Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai recently discussed the future of search, affirming the importance of websites (good news for SEO). But how can that be if AI is supposed to make search engines obsolete (along with SEO)?

Search vs Chatbots vs Generative Search

There’s a lot of discussion about AI search but what’s consistently missing is a delineation of what is meant by that phrase.

There are three ways to think about what is being discussed:

  • Search Engines
  • Chatbots like Gemini or ChatGPT
  • Generative Search (which are chatbots stacked on top of a traditional search engine like and Bing)

Traditional Search Is A Misnomer

The word misnomer means an inaccurate name, description or label that’s given to something. We still talk about traditional search, perhaps out of habit. The reality that must be acknowledged is that traditional search no longer exists. It’s a misnomer to refer to Google as traditional search.

Sundar Pichai made the point that Google has been using AI for years and we know this is true because of systems like RankBrain, SpamBrain, Helpful Content System (aka HCU) and the Reviews System. AI is involved at virtually every step of Google search from the backend to the frontend in the search results.

Google’s 2021 documentation about SpamBrain noted how AI is used at the crawling and indexing level:

“First, we have systems that can detect spam when we crawl pages or other content. …Some content detected as spam isn’t added to the index.

These systems also work for content we discover through sitemaps and Search Console. …We observed spammers hacking into vulnerable sites, pretending to be the owners of these sites, verifying themselves in the Search Console and using the tool to ask Google to crawl and index the many spammy pages they created. Using AI, we were able to pinpoint suspicious verifications and prevented spam URLs from getting into our index this way.”

AI is involved in the indexing process and all the way through to the ranking process and lastly in the search results themselves.

The most recent March 2024 update is described by Google as complex and is still not over in April 2024. I suspect that Google has transitioned to a more AI-friendly infrastructure in order to accommodate doing things like integrating the AI signals formerly associated with the HCU and the Reviews System straight into the core algorithm.

People are freaking out because the AI search of the future will summarize answers. Well, Google already does that in featured snippets and knowledge graph search results.

Let’s be real: traditional Search no longer exists, it’s a misnomer. Google is more accurately described as an AI search engine and this important to acknowledge because as you’ll shortly see, it directly relates to Sundar Pichai’s means when he talks about what search will look like in ten years.

Blended Hybrid Search AKA Generative Search

What people currently call AI Search is also a misnomer. The more accurate label is Generative Search. Bing and are generative AI chatbots stacked on top of a search index with something in the middle that coordinates between the two, generally referred to as Retrieval-Augmented Generation (RAG), a technology that was created in 2020 by Facebook AI researchers.

See also: Google’s CEO On What Search Will Be Like In 10 Years


Chatbots are a lot of things including ChatGPT and Gemini. No need to belabor this point, right?

Search Vs Generative Search Vs Chatbots: Who Wins?

Generative search is an awkward mix of a chatbot and a search engine with a somewhat busy interface. It’s awkward because it wants to do your homework and tell you the phone number of the local restaurant but it’s mediocre at both. But even if generative search improves does anyone really want a search engine that can also write an essay? It’s almost a given that those awkwardly joined capabilities are going to drop off and it’ll eventually come to resemble what Google already is.

Chatbots and Search Engines

That leaves us with a near-future of chatbots and search engines. Sam Altman said that an AI chatbot search that shows advertising is dystopian.

Google is pursuing both strategies by tucking the Gemini AI chatbot into Android as an AI assistant that can make your phone calls, phone the local restaurant for you and offer suggestions for the best pizza in town. CEO Sundar Pichai is on record stating that the web is an important resource that they’d like to continue using.

But if the chatbot doesn’t show ads, that’s going to significantly cut into Google’s ad revenue. Nevertheless, the SEO industry is convinced that SEO is over because search engines are going to be replaced by AI.

It’s possible that Google at some point makes a lot of money from cloud services and SaaS products and it will be able to walk away from search-based advertising revenue if everyone migrates towards AI chatbots.

Query Deserves Advertising

But if there’s money in search advertising, why go through all the trouble to crawl the web, develop the technology and not monetize it? Who leaves money on the table? Not Google.

There’s a search engine algorithm called Query Deserves Freshness. The algorithm determines if a search query is trending or is newsworthy and will choose a webpage on the topic that is recently published, fresh.

Similarly, I believe at some point that chatbots are going to differentiate when a search query deserves ads and switch over to a search result.

Google’s CEO Pichai contradicts the SEO narrative of the decline and disappearance of search engines. Pichai says that the future of search includes websites because search needs the diversity of opinions inherent in the web. So where is this all leading toward?

Google Search already surfaces answers for non-money queries that are informational like the weather and currency conversions. There are no ads for those queries so Google is not losing anything by showing informational queries in a chatbot.

But for shopping and other transactional types of search queries, the best solution is Query Deserves Advertising.

If a user asks a shopping related search query there’s going to come a time where the chatbot will “helpfully” decide that the Query Deserves Advertising and switch over to the search engine inventory that also includes advertising.

That may explain why Google’s CEO sees a future where the web is not replaced by an AI but rather they coexist. So if you think about it, Query Deserves Advertising may be how search engines preserve their lucrative advertising business in the age of AI.

Read: Why Google SGE Is Stuck In Google Labs And What’s Next

Query Deserves Search

An extension of this concept is to think about search queries where comparisons, user reviews, expert human reviews, news, medical, financial and other queries that require human input will need to be surfaced. Those kinds of queries may also switch over to a search result. The results may not look like today’s search results but they will still be search results.

People love reading reviews, reading news, reading gossip and other human generated topic and that’s not going away. Insights matter. Personality matters.

Query Deserves SEO

So maybe the SEO knee jerk reaction that SEO is dead is premature. We’re still at the beginning of this and as long as there’s money to be made off of search there will still be a need for websites, search engines and SEO.

Featured Image by Shutterstock/Shchus