Google Ads VP/GM avoids questions on AI-Powered Search impact on publishers 

May 22, 2024

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Google’s Shashi Thakur says users love AI Overviews and still click on links in AI-generated answers but gave no stats to back it up. 

In the recent Marketing Brew interview (May 22), Google’s VP/GM of Advertising, Shashi Thakur, gave a politician-worthy reply by avoiding questions most SEOs need answering, instead directing the conversation to AI Overviews.

Ryan Barwick gave the interview, asking whether users would click links in AI Overviews. 

Thakur’s response:

  • “We are seeing that happen.”

Thakur was also asked whether Google would share its research and stats to back up its claims, and his response was:

  • “No stats to share at this moment.”

Danny Goodwin of Search Engine Land summed up what many SEOs are thinking: 

  • “Google is facing heavy criticism about the quality of Search results and from brands and content creators who are afraid they will get less organic search traffic. Meanwhile, Google is so carefully wordsmithing its answers in a PR-friendly way–to focus on how much users love AI answers–that it feels forced, inauthentic, or even fake.” 

Shashi Thakur’s answers are strikingly similar in style to Google’s CEO, Sundar Pichai, when asked in a recent interview about concerns over AI-powered Search disruptively affecting website traffic (link to relevant post).

Google’s apparent policy of `talk enthusiastically about AI Search, provide zero data to back up your claims, and avoid the negative impact AI-powered Search might have on publishers` is getting a little old.

As Danny Goodwin put it:

  • “This manufactured enthusiasm is wearing thin. Where’s the proof? Why won’t Google share any actual data?”

What can advertisers expect from AI Overviews?

Barwick led the interview with the above question; here’s Thakur’s reply: 

  • “The essence of AI Overview to me is that users ask a question, and we seek information from across the web and stitch it together into a coherent and readable answer. This is building on our rich history of delivering answers to our users. Over time, what we have observed is that the more you do to satisfy user needs, through answers or otherwise, users come back for more. They ask more questions, and the data grows over time. So that’s one thing to note, and we’re seeing that with AI answers.”
  • “Even as they were honing this experience…we have been showing ads alongside AI answers. You’ll see that sometimes the ads appear above AI answers; sometimes, they appear right below the AI answers. They complement the content of the answer with actions for commercial intent. From the advertizer’s point of view, I would say it just presents another opportunity for them to present their commercial intent and commercial actions to users.”

Thakur avoids questions regarding fewer clicks for publishers

Barwick asked about display ads on publishers’ sites; here’s how it played out:

Barwick`s questions:

  • “If these search answers are so smart, what kind of impact does that have on Google’s display advertising business or Google’s programmatic business?”
  • “If I don’t click, won’t I see fewer display ads?”

Thakur redirected the conversation to AI Overviews, which aligns with Google’s approach of addressing publishers’ concerns about their sites receiving fewer clicks in Google Search results.

Thakur`s reply:

  • “We provide links within the AI answer. The AI answer is not just a blob of text. There is text, and there are links embedded within that ad. The diversity of publishers that users are clicking into is higher with the presence of links inside the AI answer.”
  • “When you put those two together, there is still a healthy amount of user interest, not just in consuming the AI answer or the AI Overview, as an end-all, but to click to understand more. These two things that I’ve said—the increase in diversity of clicks and higher clicks for links embedded inside the AI answers…Those tell you that users are actually showing an interest to dig deeper and click into publishers.”

Thakur spoke about commercial clicks

Although Thakur wasn’t asked about AI search and clicks for commercial queries, he steered the interview in that direction. 

  • “Users love AI answers. They come back for more. When ads come along and complement the answers with commercial actions, we see users engaging with those ads.”
  • “In commercial queries, things that deserve a commercial action, there’s always a need to click through to somebody—whether it’s an insurer, or a merchant, or a travel site. There’s always a need to click through to complete your action. Given that, there’s always an opportunity for advertising to come in and bid for that.”

Publishers care little about click diversity; they need traffic they can monetize. Thakur’s vague answers and zero data did little to ease their worries about the impact AI-powered Search will have on their organic search traffic.

Terry O'Toole

Terry O'Toole

Terry is a seasoned content marketing specialist with over six years of experience writing content that helps small businesses navigate where small businesses meet marketing - SEO, Social Media Marketing, etc. Terry has a proven track record of creating top-performing content in search results. When he is not writing content, Terry can be found on his boat in Italy or chilling in his villa in Spain.

SEO Power Plays

Read by 10,000+ world-class SEOs, CEOs, Founders, & Marketers. Strategy breakdown: monday.com's 77% traffic boost 🚀 + Industry news and expert tidbits every Wednesday 🔍 + in-depth SEO strategy tips every Sunday ✨