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Online Search (SEO & SEA) : AI Challenges Advertisers

Published on 23/05/2023

In the ever-changing field of digital advertising, artificial intelligence is emerging as a key topic. The technology giants - GAFAM - have been investing in machine learning for a while now and are taking advantage of it.

On May 11, Meta made a groundbreaking announcement: the integration of generative artificial intelligence (AI) into its advertising product placements. This news foretells a major revolution in the world of online search, where artificial intelligence promises to transform not only organic search (SEO), but also, and more importantly, search engine advertising (SEA).

In the field of SEA, Google Adwords was one of the pioneers in AI. Multiple functionalities launched in 2019 allow the advertiser to optimize its ROI by giving most of the control to the algorithms developed by the Mountain View firm (Smart Bidding functionality, Responsive Search Ads & Dynamic Search Ads formats). This has led to more effective and efficient advertising campaigns for many advertisers.

But the giant has since stagnated. And yet, 69,907 searches are carried out on Google every second!

Search engines must follow search trends and aim to optimise their services. In this sense, advanced AI algorithms will be used to improve the relevance of search results, optimise advertising campaigns, and provide a more personalised user experience - all by automating time-consuming tasks for advertising and SEA experts.

The revolution is underway, whether in terms of semantic search (AI allowing search engines to understand the meaning, intent and context behind a query rather than simply searching for specific keywords), content (automatically generated content), online advertising optimisation (real-time campaign optimisation, determining the best keyword choice and bidding strategy), online reputation tracking (monitoring and analysis on social networks, forums, review sites, etc.) or user experience (tailoring the journey according to the preferences and behaviour of each visitor with personalised product recommendations, related content suggestions and AI-based chatbots).

AI therefore has the potential to have a considerable impact on SEA.
The stakes are huge: in 2021, $150 billion, or 60% of Google’s revenue came from search-related ads in Google Search alone. Internet search is about to experience its greatest (r)evolution.

Microsoft's edge

While on 8 February Google had just 'celebrated' the 25th anniversary of its search engine, its competitor Microsoft (Bing) shook things up. This move had been in the works since 2019, when Microsoft decided to invest $1 billion in OpenAI, co-founded by Elon Musk and specialising in artificial reasoning. In five days, the million-user cap was passed, and Microsoft multiplied its stake by 10 by injecting OpenAI with $10 billion.

As a result, in February 2023, Yusuf Mehdi, vice-president and director of consumer marketing at Microsoft, revealed the interface of the new Bing seen in the screenshot below. The classic links are on the left and the answers to the query provided by chatGPT thanks to the partnership with OpenAI are on the right.

At the same time, Google had little to show for it and was heavily punished by Wall Street with a loss of almost 8% at the close of business.

Google strikes back

The Californian giant, which holds 75.6% of the global search market, was quick to react. Indeed, on 10 May 2023 at the Google I/O, the company revealed its plans to integrate generative AI into its search engine. "We are reinventing our core products, including search" said CEO Sundar Picha. Google's equity climbed 4% on the day following the announcements, showing that investors are betting heavily on the potential of generative AI.

In an article entitled "Optimising Google Search with Generative AI" published on Google’s official blog, the US firm highlights the ability of generative AI to create more complete and informative answers to user queries. Google uses a powerful AI language model called "Generative Pre-trained Transformer 3" (GPT-3) to generate high-quality answers.

The new Google Search, or how to offer personalised answers to complex queries.

Today, most queries consist of about 4 words. With the advent of voice search, queries have become more complex, specific, and conversational.

According to Elizabeth Reid, the vice president of Google Search, "With these new generative AI capabilities, our search engine will help you understand a topic faster and discover new point of views and information”. What does this mean in practice? Let's take the question: "Between Bryce Canyon and Arches National Park, which is more suitable for a family with young children and a dog?” Today, we would need to ask several, probably shorter and more precise questions to get a suitable answer. With generative AI, the search engine does this automatically:

Simply ask the question in its entirety in the Google search bar and the AI will respond with a summary of key information: whether these parks allow dogs, what services and activities are available, but also links to official or relevant websites.

A new shopping experience thanks to generative AI

Google is also tackling the shopping experience. The idea is to offer the user a summary of the most relevant offers according to the key criteria of the research. The platform would offer a list of products that meet different needs. Product descriptions will include recent and relevant reviews, ratings, prices, and photos. This shopping experience, based on generative AI and built on the Shopping Graph, contains more than 35 billion products and is the world's most comprehensive database. It updates more than 1.8 billion products every hour, providing reliable and up-to-date results.

The new version of Google's search engine will initially be available in the United States only, in English and accessible via a waiting list. The arrival to the European market will come at a later stage (Google has not given an exact launch date yet).

How will this impact website traffic volume?

Concerns exist, and they are legitimate. Google has addressed them via its CEO Sundar Pichai: "As we integrate generative AI into Google Search, we are committed to continuing to send valuable traffic to websites.”

But is this realistic? While traditional search results are by no means removed, they will appear below the answer box. Users will still be able to drill down into their questions by searching other sources, but this is likely to have a significant impact on traffic to pages below the top three.

For ad results, Google’s response may reassure paid marketers: "We believe that ads are an essential part of how the web works, and that they help people find relevant products and services. In this new experience, Google Search ads will continue to appear in dedicated ad spaces across the page. We will continue to uphold our commitment to transparency and ensure that the ads stand out from organic search results.” One notable difference, however, is that ads will no longer only appear at the top of the page (or sometimes at the bottom) but will be spread across the page in dedicated spaces.

Google's new search engine could therefore call into question the economic model of thousands of websites, which rely on online advertising or affiliation. Indeed, an Internet user looking for information is no longer obliged to visit the sites to obtain an answer to his question. He can simply read the summary that will be displayed, which will therefore reduce the number of visits to websites. Google's strategy, like Microsoft's with Bing, completely shakes up the status quo that has existed on the Internet since the late 1990s.

By imposing AI as a privileged entry window to the web, Google is giving itself greater control over the information available online. To hope for some visibility, sites will probably have to "pay for it" and opt for advertising. Advertisements will still be displayed by Google.

Also, as the future interface suggests, advertising placements in the AI results box should be introduced. It is likely that these placements will create strong competition. Again, the rollout of these ad placements and their bidding strategies has not been officially announced.

Finally, while AI will most certainly enable major breakthrough innovations, it will not be able to replace human expertise on its own, at least initially. Rather, it will complement these skills by helping to make more informed decisions and optimise digital marketing strategies. Whereas in the past it was important to follow Google's rules to the letter in order to gain a higher ranking, it will now be important to surf on new trends.

Strategies that combine SEO and SEA synergies will become essential to serve the AI search engines. It is likely that companies optimising their websites in this way will generate much higher CTRs.

Furthermore, despite the many advantages that AI offers to the advertising industry, there are still some concerns, such as insufficient transparency (how advertising campaigns are optimised), over-reliance on data to the detriment of creativity and intuition, and confidentiality (large amount of data collected).

At JIN, we are constantly on the lookout for the latest innovations in SEO/SEA, paid social and the use of AI. We are committed to helping you leverage these technological advancements to improve your online visibility, digital reputation and ultimately your business growth.

If you would like to know more about how AI can be integrated into your digital marketing strategy or if you have specific questions, please contact us. Our team of experts is here to support you.

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