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Google’s SGE: Insights from SEOFOMO x Wix

An image of author George Nguyen, accompanied by the title of this article (Google’s SGE: Insights from SEOFOMO) and a graphic of a line chart.

Nearly a year ago, Google unveiled its AI-powered Search Generative Experience (SGE)—the company’s competitor to OpenAI’s GPT-4, which powers Microsoft Bing. And although Google has been tight-lipped about its plans for a wider SGE rollout, it’s clear that generative AI will be a key component of search results in the near future. 


This means major brands and SEOs need to pay attention to SGE and its AI overviews if they want to maintain a competitive edge—especially in industries like eCommerce and publishing.


On April 16, 2024, Aleyda Solis, SEO consultant and founder at Orainti, hosted the SEOFOMO Meetup at the Wix Playground in New York. 


The expert panel at the SEOFOMO Meetup at the Wix Playground in NYC. From left to right: Aleyda Solis, Barry Schwartz, Lily Ray, Ann Smarty, Chris Green, Mordy Oberstein, Michael King, Annie Cushing, and Ross Kernez.

At this event, some of the industry’s top SEOs discussed SGE’s impact on their strategies, how Google’s business model may need to adapt, and their new priorities in this AI-powered search environment.


Insights:




AI overviews disincentivize top-of-funnel content creation


“If people don’t have the incentive to create this content that [Google has] been learning from, at some point, it will stop and they won’t have access to information to learn from.” Aleyda Solis, SEO Consultant and Founder at Orainti

“[Google] is, let’s say, ‘bridging’ all of the product reviews, et cetera, from publications, but also all the PLPs and category and facets from actual merchants, because they recreate that experience directly in the [SGE] snapshot,” Solis said.


A screenshot of the google search results for the term [best cold weather hiking clothes], showing an AI overview, two gear guides as the top organic results, and several sponsored ads that lead directly to product landing pages
Google’s SGE summarizes information, decreasing the need to click through.

For many shopping-related queries, Google’s AI overviews summarize content so that users don’t need to click through to the original publisher’s domain. At the same time, Google can show links directly to product pages, effectively disincentivizing top-of-the-funnel content creation by appropriating it for the SERP.


But, “if you cull a blog because it’s not generating revenue, well, you don’t know what revenue that was generating further on down the line,” Chris Green, senior SEO consultant at Torque Partnerships, cautioned attendees. 


Naturally, Google’s changes will impact businesses differently. “I think investing in really understanding what traffic is commercially valuable—even if it’s not absolutely important to conversion—is super important,” Green said, adding, “So find out what’s actually a risk, but present some scenarios [to your stakeholders],” so that you can map out some potential ways to adapt your strategy.


Google needs to bridge AI overviews and ad revenue


The question of “If no one’s creating top-of-funnel content for Google to train its AI on, then where will the data come from?” isn’t the only dilemma the search engine has to solve—it also has to offset any potential ad revenue losses associated with SGE.


“There is also the other part in Google, which feels that they’re going to be losing a ton of revenue—especially in display ads,” said event attendee John Shehata.


“Imagine you are a parent with two kids looking for a trip in Florida, in a place that’s family friendly and so on, and it takes you two weeks to find the right hotels. SGE—good or bad—can solve it for you in a couple of days in a journey with like three or four different questions. So, you reduced a hundred pages full of display ads into like three, four SGE questions.” — John Shehata, CEO and Founder at NewzDash

Google will need to recoup any lost revenue as a result of fewer ads shown to users. There are many levers that the company can pull to do this, including only showing AI overviews when it doesn’t show ads and even putting its generative AI features behind a paywall (which poses another question: Are users willing to pay for what they’re used to getting for free?).


At any rate, this situation lacks a clear solution and, without one, SGE is less likely to roll out globally (at least not in the implementation that Google has tested so far).



SGE or not, capture low-hanging fruit for SEO clients


“There’s still so much fruit that is just left to die on the tree. Case in point: I’m constantly encouraging clients, ‘Let’s do some linear regressions to see which of your data points predict increased revenue!’ Google can’t take that from you.” — Annie Cushing, Senior Marketing Analyst at Annielytics

Generative AI opens up a world of possibilities and a universe of questions to go with them—many of which are just distractions given how often businesses and clients overlook the basics. And, while these possibilities and questions are exciting, they don’t overshadow existing digital marketing and SEO best practices when it comes to moving the needle for your business (or your clients’).


“The beauty of machine learning is that you just take all of your data columns—throw all that spaghetti against the wall—and see which are most predictive,” Annie Cushing, senior marketing analyst at Annielytics, recommended. “Sometimes it may be gender, age group, location, the category of your website, but there are data points out there that you can use very simple, linear regression [to predict increased revenue],” she said, adding, “If you don’t know what I’m talking about, ask [Chat]GPT—you can take the first 10 rows of a dataset with 50–60 columns and ask it to generate Python code for you. There’s no excuse not to learn this.”


