Here on our blog, we’ve been showcasing some of our expert partners, who’ve been providing expert tips and advice on subjects they specialise in.
In this post, we’ve got another fromLocal SEO experts and software providers BrightLocal, with their Content Marketing Manager, Sammy Paget, discussing how generative AI might impact Local SEO and some of the ways that you can prepare
So what are you waiting for!? Read on…
Ahhh, artificial intelligence. It’s not exactly a new term (remember Robin Williams in Bicentennial Man?), but the emergence of generative AI in the digital marketing world at the start of 2023 caused such a stir that even non-marketing friends have started conversations with “have you heard about all this ‘AI’ stuff?”
If your inbox is anything like mine, you likely won’t be able to go a day without seeing various subject lines teasing controversial statements and new time-saving tools.
With a constant flurry of buzzwords, from AI and SGE to ChatGPT and Bard, you may even find yourself glossing over them absent-mindedly.
And who can blame you?
When your head is busy in the marketing of your own services, or those of your clients, carving out space to get to grips with something that feels so big seems like a hefty investment of your time. You’ve made it this far without AI, right?
The truth is, the landscape is changing fast and, as already highlighted, more and more people are aware of it – even if they don’t really get it. Being aware of its use cases and limitations can at least help you tackle questions from clients, managers, and other stakeholders.
What’s more, even if you’re not currently in the camp of using generative AI to simplify certain tasks, it’s likely that you won’t be able to avoid it soon because the search giants have other plans.
A quick word on generative AI
I’m sure you don’t need an introduction to ChatGPT, at least. In fact, the recent Local Search Industry Survey found that, of the 93% of local marketers that have experimented with generative AI tools, 92% stated they’d used ChatGPT.
But before we go any further, I’d like to stress what I believe to be the most important thing to note about generative AI – and that sits in its namesake: generative. Generative AI uses machine learning models and is trained to generate original content.
It is not an omniscient fountain of knowledge and should not be relied upon as factual or accurate. Importantly, it does not even know if it is correct.
I tested this out in a recent case study for BrightLocal, analysing the capabilities of ChatGPT, BingGPT, Google’s Bard and its Search Labs experimental version of Search Generative Experience (more on that later) for local search queries.
In three out of five instances, I identified incorrect or inaccurate information provided by ChatGPT, and in four out of five cases for Bard.
So, you might be wondering why you would use generative AI for the purpose of search queries.
That… is a good question.
What you need to know about the big players
When Microsoft entered the chat with ChatGPT, Google unsurprisingly scrambled to release a rival in Bard. While the two operate similarly in terms of their generative capabilities, Bard, despite initially failing to impress, continued to evolve and incorporate familiar search functionalities, such as site links and maps, to boost the credibility of its responses.
You can see the lines start to get a little blurry here already, but Microsoft took it a step further by incorporating GPT-4 technology into Bing (yes, people do use Bing!).
Although you need to download the Bing app or install Microsoft Edge, Bing AI (or Bing Chat or BingGPT) is the first example of a search engine integrating generative AI within its search results.
As with ChatGPT and Bard, the idea is that you generate results through prompts, which you can refine in a ‘conversational’ manner. The ‘Chat’ tab is currently optional, but you can see upon entering a local search query that Bing pushes the option to ‘Chat with Bing AI’ at the top of the results page. For some queries, an AI-generated result is presented alongside traditional organic results.
The trouble with SGE
2024 is set to bring a lot more. Google will likely roll out the previously announced Search Generative Experience (SGE), incorporating experimental AI-generated results into SERPs, and placing them front and centre.
The biggest problem? Aside from the impact on organic search results being unclear currently, it turns out most local marketers either don’t understand what SGE is, or haven’t heard of it at all.
And if marketers are struggling to get to grips with SGE, what does this mean for the typical searcher?
Building on from the conversational concept that generative AI uses, Google believes that SGE will enable users to enter super longtail queries to return the most specific results.
Personally, this method of searching does not feel natural to me, and I feel like it takes too many prompt refinements to get the information I’m really looking for, compared to a typical Bing or Google search.
Right now, whether we as consumers will adapt to conversing with search engines remains to be seen, but there is no denying that the search landscape is going to look very different, very soon.
But for search giants Google and Bing, the conversational element of generative AI is a good attempt at keeping the user within its search results. So, you can look at this several ways.
Users could click through to other sites less often as a result, impacting organic traffic. But that could also mean the organic traffic resulting from click-through is further down the funnel, having a higher intention of converting.
