Forget SEO: Why ‘AI Engine Optimization’ may be the future

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According to founder, investor and longtime industry analyst Jeremiah Owyang, Bill Gates’ vision of a personal AI is coming. 

That future is one that will disrupt SEO and e-commerce and require marketers and creators to move beyond optimizing traditional search engines to optimize AI, he told VentureBeat in an interview. And, it means planning for disruption and developing new strategies now. 

“The advertising model as we know it — getting people to go to your website and view it — that’s going to break…I don’t see how that sustains,” he said.

AI agents and foundational models, instead, will capture the ad dollars as advertisers pay to get their messages included in generated responses.

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“For example, we may see ‘sponsored sentences’ in an AI emerge, or ads next to generated content,” he said. Marketers and creators, he explained, have to think about how to be discovered beyond the search engine, within the AI itself.

Going from influencing search engines to AI agents

Last week, OpenAI launched its web crawler to fetch real-time info from the web. But soon, web crawling may not be efficient enough as more and more consumers stay in GPT tools to get information — rather than going to marketing or news sites, Owyang predicts.

“The data schemas are too varied,” he said.

So how will chatbots get their data — and what does that mean for business who want customers to find them online?

As consumers increasingly use automated tools to go through the marketing “funnel,” marketers and creators need to consider something that many might think is counterintuitive: That is, you actually want, no need, LLMs to train on your data.

“If I was a journalist, I would want my articles ingested by all of the LLMs,” he explained, adding that more and more chatbots are including citations, including Bing, You.com and Perplexity. “So when people search for that information, I show up first — it’s the same as SEO strategy,” he said — cautioning that this would not apply to gated content, which employs a different business model.

Marketers disrupted again and again

Sound strange? Well, keep in mind that marketers have been disrupted again and again over the past couple of decades, said Owyang. Since the advent of Google search, for example, they have worked to influence the influencers in order to boost SEO — including journalists, financial analysts, industry analysts and media and government relations. Over the past 10 years, they’ve added content creators and other influencers to that mix.

Now, Owyang explained, AI is another influencer marketers will have to cater to, by feeding them information.

“That means you may need to create a special API that can be adjusted by the foundational models,” he said, adding that he could see companies reducing the central nature of their websites, and instead offering an API. “We may find that the most efficient way to influence an autonomous agent is to build an autonomous agent.”

The future of a personal AI is Bill Gates’ M.O.

In an interview with Bill Gates in May during a Goldman Sachs and SV Angel event on AI, Bill Gates said the first company to develop a personal agent to disrupt SEO would have a “leg up on competitors.”

According to Owyang, that’s why Gates — along with Nvidia, Microsoft, Reid Hoffman and Eric Schmidt — invested in Inflection AI as part of an eye-popping $1.3 billion funding round in June.

In May, the company launched Pi, which stands for “personal intelligence” and was meant to be “empathetic, useful and safe” — that is, acting more personally and colloquially than OpenAI’s GPT-4, Microsoft’s Bing or Google’s Bard, while not veering into the super-creepy.

During a panel at the Bloomberg Technology Summit, Inflection CEO Reid Hoffman said that the Pi chatbot takes a more personal, emotional approach compared with ChatGPT. “IQ is not the only thing that matters here,” he said. “EQ matters as well.”

In June, Inflection also announced that it would release a new large language model (LLM) to power Pi, called Inflection-1, which it said outperforms OpenAI’s GPT-3.5.

Owyang says he imagines a future where every brand has an autonomous agent that will interact with the buyer side agents.

“My agents talk to your agent and negotiate which car that I want, which clothes that I want, which restaurants to eat at and even choose the cuisine — perhaps the menu with my dietary needs within budget,” he explained. “That’s the future.” 

How AI Engine Optimization differs from SEO

Of course, a chatbot like Pi is still far away from the kind of personal AI agent Bill Gates — and Owyang — are imagining. And full disclosure: Owyang says he is planning an investment in Inflection AI.

But even now, AI chatbots are already offering recommendations and Owyang said it is becoming clear that if marketers, publishers and creators want to succeed (at least the ones that depend on SEO) they will need to start catering to the wants and needs of AI agents – that is, through AI Engine Optimization. 

Unlike SEO, AI Engine Optimization is not about waiting for a crawler to come to a website. Now, marketers will likely want two things, he explained. One is to create an API that feeds in real-time information to foundational models.

“That standard API protocol hasn’t really emerged yet for how that can be done, which is why OpenAI’s API is just crawling, for example,” he said. But eventually, he predicted, users will ask OpenAI questions before they’ll ask Google Search — “so you need that real-time feed.”

Secondly, marketers will want to take the same corporate API with all of its product information and use it to train its own branded AI that would interact with consumers and buyers, whether that’s on a website or an app. “That would also interact with the buyer side agents that are starting to emerge,” he said.

Brands are already exploring the possibilities

Owyang said that at a recent AI conference in Las Vegas, 2,000 corporate and government leaders were in the room. They all, he insisted, are moving very quickly to explore the possibilities when it comes to building their own LLMs that could, in the future, interact with customers and their AI agents.

The future, he predicted, will go beyond BloombergGPT and Einstein GPT — soon, Walmart or Macy’s could have its own LLM, or even the New York Times.

“Many of these companies are getting ready,” he said.

The bottom line, Owyang said bluntly in a recent blog post, is this: “As we stand on the brink of this seismic shift, the call to action for marketers is clear: We must ready ourselves to not only influence human decision-making but also shape AI behaviors.”

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