The crux of it: instead of traditional results, your searches may be answered with a generative AI ‘snapshot’. Did Google just steal all your organic traffic by answering user queries on the results page?
In a word, no. SGE isn't going to steal your traffic. In fact, as long as you're creating helpful, user-first content that conforms to E-E-A-T, generative AI in search results will actually present even more opportunities to increase your search visibility and traffic.
What Google’s AI Search Generative Experience looks like
In SGE, certain search queries trigger a snippet of AI-generated text that aims to resolve the user’s query. This AI ‘snapshot’ is boxed in, sitting above the traditional results, containing links to a selection of websites relevant to the search query. There will be a number of suggested follow-up queries for users to choose.
“You’ll see an AI-powered snapshot of key information to consider, with links to dig deeper… You’ll also find helpful jumping-off points to web content and a range of perspectives that you can dig into.”
Note, however, that this AI snapshot is not completely replacing search results. The AI output will provide links to relevant websites in the form of a selection of clickable tiles. Recently, Google also revealed that the AI answer will also contain small dropdown arrows, which when clicked, displays a relevant resource that users can visit.
There will be an ‘Ask a follow up’ box — part of a new ‘Conversations’ feature. This conversational mode will allow users to ask follow-up questions and gather further information.
Some searches will also allow users to hover over potentially new or confusing terms to reveal a snapshot definition, with a link to a relevant resource.
Just as not every search query triggers a featured snippet at present, you won’t be seeing generative AI answers everywhere. For so-called ‘your money or your life’ (YMYL) topics, like health and finance, AI will be keeping a wide berth.
In recent months, Google has continued to roll out more new features in SGE. Namely, images and videos will feature in the AI generated snippets. Their example, focusing on removing stains from marble, shows how video content will be deployed in SGE.
‘SGE while browsing’
Google is making noises to suggest that SGE might even be able to accompany us throughout our internet browsing — not just when we’re on a search results page. This, rather aptly, is named ‘SGE while browsing’.
Here, its purpose is to help users digest long-form content by providing overviews and discover specific parts of content that interest them. These key pointers are AI generated. It’s currently classified as an experiment and is being tested on Chrome and the Google app.
When is Google’s Search Generative Experience being rolled out?
As of September 2023, Search Generative Experience is still being tested in Search Labs, which is only currently available in the US.
There’s no knowing how long it will take for generative AI to arrive in search results near you, but historically the UK rollout of Google’s latest products and features usually follow pretty quickly after the US.
Right now, according to Google, SGE is purely experimental. The testing process in Search Labs will surely see more tweaks and refinements.
The impact of Google Search Generative Experience on SEO and content creation
Goodbye featured snippets — hello AI?
Featured snippets have been the holy grail of any content SEO strategy for a while. They’re the excerpts of text that appear at the top of the search results in position zero for certain queries.
As a more detailed, dynamic and information-packed alternative, it might not be wildly unreasonable to suggest that SGE will replace the featured snippet. Google has been gradually reducing their number in recent years, anyway.
Less importance on the ‘top 10’
As Google moves further away from the traditional ‘10 blue links’ to SERPs that have greater and richer features, reporting only on ranking positions means you might be missing the bigger picture.
Ranking in the top 10 is always going to be a measure of search visibility success, but appearing as a cited resource in a generative AI snapshot could be an equally valuable position to hold for consumer trust, authority and awareness.
Compelling, relevant meta images may become increasingly important
With links to third-party sites throughout SGE output, there’s plenty of chance for your website to be included. But this also means that there’s quite a bit of competition.
One way of making the cards that link to your website more appealing and enticing is by including a nicely designed meta image that’s clearly relevant to the page.
Photos and videos will still be key for some searches
As Google announced that photos and videos are part of SGE output for certain searches, making sure you provide users with this sort of content is a key consideration for succeeding in an AI search landscape.
Examples of video-led search results where this might apply include searches like ‘how to install decking’, ‘how to do kick ups’ and ‘downward dog yoga pose’.
If you’re looking to attract users who are performing searches like this, levelling up your visual content might be key when SGE comes about (it should be already, to be honest!).
SGE might impact traffic for certain queries
For some time, Google has been moving towards promoting ‘zero click’ searches, aiming to completely satisfy a user’s question without requiring them to navigate away from the search results.
Whilst it might be tempting to see SGE as another step on this journey, Google is keen to stress that SGE is not designed to steal traffic from hard-working content creators. Phew.
“SGE is designed to be a jumping-off point for exploring helpful information on the web, with links to search results included alongside each AI overview.”
However, if Google can fully answer a user’s question on the results page, you might need to brace for a decrease in organic traffic. This could be particularly true for one-time queries like recipes, where digging deeper or further research isn’t always necessary.
However, given the complexity of most user journeys, it’s still likely that users will want to explore cited resources to learn more. The effects of SGE on organic traffic might be negligible — it’s all speculation at this point. Don’t forget, too, that generative AI won’t be triggered for every single query.
“As we bring generative AI into Search, we’re committed to continue sending valuable traffic to sites across the web.”
“It’s important to note that generative AI in Search remains an experiment and we’ll continue testing different ways of presenting results and listening to feedback, while prioritizing approaches that continue to drive traffic to relevant websites.”
User-first, informative content is as important as ever
SGE might raise the spectre of more zero-click searches and dampened organic traffic, but don’t consider abandoning SEO content creation. In fact, the case for comprehensive, user-first content is as strong as it’s ever been before — if not stronger.
To appear as a cited card in the generative AI output, you’ll need to demonstrate your expertise as a brand. Aim to answer all the questions your customers have through rich, in-depth content, like buyer’s guides and educational pieces.
Interactions with search engines could change with generative AI. The new Conversations feature, in particular, may give rise to more natural, long-tail search queries — as seen in the example Google provided: ‘what’s better for a family with kids under three and a dog, bryce canyon or arches’.
Changing behaviour may unveil some keyword research findings that forces a rethink into the content we create. To answer these natural language queries, will we need to create content that’s more conversational and ‘snackable’? The idea hasn’t changed — to answer your customers’ queries and fulfil their needs — but the way we do so in our content might.
Watch your publish dates
In August, Google also revealed that sources cited in the AI output will have a publish date. So, if you’re optimising some older content to include new information, don’t forget to give it a refreshed publish date — it’ll help the content to appear more relevant and recent to users, encouraging clicks from SGE.
What is the future for AI in Google Search?
Google might have form for quietly shelving new features, but AI is too big to ignore — SGE is here to stay. With Bing stealing a march, Google is desperate to embrace AI and has made SGE a cornerstone of its strategy; it will surely become a long-term feature of search results.
No doubt bods at Google will be frantically monitoring the appetite for (and engagement with) these AI generated snippets. Considering Google Search is by far the brand's most successful and lucrative product, changes are sure to be measured and carefully calculated.
Expect SGE to further evolve and adapt as it’s tested in Search Labs. We certainly can’t wait to try it here in the UK!