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Google SGE: How to Make the Best of AI Overviews

Google has rolled out its Search Generative Experience (SGE), now called AI Overviews, in the US, with international markets to follow soon. Many businesses are rightfully wondering how to maintain search visibility with this latest update. The good news is that there are actions you can take right now to begin to appear in AI Overviews. We spoke to several SEO experts and asked them to share best practices on how to become visible in AI Overviews.

What are Google AI Overviews? 

A Google AI Overview, often called Google SGE, is an AI generated answer to a user's search query with the goal to provide more helpful information within the Search Engine Results Page (SERP). It regularly uses multiple cited sources from around the web and is displayed at the top of the SERP.

The most common type of Google AI Overviews is the "collapsed" version that displays a definition or short summary and between one and five cited sources: 

Example of collapsed Google AI Overview

After users click on "Show more", they can usually see one or two bulleted lists of additional information.

Google also extensively tested an opt-in version in Google Search Labs that might also be used in the future as the search engine continues to adjust how it will display SGE results. The placement of ads in, above, or below AI Overviews might also change over time as Google rolls out SGE globally.

How are websites being impacted by AI Overviews?

AI Overviews push regular listings further down on the SERP, forcing the user to scroll more than before. Some users might be satisfied with the information that Google provides in this summary and not click through to any website. This could negatively impact click-through rate, site traffic and ultimately sales or other conversions. On the other hand, it could also potentially increase a brand's visibility by being prominently listed as a source in the Overview. But all of this is mostly theory at this point, as Google has just recently rolled out AI Overviews in the US and SEO professionals are still examining the impact.

Some experienced observers are actually skeptical about the impact of Google SGE. Mandy Ison, Group Manager SEO & PPC at TurboTax, for example, is not convinced that there will be a decline in traffic from AI Overviews: 

"One, there are potential regulatory and legal risks. With the broader rollout in the US, there have been many examples of AI hallucination and poor quality results, in addition to searchers frustrated by the experience and the inability to turn it off. Two, Google stated at Google I/O that websites that appear in AI Overviews have a higher CTR. The larger rollout in the US will prove if this is true or not. The biggest opportunity is in continuing to create high quality, relevant content for our customers, the kind of content Google has always ranked well and includes in their AI Overviews, while looking at other platforms where our marketing strategy may need to diversify outside of traditional SEO, i.e. social platforms like TikTok."

Even though Google SGE might turn out to become another Y2K (i.e. much panic about nothing) or don't affect organic CTR more than the introduction of Google Quick Answers, brands and other online publishers worldwide are still well advised to prepare for a potential impact. Many of the best practices described below are beneficial to SEO and digital marketing, even if the impact of SGE will be minimal.

SEO best practices to become more visible in Google SGE

First of all, don't throw out traditional best practices for search engine optimization. On-page optimization, link building and other tactics still work, and even if your site doesn't make it into Google's AI Overviews, they will still get you good rankings in regular results.

International SEO consultant Aleyda Solis has this advice for sites that are seeing a decline in organic traffic after the roll-out of AI Overviews: 

"Check on which queries are affected, which were the pages getting that traffic before, and how the AI Overviews are now displayed, and the type of content being surfaced there. Is there a way for you to optimize what you already have, or start creating it, to become a source? If not, which are the other related queries that also make sense to target that can provide this opportunity? Also, which are those queries for which you've seen an increase on your own site? Double-down on those!"

And Nikki Lam, Senior Director SEO at NP Digital, has seen from her agency’s work that “it's possible to go from no AI Overview visibility to gaining a mention and link within a few days of optimizing.” She advises: 

“Every site seeing declines in this new AI-powered era of search will have a different path to sustaining visibility and mitigating traffic loss. At a high level, to succeed in this new AI era of Google search, I'd recommend focusing on getting mentioned and linked to from across the web (links DO still matter in case you haven't seen the latest Google documentation leaks), creating content with clarity, readability, and succinct answers to targeted user questions, building strong EEAT (Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness) signals into all of your content, and covering topics you want to be seen as an authority in thoroughly in your content marketing strategy.”

Content types and formatting matter

When you start creating or optimizing content for SGE, keep in mind that Google likes to use four content types for its AI Overviews:

  • Concise definitions. The first (and most visible part) of AI Overviews for "what is" search queries is always a concise definition and the site that provides most of this definition is listed below as the first cited source.
  • Lists. AI Overviews often provide one or two lists below the definition. These are usually taken from pages that have similar lists in their content.
  • Images. AI Overviews often feature an image. Stock photos don't appear to be featured very often, but unique graphics are. The landscape format and the usual SEO-friendly file types work best.
  • Videos. Cited sources sometimes include links to YouTube videos. This could increase over time. Take another look at your YouTube video optimization, especially titles and descriptions.
Instance of YouTube video included in cited sources

It is notable that pages that are listed as cited sources for the definition, usually also contain lists and images. All three are therefore a must-have, if websites want to compete for visibility in generative AI search results. They are, however, also beneficial for good rankings in general search results.

