One year later: My search habits confirm the rise of AI assistants and the transforming future of SEO

One year after predicting how generative AI would transform search, my own search habits confirm a dramatic shift away from traditional engines and towards AI assistants.

(Full context: I wrote before about how Search engine optimization (SEO) might change with the advent of generative AI. In that post, I made an educated guess that generative AI may have the biggest impact on consumer search behavior in two main categories: informational search (medium/low accuracy) and commercial investigation search.)

1. Beyond traditional search engines: A personal shift to Generative AI

This is particularly true when my needs are highly specific and nuanced. Gone are my days of combing through numerous blogs or crowdsourcing opinions on social platforms. Instead, generative AI, notably chatGPT 4.0, has become my go-to for planning intricate road trips. By feeding specific details – from trip duration to daily travel preferences – chatGPT crafts bespoke itineraries that have revolutionized my travel planning.

  • In 2023 alone, I ventured on four uniquely tailored trips across various U.S. states and national parks, all meticulously planned by AI. While I do cross-check some finer points, the sheer customization offered by generative AI is unparalleled.

Of course, when I need a high degree of accuracy, I fact-check by going to the sources directly.

2. Commercial Research in the Era of AI

(A quick note in case you need it: commercial investigation keywords are used when a user is looking to make a purchase but is still in the research phase. They might be comparing products, looking for reviews, or seeking the best place to make their purchase. Examples could include “best DSLR cameras” or “iPhone vs. Samsung”.)

Given that both chatGPT and Google Bard now have an updated knowledge base and can surf the web as/when needed, I rely on them more and more for product/service research.

While ChatGPT now handles my travel planning, I still turn to human insight for major purchases. When researching pricey, long-term purchases, or simply looking for restaurants, I prioritize sites like Amazon, YouTube, and Google Maps with actual human reviews/ratings over any singular AI recommendations. Before committing, I want the full context offered by hundreds of genuine user reviews detailing real-world experience.

Turning to publisher business models, what do these shifts in consumer search behavior signal for the future health of the open internet?

3. Generative AI and Content Creation: A Symbiotic Relationship

Generative AI’s reliance on fresh, quality content highlights a critical need for fair compensation models between AI developers and content creators. Otherwise, these chatbots will become obsolete really soon. The new chatGPT 4 “only” knows until Apr 2023. While it can search the internet for real-time information, publishers can choose to block OpenAI crawler using robots.txt or other means.

There are many walled gardens (like Instagram, Facebook, WeChat, Tiktok, etc…) too so again while people may use chatbots more and more, these chatbots are unlikely to be able to satisfy all queries; unless somehow fundamental AI model companies (OpenAI, Anthropic, etc…) can strike content deals with these walled-gardens. This is unlikely to happen because of strategic competitive reasons.

4. SEO’s Future in the AI Age

The enigma of optimizing for Generative AI, with their intricate Transformer models, poses a new challenge. The traditional aim to rank at the top of search engine results may evolve into aligning content with AI algorithms, a territory still largely uncharted.

Also if people no longer go direct to your website to consume content, you may lose the relationship with your readers over time and that is not a good thing.

5. Early signs emerge of a shifting publisher landscape

Already, we see once-free sites testing subscriptions while asking how quality content can sustainably fund itself in the AI age.

At the same time, rising paywalls on previously free resources raise fair concerns. Cost barriers risk limiting open information access that AI systems rely on. Rapidly accelerating subscription pricing also risks pricing out everyday consumers depending on their means.

However, quality journalism and content do require financial investment to produce – from data acquisition to editing, server space to staff salaries. So where lies the balance? Can hybrid models arise allowing a base layer of free access while offering consumers choice for premium features? What drives individuals to subscribe beyond cost alone?

The path ahead remains unclear. Rather than predictions, I pose these questions for all of us – will proliferating paywalls restrict access to truth? Can hybrid models sustainably support publishers? Share your perspectives on the forces and opportunities shaping the future of information access below.

6. Conclusion

As AI reshapes our search habits, the digital landscape stands at a crossroads. The role of SEO, the sustainability of digital publishing, and the ethical use of AI in content consumption are questions we all must ponder. I invite you to join this conversation and share your insights on how these changes affect our access to information.

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