A new report shows that 84% of queries on Google search will be shown a result powered by Search Generative Experience—the tech giant’s artificial-intelligence-powered search engine—disrupting huge chunks of brands’ and publishers‘ search traffic.
Search-engine-optimization marketing company BrightEdge—which sells SEO expertise—has been tracking patterns with SGE results since last fall (when Google introduced SGE), measuring more than 1,000 keywords across nine industries such as healthcare, ecommerce and business-to-business technology, among others.
“Brands that are performing well, most of their traffic comes from organic search,” said Travis Tallent, vice president of SEO at Brainlabs. “That’s why [SGE] is such a big deal. If you implement a new way that impacts the traffic coming to the site, it has dire consequences for the performance of a business entirely.”
SGE is available for people in the U.S., India and Japan to opt into, but Google has not fully rolled out the new search experience. It analyzes the context, sentiment, intent and nuances of searches to provide a fact-driven opinion. In response, businesses are preparing for this shift, reworking their SEO game beyond just keywords to ownership over valuable information and integrating siloed teams to streamline business operations.
SGE—previously slated to go live in December 2023—uses two formats for queries within the AI experience: the collapse and opt-in format.
The collapse format (which appears 16% of the time, per BrightEdge’s analysis) provides people with a snapshot of the AI-generated result, where people can click a button to expand and occupy most of the screen. Whereas the opt-in format (which appears 68% of the time) is presented through a banner and prompts people to decide whether they would like to explore AI results for their queries, starting a more conversational experience.
Michael Robbins, senior manager of paid search at Exverus Media, doubts that Google will launch SGE widely without making available inventory for advertisers or a method to optimize paid ads for those generative experiences.
“Search ads make up 80% of Google’s revenue,” said Tallent. “Google hasn’t figured out how it plans to monetize this effectively without impacting brands.”
Beyond organic brand search
BrightEdge’s testing revealed that in some cases, such as when searching for “Nike,” SGE prominently displayed results related to the lawsuit between Nike and StockX. (Nike filed a lawsuit against the reseller platform, accusing it of selling counterfeit shoes and maintaining an unreliable authentication process.)
“For that to show up when you search for Nike is a big change,” said Jim Yu, CEO and cofounder of BrightEdge. “It pulls a lot more of [brands’] resellers right to the top of the AI experience.”
Managing brand searches from an organic perspective, which was once straightforward, now requires brands to carefully consider their appearance in both branded and non-branded searches.
“Most marketers have taken this for granted for a long time,” Yu added.
Impacting site traffic
As brands await wide adoption, about 75% of Brainlabs’ clients have asked about SGE in the past six months. The agency conducted tests on SGE across verticals, including B2B and ecommerce clients, last December.
In one case, for a B2B SaaS (software as a service) brand with a market capitalization exceeding $10 billion, Brainlabs exposed 70% of the brand’s keywords with “informational” user intent to SGE.
“We expect the site will lose 20% to 36% of its traffic from the rollout of SGE,” said Tallent.
Tallent noticed that in most cases, websites not within the top 10 search results get pulled into SGE.
“It seems like SGE is not stitched up to all of its SEO algorithms that it’s been using for years,” he said.
Impactful content and diversifying search spend
At Brainlabs, brands are building subject matter expertise on websites while increasing their multimedia content with premium videos and images.
“SGE pulls the most impactful content from the site and combines it with other sources it thinks is going to be most impactful,” said Tallent.
Simultaneously, brands are diversifying their media spend beyond Google Search, across TikTok, YouTube and Reddit.
“Google paid search spending has grown every year at Brainlabs, including over the past year, while other media channels are growing faster with double-digit growth,” he said. “This aligns with overall industry trends—Google ad revenue is increasing, while its overall share of ad revenue against other platforms is declining.” Tallent wouldn’t share Brainlabs specifics.
The agency’s SEO team now works closer with the agency’s influencer team to understand TikTok search trends and ultimately reach a wider audience.
“Channels used to be separated and teams didn’t even communicate,” said Tallent. “Now we’re all getting on one call to make broader marketing business decisions to reach the audience, no matter what platform they’re on.”