Will AI and ChatGPT Kill Your Search Traffic? (Thinks Out Loud Episode 381)
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It’s become a bit of a parlor game to predict whether ChatGPT and other AI tools spell doom for Google. Will the search giant flounder and fail? Or will it find a way to recover? A better question, though, might be “What happens to your traffic and business if Google does fail? Will AI and ChatGPT kill your search traffic?”
That’s not an easy question to answer. There are many factors at play, any of which could be the difference between Google’s continued dominance… and its doom. So, which is it? Will ChatGPT and AI disrupt the traffic and business you get from search? Or will Google recover and continue to claim its seat on the throne? That’s what this episode of Thinks Out Loud is all about.
Want to learn more? Here are the show notes for you.
Will AI and ChatGPT Kill Your Search Traffic? (Thinks Out Loud Episode 381) — Headlines and Show Notes
Show Notes and Links
- The End of Google? (Thinks Out Loud Episode 372)
- Say Goodbye to Google, Hoteliers
- BrightEdge Channel Report
- How To Run Your Business As If Google Didn’t Exist (Thinks Out Loud Episode 298) – Tim Peter & Associates
- Introducing Microsoft 365 Copilot – your copilot for work – The Official Microsoft Blog
- Google’s AI chatbot Bard seems boring compared to ChatGPT and Microsoft’s BingGPT – Vox
- 5 ways that ChatGPT is better than Google Bard (and 3 ways it isn’t) | Windows Central
- Google Bard just took a big step toward being a proper ChatGPT rival
- Brian Roemmele on Twitter: “The time it took to reach 100 million users worldwide. Telephone: 75 years Mobile phone: 16 years World Wide Web: 7 years iTunes: 6.5 years Twitter: 5 years Facebook: 4.5 years WhatsApp: 3.5 years Instagram: 2.5 years Apple App Store: 2 years ChatGPT: 2 months” / Twitter
- Google planning new search engine while working on new search features under Project Magi
- Is Content Still King or Have the Gatekeepers Won? (Thinks Out Loud Episode 328) – Tim Peter & Associates
- Four Moments Every Marketer Should Know – Think with Google
- Revisiting 2023’s Most Important Trends in Digital Marketing (Thinks Out Loud)
- Caleb Watney on Twitter: “Fascinating new paper finds that AI tools increase productivity in customer support roles by 14% (as measured by issues resolved per hour) with the biggest impact on novice and low-skilled workers. https://t.co/pqsnVttD5q” / Twitter
- The Single Biggest Myth in Digital: Content is Expensive (Thinks Out Loud Episode 275)
- Big Digital Marketing Trends: Who Speaks For Your Business? (Thinks Out Loud Episode 377)
- Content is King, Customer Experience is Queen (Thinks Out Loud Episode 188) – Tim Peter & Associates
- How to Balance Technology and Humanity in Customer Experience (Thinks Out Loud Episode 378)
- How Lively Demonstrates Customer Experience is Queen (Thinks Out Loud Episode Episode 339)
- Big Digital Marketing Trends: Customer Experience is Cool (Thinks Out Loud Episode 375)
- Where Content, Community, and Customer Experience Meet (Thinks Out Loud Episode 346) – Tim Peter & Associates
- Big Trends: The Early Innings of AI in Marketing (Thinks Out Loud Episode 374)
- Should Your Business Use ChatGPT? (Thinks Out Loud Episode 379)
- Is ChatGPT Going to Steal Your Job? (Thinks Out Loud Episode 371)
- Why I’m not worried about AI causing mass unemployment
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Transcript: Will AI and ChatGPT Kill Your Search Traffic?
Well, hello again everyone, and welcome back to Thinks Out Loud, your source for all the digital expertise your business needs. My name is Tim Peter. This is episode 381 of the Big show, and I think we have a really cool show for you this week. This one might be a little longer than normal. There is some stuff to talk about my friends.
I’ve been teaching a class for Rutgers this week Rutgers Business School. I work in their mini MBA programs in their exec ed group. And we’ve been talking about, you know, digital strategy and what’s going on with Google, and things along those lines. And I’m participating in a webinar probably around the time you’re listening to this on behalf of Focus, right?
And miles partnership talking about how generative AI is going to affect the travel industry and the like. And a question that keeps coming up is, is Google doomed? Is. Is, you know, Google and search as we know it just completely screwed by what’s going on with generative AI and ChatGPT and Microsoft Bing, and what Microsoft plans to do with 365 co-pilot and the like.
