Generative AI in Google Search: what it might mean for your SEO & content strategy
Johnny Metcalfe

By Johnny M


Generative AI in Google Search: what it might mean for your SEO & content strategy

Generative AI is coming to Google Search results pages. What might this mean for SEOs and their content strategies?

In recent months, SEOs have been scrambling to unpack the significance of generative AI, in particular ChatGPT’s impact on content creation.

As was revealed at the 2023 Google I/O conference, generative AI is now also coming to Google Search. It’s called ‘Search Generative Experience’ — or SGE.

This potentially seismic change to Google Search has already sent shockwaves rippling through the SEO community. What might the impact actually be? Did Google just destroy SEO?

We don’t think this is the case at all — in fact, generative AI in search results might present even more opportunities for SEOs to prove their value and boost search visibility for their brands…

What Google’s AI-driven Search Generative Experience will look like

For certain search queries, ‘above fold’ content — that is, the content that’s visible without having to scroll — will now contain a snippet of AI-generated text that aims to resolve the user’s query. This AI ‘snapshot’ will be boxed in, sitting above the traditional results. 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.”

It seems as though these generative AI snapshots can vary in length and are comparable to a much more detailed featured snippet.

Note, however, that this AI snapshot is not completely replacing search results, as many feared. It appears that Google’s SGE will provide citations; to the right side of the generative AI snippet, there looks to be a selection of clickable tiles linking to relevant third-party resources that were used to generate the answer, or contain more information relevant to the user’s query.

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 or gather further information.

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 — we already know that AI will be keeping a wide berth.

When is Google’s Search Generative Experience being rolled out?

As of May 2023, SGE is currently being road tested in Search Labs, which is only 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.

How will Google Search Generative Experience impact SEO content creation?

‘Optimising for AI’?

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.

So, just as SEOs talk about optimising for featured snippets, could we soon talk about optimising for Google’s generative AI snapshots?

Featured snippets have been a key focus for SEO content creators for several years, but we know Google has been gradually reducing their number. Generative AI in SGE seems an appropriate long-term replacement for the featured snippet.

It 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. SGE looks like another step on this journey.

Therefore, for certain queries, we might need to brace for some sort of decrease in organic traffic if Google can fully answer a user’s question on the results page. 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 and consult ‘below the fold’ results 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.”

User-first, informative content is as important as ever

Although generative AI raises the spectre of more zero-click searches and dampened organic traffic, 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.

Google’s search ranking systems reward brands that create content demonstrating ‘E-E-A-T’ — expertise, experience, authority and trustworthiness. Continue to create unique, user-first content for your audience, making the most of your in-house experts.

If you do, Google’s sure to look favourably on you and you’ll be best-placed to thrive in a generative AI Google Search era.

A rise in conversational search queries?

Interactions with search engines could change quite dramatically 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.

What is the future for AI in Google Search?

Generative AI is here to stay and will surely become a long-term feature of search results. Whilst Google might have form for quietly shelving new features that don’t prove to be the hit they expected, SGE’s tentative rollout in the US will surely gather pace in the coming months.

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 their most successful and lucrative product, changes are sure to be measured and carefully calculated.

If you’d like a helping hand keeping on top of all these changes, our SEO team would be delighted to chat. We’ve delivered clear, measurable results for clients across all sectors — check out some of our SEO work for brands across home and garden, health, travel, food and drink and photography.

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Content Strategist

Johnny has been working magic with words at Extreme since 2016, with a particular focus on SEO content strategies. Fancy taking your organic search visibility up a notch? He's your guy.

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