Google news and updates: Search Generative Experience
This week, a debrief of Google’s newly announced generative experience from Google I/O, what the change means in search and how it might affect publishers.
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Hello, and welcome back. Jessie here, fresh off a weekend that included a close pal marrying the love of his life at Toronto’s best library. Love and a venue I can bike to? With Carly Rae Jepsonas the exit song? Perfection.
This week: More Google news and updates. I had big aspirations to cover authorship for news SEO, but Google’s wrecked our well-planned editorial calendar. Instead, we’ve got a debrief of Google’s newly announced generative experience from Google I/O, what the changes mean in search and how they might affect publishers.
Put it in your calendar: Join WTF is SEO? on Tuesday, June 6 from 4-5:00 p.m. ET for a community call, all about Google news and updates. Expect an hour of engaging conversation on the latest developments with time for frank discussions on how Google’s updates have changed our traffic and audience patterns.
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Let’s get it.
In this issue:
What is Search Generative Experience?
How generative AI changes search
What to know about Perspectives
What Google announced this week
This was a busy week for Google search. Following news that Google planned to make search more more “visual, snackable, personal, and human,” the company unveiled big changes to its search results pages at the annual I/O conference on May 10.
The headline news: Search Generative Experience, Google’s integration of generative AI into search results. On some queries, AI-generated responses will appear at the top of search results. Google is putting AI “front and center in the most valuable real estate on the internet: its existing search results,” says The Verge.
Google describes the new experience as an “AI-powered snapshot of key information” for select queries. It is powered by a variety of large language models (including MUM and PaLM2).
What to know about Search Generative Experience
Google says it will release SGE to users in batches, beginning in the coming weeks. Availability is limited to U.S.-based searchers and is only supported in English.
The text: The results generated by AI sit on a coloured background (the hue, Google says, will evolve to reflect specific user journeys and search intent). The “snapshot” that is generated is pulled from many sources on the web and has been synthesized by Google’s AI.
Per Google: “These snapshots serve as a jumping-off point from which people can explore a wide range of content and perspectives on the web.”
The snapshots and links, Google says, allow people to “dig deeper and discover a diverse range of content” from publishers, creators, retailers, and businesses.
The links: To the right of the generated response are three links to websites users can click to dig deeper and “corroborate the information in the snapshot.” Three links are available by default, but you can toggle for more.
These include an image, title text, a link and the name of the site with the favicon.
It’s worth noting that — even in their demonstration — the title text for the link in the sidebar is cut off by Google-imposed character limits, and appears to be shorter than traditional search results. In the examples in the screenshots above and below, it’s between 27 and 40 characters.
Follow ups: Under the generated response are buttons that allow users to ask follow-up questions (Barry Schwartz demonstrated how he did this in a Twitter thread). In this mode, context is carried from question to question, making the prompt/answer experience akin to a conversation.
Ads: Google Ads will also be served in this experience with a “sponsored” label attached.
Traditional results: Under all that, users are served traditional search result listings.
Here’s how the new experience looks on desktop, with helpful annotations from Schwartz.
The experience in action: During a demonstration at I/O, Google’s VP of Search, Liz Reid, asked the search engine, “why sourdough is still so popular” and to find the “best bluetooth speakers for the beach.” In both instances, the search engine returned traditional results immediately, followed several seconds later by a page of content produced by generative AI.
The company says this change aims to take “more of the work out of searching, so you’ll be able to understand a topic faster, uncover new viewpoints and insights, and get things done more easily.”
For the searches that trigger AI, the change is significant — especially on mobile devices, where the generative AI results take over the entire screen on first load. The change puts more emphasis on keeping users on Google’s surfaces and could result in a spike of zero-click searches.
Google tweeted a preview of what that will look.
Google is taking a much more active role in SERPs — and much more prime real estate.
Consider Google’s example query: “What’s better for a family with kids under 3 and a dog, bryce canyon or arches?”
That’s a very clear question based on a complex user need. It is not simply a comparison of two destinations (something travel publications would write about exceptionally well). It also includes the added needs of family and pets (something a parenting publication might address in a vacation guide).
In search now, a reader might query the comparison of two destinations, then explore the family-friendliness of both spots and then see if pets are allowed.
With SGE, Google does all the investigating for users, serving a summary of its findings with a sidebar of links.
In Google’s words, instead of surfacing links to fulfill a query for readers to continue their research, the search engine will “do some of that heavy lifting for you” (“some” is an interesting word choice here). It’s part of the stated aim to enable users to “ask entirely new types of questions that you never thought search could answer.”
Untangling a complex knot and returning comprehensive, synthesized results is a huge task, but one Google — seeing its dominance in exploratory search slipping due to a rise in TikTok, Instagram, chat bots and the social web — is eager to take on.
If successful, Google will have traded old search for “all the knowledge on the internet, all in one place,” as The Verge concludes.
However, Google has confirmed not every query will trigger this new experience — only where the search giant believes AI will provide a better experience for users. Notably, content about health and finance — YMYL topics — will not trigger SGE. AI will also skip queries where huge data or information gaps exist.
Google said SGE is trained to “set a higher standard for quality information” on topics where getting it right is essential. Again, this relates to YMYL topics, including finance, health or civic information and health or medical advice.
The restraint is intended to mitigate known challenges of LLMs, notably hallucinations (confidently making stuff up) or inaccuracies, Google says. The company says it’s using “human input” when training the output of SEG, including for length, form and clarity. Disclaimers will also be used where deemed appropriate (like on health advice).
Read more: Aleyda Solis shares her winners and losers of the new search experience.
