BlogMorePOVMicrosoft vs Google: Race For The Future Of Search

Microsoft vs Google: Race For The Future Of Search

The Future Of Search Engines
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Search engines are an essential part of our daily lives, but with technology advancing rapidly, the traditional search engines we’re accustomed to could soon become obsolete.

The future of search engines lies in AI-powered search results, and the competition between tech giants Google and Microsoft is at the forefront of this exciting development. With both launching their own plans for AI conversational search engine results, the race has been hotting up in recent weeks. But who is going to win the battle to conquer the future of search, and what does this mean for search marketers?

Microsoft and Google launch their vision for search, powered by Artificial Intelligence

Microsoft and Google have both unveiled their plans to revolutionize the world of search engines with AI-enhanced search capabilities. This move marks the beginning of a new era in the artificial intelligence race for search engines.

Microsoft launched it's AI-copilot; the new Bing powered by an even more powerful version of ChatGPT

Rumours were circulating that Microsoft were working on something big, something that would make Google start to shake in their boots. Google called ‘code red’ in December 2022 amid the rising popularity of ChatGPT and OpenAI’s capabilities. Microsoft were investing heavily into OpenAI’s advancements in generative AI. On the 6th February 2023, Google tried to get ahead to let us know about Bard (its answer to the rise of conversational search results, powered by LaMDA). On the 7th February 2023, Google’s nightmares became a reality. The technology that Elon Musk once described as “scary good” was now going to power the new Bing and Microsoft Edge (Microsoft’s competitor to Chrome).

Microsoft’s launch strategy was nothing short of brilliant, with impeccable timing and a cleverly executed roll-out. Unlike Google, they opted not to live-stream their initial launch, instead opting to unveil their plans in-person to a small audience before sharing more widely. This savvy move allowed Microsoft to maintain control over the narrative and build genuine credibility in the AI-powered search space, positioning themselves as the underdog coming out on top. As a result, Google was left with no choice but to come out fighting, trying to prove its dominance in this space. 

After launching Bard ahead of Microsoft's successful event, Google were set on reaffirming themselves as the pioneers of AI-powered Search

It’s clear that Google was feeling the heat from Microsoft’s recent successes. To prove that they’ve been leading the charge in AI-powered search for years, Google held an event the day after Microsoft’s launch on February 8th, 2023. During the event, Google reminded everyone that they created LaMDA almost three years ago. From camera-based searches (which Google believes are the future of search) to generative AI results, Google was eager to show off their cutting-edge solutions and reassure everyone that Microsoft’s search capabilities simply can’t compare

It’s hard to deny that Google is an AI powerhouse, with the technology permeating every aspect of their operations. However, during their recent presentation in Paris, a few glitches stole the spotlight. Of course, it’s no surprise that a hastily-organized event like this would have some hiccups along the way. Unfortunately, the biggest blunder happened during the demo of Google’s latest chatbot, Bard. When asked about a telescope, Bard mistakenly claimed that it had taken the “very first pictures of a planet outside of our own solar system.” This error didn’t go unnoticed by industry experts and investors, and Alphabet (Google’s parent company) saw a jaw-dropping -$163 billion drop in shares (although pennies to them). 

Google Share Price Drop 2023

Embarrassing considering that Bing has never been more searched on Google, displaying the direct opposite pattern with it’s spike in search interest. 

Bing Google Trends 2023

Despite its dominance in the search engine market, it has been argued that Google’s future prospects remain uncertain. But how damaged are they really by this launch?

Mistakes with AI are inevitable. It's what we do with them next that counts

Mistakes are inevitable with any new product launch, and the same holds true for AI. After all, AI needs to make errors in order to learn and improve. However, many have commented on their concerns for it’s responses.

Some responses are understandably causing particular concern.

It’s not just Google, Microsoft is feeling the pressure here too. Now that a wider pool of people are starting to test its new capabilities, bad examples of responses are coming to light.  James Vincent at The Verge goes into this in depth in his article. Ultimately, he argues that…

The biggest problem for AI chatbots and search engines, is bullshit.

Source: James Vincent, The Verge

These models are built on making stuff up; they are intended to persuade you without regard for the truth. Factual errors, bad advice, amplification of misogony and racism are all responses users have seen from these platforms in recent weeks. The errors vary wildly, and most can be fixed. But some are deeply rooted in the algorithms biases, which will take time to root out. 

The founder of OpenAI has openly stated that AI tools are somewhat broken. But releasing them early to the world is necessary in order to get them right. 

Search engines are slowing down the roll out, for now.

