You’d have to be either a hermit or Robinson Crusoe for the last year or so not to have heard mention of the likely dreadful impact of AI, artificial intelligence, on the world. While it could undoubtedly cause employment issues and impact technologies like robotics – we have a client in this sector – fascinating stuff, it’s also likely to have lots of benefits, not least in the world of search.

Many expert pundits will weigh in with their views on the topic at length. Still, we are famous (in our lunchtimes anyway) for taking a typically contrarian view on many topics and keeping it brief, so we thought, why not weigh in with an early assessment regarding what we believe the main developments are likely to be and how that may impact our clients or those planning to buy SEO from somewhere else. It also affects paid search.

Well, first off, I would draw your attention to Bing. Suppose you try typing something pretty obscure into Bing and make it more of a request for information. In that case, it is unlikely to find existing content for easily – so something along the lines of “explain how…..” or “what’s the best route between…” then assuming no website already has that exact answer as a page, typical what you will most likely see on the right side of the page is an answer box being gradually populated with information as Bing compiles it. Every time we test it, the results are getting quicker, so eventually, it’s highly likely to appear seamlessly, and you won’t be able to detect AI-compiled results from those that are straight copies or abridged summaries from across the web.

This, then, is a relatively simple application of the technology in a clearly defined web page area. Therefore, it doesn’t cloud the picture too much as to the distinction elsewhere on said search results pages of the Paid Bing advertising and free organic search results.

And what about Google?

For once, Google seems less far forward on the developments, but in reality, we suspect more of their effort is currently hidden from view whilst they continue to experiment. Early indications suggest the AI impact at Google will be very different from Microsoft Bing and far more reaching. No extra text box on the right side of the page is magically filled with information before your eyes. Instead, it appears that Google is intent on using AI to infiltrate the contents of every aspect of the current search results within their current positions on the page.

What does that mean in practice?

We believe Google will continue to display map results near the head of its results, the top of the page will continue to be filled with paid results, and just as today, we expect the lower positions on the page, albeit those still most clicked upon, the SEO free/organic results will come next. But instead of populating said results with text taken from the specific websites featured, hidden meta, semantically derived text, schema or a combination, we now expect to see AI-generated content take a degree of prominence increasingly.

So, whilst it’s still likely to be important for your website to feature excellent and unique content and have lots of information, making it a destination site to solve people issues, it seems as if these factors will still drive the relative position of sites within Google’s algorithm, which in turn will impact your position within the final search results. Still, the finished content you see (think of it like an advert) will be less driven by your content and Google’s interpretation of what that content should be, using AI as the source.

So, should you be worrying about this and the impact on your website?

If you have a stale and rarely changing website, then yes, mainly if you operate in a competitive marketplace. If you are working with a good SEO agency and can ensure you have a plan to strategically improve the structure and breadth of content on your website, then not so much; SEO can help ensure you have relevant information to be found and analysed and make its way through the new filters applying to this brave new world.

And will search still be driving the winners and losers of the future? We think it will, today, top performance in Google equates to circa 20% market share in most markets we study – we anticipate, if anything, AI will further increase this as the results become ever more relevant.