Chris (not me) asks, “What’s the future of SEO? Do people still hire SEO companies?” In this video, we explore this question and talk about the limited runway unbranded SEO has in the face of large language models like the GPT family (including ChatGPT) and what we marketers should be doing to prepare now for a future that’s probably only a couple years away.
Can’t see anything? Watch it on YouTube here.
Listen to the audio here:
- Got a question for You Ask, I'll Answer? Submit it here!
- Subscribe to my weekly newsletter for more useful marketing tips.
- Subscribe to Inbox Insights, the Trust Insights newsletter for weekly fresh takes and data.
- Find older episodes of You Ask, I Answer on my YouTube channel.
- Need help with your company's data and analytics? Let me know!
- Join my free Slack group for marketers interested in analytics!
In today’s episode, Chris asks, “Do people still hire SEO firms?” The answer is yes, they do. There is still a need for companies to help other companies learn how search marketing works. However, there is a big question mark on the future of traditional SEO right now, and it has to do with large language models such as GPT-3 and others like GPT-2, Neo X 20.B, etc. Some are run by OpenAI, others by Hugging Face, and so on.
The problem with these models is that they give responses that seem plausible, even if they are not always factually correct. There are companies working on improving the accuracy of these models, but they still don’t give out links or any call to action, like a regular search engine would.
This is a problem for Google because it could imperil their core business of serving ads along search listings, which is the source of a significant amount of their revenue. This is also a problem for marketers because the text we publish on our blogs, for example, feeds these large language models but we don’t get credit for it, and so these models could take away a significant amount of our unbranded search traffic.
In the future, searching for information could look like asking a chatbot, and the answers will come from these language models. With just one link displayed, the importance of being number one in search results will become even more crucial.
So, as marketers, what can we do about this? We need to build our “insurance policy.” This policy comes in two parts:
Build your brand – You must be known by name so that even the most sophisticated language model points people to your website. Build brand recognition to ensure that you benefit from these models.
Build community – Get people into a place where you can reliably reach them, such as an email marketing list, text messaging list, Slack, Discord, Telegram, etc.
These steps will help ensure that your marketing efforts are not wasted in the future of search.
What follows is an AI-generated transcript. The transcript may contain errors and is not a substitute for watching the video.
Christopher Penn 0:00
In today’s episode, Chris asks, Do people still hire SEO firms? Yes, they do.
Absolutely they do.
There is still a need for companies to help other companies learn how search marketing works.
However, and this is the big however, there is a huge question mark on the future of traditional SEO right now.
And that huge question mark has to do with large language models.
The one that you’re most familiar with, of course, as whatever, we can’t stop talking about Jack GPT, which is based on the GPT-3 language model.
But it’s not the only one.
There’s many of these out this cheap T J six b GPT-2, Neo x 20.
B, and so on and so forth.
Some are run by OpenAI, some are not and some are by you look through AI Hugging Face, there’s there’s tons of these models that are available.
Here’s why this is a big deal.
When you use chat, GBT, or any large language model, you ask it a question.
And it gives a response.
It gives sometimes a factually incorrect response.
But it gives a response that seems plausible.
And there are plenty of companies that are working on factually correct versions of these tools.
When you ask it, for example, things like what is a transformer? Or how many cups are in a gallon? Or things like that in a chat format and a conversational format? They’re not sending you anywhere, right? When was the last time you got a link to click on out of chat? GPT never.
You’d never have gotten more.
You’ve had maybe Google for something afterwards.
But you’ve got no link from it.
No, you might also be interested in or check this out.
And so as these models take off, and as the style of interacting with knowledge continues to grow, that imperils SEO.
That’s one of the reasons why Google is having a freakout about chat GPT-2 Because it imperils the very core of their business.
It imperils their ability to serve ads along search listings, which is at the heart of a good chunk of their business.
Now, they do have other things display advertising, they have YouTube ads, Gmail, ads, etc.
But the big money is in those search ads.
And if search changes dramatically, they will have a hard time making up that revenue.
Here’s why it matters for us as marketers.
When you look at how a large language model is constructed, particularly for unbranded search shims, your informational searches.
It’s not from any one source.
So our text that we publish on our blogs and stuff feeds these large language models, but we don’t get credit for it.
And as a result, for those large language models, they could take away a substantial amount of our unbranded search traffic, they will still be branded search traffic, right, someone who’s looking for Trust Insights will still search for Trust Insights.
And a large language model is not to say, oh, you should go to trust insights.ai.
A regular search engine will do that.
But if a sort of a if someone is searching for reasons why AI models are good, or reasons why AI models are bad, those queries aren’t going to go nowhere.
They are going to go nowhere, except in the chat bot itself.
And so all of our informational content that we use to drive unbranded search volume is going to go away right now completely, but it will probably go away substantially.