And what is definitely true is that we’ve seen more innovation in the search in the last five months than we’ve seen in the last five years. Still is Google doomed Probably isn’t the right question. I think a better question is what happens to your business if they are? If Google is doomed, will AI and ChatGPT kill your search traffic?
Think about it. If you are, like most businesses, you are probably getting 40 to 60% or more of your traffic from search and most of that from Google. We know there’s research from BrightEdge and other sources that show. Most businesses are getting about 50% of their organic the traffic from organic visits.
They’re probably getting about 15% of their traffic from paid search visits, and the rest comes from everything else. So you’re talking 65, maybe 80% on the high end in terms of. Where traffic is coming from. And I’ll post a link to this in the show notes so you can see the numbers cuz it breaks down by retail and e-commerce and media and entertainment and B2B and technology and travel and hospitality.
There’s absolutely some variation there, but it’s pretty consistent that people are getting somewhere between, most businesses are getting somewhere between 40% on the low side from organic search to 65% on the high side. And paid is contributing somewhere between 6% and 24%. So you’re talking a range of visits of anywhere from about 60% to about 88% of all traffic.
Now, before we get into will AI kill your search traffic — you know, are you in big trouble there — I want to talk about the case against Google. How likely is it that Google is doomed and thus your business is, you know, in big trouble? To start, we’ve seen amazing growth in generative AI capabilities and degenerative AI tools.
Again, I talked about this a moment ago. There’s tremendous, tremendous growth here. Bing ChatGPT, lots of industry vertical startups. There’s been an enormous boost in traffic and interest just for the last three months, January, February, March, being went from 1.1 billion visits in January and February to 1.4 billion in March.
Open ai, which is who hosts ChatGPT, who created chat. G P T has gone from 670 million in January to 1.1 billion visits in February. To 1.6 billion visits in March. That is astonishing growth, and that’s a real problem for Google and by extension your business. Adding to the problem. Google’s efforts to date on putting out products that compete with things like ChatGPT or Bing’s AI Chat.
Their efforts have been underwhelming. Bard isn’t great yet. It’s definitely outclassed by some of the things Bing is doing. It seems like Google, which still makes most of its money from ads, seems afraid to kill the goose that lays the golden egg. This is a classic innovator’s dilemma. They’re kind of afraid of losing their search business and haven’t quite figured out how to respond with the right product in the marketplace yet.
I am also not a hundred percent sure. It doesn’t seem clear that their c e o Sundar Pacha is a, and I hate this expression, but you know, a wartime leader. I’m surprised by how little aggression they’ve shown in responding to the actions of ChatGPT and Microsoft and being and the like. It’s definitely a challenge for them that they need to face.
There’s one possible mitigating circumstance here that could explain their behavior. They’re under investigation for antitrust. You know, are they worried about being seen as too dominant and is that causing them to maybe take a less aggressive approach? Maybe? I don’t know the answer to that. I do think we haven’t really seen them come out, you know, full barrel.
We haven’t seen them come out as hard as they possibly could. And then the last thing in the case against Google here is that Google can lose, even if Bing or ChatGPT doesn’t win. Microsoft has far more paths to monetization, whether it’s Microsoft 365 co-pilot or Azure Cloud. They have many ways to make money from ai, whereas Google makes their money from ads and if they can’t figure out how to incorporate ads into the AI responses, they’re going to lose a lot of revenue.
Microsoft 365 co-pilot, as one example, could eat away at a whole bunch of searches that happen today on Google and cost Google ad revenue without necessarily increasing the revenue that you know Microsoft makes. So we’re going to see what happens here. I mentioned the growth that AI is seeing, that generative AI is seeing in the like and ChatGPT and the like.
Brian Romley on Twitter talked about how long it took various technologies to reach a hundred million users globally. And the telephone, it took 75 years. The mobile phone took 16 years. The web took seven years. Facebook took four years. Apple’s App Store took two years and ChatGPT reached a hundred million users globally.
In two months. So if Google wants to beat these guys, they really need to get on it pretty quickly. Now, there is a case to be made for Google first. They have dominant market share. I mentioned a moment ago that ChatGPT, that open AI has gone from 670 million visits in a month to 1.6 billion visits all since January.
But just to put this in contrast, Google in January had 88.3 billion visits in the month. That’s, you know, a little bit more than 1.6. It did drop to 80.2 in February. But it came roaring back in March to 88.6, so we’re not seeing customers necessarily peel away from Google in any big way yet. That could change.
