Unlocking the Future of Search: How Google's SGE is Impacting Organic Traffic
Google Search Generative Experience (SGE) Impact on Traffic for Different Content Types
Google announced on May 10th at Google I/O that they are planning to make search more “visual, snackable, personal, and human." As part of this effort, they are unveiling big changes to their search results pages. On some queries, AI-generated responses will appear at the top of search results. Google is calling this new experience "Search Generative Experience" (SGE).
SGE is powered by a variety of large language models (LLMs), including MUM and PaLM2. These models are trained on massive datasets of text and code, and they are able to generate text, translate languages, write different kinds of creative content, and answer your questions in an informative way.
SGE is a major change for Google search, and it has the potential to impact SEO and organic search traffic in a significant way.
Traditionally users search in 4 ways (User Search Intent); Navigational Search (ESPN Football), Transactional Search (buy iPhone cases), Commercial Investigation Search (iPhone vs Samsung Android, best mattresses) and Informational Search (When was the iPhone invented?). This is a new type of search, Exploratory Search (what is the best hotel for a family with 3 kids for a vacation on the beach that has white sand and calm water?).
However, Google has confirmed not every query will trigger this new experience — only where the search giant believes AI will provide a better experience for users.
Here are some additional details about SGE that may be of interest to SEOs:
- SGE will be released to users in batches, beginning in the coming weeks.
- SGE is currently only available in English in the United States.
- SGE is not triggered by every query. Google will only show SGE responses for queries where they believe AI can provide a better experience for users.
- Notably, content about civic information, health and finance — YMYL topics — will not trigger SGE. AI will also skip queries where huge data or information gaps exist.
- Google says this change aims to take “more of the work out of searching” which means reduced number of searches per user which is less traffic
- This will results in an increase in zero-clicks (the last reported number back in 2019 was almost 50% of all searches generate zero-clicks)
- Search ads will continue to appear in dedicated ad slots throughout the page
- To join, go to https://labs.withgoogle.com/ and click “Join Waitlist” under Google Search
2 new experiences; Snapshot and Perspectives
- Appears in the main search results page
- It includes the following elements
- Text: The results generated by AI sit on a coloured background (The Hue)
- Links: To the right of the generated response are 3 links to websites along with images, cut-off titles and source name
- Suggested Next Steps & Follow Up Questions
- Followed by SERPs Traditional Results
- Ads will continue to appear on the top of the SERPs
Image Source: Barry Schwartz
- Google is also expanding the “Perspectives” feature, which will bring more user-generated content “helpful content that lives in unexpected places” to search results for queries “that might benefit from the experiences of others.” That could include forums, long- and short-form videos, discussion boards, YouTube videos, social content and blog posts.
- It is a new tab next to images, videos, news, etc.
- It includes the following
- long- and short-form videos, images
- written posts that people have shared on discussion boards, Q&A sites and social media platforms
- will show more details about the creators of this content (name, profile photo) or information about the popularity of their content
Traffic Impact on Different Types of Content
SGE is not a replacement for traditional search results. SGE responses will always be accompanied by links to traditional web results, so that users can continue their research if they need to. That being said, we anticipate significant impact on traffic for some types of content.
For the searches that trigger AI, the change is significant — especially on mobile devices, where the generative AI results take over the entire screen on first load. The change puts more emphasis on keeping users on Google’s surfaces and could result in a spike of zero-click searches.
Type of Content
Impact of SGE on Traffic
YLYM (Your Money Your Life) Content
Little to no impact
User-Generated Content (UGC)
Little to no impact
Featured Snippets Content
Significant Negative Impact
YLYM (Your Money Your Life) Content:
YLYM content is content that can have a significant impact on a person's health, financial stability, or safety. This includes content such as medical advice, financial advice, and legal advice. YLYM may also include News and Current Events (elections, disasters, etc.)
SGE is not expected to have a significant impact on traffic to this type of content. This is because SGE is not designed to provide advice or recommendations. Instead, SGE is designed to provide factual information.
User-Generated Content (Hidden Gems):
UGC is content that is created by users, such as blog posts, forum posts, and social media posts.
SGE is expected to have a positive impact on traffic to UGC. This is because SGE will make it easier for people to find and discover UGC. Additionally, SGE will help to promote UGC by highlighting it in search results. Sites like reddit, Quora, TikTok, YouTube will benefit the most.
One thing to notice, Perspectives is accessed via a top link/icon (like images, news, shopping, etc.) which historically doesn’t have much CTR.
Sites should consider starting conversation on their sites (comments), highlight social sharing, and look into ways to be present on external forums. If the site has an engaged audience, it should consider having its own forum and encourage commenting on articles. This might be considered in the light of additional legal liability and moderation cost for enabling comments on sites.
Google will show Content Popularity and Author information. I believe Content Writers Authority and Content Popularity will play a key role in Perspectives rankings.
This another Google surface to combat the rising trend of social media and massive consumption of short videos. This will be even better as it will bring search capabilities to Social Media and Forums. At Fortune’s Brainstorm Tech conference, Google exec Prabhakar Raghavan made the stunning admission that around 40% of Gen Z prefers searching via TikTok or Instagram over Google.
