Artificial Intelligence

daydream Editorial Team

May 8, 2024

Inside Google's SGE Beta: a Guide for SEO Teams

With new breakthroughs in generative AI (gen AI), search engines like Google are reimagining the search experience to meet user demand and keep up with competition from gen AI chatbots. 

A 2023 Verge survey of more than 2,000 AI users exemplifies just how profound the impact of gen AI will be on search engines. The study found that most respondents (68%) use gen AI to “answer a question.” In other words, they are using gen AI chatbots like ChatGPT as an alternative to traditional search engines like Google. Considering more than 180.5 million people currently use ChatGPT, this signals a profound shift in how people search for information online.

Google has responded with its own generative experience called SGE which is now available in beta. SGE represents a quantum leap in Google’s search functionality, and while it’s unclear exactly when the beta experience will roll out, SEO teams are bracing for impact. Let’s take a closer look at what teams can expect from SGE.

The basics: what is Google’s search generative experience (SGE)?

SGE is an AI-powered search experience that’s currently in beta. Google describes SGE as “taking the work” out of searching so users can “understand a topic faster, uncover new viewpoints and insights, and get things done more easily.”

To understand SGE, it’s helpful to contextualize it within the broader evolution of AI-driven search results. Over the last few years, Google and other search engines have been pushing toward delivering “zero-click search,” which gives users the answers they are searching for without needing to navigate to external websites. 

For example, a simple query such as “What’s the weather in San Francisco?” instantly yields the forecast at the top of the SERP, eliminating the need for additional clicks. 

Zero-click content has slowly gained more real estate on Google SERPs over the past few years. For example, 2022 data from SEMrush shows that about half of Google searches were zero-click. 

Now, advancements in generative AI have given Google the catalyst to push forward more sophisticated zero-click searches via SGE. In May 2023, Google opened an SGE beta experience to interested users through Search Labs.

The Google results page of the future

This beta experience gives users a look into what the new Google search experience may look like as soon as mid-2024. The beta surfaces two distinct SGE interface types:

1) A “generate” button appears, prompting users to click to view AI results. According to research from Authoritas, the “generate” button appears in 65.9% of search queries in beta.

(Image source)

2) A pre-populated SGE element appears, using Google’s LLM to combine information from multiple organic search results and turn it into prose to answer a question. The pre-populated element also includes conversational components with suggested prompts to explore deeper. The pre-populated SGE element appears in 34.1% of search queries per Authoritas. 

(Image source)

How SGE could impact the search experience 

Insight Partners’ study of Google’s SGE beta experience found that only 57% of the links cited within SGE content are from the first page of organic results, and the first link included in SGE content is only the first organic result 12% of the time. This shift dramatically changes the search experience because users see SGE content and SGE links before accessing the top-ranking pages. 

Further research from Authoritas shows just how dramatic this shift will be for the search experience. The study measured the vertical drop of top-ranking pages when SGE content was displayed. Their analysis found that when Google surfaced SGE content, the number one organic listing dropped vertically down the page by about 1,500 pixels. 

The effect of “pre-populated” SGE content and “generate button” SGE content differed in terms of how the number one organic listing is impacted:  

  • “Generate button” content bumps the number one organic result down by about 1,631 pixels on average. When a user clicks the generate button, the number one organic result is pushed down about 1,764 pixels on average. To put that into context, a user must scroll past their entire screen length (plus a little extra) before reaching the first organic result.

  • Pre-populated content bumps the number one organic result down by about 1,562 pixels on average. When a user clicks “show more” to expand the content, the number one organic result is pushed down the page by about 1,842 pixels on average.

random10_no1_organic_avg_vertical_drop.png

(Image source)

So, what does this mean for websites? Effectively, even if your website ranks number one in organic search, your content will be pushed significantly down the page when SGE content is surfaced and will not display above the fold. This means fewer people will click on your website (lower CTR). 

How SGE could impact user behavior

Google asserts that SGE content is “rooted in the foundations of Search” and will “continue to connect people to the richness and vibrancy of content on the web.” However, how that content surfaces will significantly impact the way users interact with Google and discover answers to their queries. 

1. SGE may shift the way people engage with your content

Since SGE content provides in-depth answers upfront, users may spend more time reviewing the AI snapshot for answers, reducing the need to click on additional content to answer their questions. As a result, Insight Partners predicts that organic traffic will drop by 15-25%. 

