Will AI Destroy Search Engine Optimization? Spoiler Alert – No

by | May 8, 2023 | Business, writing

There is a great deal of melodrama and sensationalism in just about every post and article about artificial intelligence lately, and those about Chat GPT in particular. For that reason, I’m going to flip the script (small computer science pun) and go a completely different direction by giving you the “too long, didn’t read” version right up front: No, artificial intelligence (AI) will not destroy search engine optimization (SEO).

That doesn’t mean it won’t change it, however. Those changes have already begun and will be significant by the time they fully manifest.

Full disclosure; I tried to get Chat GPT to help me come up with a better computer science pun for shifting a paradigm than “flip the script,” and it suggested some real clunkers like, “instead of iterating through the problem, let’s reverse the loop and try a new strategy,” and, “let’s refactor our approach and debug the system from the ground up.”

Let this be your first clear illustration that Chat GPT is actually terrible at writing.

SEO: The Immortal Science?

Before we dig down into what changes we should expect AI to bring to the SEO game, let’s start with how we know AI won’t—in fact, can’t “kill” search engine optimization.

“Search engine optimization,” or SEO, is a broad term for a diverse set of tools, practices, strategies, and skills that are all used to accomplish the same basic outcome, which is to make webpages show up higher in Google results. SEO isn’t an organization, a software service, or an industry standard—its industry terminology used by marketers, writers, and webmasters when they’re talking about getting their work to show up in web searches.

Search engines certainly aren’t going anywhere—in fact, AI is only making them stronger. And, despite all the uproar, good old-fashioned, handwritten content isn’t going anywhere either.

The other reason we know AI isn’t killing SEO is by simply looking into Google’s latest big update prior to the AI arms race really exploding with the popularity of Chat GPT. Google’s current algorithm is believed to strongly favor content that appears to be natural, engaging, readable… dare we even say, human.

That sounds like the exact opposite of AI killing SEO. And if that’s the case, then perhaps good, manually-written content that has been SEO optimized by hand is actually more valuable than ever before.

AI’s Impact on SEO: Present and Future

Although Microsoft’s Bing was the first search engine to implement a robust AI platform, other major tech players aren’t far behind. Snapchat, for instance, has already pushed an AI chat buddy onto every user’s friend list and can function as a search engine for certain limited purposes. With these products rolled out and others not far behind, it’s safe to say that artificial intelligence and machine learning have already begun to impact SEO and web search.

Thankfully, SEO experts are already well accustomed to keeping up with change. Search technologies are updated and overhauled all of the time, and often that requires content creators to tweak their methods to keep projects at the top of search engine results pages (SERPs). Rather than an industry killer, SEO pros should look at plain language AI search apps as just another new tech tool that we can adapt to or even use to our advantage for things like organizing outlines or finding a good starting point for research.

Today’s AI-generated content still leaves much to be desired in terms of style and voice and can, disturbingly, even generate outright fake information. It is nonetheless true that this technology continues to improve every day, and professional content creators and webmasters will need to be prepared to compete with automated content that can be pumped out at a rate of hundreds of words per second.

Changes to Expect

A commitment to high-quality content that is engaging, actionable, and well-researched will allow your human-written posts and pages to cut through the AI-generated noise and maintain high SEO scores under this new paradigm.

Here are some key changes to SEO practices that can be attributed to AI:

