Google’s SGE is Live: How to Win in the Era of AI-Powered Search

By Andrew Wheeler on May 22, 2024

We've all been there: lost in a web search rabbit hole, overwhelmed by irrelevant results. But this frustrating experience is soon to be behind us.

Last week (May 14), Google began the mainstream rollout of its Search Generative Experience (SGE), triggering a significant shift in how hundreds of millions of U.S. users discover and engage with information online.

Think of the internet as a vast library. Traditional SEO is the library's bibliographic index (what some of us may remember as the card catalog 😉), a helpful tool that points you in the right direction but leaves you to navigate the shelves yourself.

SGE, on the other hand, is more like having a knowledgeable librarian by your side. It understands the 'why' behind your search, recommends and locates the perfect resources, summarizes key points, and even anticipates your next question.

SGE doesn't just streamline searching; it personalizes the experience to each user's unique needs—a win for users and a game-changer for marketing, offering new and powerful ways to engage target audiences.

But with traditional SEO as the card catalog and SGE as the librarian, the question demanding marketers' attention and creativity now is this: How can you transform your brand into the resource the librarian consistently recommends?

Understanding SGE

SGE leverages generative artificial intelligence (GenAI) to analyze search queries and provide AI-generated answers and source recommendations directly on search engine results pages (SERPs). Instead of a long list of links, users will start to see AI-generated summaries of relevant information, key takeaways, and even interactive elements.

Imagine you're searching for a quiche recipe. Traditionally, you'd get a list of websites with the word "quiche" somewhere in them. But in the SGE era, you'll see the top people-rated recipe, baking tips, a shopping list, and answers to common follow-up questions like "Can I substitute broccoli for spinach?"

Quiche recipe Google SGE

In short, SGE offers a more tailored and interactive search experience. Google says upcoming upgrades will include:

  • Adjustable overviews to simplify language or provide more detail

  • Multi-step reasoning to better handle complex queries with nuances

  • Built-in planning capabilities for tasks like meal prep and vacations

  • AI-organized search result pages to explore ideas and inspiration

  • Visual search querying through uploaded videos and images

These upcoming features give us insight into the kinds of content that will thrive in the AI search experience: highly informative, exploration-oriented, exact, and multi-format (especially text enriched with helpful imagery and video).

Thriving in the age of AI-powered search

While it remains to be seen how Google's AI-powered search will go over with the broader universe of search users, it's inevitable that SGE (and similar AI-powered search experiences) will become the new standard.

These algorithms are redefining the criteria for quality sources in search, presenting marketers with new challenges and opportunities in optimizing content for visibility.

One big concern is what will happen as AI Overviews, AI-generated answers presented directly on search results pages (SERPs), take over the coveted "position zero." Your top-ranking content could see decreased click-through rates (CTR) and organic traffic as it gets replaced or bumped down in the scroll.

To give you an idea of the scope of this change, a recent study by Authoritas tested 2,900 keywords in Google Labs' SGE and found that over 91% of results displayed AI-generated content in position zero. However, Google's rollout announcement claims that links included in AI Overviews receive more clicks compared to traditional web listings for those searches.

Being bumped by AI Overviews isn't the only reason your content's CTRs might change. Studies like this one by Onely have shown that nearly half (45%) of the content sources SGE highlights for users did not rank on the first page for the same query in 'regular' Google. In other words, current rankings do not guarantee placement or preference in the SGE experience.

At the same time, SGE presents exciting opportunities for marketers who embrace user-centric, multimedia content creation strategies. Like Google's Knowledge Graphs and interactive features, SGE promises to showcase high-quality web content in new and engaging formats. Check out Google's example of an AI-organized results page here:

To win in this landscape, brands must maximize quality and technical SEO best practices, which emphasize creating content based on user intent, providing clear answers to complex questions, and prioritizing fresh, multimedia content with proper schema and snappy UX. We at Skyword will be closely studying queries with AI Overviews to surface additional optimization opportunities.

By grasping the principles behind SGE's exploration-oriented search and optimizing your content accordingly, you can achieve search gains now and secure a head start in the future of generative search.

Here's my advice to help you position your brand as a preferred resource in the SGE era:

  1. Target user intent with long-tail queries: SGE prioritizes precise answers to specific questions. Ditch broad keywords and focus on long-tail queries—specific multi-word phrases your target customer would use at different stages of their research and purchase process. Instead of targeting "quiche," aim for "vegetarian quiche recipes with whole wheat crust." Consider tools like Skyword's Accelerator360™ to identify long-tail opportunities and optimize existing content for more competitive, trending searches.

  2. Craft engaging, multimedia experiences: Don't limit yourself to text! Infographics, explainer videos, and interactive content (provided they're optimized for speed and technical SEO) are prime source material for AI-generated summaries. In fact, according to DEPT, 71% of SGE snippets contain a YouTube video as part of its cited source material. These are the types of multimedia assets that text-based large language models (LLMs) can't easily replicate on their own.

  3. Become a preferred authority: SGE takes Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness (E-A-T) to a new level. In this new era of super-precise search results, the depth of your website's topic authority and how user-friendly your content is become even more crucial to being sourced by Google's AI. Deepen topic coverage in your niche, engage experts as authors, conduct original research, and establish your brand as a thought leader with insightful content and data that can't be found elsewhere. Importantly, structure your content for easy consumption. Use bullet points, clear headings, FAQs, data snippets, and visuals (images, videos) to make it scannable and ensure users can quickly grasp the information they need.

  4. Embrace a pillar and cluster content strategy: Develop pillar pages—comprehensive resources on broad topics—linked to cluster pages that delve deeper into specific subtopics. This caters to users' exploration journey and increases the likelihood of your content showing up in AI Overviews and SGE's follow-up question suggestions. If you have existing high-performing content, Skyword's ATOMM™ can help you quickly and efficiently transform it into specialized cluster pages and multi-channel content.

The arrival of SGE marks a significant shift in the digital landscape, demanding a strategic response from marketers. While traditional SEO tactics may become less effective, the playing field is wide open for those willing to adapt.

This new search landscape demands high-quality, original content that caters to user intent across multiple formats. For brands that prioritize a focused and comprehensive ("360-degree") content strategy, SGE will be a powerful tool.

Are you ready to transform your brand from a name on a search engine page to the go-to resource for your target market? Let's connect.

Featured image by Anastasija at Adobe Stock


Andrew Wheeler

Andrew C. Wheeler is the Chief Executive Officer of Skyword.