PUBLISHED: Feb 8, 2023 7 min read

AI in Search Results: How Marketers Should Plan for AI’s Impact

Sarah Gray

Sarah Gray

Group Director, SEO & Digital Content

In the wake of the hugely successful launch of ChatGPT, major search engines Google and Bing have both worked quickly to introduce natural language response features into search results using similar AI technologies. This product shift has the potential to be hugely impactful to users, with far-reaching implications for how internet users research and find answers.

Introducing ‘New Bing’ and Bard

Google moved to introduce its conversational AI service ‘Bard’, which relies on Google’s LaMDA AI technology. The initial preview and announcement went live on Monday, February 6, just days after stirring up the digital world with its potential.

The preview wasn’t a resounding success. In what was intended to be a fascinating look at the scope of Bard’s ability to distill information in an easily digestible form, Bard instead shared inaccurate information about which telescope was the first to capture images of an exoplanet.

In what is quickly becoming the newest digital arms race, Microsoft announced its own AI search offering the day before Google’s official announcement. The tech giant partnered with OpenAI, the creators of ChatGPT, to integrate AI into Bing’s search functionality. Called more simply ‘new Bing,’ it intends to offer similar tools to what Google offers with Bard.

A major distinction in Bing’s experience is the inclusion of sources, which may help users navigate AI results’ still-questionable reliability and increase trust in search results.

Early Search + AI Integrations Disappoint

Google’s high-profile flub made headlines across various websites. Combined with a lackluster presentation that briefly went private on YouTube—it’s since been made public again—the public reaction to Bard’s shaky release was swift, to the tune of a $100 billion stock drop in the hours following Google’s preview.

We are at an early point in Bard’s implementation. Early findings from users who made it through the new Bing’s waitlist are finding that it has similar problems with factual errors as Bard does. In a CBS Mornings segment and a Twitter thread highlighting Reddit users’ findings, new Bing offered factually incorrect responses or complete fabrications.

Both Google and Microsoft are only offering limited access to these tools, so users should expect to see them continue to evolve to provide more reliable search results.

Preparing for the Future of Search AI

AI search integration is still in the early stages of implementation. Despite the apparent infancy of this technology, it shouldn’t be ignored. Iterations, updates, and changes will come fast, and getting ahead of these shifts in the digital landscape needs to be a priority for your business. Here’s what to consider as AI tools begin to influence search engine results pages:

Available Real Estate + CTRs in Search Results

Depending on the implementation of AI content, it will likely reduce the available real estate for websites in search results. A similar change happened when Google added answer boxes, featured snippets, and ‘People also ask’ sections to search results pages. These tools take up space on search results pages, pushing down search results and reducing impressions and clicks to top-ranking websites.

Google search results page for 'James Cameron' showing the additional features Google implemented over the years that take priority over most search results.
Even on a zoomed-out screen, only the first few results show up ahead of the ‘People also ask’ and ‘Top stories’ sections for this search.

If a similar change happens once Bard and the new Bing are fully implemented, securing the top spots — especially position zero spots — will become increasingly valuable. The clickthrough rate on everything below the scroll will likely drop, so strong SEO planning and execution will become more critical.

There will be similar value in securing a top PPC ad spot. Ads in the lower positions will still exist at the bottom of the search results page, but the time it takes to scroll to the bottom will increase as these new features are implemented.

For an in-depth look at how AI content can influence search results and SEO as a whole, Amsive Senior Director of SEO & Head of Organic Research Lily Ray dug into the possibilities and potential of the technology.

Reaching Audiences Through Additional Channels

It will be important for marketers to measure the impact of any AI content in search results by collecting and analyzing data on CTRs, rankings, ad positions, and resulting traffic from paid and organic search.

Editorial AI results may be less useful for transaction-focused searches and will likely have a lower impact on eCommerce or other product- and service-oriented results. However, publishers and businesses that have successfully developed consistent upper-funnel traffic sources through editorial content will be challenged. It will be important to:

  • Understand which search themes and SEO/PPC keywords to maintain investments in (especially category and brand keywords).
  • Experiment with alternative digital channels for reaching readers with informational content (such as Google Discover, Reddit, or new text-based discovery apps like Artifact).
  • Consider increasing investments in other platforms heavily used for search and discovery (such as TikTok, YouTube and Pinterest).
  • Establishing “test and learn” budgets for different PPC keyword types to help protect core marketing dollars.
  • Consider testing increased investment in Bing search, which may see an increase in available impressions as users move to test the new Microsoft Edge and Bing search experience.

If you’re a business that relies heavily on search for predictable growth, now might be the time to begin diversifying your marketing plans. Pairing insights from a mature search program with first-party data and modeled audiences, for instance, can help illuminate new, highly profitable channels and tactics to pursue.

A healthy mix of advertising across your audiences’ top channels, including streaming services, video platforms, social media, and more, will help weather major shifts to any one sector.

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Focus on Long-Term Strategies

While it’s important to be aware of the implications of major publisher updates like Bard and new Bing, it’s just as important to refrain from acting prematurely. Dramatic shifts in the online landscape are challenging to plan and budget around, but making significant changes to your marketing plans before seeing the full picture can be detrimental to your business. “Don’t do anything drastic,” said Ray in a recent interview with Insider Intelligence discussing AI in SEO.

Getting the basics right—a strong SEO foundation, following Google and Microsoft best practices, and maintaining a rigorous approach to paid search campaign measurement —remains the gold standard for all search marketing strategies. Google overhauled its quality rating guidelines to E-E-A-T mere months ago, and it stands to reason that these values will remain core to showing up online in various formats. 

We’re also on the cusp of a shift in how many marketers track digital marketing performance data as GA4 replaces Universal Analytics. If your business hasn’t set this up yet, the time is now. The introduction of this new tracking methodology, along with the loss of cookie tracking, will change how marketers understand digital marketing success.

Staying on top of shifting digital tools is only one part of a data-centric, performance-driven strategy, giving you the power to know more and do more. Dig deeper into how AI content can influence SEO strategies, or let’s talk about how to achieve more for your marketing—and your business.