The future of search is ask. The future of results is answer.
I like how Carl Holden at Zellus Marketing described the shift in how we’re all going to be navigating the Internet:
“Since the turn of the millennium, the verb “search” has dominated our interaction with the internet—inputting keywords into a box and sifting through a list of results. In the last year, AI has catalyzed a move towards a new verb that will redefine our digital experience: ‘Ask.’”
This shift in verbs from “search” to “ask” has major implications (and downstream consequences) for anyone using the Internet.
“Ask” is different for everyone, so it implies a deep understanding of user-intent, personalization, predictive analytics, and contextual filtering.
I think it also risks contributing to what Ian Whitworth described as “The Great Same-ening.”
Some of this shift has been underway for a while, with the rise of zero-click search — where users use search engines to surface an answer, rather than clicking through to a website.
In 2022, Semrush found that 25.6% of desktop searches and 17.3% of mobile searches were zero-click searches. This was a year before ChatGPT shuffled the entire playing field and Microsoft and Google kicked off a new search engine arms race.
Some predict that web site traffic will drop 15-25% in 2024 as the search engine landscape changes and directs fewer people to individual web sites.
Insight Partners recently demoed what Google Search Labs is calling “Search Generative Experience (SGE)” for a preview of the next evolution of search. While the current Google results page gives a majority of real estate to organic links, the new SGE has far less space for organic results. One of their takeaways:
“It is likely that organic traffic will be fighting for space in a world where there is much less available than in the past.”
What’s more, Insight Partners found that only 57% of links cited by Google’s new Search Generative Experience are from the current first page of organic results. So sites that currently perform well in SEO won’t automatically get traction in the new world.
Marketers have learned to weather every algorithm change at Google. As I drew in a cartoon once, “the algorithm giveth, and the algorithm taketh away.” Yet this shift feels different.
AI Optimization is becoming the new Search Engine Optimization and no one really knows how this will play out.
Here are a few related cartoons I’ve drawn over the years: