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31 May 2023 / Opinion

Mastering Google's New Search: User insights and integrated marketing essentials

Michael Bates / Head of Media Growth

If brands are going to benefit from future ‘solution engines’, we need to work with and against them. Here's how.

What is the New Search Experience?

Google demonstrated its ‘New Search Experience’ at Google I/O 2023, integrating generative AI features into the current search experience. Using Bard’s generative AI abilities in conjunction with MUM and PaLM2, Google is introducing a more natural way for users to find information based on the questions they have.

For users, it’s promising the natural interactivity of voice search with the depth of insight and adaptability that search has been moving towards but, until now, not quite delivering.


How can brands benefit?

More qualified traffic

The biggest benefit is apparent right off the bat; if Google has helped users find, filter, and review their options before they click to site we can be confident that some of this traffic is more likely to convert better than the norm.

Webmasters might see a decrease in the frequency of users yo-yoing between sites as they compare products, prices, and shipping details. This does, however, mean that some sites will lose out too.

Ecommerce sites will need to be sure that shipping, returns, pricing, and product features are clearly marked-up and communicated on-site to guarantee Google’s AI systems will be able to compare them accurately. Just like in SEO, if a search engine encounters uncertainty about your ability to meet a user’s needs, you’re likely to rank less well or lose out entirely.

More visibility for social, video, and content formats

Google has made no secret of its plans to integrate more short video formats, social content, and query-specific features into search. This means that investments in rich content and social management can pay double-duty as search engines look to serve users’ needs in the most engaging manner.

Creativity, quality, and usefulness will ensure the best return for brands in these spaces, but it’s important to maintain a consistent brand voice throughout, even as tone and content flex across channels.

Creating assets that can’t be served in search

As with rich and featured search elements, the best way to guarantee traffic continues to reach your site is to provide resources that Google cannot summarise or replace in-search. Assets like stamp duty and savings calculators benefit users, and need to be informed by expertise a search engine can’t replace.

Creating the right tools to empower your users remains the best way to preserve and grow traffic from search.

By circumventing search

If search results are about to become more competitive, the most reliable way to grow is to build a relationship with your customers directly. Brand-building through consistent cross-channel marketing activity not only supports long-term growth, but it creates user preference and advocacy. This results in branded searches, where search engines are ill-advised to rank competitors or intercept clicks.

Building an effective CRM and communications strategy, informed by your customer data means a brand can prevent their users entering search in the first place. With the right data to hand, you can speak to people with messaging that has the highest probability of reactivating them at the moments they’re likely to lapse or re-enter the market. Investing in measurement, data analysis, and CRM strategies improves revenues by maximising the long-term value of each acquisition, without giving competitors the chance to intercept.


How might webmasters be impacted?

There are some issues to iron out…

Much has been made of generative AI’s ability to ‘hallucinate’, and in search this can be particularly dangerous. In response to this, Google has already said they don’t plan to use generative AI features in Your Money or Your Life industries (Finance, Legal, Health, etc.).

However, the risk remains of brand damage being done – unless Google changes to the user interface, it’s possible for users to believe they are being given a valuable resource when the AI has simply created it on the spot:


screenshot of generative AI example

If Bard is willing to tell users there are multiple recipes on the UK Government Website (there aren’t), and this one is the most popular (it has no way of judging this), these systems may present a resource that simply doesn’t work while attributing it to a trusted brand.

Unless generative answers are clearly labelled, unaware users may make a wide range of decisions based on what they are told is an expert response, even if that resource doesn’t exist.


How is this going to affect brands?

There’s also been a great deal of discussion about how much screen space, and user prompting, these features are using to keep users engaged, rather than letting them scroll down to the traditional search results.

Webmasters need to monitor click-through rate and traffic changes to their sites when the new search features roll out, and adapt paid media strategies to maintain growth. It’s unlikely Google will allow clicks to paid formats to suffer in the long term – marketers and brand managers will want to be good friends with Google’s reps to access paid features through betas and partner-exclusive opportunities.


What do brands need to do?

You should be able to understand your existing customers better than anyone

Brands have access to large amounts of first party data about existing customers, but often different data sources aren’t linked together to form a comprehensive picture of customer behaviour.  A common missing link is between web or app visit data and data held in customer management or fulfilment systems which typically record transactions and activities over much longer time frames.  A fully integrated view of customer data is a very valuable asset, but you also have to know how to use it, and drive value from it.  Understanding the decision-making processes of your customers, their purchasing patterns, and their preferences, and what brings your users into market is crucial to growing through AI empowered search.

Querying customer behaviour and feedback data not only empowers brands to understand what drives valuable interactions with a brand, but how they got there.

Brands need to adapt their content, marketing, and product descriptions to explicitly describe the features of their products while implicitly satisfying the limitless ways a user might query the uses of your product. The only way to predict what users might ask about your products, is to look at what users do, when, and what drives them to make a decision.

Add in the multitude of new search features, supporting short video formats, social content, and more, and brands are going to have to be more creative in how they share this information with their audiences. A brand anchor, that provides a consistent point of reference, is key to effectively varying our message, formats, and creative to maximise effectiveness across these formats without losing sight of what makes your brand work for users.