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Google Artificial Intelligence Search Marketing

OpenAI and the disruption of brand search: Does Google finally have a competitor?

By Eric M. Hoover, Organic Search Director for Earned Media



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May 17, 2024 | 8 min read

Rumors of OpenAI’s impending launch of a search engine this week didn’t quite come to fruition. But no mistake, says Jellyfish’s Eric M Hoover: AI is bringing true competition to search.

The OpenAI logo and an abstract depiction of a neural network

OpenAI's mooted AI-based search disruptor may not have been announced as expected - but still expect it to change the game / OpenAI / Growtika via Unsplash

Whispers of a revolution in the search landscape reached a fever pitch last week, with the rumored launch of a search engine by OpenAI, the company behind ChatGPT. Back in February, OpenAI CEO Sam Altman spoke about creating a “more encompassing search experience.” Recently, this buzz intensified when internet sleuths uncovered a new domain:

Despite the rumors, Altman clarified via Twitter/X on May 10th that the upcoming livestream on Monday would neither discuss GPT-5 nor introduce a search engine, but focus on different projects. That temporarily silenced the whispers about OpenAI search.

Yet, it’s clear that Altman, along with other AI pioneers, is aiming to move beyond the conventional search engine format, often criticized for its list of ten blue links and multiple advertisements. An AI-driven method could be more conversational, enabling users to interact with the search engine in natural language, potentially transforming how consumers access information and interact with brands online, making searches more intuitive and user-centric.

David v Goliath

OpenAI’s livestream on May 13th was not purposefully scheduled a day before Google's I/O event, according to Altman. Besides, the presentation focused mostly on advancements to ChatGPT’s UI, Voice mode, and upgraded GPT-4o. However, it does underscore brewing competition with Google, especially with the impending rollout of Google’s Search Generative Experience (SGE), a new AI-driven search component.

Many liken any attempt to surpass Google Search as a ‘David v Goliath’ battle. Yet, the future seems to lean towards AI search tools that enhance user engagement with information. A key advantage of AI search is its ability to integrate with live data streams, addressing traditional search engines' limitations, which rely on static website data/markups and cannot provide real-time updates. This could enable AI search engines to offer more current results.

However, as Google continues to refine its algorithms and prioritize ‘helpful content’, questions about the reliability and bias of AI-generated results remain pressing.

What it means for brands

The advent of AI in search might redirect user preferences towards tools like Chat GPT, Google’s SGE, or social media-based AI like Meta AI and Llama 3. Regardless, how brands think about their marketing strategy will shift across channels.

My colleague, Jellyfish’s chief solutions officer and AI lead Jack Smyth, keeps this new way of looking at a post-AI landscape top of mind: “The way we develop strategies will change because of how LLMs comprehend information. It’s vastly different from what we have seen. Large Language Models and even search engines are not just looking at singular topics or keywords, but a full range of what brands, consumers, and critics are saying. Knowing how to inform and respond to those opinions in a conversational tone is a key step to gaining visibility in AI results.”

Replying in a more conversational tone will be easily adapted to by users, as some feel Google is currently overrun with paid advertising and spammy organic listings. While Google states it is “improving our advanced spam-fighting systems to keep Search more than 99% spam free,” users are still sometimes served low-quality, inaccurate search results.

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Share of model approach

Whether brands are considering ad spend or SEO, how they deliver that information to users will need to shift at all points, from planning through to execution. A stronger, more detailed understanding of how audiences discuss products, services, or brands across channels will be key to winning the AI space.

To address these challenges, Jellyfish has developed a proprietary tool called Share of Model, a way to understand how different LLMs ‘think’ about topics, categories, or products. Similar to ‘share of search’ or ‘share of voice’, this practice will analyze how various large language models perceive brands, products and categories.

Users interacting with ChatGPT, Meta AI’s Llama 3, or Google’s SGE help these LLMs learn more about the attributes consumers are interested in, or the opinions formed by purchases and use. In turn, these learnings help language models understand your brand or products from various angles, which can identify ways of improvement in messaging and targeting.

The final frontier of search

AI’s entry into search is a pivotal moment in the evolution of how users interact with brands online, prioritizing natural language interaction, real-time data, and user-centric information retrieval. While the prospects of true AI disruption to Google’s reign are by no means certain, one thing is for sure: The competition promises to bring exciting innovations and a more dynamic search experience.

Google Artificial Intelligence Search Marketing

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