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Navigating the AI-Driven Future of Search: Google’s Search Generative Experience (SGE)

By Amanda Tietjen

March 27, 2024

Google's Search Generative Experience

In the ever-evolving landscape of online search, the integration of artificial intelligence has ushered in a new era. At the forefront of this transformative wave is Google’s Search Generative Experience (SGE), a groundbreaking experiment reshaping how users interact with search results and redefining search engine optimization strategy

This article delves into the anticipated impact of generative AI on search dynamics, exploring its introduction, evolution and implications for businesses navigating the digital realm. 

Join us on a journey through the intricacies of AI-driven search, where specific questions yield immediate answers and the traditional click-through model undergoes a paradigm shift. 

Welcome to the future of search — where the power of generative AI meets the human craving for personalized, efficient information.

What is the Search Generative Experience (SGE)?

Let’s start from the beginning. In May 2023, Google introduced the Search Generative Experience (SGE), an experiment incorporating AI-generated responses directly into search results. 

In the current beta phase, AI-generated results have been observed in 84% of total searches (source: Brightedge), indicating a substantial potential impact on brands’ organic search traffic upon full rollout. 

While there is no official release date, preparations are underway as experts anticipate elements of SGE will roll out publicly throughout 2024. 

Prepping for SGE timeline

How Does SGE Work? 

We already know that the digital landscape is vast and ever-expanding, making the task of finding specific information akin to finding a needle in a haystack. Google’s search engine has already been the dominant force for grabbing those needles. 

Now, enter SGE, a revolutionary approach to search that leverages AI to crawl websites and then gather and present information. But how does this process work? 

SGE doesn’t just fetch and reproduce content; it intelligently generates search results tailored to user queries. Currently, the results can be broadly classified into four types:

  1. Fully Generated: These results are completely produced by AI, synthesizing information from various sources to provide comprehensive answers without the need for further clicks.
  2. Partially Generated: While these include AI-generated summaries, they prompt users to visit the original web pages for more detailed information, offering a blend of efficiency and depth.
  3. Click-to-Generate: This innovative feature allows users to request specific information on a topic directly from the search results page, dynamically generating concise answers.
  4. Not Available: Sometimes, the AI determines that generating a response isn’t possible or appropriate due to the complexity or sensitivity of the query, directing users to traditional search results instead.
sge state search queries

SGE is versatile and capable of presenting a wide array of features in its search results. These features include:

  • Copy: Textual content generated or summarized by the AI, providing quick, digestible answers to queries.
  • Images: Visually engaging content selected or created by the AI to complement the textual information, enhancing user understanding.
  • Product Listings: For commerce-related searches, SGE can generate product listings complete with images, prices and descriptions, streamlining the shopping experience.
  • Google Business Profile Listings: Local searches might yield AI-generated summaries of business profiles, offering essential information like hours, locations and services.
  • Knowledge Graph: For factual inquiries, SGE can tap into Google’s Knowledge Graph to provide accurate, up-to-date information on people, places and things.

In essence, Google’s SGE is a sophisticated blend of AI technology and vast data engineered to make the search experience more intuitive, informative and efficient. 

Embracing Change: The Impact of SGE on SEO

Generative AI is ushering Google into a new era, enabling the search giant to deliver personalized, helpful and highly relevant information at the drop of a hat. While this is great for users, it introduces a seismic shift that can be daunting for brands. 

Let’s dig into the changes that SGE has set in motion:

  • The way search results appear will change.
  • Click-through rates will decrease. 
  • Keywords searched in Google will change. 
  • Expectations of quality will increase.

SGE is expected to impact the majority of Google searches. And, contrary to conventional wisdom, high rankings do not guarantee inclusion in AI-generated results. Traditional Google rankings are not the determining factor for being “sourced” or featured in AI-generated responses. In fact, only 46% of the SGE sources rank in the top 10 positions of traditional organic search results.

Ignoring this paradigm shift would be a misstep no business can afford.

