Your Guide to Google’s SGE Update and Its Impact on SEO

Google has been using AI since 2001. That’s just three years after its founding and only 18 years after the internet’s birthday.

So, while you were watching the very first Harry Potter film, playing on the first iPod, and texting on your indestructible Nokia, Google was living in the future with machine learning.

Their first use of machine learning was Google’s spell correct. Their system could determine what users were searching for despite spelling errors. (Like those who searched for the largest dessert instead of the largest desert.)

Google has drastically improved its AI since then, bringing it from behind the scenes to the front and center with its search generative experience (SGE).

How AI Has Transformed Searches and SEO

In 2001, Google began its journey into AI, using simple machine learning to deduce what someone wants to search, even with misspellings.

However, one of the most significant AI advancements occurred in 2019, when they introduced Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers, also known as BERT.

BERT gathered context clues for more accurate search results rather than only analyzing individual words and meanings.

For example, searching for a computer cookie in a pre-BERT era could give results for computers, cookies, computers eating cookies, and everything in between.

BERT can analyze context clues to ascertain that cookies are not, in fact, those delicious chocolate chip varieties.

In 2019, content made the most significant transition from creating content around specific keywords to creating quality content around specific topics using keyword synonyms and similar strategies.

Thanks to BERT, businesses could target their audience more accurately by leaving context clues to help BERT understand content beyond the exact keyword match.

What Are Search Generative Experiences (SGEs)?

SGE organizes search results for easier browsing and discovery. You can access answers from multiple sources in one convenient location: your search results page.

What are SGE results?

Some items users may see with SGE include:

  • Summarized definitions or answers to the query based on top-ranking content
  • Top three content supporting that summarized answer that users can click on for a more detailed response
  • Related questions plus a space for asking follow-up questions if their question isn’t included
  • Highlighted top results

Where SGE Falls Short

While SGE does offer a new search experience, it’s far from the ultimate answer.

Many users will still rely on traditional search results (which they can find below SGE results).

So, you don’t need to worry about losing traffic from users not clicking your content, at least, not if you play your cards right.

Here are a few ways SGE falls short of traditional search results pages and where you can fill in the gaps with your content.

SGE Is Not Always Accurate

AI pulls content and summarizes responses. But  AI isn’t always the most accurate source.

AI relies on patterns from past information. If the past data is inaccurate, AI will create inaccurate summaries. In addition, AI fills in content gaps with fabricated information.

For example, I once inputted a book summary into AI to generate a review. Except, I forgot to insert the book title.

Do you know what AI did?

It made up a book title and author name for the review, stating it as fact.

So, while it might summarize answers, most people (especially professionals who rely on accurate answers) will still click on those top results to double-check AI’s accuracy.

AI Doesn’t Always Prioritize the Highest Authority Web Pages

Google’s algorithm is a mystery. Even though marketers work extremely hard to discover and deploy the best SEO practices, much of the details of the algorithm are uncertain.

There are layers upon layers of machine learning algorithms that guide the search results to the point where no one can fully control search results.

There is no greater proof than the top content AI pulls. The sites are not always reliable or have the highest traffic or domain ranking.

This can lead to some frustration from marketers who rely on links to high-domain authority sites and are looking for facts from trusted leaders in the industry.

Because the algorithm doesn’t always pull the top sites, users will continue scrolling past those sites–and may overlook them altogether–to find the sites they know they can trust.

AI Can’t Grasp Complex Ideas

One of the most common tells of AI-generated art is a person’s fingers.

If you are unsure whether an artist or AI created a portrait, look at the drawn figure’s hands. AI seems to struggle to grasp the concept of five fingers.

Here are four images AI-generated from the prompt “businessman at a computer.” Each one is pretty convincing until you see his hands.

ai generated images from canva

If AI can’t even generate a normal-looking hand, how can you rely on AI to grasp even more complex ideas, like emotions and context?

SGE users are again faced with search results that only brush the surface of their query with shallow responses.

AI was never meant to replace search results packed with digital content.

SGE is only there to give a quick answer for users looking for a convenient response while offering follow-up questions for users wanting to dig deeper into a topic and find content like yours.

In the end, SGE may even help filter audiences by guiding them through follow-up questions so you can target your audience more effectively through niche keywords and specific questions.

10 Ways to Create SEO for SGE

Here are ten ways to adjust your SEO to SGE to continue generating regular traffic.

1. Aim for the Top Three Spots

Google search engine top spots have always held the most significant return, with the top spot attracting 27.6% of all clicks.

Now, ranking in that top spot promises even more traffic since you could land on the recommended articles Google pulls from when answering questions.

To receive that honored spot, create high-quality, optimized content and continue updating your content so you can stay at the top.

