Search Generative Experience (SGE) & The Future of Search

  ●   November 7, 2023 | SEO
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November 7, 2023 | SEO

Since its introduction in May of 2023, Google’s Search Generative Experience (SGE) has already caused a lot of excitement (and maybe a little worry) in the SEO community. With the potential to change the future of search forever, it is a feature we’ve already started testing and hope to share some useful insights and actionable tips as we all prepare for what the final SGE experience will be.

What’s in this article?

What is Google’s Search Generative Experience (SGE)?

Google’s Search Generative Experience (SGE) is a relatively new experimental search engine feature that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to generate contextual answers to complex questions. Announced by Google in May 2023, SGE is still in its infancy and is still in development with its release estimated to be around Q2 – Q3 in 2024.

Ultimately, SGE is being developed to enhance the user experience of Google users. By providing an AI snapshot that is able to use information from multiple sources online, SGE provides better thought-out, conversational answers that considers different opinions while providing a summary that answers users’ queries.

Updates since it’s launch in May 2023 include (but are not limited to):

  • Links to the website where information is pulled from
  • Follow up questions within the AI snapshot 
  • Addition of videos to add to the experience
  • Advice and consideration on eCommerce purchases – e.g. considerations to make when purchasing an e-Scooter

Currently, SGE is available in the USA and India (in English and Hindi), however, as with most Google developments once tested and in a good working state plans to roll out across other locations will be likely.

Why should you be paying attention to SGE?

The fundamental way users make a search could change significantly with the introduction of SGE. 

One of the ways the future of search could be substantially changed is that the types of searches made will become much more conversational, which will lead to answers that are thought-out and offer variation of opinions for a topic, including follow up questions.

A potential effect of this is that less organic clicks will be made, as more answers will be provided in the AI snapshot generated. It is thought that as much as 30% of organic clicks could be lost due to SGE! Yet, some more recent discussions have some experts suggesting that in its current state, as much as 70-80% of organic clicks could be lost for particular industries.

This could change from one industry to the next. For example, for eCommerce, when asking for information on a product, the information provided in the generated AI snapshot could mean less clicks to individual sites trying to find various information during the investigative stage.

The truth is SGE is still changing and because we don’t know what the final product will look like, we don’t know what the full impact will be on organic clicks. For now, keeping an eye on developments and being ready to adjust your organic strategy is important.

4 Key SGE challenges webmasters will face

Since SGE is new and we ultimately don’t know what the final product will look like, one of the key challenges is the element of the unknown. Essentially, we have limited understanding of how to optimise content in preparation for when SGE is rolled out. There are some actions we can take (which we’ll get to shortly), however, there is no way of measuring just how much of an impact each action has in getting us to appear in the AI snapshot generated in SGE.

Here are some other key challenges that SGE could present for websites:

1. Paywall content is used in SGE if Googlebot is given access

This is one challenge that could ultimately change by the time SGE is fully rolled out but as of November 2023, premium content that sits behind a paywall (for good reason) can ultimately appear in the generated AI results. This means that if your business model is based on people paying for this premium content, you could find yourself losing conversions or revenue.

Google-Extended robots.txt instruction was released in September of 2023 and while initially raising excitement Google confirmed that it doesn’t stop content from appearing in SGE.

Read our guide on preventing AIs from crawling your content

2. The Volatile State of SGE

From testing the results generated by SGE over the last few months, including the same priority terms for clients, we have seen that:

  • Queries triggering an AI overview often change
  • The response layout and specific elements are always changing
  • Number of ads shown alongside the generated AI snapshot often changes
  • Content in AI overview, including which sources are used, is changing (it seems as though Google is testing out an algorithm that pulls in the best answers to provide a conversational answer that gives users the answers needed)

3. The Process for ranking in SGE is still limited

Since Google’s SGE is still in beta mode, there isn’t a clear answer as to how to appear in the results. 

From experiments we’ve run in the last few months, we have been able to uncover some insights, but it is worth bearing in mind that by the time SGE goes live some of these will not be relevant:

  • Sites with strong E-E-A-T signals tended to appear more often. Make sure to emphasise any expertise amongst business owners, authors, and contributors to website content
  • You are more likely to appear in SGE if you are in the top ten results, however, we found no correlation between appearing in the featured snippet spots and your chances of appearing in the generated AI results overview.
    It is worth noting, however, that ranking in position one and two did seem to give more of a chance of appearing in the SGE AI-generated overview.

