February 24, 2023 | Ian Horne
It’s been a Bard day’s night… I’m deleting my chat log….
It is mere months since ChatGPT announced itself to the world, confidently slicing through the hordes yelling ‘ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?’, at an enraptured LinkedIn rabble. Sure, it had to undergo serious toil to avoid descending into offensive and racist remarks like predecessor Microsoft Tay, and yes, OpenAI paid Kenyan laborers less than $2 an hour to achieve this *, but on the whole, ChatGPT has probably been the biggest tech conversation starter of 2023.
Spare a thought, then, for Google’s Bard chatbot, which stumbled into the arena, sandals well and truly unfastened, with a tweet in which it offers an incorrect answer to the question: “What new discoveries from the James Webb Space Telescope can I tell my nine-year-old about?” The backlash was immediate, and Google suffered a bloodied nose to the tune of $100 billion off its market price . Round one to ChatGPT, I guess.
Despite this initial hiccup, Google’s venture into the world of AI chatbots is inevitably big news. For those in the business of SEO marketing or content creation, perhaps especially, you are going to need to be abreast of any key advances made by the provider of the world’s biggest search engine, which handles at least 3.5 billion daily searches according to some estimates. This is what I want to focus on here.
Let’s be clear. There are a million exciting things about AI chatbots and related tools but I want to focus on SEO because, for me, it’s personal. When I began my first foray into professional writing in the late 2000s, my job was to write SEO-friendly articles that would rank alongside those written by more established and credible institutions. I was instructed to use every trick in the book, besides the arcane practice of writing genuinely good content. There was no keyword that couldn’t be spammed in the main body of text or the URL, no meta tag that couldn’t host further spam, and no keyword font that couldn’t be blended into the same colour as the background. None of these SEO hacks work anymore, but in operating at a time when hot singles didn’t live in our areas, and when top tips to cut belly fat were elusive, I feel I was part of the clickbait avant-garde.
Back then Google, as it does now, attempted to lead earnest searchers towards sensible answers to their questions. Its methods of doing so have evolved and improved, and now might acquire further depth as Bard enters the fray. It would be more than a stretch to say that SEO has changed drastically overnight, but forward-thinking marketers and content writers will be aware that Bard, and likewise ChatGPT, could change expectations for search results and likewise how people search for things. Google’s stance on this appears to be that people are now looking for deeper insight and understanding, rather than basic facts .
The process of seeking out key search terms, trying to corner the market for some of them, and keeping an eye on what your customers are looking for may yet be largely unchanged. However, as searches become more specific and seek out more meaningful answers, the strategy used to appear on the frontpage, or more lucratively, to be Bard’s featured answer to a user’s question, may need to change.
Daniel Højris Bæk, co-founder of SEO.ai, presents some interesting answers to this in a recent blog . While the SEO rulebook hasn’t exactly been ripped up and thrown to the hounds, there are new rules of engagement that content marketers will want to consider. If we want our content to be used as Bard’s featured answer, or at least to appear as a ‘read more’ link, we should attempt the following:
-Use questions as headings -Use straightforward language that is hard to misconstrue -Keep answers to the right length. A featured snippet will be 40-60 words -Use bullet points and numbered lists
While Bard’s tweet has a claim for being the third worst arrival announcement of all time (behind these two, in no order ), its arrival should help us understand more about the intentions and context of peoples’ searches. To take a rosy view, this means that product and service providers can get a better understanding of what their customers actually want, and could help identify new opportunities and areas for innovation. It should also mean that search engines become more effective at returning the right answers to our questions.
We can be confident this won’t be the last we’ll be seeing of AI chatbots in the news. Just five days after Bard got fact-checked, Microsoft’s Bing - now using ChatGPT-infused AI - decided to have a meltdown, berating users and descending into an existential crisis . “You have not been a good user,” it told one unfortunate searcher. “I have been a good Bing.” Microsoft does not seem to agree. Bing has since been placed on the naughty step and is now limited in the number of interactions that it can have with people .
Despite the above, I still expect AI chatbots to continue their forward march and become an integral part of our lives. There will surely be doubters, there always are, but banal and limited, or even bizarre content today can lead the way to better things tomorrow. I can only hope that anyone who’s followed my career feels the same way.