What Is Google’s Search Generative Experience?

Open AI’s Chat GPT has started us on the path of superhumanhood by redefining the possibilities of creative writing. Like the abilities provided by the invention of the calculator, GPTs can augment our capabilities in virtually any application and industry. From writing songs to developing investing strategies, people are harnessing the processing power of AI to simplify the time-to-result of almost any idea that comes to mind.

This spark started a blaze that has spread across industries and disciplines, and the race for AI dominance across the board is well underway. GPT is undoubtedly leading the pack, and not to be outdone, Microsoft made their bid in the AI world with Bing. Still, with all its language-modeling power and data capabilities, Google’s Gemini-powered AI seems to be in the position of most opportunity, which Google is capitalizing on already by increasing the speed at which Search Generative Experience (SGE) responds.

And this is where Google stands alone. Google is still the big dog when it comes to search, and while that may be changing incrementally in recent years, it continues to hold more than 90% of the search market, according to Statcounter. So while Google wasn’t the first, its implementation is likely to be the most widely used. And those of us in organic search, who live and die by the Google search engine results page (SERP), are holding our breath in anticipation of what’s to come. Google’s Search Generative Experience intends to revolutionize a searcher’s journey, and this has significant implications for webmasters and search engine optimization (SEO) professionals alike. Let’s examine Google’s SGE and provide a crash course on how it might affect the world of organic search.

Google asserts that “SGE is rooted in the foundations of Search, so it will continue to connect people to the richness and vibrancy of content on the web, and strive for the highest bar for information quality.” Much like Chat GPT, SGE will take a conversational approach by engaging with users along their journey to “get the gist of a topic faster, with links to relevant results to explore further.” Google will accomplish this by focusing on these key features and objectives:

  • Quick Overviews with AI: Overview layouts provide instant snapshots on topics supported by AI, offering a starting point for exploration.
  • Smart Follow-up Options: Users will be able to refine queries or explore new directions without restating context.
  • Vertical Search Simplified: Users can find key details for products and services faster in shopping or local searches, thanks to AI insights.
  • Search Ads Integration: Ads will remain helpful and appear strategically throughout a user’s search journey.
  • A blend of Information and Creativity: Use AI for both information and creative tasks, with a focus on safety.
  • Fun with Image Generation: Ask AI to create images for inspiration, adding a creative touch to your searches.
  • User-Friendly Interface: Google brings a seamless experience on both desktop and mobile, guided by a thoughtfully designed UI.

With the exception of certain categories, many queries will trigger such features, like the Overview layout shown above. With the new Overview layout, Google provides key points and text based on what it thinks might be important for users to know based on the query. And much like with Featured Snippets and People Also Ask sections, Google’s SGE Overview layout provides an opportunity for pages to appear in the “zero position,” above the paid ads and traditional organic results. Google will likely eventually blend ads into the SGE space for ecommerce-related queries, but that is not part of the current iteration.

Additionally, SERP features like Featured Snippets and People Also Ask sections, which are known to present information from relevant and helpful organic content, still appear right under the SGE Overview space for now. It seems that these will likely be folded into the SGE landscape as it continues to develop, and the type of results provided can change day to day for some queries.

Ultimately, the fact that the SGE layout is taking up more valuable space on the SERP expands the importance of helpful content since that’s what Google uses to synthesize the information it displays there.

Depending on the query, Google will provide helpful information that it has determined to be relevant for searchers on their particular journey. See the example below for “trending home decor 2024.”

The types of information provided and how they are displayed can change from query to query. But all of the information is likely a combination of the perspectives found in the cited articles (green box), which include more than just ones displayed and can be scrolled through. 

To provide this additional functionality and data to users, Google still needs good information. Where will this information come from, you may ask? It will still come from high-quality, relevant sites hosting helpful content.

But while Google will often cite the sources of its summarized information by providing links to the pages where it gathered the information, which provides some relief to SEOs and the organic search world, this isn’t always the case. There currently are some disconnects or bugs that are causing inconsistencies between the information that is presented, where it is sourced from, and where it is cited to supposedly be from. Furthermore, there are also situations where no page is cited at all or where no link is provided as the source of the information, which is potentially a bad experience for searchers as well as a loss for organic search traffic potential. We can only hope this improves as Google continues to develop the SGE.

To continue to test and develop the SGE, Google launched a Lab, allowing users to beta-test the experience through desktop and mobile. And while the Lab was meant to end in December 2023, we have yet to see that come to pass. You can still join and experience for yourself, and you should. It will help expose you to the types of information Google’s AI thinks are relevant for users, and this is essential to understating the kind of content you’ll want to develop for your site.

This takes us to a core takeaway for Organic Search: The SGE expands the presence of organic search. While some in the industry are critical of it for the reasons I mentioned, by embracing it with the understanding that some of the issues are likely to be worked out, and that any revolutionary technology by its very nature brings change, we can better position ourselves to align and even succeed in this new landscape.

Interestingly, the best response and way to prepare for this is simple: We must continue to build out relevant, user-focused content that is helpful, engaging, and provides value to users and a good search experience. This, of course, refers to quality content that truly relates to not only the product, service, or information being provided but also the searchers that would be seeking it and their intent. The only limit is how far we are willing to go to explore, understand, and cater to the needs of our audiences in a meaningful way.

When it comes to our products & services, the more we empathize and anticipate the needs of our audience, the better we can identify content opportunities on our pages. If one is selling boots, what might users want to know besides the color and size? How detailed can we be about the materials used to construct it? Is that what searchers even want to know? It might be critical for users to know if the boots were constructed with a Goodyear welt. There may be more information users want to see that is more critical than that. It just depends, and only you as the expert in the space will know the answer in each instance.

But the good news is that your familiarity with your industry puts you right in the position to understand that perspective and develop relevant content that caters to it. The Google Search Generative Experience echoes the message that the many Broad Core Updates and Helpful Content Updates have been repeating all last year: Stop hyper-focusing on SEO tricks and tips, and just build usable pages and helpful content that provide users the best search experience possible.

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