What SGE Means: Google AI Search And How Do You Rank On It? - Splat, Inc.

What SGE Means: Google AI Search And How Do You Rank On It?


On May 10, 2023, the date of Google I/O 2023, the meaning of a Google AI search changed.

Google was once like a librarian who offered you a list of sources of information. It even ranked them from best to worst for your convenience.

Now, with its AI-powered Google Search Generative Experience (SGE), Google wants to become your trusted confidant, capable of personally answering your questions.

As Cathy Edwards, Google’s head of search, revealed in their portion of the I/O 2023 keynote, Google is constructing a hitherto unknown role for itself.

That role seems to be something between your hotel concierge, your personal shopper, your therapist, your mom and your best friend.

That is, once SGE leaves its test phase and goes live, Google’s primary function will fully shift to vetting and providing you information directly in a conversational manner, rather than pointing you to where you can find it in the stacks, so to speak.

Let’s unpack our new robot butler/parent, and what Google SGE means for content writers.

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Let’s Not Overstate Things

Yes, this shift represents the culmination of a long process. Zero-click searches, for instance, where a Google search results page displays the answer to a user’s query at the top in a snippet without a user having to click any links, have been a thing since 2020. Even before that, there was auto-complete, finishing your sentences for you.

And, yes, we are certainly all tired of bombastic claims about a new epoch of AI rewriting the history of the human race.

But now that the dust has settled a bit after its announcement, and enough pieces have been written about what Google SGE is, it’s worth considering what Google’s shift to SGE might mean for content marketers, SEOs, and even just average users.

For Many, Google AI Search Means Doom

If we answer that question honestly in one word, “doom” might be a legitimate contender, at least for a lot of digital marketing efforts. As The New York Times reports, an existing digital publishing model that relies on search for 29% of its traffic will collapse without a list of links front and center for users to click on.

Alex Kantrowitz, founder of the newsletter Big Technology, sums it up best in this piece on CMSWire:

“Digital publishers brought this moment on themselves. They created content farms and published undifferentiated stories…just hoping to attract some Google visits. Websites became impossible to navigate. They buried recipes, wrote for amorphous audiences they didn’t care about and lost sight of their relationships with readers. Eventually, they let search engines dictate their product, instead of making sense of it.”

It’s safe to say that many of these low-effort, spammy websites we all know so well will disappear, with what Edwards called the “heavy lifting” of scanning them being replaced by AI-generated results.

Kantrowitz recommends that digital publishing pivot to subscription media like e-mail and podcasts. But, as he and Edwards both note, generative AI relies on web content to furnish its results. And, at least for now, Google SGE cites its sources.

So, assuming you want your page featured as one of those sources for what Google calls its “AI snapshot” at the top of the results page: how would you get it there?

For Others, Google AI Search Means Trust

In another word, you get it there with trust. The foundation of Google SGE is going to be trust. And not just trust that, in the words of Geoffrey A. Fowler writing for the Washington Post, “we’ll be relying more than ever on Google itself to provide us the right answers to things.”

For those who want to boost traffic to their sites with Google SGE, Google is going to have to trust your site as much as we all will have to come to trust its own AI-generated results.

But how?

Let’s take a step back.

In December 2022, “Experience” was added to Google’s EAT (“Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness”) guidelines for good content to form E-EAT. This was the first new “letter” added to these guidelines since 2014, so experience is important.

“Experience” means that the author of the content has seen, heard, touched or tasted their subject matter first hand. First-person pronouns like “I” or “we” and unique photos with relevant image text all signal authenticity–you are sharing a truthful account, calling it like you see it, or saw it.

You’ll find this idea of authenticity prioritized in Google’s new Perspectives filter as well.

Introduced simultaneously with SGE on May 10, 2023, Google Perspectives allows users to “exclusively see long-form and short-form videos, images and written posts that people have shared on discussion boards, Q&A sites and social media platforms” when they “search for something that might benefit from the experiences of others.”

