ChatGPT is making a splash across the country for its ability to provide detailed, quick responses to user prompts. As its creator OpenAI states on its webpage, ChatGPT “interacts in a conversational way” and can “answer follow-up questions, admit its mistakes, challenge incorrect premises, and reject inappropriate requests.”
ChatGPT has generated a lot of buzz for a few reasons. First, it’s free and accessible – anyone can use the tool to accomplish a variety of tasks, from acing a coding interview to bringing the heat in a rap battle. Second, OpenAI was co-created by Elon Musk. Third, many of its outputs are actually quite good (though, as with any automation, you should always check for factual accuracy and potential bias when using this tool). This has translated to an average of 13 million unique visitors a day, per a recent UBS study reported through CBS News.
Search marketers’ interests were understandably piqued by reports of Microsoft integrating ChatGPT’s AI tech into its Bing search engine soon. Then came the sequential announcements by Google and Bing to bring the AI chat experience to the masses through their direct owned and operated environments. The company’s CEOs personally covered these announcements, highlighting the magnitude of these changes. Let’s dig into the potential impact of ChatGPT on search and how you can adapt accordingly.
What is ChatGPT’s Overall Impact on Search?
The bottom line: the potential for impact is there, but it's not time to adjust SEO and SEM strategies just yet. For many typical search behaviors, ChatGPT or similar AI chatbot functionality does not provide much incremental benefit. Someone looking for directions to a restaurant or shopping for a new pair of sneakers won’t necessarily get what they need from a chatbot versus a search engine. The searches most likely to be impacted are those in the upper funnel, where the user is seeking informational or research content. Generative AI adds value for these types of searches by giving the user a robust answer that doesn’t require clicking on multiple links. Wider adoption of chatbot AI for these types of searches would likely impact traffic to organic listings.
However, we’ll have to wait and see to what degree user behavior actually changes. Remember when voice search was going to be the next big thing? It never lived up to its potential because it didn’t create a great experience for users. In order for generative AI to change the game, consumers will need to feel they can trust it, and the experience will need to be seamless. There are a lot of tech and accuracy issues that need to be ironed out before adoption becomes more impactful.
What are Google and Bing Doing With Generative AI?
Google has already incorporated years of AI advancements into their algorithms to better serve people coming to their domain. However, both they and Microsoft are making new moves to add generative AI to their search experiences. Bing is beta testing integrating (a more fact-checked) ChatGPT into search. Google is working on introducing their own chat functionality within search, Bard, based on their existing LaMBDA language models. These changes are actively being beta tested and are already facing challenges with accuracy.
An example of what chat integration into search might look like can be seen on you.com – a search engine aimed at combining an AI chatbot with search results. Microsoft’s Head of Advertising tipped his hand to the same potential, when he stated that Bing “…expects to see greater volumes…,” asking search marketers to prepare for incremental traffic to the site. Our understanding, at this time, is that any responses will contain links to appropriate sources.
Microsoft has a unique chance to gain market share if they can entice users through integrating machine learning into their suite of products, bringing search into our technologies. This may even attract a niche set of users to switch from Google to Bing for a combined experience.
What are the Immediate Impacts of ChatGPT on Search?
The most significant immediate impact of OpenAI’s products will live outside of search, where the AI is effectively aiding the user as an assistant. Rather than simply fulfilling a search need, it's about helping the user spark new thinking and ideas. It’s more about doing and prompting versus answering. OpenAI will be more helpful as an assistant completing tasks and generating useful ideas and prompts. In the short term, it won’t be as valuable for replacing the vast majority of behaviors that begin on a search engine.
The immediate impacts from ChatGPT (or any generative machine learning model, for that matter) include:
1) A shift in market share: If Microsoft capitalizes on the moment, they could gain a select segment of searchers. There could be an overall reduction in searches on Google if users start turning to Bing or leveraging inline within Microsoft suite products for certain need states, which could lead to a decline in Google’s ad revenue.
2) Speedier content creation: Marketers can leverage ChatGPT to ‘jumpstart’ routine SEM tasks such as creating ad copy, generating new keyword ideas, and writing Google Ads scripts.
For SEO, this tool can help writers with content – a critical area for connecting with users in a meaningful, indexable way. It can help clarify a brief and present a quick, terse proposal that is a coherent jumping off point for content writers. Ideally, this tool is going to help major companies shorten their draft time significantly. Editing, validating, and refining content will become an even more critical skillset.
That said, it’s important to note that copying and pasting from ChatGPT would be considered spam or black hat, and would open brands to manual penalty. It also runs the risk of plagiarism for writers across the web and the AI content itself (colloquially called AIagiarism). Generative models are also prone to misinformation and biases. So, using as a tool and not a source is critical.
3) More conversational search: Improvements in machine learning offer a deeper potential for search being more conversational. Ask ChatGPT advice and it returns a generic response. Sure, it makes up information sometimes and it may perfectly reflect an expert’s response, but it offers coherence. We’re so excited to see how Bing will use ChatGPT. We’re hopeful they’ll enhance ChatGPT to include suggested source references and links to websites.
4) Increased Importance of E-E-A-T: Experience, Expertise, Authority, and Trust are cornerstones of Google’s quality rating guidelines for SEO. These are the pillars of what makes Google the top search engine. ChatGPT is not at a point where it can validate information or constantly retrain against incoming information concurrently (it can’t process current events at the speed at which they’re generated). This means that search engines will likely double down on their key advantages.
5) Structured Data Enhancements: There will likely be some form of structured data to support engines leveraging generational models with enabling features, updating data faster, and validating information.
What Should You Do Now to Take Advantage of ChatGPT in Search?
For marketers, as you walk through your day-to-day, think about the tasks where you need inspiration or a kickstart. Looking to update some tired headlines in your text ads? Wondering how to frame language on a new category page? Play around with ChatGPT to see if it can spark some new ideas or cut down on the amount of time you spend with a particular task.
It's not time yet to adjust SEO or SEM strategies. Keep a close eye on future announcements from the engines regarding new updates to their generative AI integration, and use your own data to understand whether user behavior is actually shifting. It’s also important to recognize that if behaviors do shift, it won’t be universal across audiences. A brand targeting Gen Z consumers is more likely to see rapid adoption than one with a large Baby Boomer customer base.
ChatGPT, and generative AI more broadly, is an exciting tool that can create efficiencies and spark ideas. It has tons of potential to change the way that people seek out information. Before that can happen, the engines need to address some significant challenges and users will need a reason to buy in and rewire their behavior. We’re excited to see how things progress as Google and Bing fine-tune their approaches to generative AI in search.