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Google vs. Google (via Microsoft Copilot / Dall-E 3, ironically

I was wrong.

And I was right.

And I was right for the wrong reasons.

In November 2012, I wrote in Ad Age about how Google was disrupting itself. In one of the ballsier predictions I’ve ever written, one I’d have sworn never came from me if I didn’t reread it, I said the “war whose most interesting battle will be the one Google is waging against itself” and added, “I predict that search will be dead in 2020.”

Whoa, was I wrong on that one.

But the rest of the column is all too relevant today.

I wrote, “… Google is exploring other business models that may diminish its cash cow of search engine marketing. The bet that Google is making is that consumer behavior will shift so Google needs to stay relevant and profitable however those shifts happen, even if it means disrupting itself.”

The column focused on the shift from desktop-centric data to richer mobile-centric data, and beyond the failed prediction itself, the rest of it feels prescient. Consider this section:

Predictive recommendations could potentially preempt the need for a lot of the more vague and broad “head terms” in search such as “new car,” “mortgage,” “flowers,” or “hotels” if technology can predict when people will be in the market for such products. A lot of the changes should also happen with the infrequent and specific “tail” terms. Instead of typing “one dozen roses free shipping,” the data engine would already know that, when this shopper sends flowers, it’s usually a dozen roses from a company that doesn’t charge shipping fees – so for that customer it’s just a matter of recommending flowers at the right time. People will train technology with their behavior, and the technology will train people as the relevance of its recommendations increases.


Not bad, right?

Just look at the last sentence there. Could I have really written this in 2012? It feels far more apropos for 2024.

Welcome to the age of generative AI.

Search remains Google’s cash cow – or Alphabet’s cash cow.

With AI chat, there currently are no ads.

Google, its hand forced, launched Bard, which delivers content you’d not just have to search for that’s surrounded by search ads, but often gives you answers without making you go to ad-supported sites.

Google is disrupting itself constantly.

So does this mean Google’s dead?


Alphabet, perhaps most like its peer Microsoft, is a survivor. Both have outlasted what should have been existential threats and emerged stronger.

For Google itself, the nature of search has already changed. Retail searches commonly start on Amazon. Millennials and Gen Z tend to turn to TikTok and Instagram for a lot of the content they previously would have searched for.

Yet Google’s “search and other” (mostly search) revenue reached $48 billion in Q4 2023 – a single quarter. That’s up nearly 13% over Q4 2022, and a percentage point higher of the share of Google’s ad revenue for the quarter ($65.5 billion most recently).

If Google’s search business is really dying, I hope I look that good when I’m on my way out.

But Google is at least entertaining the idea that if generative AI trends will disrupt search, it wants to be the one disrupting itself. It wants to control its own fate, forcing it to invent new monetization models.

It doesn’t help that the glut of content produced through automation tools is contributing to what many see as a worsening search experience. You might have seen headlines such as those in Vice – “A ‘Shocking’ Amount of the Web Is Already AI-Translated Trash, Scientists Determine,” and Mashable – “It’s not just you, Google Search really has gotten worse.”

If more of that automated content is being created by Google’s tools like Bard, it is one hell of a way to die — by asphyxiating on its own cud.

But what about external threats?

OpenAI’s ChatGPT would seem to be the most natural challenge to Google, as would Microsoft which invested in OpenAI and uses OpenAI’s tech to power its own Copilot suite.

The tech cognoscenti that I know, however, point to Perplexity as the real Google killer.

Consider this LinkedIn post two months ago from investor and prognosticator Jeremiah Owyang:

“Perplexity is so much better than Google search. Period. I use Google search only as a backup now. 20 years of behavior unlearned in just a few months. Massive disruption, sorry Google friends. Innovate as fast as you can!”

Coincidentally, as I wrote this column, The New York Times tech columnist Kevin Roose came out with this column: “Can This A.I.-Powered Search Engine Replace Google? It Has for Me.” The subheader? “A start-up called Perplexity shows what’s possible for a search engine built from scratch with artificial intelligence.”

It’s a timely read, and fittingly, it ends with Perplexity CEO Aravind Srinivas discussing their odds of being a Google killer:

Srinivas told me in an interview that while he believed Google was a formidable competitor, he thought that a small, focused start-up could give it a startle.

“What makes me confident is the fact that, if they want to do it better than us, they would basically have to kill their own business model,” he said.


Google’s team seems to appreciate Srinivas’s view.

If any company is going to kill Google, Google would prefer it be Google.


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Keep checking out the #jobs channel in Serial Marketers for more. Also, check out the AI Marketers Guild job boardFor other job resources for marketing jobs, see a long and regularly updated list here.


Director of Marketing
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New York City or Miami
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Vice President of Revenue Operations
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United States (On-site)
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