Meanwhile, Google is also expanding the “Perspectives” feature, which will bring more user-generated content to search results for queries “that might benefit from the experiences of others.” That could include long- and short-form videos, discussion boards, YouTube videos, social content and blog posts.
In the “Perspectives” carousel, Google will “show more details about the creators of this content, such as their name, profile photo or information about the popularity of their content.”
The rationale, Google says, is to serve helpful content that lives in unexpected places. The “helpful content ranking system will soon show more of these ‘hidden gems’ on Search, particularly when we think they’ll improve the results,” Google says.
Lily Ray, the E.E.A.T expert, offered this assessment for SEOs: Answers featuring individual people’s videos, posts on social media and blogs is an area where, if you have a strong brand, you can gain visibility. “Searchers want real people with real personalities,” she says.
That means if your outlet is able to double down on building the personal brands and authority of your key beat reporters, opinion writers, recipe developers or product testers, there may be an opportunity to build trust on search.
Demonstrating human expertise and experience is essential to gain visibility in a perspective-rich environment.
That means a continued focus on developing and communicating to Google the authority and the expertise of the reporters in your newsroom (expect an authorship for news SEO newsletter soon!).
AI in search and publishers
For publishers, SGE likely marks a fundamental shift in the relationship with search as a distribution channel for journalism.
Returning to the travel example above (Bryce Canyon or Arches for a family vacation), the job of an expert travel reporter could now be done entirely by Google, in Google, for the benefit of Google. A further rise in zero-click searches is worrying for publishers who rely on it as a key distribution platform.
“The shift could significantly decrease the traffic that Google sends to publishers’ sites, as more people get what they need right from the Google search page instead,” as Nieman Lab reports.
The Washington Post’s Geoffrey A. Fowler writes that this AI-powered experience can save readers a click, but it could also mean they “never go to that other site to discover something new or an important bit of context.”
There’s a parallel concern (or at least, my worry) about the flatness of SEG. Consider a largely AI-driven experience in search: Instead of being a gateway to great reporting, there's a summary of known content. Lively writing could surface in different ways (i.e., linked to as a citation in Google’s write up).
At worst, the search engine will take the key points from many pieces of content and replace all that text with a single, uniform – and potentially incorrect — robotic voice.
SEG could be a roadblock to building strong, audience relationships. Where reporting tries to take readers there or capture an experience, SEG provides surface-level information. It denies many opportunities for surprise and delight. Additionally, by keeping readers on search results longer, publishers may see a drop in internal traffic from a lack of further engagement on stories.
That said, Brodie Clark raises the counterpoint that AI can be most useful to users for queries that Google has struggled to satisfy in the past. Getting recommendations for a trip with kids and a dog is fundamentally a hard thing to do.
Clark notes that this failure made room for the rise of ChatGPT, and if Google prioritizes publishers, there are traffic opportunities to be had. And in SGE — unlike ChatGPT — Google will continue to serve 10 blue links, which still provides opportunity.
The specifics of those potential traffic opportunities — and how straight news in Top Stories might change — are (to use a niche journalism-ism) TK.
Read more: There are an infinite number of opinions about AI and the future of search. Ezra Klein’s podcast episode, Why A.I. might not take your job or supercharge the economy, is a clear-eyed analysis of the state of artificial intelligence (released in early April, before Google’s announcements).
The bottom line: It’s still early days for generative AI in search. There are many questions left to be answered: Will Google hire the equivalent of a public editor to address when generative AI gets it wrong? How will Top Stories, specifically, evolve and how does that affect how publishers cover news events big and small? How will readers even use search engines once this is all launched and running?
As SGE rolls out, we’ll be keeping a close eye on how AI changes our readers’ relationship to search, and the impacts on brand visibility and audience loyalty.
🏆 SEO QUIZ 🏆
According to a 2022 study by SERMRush, what percent of all mobile searches are zero-click?
53 per cent
22 per cent
57 per cent
37 per cent
Answer at the bottom of the email.
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THE JOBS LIST
These are audience jobs in journalism. Want to include a position for promotion? Email us.
The Guardian (US) is hiring an SEO Editor (New York, NY).
Boston Globe Media is hiring an SEO Director (Boston, MA).
Balls Media is hiring a Head of SEO (Dublin, Hybrid).
📰 Even more Google updates: The search engine is introducing Interaction to Next Paint (INP) to Core Web Vitals as a replacement for First Input Delay (FID).
Google says INP “assesses a page's overall responsiveness to user interactions by observing the latency of all click, tap and keyboard interactions that occur throughout the lifespan of a user's visit to a page.”
Goodbye canonicals for "republished content.” Google removed using canonicals for republished content from its news publisher help document.
Coming to search: Filters on desktop search results for related attributes.
📈 SERoundtable reports an unconfirmed search algorithm ranking update, starting around the same time as the Google I/O conference.
🔧 Still generating schema by hand? Try the JSON-LD Schema Generator from Schemantra instead.
Elsewhere, Google confirmed invalid schema doesn’t hurt your ranking.
🇧🇷 Natalia Viana in The Guardian: Why is Google stonewalling regulation in Brazil?
🤔 Search Engine Land: How to steal your competitors’ featured snippets with ChatGPT (prompts included)!
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Have something you’d like us to discuss? Send us a note on Twitter (Jessie or Shelby) or to our email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Join our Slack community to chat SEO any time. We’re on Facebook and Instagram, too.
Written by Jessie Willms and Shelby Blackley
Just a reminder that E•MO•TION is iconic. If you don’t love it, we can’t be friends.
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