SGE: How Google is Integrating AI into Search

Oct 3, 2023featured, It Depends - An SEO Podcast, PPC, SEO

What is SGE in Google?

Google’s Search Generative Experience (SGE) is a new feature launched by Google Search Lab in Google’s search engine results page that integrates AI into [potentially] all searches. At this time, the SGE feature is only available for users that opt in to the experience and click on the SGE icon to activate the AI results feature.

From current experiments, we can see that the SGE results page will provide direct answers and content to allow users to discover more information without needing to click on multiple websites.

It is critical to understand that SGE is not a competitor to OpenAI’s ChatGPT. ChatGPT is a conversational model where the tool has a “conversation” with the user in a human way. SGE is still a search result to a single query. Google has added some tools to the generative experience to “Converse” or “Ask a Follow Up” to provide a more conversational aspect.

When is SGE Releasing to the Public?

As of October 2023 Google’s Search Generative Experience is still in beta. Users can opt in but it is not the default. Google is still testing the tool. There is no formal roll out date for SGE to be an automatic addition to the search results.

What is an example of a generative AI search?

**Updated 10/09**

Here are a couple examples of the SGE search results as of October 1, 2023.

Google's Search Generative Experience (SGE) example

You’ll see that the AI generated answer is above all paid and organic search. The response aggregates information from multiple sources and includes resources.

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SGE vs Google Bard: What’s the difference?

SGE is an integrated function into Google’s search results page, whereas Google’s Bard is a chat-based AI tool. Bard is Google’s direct competitor to ChatGPT. You can ask chat ChatGPT or Bard a question like, “what are the most common types of birds in Wisconsin” and it’ll give you a list and then you could say, “which of those birds are raptors” or “which of them are brown”. Bard and ChatGPT will keep responding to your added input and give you different output based on your conversation. SGE in Google is a one-time, one-way experience just like Google search results today. You type something into Google search. If it triggers this generative experience, it will output something that answers your question. And if that’s not the answer you want, or you want some different detail, you search again and start over.

How to set up SGE?

As of October 2023, you have to opt in to SGE while browsing. Google has provided a guide to set up SGE and use SGE while browsing. The process can be found below or at this link to Google’s article.

How to Turn on SGE: Opting in to SGE

  1. On your device, open the Google app.
  2. Make sure you’re signed in to your Google Account with “Incognito mode” turned off.
  3. At the top left, tap the Labs icon.
  4. On the SGE card, turn the experiment on.
  5. Click Try an example.

How to Set Up SGE While Browsing

  1. You have to Turn on SGE prior to seeing AI generated results in search.
  2. Do a search on Google. If an AI-powered overview is available, it will show at the top of search results.
  3. For some searches: You’ll have the option to generate an AI-powered overview.
  4. For other searches: AI-powered overviews won’t be available.
  5. To ask another question in the new conversational mode:
  6. Under the “Overview,” tap Ask a follow up.
  7. Enter your follow-up question.

How is SGE going to impact SEO and/or organic search results?

Simple answer is “we don’t know yet”. In Transistor’s podcast, “It Depends – An SEO Podcast” this very topic is explored in depth. Check out the full episode below or or listen to the SGE Podcast here.

As of right now, we know that click through rates are likely going to decline with results that include SGE results and zero click queries will rise. However, we can’t even begin to estimate the extent of those losses because everything is in beta right now and we have no data to prove this.

In terms of SEO strategy, the biggest aspect that we need to focus on is how AI and SGE will impact how people search and phrase their queries. We are anticipating that searchers will start to use directions like “Create a 10 week workout plan to prep for a marathon” vs question asking like “What workouts should I do to prep for a marathon.” However, this shouldn’t completely alter your strategy just because phrasing is slightly different.

Good content and healthy websites matter now and will matter post SGE. Don’t stray from what matters to your user just because Google is changing its search environment. 

 

Are AI and SGE going to be the death of SEO?

People are still searching for things. People will continue to search for things. Google is not shutting down. So let’s break down the question a little further. From a business standpoint the question is, “is my site going to stop getting organic traffic?” Then there are also SEOs that are asking, “am I going to be out of a job?”

SGE is NOT the end of organic search. This evolution is going to be a change to what happens when people search but Google’s going to have to figure out a way to get people to continue to click on websites that are driving the information and insights that drive AI results and Google’s bottom line. This is not eliminating people’s need to search and their need to go to Google to answer questions about a host of things.

This conversation is reflective of a few years ago when voice search was the new evolution. Search marketers thought the whole world of SEO was going to change and that people were no longer going to type questions into Google. That has not happened. People do use voice search but it has not replaced the need for websites, SEO or for standard Google search.

How is SGE going to impact PPC and/or paid search results?

