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Adapting to AI in Search: How Local Businesses Can Prepare for Customer Behavior Changes

The way consumers find information through search engines is changing again — this time, with the introduction of Generative AI into search results. Google and other search engines use Generative AI to give individuals simplified search results. These AI-powered results mean users no longer have to look through several of the top search results to find answers to their search query

Generative AI in search will change how users look for information, but how will local businesses need to adapt?

Understanding Generative AI and its integration into search

Generative AI (GenAI) creates diverse content from simple prompts. Its development transformed engagement by emulating human-like interactions and gathering data-driven responses. Integrating AI into search will alter interactions between consumers and businesses.

Instead of a search engine returning results based on specific keywords, Generative AI search can understand more conversational and complex search queries.

As users get accustomed to this conversational search approach, they’ll begin asking more detailed questions and relying on search engines to determine the answer. Generative AI in search marks a notable shift in our digital landscape. Consider these seven insights detailing how this new technology affects your business.

Seven Ways Generative AI Will Change Search

The addition of AI into search is more than a Google algorithm update. AI will fundamentally change how people interact with search engines, and it will significantly change how businesses approach digital marketing. Here are seven ways we believe will change consumer and business search behaviors:

1. Consumers will move from search to conversation

The first major shift changes how users interact with search engines. Users are shifting from keyword-based searches to asking more detailed questions. The future of search will be more conversational, like a chat or text message exchange with a knowledgeable friend. Conversational search enhances accessibility to information and enables follow-up questions.

“Plumber near me” will become “Help me find an affordable plumber who can unclog my kitchen sink today.” Instead of the search engine looking at traditional SEO markers to organically rank plumbers in the area, it will examine websites, customer reviews, and other third-party directory and content sources to find plumbers that meet the additional criteria in the query, including:

  • affordable
  • clogged sinks
  • same-day service

This shift allows consumers to be more specific in their search while also prompting businesses to provide more information to create a conversation and deliver a better “first touch” experience to a potential customer.

2. Customer reviews will be foundational to discovery

As of today, customer reviews are even more influential in AI-powered search results. For instance, Google searches through your reviews to help determine if your website is a good result for a user’s query. This new conversational search approach incorporates insights from your reviews. When users search for specific attributes – affordable, dependable, efficient – search engines like Google will look for user reviews that echo those same sentiments.

This influences how prospective clients perceive and discover your business. The sentiment and descriptions shared by clients in reviews directly shape search outcomes.

3. Clear, helpful content will become more critical

Your website content should address users’ nuanced, dialogue-based queries. Your website lets you showcase who you are, how you help your customers, and what sets you apart from competitors. As search queries get more specific and conversational, your website content should focus on information that will help answer those questions.

Your site should vividly showcase expertise, success stories, FAQs, and services. This essential information is necessary to maintain visibility in search results. Conversational search will focus on website content to find more specific information for search results. Ensure your website discusses the specifics of what you do and how you do it.

4. Third-party directories will still have relevance

Directories such as Angi, AVVO, and Thumbtack maintain value in Google’s conversational search. These directories offer essential information to users engaged in conversational search queries. While generative AI search pulls information from your website and reviews, it also looks at third parties to help strengthen the results. These directories can be monumental when someone is looking for the best divorce attorney in a region. In this case, Google may include an AVVO list of the 10 best divorce attorneys.

Ensuring a strong presence across relevant directories is necessary so your business is included in more search results.

5. Your client experience will differentiate you

In the future of search, your prospective clients won’t merely search for a service provider nearby. Users will refine their search by specific attributes when looking for a provider.

For example, they may search for a “responsive car accident attorney near me.” Or an “HVAC provider with transparent pricing.” Generative AI search gathers data matching user preferences from various online sources. Consumers will be more detailed in their search, meaning businesses must be clear about the client experience. Your website should talk about how you do business – including payments, communication styles, and any other things that set you apart.

6. Specificity and transparency will bring an advantage

With conversational search, potential customers seek detailed, direct answers. Your website should offer more than basic details about your business. Businesses should consider including more information about pricing, explanations of services, and potential outcomes. The more specific you are, the better your business can offer value to potential clients. And the more value a search engine will find from your website.

You may be hesitant to include more specific information, particularly around pricing. However, with generative AI search, search engines are looking for websites that answer a user’s detailed questions. The specificity on your website tells search engines that you’re the best in the business.

7. Demonstrating expertise will elevate results

In traditional search, a user may look for one search term, “Can I finish my basement myself?” and then scan through the results to see if they can do it themselves or not. With GenAI, that same search query would give the user an AI overview of the answer and prompt them with follow-up questions, such as:

  • What is the most expensive part of finishing a basement?
  • What to do before finishing your basement?
  • Can you finish a basement without drywall?

These follow-up questions give searchers more insight into their original search term – and allow businesses to shine.

Focus on common questions you receive during a consultation to get started. Develop a strategy for potential industry-related inquiries. Addressing these questions with expertise can boost your visibility in AI-based search.

Strategies to Adapt and Succeed with Generative AI in Search

The proactive efforts your business takes now can position you for success. Ensuring a current, relevant, and robust online presence is more important than ever. Consider integrating these key strategies into your marketing plan:

  • Regularly check all reviews: Monitor all reviews and encourage satisfied customers to leave reviews about their experience, specifically on your Google Business Profile. Ask them to focus on specific aspects of your business that make you stand out.
  • Maintain up-to-date information across your website and third-party directories, including operating hours, pricing, payment methods, and customer preferences.
  • Highlight unique aspects of your business: Showcase unique features like free consultations, multilingual services, or team credentials.
  • Address frequently asked questions: Provide comprehensive answers to common customer queries on your website.
  • Offer diverse communication channels: Meet clients where they are by offering a phone number to call, website chat (bonus for custom AI chat), web forms, texting, scheduling, and online payment options.
  • Consider strategic advertising campaigns that will enhance your reach and visibility in your market; especially if you are in a competitive area.

Unique content about your business on your website, positive reviews, FAQs, and diverse communication channels are essential. By working on these strategies, you are staying ahead in the digital landscape, elevating customer experiences, optimizing online resources and visibility, and investing in your business’s longevity and success.

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