Ad Tech & Programmatic

What Google’s VP and GM of Search Ads has to say about AI-powered results

Users still click on links that show up in AI-generated answers to queries, Shashi Thakur said.
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Shashi Thakur

· 4 min read

Through all the upfronts hullabaloo, advertisers might have missed some big news from Google, which is that AI search is not only ready for prime time, but is already officially rolling out in the US.

Google has been testing generative AI-enabled features in search for at least a year, but their effects on the internet ecosystem—from publishers to search advertisers to SEO experts—are still unclear.

Marketing Brew spoke with Google vet Shashi Thakur, who six months ago became the company’s VP of search ads and who leads ad products for Search and other Google tools, like Maps and Discover, about the new AI Overviews feature and what we can expect.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

What can advertisers expect from AI Overviews? How do you plan on incorporating search ads within the AI experience?

The essence of AI Overview to me is that users ask a question, and we seek information from across the web and stitch it together into a coherent and readable answer. This is building on our rich history of delivering answers to our users…Over time, what we have observed is that the more you do to satisfy user needs, through answers or otherwise, users come back for more. They ask more questions, and the data grows over time. So that’s one thing to note, and we’re seeing that with AI answers.

Even as they were honing this experience…we have been showing ads alongside AI answers. You’ll see that sometimes the ads appear above AI answers, sometimes they appear right below the AI answers. They complement the content of the answer with actions for commercial intent…From the advertiser’s point of view, I would say it just presents another opportunity for them to present their commercial intent and commercial actions to users.

How were advertisers involved in Search Labs and beta tests of AI Overviews?

Advertisers themselves have not been directly involved because advertisers are already bidding for the top position [in search advertising], and we built on that foundation.

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In terms of what we’ve learned? Users love AI answers. They come back for more…When ads come along and complement the answers with commercial actions, we see users engaging with those ads.

There was a report in Adweek where one publisher predicted publishers industrywide could lose $2 billion in ad revenue because of AI search. How are you thinking about publishers’ concerns?

The way we think about this is that the pie grows, because we’re satisfying user needs…In commercial queries, things that deserve a commercial action, there’s always a need to click through to somebody—whether it’s an insurer, or a merchant, or a travel site. There’s always a need to click through to complete your action. Given that, there’s always an opportunity for advertising to come in and bid for that.

You’re convinced users are going to keep clicking?

We are seeing that happen.

Any stat or research to back that up?

No stats to share at this moment.

If these search answers are so smart, what kind of impact does that have on Google’s display advertising business, or Google’s programmatic business? If I don’t click, won’t I see fewer display ads?

We provide links within the AI answer. The AI answer is not just a blob of text. There is text, and there are links embedded within that ad.…The diversity of publishers that users are clicking into is higher with the presence of links inside the AI answer.

When you put those two together, there is still a healthy amount of user interest, not just in consuming the AI answer or the AI Overview, as an end-all, but to click to understand more. These two things that I’ve said—the increase in diversity of clicks and higher clicks for links embedded inside the AI answers…Those tell you that users are actually showing an interest to dig deeper and click into publishers.

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