Marketing Brand Strategy Search Marketing

AI integration and TikTok pressure: the next 5 years of search engine marketing

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By Sam Anderson | Network Editor

March 20, 2023 | 11 min read

Are artificial intelligence, social search, and voice assistants changing the landscape of search engine marketing? We asked leading search marketers from The Drum Network.

A seaside coin-operated 'viewing machine'

Search engine marketing: how will it change with AI, pressures from social, and other major shifts? / Nadine Shaabana via Unsplash

The nuts and bolts of the search landscape have been bedded in for decades: an established set of practices, clustered around one giant. But recent Bing AI integrations have certainly shaken something up. Meanwhile, more audiences are satisfying their ‘search intent’ elsewhere (on TikTok, or even Pinterest); voice search hasn’t yet proven to be the big shaker-upper some hoped it would be; and Google ad controversies pop up with regularity.

We asked members of The Drum Network: in 2024 and beyond, how will the search landscape continue to shift?

Deyna Lavery, senior media director, RocketMill

With short-form video the battleground right now, the threat to Google from platforms like TikTok is a symptom of the internet becoming a set of walled gardens with their own offerings (compared to the number of disparate and unconnected websites that benefited from a central index in the early 2000s).

How does Google’s vision of “organizing the world's information” fit when it comes to platforms of already-organized user-generated content, operated by companies who see Google as a direct competitor?

Looking mid-term, chatbots (Microsoft with ChatGPT and Google with Bard) will be the next big step. We may start to see a split between users happy to be served an answer by AI, and those who want to see ranked content from numerous sources. Whether that’ll become a fundamental shift (think desktop to mobile-first) or a flash in the pan (like voice search), is yet to be seen.

Keri Boerner, search engine marketing director, PMG

The lines between ‘search’ and ‘not search’ will continue to blur, forcing a new definition of the industry and landscape. What we consider search will broaden to encompass more core components of the entire digital landscape, with sites and providers leveraging traditional search data signals to engage advertisers and users. AI and machine learning will increasingly power search management; brands and advertisers that learn how to unlock the mechanisms of the machine will drive greater business results than those who adopt solutions at face value.

Dave Colgate, head of search engine optimization, Vertical Leap

Search engines like Google will come and go, but the need to find information will always be present, in one form or another. Businesses will always need help surfacing their information where their audiences are looking for it. That’s where our role as SEO specialists lies, not with any specific search engine.

2023 and 2024 will see the landscape change dramatically. The main drivers of that change? Video, voice and AI, quite possibly all combined. In 2024, we’ll be more focused on video formats, optimizing much less for Google specifically and using AI to help. And with changing habits thanks to upcoming generations, we’ll see voice as the new ‘search bar’.

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Martin Reed, product strategy director, Croud

We’re seeing the diversification of search. Platforms like TikTok and Instagram are great when you’re searching for inspiration, like a book to read or a recipe to try. TikTok is still in its infancy, but expect to see continued growth in its usage as a search engine. With 40% of gen Z currently using TikTok over Google, there’s an appetite for short, informative video content in the search landscape. That will only be amplified by TikTok’s new search ad product and free ‘trending searches’ database.

Google still reigns supreme on functional queries like insurance, hotels and directions. We’ll likely see platforms like the new AI-powered Bing, TikTok and Instagram eat away a bit of Google’s share, but the largest threats to Google’s dominance remain Amazon and Apple.

Over 60% of product searches start on Amazon. Apple is also yet to release a search engine. Given how much Apple’s privacy moves have affected the tracking of ad-based platforms like Google and Meta, a strong search engine could be damaging considering Apple’s market share and customer base.

Adithya Hemanth, search engine optimization manager, Incubeta

Google is at a pivotal point in its AI journey. With the introduction of Bard, generative AI will also be integral for Google. Over the years, we’ve seen the search landscape evolve: more rich results, interactive panels for user actions (like flight searches), etc. Bard will enable Google’s responses to become more interactive. Instead of serving direct web results for informational searches, expect Google to push results that provide information in an easy-to-digest format, integrating supporting information like web links, video/image references, and reviews, like existing answer boxes.

