Google Search Adds “Web” Filter to Broaden Focus

Google I/O brought an almost exclusive focus on AI, including the announcement of Google Search’s “AI Overview” feature. This rollout, previously known as the Search Generative Experience (SGE), is now available across the US. This AI-powered feature appears at the top of many search results, especially questions, offering a summary scraped from the web. It’s a significant update that alters how users interact with Google Search, providing quick, sometimes-correct information without the need to click on individual results.

AI Overview differs from the SGE trials in several key ways. Firstly, it’s significantly faster than SGE. For popular queries, Google is now caching the AI answers, which helps to reduce the high cost associated with running generative AI models. When there’s a cached overview available, the AI box loads instantly alongside the initial search results. In contrast, SGE responses would appear word by word, as if being typed by a person.

When a cached result isn’t available, you’ll see a blank AI overview box that loads with the search page, displaying the message “searching” while it loads for a second or two. Occasionally, Google may attempt to load an AI Overview but fail, showing the message “An AI overview is not available for this search.”

When Google determines that your query is suitable for AI Overview, it dramatically alters the layout of the search results page. Here’s what you might encounter as you scroll through:

  • First page:
    • Half of the screen is taken up by AI Overview.
    • Another box with answers extracted from websites.
  • Second page:
    • “People also ask” box suggesting related queries.
    • One search result.
    • Video box.
  • Third page:
    • Bottom half of the video box.
    • “Discussions and forums” section with Reddit and Quora posts.
  • Fourth page:
    • Finally, the traditional 10 blue links.

Throughout this scrolling, there’s no ad block alongside the AI Overview. However, ads are expected to appear alongside AI Overviews in the future. Despite rolling out AI Overviews to everyone in the US in the most prominent spot on the Google Search page, Google still classifies “Generative AI as experimental.”

Google has announced that AI Overviews cannot be turned off in the main search engine. While there’s still a “Labs” icon in the top right with checkboxes for AI features, these settings are no longer respected for certain queries, which may still trigger an AI overview. However, Google has introduced a new “Web” filter, alongside other filters like “Videos,” “Images,” “Maps,” and “Shopping.” This filter, which is meant for what used to be a web search engine, can appear in the main tab bar depending on the query, although it’s typically found in the “More” section.

When you find and use the Web filter, the results resemble old-school Google: you’ll get 10 blue links, and everything else such as Google Maps and answer info boxes will be disabled. Unfortunately, unlike old-school Google, these are still the current Google web results, which tend to be dominated by SEO sites rather than page quality.

Google has begun rolling out AI Overviews to “hundreds of millions of users” this week, with plans to reach “over a billion people” by the end of the year as the feature expands to more countries. Google claims that links included in AI Overviews receive more clicks than if the page appeared as a traditional web listing, though this claim is met with skepticism. When Google displays content from sites at the top of the results, rearranged with AI, why would users click through to the original page? This behavior is observed in social media where users often engage with surface-level information and move on without clicking through to the source.

For power-users who prefer traditional web results, using Google Search now requires more clicks. You need to navigate to “more” and select “Web” for actual web results. To ensure Google pays attention to the words you type, you might also need to click “Tools” and change “all results” to “verbatim.” Alternatively, some users are considering switching to more web-focused search engines instead of Google.