2. Be Specific

Competition is fierce. When you target search queries high authority sites also cover, snagging a top spot in search ranking can feel less possible than winning the lottery.

The same study by BACKLINKO found the return from the top-ranking spot also found fewer than 1% of search traffic looks on the second page.

So, how can you increase your chances of landing on the first page and even landing in those three SGE-recommended spots?

The answer lies partially in the search terms you target.

Long-tail keywords afford higher ranking potential because of the lower competition.

As SGE suggests more specific questions, those long-tail keywords will become more popular.

3. Continue Building Your Current SEO Strategies

Your SEO strategies are not going out of style. They will still be the bread and butter of your SEO, even with SGE changing the game.

Current SEO strategies focus on E-E-A-T: Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness.

In other words, you want to write authority content. Authority content helps readers trust you and shows you are a leader in your industry.

If Google sees you as a leader, it’s more likely to pull your content for SGE responses or rank you on the first page after the summary.

4. Write for Your Audience

While the complexity of machine learning algorithms makes understanding the algorithm nearly impossible, we can understand people.

Modern SEO is less about fitting into a computer’s definition of relevant content and more about writing for people.

You should create content that people can easily find in searches and want to click on.

Create buyer personas that cover who your audience is, what they struggle with, and what they need most. Then, touch on each point in your content to write content for your audience.

5. Write for Voice Search

Voice search is growing in popularity. It’s even a default search option, with all Google search bars having a microphone option.

About 36% of Americans own a smart speaker, and 91% own smartphones. Each of these devices offers convenient voice search options.

In fact, the popularity of voice search may be one of the motivating factors behind this new structure for searching.

Instead of inputting a topic and receiving pages of results, you ask a question like in a conversation. Google responds like the second person in your discussion instead of making you search for the answer.

Voice search is unique from traditional searches because those terms are more likely to be long-tail keywords. They are also more likely to use natural language.

For instance, if someone wants to remove a stain from a wine spill on their carpet, they may type “wine stain removal tips” into their Google search bar.

However, if that same person used voice search, they’re more likely to say, “How do you remove a wine spill from your carpet?”

Use more long-tail voice search queries in your content to appear as a top result.

6. Focus on Your Website Authority

Your brand authority tells Google that you’re a reliable source of information. If you have a high site authority, your content also has a higher chance of becoming a snippet in SGE.

Build authority through quality content based on facts and personal experience, showing you have first-hand knowledge of the topic.

Adding your own opinion and unique twists also shows you’re confident enough with the subject to tackle it from an unusual angle versus regurgitating what others have said (which is what AI will do).

Some other ways to build your authority are through:

  • Listing your content/websites on multiple websites (like Yelp and Reddit).
  • Using digital PR to appear in high authority publications.
  • Link to other high authority sites.
  • Manage your online reputation.

7. Create a Positive Visitor Experience

Google looks deeper than your content when selecting quality content to highlight in an SGE. It also considers the user experience or how well users can navigate your site and access information.

Some ways to improve your user experience and enhance your authority are speeding up your page load speed, fixing all broken links, and building an easily navigated site structure.

8. Pay Special Attention to Content Structure

Your headings are the elevator buttons of your content. When your readers step into the content, they can easily browse down the line of subheadings to find the section they need to stop at to answer their questions.

Google also uses your subheadings to pull answers to questions. Form your subheading text around common search queries to increase the chance of Google putting your content near the top or in their SGE recommendations.

9. Provide In-Depth Answers

SGE only provides a brief overview of topics. Your content should go much deeper than what readers receive from AI.

Having in-depth content that offers value attracts traffic beyond the search results pages and encourages them to click.

Take time to optimize your headings and meta descriptions because they are more critical now than ever since readers won’t have to click your content for answers. So, give them something worth clicking.

10. Continue Experimenting

AI constantly changes. We only understand SGE on a surface level since it’s early. Because it will change, and so will Google’s algorithm, you’ll see the best success from continually experimenting with SEO.

Try different strategies, like a mix of keyword variations and lengths. You might mix up some local search terms, like Austin SEO, with broader search terms, like search engine optimization.

As you experiment, adjust your strategies according to what works best for YOU and your unique brand and audience.

Start Ranking for SGE

While Google is still working on SGE, which only rolled out in limited use cases, now is the best time to build a strategy.

By being proactive, you can beat your competition to the top spots in SGE.

You can expect to see it in much broader use around the beginning of 2024. So, let’s get on top of this new change to secure your position of authority.

We can help you build your proactive SGE SEO strategy.

Contact us for a FREE 30-minute consultation.

Justin

Justin Staples

For 15 years, Justin has guided businesses on a transformative journey through strategic marketing and design to craft their unique online identity.

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