CEO of Letterdrop, former Product Manager on Google Search
Despite the changes and uncertainty that Google's SGE brings, optimizing for ranking is still crucial as SGE answers are generated using sources from top pages on Google.
To appear in the AI-generated snapshot, focus on providing new and valuable information, improve readability, and encourage others to cover your product.
Opinionated content with a clear perspective is becoming more important as AI-generated answers answer simple questions with factual answers.
Google announced its new Search Generative Experience (SGE) at Google I/O in May 2023. Content Marketers and SEO specialists are still left wondering how it's going to impact SEO.
I got early access to the Google SGE AI and have noted the most important changes, how they might impact SEO, and how you should adapt to stay competitive.
I used to be a PM on the Google Search team, too. Hopefully, I can shed some light on how you should think about this latest AI-generated search development to avoid losing traffic.
What is Google's SGE?
"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." — Google from their blog, "The Keyword"
Google's search generative experience (SGE) is an experimental approach to search that uses generative AI to aggregate information from the SERPs into a single answer.
This removes the need to click through individual web pages for answers, although the snapshot does credit top-page sources. It can also answer complex long-tail questions, so users don't need to make multiple searches.
How Do You Get Google's SGE?
A good way to learn more about the SGE behavior and how it will affect you is to get it yourself and experiment.
As of the time of writing, you can only opt into the experience if:
you're part of the 130 countries where SGE is available
you're signed in with your Google account on Chrome
You need to access Search Labs to get it — you'll find the Labs icon in the top right corner of the latest version of Chrome and the Google App.
If you can’t find the Labs icon, it’s not available in your country yet.
You Still Need to Optimize For Ranking with Google's SGE
SGE answers are generated using sources from the top pages on Google. That means you still need to focus on ranking. Nothing new here.
The classic blue links are displayed beneath the AI snapshot — and as you can see in the screenshot below, there are still visible ads. This is something we didn't see in Google's SGE demo.
I expect some negative impact on top-ranking pages with the blue links moving down below the fold (again, this has been happening for years with ads and featured snippets). There's a prediction that there will be a +-20% decline in organic search traffic — but I believe that will stabilize.
The right way to think about SGE is to treat it as a new type of featured snippet or ultra-smart knowledge card. You just need to optimize for it.
How Google's SGE Impacts SEO and How to Optimize For It
What’s interesting is HOW Google is using the top pages to generate its answer.
You'll need to change four things about how you approach SEO so that you appear in the AI-generated snapshot.
1. Focus on Information Gain
As you can see in the below image, Google is sourcing specific facts from the top pages.
This includes images, e-commerce results, links, and of course, text.
Google is trying to aggregate different information from different sources. If you're repeating what's already been said and you're a lower-ranking page, it doesn't seem like Google's SGE is going to cite you. Rehashing what's already on the SERP with copycat content won't get you anywhere.
What matters more than ever is information gain. You need to add net new facts, opinions, and data to warrant being a source for the AI-generated answer. So you should cover new angles and add unique opinions that Google's AI can cite.
Letterdrop has a feature that suggests opportunities for information gain based on your keyword.
2. Improve Readability and Directness
If you click on a source, you'll see that the text that Google "read" is highlighted in purple.
Google uses semantic similarity to understand your content. You need to make it as easy as possible for Google to cite you, so no waxing poetic.
Think about optimizing readability through:
The easier your page is to parse, the better your chances of being cited.
3. Have Others Cover Your Product in Their Content
I don't like this, but since SGE is looking through the top pages, frequency matters.
If the user is looking for a product recommendation, and a product comes up across eight different high-ranking pages, it's more likely to be suggested than a product only mentioned once in the top few pages.
The number of times other sources reference your page might matter more in the future as Google aggregates recommendations.
This means asking for more third-party reviews, getting customer testimonials on sites like G2 and Capterra, co-marketing with other companies in your space, and press.
Basically, the same best practices you'd use for (legitimately) building backlinks.
4. Focus on Opinionated Content
Google is increasingly disintermediating searches. Some keywords are more valuable to businesses than others.
The AI-generated answers do a great job of answering simple questions with straightforward factual answers.
Because of this, people are less likely to click through to corresponding sites. Their question has been answered in one or two paragraphs.
If your SEO strategy was centered around glossary terms and thin, low-quality content, you're at high risk of those pages losing traffic from Google.
It's in your business's best interest to focus on opinionated content with a clear perspective that isn't easily answered by an AI snapshot.
People want opinions from people they trust. That's why so many users add "reddit" at the end of their searches. They're looking for perspectives from real people rather than an amalgamation of information.
So if your middle and bottom-of-funnel content is in-depth, opinionated, has original data, uses rich media, and features perspectives from customers, employees, and other real people, you're on the right track.
The SEO landscape is rapidly changing. Check out this conversation on the topic between myself and our Head of Marketing, James Zayner.
The Future of SEO is Smarter
SEO is still as valuable as ever, but you will need to adapt to the new world. SEO in the wake of Google's SGE is going to require more thoughtful work. That's good for the internet at large.
If you're trying to make sense of SEO in the AI age, talk to us. At Letterdrop, we're building out modern SEO tooling where we're actively thinking about this new world of SEO.
Ready to optimize for the future of SEO?
SEO is changing, and Letterdrop is constantly adapting to make sure you’re on top of the game with the latest techniques. Talk to us.