We have all heard the rumours regarding the new AI generated Google search experience. Last month’s post even touched on these rumours a little bit. Google has finally announced that the day of AI and Google search being integrated has arrived, which has simultaneously been followed by many SEO professional’s speculating about the manner in which SEO will now have to adapt to this innovation. Despite this experience only being available through a GoogleLabs waitlist, Google still announced what this experience means for users in a live demo last week. This month’s blog post has delved deeper into this new Google innovation and the ways this may or may not significantly impact the SEO industry as we see it today.
So let’s get right into it.
What will the new Google search generative AI look like?
To get everyone up to speed, let’s firstly reiterate that the Search Generative Experience (SGE) is the AI integration into Google. Google has explained that with SGE, the layout of the search results will be more simple for users, and therefore users will be able to get their questions answered faster. Users can ask questions they did not think was possible, users can ask follow up questions in a natural and conversational like manner, and finally, users can get more done for example drafting creative ideas in search.
Here is what SGE will look like:
A user will ask Google a question, such as the one in the snapshot below. The AI response will follow right beneath the search bar, replacing the snippet feature, and ultimately the Google results pushed further down underneath the AI results. This update is great for users, because as stipulated previously, the users get their answers immediately, such as “Mars and Venus” being the most most similar planets to earth and why.
You may be thinking however, that as great as this is for users, this is not so good for SEO professionals or businesses because the motivation for users to click onto websites to get their answers has declined, despite Google citing the source article in its response (as you can see in the red box below). This citation feature has also been discussed further slightly later in this blog post.
An additional SGE feature that Google explained in their live demo, was how SGE will impact vertical searches. A vertical search is a search where the users will engage in a search journey that is literally vertical, such as shopping or doing a local search. These searches often have certain requirements for users such as product reviews, product requirements, prices and images. SGE will now make this complex search journey easier for users by having all of these requirements in one place, as well as providing the user with the most up to date information due to the fact that SGE is based on Google’s shopping graph which is the world’s most complex dataset in terms of sellers, products, prices etc.
In the snapshot below, the user has asked Google for “a good bike, for a 5 mile commute with hills”.
Purchasing something as expensive as a bike can be a big decision for a user, and because of this, SGE has broken down its answer to provide the user the most important factors to look for when purchasing a bike for example, design or suspension. This can be seen in the red box above. Right below that section of the response (in the yellow box) , you can see the bikes that AI has recommended in accordance with “aspects you should consider when buying a bike”. The AI answer also provides prices and consumer reviews. The biggest concern from SEO professionals regarding this kind of AI response, is that users will again only be looking at the AI response and not clicking on the actual product website to do their own investigating.
In addition to vertical search, users will be able to experience “conversational mode” which is where the user can ask follow up questions in order to delve deeper into their own search or conduct more complicated search. It is important to note here, that the citations that were mentioned earlier will change with every follow-up question the user asks. SGE therefore has the ability to remember the user’s previous searches and based on that, give personalized responses. This is in essence Google’s response to Chat GPT.
The snapshot below puts this “conversational mode” into practicality. The user uses the “follow up” option in image 1 and asks the AI for “e-bikes in red” without having to backtrack and re-type what was asked in the previous search about the best bikes for their commute (in image 2). In image 3, results come up in line with what the user is looking for from the beginning of their search.
All the good amongst the bad
After having read all that SGE means, how it will look, and how it might affect SEO, there is a lot of good news for SEO amongst what you might think is all bad. Firstly, to touch on the citation feature mentioned earlier, Google released an update that Bard will be featuring citations in its responses to users in search. Google’s biggest concern with AI is the fact that AI might hurt the “eco-system” that connects users, publishers and content creators that Google has worked so hard on building and maintaining. Their concern is that AI generated responses will decrease traffic to websites, ultimately giving publishers no incentive to create content.
The new feature on Bard is ultimately Google responding to the above mentioned fear. In summary, what this update will do is show the users the sources of Bard’s response. In other words, it links websites to its responses. Bard explains that the manner in which it does this is by deciding for itself which website provides users with the best response (which could possibly be based on Domain Authority, however this process is not clear yet.) This new update is very similar to how SGE cites websites in their responses mentioned and pointed out in the beginning of this post. To go back to that SGE feature, it is not clear yet how AI will cite these websites, however professionals have suggested that the top three ranking websites on Google will be listed in that space with the following seven listed beneath the AI response. It is also possible that paid search will also be featured in that space, such as with the bike example.
Therefore it is possible to say that SEO will not die, however it is just the manner in which SEO is executed will have to be adapted to suit these innovations. For example, SEO professionals may have to optimize websites in order to be cited in Bard or rank in the AI generated responses.
Google ultimately knows that they have to ensure traffic remains flowing into websites for a few reasons. Firstly, if users are not engaging with websites, publishers will have very little incentive to publish and even create websites, therefore the AI that SGE is based off of will have nothing to generate responses from. This would be a pretty flawed AI system if you ask me, hence the Bard update and SGE citation feature.
Secondly, Google also knows that users prefer to read content that has been created by humans which has real-life human experience and therefore Google has ensured that SGE is only a “jumping off point” to further search. Google has implemented this through its citation feature that has been mentioned a number of times now, however also through another feature in SGE. The AI will not be able to answer questions about anything, specifically it will not answer questions regarding medical or financial search. Users will therefore have to conduct their own search regarding those topics. AI will also not be able to give answers regarding topics that are not thoroughly covered on the internet. What “thoroughly covered” means though, has not been defined by Google just yet.
Finally, Google will ensure that websites continue to gain traffic simply because of money. Google generates an incredible amount of money through Google ads such as paid search. Simply put, there will be very little motivation for bidders to bid for an advertising space on websites with no audience.
Why do we care?
With all this taken into consideration, it is understandable why anyone who works in the SEO industry may be nervous regarding these updates. It is important to note however that people have been saying for many years, and with every Google update, that SEO is dead. SEO has arguably however, become more and more relevant each year. The fundamentals of SEO remain, it is just the way in which we adapt it, that will change. So from SGE and the changes regarding this update, as an SEO agency it may be wise to optimize websites to rank on the top three places for website recommendations, and no longer the top 10 due to how SGE responses are laid out. Additionally, because Google values human created content so highly, SEO agencies need to ensure that the content they do create is incredibly valuable to users in terms of human experiences.
So in conclusion, SEO will definitely be impacted by these updates, however not in such a “dooms day” manner in which many believe. These updates only force us to keep up to date with AI trends, as well as to adapt the traditional ways of SEO to the future of Google search.
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