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The Future of Google Search: What Leaders Need to Know About Generative AI and SEO

Updated: May 26

SEO and content are two of the most important marketing tools. Lately, forward-thinking founders have been wondering how generative AI will shake up search results. After digging into this, we think the changes will be huge.


Generative AI is set to revolutionize the way people search online, causing a ripple effect in the scaleup ecosystem. This technology could result in a significant decrease in web traffic for companies, which might disrupt their traditional marketing and sales strategies. Recent tests from Google Labs indicate that Google is leaning towards more zero-click searches, where users get their answers directly on the search page without clicking through to websites. This shift points to a fundamental change in the search landscape, affecting how businesses attract and engage with users online.



What is a Zero-Click Search?


A zero-click search happens when users find the information they need directly on the search engine results page (SERP) without having to click on any links. This can be through snippets, headlines, maps, or local listings. For example, if you search for the weather, you might see the forecast right on the results page without having to visit a weather website. According to 2022 data from SEMrush, about half of Google searches were zero-click, and this trend has been increasing over time.


The rise of generative AI (genAI) and the looming competition from AI-driven search engines have pushed Google to advance its zero-click search capabilities. With genAI, Google can provide more comprehensive and accurate answers directly on the SERP, further reducing the need for users to click through to other sites.


The Role of Google and Generative AI


Google remains the dominant search engine and is actively experimenting with generative AI to enhance how it answers search queries. Generative AI can generate text, summarize information, and provide detailed responses, making the search experience more seamless for users. If you haven't experienced this new feature yet, you can request access through Google Search Labs, which is a platform for users to test and provide feedback on Google's latest innovations.

 

It's crucial to familiarize yourself with these developments because they will significantly impact the future of search. As Google continues to integrate generative AI into its search engine, the shift towards zero-click searches is expected to accelerate, potentially transforming how businesses attract and engage with online audiences. Understanding and adapting to this change will be essential for staying competitive in the developing digital landscape.


Examples of Zero-Click Searches:


Weather Forecast

When you look up the weather in your area, Google often gives you a quick rundown of what to expect right on the search results page. You'll see things like current conditions, temperature trends, and upcoming weather forecasts—all with no need to hop over to a separate weather website.


source: Own materials


Local Businesses

Say you're craving a bite to eat or need to pick up some supplies nearby. Google's local listings feature hooks you up with key details like address, phone number, hours of operation, and even customer reviews—all straight from the search results page. It's a breeze to find what you're after without bouncing around different business websites.


source: Own materials


Quick Facts and Definitions

Need a fast answer or definition? Google's got your back with featured snippets that serve up concise info. For example, ask "What's the capital of France?" and you'll likely see "Paris" front and center at the top of the results—saving you from clicking through to another page for a simple answer.


source: Own materials


Sports Scores and Game Updates

Keeping up with the game? Google's on it, delivering real-time scores, schedules, and player stats right on the search results page. Whether it's the latest NFL showdown or a Premier League clash, you can stay in the loop without hopping over to sports news sites.



source: Own materials


Flight Status and Travel Info

Planning a trip? Google's tied into airline databases, letting you check your flight status—including departure times, delays, and gate info—directly from the search results page. It's a handy way to streamline your travel plans and make life a little easier.


These examples show how zero-click searches give you instant access to what you need without clicking away from the search results page. As generative AI tech evolves and search engines get better at understanding what users want, we'll likely see even more improvements to zero-click search features, changing the way we interact with online info for good.



source: Own materials


What does Generative AI in Search (SGE) entail?


SGE marks just the beginning of a major shift in how we do Search, thanks to the power of generative AI. With SGE, when you search, you'll still see the usual web results, but they'll be organized in a whole new way to help you get more out of just one search.


With generative AI in Search, you can:

  • Ask more detailed and complex questions.

  • Get the gist of a topic faster and find links to dive deeper into what you're looking for.

  • Start tasks like drafting documents or creating visuals right from your search results.

  • Keep the ball rolling by asking follow-up questions or trying out suggested next steps.

 

SGE stays true to Search's core, keeping you connected to all the awesome stuff on the web, while making sure the info you get is top-notch.



How Tomorrow's Search Works


AI-powered summaries

When it makes sense, a feature called SGE (Search Generative Experience) will show a quick summary of a topic, made by AI. It's like getting a snapshot of what the topic is about, with important details and useful info. These summaries give you a starting point to explore more about the topic on the internet. SGE will also include links to where it got the information from, so you can check it out yourself and learn more.


