GenAI is going to reduce your brand’s visibility — Here’s how to respond

GenAI is going to reduce your brand’s visibility — Here’s how to respond

A closer look at the future of search — and how it's going to affect your marketing site.

GenAI is going to reduce your brand’s visibility — Here’s how to respond

A closer look at the future of search — and how it's going to affect your marketing site.

The future of marketing is now

Thought leaders from Silversmith, Accel and Webflow discuss the current and future impact of artificial intelligence on the marketing landscape

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Written by
Sara Gates
Sara Gates
Sara Gates
Sara Gates

Marketers are facing a big change when it comes to how audiences learn about their brand and visit their website.

By 2028, Gartner predicts brands will see organic search traffic decrease by 50% or more.  

That’s because unlike many other consumer applications of AI, search users are already comfortable with AI-generated search results. “70% of consumers show at least some trust in GenAI-backed search results, with 20% expressing complete or a great deal of trust,” says Greg Carlucci, Senior Director Analyst, in Gartner’s recent webinar.

For brands that rely on organic search as a primary growth channel, this is a huge wake-up call. But what should marketers do?  Let’s unpack what’s changing and take a closer look at how brands can respond — including using GenAI to their own advantage. 

How AI will change organic traffic and visibility in search

The search experience is evolving in a few key ways, such as AI-powered features in traditional search engines, the adoption of AI chatbots, and the proliferation of AI-generated content. Here’s what marketers need to know. 

Zero-click searches within Google’s SGE

Since Google introduced featured snippets in the fall of 2014, SEO pros have been obsessing over zero-click searches — search results where users get the answer they need directly from the search engine results page (SERP), with no website click necessary. 

Now, Google is testing a new kind of GenAI-powered search experience that expands on the idea of a featured snippet: Search Generative Experience (SGE). SGE delivers a robust, AI-generated answer to users’ queries. Sometimes, these AI snapshots are very rich and detailed — for example, suggesting a full travel itinerary for your vacation. 

Since SGE is very much in test mode and being tweaked constantly, the outputs can change daily. But for now, here are some key points for marketers to know: 

  1. SGE answers load automatically for some searches, need to be requested with a button click on others, and won’t even be an option for more sensitive questions (such as medical questions like “Can I give my 3-year-old Tylenol?”) 
  2. SGE responses can include images, lists, carousels, and follow-up questions that generate even more detailed answers.
  3. Data about SGE traffic doesn’t appear in Google Search Console yet.

Here’s an important caveat: SGE doesn’t necessarily mean a zero-click search. After an initial launch with no links provided, SGE answers now provide citations with links, typically to the top three websites used as sources in developing its answer (more on how to claim one of those spots below). 

Originally, SGE was restricted to opted-in testers via Google’s Search Labs, but started testing in March 2024 with a small subset of users who didn’t opt-in (including many who were annoyed to learn they couldn’t turn it off). 

How SGE will impact brands’ organic traffic is a wide open and hotly debated question in the search community. We’ve already seen Bing launch its own GenAI snippets to the public, only to push them farther down on the SERP — most likely, because they didn’t actually serve their users’ needs. Ultimately, we won’t know the impact of SGE and similar AI-generated search experiences, like Bing’s newer Deep Search, until users have the chance to adopt them at scale.

Users choosing AI chatbots over traditional search engines

While SGE takes place within the traditional Google experience, brands are also likely to see some organic traffic displaced by chat-based generative AI. Tools like ChatGPT, Bing Chat, and Claude can answer questions from users directly within their own apps or websites including questions that would historically be asked via search. 

Meanwhile, hybrid chatbot/search engines like Perplexity are likely to grow in popularity as users discover the advantages of combining natural language conversations with links to third-party websites. 

Competing against low-quality AI-generated content (for now)

GenAI is also changing the organic search landscape by enabling some brands to create and publish massive quantities of content. 

In the most egregious cases, this happens via “SEO heists” — where an agency or company scrapes its competitors’ sites for high-ranking titles, recreates their hard-won content at scale with AI, and steals their traffic. Fortunately, Google’s recent core updates seem to be targeting this kind of mass-produced content, and favoring websites that publish high-quality content by real humans. 

But while the algorithms adjust, brands may still see some loss in traffic due to the proliferation of AI-produced articles taking up space in the SERPs. 

