Hold on to your hats, folks—we’re about to see some big changes to the way we search, discover, and work online.
Upon kicking off the company’s annual developer conference in Mountain View, California on May 10, members of Google’s leadership team took to the stage to review and reveal the tech giant’s latest innovations.
It wasn’t exactly a brief overview, either. The speakers at Google I/O 2023 ran us through a host of new and upcoming products, in addition to expanding on their approach to issues of concern such as privacy and the rise of generative AI.
With such a mammoth share of the global search market, not to mention the billions of devices sold and claim to the world’s most popular mobile OS, what Google does next will always make a tangible dollar-and-cents difference for digital marketers. Spoiler alert: SEO isn’t dead. In fact, it’s more valuable than ever.
To help you keep up with the latest developments as Google charts its future, here’s a roundup of the top announcements from Google I/O 2023 that digital marketers need to know.
If you’ve been keeping up with the latest SEO updates, you know that the writing has been on the wall since the beginning of 2023. Generative AI is going (and has already begun) to impact the public in waves, starting with tools to enhance how we search and work.
The most widely accessible Google surface to incorporate AI will be search. At Google I/O 2023, the company revealed its new Search Generative Experience, which will be available for testing in Google Labs. We’ll touch on Google Labs in a moment.
A primary objection among digital marketers to new AI generator tools in search has nothing to do with ethical concerns or Skynet. Rather, site owners who publish content have voiced trepidation over the idea that Google’s AI could be using information from their domains to compose search answers without linking or even citing the source.
However, at this year’s conference, we learned that search boxes around AI answers will also include source links with thumbnails, so users can dig deeper to learn more and evaluate authoritative pages for themselves.
Google also made clear that at this point, their AI search tools will not generate answers for queries that fall into the YMYL category, which includes areas like personal finance and health. With these realms, as well as politics, out of the equation for now, content marketers including news publishers can breathe easier, knowing that searchers will continue visiting and discovering their sites to learn and answer questions in these categories.
Much of the coverage regarding generative AI has focused on conversational search tools, but Google demonstrated far more than chatbots during the gathering in Mountain View.
The advanced writing features Google Workspace users leveraged over 180 billion times in 2022 are set to evolve into “Help Me Write,” which will draft content such as emails based on user-supplied prompts. Google says “Help Me Write” is powered by a much more robust generative model and will start rolling out as part of updates to Workspace.
The Google team went out of their way on the I/O stage to tell the world that Google is “an AI-first company,” and although the incorporation of generative AI into search and a range of Google products, it’s difficult to see the company’s trotting out of early-stage AI tools as anything other than reactionary.
Google has faced some hard truths thus far in 2023. For one, Microsoft appears to have a non-negligible edge in the AI search game. Their new Bing search engine, powered by OpenAI’s ChatGPT, has garnered far more attention than Google Bard—which, to be clear, is distinct from the forthcoming Google Search Generative Experience.
For it’s part, Bard stepped into the public eye with a fumble to the tune of $100 billion. Since then, the perception has been that Google is working at flank speed to make up ground. The intensity of this effort demonstrates the depth of the belief among tech leaders that AI will prove transformative, and there will be a price to pay for everyone who isn’t first out of the gate.
There’s a wide range of concerns regarding the progression of AI generator tools, the pace of development, and the apparent inability or unwillingness on the part of legislative bodies and regulatory agencies to rein in this tech that’s set to change how we explore the web.
But among digital marketers, the biggest unknown has been the fate of ad space on SERPs that appear poised to be dominated by AI-powered answers.
The lion’s share of this distress has come from folks who seem to think Google has forgotten where its bread is buttered. Of Google’s $279.81 billion in total revenue during 2022, well over half—$162.45 billion—came from Google Ads.
With that much scratch on the table, does anyone seriously think Google is going to hobble its own PPC offerings? Even if you were worried about this hypothetical, you can rest easy following this year’s Google I/O.
When SGE finally rolls out, the top of the screen and other spots throughout the page will still be dedicated to displaying Search ads. As with everything else, Google intends to test and adjust the ads experience as they continue to evolve Search, but you can put any fears of an ad-less future to bed.
While standard or legacy SERPs will maintain ad space, other parts of Search are becoming even more crowded. In fact, at first glance, it looks as though users who apply a new filter won’t see any ads at all.
