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In a World With AI, Are Small Businesses Getting Priced Out of SEO?
Technology changes quickly, and lately it seems like it’s been changing faster than ever before. While artificial intelligence has been a part of that technological landscape for many years in varying forms, it’s been making headlines lately because of the release of ChatGPT and other generative AI programs. Now, it’s begun to change the landscape of SEO.

How Does AI Play a Role in Google’s SERP Rankings?

Google has used AI in its algorithm for a long time. So how is AI only recently changing the SEO landscape? The answer has to do with the newer generative AI like ChatGPT. Google has started to include responses from its own generative AI platform, Bard, at the top of search engine results pages. This takes up a lot of real estate on the SERP. Users have to scroll down to see any search results at all, even the very first result. This means that the value of that top spot isn’t what it used to be. For those ranked lower on the SERP, there’s a chance users may never scroll down that far.

Who Is Google’s Algorithm Ranking the Highest?

There are many signals that Google’s algorithm pays attention to when it comes to determining search rankings. User interaction is a major one. Google’s search algorithm looks at such signals as clicks, bounce rate, dwell time, and more; websites that not only attract users to click the link but then also remain on the site for longer tend to end up higher in the SERP rankings. In theory, this means that really good content that is the most helpful to users should rank at the top. However, it often ends up being those with the highest ad spend in practice.

How Does Media Spend Impact Google’s SERP Rankings?

Larger companies with bigger budgets for ad and media spend are going to be more visible. Users will therefore recognize these brands more readily, leading them to more frequently click on links belonging to brands they already know and trust. This means that it can be difficult for new or smaller brands to compete; Google shows users what they expect and want to see, which can mean that it shows more popular content and may not leave room for brands that can’t pay to gain that same level of popularity via advertising.

Is Google Favoring Bigger Brands in SEO?

When asked this question, Amanda Shaffer, the founder and CEO of BrainVine, responded:

“The short answer is that it’s complicated, primarily because there’s more than one type of SEO these days. However, within the current landscape and in the more traditional sense of how SEO has functioned during the last decade, the answer is mostly yes.”


Amanda Shaffer, Founder & CEO of BrainVine

How Can Smaller Brands Compete in the Modern SEO Landscape?

Even if smaller or newer brands may find themselves priced out of the typical SEO landscape thanks to larger brands and AI taking up the bulk of the SERP real estate, that doesn’t mean there aren’t still options. Local SEO, in which you focus on building a brand within your local area, can be a good option because bigger companies may be focusing on a larger scale. Another option is YouTube; even with generative AI added to SERPs, YouTube videos are often featured prominently at the top. Growing a YouTube channel could be a way to compete for space at the top of a search engine results page.

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