What will it look like? Kinda like what chat looks like? Now, think about when you ask your Google Home or home pod or Alexa device, or something where it will say, here’s the answer your question, Would you like more information? We’ll send you a link to in your thing, or you there’s a link displayed on your Alexa device or whatever? How many links are there? One, just one, which means if you’re not number one, you’re nothing right? If you are not number one, you are nothing.
So SEO is going to dramatically change you will dramatically change as long as chat based interfaces to large language models continue to be popular.
So what do we do about this as marketers? now was the time to building your insurance policy and your insurance policy comes in two parts Part Number one, your brand you must must build brand you must build brand.
You must be known by name so that even asking the most sophisticated language while still points people towards your website, right? Hey, go check out trust insights.ai Go check out Chris Tres Pandoc calm to go check out marketing over coffee.com that is, number one, you got to build a brand and if you’re not building brand, you are in danger.
Should you still be building unbranded content marketing, you know, informational marketing? Yes, but recognize that you at this point you’re just feeding large language models that will not benefit you build your brand instead.
Number two, you must build community, right you must have an acquisition method that gets people to you in what is called reliable reach.
That means your email marketing list your text messaging list, your slack, your discord, your telegram, whatever means you can to get people into a place where you can reliably reach them is going to be important because you can’t do it on public social media.
You just can’t write algorithms like a Twitter and Facebook and LinkedIn, and Instagram and Tiktok.
You cannot reliably reach people when you need to reach them.
They’re they’re simply not accessible.
You will get some of them when you publish your latest Tiktok or whatever.
But it could be hours, days, maybe even weeks before enough of your audience sees a public social media posts no matter with private social media, you get the timeliness.
So that’s important.
With an email list, as long as your email service were working correctly, you will you will get that and you have to be prepared for your organic search to dramatically drop.
So your assignment is this, go into Google Search causal.
And look at your performance for branded and unbranded queries.
You’ll have to do some, some regex selection in there.
You want ideally 50% of your traffic to be branded search at least 50% to be branded search and this flies in the face of everything we’ve been saying about SEO for 1015 years, you know you need to unbranded search to bring in new audience.
Once large language models takeover search, you are just feeding the models and you are getting nothing from it.
You will be just feeding models that will run ads and take your money and you will have nothing to show for it.
So I would focus on building brand.
Now some of it Sure, unbranded content and explanatory content and things is important.
But I would start peppering your unbranded content with your stuff.
Write things that are uniquely you things that people can get nowhere else.
It will read a little bit awkwardly, but can you imagine, if a if a large language model decides to vacuum up your content, it will strongly associate your names with that content.
That’s how those models work.
Otherwise, do what you can to build brand.
So advertise for sure, show ads to relevant people create shareable, share worthy content, that stuff that people want to hand up, it has your name and your logo on it.
Studies Research unique stuff.
date it, I’m gonna say something that again is gonna piss off a lot of people gate your content.
Why? Because ungated on ungated content, you’re just feeding large language models, you’re feeding GPT-3.
And it’s undertake your content and your knowledge.
And you will get nothing from them when you slap it behind the gate.
Even if it’s just a gate like he’ll punch the monkey in the face, right? No, you’ll take it off to take people’s personal information.
But just put up something that blocks these crawlers from getting your information from taking it and using it for themselves.
Put some obstacle in their way, so that your knowledge is can benefit you first, right? But that’s how you’re going to prove your brand value and then build those communities.
Build those communities, you’ve got to build private communities that you can rely on to reach otherwise, the large language models will invariably benefit those who can crank up the most content, those who can crank up the most content and sway those models a little bit will inevitably be those companies have the deepest pockets.
You and me.
I’m assuming you’re not a billionaire, maybe you are if you are, Hi, I’m not a billionaire.
But you and me we are not the beneficiaries of most AI models, right? They are created on large volume and large volume correlate strongly with resources with money, etc.
So that’s my long take on SEO and where things are going to take it for what it’s worth.
If you disagree, cool.
This is how I’m looking at it from my own marketing because I know how these models work.
And I know that we are not the ones who are going to be benefiting unless we are the ones who are running the model.
If you are an AI company and you can get market share, you will have a disproportionately larger, larger amount of market share as long as your company continues to do well, because people will rely more on more of those models.
And pretty soon, there will be room for competitors who don’t have AI on their side, they’ll have models of their own that they’re deploying, you know, with customers and in customer interactions.
It’s going to be a very interesting few years in marketing, but the writing is already on the wall that SEO is in a lot of trouble.
And it’s not going to get better.
So, hope that answers your question.
Probably a little more than you were expecting.
And I’ll talk to you soon take care.
If you’d like this video, go ahead and hit that subscribe button.
You might also enjoy:
- Retiring Old Email Marketing Strategies
- The Biggest Mistake in Marketing Data
- The Basic Truth of Mental Health
- Best Practices for Public Speaking Pages
- B2B Email Marketers: Stop Blocking Personal Emails
Want to read more like this from Christopher Penn? Get updates here:
Get your copy of AI For Marketers