The future of search is undoubtedly going to be shaped by the integration of artificial intelligence, particularly large language models (LLMs) such as Google Bard and OpenAI GPT-4, and brands that want to stay ahead of the curve should seek to understand how AI will influence search.
Those who engage with AI will be better equipped to deliver personalized, relevant and effective content that engages users and helps them stand out in an increasingly competitive digital landscape, and they may do so by investing in first-party data integration, testing AI-driven bidding and creative tools, experimenting with more visual content, and preparing for the eventuality that AI will change the search engine results page (SERP) ad landscape as we know it.
Late last year, ChatGPT took the world by storm, becoming the fastest product in history to accumulate one million users in just five days. This same technology went on to power the launch of Microsoft’s new Bing search experience. Since then, Bing launched an ads experience that surfaces ads and recommendations based on relevance to the conversation. This seems to be working, as the search engine's audience has grown significantly to over 100 million daily active users.
Unsurprisingly, Google is beginning a limited release of the Search Generative Experience, with ad formats that are highly focused on travel and shopping experiences. Meanwhile, the traditional Google SERP will bring in generative AI responses to further improve how we search for, engage and ingest information we seek. Search ads will continue to show in traditional ad slots, but there will be a totally different experience based on the conversation, rendering relevant links and ads.
Still, artificial intelligence isn’t new to search; in fact, it influences a variety of factors that influence results, from bidding to search query matching to creative optimization. But the introduction of large language models (LLMs) into the equation will significantly impact not only the user experience, but also how content is valued and ranked on the results page and how we buy media. They’ll also significantly change the way we create content. Here are three big ways the future of search will force brands to adapt—and what you need to do now to stay ahead of the curve.
AI-generated content will be a double-edged sword.
Conversational search opens the possibility of delivering highly relevant, personalized responses to users on the fly. While the benefits to this are obvious, AI’s talent for spinning up content on its own presents a double-edged sword. Some verticals—like healthcare, pharma and finance—will struggle to keep up with the pace of automation given the various rounds of legal and regulatory approval required for their creative before it goes live.
AI-generated content risks circumventing these hurdles. It’s also vulnerable to spreading misinformation. But brands can mitigate these concerns by ensuring human review before the approval and publication of ads. Through proper tuning and training of AI models, brands can quickly spin up content that incorporates regulatory guidelines that they are beholden to.
Search will be more engaging, visual, and interactive.
The future of search isn’t all text. Search is also skewing toward more visual and experiential content. Sure, image extensions make search more visually engaging to users. But also consider more sophisticated platforms like Google Lens or Snapchat Scan, which use computer vision to make a user’s surroundings searchable. AR is another format that will add a new dimension to search and is already offered by Google, allowing users to engage directly with virtual animals, objects and places in real time.
The idea is to build a more immersive experience versus the infinite scroll. Travel, retail and lifestyle brands may benefit most from this because they already have robust libraries of visual assets to draw from. Others, like B2B brands, healthcare, pharma, and finance, will need to catch up by building libraries of visual and experiential content that engage users to avoid stock images. At the recent Google Marketing Live, new products for asset creation using generative AI were announced, making it easier for those without libraries to build creative in Google’s advertising platform. Generative AI can certainly help brands develop assets at speed and scale, although it’s important to remember that they aren’t yet production ready on their own. There may also be open questions of legal ownership and intellectual property rights.
Data streams will continue making search more predictive and proactive.
Search is already steering in a direction where it can serve more personalized results based on previous activity or what the search engine already knows about you—for example, suggesting local restaurants when searching for food on Google, or recommending related products on an Amazon product page. These experiences generally help users find what they’re searching for faster and keep them coming back for future searches.
It’s not a stretch of the imagination, then, to envision a future in which search engines anticipate user needs before they are typed. They will go beyond keyword query and apply previous behaviors and contextual information—like the intent unlocked by a conversational interface—to generate entirely unique responses for each user. That sounds amazing, but the more conversational search improves, the better it will be at delivering answers that satisfy users’ queries without their having to click through to another website—reducing opportunities for ads in the traditional sense.
The data streams that enable this experience will play an outsized role in how search continues to evolve. Brands who have first-party data will have opportunities to use it to enable even greater predictive and personalized experiences. While we don’t know for sure how this space will evolve—concerns about privacy and transparency, especially globally, may interrupt progress here—it seems likely that search experiences will continue to evolve in this trend. The lesson is clear for brands: the accumulation of data assets and the ability to deploy AI will be differentiators as the SERP ad landscape changes.
Don’t wait to update your search strategy.
Unsurprisingly, a strong data foundation will be crucial to keeping ahead of these changes. Maintain a competitive edge by investing in first-party data integrated across touchpoints in the conversion cycle. Apply conversion modeling to help fuel more relevant ads and higher returns. These insights will prove critical as brands adapt to conversational search, providing them with the insights and tools they need to deliver more personalized, relevant and effective content.
Speaking of content, brands can also future proof by updating their approach to activation and creative. Test AI though bidding, ad creative and playing with broad matches. Experiment with tools like Google’s Performance Max—an AI feature deployed in the GMP suite that allows for cross channel campaign launches and optimizations all from a single campaign configuration—and automated asset generation.
Finally, break away from relying on text by testing more image extensions and invest in performance creative to help stand out. Leveraging AI to optimize and find the best creative combinations will help brands adopt a more asset-based approach and prepare for search’s increasingly experiential, visual and conversational interfaces.
All of these developments are happening right now, and brands will need to adapt through experimentation with emerging AI tools.
By doing so, they will be better equipped to deliver personalized, relevant, and effective content that engages users and helps them stand out in an increasingly competitive digital landscape. And lastly, AI is far from perfect, so check the sources and verify the generative responses.
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