Embracing Paid Search in the Era of ChatGPT and Generative AI

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As featured in Performance Marketing World.

In today’s rapidly evolving digital landscape, the convergence of search and generative AI poses the following question, among many. How will AI impact search, with its ability to easily synthesise information around the web and deliver instant results?

As Google and Microsoft battle for leadership of an estimated $2tn market for AI, search marketers find themselves on the frontline of, arguably, the greatest machine learning experiment. So how should search marketers best use AI tools like ChatGPT, and what does this new navigation mean for the future of search marketing?

Why search marketers are embracing AI

According to recent research, over 5,000 people work in AI at Google where machine learning is deployed to advance legacy algorithms and language models. Since 2015, machine learning programmes have impacted Google’s organic search results via Rankbrain, BERT and Neural matching, prompting SEO professionals to adjust their best practices.

More recently, Google Ads has seen the gradual removal of manual controls and the introduction of ad formats and settings that rely on machine learning – including Smart Bidding and Performance Max. These changes mean search marketing teams are moving away from granular accounts built on lists of tightly grouped keywords. Instead, they are moving towards a consolidated approach designed to maximise the audience signals that drive algorithmic decision making.

These changes haven’t been universally welcomed, but they are proving effective – for advertisers, for agencies and for search engines – with accounts becoming more efficient as a result of the automation machine learning offers.

Why marketers should consider introducing AI into search

1. Improved efficiency: AI has the ability to process and analyse vast amounts of data at a speed and scale that would be impossible for humans alone. In search marketing, AI-powered tools and algorithms can automate repetitive tasks such as keyword research, ad placement optimization, and data analysis. By automating these processes, AI frees up marketers’ time and resources, allowing them to focus on higher-level strategic tasks, creative thinking, and improving overall campaign performance.

2. Enhanced targeting and personalisation: AI enables more accurate targeting and personalisation in search marketing. Through machine learning algorithms, AI can analyse user behaviour, search patterns, and preferences to create highly targeted and relevant ads. AI-powered systems can dynamically optimise ad content, headlines, and landing pages based on individual user profiles, leading to improved click-through rates and conversions. This level of personalisation enhances the user experience and accelerates the effectiveness of search marketing campaigns.

3. Data-driven insights and optimisation: AI can extract valuable insights from vast amounts of data collected from search marketing campaigns. By analysing data points such as click-through rates, conversion rates, and user engagement metrics, AI can be a useful tool to help identify patterns, trends, and correlations that humans may overlook. These insights can inform decision-making processes and help marketers optimise their strategies, ad campaigns, and budget allocation. AI can continuously learn and adapt to changing market conditions, ensuring that search marketing efforts remain effective and competitive.

The generative search experience – what to expect

As generative AI tools proliferate, search engines are not just reshaping their models but are set to reimagine the search experience to reflect user demands.

Google debuted its Search Generative Experience last month, integrating ChatGPT style answers directly into the search engine results page, replacing featured snippets for informational queries. While the feature is currently experimental, search marketers should expect a swift rollout together with new ad formats to promote products and services as part of the generative response.

These changes will come as no surprise to the industry. Those who have followed Google since its inception will be aware of the increasing need to monetise the search engine results page (SERP) by increasing the percentage of paid clicks.

Despite this, the rollout of promoted generative answers will prove challenging for advertisers who prefer to retain close control of their brands. Ultimately, for many, this feels like another step on the often-uncomfortable path of advertiser automation.

Where next for the golden era of search?

With generative AI set to be baked into all leading search engines, we must ask ourselves challenging questions about the extent to which users will come to rely upon and trust machine learning output.

Some predict that the arrival of AI chatbots could herald the end of a golden era for search – with ChatGPT seen as a potential ‘Google killer’. That debate will continue but as a seasoned search marketer, I am far more optimistic about the potential of AI than the challenges it presents for the search marketing industry.

The integration of AI in search marketing offers numerous benefits and opportunities for marketers. With its ability to automate tasks, enhance targeting and personalization, and provide data-driven insights, AI empowers marketers to make more informed decisions, optimise their campaigns, and ultimately, achieve better results.

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