Keyword Rankings

Predicted SEO Impacts of Google's SGE Roll-Out

November 17, 2023
45 minutes
Predicted SEO Impacts of Google's SGE Roll-Out

What is SGE?

Search Generative Experience or SGE if you prefer, is Google’s name for the integration of AI generated answers into the top of Google’s search results.  

Example of Google's generative AI response feature
(An example of a Search Results Page incorporating a generative AI result)


ChatGPT’s launch in November 2022 seemed to take Google by surprise (despite being one of the primary innovators in generative AI technology) and with Bing integrating ChatGPT into its SERP results in February 2023, it was only a matter of time before Google rushed out its own integration.

In May 2023, Google launched its SGE ‘experiment’ for logged-in Chrome and Google App users, in English, in the US, India and Japan who have opted-in via labs.google.com.

The experiment is set to conclude in December 2023.  Whether that will then herald an immediate roll-out globally remains to be seen.  Google has since announced a further roll-out of its experiment to logged-in users in 120 countries, so it does seem likely that this will become a permanent addition to the SERPs.

Interestingly the roll-out does not include major European markets such as the UK, France, Germany.  This decision is more likely to be a compliance issue than a concern over impact on Google’s search revenues, so it’s likely that European users like you and me will get SGE access soon.

The big question is why is Google doing this now?

Why is Google rolling out SGE?

ChatGPT.

According to reports, the runaway success of ChatGPT led Google’s search team to issue a ‘Code Red’.

What does this signify?  In short, Google recognised there was an existential threat to their business if ChatGPT started to gobble up its search market share.  (As an aside, recent research from Statcounter shows that this hasn’t happened…yet).

You can just imagine the internal discussions in the corridors of power in Mountain View.  Concerns over revenue and usage in its core search business and perhaps even a touch of wounded corporate pride would necessitate a quick reaction.  After all many Googlers were involved in contributing to and developing the underlying architecture and technologies behind Large Language Models (LLMs) such as Artificial Neural Networks, Natural Language Processing (NLP), Deep Learning Architectures, Transformer Models and Large Scale Language Models (BERT & T5).  Now Google risked being left behind as other companies were exploiting the technology to hit mainstream consumer markets.

So, it’s easy to understand the high-level commercial drivers for Google, but what permanent impact will this have on Google’s ubiquitous search engine and how will Google really benefit.  but what are the long-term implications of the introduction of SGE for consumers and for the brands (with the help of their SEO teams) who target them in organic search?

I’ve enlisted the help of a dozen or so SEO experts to help me explore these issues to give you some food for thought and help you consider the implications of SGE for Google, for ‘Search’ as we know it and for the businesses you work with to grow organic traffic and sales.

How does Google benefit from SGE?

In an ideal world, Google isn’t going to introduce something that hurts user experience or its revenues, but obviously sometimes a planned change to the SERPs might favour one to the detriment of the other.  You can see from recent anti-trust trial exhibit filings that there’s a lot of internal debate and friction between internal search and ads teams over making planned changes to Search.  What’s the bottom-line?  Google is revenue driven and has to take action if it looks like it’s not going to hit its quarterly targets.

I believe SGE will be rolled-out because it will be revenue positive (due to an increase in the number of paid ads and the click-thru rate by interspersing them between organic results) and it will improve the user experience in the medium-term, as it will help Google improve its search engine by enabling it to collect better user behaviour data and metrics through:

1. An increase in long-tail queries - You only have to have used ChatGPT for a few hours to realise that you can ask it lengthy, complex questions and multiple questions in one go.  Google will see users typing longer keyword phrases as they realise the search engine is capable of more.

2. Less ambiguity - Longer more explicit queries will give Google better context, ensuring Google guesses the user intent correctly more often.

3. Follow-up questions - The introduction of follow-up question in a conversation thread will help Google understand the steps in millions of buyer journeys.   This is very different to today’s People Also Ask results where users are directed to a different website.  For simple purchases, users will be able to state their problem, understand the solution, research alternatives and purchase without leaving the SERP until the final purchase.

4. Better understanding of user intent - Today a user searches for ‘flights to Rome’, in the near future a user might search for “Planning a business trip to Rome from December 14th to 19th, book flights, 5-star accommodation in the city centre and transport”.  The user will be more demanding and the search engine will have to keep up.

5. Increase in Personalisation – Google will encourage, but nor force users, to login so it can keep not just their search history, but the context of different conversation threads.  More users will login as they will realise the benefits of getting better contextualised results, follow-ups that are oriented around their primary goal or task and being able to pick up the thread of a previous conversation seamlessly across devices.

6. New, improved User Interaction signals - Recent DoJ filings (life of a click, user responses, Priors algorithm, the magic of user dialogue, posing the user a question) prove what the majority of SEOs have known for years, that Google does measure and utilise user interaction signals to improve its machine learning models.  These new SERP features will give Google even more opportunity to capture user signals to further refine its search engine.

