In What is Google Search Generative Experience (SGE) we examined Google’s latest attempt at adding a useful form of AI to its search engine. And although it would be fair to say that Google has had a checkered history with AI to date, the Google Search Generative Experience looks like it may bring real value to searchers… despite having a horrifically cumbersome name.
To date, Google SEO is only in beta, with a limited number of participants. And at this stage, it doesn’t seem to work well with Google Paid Ads – an omission Google will clearly rectify on its open release. However, in most situations, the Google Search Generative Experience result appears at the top of the search listings, with suggested prompts searchers can use to expand its answer. Google organic results then follow the AI answer, with all the existing Google special features showing beneath it, looking very much as they do in other searches.
Currently, many brands and creators put considerable effort into utilizing search engine optimization (SEO) techniques to boost their content up Google’s search engine results pages (SERPs). So how does Google Search Generative Experience SEO Work in 2023? Will you need to change your approach to creating and promoting content to ensure that it remains visible to your target audience?
How Does Google Search Generative Experience SEO Work in 2023?
- What Types of Results Does Google Search Generative Experience Deliver?
- Remember Google’s Search is for Users, Not Creators
- Google Ads Will Still Have a Major Impact on Google Search Results
- So, How Will Google Search Generative Experience SEO Work?
- Most Keyword Terms Used in AI Generative Search Are Unlikely to be Transactional Keywords
- Google Search Generative Experience SEO Considerations
- You May Need to Optimize Your Content for Conversational Searches
What Types of Results Does Google Search Generative Experience Deliver?
Google SGE doesn’t come up with an AI suggestion for every search. But when it does create an answer it typically places it at the top of the search. Typically, it begins by showing a three or four-paragraph answer to your original search query, taking data from three to four sources (not necessarily those from the top of the organic search results). You will also sometimes see customized Google SGE results, for example, it uses a format like the Local Pack when that gives an appropriate result.
Importantly, however, Google Search Generative Experience doesn’t stop with the three or four-paragraph answer. It follows each suggestion with a series of prompts and then expands its answer should the searcher choose to follow them.
You can also ask follow-up questions and Google filters the results to reflect them. And you don’t have to restart your search each time you want to filter things. This filter system works similarly to typical shopping eCommerce sites, gradually removing more irrelevant results as you alter your filters.
Remember Google’s Search is for Users, Not Creators
It’s easy to panic whenever Google makes a change to its search engine. You don’t want to lose traffic to your site, do you? But you must remember that Google Search isn’t designed for your benefit. It follows a twofold purpose: to provide useful information to searchers and to provide income to Google. If that means that your content falls from view out of the search rankings, Google executives aren’t going to lose any sleep.
Google continually tinkers with its search engine to ensure that its users have the best user experience. They don’t want searchers, or advertisers, rushing over to Bing so they are always looking to be innovative and keep their de facto status as the search engine of choice for much of the world.
Google has begun to include much more information on its search results pages which people previously discovered on web pages. For example, there was a time when you searched for your region’s weather Google merely listed relevant weather websites in its listings. Nowadays, Google will show you the weather forecast directly on the search results page, and as a result most searchers no longer follow through to specific pages to view their weather forecast.
Most content creators have gotten used to the impact of Answer Boxes on their search. They only appear when a user asks a question with public domain knowledge and Google can provide the user with quick information. If you create content that is usurped by Google Answer Boxes, there’s little you can do – Google is trying to help its users ahead of you.
However, if somebody is searching for something less generic, then you can use SEO techniques to ensure your content is referenced and mentioned by Google. For example, many searches generate Featured Snippets, a block of text near the top of the search that answers the user’s search query quickly. Featured snippets pull information from one of the organic listings (not necessarily the first one) and present it above the organic listings. Unlike Answer Boxes, Featured Snippets still link to the original article, and make it easy for searchers to click through to it. And to make things easier for content creators, you can use good SEO practices to increase the odds of your article being chosen by Google for popular Featured Snippets.
Similarly, content creators can use sound SEO practices to increase the chances of their content being chosen for other Google features like Knowledge Graphs, “People Also Ask”, and the Local SEO 3-pack.
Google Ads Will Still Have a Major Impact on Google Search Results
As much as Google wants to help its users, you can’t ignore the fact that Google also has a duty to itself (and its shareholders) to help Google’s well-being. Google’s top revenue source in 2022 was search ads. Of the $279.81 billion in revenue, the company received, more than half, $162.45 billion, came from search ads. Google isn’t going to let any developments in AI destroy its main revenue source.
At the moment, Google Search Generative Experience appears to ignore Google Ads. But once Google releases SGE into the wild, it will undoubtedly have found a way to ensure that the results from its new AI tool won’t usurp the Google Ads that currently sit atop most people’s Google search results.
So, How Will Google Search Generative Experience SEO Work?
The first thing to remember is that Google Search Generative Experience currently sits on top of the existing Google search engine. It doesn’t come up automatically every time somebody searches. At the moment, at least, it sits in a separate box beneath the Google search bar. And the results currently show up separately, albeit on top of the traditional search results, when somebody opts to use it. People have to consciously decide to make AI searches. Even many people who have opted into the SGE trial will continue to make traditional searches much of the time, ignoring the AI box.
