Google held its annual developer conference (dubbed Google I/O) yesterday, and the company revealed a variety of fascinating updates on new products, features, AI progress, and updates to Google Search. You can watch a 16-minute condensed recap of the presentation of the 2-hour event here.
Among the many exciting updates to more consumer-based products like Google Maps and Google Photos, content creators and website owners were undoubtedly focused on any updates to Google Search — specifically any changes in the algorithm or platform that would have a significant effect on their site, audience, and overall traffic.
“We are reimagining all of our core products, including Search,” revealed Sundar Pichai, Alphabet’s CEO. Google has begun earnestly integrating generative AI into Search and other products to stay on the cutting edge of the industry while competitors (most notably Microsoft’s ChatGPT) have been making enormous strides introducing generative AI into more consumer products.
Here are three major takeaways content creators, bloggers, website owners, and publishers should know about today’s Google I/O conference and upcoming changes happening to Google.
1. Publishers Need to Learn How to Use AI. Otherwise, They Risk Becoming Obsolete.
I’m a millennial, born and raised in the 90s. I remember my dad had a rotary phone when I was a kid. I also remember seeing my first iPod, and being amazed at how much smaller it was than my big CD player. I remember seeing my first iPhone, my high school classmate swearing he couldn’t live without it (I couldn’t fathom why). I remember these turning points, the before-and-after moments of major technological advances in society.
I’ll remember this time, when generative AI was unleashed on the world. This is one of those moments in history; to pretend it’s not would be akin to pretending rotary phones would compete with smartphones, or that Yellow Pages books would compete with the Internet.
AI has come, and will change the internet as we know it.
Publishers, bloggers, content creators — anyone trying to build an online audience — needs to learn how to use AI. Otherwise, they’ll fall behind the millions of competitors who learned to use this tool and navigate this brave, strange new world.
But where to start? Some of the most commonly-reported and viral uses for ChatGPT are to write bedtime stories for your kids or essays for high school English classes. Is this it? Of course not; more often, the limits of these generative AI tools are usually bound only by your imagination. It can write code, create award-winning images, speak as a human avatar in dozens of languages, even tell you what to cook based on a picture of your fridge.
We’re still learning the most effective uses for generative AI. Here are some simple ways you can begin using AI to help your website today.
- Content Generation: AI-powered content generation tools can assist in creating high-quality, relevant, and engaging content. Natural language processing algorithms can generate articles, blog posts, product descriptions, and social media captions based on specific keywords or topics. By using AI-generated content, website owners like you can increase the frequency and volume of content production, attracting more traffic to their websites.
- Content Optimization: AI can analyze website content and provide suggestions for optimization, more important than ever with this flood of online competition. AI tools can evaluate factors like keyword usage, readability, and search engine optimization (SEO) best practices. By implementing AI-driven content optimization recommendations, website owners can improve their search engine rankings and drive more organic traffic.
- Personalization: AI algorithms can analyze user data and behavior to deliver personalized experiences. Website owners can leverage AI to tailor content, product recommendations, and offers to individual visitors. By providing personalized experiences, websites can enhance user engagement, encourage repeat visits, and increase traffic through word-of-mouth recommendations.
- Chatbots and Virtual Assistants: AI-powered chatbots and virtual assistants can provide instant support and engage with website visitors. These AI-driven conversational agents can answer frequently asked questions, guide users through the website, and assist with customer service inquiries. By implementing chatbots, website owners can enhance user experience, increase customer satisfaction, and potentially boost website traffic. “Explain (complex concept) to me like I’m five years old,” you might type in. And the answer pops out.
- User Behavior Analysis: AI algorithms can analyze user behavior data, such as clickstream data, conversion rates, and session durations, to identify patterns and insights. This information can help website owners understand user preferences, optimize user flows, and improve website navigation. By leveraging AI-driven user behavior analysis, website owners can create a more user-friendly experience, leading to increased traffic and conversions.
- A/B Testing: AI can facilitate A/B testing processes by automating the creation and evaluation of multiple versions of a website or content. AI algorithms can optimize test parameters, collect data, and identify statistically significant results. By using AI-powered A/B testing, website owners can make data-driven decisions to improve user experience and increase website traffic.
- Image and Video Optimization: AI-based computer vision can analyze and optimize images and videos for search engines. By adding descriptive metadata, alt tags, and captions generated by AI, website owners can improve the discoverability of their visual content in search results. Optimized visual content can attract more traffic through image and video search queries.
- Predictive Analytics: AI algorithms can predict trends, user behavior, and content performance based on historical data. Website owners can utilize predictive analytics to identify popular topics, optimize content strategies, and plan future campaigns. By leveraging predictive analytics, website owners can create relevant and timely content, increasing the likelihood of attracting more traffic.
