The Future of Search

The Washington Post is warning that Google’s new AI search will slash website visits by 25%. The New York Times agrees. We’re not sure about that, but we do believe that the trend we’ve already reported on will continue: Google is working to keep people on the search engine results page rather than sending them to websites.

There are plenty of possible reasons for that. The convenience of getting quick answers instead of having to click back and forth may just be what consumers want. The fascination with AI might be enough to require the change. Rosie figures Google, like plenty of other platforms (including the Post and the NYT, is just ready to ask peop;e to pay for its services — in Google’s case, in the form of requiring ads from publishers who want their content to show up on the SERPs.

We already found that Google is devoting so much real estate on the SERPs to ads that you have to be in the top two or three results to be seen above the fold.  When AI answers provide summaries of what’s on the websites or quotes paragraphs of text, users may just not bother to click through at all.

Are Digital Ads Optional?

Does your website matter?

Short answer: yes, your website still matters. Google is still ranking websites and those AI answers have to come from somewhere. In fact, your website matters more when there are just a few spots visible in the SERPs.

But it may not matter in the same way.

We just searched for a basic health information query. Our client’s blog post is #2, right between the CDC and the American Heart Association, and that’s where we like to see it.

 

But when we asked it as a question, we got the “AI overview” as shown in he screenshot below:

We’re #3, and we can live with that, but look how much further down the page we are. Will searchers go that far, when they’ve already gotten the AI overview and a full paragraph from the CDC?

And this is an informational search, not goods or services that could be answered with blocks of ads. When we searched “exercise planner,” which could be a product or a service, we saw nothing but ads.

Below the ads we saw two organic results: Canva and Amazon, with Forums and Discussions in between and lots more ads afterwards. And that’s without the AI overview. A small company that makes an exercise planner? A government resource? We found those websites 50″ down the page. Who’s scrolling that far?

Where are you now?

We have long-term clients who’ve been producing high quality, frequent, original content for years. They rank #1 for thousands of queries. Google will still work for them as we planned, even though they may also find that they get less traffic. If you’re already showing up well for your essential keywords, keep up with regular, fresh, high quality content and enjoy the payoff for those months or years of hard work.

But what if you are a small, new business? Everyone starts at zero. How long will it take you to show up above the fold in organic search?

Certainly, it depends on your competition. If your competitors are not making the effort, you could still sail past them…but not past the AI overview and the ads. And if you’re going to be #8 rather than #1, organic search won’t help you as much as it would have a decade ago.

For some companies, especially local businesses that don’t already have a high quality website — and you might be surprised by how many there are — we’re thinking that a high-quality landing page for ads might be a better investment.

For those in the middle, we have some strategic suggestions.

Actions to take for the future of search

  • Make sure your website is as good as possible, with smooth navigation, current technology, and compelling content. You have fewer chances than before, and Google has more control than ever. SEO needs to be a priority, because the chances of someone stumbling across your website and exploring it are lower than they used to be.
  • Track your rankings rather than just your traffic. You may be getting conversions directly from the SERPS, without website visits.
  • Fit Google ads into your budget. If you don’t want to support Google’s trend toward requiring ads, head toward social media ads instead, but don’t rely entirely on organic search unless you are already in a strong position.
  • Optimize your website for ads and AI as well as human searchers.

What do you think? We know  that we’ve made some controversial claims here and we’re interested in your take on what we’re suggesting. Leave us a comment with your thoughts!


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