What Is Google’s SGE (And What Does It Mean for Search Results)?

what is google sge

There’s always something new in the land of Google search, and the marketing world is currently abuzz with Google’s Search Generative Experience (SGE). Whether this is the first you’re hearing about this feature or you’ve been following it closely, we’ll unravel some of the common questions around SGE and what it might mean for your site’s visibility on SERPs.

What is Search Generative Experience (SGE)?

SGE stands for Search Generative Experience. Google has been testing SGE as an interactive search feature that uses generative AI to provide answers to your queries directly in the SERP.

How does Google SGE work?

Unlike the traditional search experience, you won’t have to click through to another website to find the information you need; SGE uses AI to sift through the information Google already knows and provide your answer directly. Much like chatbots such as ChatGPT, you can then ask clarifying questions or start a conversation in the interface. 

According to Google, these are the benefits of SGE. People can:
• Ask new kinds of questions that are more complex and more descriptive

  • Get the gist of a topic faster, with links to relevant results to explore further
  • Get started on something you need to do quickly, like writing drafts or generating imagery right from where you’re searching
  • Make progress easily, by asking conversational follow-ups or trying suggested next steps

However, this interface also has a secondary effect of users being less likely to leave Google (the ‘walled garden’ effect). If the information you want is right on the search results page, you won’t necessarily have to go to a separate website. 

There are, of course, potential problems and concerns with this brave new world setup—both for users seeking dependable information and for the websites that house that information, which would normally be available via organic results. 

First, let’s see SGE in action.

Anatomy of a Google SERP with SGE

How does SGE impact organic and paid search?

For those who are beta testing this feature, the SERP already looks different (find out how to test it). While some ads remain at the top, organic results are pushed even further down the page, which means the number of organic results on page 1 may also be decreasing. 

As a result of these changes, we expect to see the click-through rate drop for both ads and organic results. Some SEOs have estimated 30-60% drops in clicks due to these changes, but time will tell.

Organic opportunities within the SGE answer

While organic results as we know them are indeed moving down the page, there are still opportunities for organic results within the SGE answer. 

As you can see in the screenshot below, the SGE section provides a simple answer and corresponding links to sources that support that answer in two places. There are only a few, and this real estate is prime.

Potential concerns with SGE

If you’re thinking about the ramifications, you’re not alone. We’re tracking lots of industry conversations and potential concerns from marketers:

  • Organic results may be lower on the page, and fewer
  • Paid ads may be moving depending on the type of query
  • The content generated in the SGE answer may not be 100% accurate and may not provide direct sources. This makes it difficult for the consumer to verify information.
  • Google may or may not cite or link to the sources where it gathered its information, which some would consider a lost click and/or lost brand recognition.
  • We’re seeing Google prioritize opinion sources and discussion forums for the answers in some cases. Will people be potentially misled by strong opinions but inaccurate information without knowing it?

To follow these conversations more closely, visit Search Engine Land or Search Engine Roundtable

How SGE has been unfolding

Google started testing SGE in the summer of 2023 and has been adjusting several aspects of the feature on a regular basis. What you see now will not be the final look and functionality of SGE when it gets rolled out. 

If you’re concerned about certain aspects of this feature, take heart in the fact that we’ve noticed changes to all of the following over the past few months:

  • Circumstances in which SGE shows at all
  • Where ads are showing in relation to it
  • What is placed to the right of the SGE module
  • Whether the user needs to click to start the answer generation process
  • Different layout styles, especially mixing many types of results in a bit of a hodge-podge

One other major change is within the ‘People Also Ask’ feature. As users scroll through the page, they are now offered the ability to ask a follow-up question to refine their search within the PAA section.

Potential opportunities with SGE

Just like any shift, there are still great opportunities to seize from these changes: 

  • Smaller brands that produce quality content may see increased visibility. Since Google chooses the best sources that concisely describe or explain a topic in plain language, precisely targeted content will win. As Tim Cameron-Kitchen from Exposure Ninjas says, “Google seems to favor exact match [blogs] over high-authority but more generic information. This may change.”
  • Links shown in the SGE answer are being shown several times. Looking back on the Fiddle Leaf Fig query, one result from a site called “Fitnessista” shows three times on the SERP, twice in the SGE area, and once in the organic listings below.

Is this definitely happening?

Recently, there has been talk in the SEO space that SGE may not even happen. However, at Intrepid, we don’t think that will be the case. Google is spending a lot of time, money, and effort in the AI space right now—having been caught on their back foot by Bing—and we believe we will see a rollout of SGE in some capacity over the next year.

Our view is that even if SGE doesn’t end up lasting long-term and ends up in the Google Graveyard, it’s still worth going through the optimization efforts you might be considering in order to get your site featured in the SGE results. It’s better to take full advantage of SGE however you can while it’s around to get visibility over a competitor. 

Here’s an anecdote to illustrate: Back when Google Authorship was around in the early 2010s, many SEOs rightly called out that it wouldn’t last. Some decided to do nothing, banking on the fact that it would be gone in a few months. However, the SEOs that took advantage of Authorship saw a peak in clicks and enjoyed an incremental boost in traffic, even if it was only for a short time in 2013.

How can I test SGE for myself?

You can sign up to see SGE on your Google results page in just a few seconds. 

SGE was first launched in the US and is now available in 120 countries; you must be logged into a personal Gmail account in one of these countries for access (a Gmail account tied to Google Workspace will unfortunately not work). If you’re in Europe, you can circumvent this by using a VPN. Here are the instructions for getting access to Google SGE.

What should we do to prepare for SGE?

First, don’t be too alarmed. Our SEO experts at Intrepid all agree on this way of looking at it: we’ve seen dozens of changes to SERPs over the years, and while marketers and SEOs do need to pivot and continually optimize over time, we work together to ride the waves and continue showing up for customers.

Now, if your new goal is to have your content and site show in the SGE-generated answer, it will be a content play. You will need to focus on high-quality, targeted content that Google can easily parse and pull into the SGE result. Use proper heading structures to show the outline of the page, and provide content summaries at the top in a concise manner that touches on the major points of the topic. Also, make sure you’re using SGE yourself to see what Google is surfacing for the keywords you are targeting. If you can answer those questions accurately and succinctly on your site, you may be a prime candidate for the SGE result. 

We also suggest continually checking on the SGE answers in your industry to ensure that your content matches what SGE is looking for—which will typically be helpful and unique content that answers the user’s query. 

Don’t worry—you don’t need to be constantly tweaking your pages every day. Instead, search your top keywords on a weekly basis to check SGE results and the SERP layout du jour.

Industries that may be affected most

Wondering how your industry will fare in the wake of SGE?

Per Search Engine Land, according to their trials, there are five industries impacted the most by SGE. These industries are seeing the highest rate of generated answers on SERPs, whether in a collapsed state or opt-in state:

  1. Healthcare
  2. eCommerce
  3. B2B tech
  4. Insurance
  5. Education

Other industries seeing a “medium” level of SGE answers, usually as opt-in answers, are restaurants, travel, and entertainment.

We have proprietary information on our site that we don’t want showing up in the SGE answer. Should we block our site from this?

That’s a great question that deserved its own page. See our supplemental blog post about this question here.

Have questions about SGE? Reach out to your Intrepid contact or via Contact Us. We’d love to hear from you!

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