How Is AI Changing the Future of Digital Marketing? Google Search and AI: The Future of Paid Search

Passion Digital Passion Digital 16/02/2024 11 minutes

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past year, you will be aware of ChatGPT and its meteoric rise to fame in November 2022. It became the fastest-growing consumer application of all time, amassing over 100 million users in the two months after launch, before Threads surpassed its record in July 2023. For countless people all around the world, signing up for ChatGPT marked their first taste of AI-driven chatbot search.

In this blog post, we explore what is the future of AI and how it is transforming the search landscape. As a PPC agency, we’re particularly interested in how brands can adapt their search strategies to rank in new AI-powered search engines, as well as use AI tools in their paid search campaigns.


AI and Search

This revolutionary technology is eliminating the frustrations of sifting through irrelevant results and generic answers, ushering in a personalised and efficient journey to knowledge. AI isn’t just changing how we search; it’s redefining the very concept of ‘search.’ The act of information retrieval is evolving from a passive, transactional process into an active, engaged journey of discovery. With its ability to personalise, contextualise and enrich the search experience, AI is the driving force behind a more informed, empowered and human-centric approach to acquiring knowledge.

The Battle Between Google and Bing

In the realm of search engines, Google has long reigned as the uncontested leader, dominating market share. However, Microsoft’s decision to integrate OpenAI’s ChatGPT into Bing got Google a bit nervous at the time and ushered in a new era of what Wall Street Journal columnist Christopher Mims refers to as “answer engines.”

Unlike traditional search engines focused on retrieving the right web sources to answer a user’s query, these advancements using AI means there’s a shift towards providing direct answers without a real need to refer to websites. Bing was the first search engine to announce its AI-powered SERP and commenced the battle of the SERPs to technologically advance.

The new Bing

Microsoft’s acquisition of OpenAI – the company that developed ChatGPT – marks a momentous challenge to Google’s longstanding dominance. Satya Nadella, Chairman and CEO of Microsoft, highlighted the significance of AI in a press conference in 2023, stating:

“AI will fundamentally change every software category, starting with the largest of all – search.”

As of March 2023, Bing rolled out access to its new “AI-powered co-pilot for the web”. When you type in a search query, Bing will generate a traditional SERP with featured snippets, as well as offering an AI-generated response that you can use as a starting point for a chatbot conversation.

Google Gemini

Not to be outdone, Google announced the launch of its own AI chatbot, Gemini, the day before Microsoft launched the new Bing. However, Google stock prices were hit when an incorrect response from Bard (now known as Gemini) caused consumer trust in the technology to wobble. Gemini is now available in more than 230 countries in over 40 languages at Unlike Microsoft, as of 23rd January 2024, Google hasn’t yet integrated its chatbot search function into the regular Google search engine, except in its Search Generative Experience (SGE) experiments in a handful of countries.

Interesting fact: when we first wrote a whitepaper on the Future of Search in February 2023, we asked Jasper AI – an AI-powered writing assistant – “What is Google doing to compete with AI chatbots?”, it told us about Google Duplex, which is its voice-based AI offering. It was announced that Duplex will retire from the web in December 2022. So, Jasper AI missed both the Google Bard (now known as Gemini) announcement and the retirement of Duplex and as such, gave an answer that was completely out of date in a fast-moving industry.

This exposes one of the main hurdles of the current crop of AI tools: keeping its index up to date. Bing Chat had this to say when asked “How up to date is the Bing chat database?”:

“The Bing Chat database is updated periodically based on the latest data and models available. According to the Microsoft CEO of Bing Search, Mikhail Parakhin, Bing Chat‘s models take several months to train, so users can expect the models to be updated maybe three times a year or so. The models are updated outside of some small RLHF tuning runs. The last update for Bing Chat was on June 2, 2023, when the number of chat turns and the image creator feature were improved.”

Google Bard (now known as Gemini) said the following:

“The Bard database is continuously updated with new information from the web. This means that the information I have access to is generally up to date, but there may be some lag time for some topics. For example, if you ask me about a recent news event, I may not have the most up-to-date information if it happened within the last few hours.”

The Evolution of the Google SERP

If you look back at what the Google SERP looked like ten years ago, there is a marked difference to how it looks today. It’s difficult to notice the gradual changes the tech giant makes to its SERP given the frequency that we all use it, but ten years ago the results were all text-based and looked quite dull compared to what it is now.

Today, the SERP is much more experiential, pulling different links, videos, very image-based and predictive. The future is more visual in search, whatever format your search will take, the results will be more and more visual.

