Microsoft Artificial Intelligence AI & Web3 Deep Dive

Search engines are embracing AI and advertisers need to be aware of the risks


By Chris Sutcliffe, Senior reporter

February 23, 2023 | 8 min read

As Baidu enters the AI-powered search space, marketers must be prepared for SEO practices to be shaken at their foundations.

A robot pictures sitting at a piano

AI-powered search is the year's big focus for marketers, but it has obstacles to overcome to reach its potential / Possessed Photography

AI-powered search is well and truly here, with Baidu joining western rivals in unveiling its own product, Ernie, a ChatGPT equivalent.

The Chinese-owned internet company has been investing in AI for many years and claims: “The integration of Ernie Bot with Baidu Search will lead to a generational change in the search experience.” This is very much the same hyperbole attached to ChatGPT and OpenAI integration in other search platforms.

Baidu revealed: “In addition to providing better search service and answers, we will offer a new interactive and chat experience, as well as provide uniquely generated content that will greatly enrich the content ecosystem and supply, becoming a new traffic entry point.”

What AI search means for marketers

The implications are enormous according to Rob Silver, executive vice-president and head of media at Razorfish. He says: In years past, we’ve seen incremental improvements to make search work better, but the fundamental approach hasn’t changed to this degree. Now, we’re heading toward an experience - powered by AI - where the output of results will be materially different and, over time, that will create a far better consumer experience for discovering information.”

Due to that sea-change, Microsoft has emerged as a major competitor to the established search giant of Google due to its largely well-received demonstrations of a ChatGPT integration with Bing.

By contrast, Google’s implementation of Bard into its own search has been under more scrutiny as a result of perceived mistakes in the AI’s surfacing of facts for search.

Analysts have pointed out that, in order to keep up with simplified search powered by AI, Google will effectively be eating into its primary source of revenue via ads in search results.

That race to demonstrate the potential of AI for search has opened the door for competitors such as Bing and Baidu to steal a march on its dominance in the search space. Amazon is also feeling the pressure to invest in AI, recently claiming that all major media and e-commerce companies are already deeply invested in the technology.

AI opportunities

Anastasia Kotsiubynska, SEO team lead at SE Ranking, says: “This AI-based technology gives Bing opportunities to extract information from different sites, summarize it and then provide the user with one comprehensive answer based on many resources. This could mean that users would visit fewer websites because they would get more answers directly from search engine results pages.

“This is also what Google is aiming for, which is a threat to website owners who may lose a huge percent of their traffic should this feature be implemented.”

It has also been pointed out that roughly 80% of search results served via AI are for standard information queries, with a further 10% for navigational queries and 10% transactional. It means that, at the moment, there are fewer direct ways to profit from implementing AI into search though it is undoubtedly good for the consumer.

However, Microsoft has already made a major pitch to advertisers with a demonstration of how ads can be integrated into its AI-powered search results. But there are downsides.

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AI obstacles

For AI-powered search companies, the most pressing obstacles are brand safety issues related to ineffective or inaccurate information, as Google found at its Bard demonstration.

This has also been bound up in issues related to the public-facing uses of ChatGPT and other generative AI platforms, which have run into accusations of unsafe content and potential plagiarism.

The other major issue is related to the data on which those AI models are trained. Media companies and news publishers are already expressing concerns about their content being used for free, suggesting a repeat of the argument around news snippets and inclusion in search results is coming.

TJ Leonard, CEO at Storyblocks, explains: “Simmering just beneath the surface of the AI hype is a complex and important conversation about rights and licensing. While the visual and written content is considered generative, the reality is it is entirely derivative of existing material. And when it comes to AI, the most valuable material is data.

“Marketers who fail to carefully consider these questions as they begin to incorporate AI-generated content expose themselves to incredible – and unnecessary – legal risk down the line.“

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