Microsoft has placed a cap on the number of questions users can ask their chatbots per session, in an effort to address issues with confusion caused by prolonged chatting. According to Microsoft, the vast majority of answers can be obtained in just five turns, and less than 1% of chats require more than 50 turns. By introducing this cap, Microsoft hopes to encourage users to be more thoughtful about their prompts, which will allow the AI to generate more appropriate responses. In addition, the company will have more time to work out any kinks in the system and engage with users to help improve the chatbots.

Humans + Artificial Intelligence > AI Alone. Google has asked its employees to join the force to correct Bard's incorrect responses.

Even Google demonstrates that AI is nowhere near capable of completely replacing humans…yet. Google recently asked their employees to correct wrong responses, as well as making sure that they do not state their AI has “human-like” emotions (this tends to freak people out). The reality is, we are all going to have to pitch in to fix AI. 

Despite the stumble, Google had it right about one thing at its recent event

Despite the mishaps that occurred during their presentation in Paris, the message that Google conveyed was ultimately much wider than what Microsoft offered. 

The future of AI-powered search isn't just about conversational search. It's about using AI to create a friction-less search experience, no matter how you are searching.

Remember when everyone was talking about Voice Search as the future of search results? Well, it turns out that was just the tip of the iceberg. Voice and conversational search engines are just two elements of a much larger and more complex search experience that can only be managed with artificial intelligence. The search engines that can help users make sense of the world in every way possible, whether it’s through text, image, voice, or any other means, are the ones that will come out on top. So far, Google seems to be leading the pack, but Microsoft is quickly catching up. It’s a race to the top, and we can’t wait to see who comes out on top!

What does this mean for search marketers?

Still lots of unknowns for Search Engine Optimisers and Paid Searchies.

In SEO, the most talked about problem is the fact that this could put companies out of business. Those who rely on ad revenue from traffic to websites (news outlets, blogs etc.) could see huge declines as generative search simply gives you an answer to your question. This could see less content for the AI to use to generate answers, therefore slowly killing itself! Microsoft have stated that they will have links to multiple sources, and Google highlighted ‘NORA’ (their belief there is no one right answer). But until we see how this plays out in the wild, there is still a lot of questions to be answered. 

Most of these search engine’s revenues come from some form of Paid Search, so it’s incredibly unlikely we’ll see too much of a detrimental impact here. Microsoft have said that they are actively working with advertisers to define what the future of Paid Ads should look like. For now, the AI units look to be positioned on the right-hand side of the search engine results page, which means you’ll still get the same exposure to ads that you do today. However, this advancement does open up some cool opportunities to new formats we haven’t even thought of yet. 

Advertisers using highly automated ad formats and smart bidding will be first to testing any new placements.

Using “liquid” ad formats and targeting like Performance Max or Broad Match alongside Smart Bidding can help advertisers capitalize on the growth of long-tail search queries and any new formats that emerge. Google and Microsoft are testing to see where advertisers get the best return on investment, and to do this effectively, they need control over ad serving and bidding. So don’t be afraid to relinquish some control and adopt these features to reap the benefits.

What do you need to do?

Things are moving quickly, so read as much as you can on the topic to stay up-to-date.

To stay ahead of the curve, it’s crucial to arm yourself with as much knowledge as possible. This is especially true when it comes to the changing role of Search Marketers, with the increasing use of Artificial Intelligence. We’ve covered this topic in-depth, and we highly recommend that you read our articles and takeaway documentation to get up to speed. By doing so, you’ll be better equipped to navigate the ever-evolving landscape of search marketing and gain a competitive advantage.

Get access, test and master to stay ahead.

You can sign up to join the waitlist for the new Bing and see specific examples of what it can do.

As of today, only “trusted users’ will be able to use Google’s version. This is probably understandable. They’ll want to make sure it’s in a good state before launching more widely given their recent mishaps. 

Please don't believe everything AI gives you. Stay healthily sceptical.

The danger here is that humans will believe everything the AI tells you, assuming it’s brain power is vastly more superior to yours – it must be true right? Wrong. You still need to have your own opinion. You still need to think. You still need to have a balanced opinion. Most importantly, remember your role in defining the ethics of AI.

So what now?

Now that the initial buzz has died down, we’re in a bit of a waiting game. The search engines have made their moves and are slowly rolling out new features, leaving search marketers and users eager to see what it all means for them. We’re all waiting for wider launches so we can get a better sense of the impact these changes will have on search marketing and the user experience. It’s an exciting time, and we can’t wait to see what’s next!

Dan Roberts
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