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Supercharging search with generative AI: what does this mean for brands

Google has decided to rip up the search rule book and replace it with something new, and radically different. During its recent I/O developer conference, it announced a new search “experience” that is set to change how users browse and interact with the web. Organic search will undergo perhaps its biggest change in a decade, and the layout of the search engine results page (SERPs) will change drastically.

Google’s new Search Generative Experience (SGE) will replace the list of organic results bookended by paid ads and interspersed with rich snippets, with a large, above-the-fold text box populated with answers to users’ questions. There’ll be no more clicking on blue links: the results of your search and subsequent four follow-up questions will be delivered to you directly in the search engine.

So what will this change mean for the industry – and should we be worried?

Google said its decision to redesign its search engine is based on a desire to “supercharge search” by integrating generative AI into it. It wants to minimise the legwork users need to do to find reliable, accurate answers by providing concise, helpful information without having to click away from its search engine.

While it’s too early to tell what the full effects will be, the changes will undoubtedly have big impacts on search for brands and businesses.

Purely organic results are going to suffer

Pushing the ‘traditional’ blue-link organic results way down the SERP means battling for a coveted P1 position on the page won’t matter nearly as much as it did before. Brands now need to decipher what action they need to take to ensure Google chooses their content when it creates its SGE answer.

Content needs to be attractive to the generative search experience

The biggest challenge for SEO marketers is how to edit their content to be picked up by SGE. Importantly, the Google quality guidelines haven’t changed – yet – and the search engine is still putting a lot of emphasis on EEAT (experience, expertise, authority and trust). It’s therefore safe to assume that Google will pull answers from websites that are trustworthy, authoritative in their niche and full of expert opinions and advice. This means authorship, reviews and content quality are just as important as ever for SEO strategies.

Brands can’t rely on sponsored ads for revenue anymore

With SGE taking up all the prime real estate at the top of the search engine results page, it is currently unclear where paid ads will go and this is a source of concern for any business that uses sponsored ads to generate a large portion of its revenue.

That said, it’s highly likely paid ads will continue to form an important part of Google search. After all, Google still needs to make money and ad revenue is a surefire way to do that. Where and how these ads will appear post-SGE is another question and potential headache for marketers.

Affiliate marketers are heading for very rough seas

Sites that make money from affiliate marketing are going to need to rethink their strategies, as SGE will almost certainly lead to fewer searchers clicking onto websites. This in turn will mean that any site that generates revenue from affiliate links will likely see their profits plummet. Businesses built around affiliate revenue streams should look into how they can protect themselves from the SGE update.

What next for the generative search experience?

In the UK, nothing is changing immediately. The new SERP page is being rolled out in the US initially, so UK SEOs simply need to sit tight, observe and plan.

To get ahead of the developments, brands and businesses should start reformatting page copy to maximise its chance of getting picked up by SGE. The industry should also be using schema mark-up to help ensure search engines can better read and understand the content on their pages.

The full impacts of Google’s SGE are yet to be seen, but while we don’t have the answers yet, one thing is for sure: the next 12-18 months are going to be a fraught time for SEO.

Article originally published in Performance Marketing World.

Liam Donoghue
Organic Performance Manager

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