ChatGPT, the first AI chatbot accessible to the public, shocks and amazes its users by answering a wide range of questions using natural language processing. ChatGPT can generate text and programming code, write poems, do math—the list goes on and on. ChatGPT is now the fastest-growing application, with 100 million users.
Now that Microsoft has ensured access to ChatGPT for its search engine, Bing, it has forced Google to do something that Google has long avoided: release its generative AI bot into the wild.
The “t” in ChatGPT stands for Transformers, which Google actually created; literally putting the T in ChatGPT! As Microsoft invested early and pushed forward, Google waited, with a cautious approach, stating the need to “establish specific application areas [Google] will not pursue…[to avoid creating] technologies that cause or are likely to cause overall harm.” While those are noble principles, Google’s behavior is also that of a company with a huge lead and a built-in incentive to maintain the status quo. Microsoft on the other hand, had $224B reasons to be more aggressive and to force action from Google. Or, as Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella put it, “[we want] people to know that we made them dance”. When the history books are written, Microsoft wants to lay claim to being the cutting-edge company that sparked the AI revolution. And Microsoft now has first mover advantage in this AI bot race, leveling the playing field and potentially setting up what could be an epic heavyweight tech showdown in this lucrative search engine ad space.
THE SEARCH WARS
For the first time ever, Microsoft may take a significant portion of Google’s dominant search engine space this year. As SEM marketers, we roll our eyes at this news, because at this point, that’s an article we see every year. And what ends up happening each time? Google maintains its dominance and Bing falls far short of its promise. But now Microsoft owns the shiny new toy of the tech world, and what if ChatGPT-powered Bing Chat is superior to Google’s Bard? Microsoft is betting $10B on exactly that to make Bing the cutting-edge tech company it used to be.
THE PERFECT STORM
If you zoom out and examine all factors, you’ll see Google is facing a perfect storm of predicaments, making this the perfect time for Microsoft to strike. Even before ChatGPT, Bing had quietly increased its global search share by 60% over the last three years, while Google is down (very slightly) 3%.
Google must navigate a minefield of tricky predicaments:
- Its dependency on a diminishing search ad space, while Microsoft has three revenue streams (Office, Xbox, Azure)
- A legal battle that some are calling “the biggest antitrust challenge to tech since the DOJ’s epic battle with Microsoft in the late 1990s”
- That legal battle actually helped Google and Apple to emerge
- Risking hastiness while trying to catch up to ChatGPT
- A perception that Google isn’t as competent at cloud computing as Microsoft (a key component in curbing AI bot training costs)
- A perception that blackhat SEO has compromised search results to the point that users have to Google “reddit + search query” in order to receive better results
- Gen Z skipping Google and searching via TikTok
And now this: an altogether new search engine modality, the search engine bot.
To assess whether Microsoft has a genuine opportunity to gain a substantial market share in the search engine industry, we need to look at the nature of search engines today, and where they are headed.
WHAT DOES A SEARCH ENGINE DO? CONNECT OR PUBLISH?
Does a search engine connect you with publishers/websites like a broker?
Or does it become the final destination, i.e., the publisher?
These two modalities of what a search engine does are at the crux of the debate.
Historically, Google has been better at both modalities, the broker and the publisher. We’ve all witnessed Google’s superior algorithm provide a more relevant list of sites for a particular query. We’ve also seen Google the publisher with Knowledge panel, featured snippets, position 0, and other similar approaches where the searcher gets all of the answers without leaving Google.
The objective is clear: the longer you’re on Google, the more opportunities you will search, and the more opportunities for Google to learn more about you and serve relevant ads. But now that Bing has ChatGPT powered Bing Chat, will it become a superior publisher to Google? Some experts think so.
HOW SHOULD SEM ADVERTISERS RESPOND?
We’ve shown that this year and this situation are different—Google is in a very difficult situation—and it has even brought back its founders to help navigate this critical juncture. This is also a big moment for SEM advertisers. With Bing Chat already gaining traction, advertisers need to be aware of the potential shift in the industry and how to respond to it.
Historically with Bing, if advertisers found the right demographics, they could drive a little bit more revenue at a typically great ROAS due to lower CPCs. For example, one Stella Rising B2B client is experiencing a 5x greater ROAS via Bing than Google this year. The problem, however, has always been scaling volume.
But that is changing. In just one week since launching Bing Chat, Bing’s app received as many downloads as it did in the entirety of 2022. And with such a high-tech advantage, the nature of Bing’s demographics also seems poised to diversify.
One response for businesses and advertisers: hedge your bets and make sure you’re buttoned up on both platforms, Google Ads and Microsoft Ads.
Ask yourself: If you are not advertising on Bing, when was the last time your brand tested it? If your brand does use Bing, when was the last time that you treated the Bing platform with the same level of scrutiny as you do your Google Ads account? Is your Bing Ads expertise at the same level as your Google Ads expertise?
Here are a few other questions to consider:
- Does your brand have the latest UET tags set up?
- If not, Bing won’t understand your website and its feedback and your optimizations will be compromised.
- Have you checked impression share loss due to rank/budget?
Have you checked the audiences?
- Are you leveraging all the relevant ad extensions?
Make no mistake—Google is still very much dominant and worthy of the majority of your brand’s SEM investment—but this is also moment for diversifying that investment.
ULTIMATELY, WHAT DOES CHATGPT MEAN FOR SEM?
ChatGPT, or Google’s version, Bard, should positively influence search engines, as that technology will engage users, and those searchers will stay in-platform longer. More searchers creates more opportunities for ads. Bing is already working on an ad format specifically for Bing Chat, and we have to imagine that Google is not far behind.
Furthermore, and this is especially true in the tech space, competition drives innovation. For a long time—let’s face it—there was no true competition. But now, search is poised to evolve more in the next few years than it has in the last decade and a half.
Until ChatGPT, TikTok stole much of the digital marketing buzz. But now, there is renewed energy, conversation, and excitement around search engines—we expect that to spark opportunity for search engine advertisers.