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As search engines race to incorporate ChatGPT technology, where does that leave digital advertisers?

Heard on:
Yusuf Mehdi, Microsoft Corporate Vice President of Modern Life, Search, and Devices, speaks during a keynote address announcing ChatGPT integration for Bing at Microsoft in Redmond, Washington, on February 7, 2023.

Jason Redmond/AFP via Getty

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Today, Microsoft unveiled how it would be incorporating ChatGPT technology into its search engine Bing. ChatGPT is that artificial intelligence tool that can basically write your 10th grader’s European history essay.

Microsoft showed off how the new and improved Bing can concisely summarize the Gap’s quarterly financial report from a PDF, plan your trip to Mexico for you, convert code from one programming language to another, and so on.

Meanwhile, Google is set to unveil its AI chatbot called Bard in the next few weeks.

But here’s a couple questions the new Bing or Bard may have some trouble answering: what do AI chatbots mean for digital advertising, the lifeblood of search? What does it mean for the publishers who rely on traditional search traffic for eyeballs?

AI chatbots look like they’ll be pretty good at answering informational searches with detailed summaries of content already published online — no link-clicking required. Things like knowing what stucco is, the exact number of the debt ceiling, and what may be causing a pesky rash can get answered quickly. But this could be a problem for the people who actually made the content.

“That is a negative for publishers. If the information you get is already delivered to you in this chatbot form, that takes away from your opportunity to deliver page views,” said Aaron Kessler, an analyst with Raymond James.

It could also be a problem for search advertisers and the companies that rely on them. (Also known as: Google.)

Oded Netzer at Columbia Business School said with sponsored links less relevant in a chatbot environment, digital advertising will change.

“We’re probably going back more to the display advertising model, meaning we have an article and next to the article there is advertising, right?” Netzer explained. 

He said that may be less lucrative for Google because people are more likely to click a sponsored link. Netzer added that he doesn’t see traditional search disappearing immediately, though. That’s partly because AI chatbots sometimes just make up information when they don’t know the answer. 

“I think the biggest hurdle to search going away is the truth-telling,” Netzer said.  

Microsoft is including footnotes and links next to its AI chatbot to help users look up sources and fact-check results.

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