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AI is coming to SEO with Search Generative Experience (SGE)- be ready

Search Generative Experience (SGE) is Coming … Be Ready

After a couple of years in their labs, in November 2023 Google announced that their Search Generative Experience (SGE) will be rolled out in 2024.

As with all major Google updates, SGE will impact existing Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and website performance – including yours.

So What is Search Generative Experience?

Put simply, it’s the application of Generative AI applied to search results pages on Google. Using technology similar to Chat GPT or Bard, Google will generate content to answer your query in more detail.

For some time Google has been using AI to process search requests. This technology allows more conversational, natural requests and a response in kind. Google calls this AI “BERT” (Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers). There’s also MUM – but, honestly, there’s only so much space on the Internet.

A traditional search might be as simple as ”best pub Sheffield”. Historically, the corresponding search results would return results from across the city, regardless of proximity and open status. BERT can interpret a query along the lines of ”find me a nice, real-ale pub with a beer garden, not too busy”. You can expect BERT-friendly search results to take into account your exact location, the contents of the various pub websites, whether or not a pub is open, how busy the pub is likely to be and so on.

Search Generative Experience will take this one stage further. It will produce its own human-readable content with images, multi-media and suggested next steps – as illustrated below. Google’s intention is to make the Search Engine Results Page (SERP) itself more engaging. This will appear above the traditional Sponsored and Organic Search results.

Not every query will generate an AI based response but expect it to become the norm.

A sample of Google’s new Search Generative Experience search results page
A sample of Google’s new Search Generative Experience results page © Google 2023

So is Search Generative Experience Good Thing?

Clearly Google believes it to be and, probably, for many users it will be helpful. Technical users, already frustrated by sponsored content pushing the “good” results down the page, may well find Google’s “helpful” content an irritating distraction.

Also, more than ever, the first information Google returns to you will be its own concoction. Read into that what you will.

For those who have worked hard to get their content at the top of the coveted Organic Search results and rely on the website traffic this creates, the outcomes could be very challenging indeed.

Very Challenging – Why’s That?

At its simplest, SGE will take a lot of screen real estate. Organic Search results already come below sponsored results, a screen full of Search Generative Experience content may well have a similar effect to being number ten in the results rather than the coveted top spot.

Modern results tend to be better but it is worth being aware the reasons Google thinks the results you’re seeing are no longer a simple match to the content of websites. Your priorities and Google’s will not necessarily match. It is not always apparent that results are, for example, skewed by geographical location.

Also (and this may be the kicker), if the SERP page itself is more engaging and more informative, it’s likely that many users will need to look no further. Organic search traffic is predicted to fall.

So Is SGE Bad?

Although as is apparent, SGE isn’t designed to show you a link to the answer and send you there. Google insists its focus has not moved from driving attention to great web content:

“As we bring generative AI into Search, we’re committed to continue sending valuable traffic to sites across the web.”

It’s worth remembering neither Bard nor Chat GPT are renowned for their accuracy. Google will need to be very careful that this new content is accurate.

Unlike other Generative AI processes, Search Generative Experience (SGE) will cite the websites from which the information it creates is drawn. It seems likely that these will become the new ’number one’ spots on Google. The good news is that there will be at least three of them.

What Should You Do to Maintain and Grow Website Traffic?

In some ways, what you have to do just won’t change that much. Rather than competing for a simple ‘top-spot‘, SEO is going to be about getting into that top SGE section. And the criteria for that are unlikely to change that much.

Content, Content, Content

As always, if you provide the best information, Google will want to display it. Google wants people to keep returning so it can show adverts to punters (that’s you and me). Expect the arms race between Google bots looking to exclude AI generated content and AI content generators to heat up.

The more of your content is written by real human beings, in theory, the less likely that Google will tear it down.

Keep it Lively

Part of Search Generative Experience’s intent is to provide engaging content. It seems likely that it will favour images, movies and other multimedia content. This is nothing new but probably a continuation of a trend.

Seek Affirmation

As always, links from sites with Great domain authority will help keep your site visible. If an authoritative source cites your website, it’s likely more that Google will too. Keep seeking quality backlinks – it may be more important than ever.

Keep Your Site Healthy

Navigation errors, broken markup, missing pages and dead links all affect your SERP ranking now. This is one of the few factors over which you have absolute control – there is no excuse for not getting this right.

Stay Alert

Search Generative Experience is fairly new technology. The response of the SEO industry as SGE is rolled out is going to be unpredictable. The wise will keep a constant eye on their SEO performance and page rankings and rapidly seek to address any factor causing their position to slip.

None of the above is anything other than good SEO practice. It’s just that the results aren’t going to be as predictable for a while. It will be worth keeping a log of major changes to your site (or insisting your SEO agency does). That way you will be able to reproduce efforts that do work and identify and exclude what doesn’t.

How Can We Help?

In some ways the principles of SEO have not and will not ever change. Site speed, logical site layout and great usability will be just as important as always – if not more so.

Conversely, sitting still, without making continuous improvements to your online presence, is going to be a bigger mistake than ever it has been.

We hate to see our work age and wither on the vine. Predictably, we have AI–based tools to help you with your SEO. We can provide this as an agency or, if you prefer, directly to you through your own portal. Drop us a line – we can help you meet this head on.