2024: here comes SGE

In 2024, Google’s SGE experiment is set to come to the UK. You can find out more about how SGE will impact paid search in one of our blog posts, but the key difference is that the search engine will feature an AI chatbot at the top of the SERP for users to get answers to their query in succinct ways, often without the need to click onto the websites that Google has used to provide that response. This may seem like a huge threat to search marketers, however there are ways to optimise your strategies to compete in the new SGE.

Optimising content for AI-driven visibility in SGE

  • Increase long/short form content, focus on search intent and questions that users might have in the new search
  • Trustworthy, authoritative, educational, focused, expert opinions and advice
  • Snackable components in larger content pieces so that it makes it easier for the AI to pull into the Snapshot
  • As users consume more content formats, Google will prioritise multimedia – posts, articles, podcasts, images, audio, video etc.

AI and paid search: Optimising ads for SGE

  • Target a variety of intents, with many subsets
  • Higher focus on paid search, less on organic links
  • Greater importance of images and video
  • Less focus on short/single keywords, more on long tail conversational search terms
  • Broad matched keywords, Smart Bidding, RSAs, conversion tracking etc.

Visual Search and the Rise of ‘Lens’ Options

One of the important developments in search that is sometimes overlooked is the growth of visual search as opposed to traditional text search. Rather than using text to describe what you’re looking for, you can use an image as the search query.

This is not new – Google’s Reverse Image Search has been available since 2011 – but it is growing more sophisticated thanks to developments in AI and machine learning.

How it works:

  • A smartphone user uploads or takes a photo with their phone
  • The software uses computer vision to interpret the image and pull relevant results
  • Search results, which could be similar images, product listings, websites, translations (the list goes on!), appear on the screen

Google Lens

Google is responsible for making visual search commonplace with Google Lens. What started as a standalone app in 2017 has been slowly integrated into other Google products (including Google Photos and Google Assistant) and as of 2022, has now replaced Reverse Image Search and is fully available on the web.

There are so many uses for the technology:

  • Shopping – you can take a picture of an item and pull results of visually similar items online
  • Barcode and QR code recognitionyou can follow a link directly from a QR code to a website without having to download a specific app
  • Translation – taking the smart text function a step further, it allows you to translate menus or street signs by simply holding your camera up to it
  • Location identification – it can identify your surroundings and provide information like business reviews or opening hours

Google Multisearch

In April 2022, Google announced the next iteration of Google Lens: Google Multisearch, which allows you to augment your visual search using text prompts.

For example, you could use Google Lens on the Google search app, to search a picture of a black and white jacket that you like and then add the query ‘blue and white’ to change the colour of the results.

Google Multisearch addresses the rising appetite for visual answers and a resistance to waiting, scrolling and sifting through too much information. Ultimately it makes finding answers quicker and easier than ever.


On 17th January 2024, Google upgraded AI-powered multisearch in Google Lens, for everyone in the US. With this, you can either take a photo, upload a photo or upload a screenshot, then you ask a question about it in the search box and Google will use its generative AI to give you an answer. The feature is an update to the multisearch capabilities in Lens, which allows web users to search using both text and images at the same time. Previously, these types of searches would take users to other visual matches, but with AI-multisearch you’ll receive AI-powered results that offer insights as well.

Circle to Search

Google’s latest feature, “Circle to Search,” introduces a convenient way to search for details without switching apps on your mobile. Elizabeth Reid, Vice President of Google Search, emphasises the user-friendly nature of the feature, stating that “with a simple gesture, users can find information by circling, highlighting, scribbling, or tapping on images, text, or videos”.

Available on premium Android phones from 31st January 2024, this feature allows you to summon Google within any app, including video apps such as YouTube.


Here’s how it works:

1. See something intriguing? Circle it! Whether it’s a fashion item in a video, a landmark in a photo, or a confusing term in an article, simply draw a circle around it with your finger

2. Google Lens kicks in, instantly analysing the circled object and understanding your intent

3. Get straight answers. No more wading through endless image results. Circle to Search delivers concise text responses, like brand details, product information or even links to buy swimming goggles for your dog!

Circle to Search works across any app, eliminating the need to jump back and forth, ready to answer any visual question that you may have and linking you directly to sites.

Using Google’s AI Products for Paid Search

There is a lot of innovation happening around generative technology within Google. The idea is to make it easier for paid search practitioners to make ads, run campaigns and improve results.

