Navigating the Shift in Search with Google’s SGE

Google’s search engine, upon which billions of people, industries, and institutions rely for information and context about the world, is testing an artificial intelligence engine called Search Generative Experience (aka SGE).

Although we don’t know how SGE will be integrated into everyday search over time, these developments should grab the immediate attention of any business competing for customers on the web.

It also appears some industries will be affected more than others. A recent BrightEdge SGE analysis found that SGE is having an “extreme” impact on healthcare queries and a high impact on queries for eCommerce, B2B tech, insurance, and education. At issue is what might be a fundamental change in the way results are displayed after a search.

SGE may be great for Google but a new challenge for marketers.

Instead of returning a list of websites that may answer a user’s query, Google is testing AI to generate the overall answer directly and serve that up as the first listing. Let’s say you’re Mrs. Fields Cookies. You want to rank for the query, “Who makes the best chocolate chip cookies,” right? Today, without SGE, your results may look like this:

Sample search results for chocolate chip cookies

Sponsored ads run along the top, which users have seen (and often ignored) for years. The first organic result follows this: a story from today.com, which includes an image of our Mrs. Fields soft-baked cookies in the search result.

Chocolate Chip Cookies Ranked

Now look at the results with the AI-generated SGE search for the same query:

Generative AI Chocolate Chip Results

When a user activates SGE, sponsored and organic results appear to fall further down the page. The organic result for Mrs. Fields Cookies is still on the page but now it appears below the fold.

If SGE becomes fully integrated with search and rolled out, it may be possible for people to spend more time in Google – with potentially fewer clicks to your website. Ads, Google’s primary revenue source for search, still appear to be visible, but it remains to be seen if that will change. Users appear to be still able to scroll to find organic and paid results, but the experience will be different and may change user behavior.

Google’s AI integration into search

BrightEdge examined a billion queries and found that 76% of queries were affected by SGE. Nearly half of the queries in e-commerce, B2B tech, insurance, and education were also affected.

Industry queries affected by SGE

While these numbers may change as Google continues to tinker with the algorithm, this shift can potentially mean users will try to get their questions answered immediately on the search engine’s results page instead of going to your website for answers. However, it is also unclear how deep and valuable SGE data will be to them.

Past iterations of AI chatbots released by Microsoft and Meta were hastily recalled after racism, bias and misinformation leached into their responses. Google has been working on incorporating AI into its search engine for years. Yet, the company has been slow to release anything because of concerns of potential unintentional social impact, according to an internal Google memo.

When OpenAI launched ChatGPT in November 2022 and went viral, Google issued a “Code Red,” seeing the new tool as an existential threat. It was serious enough for Google CEO Sundar Pachai to call in founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page for a strategy session.

It appears Google’s huge investment in AI was funded in part by laying off more than 12,000 employees last year. Pachai told employees to brace for more layoffs at Google this year.

How this technology will be baked into everyday search can only be guessed at today. The future of Google search has artificial intelligence squarely at the center.

How You Should Be Preparing Now for SGE

The big picture: If Google becomes more of an answer engine than a search engine, users may get their answer on the SERP from Google more often than by clicking to your website.

TruStar Marketing’s SGE Preparation Plan Includes:

 

  • Speed is everything:

Currently without SGE, the top 3 search results got 54.4% of all clicks. If Google with SGE stops surfacing top organic results above the fold, fewer people may click into organically listed websites first. That would mean fewer clicks to record. Other organic key performance indicators like impressions and engagement would be likely to decline as well.

Companies slow to respond will have to prepare for different – possibly lower – year-over-year KPIs. Even diligent website owners may see declines. As marketers, we will be rapidly redefining new SEO strategies for digital success.

SGE delivers personalized and conversational answers to user search queries. For content to perform well, Google advises creating high-quality, useful, people-first content that meets users’ needs. While not considered ranking factors, Experience, Expertise, Authority, and Trustworthiness (E-E-A-T) are signals Google considers for page quality.

 

  • Websites will also need a seamless user experience:  

This helps people (and web crawlers) better understand your content. Images, infographics, and rich media like video all increase engagement and are critical. Structured data in the form of Schema markup helps search engines generate results for SGE, which may help position you to be included in Google’s answers.

 

  • Understand and build Entity SEO:

An entity is anything that can be defined. The overall shift to SGE means websites will need to focus on aligning their entities to their markets.

For example, chocolate chip cookies are an entity. So is Mrs. Fields. But for a brand like Mrs. Fields to become part of the SGE response to “who makes the best chocolate chip cookies,” the digital properties must show a deep understanding of the chocolate chip cookie ecosystem and the intent of the query.

Is the query intent to buy cookies or bake them? Does “best chocolate chip cookie” mean one with snap or one with chew? SGE may have an opinion, or at least appears to at this time. In separate searches on 2 different days, SGE found Tate’s Bake Shop to be the best commercial brand. A separate search on another day found Trader Joe’s cookies to be the best.

Websites must still clearly demonstrate experience, expertise, and authority, all of which translate into trustworthiness, in their content and structure. At the same time, the pages must cohesively show an understanding of the ecosystem. In this case, the cookie ecosystem includes commercial and home bakers, surveys of experts, cookie texture preferences, etc. How this will translate onto a web page will require deep analysis to sort out.

What You Might Anticipate Next on SGE

At this point, no one truly knows how brands can best optimize for SGE. Google’s investments in AI could profoundly disrupt how people use the web, but the feature remains in the development phase. And Google remains the most impactful searchable database in the world.

AI played prominently in last year’s developer conference, Google I/O, including the introduction of SGE in search, generative writing suggestions in Gmail, immersive view routes for Maps, and the “magic editor” experience in Photos. The company has not yet announced 2024 dates.

We at TruStar Marketing know navigating the future of search and SGE requires deep experience, and highly trained and Google-certified humans to help companies like yours compete. We’ve got some pretty smart humans here – who love the challenges of SEO. Regardless of what the future holds, our mission is to help you improve the results from your marketing – measurably.