We’ve written before about AI text generators, specifically from the point of view of content marketing.
Now, however, these AI tools are being discussed as game changers for search.
We’re all about search. We know that having a beautiful website with compelling stories and urgent sales pitches does nothing if your target audience doesn’t see your website. And we also know that people won’t see your website nearly as much as you need them to if the search engines don’t suggest that they go and have a look. That is, you need to show up on the search results page for your website to do its job.
Now Bing is incorporating ChatGPT into its search engine on Edge, and Google has a new AI helper, Bard, which will be assisting searchers.
What does this mean for your website?
The big problem with AI search
Search engines already use artificial intelligence. It may feel as though Google employs someone who waits for your arrival and then, when you ask a question or suggest a topic, relies on her impressive knowledge of the internet to suggest the best websites to you. We’re sorry to burst that bubble, but that’s not actually how it works.
Instead, Google uses an algorithm to identify — automatically, not with human knowledge — web pages that might answer your questions.
It works very well. AI language generators are a little bit different. They don’t sift through the available sources. They use training materials to develop the ability to generate answers. These answers look much more like real human language than the older versions of these tools did, but they are just making an effort to look like human language. They base their choice of words on the statistical probability of a certain word coming up next. They aren’t at all bothered about whether what they say is true or not. Wired magazine explains this very well:
But the way the technology works is in some ways fundamentally at odds with the idea of a search engine that reliably retrieves information found online. There’s plenty of inaccurate information on the web already, but ChatGPT readily generates fresh falsehoods. Its underlying algorithms don’t draw directly from a database of facts or links but instead generate strings of words aimed to statistically resemble those seen in its training data, without regard for the truth.
We’ve found that tools like ChatGPT say things that are false just as often as they say things that are true. ChatGPT in particular told us that robots shear sheep faster than humans (they don’t), that Earth MRI is a medical procedure (it isn’t), and that hyenas are primarily scavengers (they aren’t). Google’s normal search function was able to provide accurate information on all these points.
ChatGPT has no problem just making things up.
There’s already plenty of false information on the web. It becomes obvious very quickly that AI chat tools cannot be trusted, so consumers won’t trust them. Just as your trustworthy information at your website gives you an advantage over websites that play fast and loose with the truth, you have an advantage over AI tools that play fast and loose with the truth.
The value of humans
Human beings are more likely to give you reliable information (even though we know that they don’t always). They’re also better at writing. We may be impressed by the fact that ChatGPT can put together words and sentences into something like human language. That doesn’t mean that we will actually want to read the stuff it generates. We are impressed when we see robots dance, but we also know that practically any human being can dance better than that. Just so, human answers to our questions are usually better than what the chat tools can come up with. We’re actually impressed by the human ingenuity that leads to the appearance of dancing or thinking.
This morning, I was getting tech support from a chatbot. I could tell that it was an AI tool. It was not able to give me a useful answer, so I asked it to put a human on. The human answered my question quickly and sensibly.
Now, we know that search engines are not humans. They can find information super fast and fairly reliably, just as a robot can put together paper cups super fast and fairly reliably. Robots can’t actually dance. And ChatGPT can’t give us an excellent customer experience.
Your website can and should give your visitors an excellent experience. If it does, it should continue to bring you new customers. But only if it can be found.
Back to search
Which brings us back to the question of search. If you have a lot of visitors coming to get your recipe for lasagna, you may already feel threatened. Not only can ChatGPT provide a fairly good recipe for lasagna, but Bing’s search engine, not to mention Pinterest, will already give searchers most of a recipe without their needing to click through to your website at all.
Searchengineland tells us that more than a quarter of Google searches end up as zero-click — that is, searchers get an answer without clicking on any web pages. We believe them.
Will chat search engines push that figure up so that prospective customers won’t need to click through to your page at all? And will that mean that they don’t end up buying your goods and services?
This is actually an unrealistic fear. Say you’re offering Da Vinci heart surgery. Your potential customer asks about local surgeons who use the DaVinci system and gets an answer from chat search.
Now what? Does your prospective patient feel satisfied and put away his phone? More likely, he looks for someone who can actually perform the surgery. We may lose some information seekers to chat AI, but your customers will still need your goods and services.
Actually, I tried out a question about who might offer specific medical services in my area. Here’s what ChatGPT told me:
Yes, there are several places in northwest Arkansas that offer vestibular rehabilitation. Some physical therapy clinics, rehabilitation centers, and hospitals offer this type of therapy. You can search online for “vestibular rehabilitation near me” and see what options are available in your area. I would also suggest calling several places to confirm they offer this service and to inquire about their experience and qualifications with vestibular rehabilitation.
Asked about products, ChatGPT also gave me some specific items to search for. ChatGPT might provide zero-click answers for basic queries — maybe with more accuracy as time goes on — but they’re not replacing actual providers of goods and services.
SEO changes quickly. We are certainly watching the current upheaval in search with interest and making sure that our clients’ strategies are still working well. We are seeing that Google is recommending a stronger reliance on ads as these changes take place. We’re paying attention to that, too.
However, SEO is still what makes your website show up in search. And human beings are still best at content marketing and thought leadership. Contact us to learn how your website can get better results.