There’s a significant change happening in search engine results pages (SERPs), as both Google and Microsoft incorporate generative AI into their search experiences. Bing has already started running ads on its generative SERPs, while Google provided a glimpse of what advertisements might look like within its chat-based generative Google Search Experience (GSE) at the recent Google Marketing Live event. So, what does this mean for advertisers and how can they prepare for this shift?
In short, there isn’t much that can be done today due to a lack of advertiser controls related to the new search experience. However, understanding how this new experience may impact user behavior and PPC strategies is crucial.
Understanding Chat-Based Search
Chat-based search integrates the conversational style of chat applications and generative AI with the comprehensive search capabilities of search engines. This represents a significant shift in how users interact with search engines, using a more natural, conversational approach to their queries.
Instead of inputting specific search phrases or keywords into a search bar, users can type or voice out their search queries conversationally, as if they’re talking to a digital voice assistant like Alexa. This chat-based interaction allows for follow-up questions, clarifications, and deeper dives into a subject, creating a dynamic and iterative search process.
Search engines like Google and Bing use advanced natural language processing and machine learning algorithms to interpret these conversational queries. Rather than sourcing each answer from individual sources, generative AI generates a unique response based on the patterns and structures it learned during the training phase.
Generative Search Results and Ads on Google
Google’s generative search experience, currently in beta, adds a conversational experience at the top of the SERP. With the conversational interface taking up a significant portion of the page on both mobile and desktop, regular ads and organic results are pushed further down. This means that users may be less likely to scroll down the SERP if the initial results meet their needs.
While I haven’t personally seen ads in conversational results yet, Google provided a preview of what they might look like during the Google Marketing Live event. With ads being integrated into the generative search results, advertisers will have more opportunities to connect with consumers. However, the space for ads visible above the fold is decreasing, leading to more competition for the most desirable placements and a potential increase in cost per clicks (CPCs).
Generative Search Results and Ads on Bing
Microsoft introduced chat-based search results incorporating ChatGPT on Bing in February 2023. Unlike Google’s implementation, Bing’s chat experience doesn’t dominate the SERP. It appears either as a sidebar or a full-page experience after the user switches from the search to chat tab.
This is good news for advertisers and SEO professionals, as their current efforts are less disrupted by generative results. Additionally, ads are already integrated into Bing’s full-page chat experience, providing advertisers with opportunities to connect with consumers.
Potential Impact on Ad Clicks
The introduction of conversational search raises questions about user behavior towards traditional search results and accompanying ads. Will users disregard traditional search results and focus only on the conversational experience at the top of the page?
While generative AI may impact impressions, clickthrough rate (CTR), and clicks due to the compilation of information in generative answers, users still search to validate their choices and hunt for the best prices. Therefore, the number of conversions attributed to search engines may not be significantly affected. What may change is the part of the SERP that drives those conversions—conversational or traditional search.
Bing, having implemented generative search earlier than Google, seems to be moving towards an implementation that includes more ads and less disruption to traditional SERPs. Both Google and Microsoft are unlikely to undercut their current business models excessively to fend off new entrants like ChatGPT.
Ads Shifting to Other Search Tools
Could there be a shift away from Google search to other tools that incorporate generative AI? Microsoft has seen impressive increases in usage, with a significant rise in daily downloads of the Bing mobile app, while ChatGPT has amassed 100 million users in just two months.
However, ChatGPT’s tendency to produce factual errors may hinder it from becoming a viable alternative to search engines. Being right is more important than just sounding right. Nonetheless, generative AI will likely lead to the development of more apps and ways for people to ask questions, potentially opening up new advertising opportunities.
Microsoft is working on expanding its network of sites and apps where ads can be shown, and they have created an ads solution, ads for chat API, to monetize chat experiences.
How Can Advertisers Run Ads in the New Experience?
While Google and Microsoft experiment with their chat-based search experiences, advertisers don’t need to make drastic changes to their approach. They can continue using keywords, audiences, ad assets, and typical account settings to run PPC ads. Google and Microsoft will map these elements to relevant chat conversations.
For effective SEO and PPC strategies, understanding the evolving landscape of generative AI-powered chat-based search is essential. Advertisers can leverage this knowledge to optimize their campaigns and connect with users in this new search experience.
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