Generative Engine Optimization: Is this the Death of SEO?

Generative Engine Optimization: Is This the Death of SEO Blog Banner

For the longest time, Google has held the crown as the go-to search engine for every query that people might have. 

Google’s overarching popularity gave birth to search engine optimization, a process by which web owners can compete and rank their pages for a given search query.

But with the advent of generative AI and the rise of large language models, will generative engines (GE), like ChatGPT or Gemini, replace search engines as the primary mode of information?

In a 19-page research study, six researchers from various universities (Princeton University, Georgia Tech, IIT Delhi, and Allen Institute of AI) believe so. 

SEO arguably transformed the marketing world during the reign of search engines. However, as AI-oriented generative engines rapidly increase in popularity, the researchers believe “Generative Engine Optimization” is the new modern paradigm in marketing. 

According to them, GEO aims to boost the visibility of content creators in generative engine responses.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at generative engine optimization. Flesh out its advantages and disadvantages, differentiate GEO vs SEO, explore how you can implement GEO, and, ultimately, answer the golden question: is GEO the death of SEO?

What is Generative Engine Optimization (GEO)?

Generative engine optimization, much like SEO, is a content optimization strategy to help increase the visibility and appearance of web content on generative engine responses. 

As we all know, generative engines like ChatGPT are equipped with training data that serve as the framework or basis for their responses. On the other hand, Google’s Gemini (formerly Bard) has an added algorithmic feature, allowing it to access Google search to provide users with up-to-date information.

With generative engines rising in popularity, the researchers purported that users will eventually shift from search engines to LLMs for their research activities. 

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While this isn’t the case today, the number of ChatGPT users may point in that direction. According to statistics, during its launch on 2022, it only took 5 days for ChatGPT to surpass the 1 million user mark. Today, ChatGPT accommodates approximately 1.6 billion users monthly. 

Given this new data, the researcher’s assumption that generative engine optimization will become the new marketing battleground for online visibility may have some truth.

But before we dig in any further, let’s explore how GEO differs from SEO.

Generative Engine Optimization vs Search Engine Optimization

Generative Engine Optimization vs Search Engine Optimization

In order to fully grasp GEO vs SEO, we need to understand that they are not necessarily clashing ideas. Generative engine optimization is simply the natural progression of search engine optimization and search generative experience.

Specifically, the process goes like this:

A graphic explaining the natural progression from SEO to SGE to GEO

To understand the progression, we need to redefine each of the three concepts, also taking into account their focus platforms, objectives, and respective strategies.

Search Engine Optimization

Screenshot of SERPs for the query "what are quick links and why are they important for SEO"

Definition: SEO is the continuous process of optimizing websites to rank positively in search engine results pages. This helps improve the search engine positioning of websites in response to a given search query. Search engine optimization helps websites drive more organic traffic and, potentially, increase their conversions.

Relevance period: Around 1997 to the present time, SEO has been relevant since the rise of search engines.

Focus platforms: Search engines like Google, Bing, Baidu, and Yandex, to name a few

Strategies employed:

Search Generative Experience

Screenshot of SGE results for the query "what are quick links and why are they important for SEO"

Definition: SGE uses generative AI inputs to enhance a user’s search experience by providing quick summaries and answers to questions, like a super-powered answer box. The tool is built in with suggestions for possible follow-up questions you might have. Search generative experience is Google’s way of understanding your search intent and giving you all the info you need through AI integration.

Relevance period: Search generative experience was developed in response to the advent of generative AI engines and large language models. SGE captures the same personalized response of GEs straight from Google search.

Focus platforms: Google

Strategies employed:

  • Focus on creating high-quality content that answers the questions “how” and “why”
  • Build a reputable website (good link profile, user engagement, and web quality)
  • Prioritize answering searchable content
  • Improve content readability
  • Already ranking in organic search results

Generative Engine Optimization

Screenshot of how generative engine optimization works based on the research study
In traditional SERPs [left], the results are much more straightforward, featuring the links we all know and love ranked in order of relevance. On the other hand, Generative Engines [right] show structured responses that interweave information acquired from pieces of web content found in search results. The goal of GEO is to reverse-engineer how GEs work, to help content creators optimize their results on AI-driven platforms.