8 Things You Can Do to Prepare for SGE

To ensure your business is ready to navigate this evolving SEO terrain, we invite you to take proactive steps. Embrace specificity in your content, optimize your online real estate and prioritize engagement beyond traditional platforms. Our tailored strategies encompass everything from high-quality multimedia content to advanced schema integration. 

Take action and stay ahead with these eight tips to prepare for the SGE rollout. 

  1. Embrace specificity & personalization in content
  2. Think about real estate, not rankings
  3. Update the metrics that matter
  4. Optimize more than just your website
  5. Prioritize topics, not keywords
  6. Take a fresh look at the conversion experience
  7. Solidify your technical SEO foundation
  8. Invest in trustworthiness

1. Embrace specificity & personalization in content 

Google is looking to serve the best possible answer to user queries. In the imminent era of AI-generated content, it will be specific, unique and data-driven content that emerges as the linchpin for garnering visibility and providing users with the best answers. To align with this shift, consider implementing the following strategies:

  • Share unique data and insights. Stand out in the sea of AI-generated noise by creating content that offers unique data points or insights from thought leaders. This approach will help you distinguish yourself from crawlers and earn your human audience’s trust. 
  • Answer frequently asked questions. Embrace the conversational nature of chatbots like Bard and ChatGPT by incorporating FAQs into your content. This not only enhances your information’s clarity but also aligns with exploratory features that are being added to SERPs.
  • Create interactive tools that drive engagement and create personalized experiences. As users acclimate to personalized, AI-generated search results, expectations for quality, curated content will grow. We now know that user engagement and quality are used to train Google’s algorithms. So, to meet these heightened standards and maintain relevance in the evolving digital landscape, brands must think about ways to replicate these personalized experiences on their websites through interactive tools like quizzes, calculators and onsite chatbots.  

2. Think about real estate, not rankings

The very fabric of search results is evolving. While regular web listings historically dominated the SERP real estate, Google-owned features (such as generative AI and other rich results) are poised to take center stage, diminishing the share of traditional organic results. So, what’s next? SEO strategies will need to shift to encourage your site to rank within Google’s rich and generative results in the future. 

moz sge serp

Marketers will need to make a mindset shift to thinking about the SERP as a whole and how much real estate you take up versus the rank position for a single page on your website. 

  • Invest in creating content in different formats. The term “Content” has evolved exponentially over the past several years and search engines have adapted to the changing interest and engagement in content types ranging from more traditional written content to video and infographic content. Publish an article, design an infographic, produce an explainer video, host an expert interview on a podcast, share your perspective on a forum, or develop a quiz that allows your audience to interact with your content. When you expand your content horizons, your potential reach in search will respond in kind. 
content creation types
  • Optimize featured imagery. Search results are becoming more visual. In many of the SGE responses, featured websites are shown alongside an image, making high-quality, relevant visuals more important to organic search click-through rate than ever before. 
  • Mark up content with structured data. The SERPs of 2024 are about more than just owning a single regular web listing in search results. If you want to take up more real estate, you’re going to have to consider what rich results and exploratory features your brand can own. People Also Ask listings, product listings, video listings, image listings and more are opportunities ripe for the picking. But to do so, you’ll need to mark up your relevant content with structured data like FAQPage schema, Product schema, VideoObject schema and more. 
  • Collaborate & integrate organic search efforts. SEO shouldn’t exist in a silo. And if you aren’t doing so already – the time has come to invest in collaboration and strategy integration across departments and teams. Align with paid advertising, public relations, organic social, design and other teams and departments to tap into insights, streamline workflows and drive success. An example scenario is partnering with paid search teams to have ongoing conversations about SERP layout changes, share the content roadmap and leverage competitive insights. For SGE, in particular, paid search investment could even be leveraged to support drops in organic search when a generative AI pushes top rankings below the fold.

3. Update the metrics that matter

As Google’s search results evolve, SEO is moving beyond a focus on individual keyword rankings. Instead, the emphasis will be on occupying the most prominent space within the search results for a given topic. 

