Google SGE: Is it a shock or a blessing? You decide…

robot data void

SGE, or Search Generative Experience, was announced by Google on May 10 as a project which is in its early stages. It’s sparked quite the debate in the SEO community – primarily because it will dramatically change how SERPs, or search engine results pages, look.

The aim of Google SGE is to provide users with tailored, in-depth responses to their queries. Long-tail queries will be serviced more effectively, saving users the hassle of needing to break down their question into smaller topics and manually sift through results.

With SGE, Google’s AI system will develop an all-encompassing response to a query at the top of SERP, providing links to external sources it has identified will help users to dig deeper into their question. What’s more, users will also be able to ask follow-up questions, building on their existing information journey, and go deeper into their research.

At the moment, we’re used to seeing Google results pages giving us a selection of web pages which the algorithm has concluded best correspond to a specific query. With SGE, the first section people will see is filled out by generative AI. 

A response is generated, in the same way as we have seen with ChatGPT, along with a selection of supporting links, related questions and the option to input a follow-up. The rest of the SERP sits underneath.

SEOs might be panicking…

Some people have reacted strongly to the development, even going as far as to say that SGE signals an end to modern publishing as we know it. 

Those against SGE are largely saying that allowing an experimental generative AI to serve users with a response to a query could be dangerous if left unchecked, and humans should be given the autonomy to sift through information and decide for themselves what to click on.

Those of us who have been following what I refer to as the ‘AI race’ will know that Google had not bargained for the worldwide popularity of ChatGPT, with the Wikipedia page for Google Bard telling us that executives were ‘alarmed by ChatGPT’s potential threat to Google search’. 

It therefore makes sense that sceptical SEOs are interpreting Google SGE as a way for the company to capitalise on generative AI and take over the space by dominating prime-time real estate on the internet – the top of its SERPs. 

Some might say that Google hasn’t given itself a good reputation of late, rolling out Google Bard – only to have it get a question wrong in a promo video back in February, costing the company £100 billion. By announcing another generative AI venture after this blunder, it adds up that people will be alarmed at the potential for SGE to misinform users at scale.

SGE isn’t as big a change as we think…

Panicking SEOs may be imagining a post-SGE world where their organic traffic tanks and never recovers, because a volatile and factually unstable generative AI tool has been shoehorned into the top of the SERPs and is stealing clicks from them.

However, by reading up on the whitepaper Google released about SGE, you’ll see that this isn’t what is happening. Yes, sites run the risk of tanking in the SERPs – IF, and only if, they have been engaging in actions like ignoring key content metrics such as E-E-A-T and allowing ChatGPT to generate content for them at scale. Let’s unpack this…

Some people may want a quick answer to a question, in which case they might settle for the SGE response. However, while generative AI has led to plenty of people trying to take shortcuts such as getting the tools to write their essays for them, that doesn’t mean we take AI at its word.

Let’s not forget that we live in an era of rapid technology advancement – but as a result, it’s also an era of extreme scepticism. A behavioural science study from June 2022 revealed that people are largely skeptical of AI. In other words, we are more likely to trust a doctor’s opinion than an AI-generated response about a health condition.

That’s why Google’s SGE isn’t aiming to phase out real people and capitalise on its in-house generative AI capabilities. In fact, if you read between the lines, it’s aiming to do the opposite.

Here’s what Google has said in its whitepaper: ‘SGE will show links to resources that corroborate the information in the snapshot, so people can check the information themselves and explore further. This allows people to dig deeper and discover a diverse range of content, from publishers, creators, retailers, businesses, and more.’

When SGE presents users with an AI response to a topic, it provides us with a handful of sources which users are deemed to find useful. What’s more, you can also click through to find out the sources SGE used to compile its response. 

It can be useful to think of this update as AI evaluating potential responses to queries with a fine-toothed comb. When it generates its response, it only wants the highest quality sources to back it up. If your content doesn’t give much value or original insight, then Google isn’t going to consider it.

This change isn’t a huge departure from the way the SERPs already work. Ultimately, the content we are served has to come from a place of experience, expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness. In fact, people will be served your content faster if it’s deemed to be a good corroborative source in the SGE UI. 

