For many people, Google’s search engine acts as a front door to the internet. And search is big business for Google: In 2022, more than half of its total revenue, $162.45 billion, came from search ads. But that formula might now be changing, thanks to AI.
Slowly, consumers are shifting from a keyword-based search experience—where they are presented with a barrage of ads to click through—to a conversational interaction that uses a search bot powered by a large language model. Such a pivot could have profound effects on Google’s core business.
Google knows this and has been developing its own AI search function, called Search Generative Experience (SGE). SGE was announced last May and so far has only been available as an “experiment” that users can try out. But SGE will very likely become a permanent fixture of Google’s search page for all users, says Jim Yu, founder of SEO firm BrightEdge. It’ll be triggered by certain kinds of keyword searches and will appear on the results page alongside the ads and links we’re used to seeing.
This could have big implications for brands that rely on Google ads to find new customers. When a customer searches for “best midsize cars,” for example, SGE will return a narrative summary of what it found, along with four or five examples of cars, a pros-and-cons for each car, and even some snippets of reviews about the cars. That package of results is probably more helpful for someone searching for a car than a list of links, Yu says, but it’s also very opinionated (for example, saying that a given car is harder to maintain). If you’re the brand, Yu adds, you may wonder why you’re spending tens of thousands on internet advertising when Google’s search results are talking potential customers out of buying your product.
It’ll be important that a company’s various marketing groups—including those that manage paid search, organic search, location search, reputation, and reviews—work together to manage the brand’s image as it appears on AI-powered search, he says.
“How do I manage in this new world where all these different aspects of my digital presence are interconnected as I run these different campaigns?” Yu says. “Today they’re kind of talking to each other but they’re not really talking to each other; they’re not really orchestrated, and that’s going to change.”