A Look at How Google’s AI Search May Change Marketing

If you had to name just one company that all marketers, everywhere, keep a close eye on, it’s Google. At the Google I/O 2023 conference this past May, the company unveiled some exciting new developments, ranging from new Pixel devices to a new photo editing tool.

But the real showstopper of the conference was artificial intelligence. AI is clearly in its heyday, as evidenced by the amount of resources Google is expending to integrate AI into as many of its offerings as possible.

One of the most noteworthy AI developments the company announced was the beta testing of Google SGE. It hasn’t yet been integrated into the search engine, although you can give it a whirl at Google’s Labs.

When it does exit beta testing, Google SGE promises to significantly shake up search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine results pages (SERPs). But should marketers be gritting their teeth or jumping for joy?

What exactly is Google SGE?

Google SGE (Search Generative Experience) is a new search interface that is powered by AI. Changes to Google’s search engine aren’t all that uncommon. In fact, the company routinely updates its search algorithm (which sometimes causes marketers to take steps to adjust to changing SERP placements).

This change, however, is quite significant. It will be a complete overhaul that changes how the search engine looks, performs, and interacts with users. It will also affect how users are presented with Google ads and organic rankings.

How does Google SGE work?

Google SGE integrates generative AI directly into search query responses. Let’s take a step back for a moment. What’s the difference between AI and generative AI, also known as artificial general intelligence (AGI)?

The short(ish) answer is that AI uses algorithms, models, and techniques that equip computers with the ability to perform tasks that humans do, like image processing and speech recognition. It works by recognizing patterns and extracting information.

But clearly, AI doesn’t possess human reasoning, perception, or judgment. This is where AGI comes in. It’s intended to take AI a step further by not only analyzing data, but also learning from experiences and developing meaningful insight that goes beyond the input variables.

What this means for Google SGE is that the search engine is intended to support users better by bringing a deeper understanding of search queries to each SERP.

What does this look like in concrete terms? Well, let’s say that you, as the owner or employee of a marketing agency, are preparing to take a call with a potential new client. Naturally, you’ll want to do a little research first. You type “client name” + “company name” into Google.

If it’s a major company, you might see snippets, such as a preview of the person’s Wikipedia page. Otherwise, you’ll simply see a list of search results.

With the new Google SGE, however, you’d see much more. You’ll not only see a snippet filled with basic information about the person, but also content blocks featuring results like relevant news articles and the person’s LinkedIn page and other social media profiles.

You’ll see suggested follow up questions, like “Is X company owned by Person X?” You’ll also see a “People also search for” section. In short, Google SGE is attempting to provide more useful information to users more quickly.

How might Google SGE affect digital marketing?

Marketers tend to get a little bit nervous when they discover that Google is planning to change its SERPs. Over the years, significant changes in Google’s algorithm from time to time have indeed affected page rankings, causing once high-ranking pages to plummet and resulting in long hours of tweaking copy to satisfy the new algorithm.

As a result, it’s understandable that marketers might be a little anxious to find out how Google SGE could affect how well their time-tested strategies work.

For marketers, there are three main questions to consider:

  1. Will Google SGE cause my clients’ sites to drop on the SERPs?
  2. Will Google SGE result in fewer clicks to my clients’ sites?
  3. How will Google SGE affect paid ads?

The first two questions are closely linked; if a client’s website drops in the rankings, then, consequently, it will likely receive fewer clicks.

Unfortunately, we don’t yet know exactly how Google SGE will affect these issues. Right now, SGE is still in its beta testing phase (and Google has a history of keeping products in beta for long periods of time). When it’s released to a larger number of users, it will remain an opt-in experience, at least for the time being. Google SGE is expected to be tweaked over time.

There is, however, room for optimism. Google has said that they are keeping search ads as an option for marketers. The search engine remains committed to keeping ads readily distinguishable from organic information in the search results.

Furthermore, Google has said that they fully intend to continue driving search traffic to websites, rather than having the SGE results serve as the sum total of the user experience on any given search query.

However, it’s important to read between the lines. Google’s press release noted only that they are “committed to continue sending valuable traffic to sites across the web.” It did not definitively state whether they anticipate click rates dropping, increasing, or remaining stable.

Only time will tell how Google SGE affects the marketing world, but let’s take a closer look at some possibilities.

How is SGE going to change user behaviors?

There’s no doubt that any new technology will affect user behavior in some way. While we don’t have a crystal ball, we can extrapolate some possibilities from what we’ve seen from SGE so far. Currently, Google’s featured snippets and “people also ask” sections do a fairly good job of answering routine questions from users.

However, depending on the search query, you might not get exactly the information you need on the first search. You may need to scroll through the results and click on a few promising-looking websites to see what information they offer.

The AI-integrated search, on the other hand, is intended to hunt the web for information from multiple websites, summarize it, and present it to the user on the SERP itself.

If it works as it’s supposed to, users are more likely to get their questions answered on the SERP itself, reducing the need to look around and click on a few sites. This means that it’s entirely possible that traffic will drop.

Will content no longer be king?

Although it’s quite possible that search traffic will drop, there is a silver lining. It may not necessarily impact marketing as much as you might think. The main purpose of marketing, after all, is to sell a company’s products and/or services.

So, even if a user gets the full answer to the question, “Is my water heater about to die?” on the SERP itself, they’ll still need to find a local plumber in order to replace their dying water heater. Similarly, even if a user finds an excellent, AI-generated list of birthday present ideas for their eight-year-old nephew, they’ll still have to click to an ecommerce site to make the actual purchase.

Yes, content will still be king, and in fact, it may be even more important than it is now. AI can’t produce information out of thin air; it can only identify, extract, and summarize the information that’s already on the web. However, there’s a caveat to consider.

Much of the information that’s out there is quite similar. (How many times have you added “How to Prevent Clogged Drains” to the editorial calendar of a plumbing client? Google offers about 2,310,000 for that search query alone.) It’s possible that Google will adjust its algorithms to prioritize unique, interesting content, and so cookie cutter editorial calendars may do your clients a disservice.

One possible way to stay ahead of the curve is to source topics from users themselves. Marketers can make a client’s website stand out by sourcing unique topics from community groups, social media feeds, and chat forums.

For example, instead of doing the same old “How to Prevent Clogged Drains” blog for a plumbing client, you might try something a bit less mainstream, like “How to Get Jewelry Out of Drains.” (This topic only has 21,600 results.)

Does this mean that your editorial calendars should only be populated with content that revolves around extremely long-tail keywords? (Example: “Where to eat with kids and a dog in Saratoga Springs, NY after seeing a race at the horse track before going to the aquarium in Schenectady, NY?”) Not necessarily.

Yes, Google SGE may encourage users to type in ever-more long and complex keywords. Remember, however, that the potential of generative AI isn’t to find the one website that might offer the answer, but to combine information from multiple websites to produce a comprehensive solution to the search query.

This means that marketers can best serve their clients by doubling down on the fundamentals, such as by striving to deliver fresh, informative, engaging, and sometimes, entertaining content that appeals to users. Regardless of which topics you choose for any given client, it’s essential to ensure the content delivers value.

No matter how Google SGE winds up changing SEO and digital marketing, one thing is clear: You need a marketing partner who stays on top of the ever-evolving digital landscape.

Partner with Pennington Creative and gain access to a team of talented copywriters, social media specialists, PPC ads gurus, and more. We offer white label agency solutions and marketing services for every type of business, large and small. Contact us today for a free discovery call!