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Google Could Learn from Bing as It Targets AI Search Ads


Jun 17, 2024

Microsoft and Google are integrating ads into their AI-driven search experiences, but users don’t always find them helpful.

For years, Paula Thompson, vice president of client strategy at the US digital ad agency Optimal, has been buying ads on Google and Microsoft Bing to help Plunge sell cold-water baths. These ads typically appear at the top of search results for terms like “ice bath” and direct users to purchase pages. However, with Microsoft’s AI-enhanced search, the ads now encourage users to “learn about the benefits of cold plunging” and direct them to informational content instead.

This shift is an early example of how search chatbots like Bing Copilot are impacting advertisers. Google recently announced it would begin testing ads in its AI Overviews search feature, leading ad buyers to closely examine the effects of Microsoft’s Copilot. Both Google and Microsoft generate substantial profits from search ads, so maintaining a balance between advertiser needs and user experience in AI search features is critical.

However, users have reported irrelevant and potentially misleading ads in Bing’s AI search. For example, a query about ice baths might return ads for unrelated products like backpacks or weight-loss tips might show ads for fat-freezing belts, which were not among the AI’s suggestions. Some users on Reddit have noted seeing ads for dietary supplements in responses unrelated to their queries.

Kya Sainsbury-Carter, corporate vice president of Microsoft Advertising, acknowledged that ads are intended to be highly relevant, suggesting that improvements are needed. James Murray, senior product marketing manager for advertising, explained that Copilot ads consider not just search terms but also earlier questions in a conversation, auto-generated prompts, and the AI-generated response itself. This approach aims to introduce serendipity, showing ads for related products even if they weren’t specifically requested.

While this method might help users discover new options, it also risks showing irrelevant ads. Google’s approach aims to ensure ads are directly relevant to both the query and the AI response, potentially offering a more focused user experience.

As Google explores AI-integrated search ads, it could benefit from examining Bing’s challenges and successes to create a more effective and user-friendly advertising model.

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