Skip to content
vital-logo Home
5 min read

How Google’s AI-Powered Search Generative Experience (SGE) Will Impact SEO (and What to Do About It)

illustration with word bubbles floating in the background, foreground says Google Search Generative Experience

We’ve written before about the potential benefits and perils of using AI to generate SEO content. But what happens when it’s the search engine itself that’s using AI to generate search results? That’s exactly what’s happening today with Google’s rollout of its AI-powered Search Generative Experience (SGE) — and other forms of AI-generated search content aren’t far behind.

At Vital, our nerd squad has been using Google SGE since it was introduced in beta in May 2023. We’re here to share what we’ve learned about how it all works and how marketers can react in order to ensure optimal organic search traffic in this brave new world of AI.

What Is Google’s Search Generative Experience (SGE)?

According to Google, the company developed SGE in order to create a better user experience. As they wrote in their blog post announcing the rollout of SGE, “Sometimes you want a quick answer, but you don’t have time to piece together all the information you need. Search will do the work for you with AI Overviews.”

AI Overviews are Large Language Model (LLM)-powered snapshots that appear at the top of search results. They use Google Gemini to provide answers for users directly in the search results page. While AI Overviews answer queries directly, they do include citations to the websites that helped it form the answer. This is most likely part of the training they use to form the AI-powered response.

AI Overviews can either generate automatically after a search or they can be opt-in. The latter experience includes a “Generate” button that users must click in order to trigger the overview.

You can hear more about Google Gemini, including SGE, in Google’s own highlight reel from their I/O 2024 conference:

If you’re in the mood for a deep-dive read, check out Google’s Guide to SGE, written in January 2024 when the product was still in “experiment” mode.

So, how do real Google users feel about SGE? It takes some getting used to. Google Trends shows a spike in searches related to turning off the AI-generated search features (for now, it looks like you can’t).

A Google Trends graph showing a spike in search volume for the query “turn off google ai

The Impact of Google SGE on Search Results

According to their announcement, Google claims that websites featured in AI Overviews “get more clicks than if the page had appeared as a traditional web listing for that query.” Hema Budaraju, the Senior Director of Product, Search Generative Experience at Google, stated that the link cards within AI Overviews generate a higher click-through rate than traditional web search results.

Google found the AI Overviews resulted in people conducting even more searches during the technology’s testing “because they suddenly can ask questions that were too hard before,” according to Liz Reid, Head of Search Operations at Google.

A recent analysis by Siege Media looked at the impact of SGE on clients in SaaS, fintech, and eCommerce. They note that these clients “have a heavy content-first approach,” so we would expect to see different results for businesses in other industries or with less emphasis on long-form content. Sure enough, they’ve seen an increase in impressions, average click-through rate (CTR), and total traffic since the rollout of Google’s AI-generated search overviews.

A graph showing the percentage change in traffic, impressions, and click-through rates since Google rolled out its Search Generative Experience (SGE)
Image Source

What about the data that marketers are used to getting from organic search traffic? With SGE, Google will provide data on clicks and impressions a website gets from AI Overviews in Search Console. However, they will not differentiate whether the data came from a result with an AI Overview or not.

Data indicates that AI overviews could cover over 80% of search queries across most verticals, according to Tomasz Rudzki, co-founder of ZipTie. This means that we’ll be seeing AI results everywhere. Getting featured as the citation in those results will be important. Based on data from the past year’s testing phase of Google’s AI Overviews, it’s estimated that about 25% of the traffic could be negatively affected by the de-emphasis on website links, as reported by AP News. To get featured, marketers must stay on top of technical SEO, as well as FAQ-based formats on content.

Potential Concerns About AI-Generated Search Results

Google isn’t alone in adopting generative AI. Nearly every major search engine is experimenting to enhance search capabilities and user experiences, including:

  • Google’s Gemini
  • Microsoft’s Bing AI
  • Baidu’s ERNIE
  • DuckDuckGo’s DuckAssist

Semantic search plays a substantial role in this, focusing on understanding the meaning and context of words in search queries to ensure relevance and trustworthiness of results.