Chances are, people are going to fall into one of two camps after processing this information.

The first camp is the one you don’t want to be in. It’s the one where you’ve realised you shouldn’t have fired your content team once ChatGPT was rolled out and you started using the tool to blast out content at scale. It’s the one where you realise your content has only been created by rewriting other sources from the web. It’s the one where you realise Google is about to ignore your site big-time, because your content does not add value or original insight for users.

This shouldn’t be a big shock, though. In fact, you should already have sensed that change was coming. We wrote about how a recent update from Google issued a site-wide penalty for low-value copy. If you’ve not been putting in remedial work off the back of this update, the announcement of SGE should be the jolt of motivation you need to start improving your content.

The second camp is the one whereby your site content is on point. It’s authoritative. It’s original. You’ve got experts writing on the topics. You’re already ranking well in the SERPs, and SGE indicates a chance to do even better. Why? I’ll explain…

SGE presents us with huge opportunities

We already know that Google’s SGE will highlight external sources which are deemed to provide value for the user. However, the search experience will go beyond the initial query. People can tap to “ask a follow up” question or click on one of the suggested next steps.

This will launch the new conversational mode, where they can naturally ask Google more about the topic they’re exploring. Beyond the succinct snapshots of information generated by AI, people will be able to go deeper with additional links to resources to explore. 

Herein lies the opportunity for SEOs to capitalise on SGE. The user is being given a seamless informational journey where they can have a conversation with AI, that AI is supporting with high-quality resources. Smart SEOs can put in the work now to envision the conversational information journey a user could go on within a topic, then create content that matches every touch point in the journey.

Let’s dig into another quote from Google’s whitepaper:

‘While SGE also applies LLMs, it has been purposefully trained to carry out tasks specific to Search, including identifying high-quality web results that corroborate the information presented in the output. These models are used in tandem with our core ranking systems to deliver helpful and reliable results.

‘We hold ourselves to a high standard for reliable, helpful and high-quality information. That’s why we built a customised integration of generative AI in Search that is rooted in our core Search ranking and quality systems, which we have been honing for decades.

‘Given the trust people put in Search, we were intentional in constraining conversationality. What this means, for example, is that people might not find conversational mode in SGE to be a free-flowing creative brainstorm partner — and instead find it to be more factual with pointers to relevant resources.’

What can we take from this? We can deduce that SGE doesn’t aim to provide a cohesive response to queries. Instead, let’s visualise the SGE section at the top of SERPs as the trunk of a tree. It builds out the core information users are looking for, mining this information from the most valuable resources on the web. Then it branches out to the best informational resources that support its base points. If your site has high-quality content, you will be one of those resources quoted by SGE.

Here’s another snippet from Google: ‘SGE represents a synthesised perspective corroborated in a range of results.’ To me, this means that SGE prioritises serving up a variety of higher-quality results, as opposed to giving users a SERP which comprises pages built with reworded content designed to satisfy crawlers and not much else.

What’s next for you?

Google’s message has been clear for a while now – we need to align ourselves with the user, not just reword content that will satisfy crawlers on a surface level. 

If you have already been adhering to the principles of E-E-A-T and not relying on ChatGPT to create your content, this update shouldn’t worry you.

Whether you’re totally unprepared for SGE, or you’re already creating great content, there’s always work that can be done. Now is the perfect time for a Free Acquisitions Workshop, where we can complete a content audit and give a predictive score on how your pages will stack up as a potential corroborative result for SGE. 

We can also help you map out the touchpoints in a user’s SGE informational journey, and work with you to create content which serves them at every step along the way.


Imogen Groome

Content Lead

Imogen is the SEO Content Lead at Skittle Digital. Imogen has worked in SEO since 2016. She helped to define SEO strategy at Metro.co.uk before guiding the newsroom at The Sun Online as SEO Editor. She has more than 5 years’ experience in scaling content strategies that drive revenue for brands through organic search channels. In her spare time, Imogen writes books, watches poor-quality reality TV and hangs out with her cats.

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