7. Scale – What struck me from reading some of the DoJ filings was how critical Google’s scale is to its business.  The quality of Google Search doesn’t just reflect how good its engineers are, how many patents it has, the effectiveness of its algorithms, its $billion-dollar investments and its technological prowess and computing power, it also reflects its scale.  

It’s a classic case of the rich getting richer or “preferential attachment” as Albert-László Barabási describes it in his excellent book, “Linked”.  Google’s scale gives it an enormous competitive advantage due the amount of user engagement, feedback and metrics it can study.

An artistic viw of how a search engine like Google is built
With SGE, Google can collect even more user signals and create an even better search experience (probably not like this though!).

Google wants to increase the number of users and the time they spend on Google.  Adding a chat like interface promotes a more conversational style of search and allows Google to play to its strengths and ask follow-up questions that help users refine what they are looking for without leaving the search page - for me, this is the biggest and most dramatic change of all.  

With SGE, Google can shorten consumers’ research time by providing distilled and synthesized results to users throughout their buyer journey.  With SGE conversations, Google can help the user work through his/her questions eventually filtering down to a set of products that fit the bill all without leaving Google’s SERP page, only finally allowing the user to go straight to the best store to purchase through a paid (or possibly a lesser-spotted organic) listing.  

In the conversational SGE user flow, even Amazon will have to pay to play.  

The last point on this is scale – it’s clearly evident that Google uses its massive scale to help improve its systems.  This conversational interface will become the ultimate learning machine, helping Google to learn at scale what matters to consumers whether they are making a simple standalone query, or a query that’s one part of a much more complex task.

This is going to be difficult for any organisation to compete with. Although, OpenAI (Microsoft) has a chance due to their release of GPTs; effectively crowd-sourcing use cases, quality training materials and data through external APIs.  Their biggest challenge will be sorting the wheat from the chaff as hundreds of thousands of GPTs are created that offer little to no added value.

What does SGE mean for Search Engine Users?

Well, time will tell.  

In the short term, a new interactive feature at the top of the SERPs that will seem familiar.  (It’s not that different to a Featured Snippet at first glance).

A new method to ask follow-up questions without starting a new search.

A much more conversational experience.

A different (and improved?) shopping experience.

A reduced need to visit external websites and wade through content to decide what to do.

This is likely to lead to a permanent change in user behaviour that has further ramifications for SEO practitioners and their clients.

What does it mean for SEOs working on behalf of brands looking to target Search Engine Users?

(Updated:) We've just published an SGE research study of 1,000 keywords to assess the impact of SGE on SEO.

I reached out to a group of talented and experienced SEOs to weigh-in on this question.

Needless to say, there wasn’t complete consensus on the likely impact on search engine optimisation techniques, since the SGE experience is only an experiment for now.  However, these are the main perceived impacts on SEO.

SEOs are predicting a drop in organic visibility

However, generally the message was that a hit to organic traffic was likely in the short-term, it was just the gravity of the hit that divided opinions and it may not be as significant as first feared.

“I believe there will be a gradual adoption from Google users interacting with SGE, starting slow and gradually increasing over time. Due to this gradual adoption, I don't believe there will be a drastic or immediate drop-off in organic traffic overnight, but it will be something that becomes more impactful on traffic over time based on that adoption.”
JackGenesin, SEO Consultant, Jack Genesin Consulting

Looks like Jack and John are in agreement.  No need to panic.

“When SGE was announced, it's safe to say a lot of people in the SEO industry were shocked. But now that beta testing has been going on for a few months, from what we can tell, the impact isn't going to be as drastic as we once thought. Recently, on X, we've seen more and more examples that SGE doesn't automatically trigger with every search query, and users have to go through extra steps to opt in to get a generated response. I think the updates Google has rolled out surrounding helpful content and schema are some indicators of how we may need to change our tactics, with the short answer being what it has always been: create high-quality content, and you'll be rewarded, either in regular search results or also in SGE.”
John Sammon, CEO and Founder, Sixth City Marketing

Dmytro Sokhach, SEO Expert, CEO and Co-Founder, Editorial.Link sees a bigger impact on pages that offer short ‘how-to’ style guides and less of an impact on transactional queries.  

“In my opinion, transactional queries won't be much affected by Google's SGE (Search Generated Entities). If someone's searching for "moving Texas," they're looking for a specific service, not a chunk of generated text. The same goes for shopping queries.
SGE will surely affect pages that offer short guides. Imagine you're looking up "how to tie a tie." Google could potentially serve up the answer right there in the search results, complete with images.”  

I agree with his first point, but less so with his second, as I am more concerned that the impact for e-tailers is going to be significant. For a multitude of reasons that I’ve set out below, including the other related SERP feature changes Google is making.

Fortunately, I am not alone as not everyone thinks this is going to have a slow and gradual impact.  Ben Poulton, SEO Consultant and Founder, Intellar is a bit more aligned with me and is forecasting a much bigger impact on SEO visibility and traffic.

