The Point: Why This Matters

  • Search game up for grabs? Google, Microsoft, and Baidu are competing in the AI-powered search engine market.
  • ChatGPT got search fire started. The rise of ChatGPT, a language model developed by OpenAI, has enabled users to interact with search engines in a more conversational and intuitive manner and has the potential to revolutionize the way people access information.
  • Marketers: adapt, and adapt now. As competition in the search engine industry heats up, marketers will need to find innovative ways to reach their target audience and may need to shift their focus from keyword-optimized content to creating experiences and adopting more conversational content.

Start your search engines — because an AI battle is brewing. In an ongoing artificial intelligence power struggle, Google, Microsoft and now Baidu are on the quest for search engine dominance.

While Google reigned supreme for decades, and still does, the rise of ChatGPT and how generative AI will integrate into the way we access information in the future will significantly impact what it means to be a marketer and content-generation organization.

The Future of Search: Major Players Take on AI-Powered Search Engines

In the span of just 10 days, the next generation search engine industry has seen major developments as Google introduced its new experimental conversational AI service, Bard, Microsoft announced plans to upgrade Bing with a faster version of ChatGPT and China's leading search engine, Baidu, is reportedly set to launch its own ChatGPT-style bot next month.

At the heart of all the hubbub is ChatGPT, a highly advanced language model developed by OpenAI that enables users to interact with search engines in a more conversational and intuitive manner and has the potential to revolutionize the way people access information. Within five days of its launch on Nov. 30, 2022, ChatGPT already had more than 1 million users. As of January 2023, the next gen chatbot reportedly now has an estimated 100 million active users — making it the fastest-growing application of all time, according to a recent UBS study.

By offering a cutting-edge conversational experience with the ability to answer questions, assist with tasks such as emails and coding, ChatGPT has become a valuable tool and search engines are vying to stay ahead of the curve by beefing up their game with AI.

“What happened with ChatGPT is that people got to experience AI as a search engine vs. an AI-enabled chat, which I think people have heard of, but just didn’t care that much about outside of some customer service applications,” said Ross Quintana, CEO and creative director at Social Magnets. “As people realized how powerful AI-centered search was, the lightbulb went off for users and this woke Google from its sleep. As for Google, adapting from a successful model can feel like abandoning ship when there is nothing wrong, but it is likely the forward-thinking needed to be positioned properly in the next round of search engine wars.”

Related Article: Google Announces ChatGPT Rival 'Bard,' the AI-Powered Search

Marketing in the Age of AI

As competition in the search engine industry heats up and AI becomes increasingly integrated, marketers need to find innovative ways to reach their target audience, because the outcome of this AI-infused battle will ultimately determine the future of how marketers connect with consumers.

With the rise of conversational search and AI-powered search engines able to understand the intent behind a user's query, marketers may need to shift their focus from keyword-optimized content to creating experiences and adopting more conversational content.

Victor Elmann, CMO of Circuit City, said the integration of ChatGPT into Bing is definitely a hot topic in the world of ecommerce with several implications for retailers.

“In terms of SEO, the faster and richer version of ChatGPT could have a significant impact on the way we optimize our content for search engines. It's important for us to stay updated on the latest developments and adjust our strategy accordingly,” Elmann said. “Moreover, the integration of GPT-4 could also affect our content strategy. As search engines become more sophisticated, the content we produce needs to keep up and be even more targeted, relevant, and valuable to our audience.”

Quintana said the old search model focused on matching sites and then ranking relevance, but today, information vs intelligence is a key factor in the future of search.

“One of the big aha moments is that users get context instead of just matches,” Quintana said. “Technology is going from being a tool to create an outcome, to just creating outcomes. AI is leapfrogging the collection and use of information, and this has significant implications for search and beyond.”

As for how it will impact marketers, Quintana believes that as information is converted to intelligence, the marketing ecosystem will be empowered to go beyond end-user context and understanding.

“This hybrid intelligence of AI and end user will accelerate growth, streamline production and increase capability,” he said. “Normally we would get some time in the ‘AI will enable us’ phase before the ‘AI will do it’ phase would evolve — but my prediction is they will launch simultaneously and within a year the ‘AI will create’ phase will be advanced enough to compete with much of the creator market.”

