What is Google's New SGE & How It Will Impact Search Traffic
Intro to Google’s Search Generative Experiences (SGE)
Search marketing emerged in the early days as search engines developed algorithms that helped users find websites with information or products they were looking for. That placement and resulting traffic largely fuels today's online commerce and is especially valuable. However, AI is threatening that traffic flow, by enabling users to get answers without even visiting websites.
This shift began in earnest when Microsoft integrated Chat GPT with Bing in early 2023, allowing users to interact with a powerful new Generative AI model alongside traditional search capabilities. Despite Bing's minor 3% share of the search market, this move led to 16% bump in users, with Microsoft reporting a surge to 100 million daily active users - a new milestone.
Google’s response? The introduction of Search Generative Experiences (SGE) to the Search Engine Results Page (SERP). This new feature blends organic search data with generative AI to provide answers to questions which can then extend into a conversation between the AI and the user, keeping the user within the SERP and not beyond. While the final format of this feature is still in flux, it's causing great concern for marketers tasked with delivering traffic from Google.
What is the potential impact of SGE on Search Traffic?
Well. Let's ask Google SGE:
SGE pegs the impact to potentially reach 30%. Insight Partners, whose insights I value, predict a drop in search traffic by 15%-25% due to SGE. The main reasons?
First, the real estate SGE takes up is significant and now pushes organic listings even lower.
Of course, SEO specialists have long been fighting a losing battle for SERP position. Google’s been introducing different types of “features snippets'' that have been boxing out organic search results for years. But this 1-2 punch will be a hard hit for SEO marketers to take.
The second is the emergence of zero-click searches, which affects not just SEO but also PPC. This isn’t new though either. Not only have featured snippets been hogging real estate from paid and organic listings, they’ve also been answering queries for years within the SERP - resulting in zero-clicks out to paid or organic destinations. SEM Rush’s 2022 Zero-Clicks Study found that almost half of search queries were zero-click. So now, search marketers are panicked to lose even more ground to SGE and its deeper abilities to answer more queries within the SERP.
Many marketers have said that Featured Snippets really didn’t impact them very much, and are therefore not that worried about SGE. Yet, as Insight Partners also note in their story, Featured Snippets were only presented for 18% of searches. Every indication so far shows that SGE will be present for potentially all searches.
Needless to say, businesses that depend on search traffic must prepare to take a hit.
How to prepar for SGE
The first thing is to pay attention now to this. While Google’s rollout is limited to personal accounts so far, you should expect widespread deployment in 2024. With the pressure from ChatGPT and Bing, they need to move quickly.
Short List of Tips for preparing for SGE
• Gather your team: Evaluate how SGE might impact your search traffic and strategize accordingly.
• Experiment: Check out Google Search Labs and test out SGE for yourself. Note that it's currently available only for personal accounts.
• Keep an eye on your keywords: Monitor how they perform in the SGE environment, as the landscape is quite dynamic.
• Look beyond search: Consider other marketing channels like programmatic video, and maybe have a chat with the folks at Awestruck (link), particularly if you're in destination marketing.
Now. Let’s dive in deeper....
What is Google’s SGE?
As recommended already, the best way to understand SGE is to use it. Start by going to Google Search Labs to switch it on. Note that as of this writing, access is restricted to personal accounts. Here are instructions at this time.
SGE's Utilization of Generative AI
SGE harnesses Generative AI to sift through enormous amounts of indexed information and provide direct answers on the SERP or recommend relevant content when a user keys in a query. This is a departure from traditional search mechanisms that furnish a list of links, requiring users to click through to find their answers.
For instance, a search query like "what is SGE" might yield enough information in the SERP to not require a user to click deeper.
While the primary aim is to furnish users with a seamless search experience, there’s an inherent dichotomy at play. Google, on one end, aspires to enhance user satisfaction by reducing the clicks needed to find accurate information. On the other end, those clicks on ads generate 80% of Google’s revenue. Needless to say, Google will do its best to insulate its real estate for PPC ads - and sacrifice organic listings.
What will the SEO impact of SGE be on Organic Search?
As you might imagine, SGE is really making SEO pros sweat.
SERP Real Estate Loss
Top organic listings (pro tip: “blue listings) “above the fold” in those first few slots are gold to SEO specialists. And that real estate has already been eroded first by expansions in paid listings, then in featured snippets, and now with SGE.
With SGE providing direct answers, the necessity for users to click through to websites may diminish. This change could lead to a reduction in organic traffic, particularly for sites that previously ranked high for queries that are now answered directly on the SERP.
Zero-click searches, where users find what they need right on the SERP, could become more prevalent with SGE. This trend may particularly affect informational websites or those that provide straightforward answers to common queries.
What’s next for SEO
The evolving nature of Google’s search landscape necessitates a re-evaluation and possible recalibration of SEO strategies. Websites might need to delve deeper into understanding user intent, optimizing for long-tail keywords, and ensuring that the content provides unique insights or value that prompts users to click through for more information.
The ripple effects of SGE on organic search are emblematic of the dynamic nature of SEO. SEO is a topsy turvy business. As Google strives to provide quicker, more direct answers, the onus is on digital marketers and SEO specialists to adapt their strategies to maintain visibility and engagement in this new era of search.
What will be the impact of SGE on Paid Search?
SGE represents a paradigm shift not only for organic search but for paid search as well. This new search experience, tailored to provide direct answers, could reshape the competitive landscape of paid advertising on the platform. And this will be most interesting to watch, since paid search accounts for almost 80% of Google’s revenue.
