How AI is changing what we know about search journeys

James Bentham

James Bentham

Head of SEO


SEO

With search engines regularly receiving updates and algorithmic changes, SEO specialists always need to be on their toes. Now, those in search engine optimisation also need to consider a new game-changer in the search journey – artificial intelligence.

As content experts experiment with the many uses of ChatGPT and other AI platforms, the traditional, expected elements that make up search engine optimisation are going to continue to evolve. Considering this ground-breaking technological development, digital marketers must ensure users can still find the most relevant information online via the quickest route possible.

In this article, we look to shed light on how AI is impacting search journeys for users and how artificial intelligence may continue to upend best practices for search engine optimisation in the future.

The relationship between artificial intelligence and search engines

 

We all know AI is here to stay. It has impacted nearly every aspect of online behaviour, especially search engines. Generative AI has now been integrated within Google and Bing, making it an active part of the search engine experience for users. With these changes, a shared worry is that crucial, reliable touchpoints, once integral to search journeys, may start to decrease in value and possibly disappear altogether.

Although the search experience may become much quicker for users, clicking SERP results and interacting with web pages could soon become outdated. Instead, artificial intelligence may deliver direct responses to queries in the search engines themselves, which may have significant implications for traditional SEO practices.

Alongside this, the integration of artificial intelligence in search engines does pose additional concerns related to truth online. Namely, how trustworthy and factually accurate is a piece of AI-generated content when compared to web content created by human SEO experts?

How much truth will matter in the search engine user experience

 

Google’s E-E-A-T update is going to change the way search bots view the trustworthiness of a piece of content. As noted by Google, in line with the E-E-A-T update:

Does [the] content … demonstrate that it was produced with some degree of experience, such as with actual use of a product, having actually visited a place or communicating what a person experienced? There are some situations where really what you value most is content produced by someone who has first-hand, life experience on the topic at hand.

As Google called out here, identifying the author of a piece of content an expert and using high-ranking keywords is no longer enough to ensure the trustworthiness of the material. Instead, SEO specialists and content creators need to prove expertise, ideally through first-hand experience which, in turn, will create authoritativeness and trustworthiness surrounding a piece of content.

 

 

 

 

Google elaborates on this further by saying:

If, for example you’re looking for information on how to correctly fill out your tax returns, that’s probably a situation where you want to see content produced by an expert in the field of accounting. But if you’re looking for reviews of a tax preparation software, you might be looking for a different kind of information—maybe it’s a forum discussion from people who have experience with different services.

What all this means is that SEO and content experts need to work even harder to create meaningful content, which is relevant and within the top SERP results to users throughout the search journey. This is especially important now that artificial intelligence is becoming embedded in the search journey. Digital marketers need to make sure that users actively engage with webpages, rather than remaining on the SERP page and only referring to AI-generated results.

The trustworthiness of content created by artificial intelligence, at least at this moment in history, is questionable at best. AI does not answer questions through a process of independent thinking. Instead, much like search bots crawling a website to rank authority and relevance surrounding a webpage, AI collects insights from high-ranking content to deliver answers to user queries, leading to an interesting quandary.

Firstly, SEO experts want their content to generate highly ranked results by adhering to the E-E-A-T framework, generating organic traffic, and relying less on AI. But, on the flip side, their trustworthy pieces of content inform the results artificial intelligence present to users, possibly circumventing the value of the author and raising the value of the machine. The best way to ensure visibility for a new piece of content is the strength of the piece. When your content is trustworthy and directly answers a user’s query, based on E-E-A-T principles, the advent of AI won’t lessen its impact, rather change its presentation.

New platforms that will support the search journey

 

Along with Generative AI, visual media will have a significant part to play in how search engines present their content. Platforms not previously viewed as part of the organic search makeup will soon be highly valued.

Through TikTok and Instagram’s growing popularity, users have begun to gravitate toward influencers, experts, and trusted publishers to aid their search journey experience and decision-making online. YouTube videos will become a core part of search engine results, as will Amazon search results.

Therefore, it is essential that your SEO builds connections with these platforms to ensure your approach incorporates every stage of the search journey.

What can users expect in the next evolution of the search journey?

 

We are in an inflection point where content, truth, and AI are all coming together to significantly change the SEO of the future. Initially, digital marketers were worried about the integration of AI within search journeys and how it may upset understood assumptions of the industry.

Previous ways to rank well in SEO, such as informational content like guides, blog posts and pillar pages, are not as relevant as they once were. Plus, the removal of ‘how-to’ and FAQ results on desktop and mobile devices by Google means a reliable element in search engine rankings has been taken away from organic search. So, alternative methods to rank well need to be discovered.

ChatGPT and Bard are already generating answers to user’s queries. As discussed earlier, generative AI only works successfully for users when it has a stream of regular and authoritative content to repackage. Otherwise, responses to users’ questions may come from the wrong perspective or, worse, be flat out incorrect.

As the industry changes, creators should aim to create content that appears at the top of search rankings and is high-quality enough to be incorporated as responses within AI tools. AI will not remove the truthfulness found in content results, rather enhancing and streamlining certain elements of the search experience so users can gain the answers to their queries even more effectively.

Artificial intelligence is here to stay, and its impact on new user experiences is already evident. SEO experts must embrace AI to forge full-funnel search paths, which are critical to building compelling user experiences. SEO and other digital channels can no longer exist in isolation. Instead, SEO experts need to align strategically with creative, social, and influencer teams for brands to succeed, and all need to consider how to make the most effective use of AI.

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