Google has unveiled a significant overhaul of its search that will bake AI-generated responses directly into search results. Based on the demos showcased by Google, the new interface will result in “blue links” to third-party sites being displaced and pushed down the page to make way for a prominent box featuring AI-generated content instead.
If rolled out widely, the new “Search Generative Experience” could drastically reduce the volume of traffic Google sends to some publishers’ sites, as users would be provided with the majority of the information they need directly in search results pages without the need to click through. When SGE answers a question it does offer links to several of its sources in order to “corroborate” the copy it’s generated, but it remains to be seen whether those links will drive meaningful traffic to source websites.
Not all search queries will spark an SGE answer. AI-generated answers will only appear when Google’s algorithms think they’re more useful than standard results, the company said, and sensitive subjects like health and finances are currently set to avoid AI interference altogether.
Depending on exactly how – and how frequently – SGE appears in search results pages, some publishers could find their downstream traffic is impacted more than others. Those that publish relatively commoditized content and information could see more significant changes than those exploring more complicated and nuanced topics, for example. When it comes to highly-original and unique news and information, it remains to be seen if Google will simply poach it and repackage it for searchers, or direct them instead to its source material.
It’s early days, but publishers’ fears around generative AI tools offered by major platforms are understandable. As far as users are concerned, AI-driven search could provide a far superior experience to clicking through to publishers’ sites hunting for nuggets of information in amongst a sea of autoplay videos and content recommendation ads. AI search will also add the ability to draw from and condense multiple sources, potentially negating the need to click through to multiple different sites in order to reach a consensus.
Google’s search overhaul also adds interesting context for its recent push into paywall and subscription monetization tools. While SGE certainly poses a threat to publishers’ business models, Google of course still requires access to their content in order to fuel its AI responses. Google will need to ensure publishers are compensated for granting it a window into their content one way or another, and helping them generate revenue via subscriptions could enable it to do so.