On May 10th, 2023, Google announced its Search Labs initiative, which allows users to test and experiment with new Search features for a limited time.
The most exciting and controversial feature users get to test drive is Google SGE (Search Generative Experience), which adds the power of generative AI to Google Search.
With it, users can ask questions conversationally instead of using brief search queries.
Google’s AI will then directly answer users’ questions, saving them the trouble of browsing countless search results to find the same answer.
Users also have the option to ask follow-up questions, and the SGE feature provides a carousel containing the top three links on the subject for further reading.
As of now, SGE is still in its testing phase, but it will leave Search Labs in December of 2023, with plans for widespread adoption in 2024.
It’s got SEOs everywhere scrambling to prepare, as the feature will significantly alter the search landscape. par
For starters, it’s predicted that every website will see a 25% drop in overall web traffic.
Maybe now you can see why some SEOs are panicking (and probably stocking their survival bunkers).
Much like a featured snippet, the SGE feature will hog all the search real estate at the top of the page, pushing the organic SERP results further beneath the fold.
So, will SGE spell the end of the SEO world as we know it, or are there ways you can prepare and still thrive?
Read on to find out.
What is SGE, and Why Will it Steal My Traffic?
Google announced SGE in May 2023 at their annual I/O Developer Conference and presented it as a way for users to ‘get more out of a single search.’
It involves adding AI-enhanced overview at the top of the SERPs, even appearing above organic SERP features (which were long considered position ‘zero’).
With SGE, if users want to view the #1-ranked organic result, they’ll have to scroll past:
- The AI Overview containing three source links
- SERP features like featured snippets and knowledge bars
- Paid ads
That’s a whole lot of scrolling to do just to reach one organically ranked result!
This is a big reason why SEOs predict a 25% drop-off in traffic, as most users will find what they need in the AI Overview, SERP features, or paid ads.
It also means that websites won’t be rewarded as heavily for cracking the traditional SEO code – hence the need to quickly adapt to SGE.
A new way to search
Besides where it appears on the page, SGE is also set to revolutionize how people search for information online.
It’s also expanding to over 120 countries and territories, plus four new languages.
Why is that?
As Google continued to refine SGE since its initial Search Labs launch in May, they also expanded internationally to include Japan and India.
So far, they’ve received very positive feedback from all three countries (including the US), which is why they’re expanding SGE’s reach even further.
In particular, users are enjoying that they can ask questions as they would in a conversation instead of trying to ‘speak search engine.’
For example, let’s say you want to find a restaurant on your street that stays open past 9:00 PM.
Traditionally, you’d search for something like ‘restaurant hours Bourbon Street.’ From there, a local SERP feature would list some restaurants in your area, and you’d have to check the business hours for each location.
With SGE, you can skip all that crap and just ask, “Which restaurants on Bourbon Street stay open past 9:00 PM?”
Thanks to the AI’s natural language processing, it’ll understand your question and provide a direct answer – along with links to the top three restaurants that stay open past 9:00 PM.
The new Perspectives feature
Google is also rolling out Perspectives, a new SERP feature that works hand-in-hand with SGE.
Besides hearing what Google’s AI has to say on a topic, the team at Google wanted users to have a way to listen to what others online are saying about it.
Enter the Perspectives carousel, which compiles videos, images, and posts from forums, blogs, and social media platforms.
This allows users to consider more opinions than what the generative AI spits out.
SEOs are actually optimistic about this feature, as it’s a way for their blog posts and infographics to reach the top of the SERPs alongside the AI Overview.
How SGE Stands to Reshape SEO
First, let’s deliver some good news.
Thanks to the proprietary solution we’ve prepared for SGE at The HOTH, the 25% of organic traffic that each site is set to lose will only affect low-quality traffic that wasn’t going to convert anyway.
We’ll cover our solution for SGE more in a bit (trust us, you don’t want to skip it).
For now, let’s focus on how SGE will change your approach to SEM (search engine marketing).
So far, SEOs are predicting that SGE will affect the search landscape in the following ways:
- SERP real estate
- Images and CTR (click-through rates)
- Paid ads
- Higher volatility
Let’s take a closer look at each one.
Altering SERP real estate in a big way
As stated previously, SGE will become the new position zero, appearing above organic SERP features like knowledge bars and featured snippets.
This is concerning to digital marketers, as it pushes organic results farther down the page, lessening the chances of users even seeing the top 5 ranked results.
To put this in perspective, it’s the real estate equivalent of moving from a picturesque, bustling suburb to the middle of freaking nowhere.
If your website doesn’t appear in the AI Overview but is organically ranked #1, you’re bound to see a drop in traffic and a lower CTR.
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This means there will be fierce competition to appear in the AI Overview and Perspectives tab.
Businesses everywhere must swiftly adapt to this change to survive in the evolving search landscape.
In other words, this is not the time to bury your head in the sand and pretend that SGE isn’t coming.
The end of the year is right around the corner, and by then, Google will have enough test data to fully implement SGE sometime in early 2024.
Even if you have flawless SEO at the moment and are ranking #1 for all your most important keywords, the looming traffic drop-off will have dire effects if you don’t prepare for SGE properly.
Not to worry, though, as you still have time to prepare by optimizing your content to appeal to SGE’s AI Overview and Perspectives carousel.
The relationship between images and CTR
In SGE’s AI Overview, the three cited sources for each query contain featured images.
As history has told us time and time again, users will click on the most relevant, visually appealing images.