“The biggest impact SGE will have on SEO is changing how results are presented in SERPs, along with the changes to the above-the-fold real estate. This will look like:
- A loss of organic blue-link real estate when SGE results trigger
- Aggregation of brand results, which could take clicks away from branded search, especially at a product level
- Aggregation of informational queries could mean lower clicks on long-tail terms
- SGE above the fold could also mean less traffic going to other SERP features such as "People also asked".

How is SGE going to impact brand traffic?

Well, there’s going to be changes.  Of course, it will vary based on the amount of brand equity you have, but there are certainly more opportunities for third-party sites to live off your good name, and steal traffic for branded terms by answering questions about your brand, reviewing your brand or simply stocking your products.

Take this example for “Rent the Runway”.  You can see today most of the SERP real-estate is owned by the brand (blue shaded area), but in an SGE world, there’s many more third-party websites getting in on the act (green shaded area).

2 screenshots side-by-side depicting how 'brand searches' will chaneg with SGE
SGE On vs SGE Off: Brand searches

I’m not sure this will have any discernable impact on navigational branded searches.  However, if SGE is implemented like this, it could lead to a bigger decline in user attention and clicks for high value keywords using your “brand name + a generic keyword modifier”. E.g. “Chase credit card rates”.

2 screenshots side-by-side depicting how 'brand + generic keyword searches' will chaneg with SGE
SGE On vs SGE Off: Brand + Generic Keyword Searches

In this example a user has to ‘click to generate’ but doing so, gives them the opportunity to get distracted and end up on third-party review sites.  One upshot to this implementation for Google is that brands are more likely going to need to pay to advertising on ‘brand + [keyword]’ terms.

How is SGE going to impact News traffic?

This is going to be interesting to see how this plays out.   One big advantage Google has over say ChatGPT right now is its ubiquity and access to real-time information.  

You can see that with SGE activated, I can get a tidy summary of a recent trending news story, in this case, ‘Starbucks workers red cup day’, above the normal Google News features and links to trusted news sources from Google News.

What’s also interesting is that I am seeing a few different websites appearing in the Google SGE image carousel and in the hidden references behind each link.

With SGE deactivated, I used to get a selection of headlines from trusted news sources to choose from, but with SGE activated, I get a succinct summary of the story.  In some circumstances, I can see that this must reduce the need for a user to click-thru to read more.

Globally, news publishers have taken issue with Google utilising their content without fair compensation.  This is another battle that I can see ending up in competition courts around the world.

SGE Impact on News queries
SGE News Story Summary – Reduces the need to click-thru and read the story.

Replacement of SERP features that SEOs have been targeting

It’s likely that a number of SERP features that SEO teams have been gunning for in recent history will disappear or change significantly.

Featured Snippets will be replaced by SGE

I believe Featured Snippets will disappear.   The screenshots below with SGE turned OFF and SGE turned ON, show that the SGE answer pretty much answers the question the user has, but it is just pulling from more than one site.

Screenshots side-by-side showing before and after SGE roll-out on Google SERPs
SGE On vs SGE Off: Death of the Featured Snippet?

Roberto Popolizio, SEO Manager at Website Planet agrees,
“Many tests done so far on Google SGE show that the sites featured in the AI answers carousel are not necessarily ranking in the SERPs. Suppose that AI Snapshot carousels get the most organic clicks as many have predicted. That will be the end of featured snippets, so SEOs will have to focus solely on understanding the angle covered by SGE for each query and write accordingly. Traditional tracking tools will be less reliable.”

People Also Ask Results will be replaced by AI-Follow-up Questions

Compare the follow-up questions being offered with the PAA results.  They are not identical, but they do overlap.  The key difference of course, is that PAAs lead to external websites, whereas ‘AI-Follow-up Questions’ keep the user on Google for longer.  For this reason, the PAA result will go.

SERP screenshot showing new SGE follow-up questions and People Also Ask questions
AI Follow-up Questions and People Also Ask Questions – The SERP Ain’t Big enough for both of ‘em!

Google also shows many other related questions now with links from Forums appearing when you click on a product and structured Buying Guides.

Example of a SERP Buying Guide - It offers users structured questions
Buying Guides appear for relevant ecommerce products.

Local Packs will be updated with an enhanced SGE-enabled Local Pack

As you can see the information and presentation is very similar, so you definitely don’t need both on the same SERP.  But I’m just not convinced that the final roll-out will resemble the current experiment.  There’s no quick access to information about the business (address, telephone number, website).  The references to each local business are repeated unnecessarily multiple times.  It also doesn’t really dramatically improve the results in a way that users would care about.

My prediction:  Watch for a future update which allows the user to have a detailed follow-up conversation about these local businesses.