Conversational experience in Google Ads

Within Google Ads, PPC practitioners can have a conversation with a chatbot to help them create better search campaigns. The chatbot can help generate keywords, copy, descriptions, images, everything a practitioner would be doing more manually will be helped along by AI. This will free up time for PPC specialists to focus on the best data to feed the machine to get the best results in their campaigns.

Automatically created assets

Google is launching new technology to create assets using AI and A/B test these different creatives to help determine what drives clicks and performance. There will be hundreds if not thousands of different assets created, which makes the whole process of paid search more efficient and less manual, hopefully getting better results.

Revamped asset creation flow in Performance Max

Performance Max (PMax) involves running ads not just across search, but across the entire Google ecosystem including Display and YouTube. The idea is that brands using PMax are harvesting demand across Google, increasing reach and visibility. Search does still make up a large portion of PMax, but because it is so much more visual, you can use new AI technology within Google Ads to help you easily generate those text and image combinations that you need to run PMax activity. This again frees up time for paid search practitioners to focus on the strategic performance levers of their campaigns.

Product Studio

This new AI-powered tool will help enhance and create high quality product images for PPC practitioners in search ads. The tool will tell you what imagery will work, change colours within an image, increase resolution of existing assets, bring items to the forefront and so much more. This is a game-changer for smaller brands that cannot always afford the luxury of a creative agency for beautiful ad assets.

Where Does Google See the Future of Paid Search Going?

Where Does Passion See the Future of Paid Search Going?

“If you want to know the future, look at the past.”

Albert Einstein

Although not a marketer, Einstein was a genius, so we took a leaf out of his book and looked at what the paid search environment was like back in 2009 when our Joint Managing Director started working in the space.

“Paid search, it’s about optimisation, performance is delivered through keyword refinement, bid management and iterative testing. To make a difference you need to be trading the media every day, looking for the competitive advantage.”

Owen Osztotis, PPC Executive, 2009

“A paid search role is all about leveraging data and letting machine learning do the heavy lifting. There is still a place for manual optimisation, it’s calibrating the machine rather than operating it.”

Owen Osztotis, Head of Digital and Managing Director, 2024

The landscape of paid search has steadily shifted towards automation in the past decade, showing no signs of slowing down. In fact, with SGE and the surge in generative AI products, technological advancement is accelerating. But how do advertisers gain a competitive advantage if we all have access to these tools? Do the humans behind the machine make a difference? The answer is absolutely yes.

You may not be directly trading the media, but you control the inputs and calibration of the machine. AI is only as good as the inputs we provide, so ensuring that you supply good data and optimise towards relevant goals that suit your business and your aim is crucial.

It can often feel for those who have been working in the paid search landscape for some time, that your performance levers have disappeared and you don’t have that control that you used to. The key here is to accept the legacy performance levers that are no longer performance levers including, keywords, manual bidding and ad copy. This will give you space to focus on vital performance levers like your website which is fundamental to paid search and quality score.

In a similar vein, reassessing your KPIs in the new world of paid search is important so that you understand how to pivot your strategy. Metrics like Cost Per Clicks (CPCs) were an important KPI three years ago when you could influence it directly, but as you can’t directly influence this now, it’s a waste of your time agonising over it. Time and effort are best put towards what you can influence.

Automation promises efficiency and growth, but before we jump in, let’s debunk some common myths about automation.

Busting Myths About Automation

What Is the Future of Effective Paid Search?

The Future of Paid Search will revolve around increased automation, diversified ad formats and a deeper understanding of customer journeys. But the Future of effective Paid Search looks like the below: a constant loop between good insight and strategy going in, activating the right channels and collecting good data to be able to feed back into the strategy.

A good future Paid Search Practitioner will think strategically, inquisitively, boldly, knowledgeably and analytically. These culminate in being a top problem solver and that’s essentially what we must be as marketers. We have to Imagine Better to solve problems and use the tech, data and resources available to us, combining creative and critical thinking to truly succeed in the Future of Paid Search.

AI has revolutionised search, providing personalised and efficient results. The competition between Google and Bing underscores the importance of AI in shaping the search landscape and the evolution of visual search adds even more into the mix for marketers.

The Future of Paid Search will be driven by automation and a deeper understanding of customer journeys, but human expertise remains crucial in calibrating AI systems.

Essentially, effective paid search requires a loop of insights, strategic activation and data refinement. At Passion, we combine creativity with critical thinking, to leverage AI and navigate the evolving search landscape successfully. Get in touch if you want to learn more.