Google I/O: Gemini Dominates Search, SGE Goes Live

The developer conference keynote was all about AI, search not so much.

Google I/O: Gemini Dominates Search, SGE Goes Live

Google's I/O keynote was all about Gemini. "We are fully in our Gemini era," CEO Sundar Pichai intoned in his opening remarks. The fusillade of announcements that followed were dominated by Gemini and new features claiming to be best-in-class or breakthrough capabilities.

Search was there but in a secondary or supporting role. Gemini was the star.

In addition to search, the Gemini announcements touched nearly every product category: DeepMind, Android, Assistant, Workspace, Photos, Google Cloud and others. Just a day before, however, OpenAI held its comparatively low key ChatGPT-4o launch presentation, which preempted Google I/O – by design. And it succeeded in stealing some of the thunder from the Gemini announcements.

The I/O keynote was largely directed, we suspect, at tech journalists and Wall Street investors, in an effort to provide reassurance and reclaim the AI leadership narrative from OpenAI.

More Clicks in 'AI Overviews'

As predicted by Eli Schwartz and a number of other SEOs, Google is rolling out SGE (now called AI Overviews) to US users this week and "more countries soon." And as mentioned on the Q1 earnings call a week ago, Pichai stated that the presence of SGE has reportedly increased search usage and user satisfaction.

Google added that "by the end of the year, AI Overviews will be available to over a billion people using Google Search."

The announcement felt like an anti-climax, perhaps because it was so widely expected. It's a big deal that the entire industry has been anticipating – or dreading. Now we'll finally get some data on whether and how users engage with AI results and what it does – or doesn't do – to publisher traffic.

Interestingly, Google VP of Search Liz Reid said in a companion blog post, "we see that the links included in AI Overviews get more clicks than if the page had appeared as a traditional web listing for that query." In other words, CTRs in SGE are greater than elsewhere on the page. Microsoft said something similar about Bing chat.

Multi-Step Reasoning

In her I/O presentation Reid discussed a range of new search use cases that Gemini enables. She emphasized that users can now ask complex, multi-part questions in a single query and get an AI Overview, which uses "multi-step reasoning." She hinted that this is the beginning of search as personal AI agent, something OpenAI is working on as well.

Reid discussed examples of how you can now do planning (e.g., meals, travel, exercise) with a single query. In a travel example (a trip to Dallas) the entire SERP was taken over by AI results organized into different categories of information. These "AI Organized Pages" will start in restaurants and recipes and roll out to movies, music, books, hotels, shopping and more.

There was also an impressive demo of a text + video query, which Gemini can understand and respond to. This is a kind of successor to what Google previously called multisearch (text + images).

Many of the specific search use cases, as well as examples used throughout the keynote, were local or had a local angle. One of Google's competitive advantages over OpenAI is its local knowledge graph, which the company was showcasing but not directly emphasizing.

Slow Rollout

In conjunction with I/O, Google told Search Engine Land that AI Overviews will only be shown at the outset for a limited number of queries and "complex questions," not for ~90% of searches, as some of the preliminary studies have found. And AI Overviews will not fully replace Featured Snippets.

Google confirmed it will be showing AI Overviews for YMYL queries. It's also going to report AI impressions and clicks in Search Console, though it won't break out the AI data separately.

In a post-keynote interview with CNBC (here, here) Sundar Pichai said that AI Overviews were making the search experience better – according to user feedback – and that Google was "simplifying" the search experience rather than creating additional page clutter. (We can debate that.) Of course he said that AI wouldn't impact Google's ad clicks (and hurt revenue). If anything, he implied, AI would potentially boost revenue.

When asked, why not just turn search into Gemini or make Gemini the new search UI?, Pichai argued that Google's Knowledge Graph and index were needed to "ground" Gemini in real world information and that conventional search was still valuable to users. But he pointed out that Google was in fact changing the UI with AI Organized Pages, which are dynamically reformatted using AI generated headings.

The Gemini Machine

Even though it's been coming for a year, the formal rollout of SGE/AI Overviews and some of the related SERP changes mark the beginning of an uncertain new phase for search and SEO, which can either fill you with excitement or consternation. And despite Google's upbeat remarks, it remains to be seen how AI Overviews actually affect publisher traffic.

Google emphasized links and sending traffic to websites in its keynote. But the overwhelming impression conveyed is that the entire web and all content are now more or less fodder for Google's AI machine.

Other Announcements

Beyond AI Overviews, here are some of the other things Google announced:

Google Workspace

  • Gmail summarization, Q&A, and context-aware replies
  • Gemini side panel (availability next month)
  • AI virtual teammate

Media Tools

  • Imagen 3 image generation
  • Music AI Sandbox (collaboration with YouTube)
  • Veo generative video

Notebook LM

  • Gemini 1.5 Pro coming to Notebook LM
  • Audio overview

Project Astra (DeepMind)

  • More advanced AI assistant/agent with improved reasoning and memory

It very much remains to be seen which of these new offerings and features are adopted by users. Impressive sounding products introduced at past Google I/O events have failed to gain traction and later been discarded.

You can watch the full keynote below or a shorter version here.