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How Search Generative Experience Will Affect SEO

To say that the world of SEO changes fast is a serious understatement.

Imagine being a physician and feeling pretty good about wrapping up a week of seeing patients only to start next Monday off with a patient whose lungs stopped working, but he’s breathing through his kidneys. All of this patient’s organs are out of place, and they have all switched functionality.

The same goes for the rest of the patients that the physician sees.

The doctor now has to relearn everything he or she knows about medicine based on what used to work before. There are no textbooks or instructors to learn from. You simply have to experiment to see what works.

This is what it’s like to work in the world of search engine optimization. Is it an over-dramatization to prove a point? Yes. Is it a fair analogy? Also yes.

It’s Google’s world and we’re just living in it.

At any point in time, Google can completely change all of the “rules” which effectively puts all SEO nerds in the dark about how to get your business on page one of the search results. It’s why articles entitled, “SEO Is Dead” are such popular clickbait.

Welcome to Search Generative Experience (SGE). Some are calling it the SEO apocalypse. (We think that’s more than a little extreme!)

What is Search Generative Experience (SGE)?

To fully explain SGE, it’s important to understand that Google started out 25 years ago as a search engine. We would go there to begin a journey with keywords and end at a destination which is usually a website. As search engines and users have evolved, there has been a growing demand for answers as well as searches.

This means that Google and Bing, etc. find themselves being both a search engine and an answer engine (“How tall is Tom Cruise?”). Being an answer engine means that Google is both the start and the finish of the entire user experience.

With the explosion of artificial intelligence (AI), and especially Bing’s partnership with Open AI’s ChatGPt in the search results, Google has felt a lot of pressure to step up and provide AI features in the search results

Search Generative Experience (SGE) is their effort to give users what they need as an answer engine.

At its core, SGE is like having a super-smart assistant that helps you find the information you need, but with a fun twist. It’s a set of search features powered by generative AI, which means it can understand your search queries better and provide more relevant results- in theory, anyway.

The Delicate Politics Of Search Engines

Most of us understand that we already have to sift through a lot to find what we’re looking for on Google, so the question they had to answer is “Where do we put any AI features?”

Keep in mind, Google makes the lion’s share of their revenue from Google Adwords (think 80% or more of their revenue). We’re talking A LOT of money here. And, the ads are the first thing the user sees in most search results. If they mess with those links, they’re potentially harming their own revenue stream.

Plus, people still use Google for regular old routine searches, and if they interfere too much with that, people will move to other search engines which would have a negative impact on what they can charge for ads

The point here is that they have to really be careful with how and where they introduce AI within the search results in order to keep users happy and returning.

About SGE

Currently, you can only access SGE by logging into your Google account, going to Search labs, and opting in. Some people are put on a wait list but you’ll get an email when you’re approved.

Once you’re in, simply open a tab in Chrome and search for something. Currently, I’m seeing SGE show up in more than 60% of the searches I do. As of this writing, whenever you see it, you have to click on the section for it to open rather than the section displaying fully.

In many cases, you’ll see the “sponsored ads” or Google Ads at the top followed by a green or red-shaded box that asks, “Get an AI-powered overview for this search?” along with a “Generate” button beside it.

Once you click on that button, a section opens up that provides some AI-generated content about your search terms along with some information and links to the side and possibly at the bottom depending upon the search.

This section is meant to be more of an interactive area in the search results where the user can choose to continue to look for answers or search further. There’s even an “Ask A Follow Up” that turns the process into more of a conversation.

Presently, SGE is not live for everyone on the internet. It’s still in beta testing. That’s why you have to go opt-in. There have been various reports about how the process is still wonky (super scientific term). The main concern for now is how AI can confidently present inaccurate or misleading information. In fact, in most sections, you’ll see this warning, “Generative AI is experimental. Info quality may vary.”

There’s no word on when SGE will go live but if we had to take a wild guess, I would predict that it’ll be a standard feature in the search results by the end of this year.

This is how Google's search generative experience looks.

The Main Parts Of SGE

Keep in mind that the SGE section typically only opens up when you click on it, but this, like everything Google does, is subject to change. As far as it is now, the primary features we’re seeing in SGE at the moment include:

  1. The AI-generated text response to your query. This part provides a quick (well, quick-ish) answer to whatever you typed into the search box.
  2. A carousel of sites for you to click on to get more information on the topic.
  3. A section at the bottom that has a button labeled, “Ask a follow up” and other suggested questions.
  4. Depending upon your query, you may see a helpful video in this section as well.