Screenshot showing two local SEO SERP results with SGE on and off
SGE On vs SGE Off: Big changes coming to Local Packs

Find Results On will merge into the new Local Pack

As things stand these results won’t be quite so prominent, and will be integrated into the new SGE Local Pack as shown above.  In the current implementation, clicking on the arrow next to each business just shows you one of the sites referenced in the ‘Find Results On’ panel.  It seems pretty pointless to me!

Shopping Ads - Significant changes for eCommerce Sites

I actually foresee this having the biggest impact of all!

We’ve recently seen the introduction of filters on the left-hand side of the search page on Desktop devices.  At the moment, unlike on the Shopping tab, the selection of one of these filters simply adds the filter as a keyword to a user’s original search

This allows the user to go deeper down his/her buying journey without leaving Google search.  And this seems, to me at least, to be a direction Google is going in.

Take this example for someone, who is looking to ‘replace my TV’”.

A search today with SGE OFF, returns 8 articles or guides (6 of 8 are retailers selling a repair service), 1 forum (Quora) and 1 YouTube video.

Screenshot of Google SERP: eCommerce product SERPs ‘replace my TV’ before SGE
eCommerce product SERPs ‘replace my TV’ before SGE roll-out

The same search with SGE enabled returns a very different story.  It displays a brief synopsis of factors you might consider followed by a long table of suitable products.  

The same 10 organic rankings are there, but they are pushed well down the page by the products, and a text block with completely different referenced and linked sites.  

All of this will dilute the CTR% of high performing organic results.

Screenshot of Google SERP: eCommerce product SERPs ‘replace my TV’ after SGE
eCommerce product SERPs ‘replace my TV’ after SGE roll-out

The differences are also there as the user continues his/her buyer journey:

> Replace my TV

> Is it cheaper to buy a new TV or replace the screen?

> When should I replace my flat-screen TV?

> How much should I spend on a flat screen TV?”

Whilst Google doesn’t show products when you click ‘more’ under the SGE element in all cases, as soon as query gets further down the sales funnel, then more products are generated.

Screenshot: Generative AI is ON: eCommerce Product Journey
eCommerce Product Journey for TV buying – A user can research and make a purchase decision whilst staying on the SERP

This allows Google to show more Ads in instances where it doesn’t today and it looks like it’s planning to show way more.  (Although, as far as I can see these listings are populated with merchant feed listings today, it won’t be long before ‘sponsored’ flags start appearing).

Screenshot of new interactive product listings on Google with SGE activated
Interactive Product SERPs appear on click on the right-hand rail

At the moment for ecommerce product queries a new tabular section appears and clicking on a product produces a pop-up modal with further information about the product and where to buy.

Comparing the SERP with SGE On and OFF allows us to see how many more product listings there are with SGE activated.   Over time, this has to lead to less traffic to eCommerce category/PLP pages.  (Maybe, Google’s become tired of SEOs stuffing these pages with irrelevant text to try and rank higher!)

Interacting with the listings and you will usually see 1 or 2 references to third party websites and a ‘From Google Brands and Products’ image in the hidden carousel.

'Organic' Google Merchant Feed listings screenshot featuring a LG Oled TV
'Organic' Google Merchant Feed listings

I’m not sure what exactly this means, but I am assuming it relates to the Google Merchant feed.  At the moment, there’s no advert label – so I am assuming these are just organic listings – but you can bet your bottom dollar that this will change and PLAs will be prevalent.

Middle-of-the-funnel to bottom-of-the-funnel search queries now return tabular lists of suitable products available from multiple retailers.  Not only is this not necessarily a good thing for eCommerce stores, it’s potentially another blow for comparison shopping services who may now have another potentially anti-competitive argument to run in their long-standingbattle against the search giant.

Reduced Click-thrus to eCommerce category pages

Here’s another example for ‘Portable heaters’.

With SGE OFF today this query has 7 ecommerce retailers’ category pages, 1 retailers product page and 1 article.

With SGE ON, Google still returns the same organic results, but they are now way below-the-fold, in no man’s land, below a paragraph of generated text with references to sites that mostly were not ranking before and an interactive table of 10 products.  The clicks to the top organic results for queries like this are going to dry-up.

Before and after screenshot showing Google product SERPs
eCommerce product SERPs before and after SGE roll-out

In summary, it looks like there’s going to be a big change in how prominently eCommerce category pages are displayed in the SERP.  

Currently, you can often expect to see more than half the SERP dedicated to category or PLPs (Product Listing Pages) because, as Google recognises itself in its Quality Rater Guidelines (see: QRG Overview, or the in-depth guidelines from November 16th 2023), “users like to window shop”.

Excerpt from Google Search Quality Raters Guidelines
Excerpt from Google Search Quality Raters Guidelines, November 2023

But, with SGE, Google is moving ‘window shopping’ from the eCommerce store’s category pages to the SERPs.

“With SGE, Google is moving ‘window shopping’ from eCommerce category pages to the SERP”.
Laurence O’Toole, Authoritas

Greater complexity to manage rankings and report on performance?

