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The Impact of SGE on the Traditional SERP

The Impact of SGE on the Traditional SERP

AI AND SEO

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the new hottest trend, and although it’s been around in various forms for decades, recent innovations with Large Language Models (LLMs) and the creation of AI chatbots, such as ChatGPT, have led to a new boom and growth in the industry. Whilst most people associate AI with Skynet and the eventual destruction of the human race, it is already starting to have substantial real-world applications – from healthcare to manufacturing – and Search is lined up next in Arnie’s crosshairs.

To understand what is coming, first we need to dive a little into the current state of search:

What is a SERP?

A SERP or Search Engine Results Page is a page you’ll all be familiar with – the page returned after you make a Google or Bing search. Typically these pages contain a split of paid/shopping ads, carousels, map results and organic listings (making up the bulk of results). The SERPs are always changing and evolving as Google and Bing test and trial new features and experiences, and one of the latest, (and biggest) new features from Google is SGE.

So what exactly is SGE?

SGE or Search Generative Experience is Google’s take on integrating its latest AI model into search and the SERPs.

This new approach looks at leveraging experimental generative AI and advanced LLMs to build upon traditional search – answering more complex, detailed, and descriptive questions. This model also allows the AI to better understand a user’s search intent and the wider context of a search, allowing it to follow up to earlier questions, suggest next steps and new ideas.

This is far from Google’s first foray into introducing AI into search. In the past they have used several models to try and improve the search experience with the likes of BERT’ (Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers – a way for Google to better understand the meaning of terms in the wider context of how they’re used) and various LLMs like ‘MUM’ (Multitask Unified Model). SGE though looks to take this one step further…

Below is an example of what SGE looks like in practice;

As you can see, the SGE result returns a wider variety of information compared to the traditional SERP and is far more tailored to your search. You can then further refine your search by following up with additional questions, all of which Google will understand in relation to the full context of the entire search. On top of this, Google is able to leverage all of their first-party data from reviews, Google Merchant Centre and Google Ads, meaning they can show you the latest data across all 35 billion product listings, with updates hourly – very helpful when on the hunt for your next deal!

At the moment SGE is currently only available to a select few in the US as they test the new functionality, but is likely to be rolled out across other regions in the future. If you’re based in the US or have a VPN (set to the US), you can test it out yourself by signing up here.

The Rise of the Machines

The growth of AI in recent years has been unprecedented, and much faster than anyone could have anticipated. As a result, everyone is wanting to make the most of the new technology and jump on the bandwagon.

ChatGPT has very much led the AI revolution, seeing over 180 million current active users worldwide with 5 billion visits in February 2024 alone! But other big players are now starting to enter the fray, such as Microsoft’s Copilot.

Whilst its own chatbot and app, Copilot has recently been integrated into Bing, allowing us to see Microsoft’s approach to generative AI in the SERPs. Unlike SGE, Copilot takes a slightly different approach, allowing users the ability to ‘Deep Search’ a result, providing them with additional, more detailed and accurate results.

 

With both the big players now integrating some form of SGE into their results, it looks like AI may be here to stay.

But what does this mean for SEO and the traditional SERP?

The roll out of SGE is designed to put the user’s best interest at heart, helping them get more information, more quickly and more easily, but what is good for the end user will ultimately come at the detriment of traditional search as it exists today.

With users getting more detailed information directly within the SERP, there will be less incentive for site click-through, resulting in sites losing out on organic traffic. This is often referred to as a  ‘zero-click search’ where the user doesn’t need to visit a site to get the answer or result they were after.

Zero-click searches aren’t anything new. Google has rolled out several updates and features over the last few years already paving the way for more zero click searches, with ‘Related Searches’, ‘People Also Ask’, and – most notably the introduction of ‘Featured Snippets’. Whilst all of these elements do draw users away from site, the impact of these has not been the death knell many thought, as often, users still want more information or context than the features provide.

With this in mind, SGE seems to be a more substantial shift, and suggests the way users search and their search intent will begin to change. Due to the nature of SGE and the conversational chatbot approach, we will start to see more and more conversational searches, and as a result, more long-tail and specific queries from the user refining their search further and further after each question. This will mean in order to still be relevant for user’s queries, content will need to adapt to target longer tail, conversational keywords and searches.

There will likely also be a shift towards multi-modal, multi-search search, with users being able to better integrate image, video and voice into their existing searches. Whilst this is currently possible with Google, SGE is a stark improvement vs what is currently available.

Ultimately there will be fewer clicks heading to sites as a result of SGE, which means we may no longer be able to rely on traffic, clicks or sessions as a good indicator of success. Instead we may need to reframe what success looks like – share of voice, mindshare and visibility will become far more relevant.

Change is unlikely to happen overnight.  It’s still very early on in AI’s adoption and we don’t quite know what the future will look like, but we can look to prepare for that future just in case.

So what can you do to optimise for SGE and AI?

Ultimately, Google will still need to pull the data for SGE results from somewhere, so you still want to ensure your content is still the most accurate and relevant. As with featured snippets, whilst you might not get clicks to the same level as before, mindshare and share of voice are still highly valuable.

In order to keep you visible in the SGE results, many of the traditional SEO fundamentals remain the same. Providing good, high-quality content that’s relevant to the user and built upon E-E-A-T (expertise, experience, authority & trust) in line with Google’s guidelines is key. Making sure you’re targeting the right longer-tail, more conversational searches, will also ensure your content’s relevancy in the future.

In addition to this, from a technical standpoint, the implementation of structured data or schema markup may also help improve the likelihood of being shown. Schema markup will help signpost and reinforce to Google the content and context of a page through various elements. The better understanding Google has of your content, the better placed it will be to assess if your content is relevant enough to serve to the user and it will be easier to pull in certain site information such as reviews, price and stock availability.

Some types of schema that may be useful to help get your site featured within SGE results are:

  • Product
  • Review
  • FAQ
  • Q&A
  • Video
  • Image
  • Article

In Conclusion

Google’s drive to integrate AI into your day to day is clear – their recent Gemini integration into Google workspaces is evidence of that. Google aren’t treating AI as a fad and are investing in its longevity, so whilst the long-term impact may be detrimental to SEO and traditional search as it currently stands, most businesses will likely hit a turning point, as is the case with most emergent technology – adapt, or get left behind.

Google is not going to be able to rewrite and reprogramme decades of consumer behaviour overnight, but if SGE is the direction we are heading, it makes sense to prepare for the future as best you can.

If you need help with your SEO strategy or how to prepare for our upcoming robot overlords, please get in touch here.

Page author photo
Ed Coles

Ed is the SEO Lead at Kaizen, with 8 years experience in the SEO industry. Having worked across various agencies from small to large multinational independents, Ed initially started in the world of PPC before quickly moving to the world of SEO. From helping clients in the third sector and retail, to working on larger global ecommerce sites, Ed has been responsible for supporting the roll out and delivery of global SEO strategies in EMEA and NORA across some iconic brands such as Vans, Timberland, The North Face, LEGO, and Adidas, among many others. 

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