4. There is currently no way to track a website’s performance in SGE

With SGE still in beta mode, this one is not a surprise. Let’s hope once there is a full rollout, some of the data on how often a website has its content pulled into the genAI results can be tracked. This will be a game changer as actions taken can be measured and this will allow us to create a strategy based on the data and not just from trends we notice.

Some of the key trends and insights from SGE so far include:

  1. Spike in eCommerce queries: With the aim of having improved user intent, understanding generative AI results should ultimately be able to provide users with a more personalised shopping experience and more detailed answers to specific considerations and features on products they are searching for. This could lead to more eCommerce searches being made. Although, the impact on actual clicks to organic results below generated AI results could be considerable.
  2. Importance of images more pronounced: With a key element of the generated AI overview being the images pulled from the different sites used to generate the answer, you want to make sure that people click on your website results page. The image used by each site is going to impact which result is more often clicked on by users. Ensuring your images are enticing and represent the information on the page accurately will help you not only appear for the right terms but also get clicks to your site.
  3. Ever-changing landscape: I’ve mentioned it a few times already (I’m sure you noticed) but it’s worth repeating: we are in the early stages of SGE and, as such, the landscape is always changing. Keeping on top of what changes continue to happen will keep you in good stead ahead of when SGE is fully rolled out. As with all search developments, being an early adaptor will give you a competitive advantage and ensure you can adjust your strategy as needed.
  4. More zero click searches: By providing more in-depth insights and conversational answers to complicated queries, a number of terms, which would previously have led to clicks on a number of sites to find suitable and holistic answers, could potentially be fully answered within the generated AI overview in SGE.

Actionable tips you should consider in preparation for SGE

Even with the challenge of not knowing what the final SGE AI overview will ultimately look like when released, there are some key actions we can confidently recommend off the back of the analysis we’ve carried out in the last few months.

Some of the key actions include:

  1. Build a strong E-E-A-T score: Ensure you clearly demonstrate the expertise and experience of business founders, content writers/authors, and employees of the business throughout your website. If there is a lack of expertise for some of the topics you are covering then invite experts to write a post on your site. This also includes showing any professional bodies you are part of, awards the business has won, and testimonials from clients. Building your brand’s reputation online will also help build trust with Google. One of our key recommendations is to get an E-E-A-T audit done to identify key actions for your website/business.
  2. Answer all key questions on your priority topics: One of the key features of SGE is the follow-up questions provided in the AI generated snapshot. This could be a game-changer and if you want to improve your chances of appearing more often in the SGE results, then answering questions that appear in the overview is a good idea. Ultimately, answering all key questions your audience could ask around a topic is a good idea. Along with SEO tools, consider using forums, question and answer sites and even sites like AnswerThePublic, AlsoAsked, and even Google Trends to unearth key questions around your chosen topics.
  3. Ensure images are engaging, of high quality, unique, and enticing: For each of the website sources used to generate the AI results overview, an image is pulled. This means that one of the key elements that will determine whether someone clicks on your link versus a competitor is the image pulled from the page. Keeping your images relevant, unique, engaging, and of high quality are some of the factors you need to consider
  4. Keep up to date with the latest SGE strategy: The truth is we still don’t know what the final SGE product will look like. Keeping up to date will ensure you’re not left behind and you can take advantage of any new opportunities that present themselves.
  5. Put important keywords and search terms at the start of titles and descriptions: This is a somewhat basic SEO recommendation, however, sometimes ‘basic’ is overlooked. For your key search terms, do the pages you’ve created show users how relevant they are in the title, description, and within the first paragraph? Ideally, you will answer the user’s question as soon as possible. This can often mean providing a summary or answer at the start and then expanding on your key points further down.

Ultimately, SGE presents both an exciting and slightly scary leap into the future of search. While we wait for what the final product will look like, the good news is that many of the best SEO practices recommended around semantic SEO and answering the questions your target audience is asking will help you through what could be a very interesting time.

Do you need help preparing for the future of SGE? Check out our SEO services or get in touch for more information.

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