Google results pages are diverse and mindful of the search intent. It will be interesting to see whether Google maintains this diversity of results – or if it will it move towards a one-stop solution with AI-powered responses.

Chris Langan, media director, Jaywing

Search is striving to be the ultimate one-stop destination by continually improving the effectiveness of EEAT (experience, expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness) within the algorithm and organic results. This symbolizes the logic of the future of search. How do we make sure that we, as creative marketers, are staying ahead of a value-based algorithm, despite not knowing exactly when or how the algorithm will develop? We follow the user.

With a diversifying pool of ‘destinations’, Tiktok threatens to disrupt the journey with an unconventional answer to search. Yet Tiktok values views over informational accuracy, while search is hyper-focused on accuracy.

We must start to incorporate and experiment with progressive, in-demand content formats, and stay ahead of predictable algorithm updates. Optimization always follows the same rules: create value, create accuracy, and let them EEAT it up when search is ready.

Gareth Torrance, head of search engine optimization, Digital Ethos

While we haven’t yet seen the skyrocketing of voice search, there’s no denying the steady increase in smart speaker devices. By 2025, it’s expected that there will be around 130m Amazon Echo devices around the world.

Given that Google’s ‘featured snippets’ provide answers for smart speaker queries, the idea of writing content for question-based keywords remains a great plan. This, coupled with ‘content cityscaping’, can build an ecosystem of content that brings in users, provides value, builds brand loyalty and increases the conversion potential.

Google recently rolled out more augmented reality tools. This, with ever-improving mobile technology, suggests that we could see a shift away from the standard written keyword searches, toward a world of augmented search.

Beth Nunnington, vice-president of organic media, Journey Further

Generative language technology, like ChatGPT, is revolutionizing content creation. Bots can now produce content that is virtually indistinguishable from human-crafted copy. However, as AI feeds on content produced by other AI, the reliability of the output is in question.

Companies that rely on internet-sourced data to drive their machine-learning algorithms face a quandary about the trustworthiness of AI-generated content. Quality content is essential to securing organic search results; in today’s glut of AI-generated blandness, it’s more important than ever to stand out with originality, insightfulness, and usefulness. As we navigate the uncharted waters of this new technological era, it’s crucial to consider whether the AI of the future will be trustworthy enough to make informed decisions based on AI-generated content.

Arlene Wszalek, executive vice president, strategy and innovation, Allied Global Marketing

The future of SEO will be led by AI. As AI technologies continue to evolve and grow, websites will require more advanced and sophisticated optimizations to keep up.

Yet surveys suggest fewer than one in four websites are optimized for AI-powered search.

Optimizing for AI-assisted search means providing high-quality, well-structured content optimized for both human users and AI-supported search engines. We approach SEO for our clients’ websites in three ways: content (clear, concise language with semantic closeness), structure (clear, intuitive, fast navigation), and metadata (complete, accurate, and relevant).

As AI becomes more prevalent across search engines, websites must be optimized accordingly. AI-friendly content increases visibility and discoverability. Unoptimized content will do the opposite.

Albadr Alhashemi, search engine optimization consultant, Builtvisible

The advancement in Natural Language Processing (NLP) tools is here to stay. As the way users interact with search engines changes, this will mean a decline in ‘informational’ searches.

Developers will no longer need to organically search for information on debugging, but instead ‘command’ an NLP tool, like ChatGPT, to debug an issue directly. Consumers will no longer search and click on a webpage. Instead, users will get the answer directly.

If tools like ChatGPT begin citing the sources used to train the models, then we might see greater optimization around evergreen content fighting to be selected as the main citation source. Navigational and e-commerce intent searches are still safe… for now.

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