The development of generative AI is impacting the way we search for information on the internet. Critical voices already see Google’s pioneering position as a search engine provider in danger. But generative AI will not replace classic search engines – it will change them. In order to successfully navigate these upheavals, marketers need to rethink their approach for the long term. In this interview, our Director of Performance Marketing, Adrian Wenzl, gives an overview of the current state of development and puts it in context.
The death of the classic search function has often been predicted, e.g., with the launch of voice technologies such as Alexa or Siri. Is it happening now?
People will always search for information. That’s why search won’t die, but will change, become more intuitive and multidimensional. Even if there is currently a lot of criticism and uncertainty, generative AI is not exclusively good or bad, but, like any new technology, has advantages and disadvantages in equal measure. It will gradually find its place in our everyday lives, which will change as technology advances – just as it always has.
How is ChatGPT different from other search innovations?
Generative AI doesn't just answer questions, it thinks one step ahead. It infers from data analytics which questions may still be relevant to searchers and anticipates what might be asked next. The answers are formed word by word based on algorithms and statistics. This results in word sequences, sentences and finally complete texts. As of today, these are already at a very high level and will continue to improve in the future. Nevertheless, today and in the future there is a risk that the answers will be meaningless or even wrong. For this reason, the generated content must always be critically scrutinized.
Who are currently the most important players in the market for generative AI? Is Google’s market leadership in danger?
OpenAI is the benchmark for generative AI with ChatGPT. Google has made significant contributions to the development of generative AI with projects such as DeepDream, which generates artistic images based on neural network activations, and WaveNet, a generative model for speech synthesis. Google subsidiary DeepMind has also developed notable models such as AlphaGo and AlphaFold. In addition, Google is advancing multidimensional search with the launch of Google Bard. Microsoft has also linked its recently launched Bing Chat feature with generative AI. Baidu, China’s largest search platform, has launched Ernie Bot, the Chinese equivalent of ChatGPT. Basically, competition is steadily increasing as many new companies enter the market.
How will we search for information in the future?
First: critically! Since it is unclear from which sources generative AI generates answers, information must be questioned and carefully verified more than ever.
Next: intuitively. With the integration of generative AI, search engines will function more like conversations in the future. The magic word is “natural language processing”. Natural language processing algorithms enable search engines to understand the intent behind user queries, rather than relying solely on keywords. Instead of searching for car models of a certain brand, users ask what they should look for in a family car. The search engine then responds directly in the search – similar to a chatbot. Users can communicate directly with the new AI technology and ask further questions, for example, whether an electric car is suitable as a family car.
In addition, the search will be more personalized. By analyzing user data, AI algorithms can deliver tailored search results and recommendations, improving the overall search experience and the relevance of the information presented.
What are the consequences of the increased use of generative AI for search engine marketing?
Advertising is already integrated into Bing Chat, for example. In the long term, new advertising formats will come our way that are adapted to the characteristics of AI assisted search. Google has already shown a preview of how paid ads will be integrated into the SERP at the Bard presentation. The AI-generated content is displayed at the top of the page, with paid ads below and to the right. It is conceivable that the integration of ads in AI-generated content will lead to increased user engagement and significantly shorten the journey to conversion.
As search becomes more personalized, targeting and personalization of ads will also become more accurate. Generative AI can help search engines collect and analyze large amounts of user data to better understand individual preferences and behaviors. This enables even more precise ad delivery and personalization – in the right place, at the right time, to the right audience. Search engines can identify patterns and trends in user behavior, allowing advertisers to tailor their ads more effectively. Fittingly, generative AI then also supports the creation of creative assets such as headlines and images.
"Sure, the use of generative AI in digital advertising is not only rosy, but also raises questions. Protecting personal data is more critical than ever."
Director Performance Marketing, Webrepublic AG
That sounds like a lot of opportunities. How do you assess the risks?
Sure, the use of generative AI in digital advertising is not only rosy, but also raises questions. Protecting personal data is more critical than ever.
Advertisers and search engines need to be transparent about the use of AI algorithms for ad targeting and personalization. Users must be able to control whether and what data is collected and used for ad targeting. Furthermore, fairness and inclusivity must be ensured. This requires algorithms that avoid discriminatory or biased targeting.
What steps should advertisers take to be prepared for the future of search engine marketing?
Embrace the change. The introduction of generative AI in search engines will lead to shifts in the digital advertising landscape. Advertisers will need to adapt their strategies and approaches to take advantage of the new opportunities. To do this, we need to be open-minded, test new ad formats and design holistic, user-focused search campaigns. It is likely that we will see a behavioral change in "search". Follow-up searches will be simplified and the results generated will build on previous searches. It is therefore conceivable that the customer journey to the desired answer or purchase will become shorter and more intuitive. We must be open to this change and think of search campaigns in a holistic and user-focused way. It is also crucial to make as much and as varied information as possible available online - text, images, videos - about the products and services on offer and to keep it up to date so that it is integrated in the combined search.