It could change quickly, but they are clearly the dominant leader and it’s not close. Right. Now also, I said Bard is not that compelling yet, but it is getting better. They’re adding new features all the time. They, they added the ability for it to write code the other day, which yes, is something ChatGPT has been able to do for a while.
But the fact that they’re becoming feature competitive does make a case for them. They’re also combining their Google Brain and DeepMind divisions to focus more on market ready solutions in artificial intelligence. So maybe Sundar Pcha is being more aggressive. It’s just a, there, he’s just doing it a little more quietly or in stealth mode internally to the organization.
We also know that there’s a new project coming soon called Project Maji or Mag. That could be a more credible competitor to ChatGPT and Bing. We don’t have a firm date for it yet. I’ve not seen the firm date for it yet, but I would expect we’ll probably see it before their next quarterly earnings call, which is due to happen in July.
So we’ll see what happens there. The last piece in Google’s favor is that technology is not the same as product. As cool as some of the things that ChatGPT is doing. It’s not really ready for primetime yet as a product. They don’t have a great way to monetize it. They don’t open it up to everybody yet.
So there’s definitely some some room there for them to fix the product to make it more useful. And there is a switching cost for customers and new behaviors. Mostly. We all know how search works. Yeah, lots of people are trying out ChatGPT, but again, it’s a much smaller number than what Google gets.
And people will have to get accustomed to doing something different. There’s a classic, classic story of, you know, the quirky keyboard and the Dvorak keyboard. By all accounts, the Dvorak keyboard is a much faster system of typing, or certainly a faster system of typing. So why aren’t we all using it?
Because apparently it’s improvement, it’s productivity improvement doesn’t outweigh the learning curve, the learning cost of switching, so people stick with the query keyboard. The same could be true in search. We already know how to go to Google. Why do we have to learn how to do something else? Could be something many customers are saying.
All that said, For our businesses. The truth is we probably don’t care who wins. If Google gets shoved aside by Microsoft or open ai, who by the way is heavily funded by Microsoft, we are likely trading one gatekeeper for another. And as you’ve heard me say many times on this show, gatekeeper’s going to gate.
In this case, the call is coming from inside the house. The thing that scares us, we are already dealing with clearly. We’re going to need to see what happens over time, but we may literally just be trading one gatekeeper for another. What we do care about is whether customer behaviors change. Even if Google represents as little as 40% of your traffic, and those folks get answers from within an app, within an application that they’re already using, they don’t go to Google in the first place.
That could be a healthy chunk of your traffic, possibly the largest single source you have that has tremendous downsides for your business and at at times like these, when we have to think about. What do we need to do? I go back to first principles. I go back to the famous Jeff Bezos quote about what won’t change?
What do we know to be true? That will likely be true no matter who wins? Well, we know that customers need answers to the questions. They have questions about help me find a solution to a problem that I have. And it won’t change that part of your job is to help them find the answers they need. It seems pretty likely to me that some behaviors won’t change, and I’m going to explain why.
I think that you may remember that Google has a framework they’ve used about search intent, the kinds of questions the customers ask all the time. And the four intents that they refer to are, no, that’s k n o W. People want to know something. Go. People want to go somewhere. Do they want to learn how to do something or buy?
They want to buy something. So no, go Dubai are the four tens. And there are things we can see from behavior and from the types of queries that exist within those intents that give us some insight into what might happen as we go forward. Let’s start with no, because the user intent most under threat from AI powered tools like ChatGPT probably are no style queries.
You know, I want to know something about a topic. If I can get that answer right within an ai, why do I have to read a webpage about it? I could easily see customers looking up answers from within Microsoft Word or PowerPoint or Excel without ever switching over to a browser. This seems where Google faces their single biggest threat among the types of queries they could lose.
Of course some of the things they might want to know, like phone number for a business or a URL for a business probably doesn’t change and probably doesn’t hurt you at all. AI has no particular advantage in this, and the answer is going to be, you know, you depending on how many very early stage queries, fend traffic to your site.
People searching for no within, you know, ChatGPT or Google, or excuse me, Microsoft’s products could be a big deal or it could be a nothing burger. For instance, I had a podcast episode a couple of years ago talking about the risk to your business of becoming a hidden intermediary. My site shows up in search a lot for the term intermediary.
Those impressions that I get though drive very little traffic. And no sales at all. Most people looking up the term intermediary don’t need a digital marketing or strategy consultant. So a loss of volume and searches that I show up for there won’t hurt me. By contrast, I’d get a lot of search tra a lot of traffic and interest from people searching on drivers of e-commerce.
