Brands have two major levers they can pull to protect themselves from the negative effects of growing use of generative AI.

The Gist

  • AI disruption. Generative AI is set to disrupt SEO significantly.
  • Content shielding. Brands need strategies to protect their content from AI.
  • Direct relationships. Building strong direct relationships is key.

Do your customers trust your brand more than ChatGPT?

The answer to that question will determine which brands truly have credibility and authority in the years ahead and which do not.

Those who are more trustworthy than generative AI engines will:

  1. Be destinations for answer-seekers, generating strong direct traffic to their websites and robust app usage.
  2. Be able to build large first-party audiences via email, SMS, push and other channels.

Both of those will be critical for any brand wanting to insulate themselves from the search engine optimization (SEO) traffic loss that will be caused by generative AI.

The Threat to SEO

Despite racking up 100 million users just two months after launching — an all-time record — ChatGPT doesn’t appear to be having a noticeable impact on the many billions of searches that happen every day yet. However, it’s not hard to imagine it and other large language models (LLMs) taking a sizable bite out of search market share as they improve and become more reliable.

And improve they will. After all, Microsoft, Google and others are investing tens of billions of dollars into generative AI engines. Long dominating the search engine market, Google in particular is keenly aware of the enormous risk to its business, which is why it declared a Code Red and marshalled all available resources into AI development.

If you accept that generative AI will improve significantly over the next few years — and probably dramatically by the end of the decade — and therefore consumers will inevitability get more answers to their questions through zero-click engagements, which are already sizable, then it begs the question:

What should brands consider doing to maintain brand visibility and authority, as well as avoid losing value on the investments they’ve made in content?

Protective Measures From Negative Generative AI Effects

Brands have two major levers they can pull to protect themselves from the negative effects of growing use of generative AI.

1. Shielding Content From Generative AI Training

Major legal battles will be fought in the years ahead to clarify what rights copyright holders have in this new age and what still constitutes Fair Use. Content and social media platforms are likely to try to redefine the copyright landscape in their favour, amending their user agreements to give themselves more rights over the content that’s shared on their platforms.

A white robot hand holds a gavel above a sound block sitting on a wooden table.
Andrey Popov on Adobe Stock Photo

You can already see the split in how companies are deciding to proceed. For example, while Getty Images’ is suing Stable Diffusion over copyright violations in training its AI, Shutterstock is instead partnering with OpenAI, having decided that it has the right to sell its contributors’ content as training material to AI engines. Although Shutterstock says it doesn’t need to compensate its contributors, it has created a contributors fund to pay those whose works are used most by AI engines. It is also giving contributors the ability to opt out of having their content used as AI training material.

Since Google was permitted to scan and share copyrighted books without compensating authors, it’s entirely reasonable to assume that generative AI will also be allowed to use copyrighted works without agreements or compensation of copyright holders. So, content providers shouldn’t expect the law to protect them.

Given all of that, brands can protect themselves by:

  • Gating more of their web content, whether that’s behind paywalls, account logins or lead generation forms. Although there are disputes, both search and AI engines shouldn’t be crawling behind paywalls.
  • Releasing some content in password-protected PDFs. While web-hosted PDFs are crawlable, password-protected ones are not. Because consumers aren’t used to frequently encountering password-protected PDFs, some education would be necessary. Moreover, this approach would be most appropriate for your highest-value content.
  • Distributing more content via subscriber-exclusive channels, including email, push and print. Inboxes are considered privacy spaces, so crawling this content is already a no-no. While print publications like books have been scanned in the past by Google and others, smaller publications would likely be safe from scanning efforts.

In addition to those, hopefully brands will gain a noindex equivalent to tell companies not to train their large language models (LLMs) and other AI tools on the content of their webpages.

Of course, while shielding their content from external generative AI engines, brands could also deploy generative AI within their own sites as a way to help visitors and customers find the information they’re looking for. For most brands, this would be a welcome augmentation to their site search functionality.

2. Building Stronger Direct Relationships

While shielding your content is the defensive play, building your first-party audiences is the offensive play. Put another way, now that you’ve kept your valuable content out of the hands of generative AI engines, you need to get it into the hands of your target audience.

You do that by building out your subscription-based channels like email and push. On your email signup forms, highlight the exclusive nature of the content you’ll be sharing. If you’re going to be personalizing the content that you send, highlight that, too.

Brands have the opportunity to both turn their emails into personalized homepages for their subscribers, as well as to turn their subscribers’ inboxes into personalized search engines.

Email Marketing Reinvents Itself Again

Brands already have urgent reasons to build out their first-party audiences. One is the sunsetting of third-party cookies and the need for more customer data. Email marketing and loyalty programs, in particular, along with SMS, are great at collecting both zero-party data through preference centers and progressive profiling, as well as first-party data through channel engagement data.

Another is the increasingly evident dangers of building on the “rented land” of social media. For example, Facebook is slowly declining, Twitter has cut 80% of its staff to avoid bankruptcy as its value plunges, and TikTok faces growing bans around the world. Some are even claiming we’re witnessing the beginning of the end of the age of social media. I wouldn’t go that far, but brands certainly have lots of reasons to focus more on those channels they have much more control over, including the web, loyalty, SMS, and, of course, email.

So, the disruption of search engine optimization by generative AI is just providing another compelling reason to invest more into email programs, or to acquire them. It’s hard not to see this as just another case of email marketing reinventing itself and making itself more relevant to brands yet again.

By Chad S. White

Chad S. White is the author of four editions of Email Marketing Rules and Head of Research for Oracle Marketing Consulting, a global full-service digital marketing agency inside of Oracle.

Sourced from CMSWIRE

chatgpt,  digital experience, search, email marketing, artificial intelligence, generative ai, artificial intelligence in marketing


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