These changes make it harder for SEOs and rank tracking tools to work out what a number 1 ranking really is?  There are two separate, but linked, scenarios here.

Users Interact – so must rank trackers

There appears to be three types of SGE implementation.

1. SGE CTG – where a user sees a ‘Click to Generate’ message and clicks it and waits for an AI generated result to display.

Google SGE: Click-to-generatecall to action button
Do you want an AI-powered overview for this search?

2. SGE Teaser – where a user sees some pre-generated text and clicks more to see it all.

Google SGE: Show more call to action button
SGE Teaser response showing some visible and some hidden content

3. SGE Full – where a pre-generated full response is already available.

Google SGE: Full response with user interaction
Full SGE Response -the majority of content is visible without user interaction

In every instance, a user has to click to interact.

In every instance many of the sites that are referenced and linked to (‘ranking’) by Google are hidden in the HTML until a user has clicked.

This means keyword rank checkers need to interact as well.

This is a problem for you if your keyword ranking tool does not use a browser that can execute JavaScript.  

How to check?  Go to your keyword ranking tool.  They probably will have a link that allows you to see the SERP they captured for a keyword.  Check the URL. If it contains complicated parameters such as ‘&num=100’ then it’s high likely that the tool is using old fashioned brute force methods of collection (bulk CURL requests) and unless the SEO tool provider updates its collection methodology quickly, you will need to find a new SGE-ready keyword monitoring tool.

How do you count Universal Rankings now?

In the halcyon days of the 10 blue links, SEOs like you and me just counted ranks in a straight line down the page from 1 to 10 and all we cared about was standard looking organic listings.

Then Google started introducing new SERP features like Images and Videos and the SEO industry started talking about Universal results and Universal Ranks.  For example, you might have the number 1 organic listing, but you had the 4th Universal Rank as there were 3 new videos above you.  All the keyword rank tracking tools caught up and most also offered the possibility of measuring rank by Universal Result type, so a webmaster could see where they ranked overall universally and by result type for organic, images, videos and so on.

With the SGE result universal rankings are not so clear cut, at least with the current desktop implementation as it has a 2-column layout.  Ranking will be clearer on mobile, as all the SERP results need to be in a single vertical column for UX reasons.

SGE Universal Rankings Screenshot
SGE ON - User hasn't clicked yet

There’s now a new problem with this approach with Google’s roll-out of infinite scroll on the SERPs. Historically pagination of search results made it crystal clear when the first page finished but this is the case no longer.

This is also at odds with eye-tracking research which shows an ‘F’ shaped pattern or ‘golden triangle’ of user behaviour as users look from left to right as scrolling down the page.  (Whilst, researching this article, I also came across an interesting research paper which a Googler contributed to called, “Eyetracking in Online Search” – if you really want to get mired in the depths of what’s possible to track).

Source: Nielsen Norman Group


Even though this study is old, further studies show that if the content is relevant then users’ eyes will bounce like a pinball from left to right.  For this reason, we’ve rejected a straight linear method of counting universal rankings.

This is why we now record the x and y coordinates of the top left and bottom right corners of every element on the page.  This allows us to see what is first closest to the top and then the left hand-side of every SERP, we use these coordinates to calculate which SERP feature and which site is ‘ranking the highest’.

SGE On: Universal Ranking once a user has clicked
SGE On: User Interacts and the carousel appears impacting Universal Rank

This gives a better indication of what the user sees first and is more likely to click-on and is more consistent as one need not worry about the length of the page, or the size of any new or unexpected SERP features or design changes when calculating rank.

It also reliably allows you to continue counting ranks by SERP Result Type as well as Universal Rank – the best of both worlds and a future proof method of collecting performance data.

Local Ranking Measurement and Monitoring

There are even more challenges tracking local SEO ranking performance.  This has been a problem rank checking tools have lived with in recent years as Google has taken to hiding the website address in the HTML forcing you to click to Google Local to capture these details.

Local SEO Keyword ranking tools have been able to get around this by either looking for a match on a company name or, like us, finding a match to Google’s company id that is hidden in the HTML.

If the SGE Local pack rolls out as it is currently designed then this problem will be exacerbated.

SERP screenshot showing the old local pack and the new SGE Local feature
SGE On vs SGE Off - Does this signal the end of the current Local Pack?

As you can see from the screenshot, there is little to go on to match against your clients’ website and strangely it looks like a user can no longer click-thru to Google Local.  Surely this will change or is Google Local disappearing too?

How will SGE change SEO optimisation techniques in 2024?

Unsurprisingly, given recent algorithm updates, the consensus amongst SEOs appears to advise concentrating on investing in high quality, expert-led content and in building one’s brand authority; in other words, it’s all about E-E-A-T.  

E-E-A-T (Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness)

You need to demonstrate consistently your experience and expertise, and that you are a trusted authority on the topics you write about.   This is not new news!

E-E-A-T for me is about what you say about yourself and what other experts say about you.  Then you have to hope real users’ interactions support this.  If this is all congruent then you’ve got a decent chance of ranking well.  