The generational migration away from Google

Finally, while not directly related to AI, it’s worth noting that younger consumers were already starting to choose social media search over Google anyway. 

Studies show GenZ consumers are choosing TikTok and Instagram over Google for local searches, while YouTube has long been known as the second-biggest search engine. 

Ultimately, this trend underscores the key point: These days, showing up where your audience is means thinking bigger than a list of ten links on a Google SERP. 

How brands can respond to AI-powered search

Growth marketer Kevin Indig describes SGE as “a bullet in the chamber of SEO Russian Roulette. It could be nothing; it could be lethal.” According to Kevin, the level of impact has to do with how users adopt the new technology, as well as each individual company’s industry and go-to-market strategy. He suggests conducting an SGE SWOT analysis to help you plan a company-specific response. 

Across the board, there are a few key ways every brand can respond: create great content, show up in AI-powered search, and adjust your metrics accordingly.

Create great content 

First and foremost, the best way brands can retain their audience is by creating high-quality, original content — the kind that AI-generated output simply can’t compete with, and will help make your brand a go-to resource for consumers. 

For most brands, that means investing in longform content like whitepapers, conducting original research, providing detailed best practices, creating videos, and crafting rich visuals. It also means infusing your content with opinionated perspectives and firsthand experiences. 

SEO expert Andy Crestodina perhaps says it best: “Take a stand, have beliefs, and come out for or against something — because AI has no opinions at all. Collaborate with influencers and work with other people — because AI has no friends.”

Show up in AI-powered searches

Once you have great content for your audience to find, you’ll want it to be visible across all the channels where they’re looking for resources — including in SGE answers and chatbot conversations. 

When it comes to SGE, there’s a silver lining for brands who are working to build up their visibilitly. SGE doesn’t just pull and summarize information from the existing top-ranked sites for the search term, instead studies have shown that only 57% of links cited by SGE were even from the first page of results. This means that brands can essentially take a shortcut to getting a link up at the very top of the SERP, which could actually increase traffic from certain keywords.

Here are a few ways to ensure your content can be found and surfaced within AI searches — and that these platforms can access and understand the right information about your brand:

Adjust your metrics 

With all these changes, some of your traffic may disappear into the zero-click category — still providing brand impressions, but not actual clicks through to your website.

And some traffic will come to your site via paths that are harder or impossible to measure with traditional methods. For now, we can’t track SGE traffic in Google Search Console and even though Bing has promised Bing Chat metrics in their webmaster tools, it’s not currently available. Plus, Chatbot apps like ChatGPT don’t provide data to marketers about how often they’re mentioning brands, which is the newest form of visibility in search. 

As agency owner Wil Reynolds writes, “With generative AI predicted to drive a 50%+ drop in organic search by 2028, clinging to 2023’s (outdated) success metrics will lead to a lot of missed projections in 2024/2025.” He goes on to describe how marketers can use workarounds, like measuring how often your brand is mentioned in response to key questions in ChatGPT or tracking known ChatGPT bot hits on your website. 

But ultimately, marketers won’t be able to quantify the impact of these new search experiences. That likely means marketing teams will need to pay close attention and adjust projections for traditional metrics like organic traffic and SERP rankings over the next few years — and be prepared to educate executives on why these changes are happening.  

How to use GenAI to your advantage

Finally, while AI may be changing the game for organic search, it’s also a valuable tool to improve your visibility and traffic. When used responsibly and with authenticity, GenAI can help strategic and creative teams produce the kind of high-quality content that will stand out in the crowd. 

For example, GenAI design tools and writing assistants can save valuable time by:

  • Refining buyer personas so you can create more relevant content
  • Ideating content topics 
  • Rapidly creating prototypes for visual experiences
  • Iterating design concepts
  • Brainstorming blog titles
  • Editing video and create snippets for social sharing
  • Helping writers solve the “blank page problem” with first drafts
  • Editing and proofreading content
  • Generating SEO meta descriptions and alt text

The truth is, it’s not possible to future-proof your SEO. No schema markup or keyword strategy is eternal. New platforms and channels will continue to emerge, and consumer preferences will keep evolving right with them. 

But for marketing and brand teams, the bottom line doesn’t change: show up where your audience spends time, with content they find valuable and relevant.

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Last Updated
April 22, 2024