Title tag optimization still gets quick wins

Even though Google can rewrite title tags as it uses them for cited sources in AI Overviews, having the perfect title tag right out of the gate will most likely improve chances to be included as a source, just like perfect title tags significantly improve chances to rank well in the traditional SERP. 

Title tag optimization should always be your starting point for any SEO campaign as it yields the best quick wins. Make sure to have a primary keyword alignment between your URL slug, your title tag and meta description, H1 and subheadings as well as your article text. It sounds so simple, but countless SEO agencies and freelancers are busy every day fixing misalignments.

Technical SEO is a factor in Google SGE

Google Search in the age of AI generated answers will continue to be a mobile-first experience. Site speed will be crucial. 

In the old days of SEO, images used to be the main culprit to slow a site down. Nowadays, it usually is a myriad of JavaScript files and GTM containers for tracking data that slows down most enterprise websites. 

The most efficient way to speed up a site is to evaluate each file, starting with the one that slows down the site the most, and decide if you really need it. Is the information you gain worth losing potential customers because the script is making your page slow to load? If this information is not used to act upon it, then the answer is probably no. The same is true for pop-ups asking customers for feedback. Using a focus group might accomplish the same and not slow down your site.

Tracking presence in Google AI Overviews

SEO tools such as Brightedge and SEMRush are beginning to add AI features to their platforms, most importantly, however, they will soon have to come up with ways to report on their subscribers' presence in AI Overviews, because Google appears to have no plans to provide information in this regard in Google Search Console. If you're looking for a large scale and automated way to track your site's appearance in AI Overviews now, check out ZipTie.

But as any seasoned SEO knows: not all tracking has to be large scale and automated. Keeping track of SGE presence for your top 20 right-to-win keywords can also be done in a spreadsheet. This will force you to manually perform each search. As a result, you will better notice changes to the SERP as well as the format of the AI search results and the visibility of competitors. But keeping track is not enough, therefore don't forget to include a column for next steps in your sheet!

While you can read countless articles on Google SGE, the insights you gain from tracking and experimenting will benefit you the most in the long run.

Double down on your SEO content strategy

Even though other factors can also significantly influence organic performance as well as inclusion in AI Overviews, superior content is still king.

Topical authority will be more important than ever

It has become apparent since the beginning of the SGE rollout, and previously in Google Search Labs, that the overall topical authority of a site is crucial to be included as a source for specific search queries. This is not only the case for Your Money Your Life (YMYL) topics, but for all subjects. Therefore, focus content on your blog or in your resources library around your organization’s core competencies. Drill down on primary topics rather than expanding your topic range just for the sake of organic traffic.

Invest in content quality, not quantity

Generative AI tools are making content production easier than ever before, but as Google is getting better in utilizing AI for its own purposes, the search engine is also getting better at identifying AI generated content. Anyone can use generative AI tools to recycle information that already exists, but this content will not win in Google Search much longer. 

Content that will win in search engines is written by humans, is unique and provides readers with new insights. Giving answers to a user’s question in more detail and based on experience will be key. You can, of course, use AI tools to assist you in brainstorming, researching, outlining, and optimizing content. But always keep in mind: If your content is not better than anything that is already available on the web, you probably won't rank #1. Generative AI in its current state will not create that stellar SEO content for you, it will only create a different version of what already exists.

But it is not impossible to get ranked in Google SGE. "The AI Overview doesn't work by magic", says Bryson Meunier, Senior Marketing Manager at QuickBooks

"The AI selects the sites it does for a reason. It doesn't work the same way as search results but it's not a black box. There are already very good studies looking into what types of sites the AI Overview returns and I expect there to be more over time. It won't be easy to get there, but as with all SEO if you think about what Google wants—to return the best, most comprehensive, most relevant and useful content—and you make it a point to return that, the AI Overview won't prevent you from reaching the top of Google search results."

Also think about how you can add value to your article content. That could be free tools like online calculators, downloadable assets like checklists and white papers, or embedded videos. Send as many signals to Google as possible that you're making a real effort to provide the very best and helpful content on the specific topic.

You may also want to think about adding user-generated content (UGC) to your site, such as reviews, comments, questions and answers. UGC is, by nature, human-authored content and seems to fare well with Google currently. Sites like Reddit and Quora are wildly successful in search today because of the nature of their content. Search engines want to show helpful results, not sites that have been over-optimized.

Make your organic traffic work harder for you

If your site experiences an organic traffic loss, you need to make less traffic work harder for you through Conversion Rate Optimization. This is not an insurmountable task. You're not going to lose most or all of your organic search traffic because of Google SGE, therefore you don't need to improve your conversion rate by some astronomical number. 

