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AI Driving Exponential Change in Search and User Behaviour

Monday 18 March 2024, 11:20AM

By News Online

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The scope of change driven by generative AI tools will impact a multitude of sectors and areas. But one close to my heart is the impact on Search and, by extension, the impact on search traffic. The two biggest players in the AI space are also the biggest search engines. This article will piece together the potential opportunities and challenges for us as business owners and marketers

What's happened?

Search engines are evolving from a helpful query and answer system to a more intuitive conversational experience. This shift is being driven by the rapid advancements in generative AI. Consider ChatGPT, which, within 12 months, has expanded its capabilities to include the following:

  • Multi-modal interactions, e.g. ability to read PDFs, docs, voice and imagery
  • Creating custom ChatGPTs to create websites and automate tasks
  • Having live access to search the internet and look for up-to-date information

At the same time, Microsoft completed its integration of ChatGPT into Bing. And now, has launched the CoPilot integration into the Microsoft Suite.

The launch of ChatGPT caught Google off guard, but they responded at speed. Google introduced its new Search experience and two iterations of Chat; Bard and now Gemini.

Why is this important?

For many of us, search traffic is the biggest traffic channel to our sites. Particularly if you've been investing in these channels by way of Google Ads and/or SEO. 

The integration of generative AI in search engines will impact search traffic in two ways:

  1. The integration of Chat into search engines changes user behaviour. Queries become conversations asking for more in-depth nuanced information. Conversations that likely wouldn't have taken place before Chat.
  2. Queries that now involve Chat are currently pushing down organic and paid search results. In a real way, we have less visibility at the top of the page. And the top of the page is really important for getting traffic.

For us as digital marketers, the rise of AI-powered search interfaces signals a need to shift digital strategy.

On one hand, we should consider that these nuanced conversations would not have happened with current search engines. It's likely we'll see new and interesting opportunities to reach our audience.

The current emphasis on keywords and link-based SEO will give way to focus on content relevance, user engagement, and the ability to answer complex queries.

On another hand, it also represents a challenge. Search traffic could be reduced, and this is a very real concern, especially if the majority of your traffic comes from search. It points to a need to develop new channels to strengthen digital foundations and mitigate potential traffic loss.

Kim's predictions

The future of search promises to be more aligned with the natural ways we communicate and seek information. What's new is the depth and nuance of these conversations. For example, imagine the first conversation your customer will have about your service is not with you but with CoPilot or Gemini.

What questions would they ask? What do they want to know? 

And does Chat have the information to give them the answers they want? 

There are still many unknowns, but here are a few of my predictions:

  1. As conversations with AI become more complex, we'll need to provide the right information. (Or risk it being made up). Any size business will start needing to review customer interactions to understand what information needs to be made available.
  2. Structured data gets more and more important. Ok, so our conversations are getting more complex, but we're still dealing with a machine. We'll likely need to meet them halfway. Think structured data, a type of language that makes it easier for search engines (and likely AI) to understand and parse your content.
  3. We all become AI experts to a degree. This type of development is too important and too wide-reaching for anybody to ignore. From ignorance comes fear, from knowledge, opportunity. It's me and you that could stand to lose or benefit greatly. Those with a vested interest will likely start getting across the technology sooner rather than later.

We should continue the conversation.

If you'd like to know more, we'll be putting together an AI and Search workshop in the next two months. We want to address what's happening, what opportunities we can take advantage of and how we can hedge our traffic bets to ensure we can keep growing.

Email me if you'd like to know more!

This article was first posted on Insight Online's blog: AI Driving Exponential Change in Search & User Behaviour