Definition: Generative engine optimization adapts the same principles of SEO to help web content appear on AI-driven generative-engine results, boosting the visibility, recognition, and exposure of source websites.

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Relevance period: GEO is a new concept introduced upon the rise of generative engines (GE) and their usage for day-to-day research and search queries.

Focus platforms: Generative engine platforms like OpenAI’s ChatGPT, Google’s Gemini, and Bing’s CoPilot, etc.

Strategies employed:

Before we dissect the suggested strategies for optimizing content for generative engines, we need to first know a few key points concerning the study. 

  • Assumption #1: To test GEO performance, the researchers developed their very own generative engine that resembles “BingChat” (now Microsoft Copilot).
  • Assumption #2: The researchers used to verify the validity and results of their GEO experimentation
  • Assumption #3: The experimentation was only conducted on 10 specific “niches”: (1) Business, (2) Debate, (3) Explanation, (4) Facts, (5) History, (6) Opinion, (7) People & Society, (8) Law & Government, (9) Science, and (10) Statement
  • Assumption #4: The researchers implemented 9 optimization tactics to improve the visibility of domains on GE responses: (1) Authoritative, (2) Keyword Stuffing, (3) Statistics Addition, (4) Cite Sources, (5) Quotation Addition, (6) East-to-understand, (7) Fluency Optimization, (8) Unique Words, and (9) Technical Terms.
Screenshot of performance improvement tactics for GEO based on the research study
The results of their experimentation reveal that traditionally used black-hat SEO tactics like keyword stuffing do not perform well and may even result in negative performance. Meanwhile, adding statistics and quotations to content boosts its performance across all metrics.

Considering all the above information, here are the recommended optimization strategies for GEO:

  • Quotation addition: Add relevant quotations from industry experts to increase the authoritativeness of your content.
  • Statistics addition: Insert quantitative data and statistics to augment the quality of your content.
  • Authoritative: Integrate persuasive language and authoritative claims into your content to establish credibility, making you the go-to source in your industry
  • Cite sources: Mention reliable sources to validate claims and connect your content to reputable sites or research. Citing sources may be interpreted as parallel to outbound linking. Aside from boosting GEO, linking out also helps create a balanced link profile, SEO-wise.
  • Fluency optimization: Ensure that the prose and flow of your content are smooth and reader-friendly. Moreover, the content should be free of any grammatical errors.
  • Technical Terms: Infuse your content with technical terminology to demonstrate your site’s authoritativeness and expertise in the industry.

Benefits of Generative Engine Optimization? 

The rationale behind generative engine optimization’s creation is based on the presumption that users will eventually transition from traditional search engines to generative AI for doing research. 

Looking at genAI’s numbers, the study might have some merits. After all, a billion+ visits a month ain’t too shabby.

However, when we take into consideration the market share of generative engines versus Google, that’s where GEO pales in comparison to SEO.

For example, ChatGPT’s monthly traffic amounts only to a measly 2% of Google’s user base. As of October 2023, Google’s worldwide search market share is 91.53%, which is the lowest it has ever been compared to October 2022.

We must remember that statistics do not count ChatGPT as a search engine because, well, it isn’t.

But if we look at website traffic from a numbers game, Google gets approximately 85 billion monthly visits, meanwhile, ChatGPT only gets 1.6 billion visits. 

While ChatGPT lacks the prowess to take on Google toe-to-toe as a search engine, GEO may still hold advantages for websites. 

Below are the benefits of optimizing for generative engines:

#1 GEO Benefits the Underdog

Lesser-known companies are notoriously known to get the short end of the stick when it comes to traditional SERP ranking. This is especially true when small and medium-sized companies compete with household names in the industry.

Based on the results of the study, theoretically, generative engines help smaller, lesser-known companies that don’t rank in search engines garner a greater appeal on AI-driven platforms. This evens out the playing field between industry giants and relatively inferior businesses.

