Google's Sundar Pichai On AI Overviews Killing Web, Smaller Publishers & Search Console Data

May 21, 2024 - 7:41 am 8 by
Filed Under Google

Sundar Pichai Decoder Interview

Nilay Patel, Editor-In-Chief of The Verge, interviewed Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google, at Google I/O, and the 40-minute interview released yesterday dug into a lot of the concerns we have been covering here. This includes how AI Overviews may kill the web, how smaller/independent publishers are dying, and if we can get data in Search Console.

Here is the interview, well worth watching:

At 4 minutes in, Nilay showed some of the headlines on how Google's AI Overviews will kill the web and the publishing industry. Sundar responded that there were similar headlines in 2010, similar headlines when users switched to mobile devices, similar headlines when featured snippets launched. In short, Sundar thinks the web will not just be fine but grow.

He said, "I remain optimistic." "I think users are looking for high-quality content," meaning, people who read AI Overviews, want to see more information from publishers.

He even said, what Hema from Google told me, "In fact, if you put content and links within AI Overviews, they get higher clickthrough rates than if you put it outside of AI Overviews."

Then Nilay brought up the Housefresh and Retro Dodo small and independent publishers and how those sites are literally dying. Note, they are not dying from AI Overviews, but from the Google core updates (I am not sure Sundar knew this...).

Pichai responded, "It’s always difficult to talk about individual cases, and at the end of the day, we are trying to satisfy user expectations." Sundar Pichai said he is not seeing this trends on an aggregate basis, meaning, there are always going to be individual sites complaining but as the whole, things are going the right way for most publishers. He said:

It’s not clear to me if that’s a uniform trend. I have to look at data on an aggregate [basis], so anecdotally, there are always times when people have come in an area and said, “Me, as a specific site, I have done worse.” But it’s like an individual restaurant saying, “I’ve started getting fewer customers this year. People have stopped eating food,” or whatever it is. It’s not necessarily true. Some other restaurant might have opened next door that’s doing very well. So it’s tough to say.

He then says again, people are clicking off AI Overviews to publishers. He said, "But overall, when we look at user journeys, when you give the context, it also exposes people to jumping-off points, and so they engage more." He added:

I look at our journey, even the last year through the Search Generative Experience, and I constantly found us prioritizing approaches that would send more traffic while meeting user expectations. We think through that deeply and we actually change our approach. If there are areas where we feel like we haven’t fully gotten it right, we are careful about rolling it out. But I think what’s positively surprising us is that people engage more, and that will lead to more growth over time for high-quality content.

"There’s a lot of debate about what high-quality content is. At least in my experience, I value independent sources, I value smaller things, I want more authentic voices. And I think those are important attributes we are constantly trying to improve," he added.

And then about AI Overviews being the answer and not driving traffic. Sundar said if they do that, what incentive would there be for publishers to continue to create content. Google would need that content and it is not in th best interest for Google to decentivies the creation of high quality content.

On an aggregate, I think people rely on this value of the ecosystem. If people over time don’t see value, website owners don’t see value coming back from Google, I think we’ll pay a price. We have the right incentive structure. But obviously, look, we are careful about... there are a lot of individual variations, and some of it is users choosing which way to go. That part is hard to sort out. But I do think we are committed at an aggregate level to do the right thing.

Then Nilay mentioned this blog, saying:

I was reading some SEO community trade publications this morning responding to the changes, and one of the things that was pointed out was that, in Search Console, it doesn’t show you if the clicks are coming from a featured snippet or an AI Overview or just Google’s regular 10 blue links. Would you break that out? Would you commit to breaking that out so people can actually audit and verify and measure that the AI Overviews are sending out as much traffic as you say they are?

This is how he answered that - in short, it is up to the Search team, not him:

It’s a good question for the Search team. They think about this at a deeper level than I do. I think we are constantly trying to give more visibility, but also we want people to create content that’s good. And we are trying to rank it and organize it, so I think there’s a balance to be had. The more we spec it out, then the more people design for that. There’s a tradeoff there, so it’s not clear to me what the right answer is.

Sundar also said if Google can sift through the AI answers and provide high quality responses and weed out the low quality responses, that is where they can win. He said, "how do we differentiate high quality from low quality? I literally view it as our mission statement, and it is what has defined Search over many, many years." "Our entire search quality team has been spending the last year gearing up our ranking systems, etc., to better get at what high-quality content is. If I take the next decade, [the] people who can do that better, who can sift through that, I think, will win out," he added.

Then Nilay took Sundar through some examples of AI Overviews and asked if Google is the destination or way point. One example was a copy word-for-word of a publisher. In which, Sundar replied that you can always find bad examples and one-offs but overall, the AI Overviews are adding value and will continue to get better.

Here are some good posts on this interview that I found:

Danny Goodwin has a good summary of the key points from the interview over here too.

Forum discussion at X.

 

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