PMG Digital Made for Humans

Search Gets an AI Makeover Following Google I/O, OpenAI, & Google Marketing Live 2024 Events

May 23, 2024 | 5 min read

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Sam Callender, SEO Strategy Director, PMG

Sam Callender leads PMG's performance content practice, working across the SEO team to level up organic search and content strategies for clients across PMG's entire portfolio. With over 15 years in roles spanning FedEx, Amazon, and R/GA, Sam relies on his deep industry experience and technical expertise across digital and product marketing to support B2B, tech, ecommerce, and retail brands.

Google and OpenAI recently announced new product features that demonstrated significant advancements for ChatGPT and Gemini, as well as transformational changes coming soon to Google Search. Continuing to bridge the gap in human and AI communication, these developments showcase advancements in multi-modal conversation, contextual understanding, and language comprehension. 

While some industry publications were anticipating new features that would allow ChatGPT to search the web, the real headlines—for the search industry—took place at Google I/O with the announcement of AI Overviews in search. The following week at Google Marketing Live (GML), Google unveiled a suite of tools and products for ads, spanning media, measurement, and creative solutions. These new offerings leverage advanced AI capabilities intended to enhance ad performance, improve customer engagement, and streamline campaign management. The impact of this news will take time to transpire, but it's impossible to ignore that the business model of the digital economy is facing a new disruption.

Across the more than 100 product announcements made during this year’s annual Google I/O, Google confirmed what many in the industry were anticipating: Gemini-powered AI search results are going mainstream. Google announced the rollout of AI Overviews in SERPS, starting soon, with a broader global release reaching billions of users by the end of the year.

During last year’s I/O event, Google introduced its Search Generative Experiment (SGE), a Google Labs opt-in feature that adds AI-generated content to search results. According to Google CEO Sundar Pichai, Google had been testing SGE outside the Labs experiment and found it had “increased search usage and user satisfaction” and that “users [were] searching in entirely new ways including more complex queries," like images. So far, the SGE and AI Overviews experience has come to life in a text box of AI-summarized content positioned above the regular search results for a search query. However, it's clear to see that Google intends to evolve the Gemini-powered SERP into an experience that reduces the need for additional searches or website visits.

At this year’s Google Marketing Live, Google announced that ads would soon be shown in AI Overviews, encompassing search, shopping, and Performance Max without requiring any action from advertisers. Although this opens new inventory opportunities, the control advertisers have over ad placements remains unclear. This is particularly important for brand safety, as AI Overviews are still experimental and could generate content that is misleading or otherwise problematic for brands.

Touted as a more helpful experience, ads that appear within AI Overviews will consider both the context (intent) of a user’s search and the Gemini-generated content. For example, questions about how to remove a stain from furniture will generate content about stain removal and include relevant product ads for cleaning supplies, thus reducing steps in the customer journey for the searcher.

Google also unveiled a suite of advanced AI-driven tools and products across Performance Max (PMax), Demand Gen, Retail, Search, YouTube, and Merchant Center Next. Key announcements included tailored loyalty and new customer pricing promotions, AI-driven profit optimization, lookalike segments, and conversational experiences in Google Ads. 

YouTube introduced new shopping ad features and an affiliate program. Measurement solutions highlighted AI essentials, Google Ads Data Manager, and detailed reporting tools. Creative enhancements focused on brand-consistent asset creation, AI-powered image editing, and dynamic animated ads. Automated discounts and specialized tools for agencies were also introduced, emphasizing efficient campaign management and optimization.

Google announced the rollout of AI Overviews in SERPS, starting soon, with a broader global release reaching billions of users by the end of the year.

The future of AI assistants was at the heart of Google's I/O keynote. Google Deep Mind’s Project Astra introduces multi-modal capabilities to Gemini AI assistants dubbed “agents” that will power Google products, including Search. By integrating “agentive” capabilities with real-time data and the existing ranking systems, the new Gemini-powered search experience promises users much less effort and fewer searches.

On stage at the event, Google’s VP of Search, Liz Reid, highlighted how planning capabilities are integrated into AI Overviews. “Looking for a new yoga studio, with great intro offers, that is walking distance from work?”, Reid demonstrated how Gemini is able to handle a complex query through multiple background steps and tap into the rest of a user’s Google account (e.g., Gmail) to deliver personalized trip itineraries or useful information like a meal plan directly into the SERP. Verticals that were specifically highlighted to receive AI-powered SERPs first include dining, recipes, movies, music, books, and hotels.