Expert opinions around the implications on organic search are pretty split, and it’s likely that what does roll out will be different to some of the experimental versions we’ve seen so far.
How you can prepare for SGE and other gen AI in search
If the new AI-generated search results do indeed eat up those all-important organic ranking positions, you need it to see your business or your clients as an option. Basically, you want generative AI to know you.
The good news is that if you’re focusing on core local SEO tactics, you’re already doing some of the work.
Bard, Bing AI and SGE source business information from a variety of online sources, including user reviews, business directories, social media, and even localised sources such as your area’s council website.
Bearing that in mind, here are our top tips for how you can prepare:
Diversify your business reviews
From my brief interactions with the tools, I’ve seen review information pulled from Google, Facebook, TripAdvisor and Yelp.
Unsurprisingly, Bard and SGE run on Google’s information, so Google Business Profile (GBP) data is the main source here, while Bing tends to rely on other key sources such as Facebook and TripAdvisor.
In Bing AI’s case especially, the sources vary based on industry rather than just using Google reviews as standard.
So, you don’t want to place all of your eggs in one basket (for most, that’s Google). Just like browsers and devices, different users have their preferences for how they like to browse online.
It’s good practice to broaden your focus when it comes to review platforms to maintain a consistent reputation. If your GBP reflects a review rating of 4.7, but has a couple of negative reviews on Facebook, it won’t look good to prospective customers doing their research.
Structured and unstructured business listings
As with different review sources, generative AI tools also tend to return a variety of web sources, including traditional structured listing sites (many of which double as review platforms), and unstructured listings sites from things like blogs, lifestyle publications and news sites.
Ensuring your business information is correct and consistent across your business listings is crucial for maintaining local presence. Not only for ensuring customers can actually find you, a consistent name, address and phone number (NAP) signals to search engines like Google that it is reliable, correct information – and therefore that your business is trustworthy.
This information will be feeding results for generative AI platforms, so review where your business is listed, and ensure your information is up to date. At the same time, look out for new opportunities to get listed on structured and unstructured citation sites.
Sync and maintain your social profiles
Just as search engines recognise the affiliation between your business’s site and/or GBP with various social profiles, generative AI tools are also sourcing information from social media.
It’s now easier to sync your social profiles to your GBP, so be sure to check you’ve added these correctly, as well as to any other profiles you manage such as a Bing pages – and don’t forget your on-site links!
Social profiles are essentially business listings – and Facebook acts as a structured citation, for one.
As with your business listings, ensure your business information is correct and uniform across your social profiles – from NAP and website links to imagery and logos.
While it may be Google’s golden rule to prioritise helpful, quality content, arguably you should always keep this is mind as it’s essentially what serves your potential and existing customers best.
Website sources often surface within generative AI search results, indicating that they are deemed relevant and helpful in terms of matching the searcher’s intent.
It’s going to look different for every business, but at the core, consider if your content is accurately reflecting:
- How it meets your audience’s needs or solves their problem
- Why your business is the best option for them
- What evidence is available to back this up (e.g. reviews, testimonials, awards, case studies, social media presence)
- Visual representation (e.g. products, services, team members, physical location, facilities)
- Straightforward next steps (e.g. reservations and booking, contact, purchase)
By all means use generative AI for help
ChatGPT and Bard, as well as plenty of other generative AI platforms specialising in content creation, can be a useful starting point when you need to create content from scratch. For brands with multiple locations in particular, you can use generative AI to produce unique, location-specific content and then tailor it to your needs.
You could use it to suggest options for article or webinar titles, social media captions, or even to spruce up something you’ve already written. Prompt it for information around your industry, and maybe even summarise some information about your competitors to give you some inspiration.
Yet be aware, as mentioned earlier, this content is not always factually accurate. There have been cases where generated responses have been not just incorrect, but offensive or potentially harmful. So I’m sure I don’t need to emphasise this point too much, but always take the time to review what you’re given – with a subject expert if necessary – and ensure that anything you do decide to use can be turned into something of your own.
So, that’s a whistlestop take on preparing yourself for whatever the integration of generative AI and search brings. BrightLocal has a variety of resources on getting the most out of local marketing, so be sure to check out our Learning hubs, whether you’re kickstarting your efforts or looking for more advanced tips. Plus, our dedicated BrightLocal Academy offers engaging courses on a variety of local marketing topics, completely free of charge!