Google references these “3 Pillars of Ranking” in its “Life of a Click” presentation in May 2017.  A redacted version is on the DoJ website.

“Google places a high value on E-E-A-T, and for a good reason: in the age of AI-generated content, subject matter experts will become even more valuable. To improve visibility in search results, SEOs will need to establish their brand and content as authoritative and trustworthy sources. This may involve demonstrating expertise through expert authors, reputable backlinks, and high-quality, accurate content.”
Komron Rahmonbek, SEO Manager, StrongDM

In talking with fellow SEO veterans, it’s clear that there’s a number of brand marketing, content marketing, SEO and PR activities that fall under the E-E-A-T umbrella and that may require, if not a complete re-think, re-evaluation of your strategies to ensure your geared up for success in an SGE world.

Brand Building

More than ever brand building is important and maintenance of your branding is equally so.  This means that your cross-functional teams (if you have that luxury) have got to collaborate, communicate and coordinate better than they have done in the past.

"I anticipate that "SEO branding" will gather momentum, prompting SEO and PR teams to reconsider their structures to gain a competitive edge. Historically, collaboration between these two departments revolved around seasonal PR campaigns to secure backlinks. However, they will now need to align their quarterly content-planning efforts. This will involve a communal effort to gather as much user-generated content as possible, as search engines will have added value to this category."
Laura Iancu, SEO Manager, Lead 365

This concerted team effort will ensure that a multitude of activities are aligned to build your brand as effectively as possible online.

With SGE it’s more than just brand building, it’s also about maintaining your brand’s reputation and presence.  

For local businesses especially this means monitoring and responding to what is being said about your site on key third party platforms that Google references in the new SGE local pack.

For all businesses this means understanding the SGE response for your brand and the SGE responses that are generated from the tree of follow-up questions that Google might show and/or users might ask.

“In my opinion, SEOs will have to spend more time protecting their brand real estate in SERPs, and also looking to grow this however they can so they can maintain and improve overall visibility.
A good amount of time will also be spent analyzing SGE results and then trying to break into them so your brand has its bases covered for that SERP feature too.”
Ben Poulton, SEO Consultant and Founder, Intellar

And of course, as we’ve all been doing for years now, continue to seek links and citations in topically relevant and authoritative websites.

“An emphasis on thought leadership and then being quoted or cited in reputable blog posts, could become a highly effective SEO strategy. Brands would benefit from generating opinionated, authoritative content that establishes them as leaders in their respective fields. Gaining citations in high-authority publications would not only offer valuable backlinks but would also bolster a brand's credibility in the eyes of both users and search algorithms.
To leverage this, SEO strategies might need to incorporate more focused PR and outreach efforts, aiming for thought leadership pieces and mentions in well-regarded industry publications. This could create a virtuous cycle where thought leadership drives citations, which in turn improve SEO and visibility.”
Harry Boxhall, Roofing SEO Consultant, Roofers SEO

Researching User Intent

Keyword Research in 2024 is much more than find high search volume, low competition keywords.  It’s about topic clustering and researching user intent.  It’s about reverse-engineering what type and format of content Google wants to show and in the context of SGE, where it’s sourcing its data from.

“SEO professionals will need to meticulously analyze the SGE results within their respective niches, tailoring their strategies accordingly. This refined approach encapsulates: maintaining high site authority, diversifying content types, optimizing visual content, monitoring keywords in SGE, adapting to AI-driven search, upholding a focus on current SEO best practices, and embracing continuous learning and adaptation.”
Muhammad Nurul Afsar, SEO Manager, Trek Marketing Ltd

Analysing the SGE SERP is a good start, but Jessyca Frederick, SEO Consultant at SEO by Jessyca advocates digging a level deeper by suggesting that once you know what the user wants, also consider what they don’t want and build this into your content.

“Based on what I've seen so far, the best thing anyone can do to get included in the new SGE experience is to have specific content that directly meets the searcher's intent (if Google actually understands their intent, which at present is a big "if").
Essentially, success is dependent on what Google has been telling us all along: If it's good for the user, it's good for SEO. An example: If a customer searches for "best running shoes," the content should state clearly why a specific pair of shoes is the best and for which specific type of runners it's the best. It should also mention what makes it not good for other types of runners.”

With a good understanding of the SERP Google is showing, what type of content it is aggregating and what the user wants and doesn’t want; you can start to build out your content strategy and start fulfilling users’ and Google’s needs.

Whilst, I don’t necessarily agree with everything Jon says, he does make the point that simplifying content might pay dividends.

“I believe that, instead of writing for people, SEO professionals will have to write for SGE so that their content gets featured at the top of the search engine. Easy-to-understand content will likely be ranked above more complicated content with SGE, so it’s important that we simplify where we can to make the same SEO impact.”

