Google’s Search Generative Experience (SGE) is set to revolutionise the way we search the web. Harnessing cutting-edge generative AI technology, SGE transforms search results, offers concise search engine result page (SERP) overviews, and simplifies web browsing.
SGE will undoubtedly impact organic search, with both positive and negative consequences, if it launches as it currently stands.
However, right now, nobody can be sure what the future holds.
Let's dive into what search generative experience is, how it works, and why it's making waves.
In Google’s words, “With new generative AI capabilities in Search, we’re now taking more of the work out of searching, so you’ll be able to understand a topic faster, uncover new viewpoints and insights, and get things done more easily.”
Essentially, with Google SGE, users can access quick overviews of search topics, conveniently displayed at the top of the search engine result pages.
These summaries help users identify relevant portions of web pages and explore new ways to phrase their queries, much like ChatGPT, Bing Chat, or Bard.
See the below screenshot to understand what this looks like in situ.
There are three key aspects of SGE:
Query Understanding: SGE excels at comprehending complex queries, a significant leap from Google's earlier limitations.
The AI Snapshot: This feature offers more comprehensive information and claims a substantial portion of the screen
Follow-up Questions: SGE narrows down results based on user queries, creating a more contextually relevant search experience.
As a very basic overview, SGE has evolved through Google's REALM, RETRO, and RARR models, making use of language models and relevant documents to provide accurate and informative search results.
To dive deeper into the topic of how SGE works, this article from Search Engine Land contains the most detailed explanation: https://searchengineland.com/how-search-generative-experience-works-and-why-retrieval-augmented-generation-is-our-future-433393
In summary, Google introduced Search Generative Experience (SGE) in August 2020, starting with "Retrieval-Augmented Language Model Pre-Training (REALM)."
REALM identifies and extracts valuable information from full documents, offering improved accuracy compared to traditional language models.
Google's DeepMind team extended this idea with "Retrieval-Enhanced Transformer (RETRO)," a similar model with enhanced context comprehension, resulting in more coherent text than REALM.
They further developed "Retrofit Attribution using Research and Revision (RARR)," which doesn't create text from scratch but refines existing passages, delivering accuracy and informativeness at a potential computational cost.
SGE combines PaLM 2 and MuM language models with Google Search components, using the document index and Knowledge Vault to fine-tune responses.
As Google states, “There are known limitations with generative AI and LLMs, and Search, even today, will not always get it right. We’re taking a responsible and deliberate approach to bringing new generative AI capabilities to Search. We’ve trained these models to uphold Search’s high bar for quality, and we will continue to make improvements over time. They rely on our hallmark systems that we’ve fine-tuned for decades, and we’ve also applied additional guardrails, like limiting the types of queries where these capabilities will appear.”
Furthermore, Google currently won’t reveal any real data to us about whether AI answers are driving clicks to websites, click-through rate data, or advertising performance data on what we are calling CHERPs, or Chat Engine Results Pages.
Also, we have no way to track this in Google Search Console, Google Ads or Google Analytics. it will be many months after launch before we get data on SGE in Google Search Console.
The introduction of generative AI is reshaping the world of SEO. But what does this mean for the traditional methods of surfacing information through paid and organic channels?
SGE is poised to influence organic search results in both positive and negative ways, as Google aims to make searching faster, more insightful, and easier.
SGE generates AI snapshots that present top results, possibly including your own website, provided users generate an AI overview for their search.
However, this process has yet to become a widespread user habit. Currently, sources are displayed on the right side, with small dropdown arrows for interaction and source details.
So far, users who’ve opted to try Google SGE can:
Access overviews of a search topic at a glance, conveniently displayed near the top of the SERP
Quickly identify the portions of a webpage that are most relevant to their question
Explore new ways of posing questions to Google, similar to what’s already possible with ChatGPT, Bing Chat, or Google Bard
SGE's overviews occupy significant screen space, often requiring scrolling on mobile devices which is likely to negatively impact CTR of the traditional organic results so appearing in the overview would be highly beneficial. Recently, google has introduced a more concise layout for automatically generated overviews with a "Show more" button, but this still pushes organic listings down the page.
Currently, the top three to five results can appear as part of a generated AI snapshot—something that would be pretty advantageous if one of them were yours.
Though the SGE landscape is in constant flux, you can enhance your visibility by aligning your content with the information that appears in the overview box. Usual SEO best practice is recommended here too, for example including appealing images, strategic wording in titles, well-craftted content can boost your chances.
Content quality and originality remain paramount, as SGE snapshots can't replace a well-crafted, engaging webpage.
The shift to SGE, alongside the recent rollout of the October 2023 Spam Update and the phased Helpful Content Update appears to highlight a shift in the weighting of content that adheres to Google’s E-E-A-T (Experience, Expertise, Authority, Trust) guidelines. And, authoritative, topical, relevant links to content are also likely to be a strong factor.
Additionally, user intent has always been pivotal in crafting an effective SEO strategy, and SGE only magnifies its importance. Generated snapshots closely match high-ranking SERP results, and sites with high authority are more likely to earn a snapshot recommendation.
Google's mission to organise information is a driving force behind SGE. As users adapt to these new features, search queries will grow longer and more conversational, impacting the traditional 10 blue links' click-through rates. Ads will likely find their place in SGE to maintain Google’s revenue streams.
Google's initial experiments with SGE have shown positive user experiences, particularly among the younger demographic. Users appreciate the follow-up questions and find ads positioned above or below the AI-powered overview helpful.
SGE is reshaping the future of online search. As users adapt to this multidimensional search experience, content creators must stay nimble and prioritise quality, relevance, and originality to thrive in this evolving digital landscape.