Will the Search Generative Experience Spell the End for SEO?


How many times have we witnessed the proclaimed “end of SEO”?

Seasoned SEO professionals remember the anti-spam efforts led by Matt Cutts, which, contrary to doomsday predictions, did not terminate the industry. We’ve been told “SEO is dead” during the reign of Google’s algorithms like Penguin and Panda. The phrase echoed again with the rise of content marketing around 2013, becoming a buzzword in every SEO’s vocabulary.

Source: Google Trends

The death sentence was announced once more when manual penalties led to a flood of reconsideration requests and disavow.txt files being submitted to Google. We’re still fine.

We were informed of SEO’s demise when the mantra “content is king” became prevalent. In practice, this heralded a flourishing of the industry and investments in so-called Topical Authority. SEO got closer to marketing instead of being purely technical domain.

Content marketing simply became another tool in the SEO toolkit, as merely writing blogs based on intuition was insufficient. Google rewarded well-planned content, necessitating the expertise of those skilled in search analysis, keyword research, information architecture, content distribution, etc. – in other words, SEO professionals.

Since then, the industry has seen significant growth. Of course, some agencies and specialists chose to pivot, for example, to social media marketing or more predictable Google Ads campaigns.

However, this certainly did not kill the industry! It merely opened a new chapter in its history.

Once again, we heard “SEO is dead” when Bing announced its integration with ChatGPT. Colleagues frequently asked me – Szymon, do you think this is the end for us? 🙂 The expectation was that Bing would dethrone Google and subsequently eliminate the traditional search results format.

Source: statista.com

Yet, Google has only lost a small percentage of its global market share, still holding over 83%. In the United States, where the shift was expected to be most pronounced, Google’s market share is even higher at 87%:

Source: statcounter

Ok, let’s finally get to SGE

Now, we’re hearing that SEO will die because Google is introducing the Generative Search Experience, essentially its own version of ChatGPT for the search interface. What does this practically mean for the SEO industry?

Honestly, I’m not intimidated by this change. It’s undeniable that the Search Generative Experience is significant. It represents a kind of revolution in terms of the search interface and communication method itself. But will it kill SEO?

Opportunities for new content formats are emerging! Consider what Google and OpenAI have been working on for some time – multimodality. This applies to integrating subsequent GPT models with Codex and DALL-E, as well as replacing Google BARD with Gemini (now with 1M tokens context window).

Meanwhile, Google has been loudly announcing the implementation of multimodality into Search through MUM, but subsequent language models and other AI models (both analytical and generative) developed by DeepMind (a company specializing in AI acquired by Google in 2014), have led us to talk about at least a partially different infrastructure and philosophy of user experience and information dissemination.

So, who will be affected by GSE? Will the built-in chat in the search interface simply be a conversational model for providing information? Will it be a shortcut to accessing information from Wikipedia, publisher sites, data services, etc.? Yes and no.

On one hand, yes, because many sites derive traffic from informational queries, often living off ad views. These media will need to account for the biggest paradigm shift in their online presence. However, looking at the long term, data is currency, and will be protected.

Already, sites like Statista, Similarweb and others block access to their statistics; registration and payment are required to access most reports. Why would they feed their data to ChatGPT or Gemini? Without access to valuable, verified, and current data, these tools will not be able to dominate as universal sources of readily available knowledge.

Zero click searches

Another important aspect is that Google is already “stealing” traffic from publishers, authors, bloggers, etc., through featured snippets. Let’s not forget that since 2021, passage indexing has been in place, allowing Google to extract content snippets and serve them as answers in search results, regardless of the main topic targeted by a page.

In my opinion, the decrease in CTR due to changes in SERP layout, passage indexing, and featured snippets, as well as a shift towards mobile use, has impacted SEO more than other changes. But even this hasn’t meant that SEO is dead. We’ve simply adapted to these circumstances.

Impact on e-commerce

What about ecommerce? Voice assistants were supposed to kill SEO, but that hasn’t happened. Interfaces that allow deep diving into several parallel content formats for effective purchasing decisions don’t yet exist. In a browser, one can open multiple tabs, read discussions, view opinions, check product descriptions, and watch unboxing videos on YouTube – all activities that can leverage SEO.

This will undoubtedly evolve, but it will still need to rely on “searchability,” which must stem from some form of structured knowledge, whether it be lexical or semantic search based on NLP. This “feeding” cannot happen spontaneously; it’s not a matter of chance but of analysis, reverse engineering, and precise design.

Legal context

Let’s also remember that search engines like Google operate within legal frameworks. Consumer protection and competition laws (especially in Europe) will enforce a diversity of search results. We’ll need to have some influence over who appears in these results, at least to some extent.

My concerns?

Certainly, one challenge in adapting SEO to new, AI-enriched search results will be data access. Will we know where the chatbot pulls information from and which sites it recommends? Will this data be sufficient? Without data and an environment for observation, it will be very difficult to draw conclusions and perform precise optimization.

It will be hard to optimize for specific topics, so we’ll likely continue to optimize for topical authority, maintain crawl budgets, analyze intents, and provide answers to as many questions as possible – not just those searched for but also imagined. We will also continue to build authority, trust and relevancy through link building which is also AI-powered nowadays.

This is where AI’s other side, LLMs in service of SEO, will come in, generating both questions and answers. The challenge will be in fact-checking, building brand trust, and not just content creation and audience reach. As long as we can reach with our content to our target group – SEO is alive.

Similarities do Discover

The lack of data in SGE won’t be Google’s first step towards personalizing experiences and delivering content in unconventional ways. Look at what’s happening with Google Discover. It’s hard to optimize for it unless you’re an industry giant producing dozens of articles on a topic. However, recent months have shown many hiccups and anomalies in GD, indicating the value of caring for evergreen content, indexing, authority distribution, and other classic SEO aspects.

And still, while Google Discover can have a huge impact on publisher’s websites, it didnt’ kill SEO. It modified it.

True disruption

What has a more significant impact on changing the digital landscape in the world of search engines? UX and behavioral data.

See how user signals can upend popular industries during updates. Technical SEO, information architecture, content targeting the right phrases, link building – all these remain essential elements of effective SEO. Yet, without validation in the form of user data, it might turn out that all this is no longer sufficient or profitable. Add the role of brand and other traffic channels to the mix. We’re returning to marketing fundamentals: trust, reach, recognition, relationship maintenance, and building loyalty – these have become key SEO elements. Google couldn’t assess these through available metrics before. Now, it can – by directly observing user behavior patterns and utilizing modern solutions like machine learning and neural networks.

The new era of SEO

Again, is this the end of SEO? I doubt it. Personally, I see this as an opportunity for growth and another step in our industry’s evolution towards the user. Let’s not forget, all our work, technical as it might be, ultimately boils down to connecting supply and demand, the asker and the responder, the consumer and the seller – at various stages of the customer journey.

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