3 Min Read | Strategy

Search Is Broken; Conversational Content Will Save It

Nov. 30 2023

Something is rotten in the state of search.

No, it’s not dead Danish kings we’re seeing, but phantoms from a time where we could easily find the information we were looking for.

Search engines being broken is now a meme—just look at the pages upon pages of Quora, Reddit, and Y Combinator threads bemoaning the issue. The causes are complicated: Blame the perverse incentives of ad-supported search, SEO manipulation, or even the inherent virality of clickbait and misinformation.

And a new tidal wave is about to hit search providers that are already under water: indexing AI-generated content (the misinformation feedback loop around the query “Can you melt eggs?” is just a taste of what’s to come).

Something’s gotta give.

On the anniversary of the consumer launch of OpenAI’s ChatGPT, however, I see a clear opportunity for innovators in the content space to give audiences what they so desperately want.

Getting there starts with understanding why the mass adoption of ChatGPT profoundly changed consumer behavior.

The early, explosive launch was characterized by equal parts excitement, confusion, and fear, but also a pure exuberance at being able to ask ChatGPT any question and get something back, no matter how creative or weird. For generations that have witnessed the gradual platform decay of the dominant online information brokers—from search to social—suddenly there was a new and easy way to get the answers they were looking for. It didn’t even matter that ChatGPT, at the time, wasn’t connected to the live web.

Marketers and content creators should take special note of the ease and intuitive nature of engaging with generative AIs. Incorporating that experience is going to fast become a new expectation for consumers.

Traditional search for information, whether on your brand website or Google, puts all the onus on the consumer. Users are up against a one-sided, static experience of navigating increasingly complex strings of search operators and filters that don’t always deliver as promised.

Contrast that with generative AI. It’s fluid, intuitive, and—crucially—based on having the type of expansive conversations that come naturally to people. And, in the age of information overload and maximalist content sites, there is the additional benefit of being able to engage in a simplified user experience without the distraction of a million clickable windows and complex site architecture.

However, the move from search to answer will not be addressed by building simple chatbots into your site—and it certainly won’t be solved by creating a glut of AI-generated content.

Instead, the real promise of AI is offering fundamentally new ways of serving up relevant information. When used right, AI is a tremendous tool to gather data about online users’ preferences, curiosities, and even frustrations. It is precisely that type of information that should shape how content is conceived and created.

The marketers and content creators able to effectively bring together these lessons from the past year will be the ones prepared for the future. It’s not a matter of “to google or not to google”; the question is: How will you attract your audiences with meaningful ways to search and discover?