The SEO community, content creators, and major publishing brands have speculated about the zero-click trajectory of Google Search for years. Following the launch of AI Overviews, Danielle Coffey, the chief executive of the News/Media Alliance, told CNN that these updates will be “catastrophic to our traffic.” In contrast, Google’s leadership team shared their perspective in news interviews and blog content that AI Overviews will provide a traffic benefit to sites publishing high-quality content. 

During an interview on the Decoder Podcast following Google I/O, Sundar Pichai was asked about the existential concerns expressed by publishers regarding the AI Overviews announcements. In response to how AI Overviews may impact the economics of publishing online content, Pichai said, “I remain optimistic…As a company, we realize the value of this ecosystem, and it’s symbiotic. If there isn’t a rich ecosystem making unique and useful content, what are you putting together and organizing? So we feel it.” He also stated his view that AI Overviews may end up benefiting websites because “It’s not a zero-sum game in terms of AI overviews,” citing that content appearing as citation links in AI overviews have received more clicks and engagement than elsewhere on the results page.

Elsewhere in the tech industry this month, Open AI revealed its newest flagship model, ChatGPT-4o (“o” for “omni”), which introduced multi-modal capabilities and a new version of Voice Mode. ChatGPT can now listen and respond to spoken inputs (versus transcribing), understand your voice tone, interpret your emotions, and see through your camera all at the same time.

When it responds, latency is no longer apparent, and the real showstopper is the new voice of ChatGPT that can pace its speech and use filler words just like the user. This faster, more human version of ChatGPT will also support the top 50 global languages, covering 97 percent of the world’s population. ChatGPT-4o is immediately rolling out to free users, while Pro users will enjoy 5x the usage of the free version, along with access to a new Mac desktop version of the app. The upgraded version of Voice Mode is expected to roll out to users over the coming weeks.

It can be argued that this is‌ the most dynamic phase the search industry has ever seen, with significant developments occurring‌ seemingly every month, if not every week. OpenAI's announcement, Google I/O, and GML together point to a future of search that's integrated across content types, formats, and platforms.

Brands will need a multi-modal content strategy to connect with users on their terms, wherever and however they choose to search. This content must be modular and able to be repurposed by AI-powered tools to dynamically generate personalized experiences. It’s crucial that the content you create is meaningful and useful holistically and in fragments, whether reconstituted in an AI Overview or animated for a YouTube ad.

It's encouraging to see Google bring more control and transparency to PMax, but marketers must remain hypervigilant about brand safety in this new landscape. As we consider these recent announcements, one thing is clear: Marketers must think beyond traditional search and shopping. We are merging the physical and digital worlds in ways that were impossible just six months ago.

With expandable ads, consumers could have a portal into your entire assortment with a click, potentially without visiting your site. We shouldn't assume that more time spent on AI Overviews will be bad for brands; instead, we should create great content that draws consumers to your website during this new content experience in the SERPs.

Brands will need a multi-modal content strategy to connect with users on their terms, wherever and however they choose to search.

We recommend methodical testing and careful monitoring across your entire business—not just your search data—as the ecosystem becomes increasingly intertwined. Ultimately, regardless of the direction the search industry goes, execution will be key. Great content, a usable site and app, and a brand with a strong sense of identity that can be easily understood will be essential.

Search marketers have long clamored for a seat at the table in holistic marketing but have always spoken a different language—there's no better way to get a CMO to pick up the phone than to talk about keywords. However, in this new era, search in all its forms will take on a greater strategic importance than ever before because it is about connecting with consumers, not just generating clicks. The day is here: Search marketing is now just marketing. Specialists, rejoice, then roll up your sleeves.

1. Develop a Multi-Modal Content Strategy

Create modular content that can be repurposed by AI-powered tools to generate personalized experiences across different platforms and formats.

2. Ensure Content Value and Versatility

Produce meaningful and useful content that is effective both holistically and in fragments, suitable for AI Overviews and other dynamic formats. Continue to influence search results with quality content that drives results and reinforces key brand messaging.

3. Maintain Brand Safety Vigilance

Stay vigilant about brand safety in the new AI-driven landscape to prevent association with misleading or problematic content. Apply existing inclusion/exclusion tools to any new product, starting conservatively to minimize risk.

4. Implement Comprehensive Testing and Monitoring

Conduct thorough testing and monitoring of all business aspects—not just search data—to adapt to the evolving digital marketing ecosystem. Evaluate the current value of search positions and leverage strengths across paid and organic channels to drive results.

5. Integrate and Elevate Search Marketing

Integrate paid and organic programs to gain a comprehensive view of search, capturing a greater share of total search. Recognize the strategic importance of search marketing in connecting with consumers and integrate it into broader marketing strategies, focusing on execution and brand identity.