Google's New Search Could Change the Game for Publishers

If you feared zero-click search, this might be your worst nightmare.
Google's New Search Could Change the Game for Publishers

We’ve been hearing about Google’s Magi for a while now. Google finally took the wraps off Project Magi at Google I/O 2023 and it is going to change the Google Search we know of today. Those 10 blue links that fed traffic to your websites will now be pushed lower down the page as Generative AI takes center stage.

Google says it’s making Search “visual, snackable, personal, and human” and has given us a first glimpse of what the new Search Generative Experience (SGE) is all about. Google is expected to roll out this feature in a few weeks in the US but there is no timeline for other countries. But if you are an SEO manager at a major publication, an editor, or a blogger, I highly recommend you get your hands on it by joining the waitlist here.

Google's New Search Generative Experience
Google's New Search Generative Experience

Here’s your first look at the all-new Search Generative Experience.

The new Search Generative Experience uses PaLM2, Google’s latest Large Language Model (LLM). Google claims that this has the potential to revolutionize how everyone uses search. Once you enter a search query, the SGE may show an AI-generated answer on top of the traditional search results. These responses are highlighted in a different color and have a “Generative AI is experimental” disclaimer at the top.

The SGE uses generative AI to answer the search query and cites source links on the right to highlight where it sourced the information from. This makes the top three positions highly likely to get higher clicks. Google does have a small toggle button above these three listings where it will cite all the websites it used for generating the answer for the query. But given the additional step, it is unlikely that users will be looking there for more information.

Bringing Conversation Mode to Google Search

Conversation Mode: This new mode could cause a shift in how people use Google Search. After the first search query, the new SGE allows users to ask a follow-up question to extract more details. It also suggests a few follow-up questions to nudge searchers to ascertain the direction of their search. This aims to answer search queries right on the search result page. If you, as a publisher, despise zero-click search, this might just be your worst nightmare.

Google answers these follow-up questions in the same manner and could cause the three links that appear in the SGE box to change based on the query. In this new SGE, the “context” is carried from the previous search query which eliminates the need for people to add the same keywords again.

At the Google I/O, the search giant also showcased the new SGE’s ability to assist with shopping. Google claims that the new SGE adds factors such as product descriptions, product ratings, up-to-date reviews, prices, and product images. I’ve attached a gif below which shows the ability to address detailed search queries by pulling information from the reviews that other customers have posted. Google claims that this generative AI shopping experience is built on Google’s Shopping Graph which has details of over 35 Billion product listings. More than 1.8 Billion listings are refreshed every hour to return reliable results.

Google Ads in the new SGE
Google Ads in the new SGE

While this feature is impressive, I do fear that this will impact traffic for publishers that cover product reviews and publish product and category listicles. This might further have an impact on revenue since it directly impacts affiliate marketing.

If you take a look at the new SERP page you can notice that the generative AI result takes the first fold entirely. Scroll lower and you will notice sponsored ads first and then you can only spot ranking articles as you scroll further down. This might just affect organic traffic for publishers, especially for evergreen content which has been a significant source of traffic for multiple publishers across categories.

Generative AI won’t Answer Every Search Query

Google isn’t looking to answer all search queries with generative AI. According to Search Engine Land, Google will only answer safer queries with generative AI. Certain queries such as those relating to health and finance among others will not be answered using generative AI. Google added that it won’t use AI to generate answers for queries where the information is critically important.

Rise in Long Tail Search Queries

At the Google iI/O keynote, Cathay Edwards, VP of Engineering, Google showcased how the new SGE can answer questions typed into the search box. She also emphasized how people use search to look for short but related keywords multiple times to get their answers. This new SGE is designed to do all the heavy lifting and can take longer queries right at the start. Some might view this as Google wanting to hold users on the search results page to serve them more ads. While that is debatable the fact that this could be the start of changing user behavior with search isn’t. People could start searching for long-tail keywords. I can see this taking some traffic away from publishers who have primarily optimized for short keywords.

Genuine Helpful Content Will Emerge Victorious

After watching the new SGE demo I can say that the focus is primarily on finding answers to queries. It isn’t about showcasing pages that have optimized for the search term or built authority (via link building) for the focus keyword here. Instead, quality content that genuinely answers the search query will win the listing battle. This further puts focus on Google’s EEAT method for answering search queries.

After watching the Google I/O it is evident that Google is bullish on using AI in all of its products including Google Search. The new Search Generative Experience a completely new approach to finding answers on Google. While SGE cites links to publishers, only the top three are displayed prominently which might have an effect on website traffic for others. The traditional links have gone further down which makes it evident that it is more important to create quality content that solves queries than to create SEO-optimised articles to rank.

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