That is also a no intent item, and it could be one that hurts my business. You’ll need to carefully review your own data to see if that’s a big deal or not for your business over time, and I’ll talk more about that in a minute. The go intent. This one’s easy. They’re still looking for a place to go. If you are that place, does it matter where they search for you?
I don’t think so. Experiential businesses and service providers like retailers or restaurants or hotels, events, entertainment, plumbers, electricians, and on and on and on are all likely to be fine. Google could lose here. There could be map experiences that no one has thought of yet, but I can’t see how that behavior would hurt you if you are the place they want to go.
So I think this intent is pretty safe. The do intent today skews heavily towards video, you know, YouTube, TikTok, things like that. Google’s already at thumb risk here. Again, TikTok, right? We’re seeing people search within TikTok already for how-TOS and things like that. Those types of queries could represent a fair bit of top of funnel content for your business.
Ideally you’re already using or planning to use video to find those customers and until AI auto generates video content, which isn’t that far off, you’re probably fine. Or rather you are, if you’re using the right channels to reach potential customers today. This is an area though that I would be watching closely cuz that could change at any time.
Now the last intent, of course, is buy. This one seems very safe to me for Google and Amazon and Expedia and Indeed and lots of other vertical SE search platforms. But especially for your business, if they’re already inclined to buy from you, AI likely doesn’t play a big role in changing that. Your bigger concerns, most likely are further up the funnel.
The way they find you in the first place might shift, but at the buying stage, AI probably only provides an additional source for potential customers to find and choose you. So we’ve taken a minute to look at the things that won’t change and the things that might change, and the question becomes, what are the winning strategies?
What should you do? The first thing that I’d remember is that content is already cheap and AI is going to make it cheaper. The quality level of an average piece of content is going to rise with no increase in cost. AI likely won’t make the best content much better, but it will make it much easier for average creators to produce better work.
I like to think of it this way. I can’t outrun Usain Bolt, no hope, no prayer, but put me even in a moderately priced Toyota and I’ll kick his ass. You need to make sure you’re either working with great creators or that you’re testing using AI to improve your content, to increase your average quality level.
The other thing I’d think about is what can’t AI answer? Is there original research or opinions or perspectives that you can provide that are distinct to you, that aren’t the kind of thing that an AI can come up with? That’s where you’re probably going to need to put your focus from a content perspective.
Now, I said a moment ago that content is cheap. The flip side of course, is content that doesn’t convert is expensive. We know there will still be gatekeepers. They’re not going anywhere, and I would expect that the cost those gatekeepers introduced might also go up, or you’re just going to get some fewer opportunities.
So you must convert those opportunities that you get. You need to build long-term connection via email and social and your community. So any traffic that does come in through search, how can you route it to people? Signing up for your email list or following you on social, connecting on a social network that’s appropriate to your business.
How can you encourage them to participate in your community to work with other members who actually, you know, love you and want to be associated with you? You’ve also heard me talk many times about the fact that customer experience is queen. Keep working on your experience to convert traffic and interest into longer term engagement with your brand, because then they don’t have to search for you the next time.
They’ll simply come to you.
I mentioned a moment ago, of course, that you want to pay attention to specific data about keywords that are trending or going up or going down in your world. You’re going to need to watch your surf search traffic trends closely. How are people finding you and how is that changing over time? You’re going to need to stay agile and prepare to shift if customer behaviors change right now.
I’m making some predictions about what I think is likely to happen. My confidence level on some of those things is solid, but it’s not a hundred percent. It’s not close to a hundred percent. It’s probably 70%, maybe 65%. So there is some possibilities that this could change dramatically. You need to be ready if those behaviors change.
You also need to keep learning. If you’re not already, I would highly recommend that you start testing generative AI for your business. How can you use these tools to improve your efficiency, to improve your effectiveness, to brainstorm ideas, to come up with new concepts? These are really cool tools, and you should definitely be playing with them at a minimum by now, if not actively incorporating them into your workflow.
The goal above all health is to build your brand. Ultimately, you want to encourage customers to search for your business by name, because then it won’t matter whether they use Google or Bing or ChatGPT to find you. AI won’t kill your search traffic, you know, simply point customers directly to you, which is what we all want to do.
And then we don’t have to worry about whether or not Google’s doomed. We’ll know for sure that you won’t be now looking at the clock on the wall. We are out of time for this week. I want to remind you that you can find the show notes for this episode as well as an archive of all past episodes by going to timpeter.com/podcast.
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