Google is currently testing a new feature, Search Generative Experience (SGE), that utilizes generative AI to create summaries of search results. Displayed directly on the search results page, these summaries are intended to provide users with essential information without requiring any clicks on external links.

Before we move on, no, SEO isn’t dead. Working with a reputable SEO vendor is more important than ever. Yes, it will continue to be more competitive, but high-quality content coupled with a strong search engine experience and valuable backlinks continues to become more important every year to capture your audience’s demand. 

Google Search Generative Experience

Upon searching for a query that Google Search Generative Experience can process, a new section will appear at the top of the results page. This section contains an AI-generated snippet, links to sources, and the option to ask follow-up questions. Clicking on “Ask a follow-up” brings users to a new section, where AI generates summaries based on data from multiple reliable sources.

AI-generated answers appear automatically after a query is typed or the ‘Generate’ button becomes available for user interaction to initiate answers. However, not all queries result in generated data. As this feature is actively developing, a definitive statement about which queries fail to produce generated answers is currently unavailable.

As of July 2023, the feature is only available in the US for English queries for selected users. The public version is expected in December 2023.

Potential Increase in Zero-Click Searches

Zero-click searches are when users find the information they need without clicking on any links in the search result. This means that the user is able to get the information they need without having to leave the search results page.

Case Studies

According to a study in 2020 by SparkToro, based on SimilarWeb data from around 5.1 trillion Google searches, it was found that 33.59% of searches resulted in clicks on organic search results. Meanwhile, a staggering 64.82% of searches ended without a direct follow-up click to another web property. This “zero-click” search phenomenon was particularly pronounced on mobile devices, with the rate going up to 77.22%.

A 2022 case study by SEMrush, based on 609,809 unique search actions from 20,000 unique users, presented similar findings. They reported that 57% of mobile users and 53% of desktop users did not click on either an organic or a paid result after conducting a search.

These studies, although utilizing different scales and approaches, highlight a key insight about modern search behavior: as search engine result pages (SERPs) continue to evolve and provide more immediate answers (like Google’s Featured Snippets and Knowledge Panels), users are increasingly finding the information they need directly within the SERPs. As a result, there’s a reduction in the number of clicks going through to organic or paid listings.

SGE and Potential Impact on Zero-Click Searches

Search generative experience has the potential to change the way that people search for information online. By providing users with more concise and informative summaries of search results, SGE could make it more likely that users will find the information they need without clicking on any external links. This could lead to an increase in zero-click searches.

The impact of SGE will likely vary depending on the type of query.

Potential Impact Based on Different Query Types

Google SGE is still under development, and the types of queries triggering it are continually adapting. At present, google’s search generative experience can respond to a wide range of queries.

Our approach includes testing queries based on the searcher’s intent. These types of search queries include:

  • Informational queries: Users seeking specific information often use terms like “when”, “where”, “who”, “what”, “why”, “how”, along with words like “guide”, “tutorial”, and “tips”.
  • Commercial and Transactional Queries: Users exploring options, comparing products or services, reading reviews, or ready to make a purchase or conduct a specific transaction.
  • Navigational Queries: When the user intends to reach a specific website. Our focus here is on searching for a brand/business name.

Informational Queries

Based on preliminary tests conducted, it is suggested that informational queries tend to trigger AI-generated summaries more often than not.

Our testing indicates that Google SGE could potentially enhance the end-users search experience. The immediate generation of accurate summaries might expedite the process of finding answers, thereby boosting efficiency. In addition, the interactive aspect of the google SGE feature, which offers users a choice of AI-suggested follow-up questions or the option to input their own queries, seems to add a layer of engagement and personalization. This could lead to a more bespoke search experience, enabling users to glean information closely aligned with their unique needs without the necessity to search through multiple blog posts.

However, these observations also point towards a possible drawback. The convenience of AI-generated summaries might inadvertently cause a decrease in the visibility of organic links and sponsored content.

If users find that the AI-generated snippet comprehensively and informatively answers their query, they might feel less inclined to scroll down and explore additional links. This could likely contribute to a rise in the occurrence of zero-click searches for queries with informational intent and a decrease in organic traffic.

Impact on Blog Posts

Given that blogs typically respond to informational queries, we could reasonably expect a significant decrease in click-through rates for blog posts following a full SGE rollout.

