If you look back at what the Google SERP looked like ten years ago there is a marked difference to how it looks today. It’s difficult to notice the gradual changes the tech giant makes to its SERP given the frequency that we all use it, but ten years ago the results were all text-based and looked quite dull compared to what it is now.
Today, the SERP is much more experiential, pulling different links, videos, very image-based and predictive. The future is more visual in search, whatever format your search will take, the results will be more and more visual.
Search Generative Experience (SGE)
In May 2023, Google launched SGE which is currently being tested in the USA, India and Japan, in their local language, with a possible global rollout in 2024. It signals a huge change in search with AI-powered results playing more and more of a role. Google has been automating search for a long time and its previous products such as RankBrain, BERT AI and MUM have helped the SERP deliver the most relevant results for users’ queries. Google’s mission is to ensure the most relevant results for users and with the help of AI it has been able to deliver on this and SGE is the next step in this mission.
What is SGE?
SGE puts AI front and centre in a Google search and provides contextual answers to really complex questions users have. Instead of typing in a word or short keyphrase, users type in a more conversational manner, similar to the way they would with ChatGPT and Google will serve an AI-generated response at the top part of the SERP.
More conversational and longer phrases being searched is a trend we’re seeing, with users increasing the number of words in their search across time (see the below chart).
What does SGE look like?
When a user searches in the new SGE, they will be served an AI-generated response in what Google is terming the ‘Snapshot’ part of the SERP, that is, the top of the SERP. Snapshot is the main feature of SGE. Sources will remain within SGE as links either to the right of the SERP or as drop-down arrows within the Snapshot. These sources will be determined by Google’s ranking system.
There is a conversational mode where users can chat to the search engine as they would ChatGPT. There is something called vertical experiences on SGE, which is a button users can press that gives them different options or features around the topic they’ve searched for.
There will also be something called ‘Perspectives’ which is relevant for certain queries that lend themselves to having different viewpoints, so SGE will pull those into the SERP too.
SGE currently excludes what is termed ‘Your Money or Your Life’ which means tricky topics such as money or medical searches, a dangerous arena for an AI to respond to.
Importantly, traditional organic results will appear below these new elements.
SGE Perspectives: exploring diverse viewpoints in search
SGE Perspectives is a new feature by Google that aims to provide users with a wider range of information and viewpoints on their search queries. Here’s a breakdown of its key features:
- Viewpoints: SGE Perspectives goes beyond traditional search results by offering different perspectives on a topic, not just factual information. This can include personal opinions, experiences and insights from various sources
- Content formats: It utilises a diverse range of content formats, including long and short-form videos, images and written posts from discussion boards, Q&A sites and social media platforms. This allows users to engage with information in a way that suits their preferences
- Broader understanding: By presenting multiple perspectives, SGE Perspectives helps users gain a deeper and more nuanced understanding of a topic. This is particularly valuable for complex or subjective subjects
- Focus on specific categories: Currently, SGE Perspectives is more prevalent in certain categories such as travel, hospitality and personal finance. This suggests Google is focusing on areas where diverse perspectives can be especially valuable
- YouTube integration: Expect to see content from YouTube and YouTube Shorts videos featured prominently within SGE Perspectives, leveraging the platform’s vast repository of user-generated content
How SGE will change paid search
SGE will transform not just paid search but search generally. Firstly, there is likely to be a decline in organic traffic, only because the traditional organic results will be further down the SERP. This doesn’t mean that focusing on your organic strategy isn’t important, focusing on it is more important than ever because the Snapshot will use rank positioning in order to source content. Find out more about this in our whitepaper on the Future of Organic Search.
There will also be much more variance in the type of queries that drive traffic to pages and users are likely to be better informed ahead of clicking onto site, because of the Snapshot giving them that information before reaching an actual webpage. This means that when users land on a site, they are much more likely to convert.
The greatest potential issue for paid search with SGE will be clickless searches, that is users searching for an answer to their query but not needing to ever click onto a website to find out the answer. This is already increasingly the case with Google’s snippet feature which pulls out information from relevant websites to answer queries without the need for the user to leave the SERP.
As these developments continue to unfold, senior Google professionals have said the following about advertising in the new SGE.
Elizabeth Reid, Vice President & GM, Search at Google said in May 2023:
“We‘re committed to continue sending valuable traffic to sites across the web. We also believe that ads help people find relevant products and services. Search ads will continue to appear in dedicated ad slots throughout the page.”
When a number of people began to ask questions about SGE in July 2023, Sundar Pichai, CEO of Alphabet and Google had this to say:
“Ads will continue to play an important role in this new search experience. Many of these new queries are inherently commercial in nature. We are testing and evolving placements and formats and giving advertisers tools to take advantage of generative AI.”
Google is prioritising driving traffic to websites, Hema Budaraju, Senior Director of Product Management at Google Search, said in August 2023:
“Starting today, when you see an arrow icon next to information in an AI-powered overview, you can click to see relevant web pages, and easily learn more by visiting the sites.“
From looking at the recent changes in Google, it is user-first, but ads will remain and grow in importance in SGE.
Google has confirmed that ads in the new SGE will continue as Sponsored in totally dedicated slots, separate from organic results. Ads may appear above, within or below the Snapshot panel and ads within the panel will be highly targeted and relevant to the context of the conversation.
This is extremely good news for the advertiser as, if a user clicks on their ad, this user will be much more tuned into the product or service they’re clicking on and more likely to convert to a desired action.
Google has also said that if a query is inherently commercial in nature, ads will likely appear at the top of the page or in the Snapshot as seen below. Where relevant, AI will add into the Snapshot for that commercial search: pricing, reviews, stores and so on to help the user convert, using the advertiser’s website and ad collateral.
How Do These Developments Affect Marketers?
An entire whitepaper could be written on AI alone – its use cases, weaknesses, developmental issues and the ethical quandaries they present, especially for education. The focus here is on how they may affect search and the people who harness search engine marketing for a living.
I think it’s very clear that the impact on AI developments on search platforms like Google will drastically change what search marketing looks like. However, the fundamentals of search marketing: producing valuable, people-centric content remains vital and actually even more so with Google putting more focus on this.
Consumers are discovering brands without using websites, but the AI still has to find that information somewhere and this comes from the content we as marketers put out onto our websites and other digital platforms. Therefore, marketers are not redundant, the element that’s changing is how and where our content is served.
The Future of Search is upon us and with it, an exciting new world of possibilities for brands to connect with audiences. While SGE presents challenges, it also unlocks immense potential. Are you ready to seize it? Get in touch with us today to not get left behind as these changes start to emerge on Google.
There’s still a lot more to know about the developing search landscape, check out our How Search Habits Are Changing blog post to get the low down.