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Google AI Search Data & Privacy

Is it time to panic about Google’s SGE?


By Thom Lodge, Associate director

June 19, 2024 | 6 min read

DAC Group’s Thom Lodge looks into the existential issue facing anyone wanting search users to visit their website.

A shot of an anxious eye

Last year, Google launched Search Labs, a program for people to experiment with and provide feedback on early-stage Google Search experiences. One tool worth paying attention to in light of the increasing popularity of GPTs is Search Generative Experience (SGE). It uses AI to scan the top SERP content and generate a text summary of information at the top of the search results page.

While still in beta in the US, the word on the street is that Google is gearing up to test Search Generative Experience queries for a “small slice” of Chrome users here in the UK. But there’s likely a good reason this one hasn’t come out of Beta - Google probably doesn’t want to give up on a business model it has spent nearly three decades perfecting.

Rather, SGE is more likely Google’s defensive move against the likes of ChatGPT. While quick, easy and frictionless answers of the type served up by GPTs would seem to be a logical next step in the evolution of search, Google sits in the ‘messy middle’ and needs to strike a balance between the needs of users, publishers and advertisers.

Content marketing in a SGE era

That said, the elephant in the room remains - SGE could negatively impact website traffic if it catches on. After all, why would anyone bother clicking through to a website if SGE has already scanned and served up the pertinent bits in a bite-sized chunk?

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Let’s be pragmatic though. Everyone already uses search engines differently, and we use them in ways that make sense to us in particular contexts. For example, SGE makes the most sense on a smartphone with limited screen inventory, especially when aligned to voice search and you need quick answers. However, if you’re browsing and have time to get into the weeds of query, let’s say, ‘What’s the best baby bottle,’ you may wish to gauge opinions, read reviews, check in on forums and - quite possibly - watch YouTube videos etc...

If your business model relies on monetizing web traffic via programmatic ad space, then you might lose a small amount of search traffic, but you have to ask yourself: If users can find the same answer from multiple sources, was your content ever really that valuable in the first place?

In which case, instead of trying to get users to click into your particular website on a granular search term that multiple parties are bidding on, it’s worth thinking differently. For instance, position your product - let’s say a particular pair of trainers against an on-trend style rather than a particular product.

Giving Google the content it wants to EEAT

I say this in the nicest way possible… some marketers ruin a good thing for everyone (ahem, Cookies.) The same thing could happen to SGE, which could potentially become clogged by results from businesses using Gen AI to write content to be picked up by SGE.

Thankfully, Google’s Helpful Content is now tied to its core algorithm, which will filter junk content out for SGE, too. Copy written by an actual person generates five times more SEO traffic than that written by AI, so the message should be clear–keep feeding Google what it wants to EEAT. Content marketers should continue to focus on copy that demonstrates expertise, experience, authoritativeness and trustworthiness, human qualities that can’t yet be truly replicated via AI or an LMM.

Anxieties around SGE and Google’s AI tools more broadly stem from the fact that people are scared of the unknown, and we’ve been here before - anyone still remember the ‘Zero-Click’ panic? Of course, agencies, in particular, can’t afford to see their clients’ traffic suddenly halve and are scrambling to find solutions to SGE. But realistically, it hasn’t happened; it will never become the Google default search, and we don’t even have any analytics data to inform ‘planning’ yet.

Of course, generative AI is coming for (some of) search, and yes, that might impact organic search to an extent. Let’s not waste time and energy worrying about the ‘what ifs.’ So here’s my advice: instead of focusing on getting the basics of EEAT right, use the bonus time gifted by the stay of execution on cookies to get more first-party data, to experiment, test and learn more about your audience, and then get your content strategy right.

Perfecting your core strategies for search and engagement will always be time well spent. Mucking about with beta technologies is not.

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