SGE – as it functions today – does not elevate paid search results above the AI generated responses. We are unsure of how this will impact paid search in the future; however, paid advertising is how Google makes money today. It’s highly likely that Google will work on a lot of different ways to integrate advertising into this new experience to ensure they are making money. However, results that are typically very heavy with ads seem to be less heavy with ads and that Google is leaning away from using ads and the results that are more purely informational.

Google might change its business model or adapt its business model to the way the internet is evolving; however, today people click on ads and Google makes money and Google needs to keep that flow of money. So while AI is exciting and it’s evolving really fast, the whole idea is Google still needs to make money the way that they’ve always made money isn’t going to just stop.

 

What are the early reports of SGE Impacts?

Early reports are showing us a few key data points to know.  

  • There is limited click throughs to sites featured in SGE results 
  • Searchers have a positive user experience
  • 18- to 24-year-olds enjoy the SGE experience the most

More results will be added as they roll out.

Review of Google’s SGE: Multiple Perspectives

In order to get a few perspectives on SGE, we asked our team of SEO and PPC experts what they think of the new experience, these are their thoughts:

“Overall, I’m not a fan of this. Yes, it’s potentially a huge time-saver and logical step for answering basic questions that have clear answers. E.g. “What are mojitos typically made of?” has a single answer that shouldn’t be disputed. For a while now, Google uses rich snippets to serve a lot of those types of answers without a website click. SGE is a reasonable evolution. But for matters of opinion or controversy? I have a lot of concerns. Even relatively harmless queries like “iPhone 15 reviews.” People who regularly dig into product reviews know that a lot of the sources out there have a heavy bias. Many of them are paid by the manufacturer, which really hurts credibility. So not only is Google going to include data from sources that you as an individual may not value/trust, but Google is introducing its own bias based on which pros/cons it decides to feature. For something fairly trivial like a phone review, I have a lot of worries. But there are much more consequential searches, like searches related to health symptoms, the inclusion of SGE is outright scary. I will happily continue to click through multiple sites to get a broader set of viewpoints and understand more context around the information being given. Once this rolls out broadly, unless there’s an option to opt out of SGE results, I’ll be building a habit of scrolling right on past.”

Jay Ratkowski, Founder, President at Transistor

“SGE is a realistic evolution from previous search features such as People Also Ask and rich snippets. I don’t mind the results I get from SGE, it seems very helpful when looking for something that has a simple or direct answer. However, I think the struggle is going to be that when people are doing research and asking complicated questions. History has shown us that people want choices. They don’t want to be fed a singular response but rather feel like they are able to come to a conclusion after accumulating information, this is the opposite of what SGE is providing. My thought is that SGE is here to stay but it will continue to evolve to be more inclusive of both organic and paid results.”

Lindsie Nelson, Co-founder, Vice President at Transistor

“The information given by SGE gives you a deeper insight to seemingly black and white topics with things like considerations and follow up question ideas. “couple’s Halloween costume” ideas seems like an easy thing mostly photo heavy but they also suggest things like the location of your event, what could relate to your relationship and what is the end goal of the costume. However, if you don’t see what you like, or want to explore further, there are no links!”

Chelsea Scaffidi, Senior Search Analyst at Transistor Digital

 

With the buzz around AI, I think SGE is an expected next step for Google. I can see how it can be convenient for one-off searches, but I’m most interested in the data it could provide us. How will SGE handle complex questions that require in-depth answers? Will users accept the first response SGE provides, or will they look deeper? If (and when) they do, we can use that data as another signal to identify what users really care about and the information they need to make decisions. One of the core pieces of SEO is providing users with value, and I don’t think that’s something SGE will replace.

Ali Kresken, Senior Technical Analyst at Transistor Digital

It’s no surprise that Google has rushed to integrate AI-driven search results. However, it feels as though it’s just that – rushed. When making basic, informational search queries, SGE seems to work fine enough. In general, I have grave concerns about the quality of aggregated results displayed to users through SGE and the implications depending on the original query. From a consumer perspective, in my experience, SGE simply makes attempting to find products and make purchases more difficult. I think it will be interesting to see how Shopping and eCommerce will be integrated into SGE as they continue to iterate on the concept.

Racheal Young, Senior Paid Media Specialist at Transistor Digital 

 

 

[October 9, 2023] Google Test’s “Lite” Version of SGE

Barry Schwartz at Search Engine Roundtable published an article on October 9, 2023 bringing light the changes in the SGE experience. Multiple users have reported that SGE results are much smaller than before with the ability to expand the text if desired.

In the Podcast, How Will Google’s SGE Impact SEO?, we discuss Google’s need to make money and how providing only AI-driven results wouldn’t be great for driving ad-revenue. This change directly reflects Google’s need to show paid results to users, regardless of SGE results. As Glenn Gabe said, “[In my opinion] SGE will not roll out unless it’s revenue-neutral or positive…”.

To use the same example above, we can see a very small block with the AI results with the standard results still shown above-the fold.

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