ChatGPT has taken the world by storm. Many have asked if this is the new way of searching. This question is interesting given the potentially massive impact on the search engine business and the competitive elements within it. That’s not the question I’m asking though – in this article I’ll explore a related question: If you have a business that relies on Search Engine Optimization (SEO) for traffic and relevancy, where does the ChatGPT take you?
Chat vs Search
There is a fundamental difference in user intent between chat and classic search (regardless of who is providing the feature). Classic search returns multiple responses, arranged in the order that the search algorithm considers most relevant to the query. Search results can span many pages. A chatbot will return one or more answers (but often one), and often more than one answer will be returned if the question requires multiple options. Both approaches are provided by search today – but mean different things for search engine optimization (SEO).
Let’s take a quick example: I searched “good cauliflower pizza crust recipe” on Google. About 25 different websites were returned with recipes as well as pointers to other related questions. The same question asked to ChatGPT returned a specific recipe in detail with the message that I hope I enjoy my pizza.
From a consumer perspective, both could be better. If my goal was to find and choose between multiple recipes, the first one is better. If I only wanted one recipe, the second one is better. However, the whole structure of search engine optimization (SEO) is based on the former. If my business is focused on getting traffic from people looking for cauliflower crust recipes (and possibly selling them other things like pre-made cauliflower crust), optimizing to rank higher on the first page is an important SEO -Goal. There are entire industries, best practices, monitoring tools, etc. that help companies achieve this goal.
If customers choose the second approach, where does it leave it? this Company? ChatGPT picked a single recipe – without citing the source. A subsequent question about the source revealed that the answer was composed of a lot of information the AI had gathered via recipes.
What does this mean for a company?
- If your goal is to get found on a search, it’s not clear how you can get a tool like ChatGPT to return your website as an answer. Classic SEO has well-defined guidelines (backlinks, appropriate content, well-formed pages, etc.) that businesses can follow to rank their pages higher in search queries for selected keywords.
- What would companies that help others with SEO optimization optimize for ChatGPT? Many tools and resources have surfaced explaining how to use ChatGPT to write SEO-optimized content (and if that’s even a good idea), but this is about using ChatGPT to optimize your site for traditional search suitable, and not about getting a tool like ChatGPT to return your website.
so what can you do
- It is still too early to know definitively what can be done. Anecdotal evidence suggests these models learn from vast repositories of information. Therefore, being well known in as many online locations as possible can help the model identify your brand. However, until we have more knowledge or guidance from the manufacturers of these models, it will remain a challenge.
- Monitoring data on what proportion of searches and what types of searches are switching to these approaches versus traditional search can help businesses understand whether an ongoing investment in SEO is worthwhile over time.
As the chat approach continues to grow in popularity, it pays to review your company’s search engine marketing strategy and understand how it fits in with these trends. For example:
- Is your strategy to create pages that answer important questions (say, on a blog) and use those search hits to drive people to your site? If so, what happens when a chat interface decides to answer the question itself?
- On the other hand, if your goal is for people to find very specific content (e.g., a cauliflower recipe class starting next month), a chatbot is less likely to intervene.
All in all, we are still at the beginning of this journey and only time will tell how this develops. In the meantime, it’s worth monitoring your SEO stats and seeing if there’s a notable change as these technologies become more prevalent.
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