The internet age, and perhaps all ages before it, have followed a tragic cyclical pattern. Human ingenuity produces technology that changes the world, and it does, but somewhere along the line, it becomes a Pyrrhic victory.
The internet brought all the information in the world to our fingertips, followed by misinformation.
Social media connected long-lost friends and relatives, then made them hate each other instead of merely ignoring them.
Newsletters became the rage, an antidote to the shallowness of bite-sized content, but soon, every remotely interesting social media post ended in a plug, "If you like this, follow my newsletter, or miss out on all the world-conquering insights hoarded by my 20k readers."
In the midst of all the toxicity of the Interwebs, search engines stood out, not as a shining light, but the only beacon that wasn't snuffed out by the muck.
Search engines, or rather, the only search engine anyone used, stayed bipartisan, acting as a compass rather than a map fraught with politics. Google became both a verb and a synonym for the internet, trusted by most, hated by some, but used by all.
The fall of search started with, and probably will end with, the innocently cryptic technical term, SEO. The expansion, Search Engine Optimisation, sounds like a harmless, even worthy goal. SEO is a method to improve a website's visibility on the search results page, so that the right content is surfaced by the right search phrase. How can you object to that? But pretty soon everyone forgot what the abbreviation was abbreviating, and the phrase became a noun - SEO.
Blogs are written for SEO. Articles are written for SEO. Whole websites are made for SEO. As if SEO is a person. He, she, zhe, SEO. If you write for SEO, everyone else is covered, because no matter who they are, and what they want to read, they will only find what is written for SEO.
Users have long stopped thinking of Google as a mere 'search' engine, and expect answers. But you can no longer ask a simple question, and find a coherent, never mind short, answer. Ask "why does the sun rise in the east?" And you will get:
Why does the sun rise in the east? One of the most common questions asked by humanity is 'why does the sun rise in the east?'. First, let us consider the following: What is the sun? Who does the sun work for? What else should you know about the sun? To summarise, the sun has always risen in the east, and the quest to answer why has driven human curiosity and drive for millennia. However, if you would like to learn more about the sun, please subscribe to our newsletter, follow us on Twitter, and disable your ad blocker.
Everyone hated SEO, but no one knew it was SEO they were hating. Between this and the steady but rapid creep of search ads, Google's reckoning was coming. Other search engines tried, but much unlike David vs. Goliath, failed. In the end, it took another giant, who had pissed off just as many or more internet users to shoot at Google's Achilles' heel. I mean, of course, Microsoft, a name that should have christened a brand of microfibre cloth towels to wipe your computer glasses but instead became the reason you need them. With absolutely nothing to lose in search market share and wallets fattened by PowerPoint subscriptions, Microsoft donated/invested in OpenAI, and helped it build Pinocchio, aka, ChatGPT.
Code reds were called at Google, founders who had cashed out the motivational talk circuit were summoned back, and battle lines were drawn. Google raised a bard to Microsoft's chatterbox, that grew more and more into a real boy with training data from billions of users.
An explosion of AI tools have followed, with an even bigger trail of camp followers. Do you want an AI to read a PDF? An AI to finally pretend like you read the Bible? An AI to come up with good 'dog ate my homework' excuses?
Whatever you can think of, there's an AI for that, and there's a website called theresanaiforthat.com.
AI can compose songs, tuck you into bed, and keep you up all night worrying about the job it might put you out of.
Best of all, you can ask an AI the question, "Why does the sun rise in the east?" And it answers with:
The sun appears to rise in the east and set in the west because the Earth spins, or rotates, from west to east. This motion creates the illusion of the sun moving across the sky.
Hell yeah. Free, at last.
But wait, will SEO go out gracefully, after decades of being wined and dined and keyword targeted?
Turns out, it won't. Ubersuggest, the popular keyword research tool and SEO champion, just released AI Writer 2.0, which is, to quote Neil Patel's blog post,
"Focused on SEO – AI Writer 2.0 is designed to create content that performs well on search engines, particularly Google. This feature will help users to drive more organic traffic to their websites. We also try to keep users in mind when producing the content as well."
I know what you're thinking. Can't you just ignore the SEO junk, click all the squares with bicycles to prove you're not a robot, and ask a robot to answer your questions?
Sure you can, for now, because ChatGPT has a knowledge cutoff of September 2021, an age of truth and innocence when we only had to worry about microchips in vaccines and GPS trackers in ₹ 2000 notes.
But sooner or later, the dataset will be refreshed, on a new sample of the internet, written by AI writer 2.0 and its successors.
The snake eats its tail, the hamster runs on its wheel, and Sisyphus rolls his boulder up the hill again to flatten his muse.
SEO is dead. Long live SEO.
Note: I made the first payday of my life writing SEO optimised parenting advice and other random articles for a content farm when I was in college. As a freelance marketer and writer today, I grudgingly use SEO, but I always write for my readers first, and dream of a world where that was enough.