Will traffic from search engines fall 25% by 2026?

Gartner is predicting that users will seek answers from generative AI tools like ChatGPT and Claude rather than Google Search.

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Will traffic from search engines to your website drop 25% by 2026 as a result of the rise of generative AI answer engines? That’s what Gartner, a technological research and consulting firm, is predicting.

Why we care. SEO and PPC are incredibly valuable. Search traffic is what can lead to revenue and profit (whether via converting that traffic to leads, sales, or whatever type of conversion matters to your brand).

The rise of generative AI has raised legitimate concerns that Google’s Search Generative Experience (and other AI-driven answer engines) may “steal” traffic that would have gone to your website in the past or significantly drive up costs for advertisers. Many also believe that ChatGPT is already stealing market share from Google.

The prediction. Gartner believes people will turn to generational AI conversational assistants (e.g., ChatGPT, Claude) rather than traditional search engines (e.g., Google). If true, this would mean a huge shift in search marketing strategies, both paid and organic. Gartner predicts:

  • “By 2026, traditional search engine volume will drop 25%, with search marketing losing market share to AI chatbots and other virtual agents.”

But. A prediction (this one was shared in a press release today based on full research that requires a subscription) is just a guess. Gartner’s predictions are typically informed, but they’re still best guesses.

Respected analyst firms are rarely called out when they’re wrong – because people rarely go back and check. As one recent example, Gartner made a surprising prediction that 50% of consumers would limit engagement or abandon social media by 2025 – but later walked it back a bit.

2028 prediction. Gartner previously predicted that “organic search traffic will decrease by 50% or more as consumers embrace generative AI-powered search.” This was based in part on findings from a survey (of 299 consumers in August 2023) that found:

  • 79% of respondents expected to use AI-enhanced search within the next year.
  • 70% of consumers had at least some trust in generative AI search results.

For that prediction, Gartner advised brands to prepare for disruption due to AI-based search:

  • “Marketing leaders whose brands rely on SEO should consider allocating resources to testing other channels in order to diversify,” said Emily Weiss, senior principal researcher at Gartner.

Not guaranteed. It may turn out that Gartner is right – we’ll know for sure in 2026. But I highly suggest reading Gartner predictions in the same way you should read a ranking factor correlation study published by an SEO tool/platform. It’s entertaining, perhaps informative or even useful directionally, but not unimpeachable.

Preparing for AI search. So what if Gartner is correct? Search Engine Land has published several articles providing insights, strategies and tips to prepare for Google SGE and AI-powered search. Here are some links to those:

About the author

Danny Goodwin
Danny Goodwin has been Managing Editor of Search Engine Land & Search Marketing Expo - SMX since 2022. He joined Search Engine Land in 2022 as Senior Editor. In addition to reporting on the latest search marketing news, he manages Search Engine Land’s SME (Subject Matter Expert) program. He also helps program U.S. SMX events.

Goodwin has been editing and writing about the latest developments and trends in search and digital marketing since 2007. He previously was Executive Editor of Search Engine Journal (from 2017 to 2022), managing editor of Momentology (from 2014-2016) and editor of Search Engine Watch (from 2007 to 2014). He has spoken at many major search conferences and virtual events, and has been sourced for his expertise by a wide range of publications and podcasts.

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