In the same vein, the emergence of generative AI in SEO has led to the introduction of a new field: Artificial Intelligence Optimization (AIO). It focuses on optimizing content and search strategies to align with the capabilities and requirements of AI-powered search engines, ensuring better visibility and ranking in search results.

Some of the loudest complaints have come from publishers expressing concerns over false promises of increased referral traffic and revenue from AI-powered search engines. The introduction of direct answers and the move toward a zero-click world by AI-powered search engines have also led to reduced traffic and referrals for publishers. Additionally, Google’s acquisition of DeepMind Technologies and merger with Google Brain has raised concerns about potential antitrust issues.

How do we solve it? We implement transparent and fair practices in AI-driven search algorithms, ensuring that publishers are provided with accurate information and realistic expectations.

Tips for Driving Traffic With AI-generated Search Results

It’s clear by now that harnessing the power of AI-generated search results is a game-changer for driving traffic. Here are some general guidelines for continuing to drive organic traffic as searches shift more and more to AI-generated results.

  • Anticipate a shift toward using more long-tail and conversational keywords.
  • Use insights from AI search assistants by posing questions and watching how they’re transformed into search queries.
  • Closely monitor keywords for changes in user intent.
  • Diversify content types by catering to the preferences of AI-generated search results.
  • Develop “Helpful Content” that aligns with E-A-T principles (Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness) and Your Money, Your Life (YMYL) guidelines.
  • Implement proper markup schema on text, image, and video content to ensure visibility within relevant AI responses.
  • Enhance credibility by linking to original content.
  • Prepare for potential changes in organic search traffic by diversifying traffic sources in anticipation of zero-click answers.
  • Monitor analytics and stay attuned to the evolving Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) for your website’s top search terms.
  • Stay informed about developments in AI-generated search results and be agile in adapting your strategies accordingly.

How Will SGE Impact Paid Digital Advertising (PPC)?

It’s still not clear how Google intends to monetize SGE. Google makes the majority of its revenue from ad dollars, and right now these aren’t factored into the AI results equation — but this will come into play sooner rather than later.

Watch this recap from the Google Marketing Live 2024 Conference to hear how Google envisions the impact of AI on paid advertising:

We might assume AI-generated overviews will be less present on pages where ads exist, meaning conversion-based queries should be more insulated from change.

How Vital Is Working to Ensure SEO Success with Google SGE

Keep in mind that we are still in the early days of SGE, and we don’t yet know what the full impact will be. We’ve already been seeing traffic come through from AI search engines like Perplexity. When checking “AI Overviews” so far, it defaults to simple queries. These are queries Google won’t get flack for. It fires almost always on “what is”-type searches. It sporadically fires on mid-complexity searches. Of the many high cost-per-click (CPC) searches tested, it only fired on a few search queries.

Vital’s current approach is to treat AI results like all other “featured snippets” that Google has introduced over the years. We know certain types of search queries trigger certain types of featured snippets, and we know how to map our content strategy around those opportunities to get our content featured in snippets. It will likely be the same case here. Many search queries will trigger AI-based snippet results (different types, and to varying extents in terms of search engine results page real estate), and some won’t. That will give us an optimization roadmap based on different search query types.

Over time, we’ll get deeper insights from regular analysis of how SGE interacts with various types of content. Plus, our SEO pros will become equipped to make informed decisions and adapt strategies in real time, ensuring that content remains relevant and impactful.

Leveraging the power of AI and understanding its impact on user intent and search behavior is (dare we say) vital, especially as search engines continue to evolve and prioritize personalized, relevant content. By following these tips and keeping an eye on the latest AI trends, we can keep our SEO strategies sharp, draw more traffic, and amp up those search engine rankings.

How Do I rank Higher in Search Engines

Related Content

How To Rank Higher in Search Engines

What’s in the ebook? This 34-page guide will answer all your questions about improving your rank in search engines.