Keep in mind: Conversion doesn't always equate to a sale. Depending on what part of the sales funnel you are targeting with your search content, it could also mean getting a visitor's permission to continue marketing to them, most likely through email.

Don't forget to defend your visibility in Google SGE

Making it into AI Overviews is not enough, just like you're not done with your SEO efforts once you get to the top in organic rankings. The best way to defend any top rankings is to prove to Google that you indeed deserve the spotlight by showing the search engine that users find what they are looking for on your site. If they stay on your site and not bounce back immediately, you're providing this proof. Keeping your content up to date and making it more engaging even after you've reached top rankings, will ensure you stay ahead of your competition.

Look beyond AI Overviews: AI-organized results

Aleyda Solis believes the new AI-organized results pages when looking for inspiration (dining, recipes, movies, etc) could eventually have more impact than AI Overviews. Google has said they will “soon” start showing these for English searches in the US.

"This is something that I can see to be even more game changing in the long run since it might solve a problem in a better way than what Google is doing for those types of searches today if it’s actually able to highlight:

  • A good blend of content formats and types through features that refer users to the publishing page where they can continue their journey and contrast information.
  • Relevant UGC while filtering out spam and overall non-accurate, low quality information.

For SEOs (and supporting tools), I believe this can mean:

  • A much longer tail of queries to target
  • Focusing on the more detail specific pages within the search journey (blog posts vs categories)
  • Bigger need to invest in content beyond text across many scenarios for more visibility
  • Saying goodbye to traditional positions in SERPs and how we track them."

Pivot Digital Marketing Strategies

Organizations test and pivot digital marketing strategies all the time between different channels, based on what works best. 

If SGE affects your organic search traffic, you will need to pivot your multi channel marketing efforts. Along the way, you might also learn new and better ways to reach potential and current customers.

Implement a holistic search strategy

Mandy Ison at TurboTax advises to not look at Organic Search in isolation, but to look at it holistically with Paid Search: 

“If AI Overviews can be shown to directly, negatively impact organic search traffic for a website, depending on the issue, the next steps would be to prioritize and implement optimizations to address not appearing in the AI Overviews, which has been shown to pull from the top ranking results in our testing, as well as partnering closely with the paid search team to implement a holistic search strategy to reverse the decline in traffic, hopefully, in the short term. Google will be integrating PPC directly into AI Overviews, and we have seen PPC ads appear below them as well, for results outside of the tax industry. For the most part, we haven't been able to trigger AI Overviews for 400+ top keywords for TurboTax.”

Take your email marketing to the next level

One good option is pivoting to an audience that has already given you permission to market to them: your email marketing list.

Email is one of the most effective digital marketing channels, helping businesses drive engagement and grow revenue. In fact, according to Statista, email marketing revenue is projected to grow 287% worldwide from 2024 to 2032. 

And when you take advantage of audience segmentation tools that make it easy to send tailored messages and AI tools that can help automatically welcome new contacts, recover abandoned carts, and win back lapsed customers, email becomes an even more impactful marketing solution.

Integrate email marketing and SMS marketing

SMS gives your customers another option to receive messages from you. Just like with email marketing, our SMS marketing tools give you ways to increase your marketing ROI. SMS marketing is ideal for time-sensitive promotions and reminders. Text messages have high open and read rates, and provide an excellent opportunity for personalization. They can be very powerful for driving engagement and conversion.

When you use Mailchimp, you can effortlessly craft and manage seamless email and SMS campaigns all in one place. This can help you take your permission marketing to the next level and compensate for traffic loss that you might have experienced after the roll-out of Google AI Overviews.

Change will not end with Google SGE

We have certainly entered a digital marketing age characterized by increasing speed of change. Staying abreast of changes and being agile to react will set successful marketers apart from the less successful ones.

“The only constant in the search industry will be change, and the rate of change will continue to increase” says Nikki Lam of NP Digital:

“Search will continue to fracture even more, and there will be a crucial need for SEOs to think well outside the box of traditional Google search, and to embrace what I call the new SEO which is Search Everywhere Optimization: optimizing for everywhere users are finding what they need, whether it's ChatGPT, TikTok, YouTube, Instagram, etc. The best agencies and savviest brands will stay at the forefront of these channels and all these changes, while others will struggle due to a lack of bandwidth, knowledge, and resources.”

Mandy Ison of TurboTax is taking a similar approach: 

“In the broader context of AI powered search results, ChatGPT, Meta, Amazon, and others will likely launch their own chatbot and/or search products. Though ChatGPT has denied it, the logical next step in their revenue evolution is to begin selling ad space within their experience, whether that's digital media, paid search, or other media. Growing subscriptions for their premium services isn't how they will maximize revenue in the long term, although they make look to integrate their AI to power the services of other businesses, like Health Care (diagnosis), Security (better at detecting attempts to defraud or hack), Education (grading, creating class plans), Customer Support, and more.”

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