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The Future of Search: AI's Impact on SEO


Hello everyone. We are here today to cover a subject that's dear to our hearts, and it's coming up daily at Marcel Digital. And that is around the way search is changing, in particular, the way AI is starting to impact the world of search. So we've got Joe Stoffel here, who's our director of SEO at Marcel, and we've put together a few questions that we are kind of seeing quite commonly, and to try and kind of help everyone understand what we are seeing and what we are doing to kind of adapt to this new world. So Joe, just to kick us off, you know, can you just explain some of these terms? AEO, SG, just explain the common terms here, what they are, what are not sure.

Absolutely. So, at this point, there's a lot of new terminology coming out, but there are three main ones that you're going to hear about pretty frequently at this point. You hit on the first one, which is AEO, which stands for Answer Engine Optimization. Now, the reality is, this is a practice and a term that's, frankly, existed for years now, as SEOs have been optimizing for Featured Snippets, instant answers. That is a form of AEO. So now, obviously, it's getting quite a resurgence. So AEO, very important one to know and will probably continue to be growing in its importance. Now, the other one you're probably going to hear is LLM, so Large Language Models, essentially the AI tool that's going out there and ingesting volumes and volumes of content text and understanding the different processes of the patterns of this text so that it can understand inputs and essentially return a thoughtful prompt something of a string of texts that makes sense. And the other one, the big one that, you know, we are keeping an eye on all these, but the big one for us is Search Generator Experience, the SGE. And this is Google's initiative to incorporate AI technology along with LLMs to go ahead and provide information and answers, comprehensive answers, to users right there in search results, effectively keeping you on

And then where are you seeing the kind of main impact of SGE today?

So, in terms of where we're noticing SGE, I would say this is not an experience that's rolled out for everybody, but you can opt into this experience. And so for anyone that's opted into this experience, it is definitely impacting and changing their search experience right now. A resource came out from a company called Authoritas, apologies if I got your name wrong, but publishing information where they found that once you're actually in with this SG experience that in 87% of searches there's some sort of search generative element on the page. And so this is pushing down a lot of your traditional results, your Featured Snippets, your traditional 10 Blue Links on a page, your map packs, all that sort of stuff. So I think at the very beginning for the opt-in users, that's a major change that they are starting to experience.

That's, I mean, that's very interesting, and I mean I've also even noticed the way it, like depending on the search, it seems like sometimes SG appears above paid results, sometimes appears below, which I think is quite interesting when you think, okay, you get some quasi-organic results now appearing above paid in certain searches and things like that. Obviously, Google's testing all this out, and I'm sure it will finalize it before it rolls out in a final form. I do think the kind of various ways it appears is quite interesting.

It is, and that's actually interesting you point that out. This is something I've been noticing lately where I think with Google what they seem to be doing, again, there's a lot of experimentation going on, this thing is not ready to go, it's not good to go for prime time, but what I've started noticing is the placement of paid search ads seems to align to user intent based on is this query informational or transactional. So as a basic example, I was doing searches for SEO agencies in Chicago, again, that's a very transactional term. Google's like, "I want that money," I'm going to return your paid search listings at the very top. Now, I can tailor to a more informational query that still produces search ads. And I think the query I was doing, like, "What are the biggest SEO agencies?" where there are still four paid search results showing up, but now those are deprioritized under the search generative experience. So it almost seems like Google is adapting to what is the actual user intent behind the query, not just, "Hey, are there paid search ads being returned?".

That's, I mean, that is fascinating. You know, we're talking about SG because of Google, which, you know, market share, but obviously, Microsoft and its part ownership of ChatGPT and then Bing, what are we seeing from a Microsoft/Bing perspective?

Yeah, great question. And so, Microsoft is continuing to invest in AI. They see this being a long-term commitment, they see this being the future. But Microsoft was also one of the first people to incorporate AI into their actual search product. Remember that earlier in 2023? And so, a lot of people were claiming, like, this is going to steal a bunch of market share from Google, this is going to make Bing the front runner in search engines, and that, frankly, just has not happened. We are not seeing a notable change in the actual market share. Google still the dominant force. You know, I think there's a little bit of, like, hype versus reality where everyone rushed, like, "Hey, let's check it out, let's see what these look like," and then they got a feel for it, and then we found a lot of people going back and defaulting back to Google. Now, is that going to stay that way forever? We shall see. But, I think a lot of that initial hype that we heard kind of died off, and when Google rolls out their experience to everyone, I wouldn't be surprised if there's like a similar behavior when Google is introducing this to the rest of the world.

Well, okay, that makes sense. And then what are some of your hypotheses for the future of answer engine optimization and maybe SGE specifically?

So I'll avoid any sort of Skynet Terminator references, but, you know, what this is going to do is something that's been happening frankly for in search for years now, and it's going to continue to make search more conversational. It's going to be further getting away from those two keyword phrases that people are searching. It's going to be more specific, more longtail. I think that's something that we're going to continue to see. And I think this is also potentially going to help generate more use in voice search and assistance, where I think that had a lot of buzz, you know, a while back, and I don't think it ever really got to where people thought it would, but maybe this sort of advancement, the incorporation of AI and this new learned user behavior brings that back, just causes people to search and interact with more of these voice results in a more conversational tone.

Okay, well, I mean, I feel like we've covered a decent chunk of this. Obviously, it's a bit of a moving feast of a conversation, and, you know, at Marcel, we are continuing to stay at the forefront of what's happening. So, you know, if you guys have any questions, then please let us know. We'd love to talk about this, and we'll continue to produce content around this topic to keep people up to date with what we understand. So, thank you.

Stay tuned till next time.

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