If you want to secure as many clicks as possible from the AI Overview, you should ensure your images are top-notch, as that may make the difference between getting a click and getting the cold shoulder. Schema mark-up and alt-text will be key here.
It’s similar to how YouTube thumbnails work, which serve as visual aids to help users determine which video they want to watch.
That’s why it’s unsurprising to learn that 90% of the top-performing videos on YouTube use customized, visually appealing thumbnails.
So, if you want to replicate their success on the AI Overview, copy their technique and treat the quality of your featured images as your ticket to generating more traffic2.
What role will paid ads play in SGE?
Marketers have speculated how SGE will affect paid ads since its announcement in May.
After all, the organic SERP results aren’t the only ones getting pushed further down the fold thanks to SGE.
When running tests, SEOs noticed fewer paid ads appeared on the Search Labs version of SGE, which raised some eyebrows.
The ads that did show up appeared beneath the AI Overview, dethroning paid ads from the very top of the page.
However, it’s important to note that these tests were conducted not long after Search Labs rolled out and that more paid ads have begun to appear over time.
Google hasn’t remained silent about the issue, as they have an entire blog dedicated to it.
According to Vidhya Srinivasan, the VP & GM of Google Ads, “Ads will continue to play an important role in helping people connect with useful information and allowing businesses to be discovered online.”
She adds, “With SGE, search ads will continue to appear in dedicated ad slots throughout the page.”
This makes it clear that Google has no intention of abandoning paid ads, and they plan to do rigorous testing for the new ad experience.
While it is a shame that paid ads are set to lose their prime SERP real estate, the new dedicated ad slots may offer lucrative new opportunities for targeting potential customers, so we’ll just have to wait and see.
Currently, SGE is highly volatile
During the Search Labs phase, SGE has proven to be extremely volatile, as it’s difficult to replicate the same search results twice, even using the exact same query.
Sometimes, AI Overviews won’t appear for queries that they did in the past, and vice versa.
eCommerce category keywords (i.e., apparel, books, movies, electronics, etc.) don’t automatically generate an AI Overview, either.
The AI Overview’s size has also been inconsistent, as it tends to change shape pretty randomly.
For some queries, the overview is HUGE, measuring in at 780px high. Other times, it’s far more reserved and is only about 230px high.
SEOs can only hope that the norm will be the smaller size, as that will likely have a lighter impact on their organic traffic since it doesn’t take up as much of the page.
It’s important to note that the generative AI behind SGE is very dynamic, so no two AI Overviews appear exactly the same.
Conversely, it’s unclear how volatile SGE will be when it’s fully implemented, as only time will tell.
What Can You Do to Prepare for SGE?
At The HOTH, we’ve been hard at work preparing a proprietary solution for SGE to ensure our clients don’t see adverse effects from its implementation.
The good news is that we found a way to both negate SGE’s potential drawbacks and thrive at the same time.
Marketers are referring to the onset of SGE as the zero-click era, and we’ve been preparing for it ever since generative AI burst onto the scene.
Our strategy ensures that the 25% drop in traffic will only affect low-quality visitors who had no intention of converting anyway.
Besides that, we’ve developed ways to appeal to Google’s AI.
Here’s a peek at the solution we developed.
Rethinking the way you approach content
With SGE, organic results are becoming more personalized and tailored to the user, so your content needs to follow suit.
That means creating content for longer, more specific queries than before.
In other words, the days of targeting popular short-tail keywords may be all but over.
Since users will speak to Google more conversationally, brief search phrases that used to dominate the engine will become far less common.
For example, currently, if someone wants to find a pink dress within their budget, they’ll search for something like ‘affordable pink dresses.’
The query is short and sweet, and it’s a given that countless eCommerce stores have targeted it to capitalize on the traffic.
Yet, with SGE, the user can get far more specific and ask something like, “Where can I find a pink prom dress for under $200?”
As a result, SEOs will need to target longer keywords and phrases that are relevant and intent-driven.
We also started implementing a dual focus with our content, meaning we now optimize everything for both Google and Bing. This ensures that you capitalize on as much traffic as possible from the two most popular search engines.
A fine-tuned link-building strategy
The quality of your link profile will still matter in a big way for SGE, especially if you want your web pages to appear in AI Overviews.
It’s more crucial than ever to have a robust backlink profile featuring links from trusted websites AND a diverse anchor text ratio.
At The HOTH, our backlink plan for SGE is two-fold:
- Our quality link network contains hundreds of websites with rigorous publishing standards.
- We meticulously track the performance of every link we create, ensuring that our inventory is as fresh as possible.
By targeting more personalized long-tail keywords and bolstering your backlink profile, you can safeguard high-value traffic while ensuring you continue to grow in the new search landscape.
Successfully Navigating the Change to SGE
We’ve gone over a lot so far, but here’s the bottom line.
The widespread implementation of SGE will undoubtedly change the search landscape forever, and virtually every website in Google’s index will see some sort of impact.
However, with proper planning and optimization, you can offset any negative impacts and safeguard your high-value traffic.
Moreover, the quicker you adapt to SGE, the easier it’ll be to start mastering it – so don’t be afraid to embrace the new technology instead of fearing it.
If you want expert help navigating the change to SGE, don’t wait to sign up for HOTH X, our renowned managed SEO service.
The post Google SGE is On the Horizon: Will it Trigger the SEO Apocalypse? appeared first on The HOTH.
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Author: Rachel Hernandez