Jon Kelly, SEO Specialist, 1st On The List

Content Strategy

Sean Ralls, Digital Marketing Manager, Kavanah Media suggests that your content strategy need not change and just keep doing what you’re doing, if what you’re doing is aligned with E-E-A-T and it’s working.

“If Google's SGE works as intended, I would expect an initial drop in organic traffic to most sites. On the technical side, tactics may have to change somewhat, but that's nothing new for anyone who has spent significant time in this industry. On the content side, however, I don't believe the strategy will change significantly for the brands already ranking well. What SGE will do is elevate the importance of what already makes great content for SEO: creating high-quality content that answers your target audience's questions.”

This is all fine if you are doing well.  But what if you are not doing so great, or are marketing a new website with low authority?

Celeste Routh, SEO Strategist, The Elegance Edit suggests that developing unique, value-added SEO content will work for niche sites.

“While SGE reshapes how users access information, the fundamental call for high-quality content that meets user intent remains crucial.
SEOs will need to adapt by prioritizing content that can't be easily replicated, providing a unique angle on topics. Think case studies, first-hand perspectives, and expert insights. I've noticed (and other SEOs have too) smaller niche publishers getting pulled into SGE results panels, beating out big-name sites for specific keywords relevant to that niche.
This signals a shift towards content relevance and expertise. In other words, niche-specific, authoritative content holds increasing value on the SERP.
No matter your brand's size, developing unique content emphasises E-A-T (Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness). So, focus on value-adding content. Then, test to see what types of content perform well and the common threads between them.
Google is always iterating. SEOs should be too.”

I couldn’t agree more.  Hopefully, you are familiar with the concept of Information Gain – if this is new to you, then set aside a few minutes to Ryan’s article here.  The idea is simple, analyse the top SERP results and ensure your page offers the user (and Google) something more, something different; a new angle or perspective on the topic that might interest users.  Zoltan Fagyal, SEO Consultant and Founder, Back Bay Digital sums this up nicely.

“Prioritize information gain. The "skyscraper" articles won't work anymore. Google is looking for unique angles. The August 2023 core update proves this as well. For example, Quora and Reddit had a huge jump. Google wants to provide answers from different angles. Google's current SGE version, available via Google Labs, is showing three websites where the data is gathered. Add unique angles and information along with other SEO best practices to stay on top of Google when SGE rolls out to all users.”

Needless to say, Google is going to invest in and get better at identifying AI generated and ghost-written articles.  Authenticity is key, so having your company’s subject matter experts producing content is the lowest bar you should set for your content.

“If your SEO strategy already focuses on creating Subject Matter Expert (SME) content and displaying E-A-T (experience, expertise, authority, and trust) with your users, you're potentially in good shape for a generative AI future.
In terms of tactics, adding extra value to, and complementing, AI-generated results with SME content should be high on your list. Maximize any original assets created by your industry experts (e.g. Podcasts and webinars, research and whitepapers, training and demo videos) by producing supplementary materials like checklists, blogs, and how-to guides.”

Paul Friend, Head of SEO, The SEO Works

Page-level optimisation

Once SGE has rolled-out completely we are all going to have to spend some time reviewing our existing (the key pages, if not all) landing pages.  

We have three options here:

1. Wait and see – Just wait a month to discover which key landing pages are showing declines in organic sessions or clicks from Google Search Console.

2. Do nothing – Just assume you’ll be fine.  Stick your head in the sand like an ostrich and focus on other SEO issues or new content production.

3. Get an SGE report – Track all your keywords in an SGE-enabled rank tracker and assess which pages are going to get impacted the most.

It’s up to you what you choose to do, but I’m going for option 3 right now.  Forewarned is forearmed.

If you know where you are at risk, you can set about optimising these key pages and creating even more helpful content.

“For eCommerce sites, SGE shows products, not categories, in the results. After SGE, optimising individual product pages will therefore gain importance.
Ensure each product has a unique, optimized Meta Title and a Description that includes unique selling points. Include an image that looks good when resized to a square shape.
Blog pages will be shown with just the Title and no Description. To optimize blogs, create helpful content that will appeal to different visitors and target long-tail keywords. Answer likely visitor questions and include a landscape-shaped image.  
By taking the above steps, you can appear in position 0 and receive high volumes of organic traffic.”

Martin Woods, Senior SEO Consultant, MeasureMinds Group

IsaacHammelburger, Founder of Search Pros suggests doubling-down on FAQ answers.  As I mentioned before, as an absolute minimum we should all be doing this for our own brand terms.

“It's going to be a big change. SGE is taking up valuable space, and people are going to be using that space instead of scrolling down. One major thing SEOs will be doing is including short "FAQ" sections on their pages, since it seems that SGE focuses a lot on answering short FAQ-style questions.”

Prioritising the User Experience

If you want to win SGE positions, then write for the reader.  Sometimes, a short answer is the best answer.

