FROM ALL THE hype that ensued after the ChatGPT launch in early 2023, you’d think that a) artificial intelligence (AI) is new, and b) search engines like Google have been taken completely unaware. Neither of those things are true.
Also true is this: You cannot ignore what is happening in search and how it will affect your online visibility in the near future.
Your online visibility matters. Consumers rarely just wander into a store. They visit your website to see store pictures and browse products. They check your store hours. They read reviews to learn how others feel about the experience you offer. If any of those online reference points don’t exist, trust that one of your competitors has scooped you and the consumer’s attention is now theirs.
Those who’ve exploited SEO as a source of website and store traffic have had a competitive edge, but that edge was slipping even before the AI excitement.
Surely you’ve noticed that Google’s results have become increasingly structured. You might see a complete recipe card at the top of your search for banana bread, a bulleted list of answers to your query “key events of 1959,” or a list of places next to a map when you search restaurants near me. Google has more than 20 different types of structured links, and their intention is to make it easy to find answers without ever clicking a link.
The whole reason most companies focus on SEO is to get people to click a link.
So what happens when AI-driven search makes it possible for searchers to simply ask questions, get answers, ask clarifying questions, and get more answers without ever being sent to a website or Google Business page to explore further? How can your business maintain its online visibility in this new search experience?
1. Focus on user experience and intent. Be clear about what prospects and customers want and need from you and create content that clearly addresses those needs. Make sure your website isn’t just another cookie cut from the same cookie cutter as all your competitors’ websites.
2. Optimize for voice search. This means providing blogs or knowledge-based articles on your website that use natural language to provide thoughtful, concise answers to common questions.
3. Local optimization. Maximize your Google My Business presence. Regularly manage your profile, update business hours and holidays, answer questions, add updates, and promote your most popular/evergreen products.
4. Make your website accessible. If your website isn’t fully accessible to people with disabilities (perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust, or POUR), it’s not only illegal, it also will not be indexed or shared by search engines.
We don’t know yet what SEO 4.0 will be, but you can have confidence that these four things will matter. So start working on mastering them now, and watch this space. Because change, it is a comin’.