It’s important to note that while AI can be a powerful tool, it should complement human creativity and judgment. The best approach is to combine AI technologies with human expertise to maximize the benefits and drive website growth effectively.
2. Generative AI is Coming to Google Search in a Big Way
Traditionally, search engines have always worked in the same general format: a user would type in a query (“how to train your dog to sit”, for instance), and the search engine would instantly spit out about ten of the best possible answers to “satisfy intent.”
This gave the user the best possible answers based on a plethora of traits, factors, and SEO data. Over time, this traditional strategy evolved to include more paid advertisements, and even began giving users the answers to simple questions in the Google results page itself (for instance, “how old is Elon Musk”):
Sometimes the answer would come even before the query was entered!
User behavior has continued changing, and search queries have become more nuanced and focused. As more spam, ads, and unhelpful answers flooded search engines, many users began to cleverly add qualifying terms like “REDDIT” to bypass Google’s obstacles and find real answers by real humans.
Despite Google’s estimated 92% market share for search engine users, generative AI like Microsoft’s ChatGPT represent real threats to Google to take more market share by delivering higher-quality, no-nonsense search results. Google’s continued development to integrate Bard into Google Search spells big changes to the Search platform.
As noted in their I/O presentation, Google plans to incorporate Bard and AI features directly into Google Search with its next generation of language model, PaLM 2. PaLM 2 has improved capabilities regarding languages, reasoning, and coding. Their “new, integrated search results page” will eventually include an above-the-fold AI tool, giving users the ability to use AI for search. This also gives users access to auto-filled follow up questions and related searches.
“There’s an AI-powered snapshot that quickly gives you the lay of the land on a topic,” said Cathy Edwards during the presentation, VP of Engineering at Google. “Let’s say you’re searching for a good bike for a 5 mile commute with hills. In the AI-powered snapshot, you’ll see important considerations.”
In the above example, the user asked “what’s better for a family with kids under 3 and a dog, bryce canyon or arches?” Google’s AI provided that while both are fit for small children, Bryce Canyon has two paved trails that allow dogs.
Google’s new Search will allow users to ask complex questions instead of separately Googling “is bryce canyon good for kids,” “is bryce canyon good for dogs,” “is arches good for kids,” and “is bryce canyon good for dogs?” Users can also then ask follow up questions and the new Google Search will know you’re asking another question in relation to your first question.
While the AI results take up the entire section above-the-fold, there are still the top-authority search results included on the side of the AI results. Additionally, the more traditional list of search links is available below the AI results so searchers can continue to do further research.
Is this different from the classic “10 blue links” of the past? Certainly. But publishers shouldn’t spend all of their time worrying about how AI is going to take all of their traffic and revenue because there is one thing that AI doesn’t have: real-life experience.
As discussed on the most recent episode of the Publisher Lab, while AI can give answers to questions, it can’t placate people’s desire to hear about the experience of a real person. A searcher might use AI for the above query, but then might want to do their due diligence and read about a real parent’s experience at Bryce Canyon with kids or a dog. That’s where websites and real, authentic content is vital.
As you can see, this “AI-snapshot” takes up most of the top of the page, clearly allowing Google to give users answers immediately, without relying on third-party websites (like yours).
This may seem scary for many publishers, and rightly so. Will AI replace websites entirely? Are websites even viable anymore? Why should you continue to fulfill the day-to-day tasks of creating content, optimizing for SEO, and connecting with your audience while Google appears to be unabashedly prioritizing their own AI tool over actual human experts like you?
These are all fair questions, and the truth is, we don’t quite know how all this will play out for online users in the coming months and years. But at Ezoic, we recognize an opportunity for publishers to sink or swim, to choose to learn how to evolve and thrive in the new AI landscape coming to Google. There’s a lot of hope and optimism about the future, and publishers who are willing to do the work to reach their audience can expect to thrive in this future.
AI has the potential to bring significant changes to Google search traffic in a plethora of ways. Here are some of the biggest ways AI can impact Google search traffic:
- Enhanced Search Results: AI can improve the quality and relevance of search results by better understanding user intent and context. Natural language processing (NLP) models, such as Google’s BERT, can comprehend search queries more effectively, leading to more accurate results and higher user satisfaction.
- Voice Search Optimization: With the increasing popularity of voice assistants like Google Assistant, AI can optimize search traffic for voice queries. Natural language understanding and voice recognition technologies enable search engines to interpret voice commands accurately and deliver relevant voice search results, potentially driving more traffic from voice-based searches.
