Google CEO on SGE and Search evolution: ‘We’ll get it right’

The multibillion-dollar question right now is whether the Search Generative Experience (SGE) will blow up Google’s Search business model. Based on early testing, Google CEO Sundar Pichai is “confident” that won’t happen.

“It’s important to us to connect users with what’s out on the web, and we are working deeply to make sure that continues to work well,” Pichai told Steven Levy in a Q&A published on Wired.

Why we care. Google may be confident that the SGE experiment will continue to send people to websites, but we’re still finding it hard to trust Google at this point. They won’t reveal any real data to us about whether AI answers are driving clicks to websites, click-through rate data, or advertising performance data on what we are calling CHERPs, or Chat Engine Results Pages. And we have no way to track this in Google Search Console, Google Ads or Google Analytics.

Ads vs. organic. Levy pointed out to Pichai that the AI-generated answers are different from a list of links, which could further add confusion about whether an SGE answer is sponsored or organic.

  • “Even in a generative experience we would give you a set of sites that support what we are saying. We want to make sure users are consuming those sites. So I don’t think the core part of the experience will change. We will have a space for ads in a way that makes sense for users and particularly on commercial queries,” Pichai said.

Helping people find information. Pichai pointed out that even though the way Google presents information has evolved greatly in 25 years – but ultimately people are searching for information.

  • “We are still trying to help people find the best information that exists online. Inherently, people are also looking for commercial information, and ads are very valuable commercial information, because they connect merchants and businesses, small and big, to users. None of that changes just because we are applying AI deeply. When we evolve search with generative AI, we’ll apply the same principles,” Pichai said.

Like desktop to mobile? Pichai pointed out that people asked similar questions as Google shifted its focus from desktop to making everything mobile-first.

  • “Our early testing shows that we’ll be able to get it right. It’s core to the company to evolve search while applying the underlying principles. I am confident we’ll be able to get that right through this transition,” Pichai said.

The search community was also extremely worried about Google’s featured snippets stealing traffic. When Bard launched in February, there were no links. And SGE only finally added links to websites Aug. 30 after months of pressure by search marketers and publishers.

Bing burn. Did the new Bing, powered by ChatGPT, make Google “dance.” Pichai essentially dissed their efforts, comparing it to Alexa and Siri. Pichai also claimed:

  • “Around the end of last year, my thoughts were, how can we bring generative AI to search in a way that makes sense for our users? That’s what I’m thinking about, and that’s what will matter in the long run.”

Could that time in late 2022 coincide with OpenAI launching ChatGPT in late November? Generative AI exploded on the scene and supposedly triggered a code red within Google, leading to the return of Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin.

Pichai was also asked about the antitrust trial, but had little to say beyond throwing around the word “innovation.”

You can read the full interview here: Sundar Pichai on Google’s AI, Microsoft’s AI, OpenAI, and … Did We Mention AI?

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