform:
This indicates that people are hungry for first hand experiences, hungry for personal anecdotes, and hungry for information beyond a boilerplate ChatGPT driven answer.
In fact, Reddit is ranking everywhere now after the Helpful Content Update fallout – with more keywords ranking in the top 3 results in Google than ever before, according to SEMRush data. As of Oct 6, they’re at about 6.4 mil keywords in the top 3 positions.
This is cold, hard proof that Google is already placing very, very heavy value on first-hand experiences, and that User Generated Content is taking a major place on the search stage.
We can see the same jump with Quora.
These sites are no longer an indicator of an easy-to-dominate search phrase, as they were before. Rather, they’re a reflection of Google’s users craving real human takes when seeking answers.
This means that even in search, genuine writers and blog owners will have an edge over people pumping out generic, uninformed content stuffed with keywords just to rank.
What’s this all mean for you?
It may take them a while to really tune the algorithm for this new AI world. But if you begin working now to send Google those signals that you’re a real human with real experience, your website is going to be poised to WIN as search engines become more focused on people-first content.
SEO isn’t going to die. It’s going to become easier than ever before (for those with genuine insights and actual experience) to get found.