I’ve seen the future of search
In the not-too-distant future, AI will be changing the way we search online.
The technology is still being tested and developed, so it’s not yet widely available. But, last year I attended a digital conference where we were given a live demonstration, showing how it will work.
AI-powered search will be different to what we’ve been used to, so now is a good time to get ahead of the curve and find out what this means for your SEO and your website and blog content.
How will AI-powered search work?
AI-powered search uses the power of AI to enhance your internet search experience. But you’ve probably already guessed that bit. So how does it work and how is it different to a traditional search?
How we search now
Currently when you search online, you have to start each new search from scratch. You type your search query, Google returns its list of results and you, hopefully, find what you were looking for.
If you don’t get exactly what you wanted, you need to go back to the beginning and rephrase your original search, giving more context or adding more detail.
If you do get what you were looking for and want to move onto the next phase of your search, you need to go back to the beginning and put a fresh search into Google.
How will AI-powered search be different?
With AI-powered search, you’ll be able to have conversations with your search engine, much like you can with ChatGPT. Rather than needing to start a new search each time, AI will remember your conversation and allow you to ask follow up questions that will help you expand on and narrow down your search.
Along with enhanced features, like voice search and automatic query completion, this conversational approach is designed to be more intuitive and should help you find what you’re looking for more quickly and easily than ever.
How will AI-powered search perform searches?
Instead of relying on traditional keyword matching, AI-powered search will use more advanced algorithms to understand what you’re looking for and why. It will have the capacity to learn from you, your searches and other online behaviour. And it will pick up on nuances in the language you use to give you better and more tailored results.
To do this, AI will use some technologies Google has already been introducing, like voice search, machine learning and natural language processing. And some new ones that are capable of analysing huge amounts of data and will continually improve your search results over time.
How will AI-powered search deliver search results?
AI-powered search will aim to answer more queries in the search engine interface itself. So, it will search the internet and aim to pull together an answer to your question.
This will work a bit like the Google featured snippet. In a featured snippet, the top search result is a short answer pulled from a piece of content. But AI will also be capable of giving more detailed answers to more complex questions and using more than just one source.
This result will display above the list of websites, in what will be known as ‘position zero’.
Underneath the search engine’s answer will be a list of websites, which is more like what we’re used to.
How to future-proof your content
So, now we know this is coming, how do we prepare for it?
Well, at present, there are no definitive answers. This is because the technology isn’t accessible or developed enough for us to test and it and get a clear picture. But there are screenshots and teasers available. For now, the advice is that we should still be following Google’s recommendations and listening to the experts who understand how the technology will work.
Based on that, here’s what we know so far about adapting and creating our blog content for the age of AI-powered search.
Follow SEO best practice
In the era of AI-powered search, the basics of SEO best practice will still apply.
This includes things like:
- Fast loading
- Robust security
- Good technical SEO
- High quality backlinks
- Responsive, mobile-friendly web design.
Answer your prospects’ questions
This is what most of us are already doing and it will continue. Because your prospects will always have questions they need answering — and when they do, they’ll turn to the search engines.
When Google first introduced voice search, many content writers took to writing our posts in a conversational Q&A style. Predictions are that this will continue to be effective when AI-powered search becomes available.
Focus on answering more in-depth questions
When it introduced its featured snippet, Google was able to give simple answers to simple questions at the top of the search results. But this led to a rise in zero-click searches, because people had their answer without clicking through to a website.
To increase our click-through rates (CTR), we were advised to focus on answering more in-depth questions — and this advice is still good. You can still answer basic questions in your content, if you need them for your audience’s benefit — but make those part of a more extensive article that answers a wider question.
Give summarised then thorough answers
Screenshots from the AI-powered search show the search engine providing summarised answers to questions. These summaries are more detailed than the current featured snippet, but not as detailed as a full article.
For some searches, a summary may well be enough. If that’s the case, it will count as a zero-click search and you won’t see any traffic.
However, it’s expected that the content giving the most detailed, expert and comprehensive answer will still perform best, because this content will give the reader the best place to go if they do want more information.
So it seems sensible to summarise your answer, as if you’re writing for a longer featured snippet, then follow that up with as much detail as is necessary. This will include anticipating further questions that might arise from the original question and answering those, too.