However, high-quality and informative content contributing to AI-generated summaries may have less impact, as the links to these sources should remain easily accessible. Such generative summaries could serve as starting points for users, who may then choose to delve deeper into the topic on the recommended web pages.

Each follow-up question provides access to more organic links in the SGE carousel and below the summary, making them accessible to users.

Adapting Blog SEO Strategy

  • Importance of Blogs: Blog posts serve functions that extend beyond mere traffic generation. They help demonstrate experience, expertise, authority, and trustworthiness (E-E-A-T), factors that Google considers when determining overall rankings. In this context, blog posts with high-quality content (both written and media) that offer comprehensive information and align with the user’s intent become essential for businesses or individuals to establish and showcase their authority and expertise within a specific industry, making them invaluable to both users and search engines.
  • Optimize Content for SGE: SGE generates answers from multiple trustworthy sources that directly answer the query, making top-quality content more crucial than ever. Additional optimizations for SEG might include media optimization (ensuring that the image is optimized for showing up in the SGE’s carousel with links), keyword research and on-page optimizations based on follow-up questions and highlighted content, and other technical optimizations that will ensure the content is available, well-structured, and can be phrased by bots. Off-page factors remain important.
  • Conclusion: Despite SGE’s impact on click rates, blog posts remain a key part of a robust SEO strategy, contributing to direct traffic, brand building, and authority establishment. With the advent of SGE, we may need to slightly adjust our approach, but the core principles remain the same. High-quality, informative content that aligns with user intent will always be valuable. As we navigate this new landscape, we must focus on optimizing our content to meet these evolving standards and continue to provide value.

Impact on Commercial and Transactional Queries

Commercial and transactional queries often involve users exploring options, comparing products or services, reading reviews, or being ready to conduct a transaction or make a purchase.

Our approach for testing includes a potential impact on:

  • Category and product pages, and
  • service pages.

Impact on Category & Products

During our tests, we encountered three common types of generated answers:

  1. Descriptive explanations
  2. Comprehensive products comparison overview
  3. Specific product overview
Descriptive Explanations

The ‘descriptive’ type of summary includes a brief overview and links to various sources, which aren’t limited to product pages. Among these links, product categories and blogs can also be found. This current approach doesn’t confine the user within the SERP but instead encourages them to continue their search on external sources.

Comprehensive Products Offer Overview

This type of SGE response integrates summarized product descriptions and cross-site price comparisons, much like a traditional category page.

Products displayed in this overview include a product summary, reviews, and prices, all summarized from multiple pages. Product description summaries potentially include user-generated content like reviews. The displayed price is the most common one, but further clicking on the product can reveal more prices based on offers from different sources.

Upon clicking on products, a new panel offers details about various offers, reviews, videos, and prices across different websites. Users can then directly click on a specific product page from this panel. Certain product panels contain a video section.

This shift could consequently reduce visits to external sites, indicating potential changes in user behavior. The research phase could be completed directly in SERP, which could lead to less traffic from users in the research phase.

Specific product overview

A generated summary may appear when searching for a specific product. It contains similar details as the ‘comprehensive products offer ai overviews here,’ allowing the user to complete the research phase in the SERP.

Adapting Product SEO Strategy

A new strategic approach should involve testing queries related to offers to understand the types of summaries they may trigger and aligning SEO strategy accordingly.

For instance, if the summary displays listings with prices, we may recommend adding the price and the necessary structured data to product pages. Given the potential for detailed product information to appear directly in summarized search results, ensuring that each product page is optimized with relevant keywords, high-quality images and videos, comprehensive and accurate product information, user reviews, and appropriate structured data and metadata could increase the visibility of these pages in SERPs, and potentially lead to their inclusion in AI-generated SERP summaries.

On the other hand, if the summary is descriptive, strategies like creating relevant blog posts or adding more content to the target product page might be effective.

As the landscape evolves, businesses must adapt by creating more competitive offers that appeal to users. Aligning organic rankings with these competitive offerings sends a clear signal to both search engines and users that your business is a strong contender in the marketplace. A proactive and adaptive approach will help businesses maintain visibility and competitiveness in an ever-evolving digital landscape.

