Google’s New AI-Focused Search Gains Massive Attention, Shows Early Promise

On May 14th, during the annual Google I/O developer event, Google announced some radical changes to the way search would be processed moving forward, resulting in a wave of controversy.

The changes are part of Alphabet’s sweeping plan to overhaul the Google search engine by infusing their AI agent, called “Gemini,” into all site functions. This includes, among other features:

  • Improved natural language querying to enhance AI understanding of user intent
  • AI-generated answer summaries to increase usability of search engine page results (or SERPs)
  • The addition of assistant-like tools to aid in activities like meal planning or scheduling
  • The ability for users to create videos to query the search engine based on Gemini’s analysis of the video’s content

The uproar over these announcements was swift, as publishers and content creators alike expressed immediate concern that the changes would cut them out of the ecosystem. 

The problems are largely centered on AI-summarizing search results, which is based on using the copyrighted content of others. Some also expressed concerns that these moves would steal traffic from publishers by allowing users to get their answers directly on the Google SERP, without the need to explore links outside of this bubble.

Looking to dispel some of the murkiness around this new construct, the team at Datos conducted research on the initial impact of these changes to see if any concern is truly warranted.

Interest in Google AI Search

We started with an assessment of initial Interest in Gemini by looking at a range of Google-AI related search strings.

Unsurprisingly, we found searches on this topic surged 152.48% percent in the wake of the announcement. As you can see in the chart below that examines the last three weeks of traffic, there is an explosion of interest right around May 14th — the day Google made the changes public. This interest then peaks on the following day, before falling back to normal levels.

We also found that the announcement increased Google’s overall uniques by 0.28% during the same period. This would seemingly indicate the additional visitors were inspired to come to the site primarily from curiosity about the new experience. 

It’s important to note, however, that even though a small percentage bump in traffic volume can mean hundreds of thousands of additional visitors, Google routinely experiences shifts of a similar magnitude. So we have to consider this 0.28% increase could merely represent the normal ebb and flow of traffic on the site.

Impact on the Search Experience

Where we begin to see some more significant impact from the announcements is in how users interacted with the platform after the first of the AI enhancements were rolled out.

First we looked for searches where an outbound link was clicked and the user did not return for an extended period of time. Here we found a statistically significant increase of 0.61% since the announcements from Google. From this we can infer that searchers are already becoming more satisfied with the resulting links generated by their searches.

Next we looked at searchers who received a SERP, but then refined their query. Here we found a reduction of -0.58%, providing additional corroboration that the typical user is finding outbound links more valuable.

The mean number of search queries per user is also particularly strong — down -0.76%. This could suggest the unique visitors are finding their search results are improving. However it could just as likely mean users are giving up in confusion. Only time will tell.

Finally, when we looked at whether there was any increase in the duration of time spent on SERPs, we found a reduction of -0.47% in mean time spent and 0% change in median time spent. This would seemingly imply that satisfaction with the resulting SERP information has been statistically unaffected, which could be concerning for Google.

Overall Assessment

It’s clearly too early to proclaim whether these moves will be successful for the search leader. The enhancements may be improving the user experience, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to a healthy search ecosystem nor to an increase in ad revenue.

However there are a few things we can posit, given this limited early view of results:

1. The spike in user interest after the announcements is a good sign for Google. It indicates that the company remains valuable and important in the lives of web users, and we see no reason to doubt this will continue for the foreseeable future.

2. Publishers and content creators may indeed be in trouble, but it may be trouble of their own making. The fact that users have a growing satisfaction with their outbound search links suggests the AI tools are less prone to SEO tricks. Publishers can still win more audience through search, but the need for relevant content has become greater than ever — because shortcuts that game the system are definitely on the way out.

3. The reduction in volume of searches per user is also something to watch closely. Even if it’s the result of connecting users to the information they want faster, it could possibly mean shorter sessions and reduced impact for advertisers.

4. The jury is still out on the effectiveness of AI-generated summaries and the new presentation of information on the SERP. Plus, we’re currently unable to measure clicks on these elements, further obscuring our ability to make assessments here. We conjecture that many of these changes are designed to increase session duration and provide more exposure to ads. But the fact that session durations are not immediately improving could be concerning for both advertisers and Google itself.

One last point bears mentioning. If these changes do corrupt the ecosystem of publishers and content creators who depend on Google traffic to support their own revenue, Google could quickly find itself in a bad situation. 

AI is seemingly delivering an improved search experience with these changes. But if they don’t protect the revenue of companies generating the content their AI feeds on, it could downgrade the quality and accuracy of the content Gemini has available to it.

However in the meantime we suggest everyone take a deep breath before becoming alarmist. All indications at this juncture are that these changes will be positive for users and that advertisers, publishers and content creators can all find a way to benefit.

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