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[Research] What Brands Can Learn from SGE’s International Roll-Out

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7th April 2024 in

Google’s Search Generative Experience (SGE) is the latest in the ongoing evolution of search technologies and heralds a fundamental rethinking of how brands are found online.

What you need to know:

  • Google’s Search Generative Experience (SGE) is an experimental update to Google’s search interface, leveraging generative AI to provide summarised, contextual responses to search queries.
  • Analysis of 200 keyword phrases in SGE revealed a 97.5% availability of AI-generated responses across searches, highlighting Google’s ongoing commitment to zero-click searches.
  • Branded search queries show a lower prevalence of automatically generated AI snapshots compared to non-branded queries, indicating a cautious approach by Google in applying AI-generated content to brand-associated searches.
  • Domains such as Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, and specific news sites frequently feature in citation and carousel links, underscoring the continuing value and trust attributed to established platforms.
  • The high proportion of URLs using “text=” anchors in AI responses emphasises the importance of structurally optimising content and URLs to align with Google’s AI-driven content aggregation methods.
  • The experimental nature of SGE indicates the way Google sources information for AI responses and how those responses are formatted is likely to change rapidly in the future.
  • Bonfire is actively refining strategies to optimise online content for SGE, with Senior Advisors ready to assist brands and marketers in adapting their SEO tactics for 2024 and beyond.

Search Generative Experience is an experimental update to Google’s existing search interface that leverages generative artificial intelligence (AI) to provide summarised and contextualised responses to search queries. SGE follows a long line of zero-click innovations from Google, such as Featured Snippets and People Also Ask, that are aimed at reducing the number of outbound links a user needs to engage with before getting an answer to their query.

An animated GIF of Google's Search Generative Experience responding to a user query.

Google’s Search Generative Experience (SGE) answers user queries with generative AI, supplanting the standard list of outbound links that users have become accustomed to.

With SGE comes a fundamentally new way for brands to be found on Google—one where they have less control of the information served to the user and where less traffic is routed from Google to their website.

To understand the impact SGE poses for Australian marketers, our team analysed 200 keyword phrases in the SGE environment and developed strategies on how to optimise search rankings in the era of generative AI.

How Users Experience SGE

Each time a search is performed on Google, users with access to SGE are presented with one of three possible scenarios:

  1. They are shown an automatically generated AI snapshot (which includes the answer to their query and outbound links for more information) above the traditional Search Engine Results Page (SERP).
  2. They are shown a button labelled “Generate” which creates an AI snapshot when clicked, followed by the standard SERP.
  3. They are shown the standard SERP with no option to generate an AI snapshot.

The three types of AI response in Google's Search Generative Experience.

The exact layout of the AI snapshot changes according to the search term the user provides but is typically a combination of AI-generated text, images and outbound links.

Google has not yet provided official details about when an AI snapshot is triggered within SGE.

Australian SGE Research: Findings & Strategies

At the time of publication, SGE is not available to users in Australia. This has led to limited information being available about the impact of SGE on search performance in Australia and has left Australian brands unable to prepare for the upcoming changes.

With the assistance of a virtual private network (VPN), our team manually tested 200 keyword phrases relating to 92 Australian brands from different industries.

These keyword phrases were carefully selected to ensure relevance to the Australian market, that a commercial focus was present (i.e. covering the type of queries that a user would search for in the middle or end of their purchasing journey), and to capture a combination of branded and non-branded keywords.

For each keyword phrase analysed, the availability of an AI snapshot and the nature of the automatically generated content were recorded.

Our Findings

From the 200 keyword phrases tested, Google provided the following SGE results:

  • 20.5% of queries resulted in an automatically generated response.
  • 77% of queries showed a “Generate” button.
  • 2.5% of queries resulted in no AI snapshot being shown.

A chart showing the breakdown of AI Generated responses in Google's Search Generative Experience.

 

When breaking down these queries along branded vs. non-branded phrases, we found:

  • Branded queries (20.5% of the total dataset)
    • 12.2% resulted in an automatically generated response.
    • 87.8% showed the “Generate” button.
    • No branded queries resulted in no AI snapshot being available.
  • Non-branded queries (79.5% of the total dataset)
    • 27.4% resulted in an automatically generated response.
    • 65.8% showed the “Generate” button.
    • Only 6.8% of non-branded queries resulted in no AI snapshot being available.

A chart showing the percentage of AI responses from branded and non-branded AI keywords.

 

Looking at the outbound links present in Google’s AI snapshots, we found:

  • Out of the 92 brands studied, only 35 (or 38%) were included in at least one citation across all branded and non-branded search queries where an AI snapshot was present.
  • Of the 200 keyword phrases studied, some domains were over-represented in the citation and carousel links of AI snapshots, including:
    • www.facebook.com – 27 occurrences
    • www.youtube.com – 11 occurrences
    • www.google.com – 8 occurrences (redirecting to Reviews or Maps)
    • au.linkedin.com – 8 occurrences
    • www.businessnews.com.au – 8 occurrences
  • 762 (or 80.3%) of the citation URLs and carousel links displayed across all AI snapshots contained a “text=” URL anchor.

Lessons Learned & Strategies

Based on the data, there are several lessons Australian marketers can take from Google’s move towards SGE.

  • Widespread Availability of AI Snapshots. 97.5% of queries offered the option of generating an AI snapshot, signalling Google’s ongoing commitment to zero-click searches.
  • Distinct Treatment of Branded Queries. Branded queries demonstrated a lower prevalence of automatically generated snapshots compared to non-branded queries. This distinction suggests a more cautious approach by Google in applying AI-generated content to searches directly associated with brand names, potentially to safeguard brand integrity and control.
  • Dominance of Reputable Domains. Our findings also highlighted the continued prominence of reputable domains, such as Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, and specific industry news sites, in citations and carousel links. Their frequent appearance underscores the value and trust attributed to established platforms within the AI-generated content ecosystem.
  • Prevalence of “Text=” URL Anchors. The high proportion of URLs using “text=” anchors points to the strategic importance of ensuring content and URLs are optimally structured to align with Google’s AI-driven content aggregation methods.
  • A Rapidly Changing Search Environment. Our team also noted that during the testing period, several changes to Google’s AI snapshots were found. This included the volume of citations and carousel links, the use of imagery and the colour of the snapshot background. This suggests Google is still rapidly experimenting with both the front- and back-end of SGE and results are likely to continue varying in the future.

Caveats of the Research

Our exploration of Google’s SGE is not without caveats. As a result of SGE’s unavailability in Australia, our team used a VPN to simulate access from the USA, meaning observations could be skewed or reflect search behaviours specific to that region rather than Australia (despite efforts in keyword phrase selection to counter this bias).

Furthermore, SGE’s experimental status means that features and results are likely to remain in flux for the foreseeable future. Finally, larger sample sizes may result in adjusted figures across our key criteria.

Get Help with Google Search Generative Experience

Google’s Search Generative Experience represents the latest fundamental shift in how users search for and access information online. If search is a key part of your marketing strategy, our Senior Advisors are ready to discuss the implications of SGE for your brand. Get in touch with a member of the Bonfire team by calling 1800 750 204 or submitting an enquiry online.

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