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Is the search engine doomed? AI chatbots are rapidly growing in popularity as they provide concrete answers to our questions instead of a long list of websites. The question is: what does this mean for brands? How do you stay relevant and visible in a world without search engines and SEO?

Google is still the primary way for many to explore the online world. A whopping 84.9% of online search traffic is through Google, compared to a meager 9% for Bing. With SEO and SEA, brands could profile themselves perfectly via Google for years, until social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn began to take away market share. However, the traditional advertising model remained intact. Until ChatGPT appeared on the market…

End of SEO and SEA in sight?
We are on the verge of a revolution. AI chatbots like ChatGPT, Bing Chat, and Bard are rapidly conquering the world and turning the online advertising model upside down. After all, who will still scour through various SEO-optimized websites full of ads for their information when an AI chatbot can provide direct answers to all your questions?

Even Google, as the market leader, is seriously concerned: “Although we are 25 years into search, I daresay that our story has just begun,” said Prabhakar Raghavan, SVP of Google.

The big question is: what do you do as a brand with your marketing budgets to maintain your online relevance and visibility? We have investigated it for you.

The new way of advertising?
 Search isn’t disappearing entirely. Bing Chat is essentially an extension of Microsoft’s search engine, and Google is doing the same thing by integrating its own AI chatbot, Bard, into Google Search. Both parties also offer commercial links in their answers, seemingly keeping the traditional advertising model intact.

However, the conversion of online advertisements is expected to decrease significantly. For example, Bing Chat users hardly click on links to external sources/websites, let alone commercial links. So we have to look at search differently.

AI chatbots vs. the truth                                                                                        AI chatbots are currently not reliable substitutes for search engines, simply because they do not produce objective facts. If you ask ChatGPT for a list of “the top 10 PR agencies in the Netherlands,” you will get a different list every time. Perhaps ChatGPT will start verifying its answers in the future using a reliable authority, market research, awards, or (customer) references. TruthGPT, a new initiative by Elon Musk, is also a possible solution to this problem. Musk wants TruthGPT to be an alternative to Microsoft and Google’s chatbots, calling it “a maximalist, truth-seeking AI trying to understand the nature of the universe.”

Build up mindshare
“How do you ensure that AI chatbots like ChatGPT or Bing Chat refer to your company or product after a question? Unfortunately, the answer is not that simple. AI chatbots are language models trained on enormous amounts of data from the internet. Every brand with some online presence is almost certainly included in those models (and is searchable online), but how a chatbot determines which brands to mention in its answers? That is unknown.

For example, Bing Chat looks for answers in web articles, provided they are available. But if there is no clear online reference, the answer can be different every time. Therefore, it is much more effective if users of AI chatbots directly ask for advice or information about your brand. In the post-search world, you need to work more than ever on ‘mindshare,’ or the awareness and perception of your brand or product. You need to be ‘top of mind’ for users so that they can ask an AI chatbot directly about your references or services.”

Focus on social media channels
“In the post-search world, it is important to improve your online relevance and visibility outside of traditional search engines as much as possible. From a PR perspective, it is more important than ever for brands to focus on creating their own content that increases their relevance in the language models of AI chatbots. This could include accessible blogs and customer references that connect with your brand.

But to truly be ‘seen,’ your target audience must be familiar with your brand. Therefore, focus on improving your brand awareness and trust among your target audiences through your own online platforms and social media channels such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. These will be the most important platforms in the coming years to reach potential customers.”

Influencer and community marketing
 There is a large, often untapped area of non-traditional channels such as YouTube, TikTok, Discord, and Twitch that allow brands to directly engage with their target audiences without relying on search engines or AI chatbots. By supplementing these channels with marketing and PR activities aimed at influencers and communities, brands can effectively build their online visibility and relevance. Even “old-fashioned” newsletters are valuable as a direct communication line with target audiences in this context.

Experiment to survive
There is currently a major upheaval taking place in the online landscape. In the words of Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella: “It’s a new day in search and rapid innovation is going to come.”

The good news for brands is that their investments in SEO and their online profile are certainly not lost. However, they will need to allocate their marketing budgets differently in the coming period. The focus should shift from SEO and SEA to their own media platforms, social media channels, and building relationships with communities and influencers. They should also develop good, preferably non-commercial, content that increases the relevance of their brand and share it through various alternative channels such as TikTok, Instagram, and Twitch. We are heading towards an exciting time where experimentation is crucial to stay ahead and survive in the post-search world.