Google CEO on the evolution of Search and SGE

Google Search will continue to evolve in the direction of Search Generative Experience. That’s according to Alphabet/Google CEO Sundar Pichai, who recently spoke about AI, Search and more at the 2024 Business, Government & Society Forum at Stanford University.

The future of information and answers. AI has been transforming Google Search for years. Google hasn’t been “10 blue links” for a long time, Pichai said, adding:

  • “When mobile came, we knew Google Search had to evolve a lot. We call it featured snippets, but for almost 10 years now you go to Google for many questions we kind of use AI to answer them. We call it web answers internally. … We’ve always answered questions where we can. But we always felt when people come and look for information. People, in certain cases, want answers but they also want the richness and the diversity of what’s out there in the world and it’s a good balance to be had and we’ve always I think struck that balance pretty well.
  • “To me all that is different is now the technology by which you can answer is progressing. We will continue doing that. But this evolution has been underway in search for a long, long time.
  • “We’ve done all this in Google Search for a long time and people like it, people engage with it, people trust it. I view it as a natural continuation. With LLMs and AI, I think you have a more powerful tool to do that, which is what we are putting in Search with Search Generative Experience and so we’ll continue evolving it in that direction, too.”

Answers vs. search. Google’s mission has been to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. Google historically has done its best to reflect what’s on the web and provide trustworthy, high-quality information.

Pichai mentioned the search rater guidelines are one way Google represents the viewpoint of its user base. And we know from Pandu Nayak’s testimony in the antitrust trial that Information Satisfaction (IS) scores from raters are a key metric for assessing search quality.

But the arrival of Google SGE and AI-generated answers has had many brands, SEOs and content creators concerned that searchers would no longer click on websites – because they got the answer directly from SGE. Since introducing various types of web answers, Google has tried to strike a balance, Pichai said.

  • “There are certain times you give an answer – “what’s the population of the United States” – yes it’s an answerable question. There are times you want to surface the breadth of opinions out there on the web, which is what search does and does it well. Just because you’re saying we are summarizing it on top doesn’t mean we veer from those principles. The summary can still point you to the range of opinions out there,” Pichai said

AI improving Search. Pichai has long said AI is more profound than fire or electricity. What excites Pichai about AI is how it can help improve Search.  

  • “I feel the weight that people come to search at very vulnerable moments. … Trust is hard-earned, easy to lose. We have to re-earn it all the time …
  • “It’s difficult to do this consistently well across the entirety of what humanity is looking for, which is what excites me about search and providing information and knowledge and is what I see as the opportunity. AI is an exciting technology which will allow us to do it better than before. But it’s a technology we have to carefully deploy in a way that we are responsible while doing so.”

Why we care. AI has radically reshaped Google Search and SEO over the past year – and we’re expecting more big changes in the coming months. It’s always good to understand where Google Search is heading, as opposed to where it is or was. Also, it can’t be left unsaid that Pichai’s interview rings a bit hollow, especially in light of the many valid criticisms of the quality of Search results and SGE answers we’re seeing at this point in time.

Dig deeper.

The interview. You can watch it here. 

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