Article

Jenny Eckloff
Jenny Eckloff 12 July 2023

How AI in Search May Affect the SERP Landscape

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last couple of months, you may have heard the rumblings (and grumblings, more specifically from Marketeers) of AI and how this technology has the power to change the way in which people search and the online experience.

With the recent announcement of Google’s Search Generative Experience and taking a look at what effect this could have on the Search Landscape, it’s not a leap to think that integrating AI capabilities into Google Search is going to have a big effect.

We only have to look back at Search history to see that it may very well repeat itself, just like with the introduction of featured snippets which shook the very search landscape we know and love. 

With the above in mind, we here at The PHA Group have put our heads together to discuss what this update could potentially have on Click Through Rates and traffic distribution in general.  First things first, a little background to whet the appetite. 

What is the New Google Search Generative Experience (SGE)?

SGE (Search Generative Experience) is the addition of AI capabilities to Google Search Results. This is a new experimental feature that Google has been testing out on people who have signed up for Search Labs.

The Labs allows you to be an early tester to new experiences and Google products where you’re able to provide feedback to help improve and innovate. There’s currently a waitlist you can sign up for if you fit their criteria.

SGE features will be available in Google Chrome for desktop users and in the Google app for iOS and Android.

Google themselves describe SGE as “taking more of the work out of searching, so you’ll be able to understand a topic faster, uncover new viewpoints and insights, and get things done more easily.”

Already, we can see how SGE feeds into Google’s principles and approach to search where they “maximise access to information” and “present information in the most useful way”.

What Does the New Google Search Generative Experience Look Like in Practice?

Utilising an example that Google has shared, let’s take a look at the question “What’s better for a family with kids under three and a dog, Bryce Canyon or Arches?”

Already, we can see that this above question is not only subjective, but complex in the way it has been written for a computer to understand. This question may originally be broken down into smaller, less complex questions so that the user is able to subjectively decide themselves as to which would be better for their unique situation.

With the power of SGE, the idea is that it does a lot of the heavy lifting for you.

The Placement of SGE:

The prominent placement of SGE is exquisite, taking priority right at the top of the Search Engine Results Page. This certainly makes it hard to miss and reminiscent of featured snippets that take priority at the top.

Due to the placement, the normal results we’d expect to see are pushed much further down the page, potentially in some cases, below the fold (especially in cases on mobile).

The Citing of Sources:

This is Google showcasing the sources of where they have gathered information to put together their SGE summary. 

Again, reminiscent of featured snippets, which pull information from a single source (sometimes not even the top result from Search), this opens up opportunities for multiple reliable information sources to take advantage of that top spot in SERPS.

Suggested Follow Ups:

Google is offering additional follow up questions based on your original question, which can take you to a conversational mode, where you can continue to ask more about the topic you’re exploring. Context is carried over from question to question, as well as jumping off points to web content and different perspectives.

Reminiscent of PAAs (People Also Ask questions) this again opens up the possibility of more opportunity for content creators to feed into these suggested follow ups.

The above is a typical example that Google showcases with SGE, however it’s important to note there are lots of nuances that come into play with different SERP types, for example, when a user is looking for a local service and would expect the map pack to appear, or when searching specifically for a product.

Search Engine Journal showcase lots of different examples that we would recommend viewing for more context.

A Look Back – How Have Previous Changes Affected the SERP?

The previous change to the SERP which we would like to reference here is the rise of the Featured Snippet.

Featured Snippets are the short snippets of text, tables or lists that you can see at the top of Google Search results. This is information that is pulled straight from a web page in Google’s index.

Featured Snippets Caused a Reduction in Clicks for the First Organic Result

Featured Snippets were introduced back in 2014. Remembering that the data itself is old at this point in time, original studies that were conducted in 2017 showcased that featured snippets caused a reduction in clicks for the first organic result. Search Engine Land illustrate this point.

Featured Snippets Helped to Facilitate the Rise of “Zero Click Searches”

According to sources like Backlinko, with the rise of the featured snippet came the rise of “zero click searches”, when the information featured at the top of the SERP, gave all the information necessary to the user, meaning there was no reason to click on the result at all.

With the information provided in the above, there’s no need to delve deeper.

So, How Could SGE Affect the SERP?

Lower Impression Data

SGE pushes the normal organic results further down the page which could potentially have an impact on the Impression data collected within Search Console in a similar way that the featured snippets did.

Reduction in Clicks for First Results

History could potentially be repeating itself with a reduction in clicks as more of the “normal” Search Engine Results Experience is pushed further down, and in some cases, below the fold. Dependent on how useful the information is within SGE and the suggestions it provides for following the conversation down other rabbit holes, there could be no reason to scroll down the SERP.

Further Rise of Zero Click Searches

In a similar vein for the above, with less need to scroll and look at further results and the comparative nature of AI within SERPs and the summary that it offers, Users may gain the answer they are looking for within the SERP itself, with no need for further explanation.

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