Impact on Local Business Websites

During our testing period, we noticed that SGE occasionally appears inconsistently for local searches, even for identical queries. As this feature is still under development, we might see an increase in AI-generated summaries for local businesses and their offerings in the future.

AI summaries for local services and businesses pull data from Google Maps and external sources. All available links lead to Google Business Profile (GBP) panels, from which users can then click to visit websites.

Below the summary, we typically find paid ads(google ads) followed by the Local Search Box. Classic organic results appear after these.

Google prioritizes data from GBPs and GBP reviews. Additionally, short summaries of each business on the list are sometimes pulled from external sources – citations and social media.

This new overview emphasizes the importance of optimizing websites for local search, as well as GBPs, core listings and social media, and other important listings.

Currently, we notice that rankings in the Local Pack Box and generated summary aren’t the same, indicating that Google might use a different ranking algorithm in summaries.

Adapting Local SEO Strategy

  • Given that Google prominently features data from GBP listings and initially refers users to these listings rather than the official website, enhancing their optimization is crucial. It is vital to regularly collect customer reviews, maintain high-quality images, and fact-check and optimize each field in the listings.
  • With the prominence of GBP, GBP posts may take on greater importance. Therefore, their content should be aligned with the overall SEO strategy.
  • As Google pulls data from external sources, like citations and social media, it emphasizes the need to optimize content on these platforms.

Impact on Navigational Queries

For these queries, SGE’s impact on click-through rates(CTR) may be minimal since users have a clear destination in mind. Our focus for navigational queries will be on branded search.

Business Name

Currently, the SGE’s response to branded queries varies across industries. Summaries generated for Your Money Your Life (YMYL) websites are sometimes available and sometimes excluded from SGE responses. These exclusions might be temporary as Google works to refine the user experience.

The generated answers collect data from multiple sources:

  • GBP listing (mostly from reviews, images, NAP, and working hours)
  • Citations, social media, and review platforms
  • Official website (mostly the homepage and about us page)

The quantity of data incorporated into these summaries can vary; some summaries may include extensive information, while others may be more concise.

Data sources on the example from the screenshot:

  1. The generated summary – mostly from LinkedIn and BBB listings (description fields).
  2. Reviews and working hours – GBP listing (data are sometimes outdated)
  3. Images – GBP images
  4. Reviews – GBP reviews
  5. Sources – links to web pages associated with the business

Therefore, data displayed in SERP are detailed and do not solely rely on the official website data. Content in the summaries can impact the perception of the business/brand and could influence users’ decisions about engaging or continuing to engage with the business.

Optimizing a brand for Google’s search generative experience will become essential as it bolsters the brand’s visibility and credibility, shaping public perception and influencing consumer decisions.

Adapting Brand SEO Strategy

  • Continue GBP SEO Efforts: It remains crucial for every eligible business to optimize its Google Business Profiles. Business owners should be encouraged to upload high-quality, relevant images and to actively manage customer reviews to enhance their online reputation.
  • Continue Website SEO: Our ongoing SEO strategies continue to be a vital part of our approach, with additional emphasis on key business-related pages such as an ‘About Us’ page. These pages should contain up-to-date and relevant information optimized for users, search engines, and AI.
  • Refine External Source Data: Additional focus should be placed on external sources, such as social media, citations, and reputation/review platforms. This involves additional attention to details like descriptions, categorization, and other available data on these platforms, ensuring these elements align with the broader SEO strategies.

Wrapping Up with Google Search Generative Experience

Google’s Search Generative Experience (SGE) signifies a substantial shift in how users interact with search results, opening a new era of AI-driven summaries and tailored responses. While it is able to improve the search experience for the end user, at the same time, it has the potential to significantly impact user behavior and organic click-through rates, possibly leading to an increase in zero-click searches and a decrease in organic traffic.

While the full implications of SGE remain to be seen, one thing is clear: the SEO landscape is evolving. Businesses must be prepared for these changes, and SEO strategies must be adapted to ensure and maximize online visibility and effectiveness.

At SEO Brothers, we are closely monitoring the development of SGE and preparing for the upcoming changes. As Google continues to refine this feature, we commit to staying informed, adapting rapidly, and devising innovative strategies to help our clients remain competitive in this new digital era.