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Google's AI and the Future of Search Intent
In the year that has passed since the initial announcement, Google has rolled-out several new changes in the form of new products, services and functions
Google first teased their plans to add generative AI and machine learning capabilities to their search engine back in May of 2023. The announcement immediately triggered widespread speculation and concern. How would this new addition change the way that search results are currently ranked and presented to users? What did this mean for SEO agencies? Was SEO even relevant anymore?
Many of these questions are still largely unanswered. However, in the year that has passed since the initial announcement, Google has indeed rolled-out several new changes in the form of new products, services and functions.
Competition is fierce
Google is the West's dominant force when it comes to internet searching. It makes sense that the search engine titan would need to remain competitive with other players in the arena. Microsoft Bing has had AI-generated search results built into its standard search page since 2023. In the days following Bing’s AI chat bot assisted search engine launch, page visits to the Bing search engine page spiked by more than 15%. Bing was even able to knock Google out of the top spot for a couple fleeting moments.
It should be noted, neither Bing, nor any other search provider poses any real threat to Google, who holds at least 80% of the search engine market. Still, the brief taste of second place likely contributed to Google’s leap from a fairly reserved “wait and see” attitude on AI to a large revamping of its search and analytics suite.
Meet Google’s Search Generative Experience (SGE)
Google may have entered the AI race late, but it wasted no time in catching up. To be fair, Google already had a head start on the AI-assisted search task. Google has been using a variety of AI-powered tools and algorithms to improve facets of its search experience for decades. Take Google’s misspelling interpreter, implemented in the early 2000s. Google engineers use machine learning to look at commonly misspelled words in search queries and determine what the searcher had most likely intended to search. AI algorithms play a role in generating the Google snippets that answer user questions with relevant passages from informative websites.
When you put it in the proper context, Google’s SGE seems less like a dramatic disruption and more like a natural next step in the evolution of Google’s use of AI and machine learning to enhance search engine performance.
Google claims that SGE will not be used as a replacement for the high quality websites full of valuable information. Instead, it is simply there to create a more natural way for users to ask questions and receive answers from the search engine. Each response offered by the chat bot will contain links and a carousel of the resources used to provide the answer as well as recommended websites that the user can visit to learn more about the subject of their query.
This approach is expected to transform the search process into a more conversational and intuitive experience, similar to using voice assistants like Siri, Google Assistant, and Alexa.
Google SGE will use Google’s most powerful language models like MUM, which techies claim is 1,000 times more effective than the last major advancement, the BERT algorithm, released in 2019. SGE will also rely on the advanced Pathways Language Model 2 (PaLM2). Both of these models are at the bleeding edge of the current natural language and machine learning capabilities, so SGE is certainly well-equipped to dramatically improve the quality of the search response.
How will Google’s SGE differ from the usual search model?
Those who opt in to the Google Search Labs experiment may see answers or suggestions from Google's new SGE on the search results page, and on the web pages that they visit.
Bear in mind, the tool is still being employed under a strict set of rules in accordance with Google’s published principles on the safer use of AI. Google has a built-in, complex set of controls that prevent SGE from providing answers that could be harmful or hateful, or that undermine the value of human society. When SGE is used on the search results page it will appear at the top of the page and will be enclosed in a box with disclaimers making it clear that the information provided in its response is generated by a chat bot, and should be confirmed and explored further by visiting one of the top search results shown.
How Google’s SGE is improving the current search model
Here are a few of the potential advantages that the new SGE could bring to the search experience:
Highly-relevant responses that are custom-tailored for the user will better answer their questions while suggesting additional aspects the user may want to explore. This streamlined response prevents user fatigue and instead stokes curiosity and a desire to explore and learn more from suggested websites.
Direct buying opportunities
Google SGE will allow users to buy products directly from the search results. This is bound to boost sales for merchants whose products are included in suggestions shown to searchers.
More AI-powered innovation
Once Google decided to throw its hat in the ring, it went all in. The new AI-chat bot is not the only new search tool, Google also added a new “circle or scribble to search” feature to Android devices. Users can circle or scribble over any portion of an image or in any words inside an image that they would like to learn more about. Then, Google will use its AI to determine what the user is interested in and provide the information the user is looking for.
Google is also adding a wallpaper image generator that will allow users to generate their own custom Google theme using the free AI-image creation tool.
How can brands and creators compete?
There is no doubt that the new Google SGE is one of the most significant updates that we have seen from Google in quite a while, marking changes that businesses, marketers, and content creators should be aware of. Those who are able to adapt their strategy to align with the new search protocols will be in the best position to benefit from the increased exposure these tools are likely to offer.
The secret to thriving in the new paradigm is not to attempt to compete with AI but to instead focus on providing more of the value that AI can’t offer: the human connection.
Content creators should prioritize using content as a relationship-building tool rather than a marketing device or information provider. Put a stronger focus on personal storytelling and content that elicits an emotional response from the viewer to create a human-to-human connection.
Consider you, the business person. Beyond bonding with your consumers, users should continue to focus effort on creating content that is as useful and engaging as possible. If you have products that lend themselves to direct buy, it will be in your best interest to optimize your product descriptions and product images. Include as much detail as possible and highlight any special factors that will make your product stand out as one of the top choices. Getting your products included in Google's database of products will be a huge advantage, and may help your content creators gain more visibility and traction online.
Finally, this is the time to double down on producing authoritative, high-value content. Remember, generative AI is simply a predictive tool capable of recognizing the patterns that make up human speech. It cannot actually produce an answer on its own. The best way to navigate this new technology is to keep providing the knowledge and experience that makes you a valuable thought leader.