This necessitates a shift in how we measure and report on SEO performance. From enterprise SEO platforms like BrightEdge and Conductor, we’ll need the ability to report on information like: 

  • SGE Pattern Recognition: Being able to measure and track patterns within SGE results will be essential for optimizing content and presentation for maximum impact.
  • Visibility & Share of Voice: Metrics that track a brand’s overall presence across different channels and result types within a SERP. This goes beyond just the top-ranked position for a single keyword.
  • Click-Through Rate (CTR) Modeling: Understanding how the way an SGE result appears impacts CTR (click-through rate) will be crucial. We’ll need a model that allows brands to predict how traffic is affected by different SGE presentation styles.
  • Integration of Conversion & Data: By combining SEO metrics with user behavior data from Google Analytics 4 (GA4) and other sources, we can assess a content piece’s true value beyond just its search visibility. This allows us to see if content is effectively driving conversions and achieving business goals.

In short, SEO is transitioning from keyword dominance to visibility dominance. Reporting should reflect this shift by focusing on metrics that showcase a brand’s overall prominence in the search landscape.

4. Optimize more than just your website

Google is looking for the best possible answer to user queries, which may be from content on your website. But it could also come from a comment on a forum, a clip in a video or audio file, or an infographic. The types of content that we can (and will need to) create for search will change. To stay ahead of the curve, it will be important to invest in optimizing for search using new content formats. 

Optimization ideas include: 

  • Engage with Customers Outside of the .com: For example LinkedIn forums and Reddit or Quora threads.
  • Partner with Authoritative Organizations: News publications and aggregator websites to get your business featured in content, comparison listicles and reviews. Partnering with thought leaders in the industry to create content will help source authorship expertise and generate additional organic, high-quality backlinks.
  • Invest in Public Relations and Organic Social. The more individuals and organizations talking about you positively online, the better. Think about ways to partner with PR teams – such as utilizing the high-value content created for SEO across social media and press releases to organically attract backlinks and improve search authoritativeness. By sharing learnings between social, PR and SEO, all three teams can be better armed to create high-quality, helpful and engaging content.
  • Lean into User-Generated Content. Amplifying user-generated content from social media to be used on organic pages can improve the online reputation of your brand. This can be in the form of testimonials, first-hand experiences, discussions and comments. 
  • Build Local and Industry Citations. Citations for the businesses, like Google Business Profiles, should also be built and optimized across relevant industry directories and local business listings to increase brand awareness and local search ranking. An optimized listing profile contains accurate and up-to-date information, including business hours, contact details and a compelling description. 

5. Prioritize topics, not keywords

Gone are the days of churning out endless pieces of content for every possible keyword variation. As search engines’ understanding of natural language has improved, we’ve entered an era where algorithms have grown wiser and can grasp the true intent behind users’ searches. SEO strategies should center on satisfying the underlying motivations of users when they perform a search (rather than targeting a specific set of keywords). In some cases, this may necessitate investing in consolidation and de-cannibalization of old, duplicative content pieces. 

At the same time, users of AI disruptors like ChatGPT and Bard are becoming accustomed to more nuanced, conversational queries. With the integration of SGE and similar generative AI results in search imminent, experts anticipate hyper long-tail queries becoming more popular than traditional “keywords” in search. This shift—paired with the algorithms’ continued focus on topical expertise and authority—will necessitate the creation of new content to reach the audience’s heightened expectations of personalization. 

With SEO, the goal should be to align what brands do with the way their target audience uses search engines to maximize connection and conversion among qualified, active audiences. Understanding search behavior is the key to meeting customers at the right place and time in their search journey.

With all of this in mind, successful SEO strategies in 2024 will lean into topic and intent-based content creation while balancing a need to de-cannibalize old, duplicative content.

6. Take a fresh look at the conversion experience

With Google’s SGE, more users will receive their answers directly in search, removing the need to click through to a site. Alongside the AI-generated results, Google’s introduction of additional rich features to enhance search refinement further encourages users to explore and evaluate content on Google, reducing their time spent on businesses’ websites.

Although users will likely spend more of their exploration and evaluation time within Google, they will still need to click through to websites to make a final conversion. That’s why a successful SEO strategy is about more than just keyword rankings. It’s essential that we are able to create an organic search model that drives clicks and ultimately converts. 

