Issue #50: SEO is Dead — Jason Michael Perry

Howdy 👋🏾, when Google released its new AI Search Overviews at Google I/O, I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of SEO specialists and content creators suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced. I fear something terrible has happened.

AI Search Overviews provide summaries or direct answers to users’ search queries generated from Google’s Gemini AI model. The idea is to help users get answers quickly without searching through search results. Have a question about Frederick Douglass? Google can now answer that directly with an AI-generated overview.

The obvious fear is that features like this create what The Verge’s Nilay Patel calls Google Zero, or what is known in the industry as zero-click search. Users search Google and get an answer sourced from content written by you, but all the interaction happens on Google without traffic sent to your website.

For years, many have felt Google has focused on building a moat around its search services, pushing users to interact with Google’s ecosystem rather than search results. If you search for a product, you’re met with Google marketplace links. Look for a restaurant, and Google’s business profiles and map results dominate the page, followed by sponsored ads. These changes push valuable page 1 links lower, generating less traffic.

It’s easy to blame Google, but our search habits have evolved. AI overviews are just the latest reminder. Take voice-powered gadgets like Alexa, Siri, Google Assistant, or Cortana. If you ask about Frederick Douglass, the distance to Trader Joe’s, or the ratio of jasmine rice to water, the last thing you want is a page of search results. You want a direct answer, something AI-powered systems can provide by consuming content from other sources.

Voice assistants are not the only competitors to search. Increasingly, AI tools like ChatGPT and Claude are taking what may have once started as a search query and giving back answers. Do you need help with your resume? Are you struggling to write a job description? ChatGPT is often a much better starting place than search, and while the data for these answers may have come from your content, you’re not getting attribution or traffic.

Perplexity AI, a search engine I love and often mention, exemplifies what search might evolve into. You ask a question, and using AI and RAG (Retrieval Augmented Generation), it searches through curated responses and returns an AI-summarized answer. It’s the best of both worlds, coupling the abilities of AI assistants with the power of curated search results. The web pages that generate these answers are linked as sources, but how many of us will click to read those links?

Media outlets, blogs, and product companies are already noticing these trends. Search traffic has been declining for years. Gartner believes search traffic will drop by as much as 25% by 2026, and I think those numbers are extremely conservative. For evidence, read HouseFresh’s managing editor blog post on the site’s battle with Google search and her excellent follow-up; that begs the question, what do you do when all of that search traffic disappears? 

Google Zero is here for some; AI-powered search and assistants will hasten it. It’s not crazy to imagine that jockeying for page 1 of search results in a few short years might be just as important as showing up first in the Yellow Pages. So, SEO may not be dead yet, but now may be a good day to start imagining where it is tomorrow. Now, my thoughts on tech & things:

⚡️ ️Rumor has it that ​Apple and OpenAI just inked a deal​ for the company to power AI in the Apple ecosystem. I’m still betting that most of the AI happens locally on the device, but it reaches out for more extensive calls. That said, this deal seems to have required Altman to calm fears with Microsoft. Apple’s WWDC is June 10th, so we might know what we’re getting soon.

⚡️Google has confirmed a ​huge leak of internal documentation on search​, which has some wondering how truthful the company has been on how search actually works. ​Search Engine Land​ has the SEO breakdown on what it means.

⚡️Snowflake security breach – stay tuned…

Discovery on the Internet feels harder than ever, as does the value of a website in a world of increasingly closed systems and communities. I’m amazed by the number of influencers on platforms like YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok who don’t have websites. Can you imagine a large brand like Ford, Apple, or GM existing without a website? Yet folks like Mr Beast don’t live on the open web; they live in ecosystems like YouTube and Instagram.

Trends have been shifting from the open web and search for some time, and chances are you spend more time today in a closed ecosystem than you do jumping from web page to web page. Your product purchases and news habits are now governed more by social media communities or content aggregators like Google News or Apple News.

When I talk with clients, I find that many have replaced search traffic for discovery with one of these ecosystems that they increasingly feel beholden to. For influencers, it’s YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok. Businesses and job seekers live on LinkedIn. Restaurants depend on Yelp and Google Maps; for delivery, they depend on DoorDash and Uber Eats. Retailers live on Amazon, Etsy, and Shopify. Writers and bloggers have flocked to Substack and Medium. Software developers depend on the Apple App Store and Google Play Store. Game developers live on Steam. Movie and TV producers live on YouTube and Netflix.

The open web, which is the heart of search, is dying. It’s harder now to simply put a web page or blog on the web and survive without finding an ecosystem, and those who try to survive without them are finding Google Zero is forcing their hand. 

As SEO becomes less relevant, the future of digital marketing and discovery is shifting towards ecosystem marketing. This involves understanding and leveraging which ecosystems drive AI tools and user interactions. Curated and trusted sources like Wikipedia, Yelp, and Reddit are becoming powerful aggregators for AI-powered assistants. It makes groups like OpenAI keen to negotiate deals with these ecosystems to get that valuable data.

Perplexity AI allows focuses that can limit the systems it sources to particular data ecosystems. Apple Maps sources much of its data from Yelp, though it has begun collecting its own data. One can imagine that this will factor even more significantly when AI assistants like Siri suggest dining options nearby. Owning your presence in these ecosystems will be crucial to becoming the new #1.

Jason teaching workshop

I have two milestones to celebrate. This Friday marks my last day at Mindgrub, and this newsletter you’re reading is issue #50! It’s strange looking at the first issues and watching as some of my early ideas began to take shape. As always, I really hope you all enjoy the read, and if you do, please forward, share, or comment.

Also, don’t forget that if you or someone you know needs AI consulting, support from a fractional CTO or CAIO, or to check out one of my workshops, don’t be a stranger and reach out.


p.s. Every ecosystem comes with rules, and those rules can drive you crazy. If you own an LG or Samsung washer machine, you may have noticed it plays a little Diddy after a cycle is complete. One YouTuber lost untold amounts of cash after copyright claims were made on the public domain Samsung chime in his video streams. ArsTechnica takes a deep dive into content creators’ continued struggles with YouTube content ID. Enjoy the many sounds of washers and dryers.

I think I like LG’s the best.