Search Engines Embrace Generative AI: Seizing the Opportunity
Both Microsoft and Google are now using generative AI technology within their search engine results pages (SERPs) to provide searchers with new ways to locate the information they are looking for.
Generative SERPs on Bing are already running ads and Google has showcased what ads are likely to look like within the generative Google Search Experience (GSE). But what exactly does this mean for brands, businesses and advertisers?
Well, honestly, as of right now: not a lot. Because there just aren’t many advertiser controls that relate to the new experience.
But that doesn’t mean that you can park this for another time. In fact, understanding how this new experience will impact user behaviour and, in turn, advertising strategies now will put you in the best possible position when the time comes to take action to capitalise on these new opportunities.
So, let’s start with the basics.
What is chat-based search?
ChatGPT has occupied a lot of headline space in recent months. It leverages generational AI in a conversational style that can be used in myriad different ways.
Chat-based search combines this technology with the power of search engines to allow searchers to use more conversational language in their queries. So, rather than entering a search phrase or selection of keywords, searchers can either voice or type their search queries in a conversational manner, as if they were talking to a digital voice assistant or even another person.
Why does this development matter?
Well, it is this conversational approach that makes space for follow-up questions that allow searchers to dive deeper into their initial query, obtain essential clarifications on their understanding, or even explore a tangentially linked topic with ease.
This seemingly small change in the way search functions instantly creates a far more dynamic search process with the potential to exceed expectations, all while delivering an improved user experience.
For example, let’s say you’re looking for somewhere to have dinner in your local area. You could ask, “where is the best Italian restaurant near me?” When your initial question has been answered, you could then ask a number of additional follow-up questions, such as “do they have vegan options?” or “are they open on Wednesdays?”
Search engines will then utilise their machine learning and natural language processing (NLP) algorithms to ensure that these chat-based queries are interpreted correctly.
In short, traditional search retrieves answers from an existing source; generative AI will provide a unique response which is based on the structures learned as it was being trained with websites, books and a selection of other knowledge materials.
What does this mean for search results and ads?
On Google SERPs, the conversational experience is positioned at the top of the page where it takes up a large amount of real estate. This means that both ads and organic results are much further down the page than they once were.
This is significant because the conversational experience is designed to capture and hold a searcher’s attention by encouraging follow-up and additional questions. So, as searchers will have more information available to them in just a single click, it is highly likely that we’ll start to see fewer numbers of searchers scrolling down to the organic results.
There are plans to incorporate paid ads into the conversational experience, so while the number of ad placements that will be seen above the fold will be fewer, advertisers will ultimately end up with more opportunities to promote their products/services in search.
Is it the same on Bing?
No, Bing has instead opted to integrate its chat experience in the form of a sidebar module and a full-page tab that searchers can navigate to from a SERP. So, the efforts of optimisation professionals aren’t going to be impacted as much here as they will be on Google’s generative search experience.
How to run ads in the new generative experience
Importantly, advertisers don’t need to make any significant changes to their approach because keywords, assets, and audiences can still be used to run powerful pay-per-click ads. However, there are a few key points I believe are important to driving success from this new experience.
– Broad match keywords
Bing’s generative experience transforms conversational queries into keywords, which are one of the tools used when determining which PPC ads are entered into the auction.
Google will map ads to relevant chat-based conversations in a similar way, however, the search giant has been less open with regard to precisely how ads will be matched.
So, in terms of optimising ads for generative search, I recommend that advertisers leverage broad match keywords, which will ensure that triggered keywords and ad keywords do not need to match completely in order for an ad to appear in a relevant conversation.
– Relevant related queries
I also recommend keeping a close eye on your search query data as this will help you to make sure that the AI tool that is used to power broad match keywords hasn’t misunderstood your business and is solely focussing on chasing related queries that are likely to drive conversions.
– High ad ranks
Mobile search is consistently increasing in popularity, which means that there is less room for advertisers to make an impression. Now, as there is also less space on Google’s generative search experience for advertisers, it is more important than ever to ensure that your focus is firmly towards high ad ranks.
What does all this mean for your small business right now?
It can be easy to be left feeling overwhelmed every time search engines alter their algorithms or make significant updates to their search experience.
However, it’s important for small businesses not to get too caught up in these details and instead concentrate on:
1. Providing high quality human-written content
2. Delivering a seamless user journey
3. Ensuring everything you do is tailored to the needs of your ideal audience
While, yes, this pivot to chat-based search is going to change the ways in which consumers move through the conversion journey, there are going to be plenty of new opportunities here to maximise your SERP visibility and engage with your audience in more meaningful, accessible ways.