This article is not about any of the "normal" topics of this newsletter: genealogy, history, current affairs, DNA, and related topics. However, it discusses the future use of “how to use the Internet” so I will suggest everyone who uses the Internet should be aware of this information.
Google, Microsoft and others boast that generative artificial intelligence tools like ChatGPT will make searching the internet better than ever for users. For example, rather than having to wade through a sea of URLs, users will be able to just get an answer combed from the entire internet.
There are also some concerns with the rise of AI-fueled search engines, such as the opacity over where information comes from, the potential for “hallucinated” answers and copyright issues.
But one other consequence is that I believe it may destroy the US$68 billion search engine optimization industry that companies like Google helped create.
For the past 25 years or so, websites, news outlets, blogs and many others with a URL that wanted to get attention have used search engine optimization, or SEO, to “convince” search engines to share their content as high as possible in the results they provide to readers. This has helped drive traffic to their sites and has also spawned an industry of consultants and marketers who advise on how best to do that.
As an associate professor of information and operations management, I study the economics of e-commerce. I believe the growing use of generative AI will likely make all of that obsolete.
How online search works
Someone seeking information online opens her browser, goes to a search engine and types in the relevant keywords. The search engine displays the results, and the user browses through the links displayed in the result listings until she finds the relevant information.
To attract the user’s attentions, online content providers use various search engine marketing strategies, such as search engine optimization, paid placements and banner displays.
For instance, a news website might hire a consultant to help it highlight key words in headlines and in metadata so that Google and Bing elevate its content when a user searches for the latest information on a flood or political crisis.
How generative AI changes search process
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