Ian Poole, Editor and Owner of Electronics Notes shares his views on how AI could affect website traffic and content marketing in this guest blog post.

There is a lot of talk about AI and chatbots like ChatGPT, as well as AI-based search that’s being introduced by Bing and will be introduced by Google.

There is a lot that is unclear about how this new search technology will affect the Internet, but what is clear is that it will revolutionize the Internet and provide a cataclysmic change to the way we all use search and websites.

It will undoubtedly present an existential threat to many websites and it is clear that in a year’s time, many of the popular websites we have come to rely on will have ceased to exist.

It will also have a major impact on search marketing, and many of the currently held views will have to change.

We’ve already started to see small changes. Over recent years, there has been a growing trend for search engines like Google to improve their search experience. One major element has been in giving a short answer at the top of search results, albeit with a link to the website for further reference.

This provides many people with the answer they want, so there’s no need to go any further to find out any more.  This has resulted in many top websites seeing significant falls in traffic, mine included. This is not the only reason by far, but it has been a significant reason for large drops in traffic seen by many sites.

AI takes this a huge step further. Already ChatGPT, and other websites like phind.com give extensive and complete answers to queries. I did a search on Phind asking what a superhet radio is and it returned a 700 word answer giving a very good summary. Sadly, it did not reference my Electronics Notes website which is ranked number 3 on Google behind Analog Devices and Wikipedia, but interestingly Phind used a few video descriptions as the sources for its answer.

Having answers like this is far more convenient for the searcher who only has to perform the search, and there is then no need to go to a website that may or may not provide the answer that is needed. Using the traditional approach to perform a search, the search engine would provide a variety of websites that were appropriate and the user would visit these and synthesise their own answer. With AI all of this will be done, and only very few people will need to visit any websites.

In their recent presentation in May 2023, Google showcased what their new AI-based search will look like – it is expected to be launched later this year, but no date has been given.

Again, this new technology presented a much fuller answer to the queries, and as a result many people will not want or even need to go any further. Interestingly Cathy Edwards from Google who was giving the presentation stated that Google will put lots of links to relevant websites so people can easily click through. She said they wanted to keep the overall ecosystem strong and healthy. But let’s face it, who is going to click through to a website when they already have the answer!

It is interesting that even Google, which says that the introduction of AI to search will have a huge impact on the Internet, cannot predict the outcome and the effect it will have on websites.

However, one conundrum for the search giants is that they rely on a vast number of independent expert websites from which to draw their search answers. However, if they kill them off because they don’t refer visitors to them, then ultimately the answers they give will not be able to draw on such a wide field of expertise and information and they will be less informed.

Leaving aside the problems for the search giants, the main issue is about the existential threat posed to all websites by AI-based search.

With many publishers already finding it difficult to return profits from their digital outlets through advertising, this will be the final straw. News publications in particular have had to put paywalls in place in order to try to gain sufficient revenue to keep their sites viable.

Many smaller publications will not have this option and it is certain that very many will go to the wall.

The issue is particularly important for websites that rely heavily on search for their traffic. In fact, many websites keep a very keen eye on all the Google search algorithm updates and many report huge changes in traffic as a result. So, it is very important to them.

The main challenge is to know what to do. At Electronics Notes we have been trying to prepare for this, and we are experimenting with a variety of new ideas. Although the outcome of these cannot be confirmed until after the Google AI-based search engine is released (most sites get the majority of their search traffic from Google), one of the clear messages is that all websites will need to rely less on search traffic and more on other sources.

In order to maximise what little traffic might come from search engines, all the pundits say that the best options are to have high quality content that is well written and properly optimised.

Although it is difficult to predict what will work and what won’t, it is clear that all websites should look very carefully at what will happen in the near future. Also, the concept of content marketing might need to be updated. Whatever the situation, a good, well thought through plan is needed to ensure that the effects of this cataclysmic change can be weathered, and hopefully they might even bring some benefits to websites.