Will the US$68 billion SEO sector become outdated because to generative AI?

It’s a common claim made by companies like Google, Microsoft, and others that generative artificial intelligence tools like ChatGPT would improve user experience when searching the internet. For instance, users would be able to simply obtain an answer that has been scoured over the entire internet, saving them from having to sift through a sea of URLs.

The emergence of AI-powered search engines has raised certain other challenges as well, including copyright violations, the possibility of “hallucinated” results, and the opacity of information sources.

Another effect, though, is that I think it would wipe out the US$68 billion search engine optimization market, which was mostly founded by Google and other corporations.

Search engine optimization, or SEO, has been used by websites, news organizations, blogs, and many other URL-driven media to “convince” search engines to publish their material as high as possible in reader results over the past 25 years or so. In addition to increasing website traffic, this has given rise to a whole industry of consultants and marketers who offer advice on how to do that.

I researched the economics of e-commerce as an associate professor of information and operations management. All of it will probably become outdated as generative AI becomes more and more common.


How a web search operates

When looking for information online, a user opens her browser, enters the necessary keywords into a search engine, and hits enter. The user peruses the links in the result listings once the search engine presents the results till she locates the pertinent data.

Online content producers employ a variety of search engine marketing techniques, including sponsored placements, banner ads, and search engine optimization, to grab users’ attention.

For example, a news website might employ a consultant to assist it in emphasizing keywords in headlines and metadata so that when a user searches for the most recent information on a flood or political crisis, Google and Bing will favorably rank its material.


How search methodology is altered by generative AI

However, the success of this endeavor hinges on search engines drawing millions of visitors to their websites. Search engines must therefore constantly update their algorithms to raise the caliber of their search results to win over users’ loyalty and increase website traffic.

For this reason, search engines have been quick to experiment with generative AI to enhance search results, even though it may negatively impact a portion of their revenue stream. And this has the potential to drastically alter the web search landscape.

The largest search engines have either embraced this strategy already or are testing it out. DuckDuckGo’s DuckAssist, Baidu’s ERNIE, Microsoft’s Bing AI, and Google’s Bard are a few examples.

The effect on finances

One cannot overlook the financial implications of this.

In 2022, for instance, the SEO sector brought in $68.1 billion worldwide. By 2030, it was predicted to reach $129.6 billion, however, these estimates were created before generative AI emerged and threatened to render the sector obsolete.

One of the main sources of income for search engines is the monetization of Internet search services. They receive a portion of the money that websites spend on search engine marketing—a term used to refer to the use of paid placements, advertisements, affiliate marketing, and similar strategies—to increase their online presence. For instance, Google Ads, which offers some of these services, accounted for over $162.5 billion, or 58% of the company’s 2022 revenues.

Large, multi-national corporations like Google and Microsoft, which operate search engines, will probably find ways to make up for their losses by developing ways to monetize generative AI results. However, the SEO consultants and marketers who rely on search engines—mostly small and medium-sized businesses—won’t be required as much as they are now, making the industry unlikely to endure for very long.


Not too distant in the future

However, don’t count on the SEO sector to disappear overnight. Though still in their infancy, generative AI search engines need to overcome a few obstacles before taking over the search space.

To start with, a lot of these programs are still in their experimental stages and are frequently restricted to specific individuals. Furthermore, generative AI has a bad reputation for producing responses that are either fabricated, inaccurate, or plagiarized.

This indicates that it is unlikely to win over many users’ confidence or loyalty at this time.


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