- Personalized Recommendations: AI algorithms can analyze user behavior, search history, and preferences to provide personalized search recommendations. By tailoring search results to individual users, AI can increase user engagement, encourage longer session durations, and potentially boost search traffic.
- Image and Video Search: AI-powered computer vision algorithms can analyze and understand the content of images and videos. By improving image and video recognition, search engines can deliver more accurate results for visual queries. This capability can drive additional traffic to websites that feature relevant visual content.
- Natural Language Processing: AI can enhance the understanding of complex search queries by processing natural language more effectively. Advanced NLP techniques can comprehend user queries even when they are phrased in conversational or ambiguous ways. This improvement can lead to more accurate search results and increased traffic.
- Algorithmic Updates and Search Rankings: AI can be used to develop and refine search ranking algorithms. Machine learning models can analyze large volumes of data to identify patterns and improve search result rankings. Algorithm updates driven by AI can significantly impact search traffic by favoring websites with better content quality and user experience.
- Featured Snippets and Rich Results: AI can help identify relevant information to display as featured snippets and rich results in search engine results pages (SERPs). These prominent search result features can drive more traffic to the websites they are sourced from, as they provide concise answers to user queries.
- Real-Time Search: AI algorithms can process and analyze vast amounts of real-time data from various sources, including social media platforms, news websites, and live events. By incorporating real-time information into search results, AI can increase search traffic for up-to-date and trending topics.
These are just a few examples, and publishers will need to continue exploring the best uses for AI to stay relevant in this new landscape. As the Washington Post reported, “The system does generate its own answers but checks them for accuracy against real websites. It also posts those links directly next to the generated text, making it easy for people to click on them. For questions that are about sensitive topics like health, finances and hot-button political issues, the bot won’t write an answer at all, instead returning a news article or links to websites.”
It’s important to note that Google continuously evolves its algorithms and incorporates AI technologies to enhance search functionality. Therefore, the exact impact of AI on search traffic may vary over time as new advancements are made and implemented.
3. Build a Community Through Personalized, Human-Written Content Made Just For Them
We are entering the age of AI, and that means a lot of humans are going to be consuming a lot of content made by machines. Fatigue can (and will) set in.
As the Scarcity Principle dictates, “The price of an item in low supply and high demand will steadily rise to meet the consumers’ expected demand.” With the current influx of AI-generated content — from Google, ChatGPT, and websites across the world — the value of genuine, human-written content that gives people the exact answers they need will increase dramatically.
As we mentioned earlier, personalized content typically leads to increased traffic, engagement, and revenue for online websites and platforms, while irrelevant and unhelpful content typically leads to a major drop in those same categories. If users are continually met with “good-enough” answers from generative AI, they’ll eventually go searching for answers elsewhere.
“AI is great,” read a recent viral comment thread among developers on Hacker News. “ChatGPT is incredible. But I feel tired when I see so many new products being built that incorporate AI in some way, like ‘AI for this…’ ‘AI for that…’ I think it misapplies AI. But more than that, it’s just too much. Right? Right? Anyone else feel like this?”
If you can build a community — not just an audience, not just an email list, but an actual community — your site can adjust to this changing online landscape far better.
Most websites can’t survive based on 100% organic traffic alone — the volatility of Google algorithms, the advent of generative AI, and the never-ending efforts of competitors virtually guarantee sites with no long-term audience can’t thrive — or even survive. There are countless advantages to having an engaged audience. Some examples:
Increased Time on Site:
- Websites with higher engagement tend to have longer average session durations. For example, a study by Chartbeat found that visitors who were highly engaged spent an average of 123 seconds per page, compared to just 48 seconds for less engaged visitors.
Higher Conversion Rates:
- Engaged website visitors are more likely to convert into customers or take desired actions. According to a report by Marketo, engaged customers generate a 23% premium compared to average customers, and they are more likely to make repeat purchases.
Improved Search Engine Rankings:
- Engaged audiences often contribute to increased organic search traffic, which can improve a website’s search engine rankings. A study by Moz found a strong correlation between higher engagement metrics (such as time on site, pages per session, and bounce rate) and higher organic search rankings.
Enhanced Brand Loyalty:
- Engaged audiences are more likely to develop a sense of loyalty towards a brand or website. According to a survey by Rosetta Consulting, engaged customers are three times more likely to recommend a brand and are more likely to remain customers over time.
Increased Social Media Reach:
- Engaged website visitors are more likely to share content on social media platforms, leading to increased reach and potential virality. A study by Shareaholic found that engaged users share content 2.5 times more often than non-engaged users.
In the coming age of generative AI and AI-written content, content creators that have created a community can count on crucial factors like return traffic, referrals, and high site engagement.