Evergreen content is content that is still relevant and useful even after a long period of time. This includes content such as reviews, specs comparison, aggregated content (best …), service content, and how-to guides.
SGE is expected to have a significant negative impact on traffic to evergreen content. This is because SGE will provide users with the information that they need directly from the search results page with no backlinks to sources or references in AI-powered snapshots. As a result, users will be less likely to click on links to evergreen content.
On the other hand, there will be 3 featured guides on the right handside of the Snapshot, so few sites with evergreen will benefit greatly but the majority of sites will lose significant traffic.
There will be a huge impact on aggregators like Kayak, TripAdvisors, etc. as a big portion of their traffic comes from long tail terms "best beach vacation family friendly hotels." Google will answer all these long tail searches. And if we consider the 20-80 rule, where 80% of the keywords are long tail generating 20% or more of the traffic ... that is still a lot of traffic.
Trending news is news that is currently being discussed and debated.
SGE is not expected to have a significant impact on traffic to trending news. This is because trending news is typically time-sensitive and people are more likely to get their news from social media or news websites.
Commerce content is individual product listings content that is designed to help people make purchase decisions. This includes content such as product listings, product reviews, comparisons, and shopping guides. SGE will make it easier for people to find and compare products. Additionally, SGE will help to promote commerce content by highlighting it in search results.
When searching for a product, you’ll get a snapshot of 1)noteworthy factors to consider, 2) shopping guides and 3)recommended products.
SGE is expected to have a mixed impact on traffic to commerce content. This is going to be a huge change for many sites where few will rise to the top gaining massive traffic while others will fall behind. Publishers will also face the same challenge around shopping guides and best of guides as only few will be displayed in the snapshot. Up-to-date reviews, full schema of pricing, visuals, first hand experience will become critical to rank in the new experience. Having your listings in Google Merchant Center will definitely help.
Google will place greater emphasis on the quality and originality of the information. You’ll now see more pages that are based on first-hand experience, or are created by someone with deep knowledge in a given subject.
Sites featured in SERPs Features Snippet
This will be the most significant change of the new SERPs. Not having a featured snippet means that t
he featured articles will no longer get the visibility they once received. Instead, the AI generates its own list with descriptions and imagery.
SGE is expected to have a significant negative impact on traffic to these sites.
#1 Rankings (especially for Long Tail)
Ranking #1 is great, but as you know by now every time Google pushes one of their featured rich models on top, it impacts traffic greatly. 10+ years ago I worked with ABC News and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (Oscars). When Google introduced their Oscars Results Panel, and even though we were ranking #1 for many of the Oscars queries, we lost about 25% of our traffic compared to previous years. With the new AI-powered snapshot, all #1 rankings will lose the majority of their traffic as now their results are almost position #5+ if you measure it by pixels.
SEO Recommendations to Prepare for SGE
- Brands need to invest in building authoritative profiles (EEAT)of their writers and experts.
- Brands should also empower their writers to have a presence on social media - become creators- and produce social content to promote their writing.
- Entities (Person:schema) will become an increasingly important entry point for Perspectives tabs, especially providing social “proof” on the authenticity of the author.
- Brands should invest in UGC - User Generated Content - either on their sites (comments, forums), and/or having a strong presence in public forums.
- Brands should invest in short form videos not just for SGE, but it is a great fit for Social Media (Instagram Reels, YouTube Shorts, etc.)
- SEOs will need to make sure that their content is well-organized and easy to read. Having proper Schema is no longer a luxury but is a must.
- SEOs will need to make sure that their content is up-to-date. Content refreshes must be part of the workflow that publishers adapt and part of writers quota.
- SEOs will need to make sure that their content is optimized for mobile devices.
- SEOs need to ensure that their videos and images are well optimized as Google is becoming more visual.
- SEOs should learn more on Generative AI, here is a free course by Google https://www.cloudskillsboost.google/course_templates/536.
Overall, SGE is a significant change for the way that people search for information. SEOs who are able to adapt to this change will be well-positioned to succeed in the future.
Impact on Google
Definitely Google will see drop in number of searches for such queries that generate AI-powered snippets. This is the whole idea is take “more of the work out of searching” which means reduced number of searches per user. On the other hand Google will introduce Follow-Up questions that will entice the user to do more pages on Google. Imagine you are searching for "Beach Vacation for a family of 3 kids and a dog", this Search Journey might takes 20-30 searches on Google and you will visit 40-50 sites. Now you get your answer in the first search and you may visit a couple of sites. This is a massive decrease in number of searches, number of visits and number of as impressions. No doubt this will impact search revenue.
Is there a way to estimate the traffic impact on your site?
Currently it is all estimates by many SEOs, but it is quite obvious that it will be massive. Some smart SEOs estimate anywhere from 30-50% drop is site traffic. I would say it depends on the nature of your site content taken in consideration the different content types we discussed above.
Start calculating the worst case scenario:
- Identify how much evergreen content you have on your site - estimate 30% drop in traffic
- Identify Featured Snippets rankings - estimate 80% drop in traffic
- Identify all the #1 rankings for long tail queries - estimate 80% drop in traffic
this might give you an idea on how much traffic you might be losing
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