Well, what's life like, eh? Turbulence is coming, but any time of change can be as hard as it is exciting.
This issue of the AI explosion is a merry-go-round of intense emotions. Amidst so many stimuli, information and ups and downs, it really pays to sit still, get perspective and focus on identifying those stable elements that will help us steer acourse.
First I want to analyze the landscape from the point of view of websites and online traffic flow:
- The vast majority of websites have served for years, as Encarta once did, as information products.
- This functionality has helped them to attract audiences to their websites by providing value. Therefore, companies have invested in this and have been using it as an inbound strategy to gain visibility and as a source of traffic (although not always qualified, nor always effective).
Google, the noble giant, has enjoyed the whole pie, complacently and without concern. They have been able to devote themselves to offering almost free products to everyone (think Google, Gmail, Drive, Chrome, the Office suite, etc.).
All this it can afford, mainly because of its almost inexhaustible source of income; the ads in its search engine.
However, another actor with the capacity to transform has just appeared. AI, with ChatGPT (and now bing) as its standard bearer, is bursting in with a new way of discovering and consuming information, not only information, but knowledge. This knowledge already today has a higher quality than most of the superficial content found by searching on Google.
This new form of AI Assistant will certainly begin to take an increasing share of all these informational searches.
What might happen if 20%? of informational search traffic is diverted to the use of the AI Assistant?
The Noble Giant is going to get a tummy ache. That's for sure. But it would also call into question the value of the informative function that digital products (websites) have had and, be careful, it could shake the network of websites and companies that depend heavily on organic traffic.
A few questions come to mind:
- Should digital products focus on delivering value and content other than informational?
- How will the flow of online traffic evolve?
- How and how much will SEO change? What is the plan?
- Is there any safe value in the midst of uncertainty?
Well, let's humbly try to answer them all.
Digital products (web)
I feel that the content of opinion, more personal and human, is going to acquire a greater relevance with respect to a descriptive and merely informational content. This was already the case.
But then the showcase will no longer be Google with users' informational searches. Well, that may no longer be the showcase, but there will always be alternatives. After all, value is value. And, like water, it will eventually find its way to its place.
There are many other ways to attract traffic to websites. Our digital products will also need to offer a more complete experience for users to make use of them. This is a good thing.
Regarding SEO, I think the main focus should be on transactional searches. It is these searches that are unlikely to be replaced by AI suggestions. Our buying behaviors have never been strictly rational, nor will they ever be.
Transactional search has always delivered the most tangible and monetizable return for brands.
We now have wizards to help us generate information and content for those transactional pages. Research, design, visual communication and copywriting are reinforced in key positions.
In a more technical SEO sense, transactional page architecture and internal linking will be two even more important pillars of product design.
On the other hand, we will see how the value of SEM is progressing - will the bids for this transactional traffic be even stronger? there is a limit to everything. You have to be careful and make sure you are able to convert this traffic into customers with good returns. As always, but maybe more so now.
The sure value in the face of uncertainty
And now yes, this is my biggest bet.
For some time now, one factor has been the most relevant and that is the attraction and retention of online traffic. And very little is said about it. I've really only seen my dear Romuald Fons comment on it.
This value is the brand.
You see, in most of the projects we've worked on, the brand and branded terms related to it are the ones that bring in the most traffic and the highest quality traffic from Google.
Branded traffic has no competition. The CTR (logically) is huge, retention and user activity within the site are generally much higher than other traffic sources.
There is something that not many people know, the brand has been becoming one of the main positioning factors in Google. Because having a strong or recognized brand has many implications:
Google has been ranking sites more and more based, among other things, on the 'engagement' of their content with users. This 'engagement' does not always respond to the quality of the content, because if your brand is strong, the user will trust that information more. They will consume it more willingly, interact more with the page and will find it difficult to look for other alternatives.
Think about it, if you do an informational search on Google and a NYTimes article appears among other unknown media, which one are you going to click on? will you read the content with more interest? will you trust it more?
This will give enough signals to Google to rank it first, interpreting that it is the best content for users, although this is not necessarily the case.
How wonderful it must be to do SEO for the New York Times.
Think of another scenario: you are looking for a financial product, a personal loan. Among the options you find is BBVA, the others you don't know.
It would be the same. And we have had the chance to experience this with clients who have a strong brand in their sector. The influence is beastly.
But it also has implications for AIs when we ask about brands or products. Wherever they drink from, Nike would have to be doing very badly not to appear as a suggestion on sneakers.
It does it for branding, not necessarily for offering the best shoes. AIs can't (yet) put on a pair of sneakers to go out for a run and check it out.
I have done the test
I don't want to reveal his identity, but I have asked ChatGPT to make a recommendation related to the industry and activity of a client of ours who has a strong and well-known brand.
The 'bug' has mentioned your brand second in a list. And our client is not the one with the best positioning and visibility on Google (yet :) ).
I have heard and read countless definitions of the Brand concept. But, as a utilitarian matter, I'll stick with this one:
"Marketing is what people think of you before they buy from you, branding is what they think of you afterwards."
In any case, whoever wants to look for you, finds you. That is the greatest value of all.
Work on the brand, from the product, marketing and customer experience. You will increase the traffic that comes to your website because they are looking for you. And nothing has more return than that.