Google SGE: Adapting Your SEO To Search Generative Experience

Oleksandr Rohovnin
Content Marketer
12 minute read
Oleksandr Rohovnin
Content Marketer
12 minute read

While everyone is raving about the martech power of ChatGPT, another big storm is brewing on the horizon: Search Generative Experience (SGE), a new technology from Google that promises to revolutionize the search experience in favor of AI-generated answers…and change SEO and performance marketing once and for all.

Here’s when it all emerged:

 

A big step in Google’s evolution, Search Generative Experience might eventually be able to provide godlike answers to complex search queries, even when money, career, or well-being are at stake. BUT – and I’m getting a bit ahead of myself here – that’s clearly NOT the case for the time being.

On the SEO side of the spectrum, though, winter is coming. Google’s generative AI search will be nothing like its keyword-driven predecessor. As search evolves, keywords will become less valuable than the intent behind them, the new backbone of generative search.

Source: GIPHY

Here’s some eye-opening insights from our SEO expert Dmitry Markov to wake you up:

In the short-term, Search Generative Experience will likely further reduce traffic and revenue for independent websites. In the long run, it could completely kill the incentive to create high-quality original content, as large platforms exploit that content through AI systems like SGE. This will lead to stagnation and homogeneity on the internet, as no one will be motivated to spend time and effort producing exciting new information and creative works.”

Source: GIPHY

Read on to learn more about Search Generative Experience, its impact on your SEO potential, and how to squeeze the most out of Google AI search now and in the future.

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What Is Google Search Generative Experience?

SGE is a new AI-driven way of issuing search query results to users. Exactly: burning the midnight oil writing blogs might not even matter much anymore, as AI-generated answers have already stepped in to replace authors.

Here’s a brief overview of some underlying generative AI technologies from Google:

 

No longer than a few years ago, most answers you could see on Google were human-generated – written by real authors, experts, and commenters – but now users from over 120 countries can see AI-driven responses in 7 languages.

And guess where all this AI magic comes from? Right: reassembled human content.

What Is the Purpose of Google SGE?

The main purpose of Google SGE is to improve user search experience by representing the most comprehensive answers to search query requests. This ambitious goal is achieved by adding detailed summaries, images, links, and other elements human-created content might miss to be the best possible answer.

A good way to understand the intent behind SGE is by looking at the first principle in Google’s philosophy:

Focus on the user and all else will follow.

Since the beginning, we’ve focused on providing the best user experience possible. Whether we’re designing a new internet browser or a new tweak to the look of the homepage, we take great care to ensure that they will ultimately serve you, rather than our own internal goal or bottom line. Our homepage interface is clear and simple, and pages load instantly. Placement in search results is never sold to anyone, and advertising is not only clearly marked as such, it offers relevant content and is not distracting. And when we build new tools and applications, we believe they should work so well you don’t have to consider how they might have been designed differently.”

Here is why Google SGE can provide better answers, at least in theory:

Advanced AI models By using advanced language models ­like ChatGPT, BERT, or PaLM, Google’s SGE can combine information from different sources within the most comprehensive answer.
Personalization Having access to the user’s past behavior and content preferences, SGE can accurately match the user’s needs and wants. The result is the same as if you could target every buyer persona with just one article, a luxury unavailable for human marketers.
Engagement SGE content includes every engagement element you can find in human content and two major advantages:

 

  • AI content is always fresh
  • AI content evolves based on user feedback

Likewise, AI models are learning to combat biases inherent to human-created content.

For most search queries, though, these are more expectations than what you actually get (more on this later). The truth is that generative search experience differs depending on the complexity of the search query and luck. You might get a good one, or you might get an ugly one – roll the dice.

Is Google Search Generative Experience as Good as They Say?

Not for all search queries, users, and industries. The quality of the information fed to the governing AI models ultimately controls the quality of the answers, so there will always be an inherent imperfection in what Google generative search produces.

Here are some statistics on the impact of SGE on Google search experience:

How SGE Impacts Search Queries by Industry

SGE may not always be accurate or unbiased on hard topics. It might just take the side of the majority – the type of information that dominates – a horrible way to handle serious problems.

How Does Search Generative Experience Work in Practice?

