Published date: Sept 23, 2023 – In the ever-evolving landscape of Google and search engine optimization (SEO), artificial intelligence (AI) is poised to bring about significant changes. One such transformation is on the horizon with Google’s Search Generative Experience (SGE). This innovative approach to search results is set to impact the organic traffic of websites. Necessitating thorough testing and optimization strategies.
The Rise of Google SGE
In response to the surge of AI-driven technologies like ChatGPT, notably its integration into Bing, Google unveiled the Search Generative Experience (SGE) on May 10th. SGE presents users with AI-generated responses to specific queries, particularly those deemed complex. It introduces an insert in the Search Engine Results Page (SERP). And offers answers to the query, source citations, and even a conversational interface. Sundar Pichai, Google’s CEO, explained, “You can now understand a topic more quickly, discover new perspectives and information, and make progress more easily.”
SGE has been in testing for several months in the United States. And has recently expanded its trials to Japan and India. Its impending arrival in France may be hinted at by the fact that testing is set to conclude in the US in December of this year. And in India by February 2024. However, Glenn Gabe, the president of G-Squared Interactive, suggests that successful incorporation of paid advertisements is a prerequisite for its launch. While testing is ongoing, it’s essential to anticipate the potential significant impact that Google’s new search engine will have on organic traffic.
Variances in Organic Search Results
Currently, based on most reported tests, the differences between SERPs with the SGE banner and traditional search results appear relatively minor. Aside from the SGE banner itself. The links displayed under the generative AI banner often maintain the same rankings as in regular search results. Other elements, such as the Knowledge Panel and carousel, are also present in both SGE and standard search results. The mobile version also appears identical between SGE and traditional search.
It’s worth noting that the SGE banner displays sources to the right of the generated text, with clickable links to these sources now appearing within the text itself. This development bodes well for maintaining traffic to external websites.
These choices align with Sundar Pichai’s recent declaration: “As we integrate generative AI into Google Search, we are committed to continue sending valuable traffic to websites.”
A Potential 18-64% Decrease in Organic Traffic with Google SGE?
However, Google’s stated intent to drive organic traffic may seem optimistic in light of the SGE banner’s presence. According to a recent study by the Israeli agency Agile SEO, websites could experience a traffic drop of 18 to 64% with the introduction of SGE. This will depende on the scenarios considered and given the potential for fluctuation in results. It’s important to note that this study was likely conducted when AI-generated text did not yet include clickable sources.
One explanation for this decline in organic traffic may be that many users do not make the effort to click on sources after viewing the text generated by AI. Thus, according to David Groult, Head of SEO at Noiise, while it is challenging to estimate the actual impact of Google SGE’s deployment at this stage, it is highly probable that the implementation of SGE will further accentuate the “zero-click” trend. “Already supported by the presence of position 0, searches without clicks are likely to become even more common with the AI insert. For many informational searches, Google will directly provide the answer to the user.”
Disruption in click-through rates (CTR) for the top three positions
Another plausible outcome, according to David Groult, is the disruption in click-through rates (CTR) for the top three positions. “Position 1 is at risk of losing the competitive advantage it currently has over subsequent positions. With the AI insert highlighting 3 sources, CTR may decrease for position 1 but increase for positions 2 and 3.”
For the remainder, according to the SEO specialist, it’s challenging to predict. “The integration of advertising inserts will inevitably have an additional impact on the distribution of clicks in the SERP. Likewise, the impacts will necessarily differ depending on the SERP’s typology. Informational searches may have more significant consequences for content publishers than transactional searches. Where users will still want to visit e-commerce sites to learn more about the product and brand.”
Optimizing for Source Citations
To continue receiving traffic, especially on their crucial pages, many websites will undoubtedly seek to appear in the SGE banner if they haven’t already done so. According to the aforementioned study, several steps can be taken. After identifying the critical and strategically important pages that have been affected by SEO, focus should shift to controllable factors. It’s essential to consider a control group consisting of pages and keywords comparable to the targeted page. This, to better identify the causes of positioning changes in the SERP, whether they result from operational changes or mere variations across the entire SERP.
Amanda Jordan, Digital Strategy Director at RicketyRoo, suggests that websites likely to be affected should start testing content modifications to assess their potential impact on visibility in the SGE. She believes that one way to enhance pages is to employ traditional competitive analysis. “Examine competitors that regularly appear in SGE results and identify common features of their ranking pages. When formulating theories about their success, it’s crucial to validate your hypotheses. By studying top-performing SGE sites outside your field or industry. Always test and verify.”
For instance, she notes, “for local searches, businesses with high rankings on Google Maps are often displayed in the SGE. In this context, focusing on local SEO ranking factors that we already know can be advantageous. When SGE does not rely on Google Maps, it often extracts information from platforms like Yelp. Prioritizing Barnacle SEO, a strategy that leverages the authority of well-ranking websites for highly competitive keywords, will be critical if these sites continue to dominate SGE results.”
Google SGE, Ecology and SEO
The introduction of Google SGE is poised to reshape the SEO landscape. While the full extent of its impact remains to be seen, it is clear that websites and digital marketers will need to adapt to these changes to maintain their visibility and traffic. As users become more accustomed to AI-generated answers, the role of SEO experts will evolve, emphasizing the need for continuous testing, optimization, and adaptation in the ever-shifting world of search engine optimization.
The intersection of AI, search engines, and website traffic raises significant questions about the future of online ecosystems. Maintaining a balance between AI-driven enhancements and preserving the importance of organic traffic sources will be essential. As SEO strategies evolve in response to innovations like SGE, they must also consider the broader ecological implications of these changes, ensuring that the online environment remains vibrant and sustainable.
In conclusion, Google’s Search Generative Experience is a disruptive force in the world of SEO, and its implications for organic traffic are profound. Website owners and digital marketers must prepare for potential traffic shifts, adapt their strategies, and continue to provide valuable content to users, even as AI-generated answers become more prevalent. Balancing the demands of AI-driven search with the preservation of a healthy online ecosystem will be a key challenge in the years to come.
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