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#2 New Avenue for Marketing Competition

Search engine optimization has been overused and utilized across a lot of industries. Competition is more intense than ever before, adding to the fact that more websites are created every single day, tightening the already saturated competitive landscape.

On the flip side, when marketers start riding the GEO train, SEO purists will have more legroom to improve their SEO strategies and get ahead on SERPs. 

#3 Fosters a new age of innovation

Finally, GEO will pave the way for innovation to happen. Just like how SEOs stay on the lookout for Google’s core algorithmic updates, GEOs will now keep their alert levels high for incoming updates on generative engines.

People have always been innovative beings, finding new ways to get out of slumps and ditches. With the rise of GEO, marketers will begin developing new and iterating existing strategies to succeed in the generative engine race.

Limitations of Generative Engine Optimization?

With benefits come limitations. Considering the reality of the situation, GEO is still in its infancy. And to say that GEO is the definite future of search is still wishful thinking, and until GEs up their game, it will take years before GEO replaces SEO as the new paradigm.

Anyway, below you will find the limitations of GEO: 

#1 Suggested framework may not apply in real-life

While comprehensive in its own right, the study did not replicate the real scenario of how generative engines work. 

The researchers used a self-made AI that closely resembles Bing Copilot (formerly BingChat). In other words, the results are based on their own created algorithm.

Even if they counter-checked their homemade results with, we must understand that each generative engines have its respective algorithms. That means the results on may not reflect in the generated content from ChatGPT or Bard.

#2 GEO opens up room for information manipulation

Given our lack of understanding regarding GE’s “ranking” algorithm, we are in the dark about how the AI verifies the validity of content. Implementing the strategies suggested by the researchers may cause the spread of misinformation.

For instance, adding quotation marks increases the perceived expertise of an entity in the eyes of AI. In that case, a fake news peddler can simply add quotes to their content and attribute the quote to an unsuspecting individual. 

Another example is putting in statistics. With AI’s valuation for stats, people can maliciously create false data to manipulate the generative output’s narrative.

No safeguards exist to mitigate how artificial intelligence will sift reliable information sources from content produced by peddlers of disinformation.

#3 GEO experimentation was limited

The researchers focused on only 10 subject areas in their experimentation, which are the following: Business, Debate, Explanation, Facts, History, Opinion, People & Society, Law & Government, Science, and Statement.

That means the applicability of their “supposed algorithm” and “ranking factors” may not apply to other industries. More experimentation must be conducted for more comprehensive recommendations, especially for niches outside of their 10 focus areas.

#4 Generative AI in itself is imperfect

Unlike Google Search which only lists top results based on search intent relevancy, generative engines produce structured content. This means nuances and errors can be interwoven into their narrative, apart from the actual content found on web pages, making it susceptible to errors.

Plus, everyone knows ChatGPT’s notorious tendency to spew misinformation despite its confident-sounding prose.

#5 GEO might not even be necessary

Google acted quickly at the rise of generative AI, creating their very own search generative experience. SGE combines the accessibility and familiarity of search engines plus the personalization and comprehensiveness of artificial intelligence, delivering sound, AI-based responses with a simple search query.

Aside from answering the query, Google’s SGE algorithm also answers related questions that people might also ask in addition to their initial query.

While still not a global implementation (SGE is only available through Search Labs), we can rest assured that AI is being used effectively, plus the results are powered by Google’s established algorithms from time immemorial. 

With that, we conclude that…

SEO is not dead!

Currently, Google is still the number one go-to of people for search queries, and by the look of things, that will remain the case for years to come. 

As long as Google, and other search engines, for that matter, stay relevant, so will search engine optimization. 

Conversely, until generative engines elevate their relevance and become the mainstay search platform, GEO will not become the new paradigm that takes SEO’s place.

Still, the only constant thing in this world is change. That said, while SEO stays the linchpin of all marketing tactics now, it might not be the case in the future.

Who knows?

But at this point, SEO is not dead and nowhere near its expiration.

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