Website owners and digital marketers have been implementing search engine optimization (SEO) for years. The methods have changed over time, of course, but the goal has remained the same: optimize your content to appear as high up in search engine results pages (SERPs) as possible.
While this is still a priority, a new challenge has popped up in recent years: answer engine optimization (AEO). That is, optimizing your content to appear as a direct answer to user queries via AI generators like ChatGPT, Bard, and Alexa.
In this post, I’ll introduce AEO and its relationship to SEO. I’ll then share some of my strategies for appearing in AI chatbot results by optimizing for answer engines. I’ll also provide valuable insights from digital marketing professionals, including how they’re preparing for the latest in AI technology.
What Is Answer Engine Optimization (AEO)?
Answer engine optimization, or AEO, is the process of improving your website’s content to provide direct answers to user queries. These types of direct answers are often used in Google search engine results page (SERP) features, like Rich Snippets and People also ask:
AEO isn’t only impactful for Google search results, though.
With the widespread adoption of AI bots like ChatGPT and Bard, the use of generative AI in search, and the continued evolution of AI voice search assistants like Siri and Alexa, AEO has never been more important.
These types of AI technology are often referred to as answer engines, hence the term “answer engine optimization.”
If you’re not already incorporating AEO and AEO marketing techniques into your content strategy, then you’re behind the pack.
My team at NP Digital surveyed a group of marketing professionals. When asked whether they have any plans to optimize their pages and content to appear in chatbot responses, the majority said they already have a plan in place (31.5 percent) or are in the process of setting up a plan (39.0 percent). A further 19.2 percent said they don’t have a plan, but it’s on their roadmap for 2024 and beyond.
How Is AEO Different Than SEO?
Many would argue that AEO is simply a subset of SEO, and I agree. They share the goal of providing highly useful content to users, but they go about it in different ways.
SEO utilizes hundreds of factors—like keywords, data markup, internal and external links, and site structure—to determine where webpages should appear in a list of search results. The goal is to provide relevant results based on search queries and user intent.
AEO utilizes many of the same factors as SEO, but with a more direct goal: to answer the question posed by the user.
Answer engines—and answer engine technology embedded in SERPs like Search Generative Experience (SGE)—are expected to provide direct answers to user queries. This means the content needs to be not only relevant and useful, but it also has to be readable, crawlable, and easily presentable in a direct answer format.
In that way, AEO is a more specialized approach. That’s because unlike search engines, where a range of results are offered, answer engines present only one answer to each query.
How to Optimize Your Business to Appear in AI Chatbot Results
If you want to remain relevant as AI takes a larger role in search, then you’ll want to add answer engine optimization to your toolkit. It’s time to learn how to optimize your website and content to appear in AI chatbot results.
What Is Chatbot Misinformation and How Can You Avoid it?
While we like to think of chatbots as intelligent beings, they are just machine programs with limitations like any other. One of those limitations is that they take information from user questions at face value.
What do I mean?
Users can ask chatbots a question with a false premise or inject their own opinion into requests which can lead to inaccurate results. There are plenty of examples, ranging from chatbots inventing journal references and statistics to recommending crushed porcelain in breastmilk:
Now the results for many of these examples have been resolved. It’s not because the chatbots have learned the error of their ways, but because the human minds behind the machine have flagged the responses as inappropriate.
This is a flaw of almost any AI technology. There are two steps you can take to avoid misinformation about your business appearing in answer engines and chatbot results:
First, ensure the information you’re providing on all official channels (e.g. your website, social media, databases) is accurate and up-to-date.
Second, work to optimize your content for AI chatbot results using the strategies below.
Strategies for Appearing in AI Chatbot Results
When it comes to strategies for appearing in AI chatbot results, I’ve got you covered!
Understand User Intent
User intent, sometimes referred to as search intent, is the motive behind an internet search.
There are four main types of search intent:
- Navigational: the user is seeking a specific website.
- Informational: the user is looking to learn something.
- Transactional: the user is looking to make a purchase.
- Commercial: the user is looking to learn more about a company or product.
When creating or optimizing content, you should understand the intent of the search query. Only then can you offer relevant and useful answers.
So how can you learn the intent behind the keywords you’re targeting or ranking for? Keyword research tools, like Ubersuggest and Google Keyword Planner can help.
Once you understand what search terms your website ranks for, you can dig into the most popular terms. Using Ubersuggest’s Keyword Overview tool, for example, lets you see related topics, frequently asked questions, and additional keyword suggestions:
The questions can help determine intent, while also providing you with inspiration for FAQs.
What do I mean?
The four keywords in the above screenshot are largely informational. That is, the searcher is hoping to learn more about digital marketing. As we continue to scroll through the list of questions, though, we begin to see more commercial and transactional results.
Take “what does digital marketing agency do” as an example:
There’s certainly some informational intent behind the question, but it’s also possible to be commercial intent. For example, a business who is looking to hire a digital marketing agency may want to learn more about it so they can make the right decision.
If you’re a digital marketing agency, and you understand the intent behind that keyword, you can create content that captures the customer within the purchase journey.
An example of a transactional intent is the keyword “what digital marketing course” shown below:
The searcher is likely looking to purchase a digital marketing course, but they want to narrow their options.
Content that targets the transactional intent of this keyword may be a digital marketing course roundup. You can position your course as the best option, or even create a post with affiliate links to other courses.
