It is pretty much impossible to have any sort of discussion about technology these days without artificial intelligence (AI) putting in an appearance.
It seems that pretty much every problem the world has ever faced is solved by AI. Whilst there can be no doubt that a lot of the noise is nothing more than marketing guff, I must doff my hat at how intelligent some of this artificial intelligence can be. Open AI’s ChatGPT, in particular, has been attracting a lot of attention in recent months and Vic did a great job of considering whether its explosive growth, and curious brilliance, signals the death of the marketer at the end of last year.
This week saw a new, but not unexpected, player in the Game as Google officially announced the arrival of Bard:
Bard is an experimental conversational AI service, powered by LaMDA. Built using our large language models and drawing on information from the web, it’s a launchpad for curiosity and can help simplify complex topics ? https://t.co/fSp531xKy3 pic.twitter.com/JecHXVmt8l
— Google (@Google) February 6, 2023
Sundar Pichai’s post starts with a pretty robust statement about the importance of AI to Google – “AI is the most profound technology we are working on today.” They have, of course, been working on various iterations of AI-based technology for several years but we should not ignore the importance of this statement, nor what it may mean for the future of SEO.
I think it is fair to say that the markets also recognise the AI race that the search behemoth is in as $144bn was wiped off Alphabet’s market value when Bard failed to get some basic facts about the James Webb Space Telescope right in a demonstration of its brilliance. Ouch.
It is Thursday evening, I am enjoying a pint and some pork scratchings in a pub (hence the title of this post, although I am really just trying to confuse the bots!) and am not going to try to understand the ramifications of a factual inaccuracy for a stock valuation, but I cannot help reflect on the implications of Bard for SEO.
Judging by some of the screenshots that have been released, the introduction of Bard to Google’s search results could give birth to a form of super rich snippet:
I think that most would agree that this is a fairly helpful insight into the age old piano v guitar question and Bard has done a good job of analysing several sources to come up with this content. A win for the user, but there is no attribution of the source of the information and there is no need for the user to leave the SERPs to find out more, so it will have a negative impact on web traffic.
The risk of losing traffic has been true for rich snippets for some time, but at least you benefit from the brand exposure if your site is used as the authority and I would expect a link to further information to be very tempting for the majority of users, so the dent to traffic is somewhat limited.
Some SEO bods are starting to talk about ‘answer engine optimisation’ (AEO) as all the conversational AI platforms are based on the ‘search’ being initiated by a question. I think it is too early to really understand the implications for on-page optimisation. A safe bet would be to ensure that you are answering questions in your content, but the lack of attribution and the fact that Bard, like ChatGPT, is assimilating data from a number of sources in order to become the oracle. I would not expect large chunks of any single web page to be used in Bard’s content, but only time will tell. If that was the case, you would hope that there would be some form of attribution?
I am somewhat troubled by the existential threat to our ability to form our own opinion, based on detailed research, and there must be questions regarding the regulation of such a ridiculously powerful position that these platforms hold, but it is fascinating stuff and extremely potent for conversational type searches.
Right now, I still feel that traditional SEO will be the most relevant for informed / lower in the funnel searches. The AI bots are well suited to top of funnel investigations, but I want to see actual web pages once I have a better picture of what I am looking for. I have no doubt, however, that AI will improve and it is very possible that the likes of Bard will start to promote specific content that it deems to be particularly relevant. Whilst that would mean that traffic is not being generated by ‘classic’ exposure in the SERPs, it should not prevent users finding your web content.
One to watch with interest. Right now, it is time to focus on the pint and porkies.