How Will Generative AI Change Search?

Illustrator: Adan Augusto

Search engine optimization (SEO) has been a crucial part of digital marketing for decades. Optimizing webpages and content to rank in coveted positions in search engines like Google and Bing has been instrumental in driving traffic, improving visibility and increasing conversions for businesses. 

However, the rise of generative AI threatens to significantly disrupt the SEO landscape. When OpenAI’s generative AI chatbot ChatGPT debuted last year, it was heralded as a revolutionary concept that many signaled as the end of SEO. 

However, while that statement is merely conjecture at this stage, there is plenty of scope in how generative AI chatbots like this can be a valuable asset to marketers that are navigating the complex and ever-evolving world of SEO. From a marketing perspective, generative AI tools can actually aid SEO efforts, ranging from content creation and research to metadata and title optimization. 

This short guide will break down how generative AI will impact SEO in the ways that we know now. However, much like SEO, the world of AI is constantly changing and evolving at a rapid pace.

What is Generative AI?

Generative AI refers to artificial intelligence systems that can generate their own text, images, videos, and more. Tools like GPT-3 can generate coherent long-form articles, stories, and scripts, as well as lines of code and even photorealistic images. What’s more, newer models are emerging for generating videos and other forms of dynamic content that look increasingly realistic.

These AI systems are trained to understand patterns in datasets so that they can generate new examples that provide an accurate response to the user’s prompt. The outputs are generated automatically by algorithms without any human intervention.

Taking ChatGPT as an example, it is a natural language processing tool that uses generative AI as a backbone. It allows users to interact conversationally with the chatbot to generate the content that they want. 

Limitations of Generative AI Technology

ChatGPT and other generative AI chatbots like Google’s Bard are only as effective as the specificity and clarity of the prompts that they receive. Questions that are posed to them must be worded specifically to achieve optimum results, otherwise, the responses may be substandard and poor in quality. The model merely assumes what you want, rather than asking for clarification, which can lead to unrelated content being generated.

Generative AI critics argue that these tools are excellent at putting words into a coherent order, but cannot accurately assess the legitimacy or validity of the statements they make. 

While a user can expect a generative AI tool to dispense paragraphs of text that make sense syntactically and grammatically, or even provide a set of statistics backed up by sources, there are severe limitations. One of its prominent failures is its inability to discern an author’s opinion which can lead to the further perpetuation of misinformation. Furthermore, as ChatGPT is confined to dispensing data up to 2021, asking it for real-time, up-to-date statistics can prove to be more ambitious than accurate. 

How Will Generative AI Impact SEO? 

Businesses across sectors have embraced SEO marketing, ranging from healthcare and finance companies to small and niche businesses like chiropractors, driving instructors, dentists, steel fabricators, and the list goes on. Many companies that have invested heavily in SEO for their niche market are rightfully concerned about what the emergence of AI means for their current and future progress.

Google, the largest search engine in the world that boasts 3.5 billion daily active users worldwide, was rather slower to embrace generative AI. Its answer to ChatGPT, Bard, was launched in March 2022, and while functioning with a similar interface and functionality, one major documented mishap cost Google billions in shares. However, recently, Google’s activities have indicated that it will prioritize generative AI and that it might not be to a business’s detriment to use it. 

Google SGE

It’s clear that despite this minor setback, Google continues to prioritize the AI experience. At its annual I/O conference in May 2023, Google announced Search Generative Experience (SGE), while also removing the waitlist for Bard and outlining plans to launch extensions for the tool that integrate third-party apps and tools. SGE, though, is perhaps the most significant takeaway of all.

SGE presents an in-search results experience that allows users to peruse further into the web for additional information related to their search query. SGE will make AI the dominant driving force behind search, promising to provide an even more seamless and hassle-free search experience, allowing users to understand topics and viewpoints more easily and quickly. 

This technology allows the search engine to dispense content that’s relevant to the user's query, rather than relying solely on pre-existing, indexed content. While this technology is still in its infancy, it does have the potential to revolutionize the way in which SEO is approached.

Generative AI will impact SEO in several other important ways:

Content Scalability

Generative AI will allow companies to scale content creation exponentially. Instead of relying on human writers to produce blog posts, articles, guides, or product descriptions, generative AI can automatically generate hundreds or even thousands of posts to populate a website. What’s more, the generative AI tools can dispense this content in a matter of minutes rather than hours, which can save companies significantly in terms of productivity and budget. This flood of new content could also help sites rank for a wider range of keywords. 

However, search engines may eventually penalize “low-quality” or repetitive content. It’s also important to remember that a generative AI chatbot will be unlikely to capture all of the crucial linguistic nuances, unique selling points and customer expectations in its text, whereas a skilled content writer is trained to spot all of these when delivering website or blog content, fueled by contextual understanding, empathy, emotional intelligence and creativity.

Keyword Targeting

Generative AI tools can analyze keyword demand and interest to determine topics to cover in generated content. They can provide users with suggestions for longtail keywords to target, or use as the centerpieces for future blogs or articles, further adding credibility and authorship to the piece, which, as we know, is something that Google values.

By generating content tailored to high-volume or less competitive keywords, sites may be able to rank for more phrases and further solidify themselves as experts in their niches. However, search engines can detect when content is overly optimized for keywords and may penalize sites for this behavior. Google is notoriously strict when it comes to black hat SEO tactics like keyword stuffing, which is why human intervention and supervision are crucial when dispensing AI content. 


Generative AI tools can create new content in minutes, meaning that there will be an increased emphasis and demand on unique, personalized and high-quality content that cannot be easily replicated. By generating valuable and informative content for each visitor, websites can improve engagement and reduce bounce rates, while also standing out from their competition. If done well, personalization may boost rankings. 

However, at scale, personalization could be seen as a way to manipulate search engine results. Businesses will need to focus on the semantics and terms within the content to ensure that it still retains relevance and value to the user’s search query, as they cannot expect generative AI to intrinsically link different words, phrases, questions and variations together to make a piece seem truly authentic. 

The Future of SEO and Generative AI

It’s clear to see that generative AI tools have the potential to scale and optimize content for the purposes of SEO. However, the salient point is that it cannot be left to its own devices. If left unchecked, widespread use of AI tools to generate SEO ‘optimized’ content could undermine the integrity of search results and worsen the customer experience. Both of these qualities are held in high regard by search engines, so a careful balancing act must be struck.

As was evidenced in many of its core algorithm updates, Google will likely move to penalize the types of manipulative behavior and ‘low-quality’ content that generative AI enables if exploited. But it may also find ways to reward genuinely useful, personalized, and engaging content that still provides a good user experience. 

For SEO professionals and digital marketers, generative AI will be both an opportunity and a threat. The key will be using AI responsibly and ethically to enhance search rankings through better, more targeted content, as opposed to tricking or manipulating the system.

SEO in the Age of AI 

The future of search engine optimization in an age of increasingly advanced AI will depend on the following factors:

  • Further algorithm updates, which can detect the manipulative use of AI and reward high-quality, ethical practices.
  • Enhancing AI models to the extent of producing original, relevant and high-quality content that provides value to users and not search engines exclusively.
  • Effective human intervention and oversight where AI tools can assist content and SEO teams to ensure the technology is being used correctly.

While generative AI may transform parts of the SEO process as we know it, human judgment, ethics, and supervision will ultimately dictate how the technology is deployed and whether it builds or undermines trust in search engine results.