- Revolutionary search tools. Google unveils groundbreaking changes including public notes, AI responses, and ‘Follow’ feature for dynamic, user-centric search experience.
- Community-driven insights. Google’s new ‘Notes’ feature empowers users to enhance search results with personal insights and recommendations, fostering a collaborative information-sharing environment.
- AI reshaping search. Google’s integration of generative AI into search represents a significant shift, offering more complex query handling and potential changes in user interaction with search results.
For years, Google dominated search with little opposition. The format faced little disruption, always a bunch of blue links. And the company’s multi-billion dollar deals with Apple cemented its lead. But its comfortable perch is starting to fade. A U.S. Justice Department lawsuit exposed its distribution practices, opening it to competition. And generative AI tools threaten to upend the search format and reshuffle the playfield.
Google Revamps Search With User Notes, AI
In this moment, Google’s experimenting with bold new changes that may meaningfully alter the search experience. It’s started allowing people to leave publicly visible notes on search results in a test announced recently. It’s added an option to follow specific search queries, pushing new information vs. requiring repeated searches. And it continues to test generative AI results that answer questions in natural language.
“This is the most exciting time in my whole career,” Google Search VP Cathy Edwards told me in an interview on Big Technology Podcast recently.
Search is Google’s cash spigot. It generates most of its revenue and funds the company’s big bets. All those Googley things — the experimental products, research, moonshots and shareholder returns — wouldn’t be possible without search’s margins. Tweaking the recipe is risky. Yet the company seems ready (or compelled) to try.
Related Article: What Google Search Generative Experience Means for Marketers
Google’s New Feature: Notes on Search Results
Notes, which Google released as an experiment recently, might be its boldest potential tweak. It effectively places an internet comment section on top of the results page. If you search for a recipe that calls for meat, for instance, someone can append a Note sharing a vegetarian substitute. Search for a website with timely information, and someone can add a Note when it’s outdated. If one website is easy to navigate and another is a nightmare, you can add a Note helping others determine which to visit.
Related Article: Google, Generative Search and the Web’s Uncertain Future
Google Notes: Guided by User Insights
“Fundamentally, people want to hear about information from other people,” Edwards said. Notes is intended to help them guide each other to the best information.
Internet comments tend to get out of hand, so Google’s taking some precautions to keep Notes civil. The team’s been studying from its counterparts at YouTube, Edwards said, which cleaned up its once-horrid comments section. “We’re best friends now,” Edwards said of the relationship. Expect similar filters and thumbs-up and down options on Notes so the best reach the top.
Google Introduces ‘Follow’ for Timely Updates
Along with Notes, Google released a Follow option on Search recently that it’s rolling out globally. Follow will allow you to subscribe to specific queries, pinging you with updates when new information arrives. If you’re interested in vegetarian stir fry, for instance, Google can alert you when a new recipe page hits the internet. And as services to follow interests decline — including X, the Facebook News Feed and Tumblr — there’s a chance Google could step in and fill a gap. The company doesn’t want to build a social network, Edwards said. But it might provide similar utility without one.
Related Article: State of SEO: Google Search Algorithm Updates for Q4 2023
Google’s AI Search Gains User Favor
Google’s Search Generative Experience — which adds generative AI responses on top of results pages — seems to be performing well within Labs. ”Users are really excited about this experience; sentiment is higher,” Edwards said. “We’re also seeing users do more complex queries.” The statement indicates that SGE, as Google calls it, might deliver some of the benefits of searching with an AI bot without switching Google search entirely to chat.
Google still has some issues to work out with generative search, though. If a response solves a query without requiring someone to scroll down a page of links, it could limit the amount of ads they’ll click on, threatening the business. “We keep ads and organic very separate at Google,” Edwards said. But Wall Street will still demand some answers.
Related Article: State of Search: Top SEO Strategies for 2023
AI Search Challenges Publisher Pay Models
Paying publishers whose information appears within generative AI responses is another issue. Ingesting and displaying web publisher content is different than simply listing headlines and blue links, and may send less traffic to publishers. But so far, determining whether SGE sends more or less traffic to publishers has been difficult because SGE’s opt-in nature limits Google’s ability to measure accurately. “It’s driving our statisticians mad,” Edwards said.
An option to simply block crawling — as is done in search — seems insufficient to alleviate publisher concerns with SGE. Yet so far, nobody seems to have a good solution outside of small licensing deals, like OpenAI’s agreement with the Associated Press.
Google’s Major Search Revamp for Dominance
The wave of potential changes — Notes, SGE and Follow — could amount to Google Search’s most significant remodeling in a decade or more. Nothing in tech lasts forever, not even the most dominant leads. And for Google, the hope is this — and whatever’s coming — will be enough to maintain its dominance for a bit longer.