Google's Bipolar Search Vision: Bard vs. SGE

Google appears to be hedging with an AI-enhanced and an upgraded version of Bard simultaneously.

Google's Bipolar Search Vision: Bard vs. SGE

The Google I/O keynote wrapped up earlier today. It was a curious affair, with major announcements delivered in a strangely flat manner. As expected, the main focus was on AI across a range of Google products, from Workspace and Cloud to Android, Pixel and, of course, Google search.

In search, Google appears to be proceeding along parallel paths. It announced a new search experience, which it's calling "search generative experience" (SGE). It also showed off multiple enhancements to Bard, which will make it a more compelling search tool. Google maintains that Bard is not a search engine. It is after today.

SGE: AI Snapshot

The new SGE, which I'm guessing is "Magi," seems to follow in the footsteps of Neeva and especially BingGPT. It presents a giant snippet at the top of the page, unless there are ads. Google calls this generative AI content the "AI Snapshot."

The Snapshot is followed by organic results. From what was shown today it appears the AI Snapshot will dominate the screen on both desktop and mobile. On both screens, organic results appeared below the fold (especially on mobile).

Source: Google

At the bottom of the AI Snapshot are contextually relevant follow-up queries. Users can also tap "ask a follow up" and pose a different question, which yields a BingGPT-like "conversational mode." In this UX, organic results remain available if users scroll.

AI Snapshots will include both text and, probably, image content. In this case, the thumbnails in the upper right are links to publisher sites. Assuming this design holds, these slots become a high-value optimization target: Snapshot SEO. I'm also guessing that we'll also see an ad slot here at some point.

Google won't be introducing this new UI/UX into the SERP immediately. Instead people can join a waitlist to gain access through Google Labs. Google will gradually let more people into the new AI-enhanced SERP and solicit their feedback, which could result in design changes vs. what we saw today.

And Now Bard+

Perhaps more interesting than SGE is what's happening on the Bard side. Google announced that Workspace apps are being integrated with Bard. Among other scenarios, Bard will be able to generate content that can be exported to Google Docs and Sheets.

Google also announced third party "extensions," equivalent to ChatGPT plug-ins, are coming to Bard (call it Bard+). Google's Sissie Hsiao, VP and General Manager for Google Assistant and Bard, said: "Bard will be able to tap into all kinds of services from across the web."

Source: Google I/O

The graphic reflects a roster of early partners, many of whom are also ChatGPT plug-ins. In the local category, the slide shows Redfin, Zillow, Uber Eats, Kayak, OpenTable, Instacart, Walmart and Tripadvisor.

Hsiao added that Google search, Maps and the Knowledge Graph are coming to Bard as well. This is significant for Bard's development as a search engine and for local. While it remains to be seen, she implied that all Google's local content and capabilities will be available to Bard.

One of the big questions before I/O was: how much would Google disrupt its own SERP? While SGE is not particularly disruptive, except perhaps for SEOs, Bard potentially is. If I can get the identical information on Bard with a less cluttered UI and limited (or no) ads, why would I use And Bard has other capabilities that make it more useful than traditional search.

Source: Google I/O

The issue of hallucination is a major question still be to resolved. Google is well aware of the problem of course. Third party extensions, Google's Knowledge Graph and other enhancements to Bard may rectify the issue to a significant degree.

Google may have decided it needed to go all in on Bard (i.e., apps, Knowledge Graph, extensions) and make it co-equal to SGE in terms of content, after ChatGPT announced plug-ins, which could make it a viable search challenger. The company is pursuing a dual path, apparently, to see how consumers respond to each and see what sticks.

Ads Not Impacted

One thing that seemingly won't be impacted in any significant way by SGE is ads. In the screenshot below, Google shows a commercial query with an AI Snapshot. The large Snapshot appears below Shopping Ads. Google also said that the company was "exploring different ways to integrate [ads] as we roll out new experiences." Thus there may be ads, as speculated, within the AI Snapshot. It goes without saying that Google will be integrating ads into Bard results: "because ads are helpful content."

Source: Google I/O

We don't really know what local will look like within SGE or how the Local Pack could be impacted. For example, will there be a reconfigured version of the Local Pack (an AI Pack) for Snapshot or will Snapshot for local queries be something entirely different? Google is probably trying to work all this out.

Local Services Ads (LSAs) have proven to be very successful for Google and I wouldn't expect them to go away. Indeed, SGE could make LSAs even more prominent and important than they are today.

Competing with Amazon

SGE and Bard+ could together help Google claw back share from Amazon in product search. Somewhere between 50% and 70% of shoppers start their buying journeys on Amazon. But Google's combined assets (i.e., Shopping Graph, local inventory data and other capabilities) could potentially deliver a better experience in Bard – especially as Amazon over monetizes SERPs and sees more review fraud.

Imagine a version of the following prompt: "Show me the highest rated air purifiers and all the stores within 10 miles that currently have them in stock; also show me e-commerce sites selling the same machines and their prices." Answering this type of complex query is now possible with AI chat. It's just a question of the data, which Google presumably has. Amazon couldn't match that output.

In this kind hypothetical query, ads will be showcased and may take on even greater prominence in the SERP. Organic results may be less visible and we can imagine more zero-click results under the new AI regime on SGE and especially Bard+.

As a consumer I don't necessarily want to wade through lots of third party information – especially AI-generated bland/thin content – and have to evaluate its credibility. (This is one of the reasons behind the flight to TikTok by some people: SERP fatigue.) If Google gives me answers or a qualified list, that may be enough.  

Zero Click, SEO and BingGPT

The impact of SGE and Bard+ on consumers will likely be positive; most will probably welcome the enhanced search capabilities AI brings. SEOs may be less enthusiastic as prime organic slots are pushed further down the page. AI Snapshot SEO and Bard+ SEO are wildcards at the moment. It's still very early.

It's probably safe to say that as AI gets better, zero-click SERPs will become more prevalent. AI SERPs are the ultimate expression of "answers not links." There will clearly be instances where a user wants to verify information or go deeper but in a large number of use cases the AI answer may be sufficient. We'll need to wait and see over the next six months as these products evolve.

Finally, BingGPT's ascendancy is probably over. The AI capabilities Google showcased today will likely keep most Google users at home. Bing may continue to grow but Google has pretty much answered Bing feature for feature and gone beyond what BingGPT today offers. Microsoft will have to up its game. I believe that ChatGPT (with plug-ins) is ultimately more competitive with Google than BingGPT – as it currently stands.