For once, Microsoft beat Google and released AI-powered search results for their search engine, Bing, in early 2023. Since then, Google has been working hard to build its own version, and in May 2023, Google began rolling it out.
Designated the Search Generative Experience (SGE), Google's AI search results promise to generate an answer to a query by summarizing information from several selected pages.
The selected pages are shown in the SGE panel as sources for the AI summary, so being a part of this section represents a clear advantage regarding potential attention and traffic.
In other words, SGE will significantly impact SEO efforts moving forward. In this blog post, we explore how exactly this impact takes effect and what you need to know about SGE as an SEO professional.
However, it's important to remember that Google's SGE is still in development, it's an experiment, and the rollout has only just begun. There are many things we know precious little about many things because the feature is very new and because Google hasn't disclosed much about the workings of SGE.
With that out of the way, let's take a look at what we believe to be the most impactful insights about SGE and SEO right now:
- The SGE Now, Is Not What It's Going To Be
- Top Rankings Will Be Even More Important With SGE
- Authority and Search Intent Seems More Important with SGE
- SGE Makes it Harder to Create Traffic Off Simple Questions
- Not all searches are affected by SGE
But first, here's the short take on what SGE actually is and how it works right now.
What is Search Generative Experience?
The SGE is Google's way of using AI in search results.
Or, more to the point, it is an experiment by Google in their pursuit of a way to utilize AI in search results.
When you type a query and hit search in SGE, what you get is a cohesive text generated by the AI from information gathered from several pages. There are no links or anything like that in the generated text, only the data.
The source pages are shown to the side of the text as links with thumbnails in a carousel. The first three are visible in desktop mode, and if there are more pages, you can click an arrow to view the rest.
If you Expand the SGE box, it will show you exactly where the AI grabbed each piece of information, so you can choose to explore the source further.
The summary, referred to as the AI Snapshot, is generated on most queries but not all. Otherwise, you can click "generate" to get it. Sometimes though, SGE cannot generate a response at all and will inform you of that fact.
When you press search, it takes a moment to generate the AI Snapshot, which feels a bit weird now that especially Google has made us used to getting search results instantly.
However, it only takes a moment, and if you are used to ChatGPT or another text generator, you will feel right at home.
1. The SGE Now, Is Not What It's Going To Be
Sure, it’s the new shiny, but there's a rollout plan for SGE, which goes for availability as well as features. Meaning no one knows precisely what SGE will look like and work when the final iteration is launched.
Right now, only people in the US with access to Google Labs can sign up for SGE, and only relatively few have gained access. This will change in time as development on SGE continues.
Do you want access to SGE? Here's a guide on how to sign up for the waitlist
Some queries don't trigger the AI to generate a Snapshot. Instead, there's a click-to-generate functionality. This lets Google register the popularity and usage of the SGE feature regarding those categories that, to begin with, don't get a generated summary.
This will help them determine what kinds of searches people use AI for. Also, Google already caches a lot of common answers, and knowing what type of queries people use AI for means they get an idea of how much power they need to allocate for the SGE and how many answers they can cache.
Streamlining the feature before releasing it to the general public ensures Google isn't suddenly overwhelmed technically or financially - Each query comes at a cost, after all.
Another example is ads.
SGE doesn't include ads as of yet, only if you ask specifically about a product, but since ads are an essential source of income for Google, you can expect ads to be added to the SGE results box in some way.
Exactly how ads will be incorporated, you ask? No one knows, but at the announcement of SGE Google said they will "experiment with Search and Shopping ads that are directly integrated within the AI-powered snapshot and conversational mode."
2. Proportionally More Traffic Will Go To The Top 3-5 Ranked
As mentioned, the AI Snapshot summarizes information from a number of selected sites and presents the source pages in a carousel. Being a part of this snapshot, one of the selected pages will be really powerful.
For years being in the top five or at least on the first page of a SERP has been the goal, but with SGE, this may be boiled down to being a part of the SGE carousel - preferably in the top three.
This is because audiences aren't expected to scroll further down than the AI Snapshot when it provides an answer in full.
Testings have found that the SGE isn't perfect – it doesn't always give the expected answer, and sometimes the generated text is wrong, but that is only for now.
When Google is done polishing the code and adjusting the selection algorithm, there's a good chance people won't need more than what SGE provides.
3. Authority and Search Intent Seems Vital to SGE
To be frank, it's a bit early to pinpoint exactly how you optimize your content for SGE. The feature is still in development, and SEOs are still testing it, trying to wiggle out its secrets.
That doesn't mean we have a full-on "You know nothing, Jon Snow"-situation on our hands; we do know something!
While we don't know the precise selection process in SGE or if there is a way to optimize for this position specifically, it seems like high rankings in classic SERP help.
Google has released a PDF with a description of SGE in which the only clue to the selection process for the AI Snapshot is:
"SGE is trained to corroborate responses with high-quality resources – which are thus highly ranked results."
This is partially confirmed by our research: Most of the sources presented in the carousel are high-ranking pages, as in the top five, for instance.
However, another factor is authority. Your site may be ranked seven, but you might still find your content featured in the carousel if you have high authority.
There is also evidence of lower ranking pages making it into the carousel because that page gave a more complete answer, including perspectives like benefits and risks instead of only providing dull information.
This seems to indicate, that search intent is vital to SGE since a low ranking site gets a spot on the carousel because of it.
We will definitely revisit this topic when we have done more research and testing, and we know more.
4. SGE Makes it Harder to Create Traffic Off Simple Questions
Basically, Google tries to answer whatever question the users might have right there in the search results. That is the intent with the snippets, and SGE is like snippets on steroids:
The user gets a lot of information with the AI Snapshot.
This means SGE will make it harder to generate traffic by ranking on simple answers.
When users get what they need, and sometimes more than they need, from the results page alone, the number of visitors to the source pages will dwindle.
Maybe it's possible in some cases to add a little perspective to the simple answers that will make users curious enough to visit the source.
Right off the bat, it seems SGE will be able to answer a lot of if not most, simple questions without people visiting any other site.
5. Not all searches are affected by SGE
SGE provides an AI Snapshot with most searches, but there are many common searches where the AI result is redundant, and for some queries, an AI Snapshot isn't generated.
Simple, specific searches like "When are the next Olympics" can be answered in full in a single sentence, and looking at an AI-generated summary won't change the answer or the experience when looking for a short, definitive answer.
The same goes for queries to websites where you just want a link; getting more than you need isn’t necessarily better. So there are plenty of searches where SGE really doesn't come into play.
Currently, SGE doesn’t generate an AI result for recipes either, something other AI solutions have been known to do.
In his testing he found the following search categories to slip past SGE:
This means that if it’s relevant to your business to rank on these categories, where SGE either doesn't generate an AI Snapshot or the summary isn't helpful, SGE shouldn’t change how you rank and probably won't affect your traffic.
Not at this point in time, anyway.