Here are several aspects of paid search that might be affected:
With SGE providing direct answers on the SERPs Google will experiment and analyze user feedback and adjust layout and placements of ads accordingly. Advertisers should expect the prime real estate on the SERPs to shift.
Click-Through Rates (CTR)
The essence of paid search is to entice users to click through to the advertiser's site. However, with direct answers provided on the SERPs, the necessity to click through may diminish and drop CTR rates.
The dynamics of bidding for keywords and ad placements might change with SGE, affecting the cost-per-click. Advertisers might need to re-evaluate the value and ROI of certain keywords in this new landscape.
Through this experimental phase, expect Google to get creative and introduce new ad formats or adjust the presentation of existing ones to align with the user's search experience while bringing value to advertisers.
The competition for visibility on SERPs may intensify, especially for highly competitive keywords. Advertisers might need to refine their targeting and bidding strategies to stay ahead of the competition.
Ensuring that ads remain relevant and provide value beyond the direct answers on SERPs will only become more crucial. This may require advertisers to narrow their keywords and messaging to topics they can really offer value for.
What’s next for paid search?
Admittedly the impact of SGE on paid search is less known. Yes we can expect more zero-click sessions and an overall drop in clicks from that, but we do not know anything about how ad formats will evolve, how pricing will be affected, or any idea of what CTR will look like after. We just know they’ll change. This underscores the importance of paying close attention to this, and having an agile team with strategies ready to adapt. As the SERP real estate evolves, so must the strategies employed by advertisers to ensure that their ads continue to resonate with their target audience, drive traffic, and provide a good return on investment.
Time to speculate. How do I rank better for SGE?
Yes. We all know that Google is a black box that takes into account over 200 rank factors for current SERP results. Mix that with the unpredictable nature of generative AI and you can see how futile predictions are. Nothing is certain, but that’s not an excuse to do nothing. There are plenty of tactics to consider that if anything, won’t hurt.
Technical SEO optimization for SGE
Technical SEO lays the foundation for a website to be crawled and indexed efficiently by search engine bots. In an SGE-driven environment, ensuring that your site's technical SEO is top-notch is a great place to focus. Well-structured data, clean code, and a logical site architecture may facilitate SGE in understanding and presenting your content accurately on the SERPs.
Optimizing Website Indexability
Making it easy for search engine spiders to crawl and index your content is fundamental. Ensuring that your site’s structure is logical, URLs are clean, and that you have a well-maintained XML sitemap can contribute to better performance in an SGE-driven search landscape.
Optimizing Page Indexability: Accessibility and WCAG Compliance
Search engines have always had a predilection for accessible, well-structured websites. With SGE in the picture, ensuring that your website conforms to WCAG standards might not only be about inclusivity but could also play a role in how well your site performs in this new search landscape.
WCAG compliance can provide a win-win-win by first reducing any friction for search and AI bots to access your sites’ content. Second, by improving usability for everyone - especially people with disabilities and Boomers, our first digital seniors holding $77 trillion - or 53% of wealth in the US. And third, to avoid Federal or State lawsuits. More thoughts on WCAG, SEO and AIO.
Optimizing for Core Web Vitals
Google’s Core Web Vitals are a set of metrics that measure a website’s performance and user experience. Optimizing for these metrics not only aligns with good Technical SEO practices but could also be influential in how your site interacts with SGE. You can find your site’s Core Web Vitals data in the “enhancements” section of your Google Search Console account.
Finally, monitor and test, test, test.
Adapting SEO Content Strategies for SGE
Once your technical SEO is in good shape, shift to content. As SEO pros develop new tactics and strategies, we will find new approaches to content optimization for SGE. We also have our own AI-powered tools for SEO. So use these tools to make sure your website and content meet current best practices.
Understand User Intent
Delving into understanding user intent is crucial. It’s about predicting what the users are looking to achieve with their queries and providing content that aligns with their goals.
Optimize for Long-Tail Keywords
Long-tail keywords, known for their specificity, can be a goldmine in an SGE-driven search landscape. They may offer a pathway to providing more detailed and tailored answers to user queries.
Provide Unique Insights
Ensure your content offers unique insights or value that encourages users to click through for more information, even when a direct answer is provided on the SERP.
Creating interactive content that engages users can be a way to entice them to your website, offering them a deeper dive into the topics they are interested in.
Monitoring, Optimization, and Testing
Monitoring of your website’s performance, user engagement metrics, and SERP rankings is key. This data will provide insights into how well your content strategy is aligning with SGE and where optimizations can be made.
Final point: carefully use AI generated content
Did I use AI to help research and write this article? Heck ya. Did I spend hours shaping and tuning it? Of course. Is this article factually checked and incorporate many of my own original thoughts? Hell ya. Is it better? I hope so, and will SGE like it better? We’ll see.
The emergence of AI and now SGE is a reminder of the fluid nature of search, and technology in general.
The impact of SGE on search extends far beyond the typical algorithmic update; it shifts the role of the search engine from a tool that helps people find websites with answers, to finding answers without having to go to websites. Luckily Google still needs website advertisers to pay their bills, so satisfying both users and advertisers will be Google’s big challenge.
And maintain the big picture. The foundation of digital marketing remains intact: understand your audience, provide value, deliver a frictionless user experience, and provide unobstructed paths to conversion.
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