It remains to be seen how Perspectives will integrate with SGE. But Edwards noted that “what makes the web so special” is its “diverse range of content,” singling out “authentic, first hand experiences” like blog posts as the type of “input from other people” that Google Search users value.

Splat’s conclusion is this. As part of Google’s plan to caretake a “thriving web,” personalized, biographical content that incorporates its topic as a day in the author’s life seems the type to succeed: whether linked or sourced for AI-generated results.

But Experience Meets Expertise

Edwards also, however, juxtaposed experiential accounts on the web with “recommendations from an expert” in their Keynote. For every travel blogger, in their example, there was a National Parks Service as well.

They suggested AI-generated search results will be especially useful “when you need to make sense of something complex, with multiple angles to explore…when even your question has questions.”

I’m not sure what a question having questions means, but Edwards quickly segued into a telling example of such a complex question–picking an e-bike for a hilly commute.

Detailing how Google Shopping Graph will furnish content for transactional and commercial AI searches, as well as more traditional Google Ads being added to the snapshot, Edwards’ demo suggests that retailers that present their products as an expert’s choice, with sales writing that substantiates why they fit certain use cases, will be at an advantage.

Their second example, a series of questions about whales that led from why they sing to where to buy a plush orca, reinforces this point. “People-first” experience and expertise will help more than ever post-AI to get your ads served and your content quoted.

And Google AI Search Means Snacks, Too

About that content.

Shortly before I/O 2023, The Wall Street Journal reported on a set of internal documents at Google. The documents address the disconnect between Google Search and social media networks like Tiktok and Instagram, which is taken for granted but also relatively irrational once you begin to think about it.

Google wants to bridge this gap. The larger purpose of the AI functions added is to give Google search personality. And in the coming months it will integrate content creators, images, and short and long-form video onto search engine results pages to do just that.

The keywords for Google’s proposed overhaul: “visual, snackable, personal, and human.” We’d add a fifth unnamed adjective, young.

There’s more. The documents the Journal reported on suggest that websites are plateauing in number, while younger users turn to apps when they need to own (or really rent) a piece of the Internet.

Those under thirty years old are also likely to use apps for formerly Google-able queries like discovering restaurants. This latter is the subject of a famous internal study by Google cited by Prabhakar Raghavan, a Google senior vice president of search.

Raghavan and the study’s researchers concluded that younger users, untrained on paper maps or the early, simpler search strings of 2004-era Google, carry different expectations for how they ask for information.

We can meet those expectations by creating content that is digestible–snackable–but also optimized for longer, more conversational search strings, like questions we might ask each other.

Changes to search will take forms we may not be totally sure of yet. But, by anticipating, demo-ing, and analyzing proactively, we can ride the wave Google believes is currently lifting its platform.

Newer ways of addressing search, and using the Internet, may be launched further by it.

Your first step? Whatever you write, make it expert, personal, distinctive, and helpful.

Splat Has Been Growing Legal Brands on the Web Since 2003, Using the Latest in Web Design, Development, and Inbound Marketing.

Sources Referenced

The Verge, “The AI Takeover of Google Search Starts Now.
The Washington Post, “AI is changing Google search: What the I/O announcement means for you.
SEMRush blog, “What Are E-EAT and YMYL in SEO and How to Optimize for Them.
Forbes, Google Is Evolving Search As Zoomers Use TikTok, Instagram To Find Things Online
Google, The Keyword, “Help Us Build the Future of Search with Search Labs.
Google, The Keyword, “Supercharging Search with Generative AI.
Wordstream by LOCALiQ, “Google Search Generative Experience: What AI on the SERP Means for You,
Search Engine Land, “The New Google Search Generative Experience: Here’s What It Looks Like.
Search Engine Land, “Google Search to Become More Visual, Snackable, Personal, and Human.
WIRED, “Google Just Added Generative AI to Search.”
The New York Times, “Publishers Worry A.I. Chatbots Will Cut Readership
CMSWire, “Google, Generative Search and the Web’s Uncertain Future
Google Search Central “Creating helpful, reliable, people-first content

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