The past few months have seen endless headlines about artificial intelligence (AI). All eyes have been on Google waiting to see how the tech giant would embrace AI in its epic product portfolio.

Interest has been especially high after reports in the New York Times that Samsung and potentially Apple were considering swapping their default search engine contracts to Microsoft’s AI-enhanced Bing

Well, the wait’s over: on May 10th 2023, Google released details from its Project Magi on its plans for ‘Supercharging Search with generative AI’, introducing AI into its best known and most valuable asset, Google Search.   

The new AI-powered Google Search is no regular update. It aims to change the way we interact with information online, with a more visually appealing, personalised, and human-focused Search experience that’s more powerful than ever. 

Where will the new AI Search appear?

The new Search facility is currently being launched English-only on Chrome desktop and the Google App in the U.S., with further details of the roll-out coming soon. But for those already lucky enough to have it, when you hit the Google Search button with any given search term or question, the first answer you will see will be an AI-generated summary. This will provide a succinct, highly relevant answer, with supporting links to websites that corroborate with the AI-generated summary. This is Google’s ‘AI Snapshot’ feature. 
What’s unique in Google’s application of AI is that they have developed a way for the user to dig deeper, and identify the source of the AI response, allowing users to find out more detailed information if they want to.  

Here’s where the more human-like capabilities come into play: you can also follow up your Search query by adding more details or additional questions. Google will then generate a related follow-up answer, rather than starting a new Search. This feels more conversational, and provides users with more contextual search results as well as a better user experience.

An illustration of the Google AI search interface. There is a Google search bar at the top, and underneath this it says Generative AI is experimental. There is an option underneath that to ask a follow-up.

Google will be able to provide follow-up answers to your search query.

Has it been developed responsibly and can it be trusted? 

All the latest developments in AI are, of course, raising concerns around the risks of using this technology. Whether it’s Italy’s initial ban on OpenAI’s ChatGPT due to GDPR, or wider considerations around safety and bias, all these concerns are leading to proposed regulation. Google’s Project Magi has been guided by its established AI principles, that lay the foundations for developing AI technology responsibly. These principles recognise the risks around AI bias and its threat to privacy.

  1. Be socially beneficial
  2. Avoid creating or reinforcing unfair bias
  3. Be built and tested for safety 
  4. Be accountable to people
  5. Incorporate privacy design principles 
  6. Uphold high standards of scientific excellence 
  7. Be made available for uses that accord with these principles 

Of course, only time will tell how this plays out in practice, given Google’s previous controversies with ethical AI 

How can I optimise my website to work with Google’s new AI search?

There are some important things to consider in optimising your website to work with Google’s new AI Search product, particularly with regards to how Google will now evaluate and rank content:

  • Introduce structured data (schema) on your website. If you haven’t already implemented structured data on your site, now is the time to do it. Structured data – building in code to web pages to help search engines characterise and categorise their content - essentially allows Google to read content on your website more easily, and therefore provide users with more detailed and engaging Search results. Structured data is now even more important to achieve high rankings on the Search results page. This will be of particular importance to e-commerce websites, who will rely on Google understanding the context of the products they want to show users. 
  • Less focus on keywords. SEO has previously focussed on the importance of keyword optimisation. With Google’s AI technology, it’s better to focus your attention on producing quality content that is comprehensive and focuses on the user’s direct goals, since keywords alone don’t offer the context AI needs to generate a coherent answer to Search queries.
  • Consider entity-based optimisation. Keywords can have different meanings. For instance, ‘Saga’ could be the over-50’s travel operator, or the description of a tale involving multiple mishaps. And more importantly, keywords lack context – making it hard for Google to make a connection. Cue entity-based SEO. An entity means it can be uniquely defined and uses broader clues to understand the Search query. In the context of Google’s AI functionality, this essentially means it can read and better understand relationships between entities. Tools such as Inlinks can help you internally link and mark up your content with Entity based schema markup and internal links.
  • Content focused on conversation. With Google now focussing its Search on a more conversational flow for users, it’s more likely that users will search in the form of a question. For instance, ‘What should I wear for a hiking trip in Scotland in September?’ Content on your site should focus on answering common user questions and align with the conversational tone that will exist on Google. Adding an expert’s perspective on topics will also feed Google’s desire for experience as well as expertise. Think of adding in an art broker’s expert opinion on a Banksy piece and its value, rather than just describing it as a product. 
  • UX will always matter. With all these new advancements in AI, it remains true that a good user experience should always be the focus. In order to retain top ranking in the search pages, the experience on your site needs to be quick, easy and intuitive for users.
  • Speed matters. A slow-moving website equals a high bounce rate for users. In addition, with Google’s AI implementation, slower sites won’t make the cut in the top-ranking search results. Not to mention that many of the reasons for slow websites, including non-optimised code and assets and poor server configuration that use more energy and result in greater carbon emissions, are at odds with Google’s focus on sustainability. It’s always been important to make sure your site is fast, but even more so now, with good website responsiveness now being a critical measure for good user experience.
  • Collect high-authority links. Authority links are still critical for SEO, and therefore for improving your likelihood of getting your content in Google’s AI search. Google uses a variety of factors to determine which content to show in its results, including the authority of the websites that link to it. So, if you want your content to be seen by more people, it's important to get links from high-authority websites – in other words, websites with a strong, trustworthy reputation, built over time, with a large volume of quality links pointing to them. Here are some tips for getting high-authority links and increasing your chances of being seen on Google’s AI search:
    • Create high-quality content that people will want to link to.
    • Promote your content on social media and other online channels.
    • Reach out to other websites and bloggers in your niche, and ask them to link to your content.

Brilliant user experience still the priority 

We’ve outlined some things to consider to optimise your site from what we currently know about Google’s new AI Search product. As more details emerge, we’ll be sharing our learnings on how to ensure your site is Search fit. 

But it's clear that the new AI Search is really about helping people get the answers they need and carry out the actions they want to easily. That means creating great websites designed for sustainability and speed, and well-structured quality content, delivered through excellent UX. That’s where you can create value and ensure your site performs well right now and in the future, regardless of what Search does next. There are no shortcuts for that, but it will reap huge rewards.