Mary Liversidge

AI is a hot topic in the SEO world right now, with Google announcing the imminent release of their ChatGPT rival – Google Bard – in February, and Microsoft Bing now including AI-generated responses in their search results.

Whether you’re excited or concerned by the AI advancements in marketing, a lot is changing – and we’re here to discuss what AI tools like ChatGPT and Google Bard mean for SEO and search behaviour.

We'll examine the latest AI-powered tools and techniques that are shaping the future of search, and discuss how you can leverage these advancements to stay ahead of the curve.

Table of contents

ChatGPT, Google Bard, Microsoft Bing Chatbot: What are they?

What is ChatGPT?

The discourse around the role of AI within marketing exploded with the release of ChatGPT in November 2022. In short, ChatGPT is a language processing model open to the public that allows users to ask prompts – and receive replies in a human-like tone, providing anything from content to code.

It works by scouring internet content from 2021 and before to encode and decode information to respond to your prompt.

Its impressive human-like tone and ability to provide detailed information instantly became a talking point for marketers around its place in content creation and SEO tasks such as keyword research.

What is Google Bard?

Months after ChatGPT’s release, Google announced the release of their own language processor, Bard, to the public in February.

Bard is an ‘experimental conversational AI service, powered by LaMDA’, and like ChatGPT, it draws on information from across the internet to provide ‘fresh, high-quality responses’.

Unlike ChatGPT, however, Bard will crawl more recent content – 2021 and after.

Its purpose, according to Google, is to simplify complex topics, and they have stated that more of their AI advancements like Bard will be introduced into their products, starting with Search.

What is Microsoft Bing’s AI-powered Chatbot?

Having invested $10 billion into OpenAI – the company responsible for ChatGPT – Microsoft also announced the introduction of AI into their Bing search results in February.

Users can ask all kinds of queries, such as recipes and travel advice, and the search results will include detailed responses from its AI results. Like Google Bard, the responses also appear to draw from more recent, post-2021 content.

How is AI being used in SEO?

It’s firstly important to note that AI has been used in SEO and by search engines for years in a background capacity. Google’s BERT and MUM language processors have provided detailed and synthesised understanding of information in their search results since 2019 – facilitating a variety of Google SERPs features including Predictive Search, People Also Ask, Video carousel, and Best Answers. AI has also been incorporated into GA4 with machine learning, and in fact Google’s use of AI dates way back to 2008.

The difference now is that the advanced language capabilities of AI tools such as ChatGPT are open to the public, and users are able to use them for a wide variety of marketing activities, particularly relating to keyword research, meta description generation, content planning and even creation, although SEOs are clear that copy-and-pasted content from ChatGPT should be avoided.

Likewise, the introduction of AI-generated responses in search results also posits questions around search behaviour and the way SEO will change.

How is AI changing search behaviour?

The introduction of AI tools like ChatGPT and Bard to search engines such as Microsoft Bing and Google is an ongoing process which will have a subsequent impact on the way users interact with search.

Here are some predictions for how search behaviour will adjust to accommodate these changes.

1. The potential for more zero-click searches

With the introduction of detailed AI-generated responses in search results many have raised the concern that the comprehensive, personalised results could lead to more zero-click searches.

The same concerns arose with Google’s SERPs features such as featured snippets and knowledge graphs back in 2012. Those searching for one-answer results would often not click through – unless they required more information.

With Microsoft Bing’s Chatbot producing a whole 3-course meal-plan in line with dietary requirements in a matter of seconds, there are fears that zero-click searches will become more prevalent.

2. Clicks become more engaged

The flipside of point 1 is that with more zero-click searches – and fewer informational clicks, the clicks that do result from organic results are much more engaged and more likely to be in search of services or products – i.e. in the transactional stage of their search.

As a result, the opportunity presented by AI technology could increase quality organic traffic.

3. More conversational search queries

In the early days of search, detailed queries would rarely generate many results. The lexical system that search engines operated on would simply match keywords to content keywords, so the longer the query, the less likely search engines could retrieve content based on all the keywords provided. More information about lexical and semantic search can be found here.

