Major changes to Google’s search engine are coming, with a lot of AI

Google's search engine

This article was last updated on May 16, 2024

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Major changes to Google’s search engine are coming, with a lot of AI

Google is going to overhaul one of the best-known and most valuable parts of the internet: its own search engine. What once started as a page with ten links has changed over the years into a place where you get more and more information without clicking through to a website.

This year the company is taking another big step, with a central role for AI (artificial intelligence). The changes are immediately visible in the US, other countries will follow later this year. It is not yet clear when it will be the Netherlands’ turn. At least a billion people should have access to it before the New Year.

The stakes for Google are enormous. It earns tens of billions of euros every year from the advertisements shown in search results. Making major changes to what users see can have far-reaching consequences. At the same time, the rise of generative AI, led by ChatGPT, has shown that the future of search will look different.

The company has been working on the changes for a year. It uses its AI technology called Gemini for this.

The tech company could also use some success in the field of AI developments. It blundered last year with an example in a demonstration, which caused the share to fall on the stock exchange, and earlier this year it had to be done pause an image generator due to incorrect historical representations. Google logically wants to get rid of the image of stumbling through the AI ​​race as quickly as possible.

Best yoga studio in town

Suppose – this is Google’s own example – you are looking for the best yoga studios in your city. You can include multiple search questions in one assignment: what is the best, what do they have to offer and what about the walking distance from a certain neighborhood? This is then all displayed in one overview, without you having to click on a link. The company calls this ‘AI Overviews’. Generative AI is known to make a lot of mistakes, it remains to be seen to what extent Google can prevent this.

“Research that would otherwise have taken minutes or even hours, Google can now do for you in seconds,” said Liz Reid, who is responsible for the search engine at the tech giant, during tonight’s presentation at the annual developers conference. The company therefore hopes that users will use the search engine instead of looking up and bringing together information themselves.

Google's search engineGoogle Search Results Yoga Studio

Another eye-catching option is that you can record a video via Google Lens (an image recognition function) and ask – literally by talking – what something is and how it works.

Not every search result receives such an AI-made overview, says Reid to The Verge. It is still unclear in how many cases this will happen. “If you just want to navigate to a URL, you search for Walmart (an American supermarket, ed.) and you want to go to, then there is little point in adding AI.” It should be used primarily for what she calls “complete situations” that you might not have used Google for before.

It is clear that Google’s announcement could have major consequences. A large part of the web has been designed in such a way that Google understands it well in recent decades. In other words: Google can make or break a site.

Being easy to find via the search engine is essential. An agency that helps brands become visible has according to Bloomberg calculated that these changes could result in a quarter of internet traffic via Google disappearing.

Practice will have to show whether this is actually the case. In the examples shown by the search giant, there is still a role for websites – especially for information at a detailed level.

Competition is growing

Google is by far the most important search engine worldwide. For years that position was unchallenged. Until the arrival of ChatGPT, which made it clear that online searching could change dramatically. Microsoft hoped – through a partnership with ChatGPT’s maker OpenAI – to benefit from, but that remains without much success so far.

It shows that Google’s position in the search market is still very strong. That’s also because it pays many billions of euros every year to Samsung and Apple to be the default search engine on the hundreds of millions of phones, tablets and laptops that the two companies produce.

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