How can we make the most of the traffic that is still coming through to your website? 

  • Reduce Psychological Barriers to Conversion: Overcome choice overload, lack of knowledge/interest and lack of time by creating interactive tools, quizzes and calculators that help improve the user experience and streamline the path to conversion. 
  • Embrace Specificity: Google is looking to serve the best possible answer to queries and users need relevance and personalization. In the imminent era of AI-generated content, unique and nuanced content will emerge as the linchpin for garnering visibility and providing users with the best answers. Provide unique and influential data points, target more long-tail search queries and highlight testimonials/reviews that showcase positive experiences from relatable customers. 
  • Design for Efficiency & Ease of Understanding: By providing cues and signals that allow the user to quickly find or validate that the information they’re seeking is on the page (ex., table of contents, key takeaways, highlights, etc.).
  • Customize the Conversion Messaging to the User’s Mindset: Not all users are ready for a low-funnel CTA to be shoved in their faces. Instead, customize the conversion experience to the user’s needs at each phase of their journey. 
  • Test, Measure and Iterate: Playing it safe only gets you so far. Push the envelope and test ways to delight customers across your channels.
  • Personalize the Experience. Provide valuable and personally relevant experiences for visitors to increase usability, relevancy, clarity, etc. Create opportunities to use interactive tools and personalization for improved engagement.

7. Solidify Your Technical SEO Foundation

The foundation of a successful SEO strategy is a website’s technical health. A lot of things have to happen on the website before users and crawlers can “see” the content on your page. 

Prioritize technical SEO optimizations to ensure content can be successfully crawled and indexed by search engines and provide a positive page experience for users. 

  • Improve crawlability and indexability with regular technical error and opportunity reports.
  • Optimize architecture clarity with recommendations for topic-clustered URLs,  taxonomy, canonicalization and internal linking.
  • Create and submit a well-structured sitemap for improved indexing.
  • Leverage structured data markup to enhance search results.

8. Invest in Trustworthiness

Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trust (E-E-A-T) has become Google’s mantra, and it is permeating into everything they do.

Highlighting that your content was created by an expert or individual with first-hand experience, that your brand is authoritative, and that your content is trustworthy are essential parts of a future-focused content strategy. 

  • Highlight customer experience through testimonials, ratings and perspectives.
  • Showcase trust signals like professional awards, third-party accreditations and positive industry reviews.
  • Ensure content is accurate, readable, well-sourced and fresh. 
  • Comply with accessibility and safety best practices. 
  • Provide clear information about who you are through onsite content (about us pages) and structured data.
  • Partner with PR and organic social teams to grow your offsite authoritativeness. Invest in earning backlinks from reputable sites, generating positive third-party reviews and write-ups and improving the accuracy of Google’s knowledge graph of your brand.
  • Lend human expertise and experience to your content. More than half of all content published by AI has incorrect information. As AI becomes more prominent in search, the desire for expertise and experience from human thoughts and opinions will grow as well. All signs point to video and author-led optimization having massive opportunities in the near future, especially when paired with a trustworthy face and experienced opinion. 

FAQs About AI & SEO

Q:  Is my organic traffic going to go down? 

In short, yes, but the extent depends on factors like the user’s search intent and where they are in their purchase journey. 

For example, with quick informational searches, users may no longer need to click through as SGE will provide them with an immediate answer in the search results. However, final conversions still require website visits. So when a user has finished exploring and evaluating their options, they’ll still need to click through to a website when they’re ready to make a purchase. 

This means websites will likely see a drop in traffic as a result of SGE’s release. However, it also means the traffic that they will receive is of higher quality. That’s why it will be essential to invest in improving the conversion path for these more qualified visitors to your website. 

Q:  Do keywords still matter?

In short, yes, keywords still matter. But their role is evolving.  Despite ongoing speculation about the demise of keywords since Google’s Hummingbird algorithm a decade ago, they remain the crucial backbone of a data-informed SEO strategy, even with the advent of SGE. 

