Will AI search replace traditional search engines in the future?

AI’s disruptive nature is changing our online search habits. This intriguing development is also presenting a challenge to publishers, marketers, and SEO experts. Get ready to rethink online search!

AI search: image of a futuristic pair of eyes looking at a screen
Image: © CraftyImago / AdobeStock

AI is changing our lives

Industry experts from the German Association for the Digital Economy (BVDW) already summed it up perfectly earlier this year: artificial intelligence is one of the megatrends of 2024. The topic is keeping professionals in the digital economy and beyond on their toes, and no one can avoid it anymore. According to Eva Werle, Vice President of the BVDW, the AI hype surrounding ChatGPT and other such tools has triggered a range of reactions from various industries in the past year – whether skepticism, curiosity, or even complete enthusiasm, virtually every opinion has been represented. Werle also emphasized another fact: AI is here to stay.

I don’t think the AI hype is anywhere near finished. It’s only just getting started! A year after the ChatGPT hype, I think AI will move more and more into the implementation phase in 2024 and we’ll feel its impact along the entire value chain – from digital companies to traditional industries.

Eva Werle, Vice President of the BVDW, in an interview with DMEXCO

With that in mind, the AI transformation is still in the early stages. Many publishers and marketers already tapped into the amazing potential of generative AI last year, and companies and agencies have now built AI tools into their processes. However, the technology is by no means fully developed yet: it can and will fundamentally change how our society functions. That may sound a bit far-fetched, but it’s a serious prospect. The extensive transformation is already forcing publishers, marketers, and SEO experts out of their comfort zone, making them rethink their work methods and business models.

AI search instead of search engines

Searching for information, reading up on topics, and solving problems are all part of normal human behavior. Digitalization has already revolutionized how we do that – namely using search engines. It’s now completely natural for us to search for information using Google and other sites, leaving the good old encyclopedia and yellow pages to gather dust on our bookshelves. But is the concept of search engines already being threatened? As it happens, artificial intelligence is edging closer and closer to stealing the crown of big search engines. In the long term, changes in search habits could have a major impact on the continued success of business models that are geared toward organic search traffic.

Is AI search a new trend?

Accelerated by the groundbreaking success of ChatGPT, many of us are now using generative AI in our day-to-day lives – not just to generate creative output, but also to search for information and have things explained to us. AI models have been trained using huge datasets, meaning they can draw on an enormous wealth of information just like search engines can. For a lot of people, that makes them a convenient alternative to the usual search sites because the chatbot of a language model can directly respond to countless queries, without users having to scroll through search hits. AI tools sometimes even provide links to relevant websites in their responses, making them a new gatekeeper when it comes to searching for information.

In fact, many people regard artificial intelligence as a highly credible source of information. Mainz University of Applied Sciences and Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz recently presented a joint study on the topic, revealing some surprising findings: the study participants rated AI-generated and human-generated content as similarly credible, and even argued that AI-generated content has greater clarity and appeal.

AI search in a new world

Andi tool and AI search
Image: screenshot from andisearch.com

Of course, generative AI tools won’t directly or immediately replace traditional search engines. After all, the companies behind the search engines are implementing their own AI integrations. For example, Microsoft Bing has incorporated GPT-4 for some time now – initially as Bing Chat and since February 2023 in the form of the Microsoft Copilot app. The direct integration of the latest ChatGPT version in the Bing search engine was even rolled out to iOS recently. Given the popularity of the iPhone operating system, this will certainly accelerate changes in search habits.

Not long ago, Google also introduced its Search Generative Experience (SGE) – starting with the U.S. and then branching out into more than 120 countries. SGE is a new generative AI feature that is directly integrated into Google Search’s SERP (search engine results page). It generates highly precise responses to a search query and prominently displays them alongside the actual search results. SGE is also designed to create new monetization options, for example by directly integrating ads into the AI-generated responses. This is of particular interest to publishers, since it’s expected that users will increasingly focus their attention on new AI integrations like SGE, which could jeopardize the performance of traditional advertising spaces and top rankings.

New solutions for searching for information

Against this backdrop, an entirely new generation of smart search tools is currently attracting interest. These combine traditional online research with a language-model chatbot and include solutions such as Andi, Perplexity, you.com, and of course Gemini (formerly Google Bard).

Although the above solutions and others may not currently pose a genuine threat to popular search engines, it’s possible that chatbot-based language models will knock traditional search engines off their pedestal or merge with them in the long run. This development obviously hasn’t gone unnoticed by publishers, marketers, and SEO experts. Language models ultimately offer brand-new channels for marketers to communicate their messages and for publishers to generate reach from ads in AI results. Professionals from both disciplines also need to be prepared for the eventual possibility of losing traffic from traditional organic search along with their advertising spaces. So, a lot is at stake, making the role of SEO specialists all the more important going forward.

AI optimization – a new playing field for SEO professionals

We’re already seeing initial attempts at placing content such as links and brand names in AI output – with some success. In this respect, the SEO expert Malte Landwehr published an article on LinkedIn, highlighting that it’s possible to influence language models – which is completely new ground. Among other things, this development also makes it very clear that artificial intelligence will bring about far more changes than we initially thought. The key will be to stay up to speed with this trend and other developments – and we offer just the platform for that! At this year’s DMEXCO in September, you can look forward to learning more about the topic of AI search. Until then, our stories will give you plenty of extra insights!