Streamlined follow-up options

You can easily ask more questions or explore new ideas without repeating yourself. If you're curious about something related to your search, you can ask follow-up questions without starting from scratch. You can also check out suggestions for what to look at next, which will give you more info related to your search.


Vertical-specific experiences

This means SGE will help with specific kinds of searches, like shopping or looking for local places. For example, if you're shopping online, SGE can help you find important details about products so you can decide what to buy faster. It can also give you info about local places, like restaurants or stores, so you can compare your options easily.


Continued role of Search ads

Ads on search pages will still be there, but they'll be labeled clearly so you know they're ads. These ads help businesses get noticed by people searching online. With SGE, these ads will keep showing up in specific spots on the page, giving businesses a chance to connect with people looking for what they offer.


Enhanced creativity and productivity

SGE isn't just about finding information; it can also help you be more creative. Over time, it might offer more ways for you to use your imagination or get inspired. For now, you can use a feature that lets you ask for pictures of certain things, and the AI will generate them for you. This can help you visualize ideas or find inspiration for your projects.


Improved user experience

Google designed SGE to be easy to use, whether you're on a computer or a phone. It includes helpful features and tips to guide you through using it. For example, if you ask a follow-up question, the AI will use what you've already said to give you a new summary with more info.


Simply put, Google's AI swiftly scans the search engine results page (SERP), locates the answer to a user's query, and promptly generates a concise response at the top of the SERP in a fresh snippet named the AI spotlight. Users can then pose additional questions and engage with the AI instead of navigating through organic or paid links below.


What Google's New Search Landscape Means for Marketers and Leaders


The future Google results page, called SGE, is changing up how users interact with search results. It pulls info from all over and serves it up as a written answer, so folks don't even have to click anything. That means there's less room on the screen for regular search results, both the unpaid ones and the ads.


The Impact of SGE on Website Traffic and User Attention

The links mentioned by SGE aren't the same ones you see at the top of regular search results. Insight's research shows that only 57% of the links brought up by SGE come from the first page of regular results. The first link in SGE matches the first link in regular results only 12% of the time, and in 45% of searches, it's not even from the top ten. If users get used to reading and clicking on the SGE box more, it could mean a monumental shift in website traffic and where people's attention goes.




So, what does all this mean for marketers, businesses, brands, and agencies? SEO isn't going away, but it's definitely changing. Having a solid content strategy is key; your stuff needs to show up high in SGE and be enticing enough to get clicks. Expect your website traffic to drop by as much as 25%, which will affect how you do marketing in a bunch of ways. And paid ads? Yeah, those will feel the heat too with more competition.


What's Ahead for Growing Companies


For growing companies, these changes shake things up across the board:


SEO Shake-Up

Google's always tinkering with its algorithms, and it hits companies in different ways. Remember back in 2011 when the Panda update knocked eHow down a peg and boosted Wikihow? Well, get ready for another shake-up with GenAI in the mix. SEO's not dead, but it's definitely going to look different, both on your site and off it.


Content Makeover

Content teams need to get with the program and adapt to the new SEO scene. It's not just about churning out articles anymore. You gotta make content that not only gets noticed by SGE, but also gets folks clicking. That means dabbling in new stuff like videos or podcasts and spreading your content far and wide. Oh, and forget about just pumping out more content—precision and flexibility are key now.


Traffic Slowdown Ahead

Brace yourselves for a traffic dip. As we move toward a zero-click world, fewer folks will be cruising onto your site. Some estimates say you might see a drop of 15% to 25%, depending on your biz. And don't think it's all gonna be junk traffic—some of your regulars might be MIA too.


Clicks on the Decline

Some experts say Featured Snippets didn't mess with SEO traffic much, but they're missing the bigger picture. SGE's a whole different ballgame, potentially messing with a wider range of searches. Plus, with its mix of sources and user context, don't count on those click-through rates staying high. And now users can shoot off follow-up questions right in SGE—talk about complicating things.


Traffic's a Big Deal

Traffic's the lifeblood of your business, plain and simple. It affects everything from drumming up leads to measuring brand awareness. Even if the quality of leads improves, a drop in quantity could throw a wrench in your growth plans.


Paid Search in Limbo

SGE's results pages don't pack as many ads as the old Google ones did, and that could spell trouble for companies that rely on paid search ads. With Bing, Claude, and ChatGPT stepping up to the plate, competition's heating up. Even if SGE adds more ad slots down the line, it might not be enough. That could mean tougher ad auctions and companies scrambling to find new ways to drum up demand.