The Impact of SGE on SEO

Now that we know what SGE is, let’s talk about how it’s going to affect your SEO strategies. Every time Google updates its search engine algorithms (And they update several hundreds of times a year), it has a ripple effect on SEO, brand strategy, and user search behaviors. The addition of generative AI into search has a potential to be disruptive.

As usual, there are those running around saying that this will be the end of search engine optimization, but experts like Eli Schwartz are arguing that this isn’t the case. In fact, he makes a great point when he says, “Google needs SEO as much as SEO needs Google”.

Since doing SEO for a website has a lot to do with helping the site become “page one worthy”, this point speaks to how important it is that business owners work with a web designer or agency that understands SEO.

One this is certain with the introduction of SGE in the search results, users will have to scroll a little farther down to get to the organic links (the section below the map listings). Despite the data that shows that most people click on those 10 links on the first page (depending upon what they’re searching for) more than the ads or the map listings, Google seems intent on pushing that section farther down the results page.

Will this end SEO? No. Most certainly not.

Will it significantly reduce the traffic your website gets from SEO? Maybe, but that remains to be seen.

Remember, users don’t love everything Google does. Remember Google Plus? There’s certainly no guarantee that people will consistently use SGE once it’s live. There is still a lot of mistrust in AI tools, and while ChatGPT set records with how quickly it became popular, use has fallen off a bit lately. There is still quite a bit of anxiety about the use of AI.

So, SGE will only impact SEO if people actually use it.

How To Optimize For SGE

At this point, those of us who know about SGE are all wondering, the same thing: How do we get our websites to display in the SGE section?

No one knows for sure. One theory is that Google will favor the first 3 organic listings in that section, but I haven’t seen this to be the case. In fact, some of the content in SGE seems to be pulled out of nowhere. There’s a randomness presently which makes sense since it’s still in beta being tested.

In a recent search for “plumbers near me”, I saw the return of the 5-pack which is what we used to see in the map section before they dropped off 2 listings to make it the “3-pack”. The possible takeaway here is that for service-based industries, it’s a smart idea to make sure your Google Business Profile is optimized.

While no one has a crystal ball, here are my suggestions for how to target your business to show up in the SGE section:

  • Step back and completely review your SEO strategies. Approach the site as if no one has ever tried to get it ranked on the first page of Google. Think about what you would do to start and pay particular attention to your content strategy.
  • Optimize for long-tail keywords: Hyper-specific queries like “sleep apnea dental appliances” will become more common than general terms like “dentist”. Make sure you target niche topics people in your area would search. While keywords are important, it’s also about having the right kind of content- SEO-friendly text, FAQs, videos, and more.
  • Optimize for featured snippets: SGE loves to show off its knowledge by providing quick answers to users’ questions. Make sure your content is optimized for featured snippets, so you can grab that prime real estate on the search results page
  • Continue to E-E-A-T. Your content should already work on establishing E-E-A-T (Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness). I would suggest that this will be more important than ever for SGE.
  • Refresh your page titles, meta descriptions, and images. Will this land your business in the SGE section? Probably not, but this is something you should do periodically anyway to help bump your site up in the rankings.
  • Deepen your content. We see companies all the time that have nothing more than a placeholder website. These days, there is no excuse for not having content on your site that helps your target market with a variety of related topics to what you do.
  • Take an omnichannel approach to your digital marketing. We tell all our clients that they need to avoid relying upon one source of marketing. This is simply about diversifying your efforts to get the best ROI.
  • Focus on user experience & technical SEO. Fast load times, easy navigation, and a seamless mobile experience will be key. Double-check your website performance.
  • Optimize for voice search. Optimize your pages for conversational long-tail voice queries. Think how you’d naturally answer a question.
  • Don’t ignore your Google Business Profile. Completing your GBP will help you stand out in local pack results. Add photos, attributes, services, and more. Put a process in place where you’re asking for customer reviews and respond to them all.
  • Review analytics and look for trends. Understand how people find and interact with your site using Google Search Console, Google Analytics, and other tools.

While these tips are pretty far from everything you need to do to get your business displayed in the SGE section once it goes live, they will no doubt be helpful. Since all this is being tested, there is no doubt that Google Search Generative Experience will go live soon.

Once it does, we don’t see it as the end of SEO. Search engine optimization isn’t going anywhere and we believe it will continue to bring a high ROI and should remain in your marketing mix.

For help with your SEO, don’t hesitate to contact us at 678.325.4007. We have one job- to make you more money.

Cliff Tillery, MBA is the Chief Operating Officer and SEO Director at Make It Loud which is a digital marketing firm located outside of Atlanta Georgia. More than 14 years ago, he started search engine optimization at this award-winning agency and has taught digital marketing skills to business owners at the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce, the Gwinnett Entrepreneur Center, and other groups.

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