- The release of ChatGPT has caused a stir in the SEO industry.
- The impact of ChatGPT on SEO will be huge.
- Conversational search queries will become crucial for optimization in SEO.
- Search results will become more personalised and direct.
- Conventional SEO practices may remain useful, but their impact on page ranking may vary as search becomes more chat- and voice-based.
ChatGPT is the talk of the town. Social media and offices are abuzz with discussions about ChatGPT and its uses and impacts on white-collar workers—whether it will replace this or that job, whether it heralds the beginning of the end of Google Search, and so on and so forth. It’s as though a giant meteor has landed on Earth.
You may think the title is hyperbolic, perhaps even patently untrue. First, because OpenAI, the company behind ChatGPT, is a mere fly to the giant that Alphabet, Google’s parent company, is; to use the metaphor David versus Goliath would be to give too much weight to OpenAI. And secondly, “revolution” is too portentous a word to apply to what may just be a short buzz. Furthermore, the machine learning technologies behind ChatGPT–namely, generative modelling, supervised learning, and reinforcement learning–have been around for years.
Is ChatGPT revolutionary? Possibly. This is what Bill Gates has to say on this matter: “This [AI, in reference to ChatGPT] is every bit as important as the PC, as the internet.” Whether he’s right is debatable, to say nothing of Microsoft’s large investment in OpenAI. What’s indisputable is that computers (desktops, laptops and palmtops, colloquially known as phones) and the internet are nothing short of revolutionary.
Whether or not ChatGPT and its variants such as Google’s Bard become as impactful as the PC or the internet remains to be seen. There’s no denying, however, that natural language processing marks a paradigmatic shift in search engine optimisation (SEO). SEO as we know and loathe (or, for whatever reasons, love) it is about to undergo a significant change. But before we delve deeper into the impact of ChatGPT on SEO, a few words on ChatGPT are merited.
What is ChatGPT and how does it work?
The self knows itself better than anyone else. So I’ll let ChatGPT introduce itself. This is what it responded with when asked “What is ChatGPT?”:
“ChatGPT is a conversational AI language model developed by OpenAI. It’s a variant of the GPT (Generative Pretrained Transformer) architecture, which is a transformer-based neural network trained on a large corpus of text data to generate human-like text.”
ChatGPT is built on GPT-3.5 with data up to 2021. It is one of the largest and most powerful language processing models with 175 billion parameters. It is trained and fine-tuned using what’s called “supervised learning” and “reinforcement learning”. In supervised learning the AI model is fed data and outputs and is taught to make predictions based on the answers while in reinforcement learning it learns by trial and error. These make the AI not just smart, but we may appropriately say, intelligent.
It is capable of generating human-like text in response to a prompt and can be used for a wide range of applications besides querying facts and trivia. It can be used for diverse functions such as getting a recipe, writing emails and composing poems and essays, and using it as a language teacher among other things. It is especially useful in data analytics. It can help with cleaning data, analysing sentiments, discovering trends and explaining intricate data sets in natural language making it easier for non-technical people to understand and interpret.
ChatGPT works by predicting and guessing what the next word should be in a sentence. Think of it as an extremely smart autocomplete prediction tool. It uses the vast corpus of information it was fed and taught through supervised learning to make accurate predictions.
Impact of ChatGPT on SEO
SEO is never a static process; it’s always in flux, changing and adapting as search engines, particularly Google, tweak their algorithms. But never is the change sudden or turbulent. That may be about to change.
The release of ChatGPT has sent a shockwave across the SEO-sphere, not least because Google, the company that pulls and controls the strings of the SEO industry, itself has sounded an alarm bell, reportedly issuing a “code red” in response to ChatGPT. It has announced its own chatbot, Bard, to take on ChatGPT. Google could possibly implement its chatbot in Search as Microsoft is doing with Bing. Change in search and thus SEO all but seems imminent.
How will all this affect SEO? What will be the impact of ChatGPT on SEO? First, optimising for conversational search queries will be crucial, if not paramount. As search becomes more and more voice-based and conversational, context and relevance will become key. Second, a chat-based search will no longer serve us a list of links but direct results thus leaving less space for competition. Websites will be vying for a smaller but more lucrative piece of the pie. Quality and accuracy will be critical.
And third, the conventional method of casting a wide net to catch as many audiences as possible will be less effective. Search results will be more personalised. While most of the as-of-now-current SEO practices will remain useful and relevant, it’s hard to gauge which will have the highest impact on page ranking.
This takes us to how to approach SEO in a chat-dominated search-land.
ChatGPT approach to SEO: How to optimise for chat search
As already mentioned, search will become more chatty and less texty, more conversational and less technical and jargonistic. Natural language processing (NLP) of AI means that chatbots are able to sort of understand the context and meaning behind the searcher’s intent. To rank in a chat search, we need to ensure that our content is optimised for NLP, focusing on intent.
Here are a few practices that we can follow to ensure that our content does not remain buried in the heaps of other content.
- Focus on NLP and intent: Write in a simple, conversational way so that NLP algorithms can easily understand. And focus on high-quality, informative, content that accurately answers users’ questions or addresses their needs rather than optimising for specific keywords.
- Use conversational language: Since chatbots and ChatGPT rely on natural language processing, it’s important to use conversational language in your content by writing in a way that chatbots and users can easily understand.
- Optimise for voice search: With the increasing popularity of voice search, it’s important to optimise your content for voice search queries. This means using long-tail keywords and phrasing that reflect the way people naturally speak, rather than the way they type.
- Focus on user experience: The ultimate goal of ChatGPT and chatbots, or indeed any search engine, is to provide useful information in a seamless, intuitive way. Ensure that the content is easy to read and understand.
What ChatGPT means for the future of SEO
It’s hard to say what the arrival of chat-based search portends for SEO, for now; but we can say with certainty that things will get nastier and the competition stiffer. According to a study by Ahrefs in 2020, 90.63% of all pages received zero organic traffic and 5.29% of them got less than 10 visits per month. These figures may yet grow grimmer as chatbots like ChatGPT and voice search take the centre stage.
Page ranking may not exactly become a winner-takes-all phenomenon but a bigger portion of the pie could be apportioned to those that already have their hands in it. Or, more likely, the size of the pie may become smaller as the chatbots serve the results themselves obviating the need to visit the pages thus relegating the pages to the background.
It’s not all doom and gloom, however. ChatGPT and its ilk will not probably supplant search engines; they’ll merely be tools incorporated into search engines. Indeed ChatGPT is not unlike Google returning answers for sports results, for example, or the “featured snippets”. And the good ol’ SEO tricks such as quality and informativity will remain crucial whatever the mode of search.
ChatGPT vs Google
And so back to the title: What does this mean for Google? Can ChatGPT really be a giant killer? Unlikely. It may have breathed some life into Microsoft’s Bing, which could help it grab some of the search market, of which a lion’s share is held by Google. ChatGPT does certain things better than Google and makes information more accessible but it’s less reliable and less trustworthy. It is sometimes confidently wrong and gives no sources for its results. So we’ll still have to rely on Google Search for critical information where truth is non-negotiable.
As to the first question, it has awakened the lion. And although chatbots like ChatGPT may simply be complements to search engines and not competitors, it’s evident that Google sees them as a threat to its position and is getting ready to deploy its own AI chatbot. It’ll be interesting to see how the competition unfolds.
But for now, I need to ask Google whether it’ll rain this weekend.
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