However, a byproduct of SGE will be a shift toward more conversational, long-tail queries and a broader array of keyword variations searched at lower volumes. Width rather than depth. 

As a result, marketers should transition from purely keyword-based optimization to a focus on topics and the topic clustering of related content.

Q:  Will we be able to see rankings inside the AI snippet?

As of now, industry-leading tools like Brightedge and Conductor have not released ways to track and report on rankings inside of SGE’s AI-generated snippet. However, we can rest assured that the platforms’ product development teams have these capabilities in their roadmaps for 2024. 

Why hasn’t Google released this already?

The delay in Google’s full-scale release of Search Generative Experience (SGE) is rooted in an exercise of caution driven by the potential liabilities associated with AI-generated responses. This measured approach addresses critical concerns such as source attribution problems, plagiarism, displaying outdated or irrelevant information, and issues with product recommendations.

Introducing Gemini, Google’s cutting-edge AI model adds another layer to this narrative. Operating multimodally, Gemini exhibits a remarkable ability to comprehend and process diverse information types, spanning text, code, audio, image, and video. Google’s experimentation with Gemini to power SGE, initiated in December 2023, showcased a notable 40% reduction in latency and a marked improvement in accuracy. This strategic integration of Gemini reflects Google’s progress in refining the AI infrastructure before unleashing the full potential of SGE to the public.

Timeline of the SGE Rollout

  • May 2023 – SGE in USE: Google introduced the search generative experience (SGE) to English-speaking U.S. audiences as part of the Search Labs. 
  • August 2023 – SGE in India & Japan: Google expanded SGE to two new countries (India and Japan) and additional languages. 
  • November 2023 – SGE in 120 Countries: Generative AI in search rolled out to 120 new countries/territories and four new languages (Spanish, Portuguese, Korean and Indonesian).
  • December 2023 – Gemini Released: Google announced its new multimodal LLM, Gemini, is being tested in SGE and has reduced the latency of responses by 40%. 
  • 2024 – SGE Global Rollout: Although SGE is available in over 120 countries and multiple languages, locations like the U.K. still do not have access to the experiment. Additionally, users are still required to sign up for the beta in Search Labs. However, experts are anticipating the global, public rollout of SGE in early 2024. 

SEO at Noble Studios

SEO can get a bad rap. (I’m looking at you, Verge article).  Many believe it’s about using “black hat tactics” to “game the system” by spammily stuffing keywords onto a page in a way that isn’t helpful for actual users or even impactful to a business’s bottom line.

But that’s not the kind of SEO we do at Noble Studios. And with Google’s newest AI advancements, that’s not the kind of content that will be rewarded, either. 

noble seo approach

Our approach to SEO is rooted in the belief that meaningful connections lead to conversions. We aim to leverage our clients’ deep knowledge and expertise in their fields to craft high-quality content that fulfills a genuine need of their target audience and establishes trust. And our optimization techniques are what ensure this content gains visibility to reach the right audience at the right time. 

Conclusion: Navigating the Future of SEO with SGE

As we stand on the cusp of the Search Generative Experience (SGE) revolution, the landscape of SEO is undergoing a profound transformation. The integration of generative AI and Google’s new AI model, Gemini, signifies a paradigm shift in how users access information, challenging businesses to adapt and thrive in this dynamic environment.

At Noble Studios, we recognize the enormity of this change and embrace the challenges it presents. Our commitment to staying ahead of the curve has positioned us as pioneers in preparing businesses for the global rollout of SGE. The journey ahead demands a strategic approach and we’re here to guide you through it.

Contact Us for Expert Support

As businesses gear up for the SGE global rollout, the need for expert guidance has never been more crucial. Noble Studios is here to be your partner in this transformative journey. Contact us today for personalized support, ensuring your brand not only adapts but thrives in the era of AI-driven search experiences.

The future of SEO is unfolding before our eyes, and with Noble Studios by your side, your business is poised not just to keep up but to lead the way.

Prepare for tomorrow, today. Contact us and let’s navigate the future of SEO together.

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