Ben Young
Ben Young
March 26, 2021

What happens when Google doesn’t need you anymore? It’s still a ways away but it kind of is the trajectory. The same way Uber was considering a world without drivers, Google is moving towards a world without click out search results.

SparkToro estimates that in 2021 2/3 of searches do not go further than the search results page.

When you consider things like GPT3, an AI that can create copy to fulfill a result, having been trained off data. A search results page that fully caters to your needs without clicking out is very feasible. Likely using your content to train the model.

SEO focused marketers have already felt this, with rich snippets, rewarding those that offer them but cutting into the overall traffic away from Google. But in the future, I would expect more of this, not less.

Percentage of search results to google

When I was but a lad search results would mean scrolling through multiple pages of results to find the one you were after. Whether it was people gaming the system or just a lack of results or the ability of the search engine itself to find what you were looking for. Searching was an act within itself.

However, once Google broke ground with its search results, suddenly the first result was coveted. Being the first result could make your business overnight. As recent as this year 25% of clicks go to the first result. It used to be much higher. But, that’s because Google has started making search result pages destinations – with a lot more metadata and results.

You can have call out cards (or snippets), knowledge panels, videos, multiple ad units.

It used to be the ethos of Google was to get you where you were going fast. Now it gets you the info you want fast. Similar but different in execution. Now a Google result page is maybe all you need.

What is GPT3

GPT3 is a general-purpose AI, you provide it with a word or prompt and it will return text results. For example, OthersideAI will generate an email from a series of statements, using your prior emails as a baseline. Developers can access and build on top of this by utilizing their API. There’s a demo here you can play with.

A criticism of GPT3 is why not do this for all types of data? But the profound difference by going narrow (at least within the field of AI) means it can go deeper into what ultimately is a very nascent field. Why spread yourself too thin. Further OpenAI themselves state that the creation and maintenance of the models are still very onerous, they’re not yet ready to go broader.

This is where the Google analogy comes in, our websites, our content, the structure, hierarchy, language, definitions, linking – all become source material for AI search results. Meaning it is entirely feasible to see a Google Voice result which is created by AI, summarized from all of our results. With the user offering the click out results as a way to go deeper and find out more.

The frontier of human rights is being fought on this front

Google and Australian media have been at loggerheads around pay for inclusion of news in search results, for exactly this purpose. Google summarises the news and headlines without paying a fee. The trade-off has been traffic in the past but the build-out of more tools that drive less traffic has forced the Australian government to step in and make it law.

This means, there is a hypothetical future where Google rewards you for your good content with a fee. A large one? Maybe or maybe not but if you squint it is feasible.

Maybe they’ll give you an NFT?

This is going to be a repeated argument across industries, where automation via AI is creating job losses or the tension from AI creating value from our creative input. We’re just seeing it play out with search results first.

But wait, Google has competition too

So it is entirely feasible for a Google search product that doesn’t need us. Marketers need to prepare for a non-Google traffic-driving world, what happens when the tap of free traffic becomes a trickle? Which naturally drives towards brand-led activities.

However, Google isn’t the only game in town, how consumers are searching is also changing, even Apple is working on a search engine (we wrote on it here) and DuckDuckGo is growing in usage.

Competitive forces may lead to more division, where brands decide to not be indexed in Google or focus their efforts on competitive offerings.

What does it mean for SEO and content?

For content, focus on your areas of expertise and give people a reason to come and find out more, to further engage. It also leads to more branded-content, to grow your brand.

This also means the signals from search will grow stronger, if someone got the topline information and is seeking more, they potentially are a better prospect, a more engaged customer.

SEO will still be very relevant, if not more complex to maintain, especially SEO at scale. However, on the opposite end, SEO for smaller businesses will get easier because the audience is more narrow.

So, to summarize

– Leads to the creation of more branded content (and brand lead activities)
– SEO at scale becomes more complex but easier for small businesses
– Stronger leads from Google