Now, with AI search features like Bing, and natural language processing which is already used on voice search tools, search engines can understand the context of longtail queries.

This means searches are becoming more detailed, more conversational, and this can be reflected in content via subheadings.

For example, instead of a search for ‘Energy saving boilers’, users can search ‘What are the best boilers to save energy in a large house’.

4. Search behaviour is more targeted

Due to the level of detail users can search for and receive information on, and new features such as ‘refine my search’ – search behaviour will be much more attuned to users’ needs and queries.

For example, instead of ‘romantic holiday locations’– which would retrieve a collection of generic top-performing content, users can search for ‘I’m planning an anniversary holiday for my partner, what are the most romantic locations that take less than 4 hours to fly from Heathrow?’.

Not only is this great news for users – who can receive personalised, helpful responses, but their searches are more likely to generate niche content that they may not have otherwise found. Meaning the opportunity for websites with specific offerings are more likely to be found by their ideal customers.

5. More advice-based searches

Users are inundated with information, products, and service options. As a result, a large portion of time is spent evaluating the relevancy of products/services against their own needs.

There’s a reason Google released several ‘Reviews updates’ in 2022 – users want detailed evaluations of products and services to support with their decision making. And these decisions require time, effort, and the users’ own deductive reasoning – something which search engines could provide limited support with until now.

With detailed semantic search and AI-generated responses tailored to the searchers’ own context and queries – search behaviour will likely lean towards queries that explicitly ask the relevancy of a topic, product, or service against their own needs.

For example, instead of ‘best sports watches’, users can ask ‘which sports watch should I purchase as a runner in cold and wet conditions’ – and AI-generated responses will do the groundwork for them.

How will AI change search engine optimisation (SEO)

With changes to search behaviour comes changes to SEO, and the presence of AI in both search engines and in marketing teams means optimising your website for SEO will need to adapt. Here’s what to know.

1. Longform, detailed content is more important than ever

With AI providing powerful language and context processing capabilities, longform content is more important than ever. Content needs to address customers’ specific problems and address them comprehensively – beyond simply keyword stuffing or superficially addressing a topic.

Detail is important here – and the advancements in AI means including nuanced information that users are looking for will be important moving forward.

Working hand in hand with AI, SEOs can boost their content by evaluating the conversational search behaviour and creating content that answers these queries comprehensively.

Content also needs to consider both informational stages and commercial intent – so as to lead users down the buying funnel.

2. Opportunity for unique thought

With AI tools like ChatGPT and Google Bard pulling responses from existing information on the web – there are fears that the prevalence of content generation through these tools will eventually result in a diluted pool of content.

Whilst it’s unlikely that our content output will catch up to - and dilute - the breadth of information on the internet in our lifetime, testing of the ChatGPT does show a need for human intervention and added detail that the tool simply can’t provide.

The increased use of these tools for content generation combined with Google’s explicit warning in its Helpful Content update that writers should avoid ‘summarizing what others have to say without adding much value’, indicates that unique thought is important moving forward.

This means producing content in line with Google’s E-A-T signals, and infusing content with personal and original expertise, experience, and nuance will be essential to building your SEO performance.

3. Streamlined SEO processes

The speed at which users can retrieve information from AI tools such as ChatGPT and Google Bard is a key selling point, and something which time-strapped SEOs will likely benefit from.

Pooling information from across the internet in a matter of seconds, ChatGPT can provide curated lists of popular keywords, frequently asked questions, content plans, popular topics and more.

SEOs are already using ChatGPT to support SEO activities such as keyword research, topic research, content research, and meta description generation.

How this will impact SEO in the long run is yet to be seen, but the timesaving element of AI could lead to better processes, and more time spent on perfecting other aspects of content such as personal expertise and research.

Final word

AI is an exciting and ever-developing field within marketing, and only time will tell how tools such as ChatGPT and Google Bard will impact SEO practices in the long run.

At its core, AI is the desire to improve user experience, and marketers should lead with this philosophy as they continue to evaluate the AI landscape.

If you’re concerned about the challenges that AI could present to your business, or if you want more information on the opportunities it could present to SEO and content marketing, contact TDMP today.