Seismic Shift in Search: Perplexity Surge Rewrites Marketing Rules, Poses Challenges for Marketers
April 10, 2024

Seismic Shift in Search: Perplexity Surge Rewrites Marketing Rules, Poses Challenges for Marketers

For over a decade, search engine optimization has largely focused on optimizing websites and content to rank higher in traditional search...

A new study by BrightEdge, an enterprise SEO marketing agency, has revealed fascinating insights into the burgeoning AI search engine Perplexity. The report suggests Perplexity's growing popularity presents unique optimization opportunities, particularly for e-commerce businesses, even as it challenges traditional marketing approaches.

Perplexity describes itself as an “Answer Engine” that blends chatbot functionality with a search engine. This hybrid approach represents a significant departure from the traditional model of search engines primarily providing a list of links.  Users are presented with comprehensive AI-generated answers while still receiving website citations that help drive traffic. Importantly, Perplexity is an ad-free model, opening doors for organic search prominence – a throwback to earlier days of search before paid advertising became the primary monetization method.

“Perplexity is seeing organic share rate growth at a rate of 39% month," notes BrightEdge, demonstrating the engine's increasing appeal to consumers. The study found that users are receptive to the AI-centric search experience –  a positive sign for the longevity of these emerging AI-first search platforms. This signals a potential shift in user expectations, harkening back to the days when search results were more focused on direct information rather than a curated list of web pages.

The rise of Perplexity, and the insights from BrightEdge's study, point to a revolutionary transformation in SEO. For over a decade, search engine optimization has largely focused on optimizing websites and content to rank higher in traditional search results. However, Perplexity disrupts this model. The ability for AI to synthesize information and provide direct answers, while maintaining citations, could alter how users interact with and trust search. It's a paradigm shift that forces marketers to rethink how they ensure their brands are not only found but included in the AI's process of assembling answers.

Perplexity Results Show Surprising Overlap with Google SGE

A groundbreaking study by BrightEdge has uncovered a significant overlap between search results generated by the rising AI search engine Perplexity and Google's own Search Generative Experience (SGE). This convergence signals a potential shift in how AI search engines source and rank information, presenting both challenges and opportunities for marketers.

The strongest overlap between the two search platforms exists within health-related queries. This alignment is likely due to the highly regulated nature of medical information, with both Perplexity and Google prioritizing established, authoritative sources within the healthcare field. The limited number of sites deemed qualified to provide health content likely contributes to this strong similarity in results.

Outside the sensitive healthcare domain, platforms like Reddit emerge as a surprisingly frequent point of reference for Perplexity across diverse search topics.  However, this trend notably excludes finance and other YMYL ("Your Money/Your Life") categories, where the AI search engine appears to prioritize more established sources.  This suggests a nuanced approach by Perplexity, balancing user-generated content with established authority depending on the sensitivity of the search topic.

Authority Sites Still Dominate in Key Areas

Despite Reddit's influence, the BrightEdge report highlights Perplexity's continued reliance on authoritative websites in specific verticals.  Healthcare and Education searches see established sources consistently ranking highly, demonstrating the importance of expertise.  Similarly,  well-known brands like Yelp and TripAdvisor thrive within Perplexity's Restaurant and Travel results, emphasizing the AI's tendency to favor sites with a track record of review-driven authority.

This focus on authority may reassure brands invested in maintaining a strong online reputation and expertise within their industry.  However, it also underscores the ongoing challenge for smaller or newer businesses hoping to break through in Perplexity's AI-driven search landscape.

Ecommerce Advantage, Divergent Finance Results

Perhaps most encouraging for retailers is Perplexity's clear favoritism towards product-centric sites when handling e-commerce queries. This provides a valuable opportunity for online stores, as the AI search engine places less emphasis on supplementary content like news and lifestyle pieces, which Google SGE often incorporates.

Differences become stark in finance-related searches. Perplexity's emphasis on sources like Yahoo, MarketWatch, and CNN diverges from Google's reliance on platforms like Quora and Consumer Reports. This distinction potentially hints at a varied approach to authority-building within financial topics, with Perplexity focusing on established news sources while Google incorporates product reviews and user-generated analysis.

The BrightEdge study reveals a compelling advantage for e-commerce businesses within the Perplexity search ecosystem. Unlike Google SGE, which blends product listings with a diverse array of informational content like lifestyle blogs and news articles, Perplexity displays a clear preference for referencing product-centric websites. This emphasis on direct product discovery offers a potentially lucrative avenue for online retailers seeking high visibility within this emerging AI-driven search engine.

This product-focused approach aligns with Perplexity's ad-free model. In the absence of paid advertisements, Perplexity relies on organic citations to guide users toward relevant products and services. Marketers well-versed in traditional SEO tactics may find their efforts translate effectively within Perplexity, as optimizing for direct product discovery becomes paramount.

The Power of Citations: Transparency and Traffic

Perplexity's remarkably high citation rate – averaging 5.28 website citations per query – further bolsters the platform's appeal for e-commerce businesses. BrightEdge emphasizes the link between citation volume and a search engine's "commitment to transparency." This transparency translates directly into opportunities for increased referral traffic, driving users directly from Perplexity's AI-generated answers to brand websites.

The combination of a product-centric focus and abundant citations within Perplexity's results presents a unique opportunity for e-commerce brands. Forward-thinking marketers should begin strategizing now to capitalize on this potential shift in search behavior. Prioritizing content that answers product-specific questions and optimizing for direct discovery on Perplexity could yield significant gains as the platform continues to establish itself.

SEO in the AI Search Era

The study also reveals that while Perplexity's results sometimes overlap with Google's Search Generative Experience (SGE), distinct differences exist.  This signals a new era for search marketers.

“For marketers, who rely on organic search strategies to reach customers, new AI-first search engines like Perplexity and ChatGPT signal a tectonic shift in how brands market and sell their products,” the BrightEdge report states.

Jim Yu, Founder, and Executive Chairman of BrightEdge, underscores the stakes for marketers: “Optimizing emerging search platforms is essential for marketers because their impact will be seismic – just 1% of the global organic search market equates to approximately $1.2B in ad revenue per year. AI-first engines are steadily gaining ground and carving out their own areas of expertise, making it critical for the marketing community to master multiple search platforms. There is too much revenue at stake to get left behind, which is why we’re closely tracking the development of these engines and all things AI search – from traffic trends and queries to result quality and more."

With Perplexity's rising popularity and evolving algorithms, staying ahead of the curve is crucial. The study encourages search marketers to capitalize on AI-driven search and adapt their optimization strategies accordingly. The study highlights the need for mastering multiple search platforms and keeping a watchful eye on the rapidly changing AI search landscape.

The findings are sure to spark important conversations that challenge us, startup marketers, in how we build our SEO foundation in this new algorithm landscape. This enables us to see new opportunities for generative AI search.

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