A New Era of Personalized, Conversational Search

As of January 2023, Google accounts for about 84% of the global search market (88.1% of the US market.) And amid the changing winds, it’s a spot on the leaderboard Google intends to maintain. This week, the company announced that its own conversational AI service, Bard, powered by its Language Model for Dialogue Applications (LaMDA), would be available in the coming weeks.

“Bard seeks to combine the breadth of the world’s knowledge with the power, intelligence and creativity of our large language models,” Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google and Alphabet, said in a statement. “It draws on information from the web to provide fresh, high-quality responses. Bard can be an outlet for creativity and a launchpad for curiosity.”

Coming in a distant second, Microsoft’s Bing currently has about 3.03% of the worldwide search market (6.7% in the US). In an effort to close the gap, after an initial investment of $10 billion in OpenAI’s ChatGPT, Microsoft recently announced it had extended that partnership “through a multiyear, multibillion dollar investment to accelerate AI breakthroughs” and has integrated its search engine with a faster version of ChatGPT — called GPT-4 — within weeks, according to a report from Semafor. Additionally, the company announced it will leverage Azure OpenAI Service and GPT into Microsoft Viva Sales.

Rounding out the top five search engines worldwide is Baidu, a search engine native to China. Baidu claims .65% of the worldwide market according to Statcounter — but with Google banned in China, Baidu is that country’s top search engine and reports the company will launch an AI chatbot service like OpenAI's ChatGPT in March have people buzzing.

Learning Opportunities

Related Article: Microsoft's Azure-OpenAI Integration Tempered by 10,000 Layoffs

The Evolving NLU Landscape of Search Engines

The General Language Understanding Evaluation (known as GLUE) has served as the broadly accepted standard for how well an AI system incorporates natural language understanding (NLU) — a critical component to a successful AI chatbot. The average human scores about 87 points out of 100.

In 2019, Baidu became the first team to surpass a score of 90 (better than a human — and the first to score higher than Google) with its model for natural language understanding, ERNIE (Enhanced Representation through kNowledge IntEgration). ERNIE was released in response to Google’s 2018 release of its own model, BERT (Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers).

After more teams surpassed the average human score, a new, more challenging version was created, called — SuperGLUE — in 2021 — Baidu led the pack with ERNIE 3.0.

On Jan. 10, during its Baidu Create 2022 conference, three new additions to the company’s AI arsenal were unleashed — including Big Model ERNIE 3.0 Zeus and Big Model ERNIE-ViLG 2.0.

Currently, the SuperGLUE lists Microsoft’s Turing NLR v5 team as number three on the leaderboard with a score of 90.9. Baidu’s ERNIE 3.0 ranks in at number four on the leaderboard, with a score of 90.6. And Google's latest and most advanced NLU model, T5, ranks in at number nine with a score of 89.3. OpenAI’s ChatGPT score of 71.8 brings it in at number 24.

Redefining How We Search, Learn, Work Create

While Google has enjoyed a lengthy reign at the top — it was just over 20 years ago when Google ranked third on the search engine charts, behind Microsoft's MSN and Yahoo!, according to Jupiter Media Metrix figures for March 2002.

“The perfect storm is here for Bing if they can take advantage of it because there is a lot of hype right now surrounding ChatGPT and AI,” Quintana said. “If they integrate it into the proper experience as well as redefining what search can be with a great user experience before Google can respond they could take market share.”

However, he notes that the mistake Bing is still making is a homepage full of posts and top stories most people find irrelevant.

“People are there to search for what they want, not see what you want to show them,” Quintana said. “This is the thing Google mastered a long time ago and I am surprised to see Bing still hasn't adopted the simple search bar page.”

In the end, the integration of AI and ChatGPT technology in search engines is rapidly changing the game. And unless Google can hold onto the reigns, the winner could upend a monolith.

“Bottom line, this acceleration of technology capability will create a bit of a wild west of AI over the next few years,” Quintana said. “And the AI gold rush will create winners and losers — and redefine how we search, learn, work and create.”