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Certain factions of the SEO community are up in arms lately since the public launch of AI chatbot ChatGPT over concerns that SEO might be dead.
Now, just for the record, it isn’t the first time SEO has been said to be dead. I don’t even think it’s the hundredth. Every time Google makes a major change to its search engine, this question starts hitting the trade headlines all over again.
So what’s different now?
Well… a lot. This time it’s not about Google. This time it’s about a brand new technology: Chat GPT.
If you don’t know what that is, Chat GPT is an AI ChatBot. It’s a computer program that you can talk to like a person. It knows almost everything and it can give you faster answers to a lot of things than a Google search would. Additionally, it can do things like fix programming code and answer questions that Google wouldn’t be able to. It does appear to be genuinely intelligent.
This technology is called generative AI and it’s likely to unseat Google as the first place to go for certain types of queries.
How does this impact on SEO?
Well, it makes sense that if you can ask a chatbot a question and get a direct answer, you have no need to go to Google and ask the question, be referred to a web page and trawl through it to find the answer. You just don’t need to. So searching for information on Google is likely to become a lot less popular in the coming years.
So, many of the 600 million blogs across the globe that have been monetised only by showing display ads like those offered by Google Adsense, are likely to be in trouble. Because without free traffic referred by Google’s organic search results, these blogs aren’t likely to make much or any money.
For now, I think that’s likely to be the vast majority of the change. A lot less blogging for cash. And a fundamental change in the way people use technology to solve their problems.
In years gone by, Google Search was most people’s first port of call for literally any type of online query and that situation has changed. People now have multiple choices depending on the type of query they have, and Chat GPT appears to be just another possible option. There are some things it will be better suited to than Google Search and other things it simply won’t. And this isn’t necessarily the stark change some people think it is.
Google has reported that in recent years they’ve noticed other major web properties such as Instagram eating into the market share of their core product. It seems that Gen Z go shopping on Instagram while millennials like me would much prefer to use Google to find somewhere to buy a product or service.
The next major shift now, will, it seems, be a change in the way people search for answers to questions. Google is no longer the best possible technology to help them find answers.
But, let’s face it – Google hasn’t been particularly good at this for a while. And all of those websites out there that people ended up on, trying to find the answers to their questions, were never the best place to find that information either.
Because if you’re a blogger or some other type of content publisher, your objective is to get free organic traffic from Google search and other search engines, and then redirect it to an advertiser, for a small fee, when all your reader really wanted to do was find the answer to a question. In that regard, your goal and your visitor’s goal were not the same. As the publisher, you didn’t actually care if they found the answer. In fact, it might be better for you if they didn’t and there was equally no incentive for you to write content that anybody really wanted to read. Because once they were on your website, your goal was to get them to click one of your ads and leave. Good riveting content was actually counter-productive. This never seemed like a good business model to me.
So while bloggers may now be complaining that they’re losing traffic, the situation for users is actually getting better. Did any of us ever want to have to to trawl through lines of text between ads to try to find the information we wanted? I think not.
So Is SEO Dead?
I don’t think so. Google Search will remain the best option for a lot of types of online queries. And, it’s possible it will remain the most accessible option for all kinds of online queries.
Let me explain.
While we’ve established that Chat GPT is better at certain types of queries than Google is, how does Chat GPT benefit from that? Currently it doesn’t. It’s free.
Sooner or later, they’ll make an attempt to monetise it, though what that might look like, I’m not currently sure. I feel like ads would damage the core product. And a subscription (which I think has already been announced for business users) will deter a lot of people when Google is free.
If they decide to charge for it, which currently seems like the only possibility if they don’t serve ads, even though it’s better at some things than Google, Google will remain more accessible.
So SEO will continue to work for queries where Google Search remains the best technology to use. And it could be that it continues to work for bloggers in the longer run, if it turns out that Google remains the most accessible technology to use.
In other words, until we know the long term plans of OpenAI, it’s hard to say what the impact will be. But we can say that SEO is not dead.
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