In my opinion, the generative AI search doesn’t look great at the moment. As accurate and comprehensive AI results as SGE can sometimes provide, it’s unclear when to expect these results, who can get them, and what makes Google switch from traditional algorithms to SGE.

First, here’s how to turn on SGE:

Step 1 – Click on the lab icon (make sure SGE is supported in your country and you’ve logged into your personal Google account):

Turn on SGE Step 1

Step 2 – Click “Turn on” on the Google Search Labs page:

Turn on SGE Step2

Voila, you’ve got SGE turned on and are ready to experiment.

Now, I did read Neil Patel’s article on SGE, but when testing Google search, I failed to get the same type of result for the same request “does honey ever spoil.

Here is what Neil Patel has got:

Google SGE in Action

Source: Neil Patel

Here is what I’ve got with SGE turned on:

SGE Doesn't Work the Same for Everyone

And here’s what I’ve got with SGE turned off:

Traditional search query response from Google

Not too much of a difference.

For SGE, I’ve got an extra “Ask a follow up” field and no honey images, a shot at conversational marketing? The rest of the page was the same. As I’ve said, location and luck determine whether someone will get a fully-fledged SGE search experience now.

Here’s another search engine test:

SGE Continuation

And here’s the answer to the follow-up question “Can penguins catch a cold, though:

SGE Continuation

In this case, SGE didn’t really answer the question, which is a typical failure for popular language models, including ChatGPT. Apparently, AI struggles with complex, nuanced, or ambiguous questions that only humans can handle.

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Will Google SGE Discourage SEO Specialists and Content Creators?

The first and most profound effect of Google SGE on SEO is a noticeable decrease in organic traffic for your keywords, up to 40%. And this is only logical: why would you proceed to the website if you already have the answer in front of you?

“The trick is that the SGE answers appear before the organic search results and consume the attention from the get-go. Having the AI-generated answer right in front of them, the user is much less likely to continue to the website, a huge SEO impact.” ­­– Svitlana Syrotyuk, an SEO Specialist at Phonexa.

It’s hard to find an SEO expert who would praise Search Generative Experience. Indeed, it’s one thing to try and predict the intent of search queries and another thing to mix human content into an AI blend of an answer.

SGE is another way for Google to steal content from independent creators and exploit their unlicensed work for its own greedy interests. By showing AI-generated answers at the top of search results, Google is siphoning away traffic and revenue from authors who create original content. It kills the incentive to produce new, unique content.” – Dmitry Markov, an SEO Specialist at Phonexa.

I can’t agree more with my colleagues.

Everyone knows there’s not much unique content out there because the human mind mostly reproduces what it consumes. However, disincentivizing content creators and SEO professionals from crafting great content in favor of AI-generated search is a bad idea.

Source: GIPHY

Imagine being a car producer who knows their cars will be dismantled into bazillions of small pieces and then reassembled in a completely different car to be sold on the market. Not too tempting an enterprise.

The Other Major Impacts of SGE on SEO

But it’s not all doom and gloom. In no way can SGE spell a complete SEO demise, but rather transform it to generative engine optimization or whatever you call the new paradigm. On a similar note, it might be simply too early to judge.

Here are some SEO adjustments you might need to make:

Intent-Based Content In addition to following Google’s E-E-A-T quality rater guidelines, you will have to shift from keywords to contextual relevance.
Personalization for the End User One-size-fits-all answers have long been losing their power, and SGE will likely speed up the process, especially in nuanced industries like healthcare, insurance, or finance.
Direct Value-Driven Answers You will have to provide value to the target reader without beating around the bush. Empty content will not get cited by SGE.
Optimized Image and Video Content SEO-optimized images and especially videos will become invaluable SEO juice pipelines – just like anything that AI struggles to recreate.

Here’s our SEO expert Svitlana Syrotyuk’s thoughts about the impact of SGE on SEO:

“Undoubtedly, SGE will force you to adjust your SEO strategy. Traditional ranking factors such as backlinks and keywords are still important, but are gradually taking a back seat. To adapt to the new search environment, you need to create user-centered content around intent and value. Therefore, now is the best time to analyze the content for compliance with such factors.”

Google Search Generative AI and Local Search

Local businesses might have a better chance at getting credit for their content if they provide detailed descriptions of their offering and optimize their Google Business Profile page.

