Will generative AI and Google’s Analytics update kill your SEO strategy?


If you’ve been writing content for algorithms instead of real people, now might be the time to rethink your SEO-heavy strategy. Generative AI has given people a path to research that allows them to bypass the SERP, and your standard traffic analytics are being replaced with real engagement metrics.

Search engine optimization is a tough game for all but the biggest, most well-established players, who usually end up competing with each other for the most desirable keywords and often rank for longer-tail and latent semantic indexing (LSI) keywords as an accidental byproduct. Nevertheless, it’s common for SMBs to spend thousands of dollars to throw their own hats in the ring.

The theory is that most of your traffic will come from organic search, and then it’s just a number’s game from there. Some small percentage of people looking for whatever you managed to rank for may be moved to click on something or sign up for something that allows you to pursue them within your marketing funnel. Some small percentage of those will eventually buy something.

Does the theory hold up?

The hunt for that small percentage of a small percentage has produced a marketing culture of maximizing traffic, often at the expense of being interesting or helpful, nevermind original. This directly conflicts with Google’s mission, which is ostensibly to help people find content and information that they actually want to consume, and Google has been switching things up to try to keep a step ahead for years.

However, the next set of updates is not being perpetuated so much by people trolling the system as it is by generative AI’s potential to threaten the way people search for information on the internet.

Announced at Google I/O, the update will supply conversational responses like those you get from ChatGPT in its search results, so people don’t actually have to click into any pages to find the answers to their questions. It will be kind of similar to the way it currently tries to answer common questions above the search results, but rather than supplying excerpts from high-ranking sites, it will use its own AI to compose the response (presumably an amalgam of the available information from multiple online sources). This should make the results both more tailored and more comprehensive.

So what will happen to SEO?

Sites with high SEO rankings will continue to be featured alongside generated responses, and these are bound to get results from B2B-motivated searches. It is very unlikely that their vendor or supplier research will start and stop at a ChatGPT-like conversation in the near future, and customers will still have to visit company pages to get detailed information and properly compare products in the early- to mid-funnel. This is especially true given generative AI’s propensity for mistakes and “hallucinations.” However, the somewhat limited real-estate next to the AI response means this update will more than likely disproportionately affect smaller businesses who, until now, had been competing for the end of the SERP.

Moreover, it may be more difficult to demonstrate the ROI of SEO-oriented content because Google is also updating its analytics platform from Universal Analytics (GA3) to GA4 in June 2023. The gist of the update is as follows:

  • GA4 is prioritizing engagement along a customer journey over traffic.
  • It has forsaken session-based tracking for “events,” which are actions taken on the website: clicking things, watching videos, etc.
  • It’s combining website and app data to better understand the broader customer journey.
  • It accounts for rising data privacy concerns by using cookieless measurement, and behavioral and conversion modeling.
  • It’s incorporating AI to offer predictive capabilities and potentially some level of personalization.
  • It allows for direct integrations to media platforms that help drive actions on your website or app.

Better engagement tracking is likely to betray the typically poor performance of low quality, SEO-oriented content pages. On her LinkedIn post, Marketing Pro Group CEO Helen Coetzee puts it more diplomatically: “Many web pages that businesses rely on for essential leads and sales won’t be well-optimised for conversions to generate the required volume of leads and sales, because marketers have been more focused on search engine optimisation/SEO than conversion rate optimisation/CRO.”

Users will likely continue to look to traditionally authoritative and reputable sources for credible information, especially as the trend of SEO-hawks using ChatGPT garbage within their own content continues. Those outlets that maintain a level of journalistic integrity and fact-checking will remain an important source for those who need getting updates, staying ahead of the curve, and finding information customers wouldn’t think to ask about or that isn’t indexed on Google. As for SMBs, there may be an opportunity for those with strong expertise in specific areas and those who are willing to do proper research and develop proprietary data to take a significant portion of the share of voice.

And, as Coetzee points out, events are likely to become “a much more important revenue stream for publishers” in the short- to medium-term. Events are uniquely well-positioned to provide an irreplaceable mix of credible information and real, trustworthy human connection.

If you want thoughtful, original content that’s impervious to SEO updates, we’re happy to support you.

Dylan Monorchio is a freelance journalist and content creator with over 10 years’ experience producing content for the event industry. The former deputy editor of EventMB (now Skift Meetings), Dylan is as happy analyzing major event trends as he is exploring specific topics and contentious issues. While he can usually be found in a comfy chair pouring over industry data, Dylan also loves to connect with other event geeks — an affinity that frequently puts him in league with the team at DAHLIA+Agency

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