Report: Google Considers Charging For AI Search Features Like SGE AI Overviews

Apr 4, 2024 - 7:51 am 12 by
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A report from the Financial Times (subscription required) says that Google is considering charging for some of its AI-related search features, such as the Search Generative Experience (SGE) and AI overviews. This is likely because of the cost to serve AI search results and because the SGE interface would severely impact ad revenue.

The report says, "Google is working on the biggest shake-up of its search business by charging for new “premium” features powered by generative artificial intelligence, the first time it would put any of its core product behind a paywall." "The proposed revamp to its cash cow search engine shows the company is still grappling with a technology that threatens its core advertising business, almost a year and a half after the debut of ChatGPT," it added.

What specifically? Well, likely how they added paid features to other Google services, like Google Docs. "Google is looking at options including adding certain AI-powered search features to its premium subscription services, which already offer access to its new Gemini AI assistant in Gmail and Docs," the Financial Times wrote.

Supposedly this has been coded and engineered but Google's top executives have not decided yet if they will launch it.

Why would Google dare ask users to pay for search features when it has never done this before? Well, it is about how Google SGE AI overviews probably will result in a lack of searchers clicking on both publisher and advertiser links, as I wrote back in May 2023. I also recently wrote on Search Engine Land about some of the reasons why Google hasn't launched SGE yet. I thought maybe Google can show AI results only when ads are not shown but this report says Google may go the other extreme and not show AI results if searchers do not pay.

The article said that Google "has been slow to add any of the features from what it calls its “Search Generative Experience” experiment to its main search engine." Google although recently started testing SGE AI overviews in the wild, without having to opt into it.

The article said Google has been slow to roll it out because it is costly. "These kinds of search results, which include an “AI-powered snapshot”, are more costly for Google to serve up than its traditional responses because generative AI consumes a lot more computing resources," the report wrote.

The article also mentioned the ad revenue impact, saying "Some analysts have warned that Google’s ad business could suffer if its search engine provided more complete AI-generated answers that no longer required users to click through to its advertisers’ websites."

Finally, it might upset publishers who produce the content that the AI uses to generate answers. "Also, many online publishers that depend on Google for internet traffic fear fewer users will visit their sites if Google’s AI-powered search extracts information from their web pages and presents it to users directly," the report wrote.

The article also has some statements from Google:

Google said the company was “not working on or considering” an ad-free search experience but that it would “continue to build new premium capabilities and services to enhance our subscription offerings across Google”.

“For years, we’ve been reinventing Search to help people access information in the way that’s most natural to them,” said Google. “With our generative AI experiments in Search, we’ve already served billions of queries, and we’re seeing positive Search query growth in all of our major markets. We’re continuing to rapidly improve the product to serve new user needs.”

It added: “We don’t have anything to announce right now.”

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