This means that you will need to continue to use all your current on and off-page SEO techniques to keep your positions near the top of the organic search results. These will still be just as valuable for many Google users as they are now. This includes existing SEO you may use to increase the likelihood of your content appearing in Google special features, such as text results, rich results, image results, video results, snippets, exploration features (such as “people also ask” and “answer boxes”), and more. For example, continue creating content focusing on important keywords, and make sure you get your technical SEO correct, like including your selected keywords in headings, body text, and Alt text for images (where relevant). At the moment, you have a greater chance of your content appearing in Featured Snippets if you answer relevant questions, and this will continue to be of value to you (with the bonus of potentially increasing the chances of Google’s AI selecting your content as one of its sources).
In terms of Google Search Generative Experience SEO for the AI answer, it’s important to accept that in some cases there is little point in trying to have your content considered by the Generative AI. The initial answer, as provided by Google’s AI, doesn’t display a credit on the front page. Users only get to see the source information if they choose to click on the answer for more information. So, there is little point in crafting content to appear in this for simple queries, like “Which are the best inkjet printers”.
Affiliate marketers in particular may need to rethink the types of content they create. Round-up posts, even those crafted well following good traditional SEO techniques, may no longer have the same impact on consumers using Google Search Generative Experience as part of their search.
Most Keyword Terms Used in AI Generative Search Are Unlikely to be Transactional Keywords
Not all keywords are alike. You need to think about a user’s intent when they search. For example, the practical differences between “Buy Color Printer”, “Color Printer Specs”, or even just “Color Printer” are huge. Somebody using “Buy Color Printer” in a search is probably near the bottom of the purchasing funnel and ready to make a purchase. It is probably a competitive search term, with most leading printer vendors hoping to rank near the top of this list (and most smaller ones hoping that they can improve their chances of visibility by using good SEO practices). It is also not the type of phrase that most Google Search Generative Experience SEO users are likely to base their search on. They may use Google’s AI to learn about potential printers to buy but are far more likely to use traditional search (or paid ads) to find a retailer where they can buy their printer.
However, Google advertisers are most likely to focus on transactional keywords like “Buy Color Printer”, because winning the organic rankings can be extremely difficult for anyone except the market leaders.
AI users are likely to use some comparative-type transactional keywords, however. For example, “Best printer to print color photos”. In this situation, the AI results will top the page, before the organic search, no matter how good your SEO is, but undoubtedly Google will find a way to ensure that paid ads aren’t disadvantaged.
According to Neil Patel, Google is experimenting with incorporating paid ads into the Google Search Generative Experience AI results, and we are likely to see some form of this before its use is widespread.
Google Search Generative Experience SEO Considerations
CEO of Gado Images, Thomas Smith, was one of the first pundits to make predictions about how Google Search Generative Experience will impact SEO practices. He observed that the new technology had the potential to “revolutionize the search experience, making it more conversational and context-aware.” He believes that with AI generating synthesized responses to queries, the traditional approach to SEO might need a reevaluation.
For Google’s AI to provide valuable results, it needs comprehensive, in-depth information to synthesize into detailed responses. This means that Google is likely to favor websites offering detailed and valuable content when generating AI-enhanced answers. And don’t forget, Google makes its sources clear when its AI generates an answer, as long as the searcher chooses to click on that option.
Google’s AI answers include suggested follow-up questions and suggested sites a user can go to further expand on a topic. This will again favor quality, in-depth content at the expense of thin content, and Google is likely to recommend well-organized sites more often with clear navigation.
Google already gives a boost to authority sites that specialize in sharing information about a particular topic. These sites are also likely to be the sources of choice for Google’s AI as it generates answers. If your site is a mishmash of irrelevant content with no obvious flow, it is unlikely that Google will take much interest when creating AI-generated answers.
You May Need to Optimize Your Content for Conversational Searches
While Google Search Generative Experience initially generates a single four-six paragraph answer, it then suggests a series of additional questions to keep the “conversation” going and allow searchers to expand on their searches to fine-tune what they really want to know. In some cases, Google even provides relevant product links in these explanatory extensions.
This provides opportunities for brands to provide high-quality content that Google will find useful in these “conversations”. According to Google, “It uses AI to understand when a person is searching for something that is related to a previous question. It carries over context from previous questions to reformulate the query to better reflect the intent.”
This may mean that you adapt your content (using SEO) to appeal to more long-term searches, using phrase and broad match keywords.
Wrapping Things Up
AI is unlikely to kill high-quality content on the internet, any more than paid ads did. Google still needs content to index as much as it always has. Many of the concerns expressed about the effects of Google Search Generative Experience on search are the same as when Google first gave Google Ads prominence over organic search. The days of 10 purple results are now long gone.
Google has long warned against thin content and spamming. AI doesn’t change this. Sites featuring high-value content will continue to gain favor in Google Search.
However, you can’t totally ignore the effects of AI. If somebody opts to make an AI search on a smartphone in particular, the AI-generated search result will take up a huge proportion of their screen. People will have to scroll down to see your listing, even if you hold the top organic search position.