“The most important change from SGE will be informational queries (top of the funnel) losing almost all visibility to SGE and ChatGPT. People just don't want to read 2,000-word articles for a simple answer when a generative AI can provide a straightforward answer for them. Now, with that being said, we SEOs will need to focus on quality now more than ever. Instead of pumping out hundreds of articles, we now have to focus on the quality that users want to read. No more SEO-specific articles; everything we do has to be for the reader.”

Taylor Scher, SEO Consultant, TaylorScherSEO

Abdullah Arif, SEO Manager, Out Origin reminds us not to forget the basics of providing a good user experience either.  No one likes a slow loading page, no matter how good its content might be.

“Google's emphasis on user experience is nothing new, really, but with the move towards SGE, it could be a statement of intent that Google wants user experience—from loading times to mobile optimization—to be prioritised. Google finally announced that the mobile-first index is complete, staking more claim to the idea that user experience will always be prioritised.
So, all in all, better transparency and a user-experience-oriented approach need to be nailed down right.”

Keep Pace with the Technology

When there’s so much talk in the air about changes to content marketing, it’s easy to lose sight of the underlying technology.  

“As Google integrates more AI and machine learning into its algorithms with SGE, SEO strategies will need to evolve. This opens up new avenues for predictive analytics and data-driven strategies. SEOs will need to keep up with these technological advancements to stay competitive, through the use of high-quality SEO software combined with creative thinking and a focus on user experience.
This is a good opportunity for SEO professionals to level up their skills and stand out from the crowd.”

Chris Burdick, Founder and SEO Strategist, Zero Waste SEO

From SGE-ready rank trackers to AI tools that automate mundane SEO tasks, as SEOs we are better equipped than ever to prepare for and flourish, no matter what changes Google throws at us next!

Google’s Search Generative Experience is just the beginning of Google’s public AI experiments in Search.  There’s so much more to come and we’ll be ready to optimise and help our clients grow organic traffic that converts.

SGE Takeaways

This slide from 2018, recently disclosed during the anti-trust case against Google in the US, is a useful reminder, that you have to consider many factors to get quality right.

Slide from Google "Ranking for Research" deck about 'Search Quality'
Source: Google “Ranking for Research” Nov, 2018

With this mind, here’s a quick list of takeaways to consider when optimising your website in an SGE world:

How to prepare for SGE Today

1. Assess the impact this is likely to have at launch on the keywords you care about.

2. Get prepared early.  Do a complete SERP analysis with an SGE-ready keyword rank checker.  Update his analysis regularly, as the implementation will change as Google tweaks the SGE implementation prior to full launch.  Things you’ll want to know:

a. What % of keywords are going to get an SGE result and what type of SGE result.

b. If certain prominent SERP features such as Featured Snippets disappear how heavily will I be impacted?  Am I still referenced and if so, how many times?

c. Am I referenced in the SGE in instances where I’m not ranking well organically today?

d. How badly will SGE hit my strong performing organic pages and top-ranking keywords?  How much further down the page are my organic rankings and how is this likely to impact click-thru rates and visits from organic.

e. (Feel free to suggest more and I’ll add them here)

3. Communicate what’s likely to happen to company stakeholders and clients.  

4. Build SGE impacted scenarios into your SEO forecasts and budgets for 2024.

5. Research the questions your potential customers are asking at scale.   Find the ones that are most central to your niche and proposition and answer them well.

2024 SEO & Content Strategy Planning in an SGE World

Brand Building

- Coordinate PR, SEO, Content and brand/product marketing teams to build branded links.

- Analyse SGE results for branded terms, branded terms + generic keywords and follow-up questions along the buyer journey.

- Ensure you provide the answers that Google references by producing succinct content that answers questions users have about your brand

- Continue to seek citations and links from high authority and relevant publications

Researching User Intent

- Go way beyond researching keywords and analysing search volume and keyword difficulty

- Do a deep dive into the questions your existing and prospective customers have about your brand and your niche

- Analyse the types of SGE SERP results

- Look at the content types and sites Google is pulling information from

- Assess what users want to see and not want to see?

- Feed these insights into your SEO & Content Strategy

Content Strategy

- Old SEO tactics like 'Skyscraper' articles won't work so well

- Focus on 'Information Gain' - how can you bring something new to the table

- Subject Matter Expert (SME) content is table-stakes

- Maximize your existing assets by re-purposing them

Page-Level Optimisation

- Prepare now and get an SGE report for your keywords and key landing pages

- Tackle the pages that are at the greatest risk of traffic decline

- How helpful is your content?

- Refine page meta data and even image sizes

- Answer the questions you discovered in your research

Prioritise the user experience

- Write for the user

- Don't lose sight of page performance and UX

Technology

- Keep abreast of AI developments

- Get yourself an SGE-enabled rank tracker today

We're ready for SGE. Are you?

The rollout of SGE will create unprecedented risks to your hard earned organic traffic, as well as new opportunities to succeed.

You need to be ready.  The only question is, whether you want to be ready now or later?

SGE Keyword Rank Tracker Software -Authoritas