Google Splits the Web Into “Commercial” and “Non Commercial” Search

Last week I was traveling – and being in four places in six days does not make for a good writing vibe. But today I’m back – and while the pace is picking up for the annual Signal conference I co-produce with P&G, I wanted to take a minute to reflect on last week’s news – no, not that CNN shitshow, but Google’s big I/O conference, where the company finally revealed its plans around search, AI, and a whole lot more.

Leading tech analyst Ben Thompson summarized how most of the pundit-ocracy responded to Google I/O: “the ‘lethargic search monopoly’ has woken up.” He also noted something critical: “AI is in fact a sustaining technology for all of Big Tech, including Google.” Put another way, the bar has been reset and no one company is going to own a moat around AI  – at least not yet.  Over time, of course, moats can and will be built, just as they were with core technologies like the microprocessor, the Internet itself, and the mobile phone. But for now, it’s a race without clear winners.

Head to The Verge if you want a summary of what went down at I/O – beyond AI, Google doubled down on devices – positioning itself as a serious competitor to Apple (I’ve been a Google Pixel user for years, and all I want is for the two companies to figure out how to deliver a text…).

But we’re all about AI and search here at Searchblog, and damn, there was finally some real talk about how the peanut butter and chocolate would be combined. As The Verge put it, “The single most visited page on the internet is undergoing its most radical change in 25 years.” From the story:

Called the Search Generative Experience (SGE), the new interface makes it so that when you type a query into the search box, the so-called “10 blue links” that we’re all familiar with appear for only a brief moment before being pushed off the page by a colorful new shade with AI-generated information. The shade pushes the rest of Google’s links far down the page you’re looking at — and when I say far, I mean almost entirely off the screen.

That seems radical, but for commercial searches (Google defines that term, not me), ads will still be front and center. And that’s a key distinction. The majority of searches are not commercial, and for those, Google promised an AI-driven summary at the top – an evolution of the “snippets” and one boxes that we’ve become accustomed to. It’s a clever hack – for most of our searches, it’ll seem like Google’s familiar ten blue link interface has been replaced. But commercial searches will continue to feel, well, commercial. Google’s really pushing what that will look like, for a taste, check out this short video:

Not your father’s advertising experience.

These changes have yet to be rolled out (they’re coming “soon” and you can sign up for the sandbox with a personal Gmail account here), but with these revelations certainly gave Google’s extended ecosystem a new set of opaque signals to read. Millions of SEO-driven websites will have to recalibrate against Google’s black box algorithms and hope they can continue to win placement and the revenue that comes along with it. To you all, I say bon chance.

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