AI’s impact on traditional search and SEO is twofold. First off, ChatGPT makes it easier than ever to create content, which means that we’re flooding an already saturated space with more and more written content, much of which is almost identical to everything else out there.
While this is new, the idea of content saturation is not.
Generative search is different from a traditional search engine. Rather than returning links to ads and pages, it generates an answer to your question, summarizing based on the data it can access and has been trained on.
Generative search: What is it?
Traditional search engines crawl the internet and use algorithms to serve up links (and snippets) to the best content related to keywords in the search query.
While that’s pretty common knowledge, we have to admit the obvious here. We don’t really know exactly how search engines work. For decades, there’s been a lot of conjecture, estimation, hearsay, and rumor about search engine optimization — some from experts and some from charlatans.
We know even less about how AI works.
In simple terms, generative search is an information resource that provides a unique response to every user question. These are powered by large language models that use advanced computing to predict the most useful answer to a given question.
But we don’t know exactly how a tool like ChatGPT evaluates Source 1 compared to Source 2 compared to Source 23,691.
We also don’t know how generative search results will incorporate paid content or links to source material. And these are huge questions.
Even so, this is not a time to just hope and pray that the LLMs find our websites. Here's my advice for marketers and strategists out there.
How businesses get found in generative search
At this point, we don’t really know how generative search finds and serves answers. Heck, even top AI scientists don’t totally understand how it works.
Considering this playing field, you should remember why you’re producing content in the first place.
If you’re producing content that’s fluffy, clickbaity, or too self-promotional, Google has been trying to diminish your returns for years — and it’s likely generative search won’t promote your brand either.
In the early days of content marketing, analytics were simple. Traffic turned into leads, leads turned into sales. With form fills and cookie tracking, you could trace a visitor’s journey across your site and into your sales pipeline. You could choose an attribution model to prove how much your content was helping your bottom line.
A marketing trainer recently told me that for her clients, less than half of all contacts have opted in to cookie tracking. At the same time, we’ve come to understand that buying journeys are anything but linear.
With marketing analytics more complex than ever before, how do we track an audience using generative search or chatbots?
Stitching together the full picture
I advise my clients to stitch together the full picture from a variety of sources.
Reviewing data in different platforms, such as Google Analytics 4, Google Search Console, HubSpot (or your marketing tool of choice), SEMRush, and other tools to help gauge differences and nuances in the data.
This can help you better understand the full picture that’s happening, for the tools may track metrics differently. This will give you the best visibility into what is happening for your user journey — especially as more and more of these tools add AI elements to help improve efficiencies, recommendations, and performance.
Be ready for a wild ride
One constant in digital marketing is change. Every few months there are new tools, new algorithm updates, new social platforms, new analytics features, and new research.
The other constant in digital marketing is stability. As the ground shifts beneath our feet, the companies that hold true to their principles are the ones that stay on course.
Keep one eye on what’s trending. Read everything you can. Experiment with new tools. Listen to experts.
At the same time, don’t get distracted by the shiny objects. Beware charlatans offering AI expertise that seems flimsy or too good to be true.
Remember why you produce content in the first place: It’s for your customers. Help them understand their problems. Help them understand the marketplace. Help them the way you’d want to be helped if you were in their shoes.
When those are your guiding principles, you’ll rarely find yourself off course.
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