At Google I/O 2023, the company introduced its new Perspectives filter, which may appear at the top of some SERPs depending on the query. Google’s intent is to make this filter available for searchers who “might benefit from the experiences of others.”
Using the Perspectives filter, searchers will “exclusively see long- and short-form videos, images and written posts that people have shared on discussion boards, Q&A sites and social media platforms,” Google said.
If you understand Google E-E-A-T, you already know that expertise is a primary factor Google uses to rank search results. With the new Perspectives filter, the company is making it easier for searchers to access the expertise they need to solve a problem or answer a question with less navigation.
What does this mean for digital marketers? For one, by giving searchers a shorter path to the answers they seek, Google is delivering more value for users, potentially at the cost of CTRs for sites that have worked hard to earn a spot on page one. Moreover, there’s no dedicated ad space within the filter.
On its face, the Perspectives filter may seem to detract from the value in search marketing. However, for sites publishing helpful content—particularly those employing rich media, such as how-to videos from subject matter experts—this filter will push high-quality content to the top of results, rewarding publishers who deserve it with even greater visibility.
Speaking of helpful content, Google’s December Helpful Content Update is set to get an…well, an update.
The helpful content system Google launched late last year aimed to surface more informative, educational content to searchers and reduce the visibility of pages designed explicitly to capture clicks without regard for UX or genuine value.
At Google I/O 2023, we learned that within the next several months, we’ll see an update to this system intended to further Google’s goal of elevating truly helpful, people-first content.
This update is expected to help the search engine more fully comprehend content that shares expert knowledge or firsthand experience to answer searchers’ questions. It goes hand-in-hand with the aforementioned Perspectives filter and leaves little doubt as to the direction Google is taking the search experience.
The walls are closing in for site owners leveraging black-hat SEO techniques or publishing thin content. There’s no question that such pages are going to find themselves pushed further down SERPs and excluded from features like the Perspectives filter.
If you see declining traffic in the wake of Google’s helpful content updates, you’ve no one to blame but yourself. There’s still plenty of room for digital growth, but if you expect organic search to be the wind beneath your wings, you need to play by Google’s rules.
If they were arbitrary or demonstrated clear self-interest, that’d be one thing. But Google’s guidelines for determining which content to rank highly is designed with the user in mind, and isn’t that exactly the sort of web we all want, anyway?
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While not as attention-grabbing as a new product rollout, Google repeatedly touched on the overarching themes of user privacy and responsible development of emerging technologies throughout Google I/O 2023.
While many notable tech leaders and institutions have publicly called for a pause on AI development, Google seems to believe that the genie is already out of the bottle, and any stoppage at this point would only have negative business consequences without making a positive difference in the overall progression of generative AI capabilities.
To be sure, this tech could have severe implications if abused or misunderstood, and several of the speakers in Mountain View emphasized that the teams at Google are taking a deliberate, considerate approach as they advance generative AI.
That’s a plus for digital marketers, as it means Google is aware of the potential impacts on the overall ecosystem and intends to integrate AI tools in a way that helps publishers thrive alongside the search engine. The previous mention of Google’s inclusion of thumbnails and links to source pages in AI-generated answers is a prime example.
Additionally, Google says it’s committed to preserving—or, considering the current state of Chrome—augmenting online safety and privacy for users. By the end of 2024, Google intends to deprecate Chrome support for third-party cookies, and Google Analytics 4 already offers marketers adaptive tools that deliver quality measurement while also prioritizing privacy.
If you haven’t already switched over to GA4, that’s a task you need to complete yesterday. Universal Analytics is just about to stop processing new data, and you need to get your GA4 setup done ASAP for the most useful data comparisons going forward.
We aren’t even in the second half of 2023, but we’ve already seen considerable changes to the web and search this year, with much more to come. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, that’s understandable, but don’t let the recent flood of updates prevent you from moving forward. When in doubt, turn to the PPC and SEO experts with a proven track record of helping clients navigate the industry’s seismic shifts.
If Google I/O 2023 left you with a lot of “what-ifs,” know that you don’t have to forge ahead on your own. Don’t let yourself become another reactionary lost in the wilderness of digital marketing—instead, crush your KPIs and see what exponential growth can look like by partnering with VELOX Media.
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