The impact of AI-powered/assisted search we have seen in the last year is causing quite the stir ahead of the launch of Google’s SGE (Search Generative Experience), which is believed to bring about the biggest revolution in search of the last decade.
Currently, access to SGE is limited to beta testers from the US, however, in the last weeks, we have received first glimpses into the future of AI-powered search as the results of first large-scale study on SGE have been published.
The study conducted by Authoritas in December 2023 involved analyzing 1,000 commercial terms through SGE-enabled Google accounts to assess its impact on organic rankings.
We carefully studied their findings and wanted to share the most important takeaways, as well as some early optimization tips that can be derived from that.
Let’s dive in.
Why is this important?
Before we get into the findings of research, let’s take a moment to elucidate what all the fuss is about. What is Google’s SGE bringing to the table?
SGE introduces a new layout of search results - an AI-generated snippet or carousel, placed at the very top of search results, effectively becoming position 0. Having seen the effect of Chat GPT or GPT-powered Bing search, much concern has been sparked among SEO professionals and business owners about the future and purpose of SEO once these developments are implemented in practice.
The worry that integration of AI into Google’s search could significantly diminish organic search traffic is very real, as users are already finding that AI is capable of better answering their queries in many instances.
If before, a classic search involved clicking and reading through a bunch of websites from the first results page, it has now turned into a 3-min interaction with AI that directly provides an answer.
However, findings from these initial studies show that SGE might not be as detrimental to organic traffic as initially feared. Let’s explore why.
Some of the more interesting initial findings show glimpses into how SGE is going to work. These show that:
- 86% of keywords have SGE results.
- The average SGE response contains 10 links from 4 unique domains
- Some types of queries are more affected than others. Findings from the Authoritas initial study show that 95% of ecommerce queries have an SGE response, compared to 54% in YMYL queries, or 16% in queries about finance.
- Some search terms trigger SGE more than others. For example, 88% of queries that contain the term “cost” trigger SGE, as well as 79% of queries that include “Amazon”.
Even more recent research findings by Brightedge paint a similar picture, having found that half of queries in ecommerce, B2B tech, insurance and education were impacted by SGE.
Key take-away from these initial findings is that SGE is going to be heavily present in ecommerce, as Google seems to be trying to catch buyers from the very get-go of decision-making process and guide them all throughout. Further findings regarding this are:
- When it comes to products and services mentioned in SGE answers, reviews are favored and the majority of websites listed as sources link to pages with real user or expert reviews, rather than to product pages.
- SGE likes to generate comparisons between products & create Pros/Cons lists, even if no comparisons have been made.
Ranking in SGE
Finally, let’s get to what we think is one of the more exciting findings from the study that pertain to ranking mechanisms in SGE.
When we talk about “ranking” in SGE, we mean “being linked as a source” of the AI-generated snippet. The staggering finding is that SGE seems to select and rank sources very differently than traditional Google Search, featuring links to websites that don’t appear in top organic search results. Check this out:
- 93.8% linked websites come from outside the first page of results.
With SGE still in development, and these being the findings of just one study, the facts are not final, but they bring hope. Namely, this suggests that Google’s SGE might strive to provide unique or additional content that isn’t found at the top of classic search results, giving more opportunities for listings outside of the first results page to be featured.
If you are wondering about some actionable steps you can start taking and directing your efforts to optimize your website for SGE and increase your chances of being linked in the AI-snippet, don’t worry - below you will find gathered both technical and content-oriented tips for SGE optimization.
Some preliminary SGE optimization tips
Based on the findings of the study, it is clear that Google's SGE is going to significantly alter the search landscape. While the changes may seem daunting, the findings from the Auhtoritas study shine a bright light, positing a lot of hope for small websites that aren’t currently ranking at the top of first page results.
To stay ahead, there are several steps that businesses can start taking to optimize their websites for SGE. Here we prepared some preliminary optimization tips to help you get started:
Optimize Content for SGE
- Add summaries to long-form and user-generated content.
- Considering SGE’s preference for reviews, summarize expert or user reviews as a pro/con list with short bullet points.
- When creating content, focus on topics and trends that were not part of the training data set for SGE (ie. recent topics, news). Similar as with Chat GPT and other LLM models, if the information was not available during the training period, writing about a recent topic will increase the likelihood of your content being mentioned as a source.
- Conduct keyword research specifically for SGE. Focus on long-tail keywords and question-based searches that are likely to trigger AI-generated snippets.
- Pay even closer attention to adhering to EEAT - showcase your expertise, build authoritative links and maintain off-page reputation.
Technical optimization tips for SGE
- Since SGE uses multimedia to enhance its responses, make sure to optimize image alt tags and video titles for accessibility and SEO.
- Use a schema markup to provide structured data that can be used by SGE to understand the context and relevance of your content.
- Keep page load time below 500ms.
- Make sure your website doesn’t have indexing or crawling problems.
- Index comments and reviews.
- Keep scripting time as low as possible.
- Make sure your content isn’t JS-dependent.
Based on the latest updates, Google's SGE is continuing to be tested and refined, although it hasn't been officially announced as the default search experience for 2024.
Taking this ambiguity into account, businesses and SEO specialists can adopt a balanced approach, and combine proven SEO strategies with gradual integration of SGE tactics, specific to their business niche. This way, you can stay prepared for any eventuality, minimizing potential disturbances in organic traffic and online visibility.
Stay informed, remain flexible, and embrace the evolving world of AI search experiences.
What’s a Rich Text element?
The rich text element allows you to create and format headings, paragraphs, blockquotes, images, and video all in one place instead of having to add and format them individually. Just double-click and easily create content.
Static and dynamic content editing
A rich text element can be used with static or dynamic content. For static content, just drop it into any page and begin editing. For dynamic content, add a rich text field to any collection and then connect a rich text element to that field in the settings panel. Voila!
How to customize formatting for each rich text
Headings, paragraphs, blockquotes, figures, images, and figure captions can all be styled after a class is added to the rich text element using the "When inside of" nested selector system.