  • The nature of content creation: AI-powered tools can now generate content that is tailored to user specifications given in plain English. This potentially includes content that is optimized for search engines, although, to date, using AI content effectively has required fairly extensive human intervention in the form of editing and rewriting.
  • Keyword research: AI tools can do a much more efficient job than human researchers when it comes to tracking and identifying keywords to target in your SEO strategies.
  • On the server-side (search algorithms): AI advancement isn’t just a consideration on the content side, but the search side as well. Top search engines like Google are already using advanced AI algorithms to analyze and rank content. As these algorithms become more sophisticated, they will potentially render existing SEO techniques obsolete, creating the need for new strategies, just as many other technologies have done before. It’s likely we will very soon reach a strange point where AI algorithms are being used to automatically determine whether the content is AI-generated and factor that into its SEO score.
  • Voice assistants ushering in natural language search models: The rise of voice assistants like Siri and Alexa has already represented a shift in the way many people search for information online and the language they use in doing so. This reliance on voice search has already begun to shift the focus away from traditional SEO techniques like optimizing for specific keywords and towards optimizing for natural language queries instead. The advent of natural language AI will further hasten this trend.

For what it’s worth, if you ask the free version of Chat GPT whether it and its AI contemporaries are fixing to kill SEO, you get a clear and direct answer.

It’s the same answer I already gave you:

no.

If you pry a little more, Chat GPT will say some interesting things about the topic. For example, it suggested to me that, while it won’t kill SEO, AI might make traditional SEO methods like keyword targeting even more obsolete while creating an increased focus on website design and user experience as AI algorithms on the search engine side become more capable of measuring such factors.

I further asked Chat GPT whether it thought handwritten content was better suited for SEO use than AI-generated content, and it surprised me by answering at length with multiple paragraphs on the topic, like an angry uncle in your local news station’s Facebook comments. It noted that either type of content could potentially be optimized for search engines, but that human-written content will have a more “personal and authentic feel,” while AI-generated content can be generated quickly at high volume. The key, according to Chat GPT, is to produce content that is high in quality and relevant to your readers.

Ultimately, we need to resist being dazzled by the fact that Chat GPT is new and exciting and remain realistic about AI’s limitations when it comes to pumping out written content. This involves knowing how the technology actually works. In the case of the current free version of Chat GPT, the technology is not really “thinking” at all, nor even pulling its answers from some sort of coherent database. Rather, it’s putting together strings of words based on a probability calculation as to what those next words will be. Looked at through that lens, this “SEO killer” technology becomes little more than an overstuffed predictive text generator… one that doesn’t even have internet access to pick up new words, phrases, and data.

How We Got Here

Perhaps you clicked on this post because you’re concerned about AI taking your job, or you’re wondering if you can reliably use it to generate content for your project. Or maybe you’re just fascinated with natural language AI, the way many of us are right now, and trying to learn more.

First, throw away the hype. By now, you should be confident that Chat GPT and similar products aren’t going to suddenly “kill” SEO and digital marketing practices as we know them today. This same “SEO killer” claim has previously been made about TikTok, Twitter, and just about every other big platform since the dawn of the internet, and none of them have lived up to the hype yet.

The current AI “arms race” we live under is largely due to Microsoft’s years-long quest to catch up to Google in the web search space. Bill Gates long ago declared his desire for “Bing” to become a verb in the same sense “Google” had done. Overhauling Microsoft’s flagship search product via the company’s massive investment in Chat GPT’s natural language AI tech might have finally accomplished that (the next several months will tell). This will undoubtedly have a vast ripple effect throughout the web search space, but there’s absolutely no reason to believe that these advancements in artificial intelligence will “kill” SEO as we know it today.

Better Content Matters – World-Class Content with a Human Touch

Don’t get sucked in by the hype and risk alienating your audience by trying to pass off janky AI-written content. Carefully handcrafted content that is accurate and intentional is going to continue to outperform AI-generated pieces for many years to come. For impactful content that can be custom tailored to fit any project or industry, contact Better Content Matters.

Leo Siren

Leo Siren

Leo Siren is a freelance content creator from Michigan's Upper Peninsula drawing on his multifaceted experience as a public librarian, assistant harbormaster, financial software systems analyst, and forklift operator to deliver innovative, high performing content in a range of text and audio formats. His personal interests include the electric banjo, referencing Elder Scrolls lore in everyday conversations, attempting to identify wild mushrooms, and various other things that upset the people around him.