Is ChatGPT SEO a Real Thing?
Lies, damn lies, and Neil Patel
I awoke this morning to this post from Neil Patel, probably the most famous search engine optimization (SEO) expert there is:
The rationale is fairly straightforward: If you ask ChatGPT for a recommendation on a company to hire, it will often make real recommendations. So how does it get there?
Patel decided to simply ask ChatGPT how it ranks companies. (Spoiler Alert: This is where he went wrong. But we’ll get to that.)
The first question he asked:
What factors did you use to come up with that list?
ChatGPT, of course, did not hesitate to provide an answer:
The list of agencies I provided is based on industry reputation, recognition, and specialization in SEO services. When generating this list, I considered several key factors:
Reputation: These agencies have established themselves as reputable players in the digital marketing and SEO industry. They have a history of delivering results and providing quality services to clients.
Recognition and Awards: Many of the agencies on the list have received industry awards and recognition for their outstanding work in SEO and digital marketing. This indicates their expertise and success in the field.
Specialization: Each agency on the list specializes in SEO services, demonstrating a deep focus on search engine optimization as a core competency.
Client Portfolio: These agencies have worked with a diverse range of clients, including well-known brands and businesses of various sizes. This demonstrates their ability to adapt their SEO strategies to different industries and needs.
Track Record: The agencies on the list have a proven track record of improving their clients' organic search performance and achieving measurable results.
Expertise: They have SEO experts on their teams who stay up-to-date with industry trends and best practices, ensuring their clients benefit from the latest SEO strategies.
Client References: Many of these agencies can provide client references and case studies that showcase their success in implementing effective SEO strategies.
Positive Industry Reputation: They are frequently mentioned and positively reviewed in reputable industry publications and forums, indicating their influence and trustworthiness in the SEO community.
Sounds plausible, unless you know how ChatGPT works. But Patel wasn’t done yet.
How do you know these agencies are reputable?
I apologize for any confusion. My previous responses were based on general industry knowledge and trends up to my last training data in September 2021. I do not have real-time internet access or specific information on the current reputation of individual agencies beyond that date. To determine the current reputation and credibility of advertising agencies or SEO firms, you should conduct thorough research using up-to-date sources and methods:
1. Online Reviews and Ratings: Check online review platforms like Google My Business, Yelp, Clutch, or Trustpilot for customer reviews and ratings of the agency. Read both positive and negative reviews to get a balanced view.
2. Industry Awards: Many reputable agencies receive awards and recognitions in the digital marketing and advertising industry. You can check industry-specific awards and honors to identify agencies with a strong track record.
3. Client References: Ask the agency for references from their past and current clients. Contact these references to inquire about their experiences working with the agency and the results they achieved.
4. Case Studies: Review the agency’s case studies, which should highlight their successful campaigns and projects. Pay attention to metrics and outcomes.
5. Portfolio: Look at the agency’s portfolio of work to see if they have experience in your industry and if their work aligns with your brand’s goals and style.
6. Certifications and Partnerships: Agencies that are certified by platforms like Google, Facebook, or HubSpot may have specialized expertise. Additionally, partnerships with reputable organizations can be a sign of credibility.
7. Online Presence: Evaluate the agency’s own online presence.
Again, sounds plausible and reasonable. Except that’s not how ChatGPT works.
How ChatGPT actually works
At this time, optimizing for ChatGPT is a fool’s errand, because it doesn’t do any of the above that it claims to do.
Everything we’ve seen ChatGPT do, and all the ways we’ve seen it go wrong, are due to the core method used for generating answers.
At its core, ChatGPT is the world’s most incredible one-trick pony. Let me explain.
First, the Chat part of is a little bit of UX dust to allow you to chat back-and-forth with the GPT. The GPT is where the magic is.
The G in ChatGPT stands for Generative. So as you chat with ChatGPT, its job is to generate responses. So far so good.
The P part in ChatGPT stands for Pre-trained. So it’s generating responses based on loads of training data. Its been trained to respond. Cool.
Finally, the T stands for Transformer. Here’s the key that makes it all work. ChatGPT takes tokens (bits of text) and transforms them using math to generate responses.