On the surface, this may sound alarming for SEO teams who will need to recalibrate their organic traffic targets and brace for lower traffic overall. However, the value of each visit will likely be higher since the visitor is more informed and primed for action before arriving on the site to explore deeper.

Interestingly, research from Bright Edge shows that some industries will feel the impact of SGE content more than others. They found that searches related to healthcare, eCommerce, and B2B technology tend to include SGE content more often than finance-related searches. In fact, healthcare questions included SGE content about 87% of the time, whereas finance queries included SGE content only 48% of the time. 

These differences mean that search behavior (i.e., how informed a searcher is before clicking on additional content) will differ depending on the query type. In the example above, a person looking up healthcare information will likely already have a good grasp of the topic before clicking on a top-ranking page because they’ve likely been served SGE content first. On the other hand, someone looking up finance-related information might not be as informed upfront since they are less likely to be served SGE content upfront. 

2. SGE may change how users ask questions

The adoption of SGE means that users will likely change their search queries to be more conversational and human-sounding. Instead of searching with keyword queries, users will search with conversational queries. 

  • Before (keyword-focused): “best smartphones with a good camera” + “best smartphones under $600” 

  • After (conversational): “I want to buy a smartphone with a quality front-facing camera and my budget is $600” 

The impact of SGE on organic strategy

Authoritas’ research indicates that close to 87% of searches currently result in SGE content in Google’s beta experience. This means SGE content will likely have a substantial footprint when Google fully rolls it out. However, when Google will launch SGE and how much that experience will match what’s in beta is under speculation. Several factors may limit Google’s push to launch SGE content fully including: 

  1. Expenses: SGE is expensive and especially expensive at the scale Google intends to use it.

  2. Ads: SGE will undoubtedly impact ad placements and Google still needs to solve this monetization question.

  3. Copyright issues: It’s unclear whether taking information from pages, summarizing it, and displaying it as a zero-click result infringes copyright laws. Recently, the New York Times sued OpenAI for using articles to train its AI. 

Regardless of when and how Google rolls out SGE, it’s essential that teams do not wait for a precipitous drop in their organic traffic to start building a plan. After all, SGE “lite” experiences like the snapshot below, including snippets and “related search” prompts, have already rolled out on Google. 

Your team can start preparing for SGE by building an experimentation framework that enables hypothesis testing. Instead of replicating what competitors are doing, research Google’s AI to understand how it answers questions, build measurable projects to test theories, and launch tests often to see how often your content appears as source links within SGE content. 

daydream uses an experimentation framework with all of its clients to understand how different content types and keywords perform. We don’t just measure organic traffic volume, we also track metrics that matter to the business like revenue, demos, leads, and subscribers to identify new opportunities to optimize content and match search intent while driving higher conversions. 

Ultimately, Google and other search engines will continue to prioritize improved search experiences to generate the best search outputs. Your team can get ahead — regardless of the exact algorithms and experience Google builds — by focusing on creating valuable, quality content rather than identifying ways to hack the system. Below are a few principles to maintain as the search landscape evolves.  

  1. Focus on user intent: Provide valuable, relevant, and engaging content that directly addresses user queries rather than merely optimizing for keywords.

  2. Create quality content: Offer well-researched, in-depth, and original content. Focus on establishing expertise, authority, and trustworthiness.   

  3. Use structured data where appropriate: SGE updates often reward websites that use structured data to provide additional context to search engines. 

  4. Deliver a best-in-class user experience: Optimize page load speeds, mobile responsiveness, and other UX elements to enhance user satisfaction and ensure a high-performance website overall. 

  5. Focus on long-term sustainability: Build a strong brand presence and reinforce it within every piece of content. 

Play the SEO long game with daydream

At daydream, we believe in taking the long view when it comes to the seismic changes happening in the search world. Rather than looking for quick wins, we focus on building sustainable SEO strategies and flexible solutions that enable us to test ideas and discover new and better ways to connect searchers to our clients’ products. If you’re interested in leveraging daydream and becoming part of our expanding group of customers, including Notion, Tome, and ProductHunt, email us at [email protected] to start the conversation.

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© 2024 daydream Labs, Inc. All rights reserved.

© 2024 daydream Labs, Inc. All rights reserved.

© 2024 daydream Labs, Inc. All rights reserved.