 

What should leaders be doing about all these SGE changes?

SGE is coming, whether we like it or not, so we can't just sit around. Start laying the groundwork now because it's happening bit by bit. CEOs and founders, get your teams ready, and marketing leaders, make sure your folks understand what's going on!

 

  • Get in the Game: Try out SGE, check out Bing's chat search feature, and get your team involved.

  • Take Charge: Stay on top of your SEO and SEM strategies, experiment with different paid channels, and keep a handle on how your brand is represented.

  • Keep it Real: Assess the potential impact on your website traffic and revenue. Think about how these changes could affect your marketing and sales strategies and have a plan ready.


The Era of Zero-Click Searches

The era of zero-click searches is upon us, and it's more than just talk. As users increasingly rely on AI-generated results, your website may see a drop in traffic. This shift makes it crucial to have a clear plan in place.


Zero-click searches mean users get their answers directly from search engine results without clicking on any links. AI-generated responses provide the information right on the search page, which can significantly reduce the number of visitors to your website.


To navigate this change, it's essential to understand how zero-click searches might impact your business and adapt your strategies accordingly. In this rapidly evolving landscape, clarity and innovation are your best allies. Being clear about your goals and staying innovative with your approaches will help you stay competitive and effectively respond to these new challenges.


How SGE Works in Google Search Labs

 

If you're logged into Google Labs while using Google Search, you'll often get the option for "an AI-powered overview" of your search. Right now, Search Labs and SGE are available in over 120 countries and territories and support seven languages. You can access it on both Chrome desktop and the Google App for Android and iOS. Here's how it shows up:


  • Generate Button: Sometimes, you'll just see a prompt with a "Generate" button. Click it to see the SGE (Search Generative Experience) response.

  • Partial Response: Other times, part of the SGE response will be visible, and you can click a button to see the full response.


Current Layout of SGE Responses


The layout of SGE responses has changed over time. Here's the latest setup:


Suggested Sites

There used to be a carousel of suggested sites on the right side of the main response. Now, the suggested sites for the initial part of the response are usually shown by default. If you want to see the suggested or source sites for each section, you need to click a down arrow at the end of that section.


Cross-Check Sources

These suggested sites act as cross-check sources to verify and correct the initial SGE response, as explained in a Cornell University paper that some Google scientists helped write.


Revealing Sources

Each section of the SGE response has a down arrow. Clicking this arrow will show the sources that confirm the information in that section.


Follow-Up Section

After the main text response, there's a follow-up section where you can pick one of the suggested questions or type in your own. This will generate a new SGE response based on your follow-up question.



SGE's snippets sometimes include a unique feature: quotes from Google Business Profile (GBP) user reviews. This surfaces when you search for specific locations, like Google's London office, the Taj Mahal, or Search Labs. Typically, the snippet also contains pictures, although the Search Labs GBP profile doesn’t have any. Interestingly, these snippets usually don’t include a map.



What's the Deal with SGE in 2024?


Okay, so when SGE first hit the scene, folks were buzzing. The plan was to wrap up the experiment for US users by December 2023. Everybody thought it'd go live for everyone after that. But December came and went, and SGE was still stuck in Google Labs. Then, on January 17, 2024, Google dropped a blog post introducing two new ways to play with Search (Circle to Search on Android and multi-search where you can snap pics and ask questions). Then, Google spilled the beans on SGE's status: It's gonna chill in Google Labs "for the foreseeable future" as a test bed for trying out new stuff.


Elisabeth Reid, Google's new head of Search, shared an update on her LinkedIn about the success of SGE. She mentioned that since SGE was introduced in Search Labs last year, people have already made billions of queries using it. The feedback has been very positive, especially regarding how SGE provides quick answers while still allowing users to explore more in-depth information on the web. Reid highlighted SGE can address a broader range of information needs and tackle more complex questions, such as comparisons or longer queries. She hinted that there are more exciting developments on the way.


On May 10, 2023, during the annual I/O developer conference, Google announced it was finally ready to reimagine the traditional search experience using generative AI. Originally slated for a December 2023 launch, the project remains in beta testing, with no confirmed date for a wider release.

In simple terms, Google's search generative experience is a game-changer for online searching. By integrating AI-generated responses right into the search results page, Google is speeding up the search process. But this change means traditional search results might lose out on traffic. Businesses need to adjust and optimize their content for this new AI-driven search to stay ahead. It's a whole new ball game in the world of online search, so spread the word!

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