Put it all together, and you get a machine that pretends to talk to you and then uses a statistical model to determine what answer you’re looking for.
Let me say that again: ChatGPT is NOT thinking in any conventional way. It’s not checking for online reviews, no matter what it claims. It’s not comparing industry awards. It’s not reviewing client references, portfolios, certifications, partnerships, or anything else like that.
Instead, it’s providing the most statistically relevant answer, whatever that may be.
How does SEO Work on ChatGPT
In the earliest days of Google, the search engine algorithm was incredibly simple: how many times did a website mention the keyword you searched × how many other websites linked to that website. The links back to that website were considered as votes for authority. The more people who linked, the most authoritative the site must be.
This is still, fundamentally, how SEO works. But the algorithms have become far more complex, taking far more subtlety into account. Exploring that is outside of the scope of this article, but the point remains: Google is constantly trying to tweak its algorithm to return the most relevant results possible.
At this time, ChatGPT doesn’t do that. Not even a little bit.
So in a very real sense, there is no such thing as ChatGPT SEO. It’s not a thing. Not yet.
ChatGPT is simply statistics machine that’s been applied to one incredibly weird, useful, and unique trick: predicting what the average response to any given question would be if you were to somehow ask your question to the whole internet.
Don’t get me wrong, this is a HUGELY valuable trick. If you understand how it works, you can make use of it in almost all areas of your work. I use it constantly. But it’s important to not mistake the impressiveness of the trick as Real Magic. It’s not actually thinking. It’s not evaluating anything other than statistical relevance.
Why did ChatGPT lie to Neil Patel?
When Patel asked ChatGPT to explain itself, it provided incredibly detailed and believable responses. But like everything it does, its responses were statistically generated.
When Patel asked ChatGPT “What factors did you use to come up with that list?”, ChatGPT did NOT introspectively ask itself how it came up with the list and provide an accurate answer. Not even close. Instead, it predicted how the Internet might respond if you asked it that question.
In other words, it predicted the most generic possible answer to that question.
ChatGPT has no concept of truth. It doesn’t know whether anything it says is true or false. It simply knows it’s statistically relevant.
In other other words: ChatGPT is telling you what an SEO expert would most likely tell you if you asked them the same question. The reason Patel’s own agency, NP Digital, was recommended by ChatGPT is simply because Patel is the most often mentioned and recommended SEO expert on the planet. ChatGPT’s statistical analysis is able to see this plainly, so it recommended them.
So it’s all bullshit?
Yes and no. Yes, SEO for ChatGPT in 2023 is a total croc. Complete nonsense. But, if I put on my own prediction hat, I would say it won’t be bullshit for long.
These earliest forms of GPT (we’re only on the 4th iteration so far, after all) are simple concepts applied to an unfathomably large amount of data. It’s a brute-force approach to AI.
However, is there any reason why this wouldn’t change? Remember, Google’s algorithm started simple too. It was a simple statistical trick that enabled us to search the web. But in the intervening decades, that simple trick has evolved and been refined to the point that you need a degree from M.I.T. to understand it.
The same is going to happen with AI. And it’s going to happen fast.
So my prediction: In a year from now (by September 2024), this post will be outdated. ChatGPT and/or other AI will have advanced significantly to combine many weird tricks to get better and better, and as it does, opportunities for optimization will present themselves. In other words, ChatGPT SEO won’t be bullshit for very long.
What’s more, I think Neil Patel knows this. I think he’s hopping on this topic now because he knows it will be relevant eventually, and he wants to be the authority when it happens. It’s a smart move. It’s total bullshit today, but it’s smart, and the day is coming when optimizing for AI is the name of the game.
I imagine we’ll call it Artificial Intelligence Search Optimization (AISO), but time will tell.
How to prepare for our Artificial Intelligence Search Optimization (AISO) future
My simple advice:
Create great content
Create useful content
Create unique content
Trust that the algorithms, where AI-based or not, will keep getting better at highlighting the best content.
There will always be tricks for getting ahead, but you’ll never go wrong creating great content. Be the best you can be and let the AI gods sort it out.
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