Marketers worried that artificial intelligence-driven chat will reduce search traffic to their websites may find comfort in answer engine optimization.
AEO is a sub-category of search engine optimization and could help ecommerce companies stay ahead of upcoming changes at Google and Bing.
What’s an Answer Engine?
The goal of Google, Bing, Yahoo, and Baidu has long been to provide the best answer to a user’s query.
Searchers on Google, for example, likely have a need or a question. The result they want is not a list of websites, per se, but a solution.
As a search engine improves, it evolves into an answer engine, providing an answer instead of (or in addition to) a list of sites. This is why search engines developed carousels, knowledge panels, and featured snippets.
The introduction of smart speakers and vehicle infotainment systems accelerated the transformation from search to answer engines since voice-based queries imply a single response.
Similarly, AI chat software is pushing search toward answers over links. This trend is not the death of SEO, but it does mean that search engine optimizers may need to adapt.
AEO is still SEO. The fundamental process is the same, requiring marketers to:
- Get technical optimization right,
- Identify keyword phrases and entities,
- Create helpful, informative, or entertaining content,
- Develop backlinks and mentions.
Thus we can sum up the difference between SEO and AEO in three concepts: communication, credibility, and deliverability.
The concepts are primarily the work of Jason Barnard. He’s the founder of Kalicube, a digital marketing agency. He has been teaching businesses about AEO since the launch of voice assistants.
3 AEO Concepts
Communication. Each answer engine tries to deliver the best response to the user’s query. And “best” means more than clear and concise. It includes the best source. For example, an answer engine seeks a shopping response if a query has clear buying intent.
Thus, according to Barnard, communication is ensuring an answer engine such as Bing, Google, and Amazon Alexa understands what a business is, what it does, and its audience. Collectively, these inputs make a company a good or bad candidate to provide the single answer to a query.
This communication concept is similar to SEO. For example, Barnard lists structured data and semantic (easily understood) HTML as methods to “communicate” businesses to an answer engine. Thus, communication involves a new emphasis on Schema.org markup or JSON LD.
Credibility. In Barnard’s AEO concepts, credibility refers to a business’s standing relative to competing solutions and answers.
Once it understands the business, an answer engine needs to evaluate it among several likely options. This involves assessing a business’s credibility, authority, and trustworthiness in relation to competing solutions and answers.
For ecommerce companies, building AEO credibility may involve collecting and displaying reviews from satisfied customers on third-party sites. Such reviews help establish the business’s authority and trustworthiness for both answer engines and consumers.
Other methods of building credibility include becoming an industry thought leader — publishing original research, guest posts, and speaking at conferences.
These techniques are similar to SEO link-building and mention-building.
Deliverability. Deliverability refers to whether the business’s content and overall setup can solve the user’s query.
To decide, the answer engine will evaluate various factors, including page speed, mobile-friendliness, user experience, and, in the case of ecommerce, purchase performance.
Writing for Semrush, Barnard explained:
Deliverability is all about whether [an answer engine] believes your site can deliver the solution effectively to its user. That can be in the form of traditional SEO signals such as a fast page that is mobile-friendly or less obvious concepts such as a great checkout experience for an ecommerce site, great accompanying content around a video, and so on.
Ultimately, optimizing deliverability for answer engines is ensuring the business’s content is visible, credible, and effective in solving the query.
By focusing on the three key AEO concepts — communication, credibility, and deliverability — ecommerce companies can improve their answer engine visibility and drive more traffic and conversions to their websites, despite the rise of search platforms powered by AI chat and voice.