Even for larger businesses/clients, low-hanging fruit can make your work more impactful while you assess the opportunities that generative AI may bring to your brand in search results.


“I don’t know about you, I work a lot with enterprise-level clients that still have ‘Home’ for their homepage title tags,” said event attendee Nick LeRoy, freelance SEO consultant and owner of SEOjobs.com. “There’s so much that we can still do to bring them from their current state to something higher, despite SGE and the level that it rolls out,” he added.


Despite uncertainty, you can still position your clients for SGE


“For the first few months, your traffic is frankly going to drop. And so what we’ve been telling our clients is, ‘Do you actually show up in these AI overviews?’” — Michael King, Founder and CEO at iPullRank 

Google has yet to fully reveal if, when, or how SGE’s capabilities will roll out to users. But in its current implementation, the presence of AI overviews for your target keywords may fundamentally impact the value of those keywords for your SEO strategy. 


Without SGE, users can click on traditional search listings, ads, or SERP features. With SGE, while Google still shows the aforementioned search elements, they all currently appear below ads and the AI overview, meaning that your traffic will likely decrease unless you’re featured in the AI overview (or you’re close to the top of the results). 


“We’ve been doing these things that we call our ‘SGE threat reports,’ where we take all the keywords that are driving the most traffic for you and then we scrape what SGE is doing right now (as far as what it returns),” said Michael King, founder and CEO at iPullRank, explaining that the threat reports include the AI overview and how long it takes to load.



“[The loading time] has changed dramatically since we started doing this,” King said. “When we first started, they were taking up to 30 seconds to load—now, they’re all taking less than a second.” That substantial load time improvement is a threat to website traffic, according to King, because (in the event of a wider rollout) users will be intrigued by SGE’s novel capabilities.


“For the first few months, your traffic is frankly going to drop,” King said of queries affected by SGE, “And so what we’ve been telling our clients is, ‘Do you actually show up in these AI overviews?’” 


If so, that’s the best case scenario, since appearing in such a prominent spot is a valuable branding opportunity and you’re likely to attract some traffic (akin to earning a featured snippet).


“If you don’t appear in the AI overviews, then you need to think about which keywords don’t show AI overviews—then, let’s focus our efforts more there so we can get the traffic from those keywords,” King said.


Structured data is more important than ever


“In the large language model environment, it uses all of the available vocabulary. So I would encourage all of you to mark up all your sites. We [as SEOs] all just look at Schema like, ‘Oh what’s going to show up in Google?’ No—use everything.” — Michael King, Founder and CEO at iPullRank

“So we all think of structured data as like, ‘I want the reviews snippets, the star ratings, the how-to results, or whatever,” King said, emphasizing that Schema markup has wider implications now that search engines are augmenting their capabilities with generative AI. “All large language models leverage structured data.”


This is also why King does not advise that businesses block large language models (LLMs) from their websites. “If I go to ChatGPT and your brand is not there, then I’m not necessarily going to consider your brand,” he said.


ChatGPT results for the prompt “Tell me about Temu”. The response reads: "Temu" can refer to several things depending on the context. Here are a few possibilities: Temu: In Indonesian, "temu" is a word that means "to meet" or "to encounter." It can also refer to a gathering or meeting. Temu: In some languages, "temu" may refer to a specific plant or herb. For example, "temu lawak" is a type of ginger native to Indonesia that's used in traditional medicine. Temu: It could also be a name or a nickname for a person, in which case I wouldn't have specific information unless you provide more context. Could you specify which "Temu" you're referring to?

For eCommerce brands, structured data will continue to be a cornerstone of your strategy. “In a year or so, I’m pretty sure we will be seeing a completely different experience and search results for shopping—independently of SGE or not,” Solis said.


Aleyda Solis speaking at the SEOFOMO Meetup at the Wix Playground in NYC. Barry Schwartz and Lily Ray are seated on the right side of the photo.

“If you take a look at the releases in The Keyword blog [Google’s official blog for product and technology updates], when they do all of these announcements every three months or so, they announce a new experience—more support of structured data to provide new search features, a rich result, deals, dedicated page—they’re pretty much creating a new layer, a UI experience to become a competitor of Amazon,” Solis said, recommending that eCommerce marketers strengthen their focus on structured data, especially to take advantage of the types and properties Google supports.


SGE is just the beginning


A photo of the attendees and experts at the SEOFOMO Meetup at the Wix Playground in NYC.

We don’t know exactly how Google will implement and roll out generative AI to its users beyond the current SGE experiment. Even so, as Google learns how users respond to its AI overviews, we, as SEOs, also learn.


Whatever shape it ultimately takes, we now have a preview of its impact on SEO. Use this knowledge to help your colleagues, clients, and managers understand how Google is evolving and what you recommend they focus on to stay visible as AI permeates the search results.


 

george nguyen

George Nguyen is the Director of SEO Editorial at Wix. He creates content to help users and marketers better understand how search works. He was formerly a search news journalist and is known to speak at the occasional industry event.

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