You see, the intent can be just as important as the question. This is why you must consider the whole picture when incorporating such keywords into your content.
Use Question and Answer Format Where Applicable
Does an FAQ section within your content seem too on the nose? That’s the point!
With the increased use of direct answers on traditional and voice searches, the more clear and direct your content can be, the better.
We know that 70 percent of all answers returned from voice searches occupied a SERP feature, and 60 percent of those are from a Featured Snippet result. So it’s not a bad strategy to create content that will get your website in a Featured Snippet with the added benefit of targeting voice search results.
Featured Snippets offer a direct, highly relevant answer to the question posed by the user. They can be found within overall search results or the “People also ask” section of a SERP:
Featured Snippets are often referred to as position zero. They are returned at the top of SERPs (below sponsored ads), so they’re the first thing that users will see.
So how is content chosen for a Featured Snippet?
Per Google, “Featured snippets come from web search listings. Google’s automated systems determine whether a page would make a good featured snippet to highlight for a specific search request.”
While this doesn’t give us a direct answer, we can look at what types of content already exist within Featured Snippets. In many cases, the Featured Snippet is a direct answer to a specific question.
That’s why I recommend you include relevant FAQs on your website and within your content pages.
Set Up Business Profiles Wherever Possible
You may be surprised to learn that AI generators of all kinds, including chatbots and answer engines, utilize information from online directories like Google Business Profile and Yelp.
By setting up your business profiles wherever possible, you increase the odds of your business’s information being available for answer engines to find and use.
For many directories, it’s as easy as submitting your domain and other business details. Once set up, you’ll appear within the directories which are crawled by search engines.
Which directories should you use?
There are many industry-specific directories, but here’s a list of general business directories to consider:
- Google Business Profile
- Apple Maps
- Yellow Pages
Become an Authoritative Voice in Your Industry
Of the group of marketing professionals we surveyed who said that optimizing their content to appear in chatbot responses has been a major priority for them, 34 percent have the top goal of building brand awareness and loyalty.
There are many ways of doing so, but becoming an authoritative voice in your industry is perhaps the most effective.
An authoritative voice is one that people look to for relevant, high-quality content. It’s the type of content that answers their questions and even anticipates further questions on the topic.
How does being an authoritative industry voice impact AEO?
If you’re an authoritative voice, then your content is likely to be linked to from other domains. You’re also more likely to be included in industry roundups. This signals to search engines and answer engines that your content is valuable which makes it more likely to be featured.
Becoming an authoritative voice is not something that happens overnight. So what steps can you take to become a thought leader in your industry?
- Choose a niche and become knowledgeable in it.
- Create and establish a personal brand.
- Get into guest blogging.
- Create free high-value content.
- Establish relationships using social media.
- Speak at industry events.
- Become a mentor in your community.
If that seems like a lot of work, it’s because it is! No one said it was easy, but it’s worth it if you’re passionate about the field.
Incorporate AI Into Your Content Marketing Strategy
How can you learn to optimize for answer engines—like chatbots and voice search—if you’re not familiar with AI yourself? You must find comfort using AI if you hope to get ahead of the competition.
That’s what many of the marketing professionals in our survey are doing.
Of the subset of marketing professionals we surveyed who have plans or are working on plans to optimize for chatbot responses, 81.1 percent have been incorporating AI into their business processes for six months or longer.
How or why are they using AI? Here’s how they answered the multiple selection question:
- 67.9% said they’re using it to improve efficiency.
- 52.8% said they’re using it for innovation.
- 52.8% said they’re using it for customer experience improvement.
- 52.8% said they’re using it for future readiness.
As you can see, most of these marketing professionals are using AI in multiple capacities.
What Factors Matter Most For ChatGPT Recommendations?
Recently, I ran a test with a statistician/data analyst to see what factors cause ChatGPT to recommend a brand in its answers. We looked at over 80 potential factors, but 6 items stood above the rest:
- Brand mentions: The more times a brand is mentioned online, the more likely it is for ChatGPT to recommend it.
- Reviews: Both the presence of reviews and the quality of the ratings help, whether it’s on your own site or external sites.
- Relevancy: In my test, I found that the keywords in the questions we asked ChatGPT nearly always existed on web pages where the product and service was mentioned.
- Age: Older products and companies tended to fare better in ChatGPT recommendations.
- Recommendations: Interestingly, ChatGPT heavily weighed suggestions pulled from listicles listing things like “best dog bed” or what have you, even though these are largely built on affiliate commissions versus what is truly the best fit.
- Authority: The more authoritative the company, the more likely it is to be recommended.
Answer engine optimization is the process of optimizing your website content to provide direct answers to user search queries. AEO is beneficial for search engine results, as well as AI chatbots (e.g. ChatGPT, Bard) and voice search engines (e.g. Alexa, Siri).
As technology continues to evolve, so should your content optimization efforts too. Chatbots aren’t going anywhere, so it’s important you’re optimizing for answer engines wherever possible if you want to remain relevant.
There is no doubt that your website is already being affected by the AI impact on search. These impacts will only increase as SGE and other search results page AI features are rolled out. So if you don’t have plans to implement AEO immediately, you’re falling behind.
Fortunately, if you already have a solid SEO strategy in place, you can likely use the framework to implement the strategies we recommended above.
Do you have or plan to implement an AEO strategy for your site? Tell us about it in the comments below.
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