Demonstrate your E-E-A-T
E-E-A-T, as defined in Google’s Quality Rater Guidelines, will still be used to rate businesses and rank websites and will remain an important guideline to follow.
If you’re not familiar, it stands for Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness. Four things your website and content should be exhibiting.
Create original content
From what we know so far, Google will still be favouring articles that provide original information rather than those that assemble information from other sources.
So work on creating original content that’s unique to your brand and will demonstrate your particular expertise and experience.
That could include content like:
- Original research, like customer surveys and interviews
- Stories and case studies that show your experience
- Q&As with experienced people in your business.
Work on becoming an authority in your niche
Blogs with topic authority are expected to do well in AI-powered search.
So take relevant topics and cover them thoroughly and in detail, including related topics and sub-topics. You could do this in the form of a content hub, with the main topic splitting into multiple branches and avenues of exploration.
Anticipate and answer every question your audience might want to know, from the start of the customer journey to buying and beyond. The idea is to become the go-to source of information on that topic.
Not only will this please the search engines, it will give your prospects the confidence to choose you and to know they’ll be taken care of at every stage.
Write with NLP in mind
Natural language processing (NLP) is how AI is trained to understand the context and meaning of written and spoken words. It will use this in search to determine why a user is searching and what they want to see.
To make sense of each search query, AI will look for and recognise:
- Individual words and their context
- Use the right words for the job
- Be as clear and specific as you can
- Grammatical tags, such as nouns, verbs and adjectives
- Names, places, organisations
- Capitalise first letters where necessary
- Write out acronyms and abbreviations at least once for specificity
- Sentiment, whether that’s positive, negative or neutral
- Sentence structures
- Keep them simple and easy to read
- Search intent — what the user is expecting to see.
Of course, if you’re writing for your audience — and not for the search engines — you’re probably writing with NLP in mind already.
Structure your data
Structured data is easier for AI to read and helps it to understand what it’s looking at.
When we structure our data, we identify the different elements contained within it. This will include things like dates, page types (web page, blog post) and content types (text, picture, video).
Some elements will be identified by schema markup in the coding. And some will come from on-page elements such as title tags, meta data, optimised headings and image alt text.
The schema markup you need should be included in your page templates, but the on-page elements are things you’ll need to take care of yourself.
Format your content for the web
Internet users are typically impatient. This means AI will need to be able to pull its answers together quickly and easily. We already know search engines handle written information best when it’s formatted correctly, so it’s highly likely AI will follow suit.
Tips to aid this process include:
- Splitting your content into easily consumable sections
- Introducing each section with a relevant heading
- Using your website/blog’s heading hierarchy correctly
- Writing your lists in bullet point form, like this!
Optimise your content well
For all the doubters and those who keep proclaiming SEO is dead… I have news. Some experts are saying that good SEO will be even more important in the age of AI-powered search. This figures, if you think about it, because AI isn’t psychic — yet — and it still needs humans to tell it what to look for.
We already know that search intent will be really important in AI-powered search, so this is something you need to continue paying close attention to.
Audit your content regularly
Thanks to AI, new content is being created and published at incredible speed. This means it’s more important than ever to audit your content regularly.
Your content should:
- Be current and relevant
- Be optimised effectively
- Address all the key issues
- Satisfy your ideal customers’ needs
- Compete effectively with similar content.
Focus on the user experience
AI-powered search is all about enhancing and enriching the user experience. So it figures your content should do the same. The best content writers have prioritised users over search engines for a long time, but now this will be even more important.
Write for humans, optimise for search engines — always.
If you’re working with a content writer who stays abreast of the latest developments and follows the latest advice, you’ll probably find they’re already preparing you for the future and AI-powered search.
As usual, most of the advice on this is just good common sense. So if your content is written for your audience, optimised for Google, and not trying to game the algorithm with dodgy tactics, you’re already on the right track.
Looking for a future-ready content writer?
Allow me to introduce myself!
I’m Jenny Lucas, a freelance copywriter and content writer based in Leicester, UK.
If you need strategic, high-performing website copy and blog content that will show up on Google and help you attract more of your ideal customers, maybe I can help.
For the last 15 years I’ve been specialising in SEO copy and content that’s helped my employer, my clients — and myself — to attract new business and succeed online.
So if you need SEO-optimised website copy or blog content, I’d love to hear from you.