Search is getting an AI facelift. Google introduced a suite of changes to its core search product at its I/O conference last week, and brand publishers could find the changes have significant implications for how they attract and engage audiences.
For example: When a user searches for something on Google, the new results page could include an AI-powered answer at the top of the page. That’s already a huge change, as it effectively cuts down on the amount of real estate that other search results receive. The AI-powered results, at least for now, will only appear when Google thinks it’s going to be more useful than standard results. But what shows up – at least according to the demos I’ve seen – is impressive: Concise information that answers queries, with links “corroborating” where Google sourced that information from.
The announcement sent Google stock to its highest level since August, and it will have some brand publishers reeling. One of the more troubling impacts of generative chatbots has been a sudden shift in how users find and access expertise.
For most brand publishers, content is a way to demonstrate in-house expertise on specific issues and topics. That expertise can be hard to find and may touch on topics or ideas that mainstream media doesn’t cover, but it could previously be used to attract specific and engaged audiences via search results.
Now, those search pages may not lead people to brand publications at all. It’s still unclear how the Google search implementation will change – and it will change – or what sources Google’s results draw on to inform those results. But pulling AI onto the valuable real estate that is the search results page threatens to upend entire distribution strategies for brand publishers. Depending on how these results appear on pages, anyone creating content may find that downstream traffic is impacted. And certain brand content may be affected more than others’: For example, those publishing commoditized content may find that their traffic is impacted more than those exploring nuanced or complicated topics, for example. Google’s move is, as the Verge put it, a rethinking of how billions of people find information online.
News publishers have already begun pushing back on the increasing encroachment of platforms and their AI into their domains. Per: IAC chairman Barry Diller last month: “If all the world’s information is able to be sucked up into this and then essentially repackaged in declarative sentences….there will be no publishing.”
Another factor here worth considering is how advertising plays into Google’s search updates. So far, the demos of the reimagined AI-driven search results do not include advertising. But they probably will – since the vast majority of Google’s revenues have been derived from advertising since its inception. One possibility is that the integration of AI into search could affect how much “free” traffic is sent to brand publications and brand content.
Similar search changes are also coming to Bing, which has an “AI copilot” that reviews results from across the Internet and presents users with a summary to the answer they’re looking for. And ChatGPT, the AI chatbot developed by OpenAI, has already gained significant traction for users looking for everything from information to queries to help with their day-to-day tasks. That also has the possibility of becoming a “front door” for user access to information.
As we wrote earlier: Anyone in the business of media has seen this movie before; brands typically have to pay for access to audiences one way or another.