Here’s what Google’s Overview of SGE says about local search:

Generative AI in Search will also be helpful for information journeys related to verticals, like shopping or local searches, as they often have multiple angles or dimensions to explore. In shopping, for example, generative AI can help uncover key considerations and product information, so people can make purchase decisions faster and easier…Similarly, SGE will provide context about local places, using AI-powered insights that make it easy to compare and explore options.”

How Can SEO Professionals Adapt to SGE?

Think about this: only around 7% of generative links belong to the top URL, whereas the rest represent otherwise underperforming websites.

How Much SGE URLs Match

There can only be one interpretation of this: promote a larger number of keywords rather than focusing on a few chosen ones. Note that AI results appear on top of ALL search results, so even the first organic search doesn’t hit the first screen.

But then again, all new SEO tricks will ONLY make sense if incentivizing human-made quality content remains the top priority, which is less than obvious now.

“I am completely against SGE and view it as a serious threat to independent web publishers and SEO specialists like myself. There is no point in optimizing content for SGE if Google is just going to steal it and provide its AI’s answers ahead of the search results.” ­– Dmitry Markov, an SEO Specialist at Phonexa

How Will SGE Transform SEO?

It almost seems like the best-case scenario is a (temporary?) decrease in clicks for many websites, with a chance to get ahead with content formats AI hasn’t nailed yet: video, interviews, quizzes, infographics, etc.

Source: GIPHY

Like it or hate it, Search Generative experience is a game-changer:

“SGE is a complete game changer and I am sure that in the future, as SGE develops, the SEO game will continue to evolve. The first and most important change is the decrease in the CTR of organic search results, because SGE allows users to get an answer to their query without having to navigate to the website.

Secondly, tracking rankings by search queries or visibility will become very difficult. One of the reasons for this is that SGE often copies facts and fragments of text from various sites and represents it as its own work without citing the sources. In the long term, SGE will make requests longer and more natural because they will be shaped in the form of a dialogue.”­– Svitlana Syrotyuk, an SEO Specialist at Phonexa.

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Will Every Search Query Be Answered by Google SGE AI?

Chances are that Google SGE will not impact all search queries, or at least this is where the expert consensus is now.

  • For simple requests, SGE might not be required
  • For complex requests, SGE might not be accurate
  • For requests of average complexity, SGE might be the one

That said, no one has a crystal ball to predict where the Search Generative Experience story will go and how it will end, if ever.

To wrap it up, let me leave you with a dedicated TEDx Talks:

 

Frequently Asked Questions

What does SGE stand for?

SGE stands for Search Generative Experience, an AI-driven technology that Google started to use in 2023 to handle some search queries. SGE is a Google AI search model that relies on ChatGPT-like language models to interpret multiple data sources into an accurate answer.

How to use Google SGE?

As long as you have Google SGE turned on in Google Search Labs, you don’t have to do anything to leverage this Google AI search technology. With SGE turned on, some search query answers will be wrapped in SGE search experiences (at the very least, you will get the follow-up field to ask further questions).

Is E-E-A-T still important as Google moves towards its search generative experience?

Standing for “Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness,” the E-E-A-T SEO strategy is even more important in the context of SGE. Unique, compelling, and helpful content that resonates with readers has a greater chance of getting featured.

How do I turn on Google AI search

  1. Click on the Labs icon at the top right of the page in your Google account
  2. You will be transferred to Google Search Labs, where you can turn on SGE

 

How do I turn off Google generative AI?

To turn off generative AI on Google, click on the “AI experiments” banner on the Search Labs webpage. You will be taken to the SGE webpage, where you can toggle the SGE switch.

Got Questions?

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Oleksandr Rohovnin avatar
Oleksandr Rohovnin
Content Marketer

Oleksandr Rohovnin is a Content Marketer at Phonexa. His passion is digital marketing, innovative technologies, and – above all – distilling vast amounts of complex information into engrossing narratives anyone can relate to. At Phonexa, Oleksandr stokes passion for marketing automation and lead generation in every story he curates.


Education: Zaporizhzhya National Technical University

Expertise: Digital marketing, affiliate marketing, call tracking, lead tracking, insurance

Highlights:

  • 8+ years of writing and editing experience in B2B and B2C

  • Unconventional synergy of writing talent and technical knack

  • Avid proponent of sports, gaming, and reading

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