In an extraordinary development in the AI arms race, Google is set to launch its own AI-powered search tools, codenamed Project Magi, next month.
That’s according to an overnight report from the New York Times, which claims the search giant is “scrambling” to protect its core business. The widespread popularity of AI from the likes of ChatGPT and Microsoft’s AI-powered Bing had already prompted the search giant to take drastic measures with the hasty reveal of Bard back in February.
But, with smartphone manufacturer Samsung reportedly considering replacing Google with Bing as its handset default browser - a business decision worth some $3 billion annually - the market leader has been forced towards even more desperate measures.
As a result, we’ll see Magi-powered search functionality as soon as next month, as Google’s developers reportedly face crunch conditions amidst widespread “panic” in the company.
But how will Magi actually impact the Google search landscape?
As demonstrated in the Bard reveal, one area of search almost certain to face disruption is that of informational queries, i.e. when users want a direct answer to a question they have.
Building on Google’s new chatbot functionality, we can expect to see questions being directly answered by AI in the SERP itself, providing users with the solutions to even relatively complex queries.
As we can see in the official screenshot below, this will take up the majority of screen real estate, drastically reducing the number of results and therefore click-through rates (CTRs). In short, websites will need to be even more agile with their content strategy.
Over the past week, we’ve seen anecdotal evidence that sites are experiencing a large drop-off in SERP FAQs and other rich snippets - perhaps indicating Google has already started testing Magi in a live environment. We would expect to see this trend continue as and when the full roll-out occurs:
There remains optimism amongst publishers that the search engine will still provide citation links to the sources for its AI-powered answers. After all, Magi and Bard’s algorithm will be trained on the websites that currently provide the relevant information.
But it’s safe to say that we can expect to see a substantial reduction in click throughs to websites either way, owing to a lack of visibility.
Linked to the above, the Bard screenshot demonstrates that sites will have around a third of screen coverage to compete for when it comes to longtail, informational-based queries.
As shown, search results will display in carousel form - it remains to be seen whether these are the sources for the AI-powered answer to the question, or related sites more generally.
Either way, this means that the battle for the top positions becomes even fiercer - with an emphasis on achieving the top three rather than the top ten positions in the SERP.
This re-evaluation of what constitutes search success could mean smaller publishers are muscled out by those building better links, demonstrating higher-quality content and offering a more positive user experience. As always, there will always be those sites punching above their weight - but it looks like it’s about to become a lot harder to do so.
You’ll have noticed the prognostications so far primarily relate to informational searches. That’s because, for fear of stating the obvious, AI hasn’t proved to be quite as disruptive when it comes to products and services.
Users will still have to click through onto a retailer or service provider’s website to make a purchase, play a game, place a bet, etc. - placing an even greater focus on optimised product-focused and generic keywords.
For that reason, ecommerce and transactional sites will be breathing a moderate sigh of relief when it comes to the extent of Magi’s disruption. That’s not to say it won’t impact them in other ways, however.
A key facet of content marketing is considering how to reach consumers at every stage in the funnel and intention level. This may be providing them with a review, explaining how to perform a certain action or even what a particular industry, product or service is.
Companies place a lot of time and resources into nurturing potential consumers and passing them further down the conversion path - this is likely to be heavily impacted with the removal of many top-of-funnel results from the SERPs.
Will we consequently see an increase in paid tactics to capture customers instead? You don’t have to be a hardened cynic to argue that’s one of the main reasons for Google’s move into AI in the first place - after all, the company monetises search through PPC.
The last few months have certainly been interesting - and, as with all change, a little worrying - for those who work in the search industry. The predictions made today may well end up being too cautious - or things could go even further. It’s very hard to say with the landscape as dynamic as it is at the moment.
One thing is for certain: Google sees AI competitors as an existential threat, and will be looking for Magi to disrupt search in a way not seen since the release of Penguin almost 21 years ago to the day.
According to the NY Times report, the initial Magi test will be limited to one million users and in the US only. However, a broader roll-out is expected by the end of 2023.
As always, web publishers, content creators, digital marketers and SEOs must embrace, not battle against, technological developments, and continue to provide agile and innovative solutions to the challenges they face.
At ICS-digital, our expert team of technical SEO specialists will help guide you through every aspect of the ever-changing search landscape, and what it means for your business.