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9th July 2024 - Chris Regan

Introducing AI Overview

Previously known as Search Generative Experience and available only as an experimental beta through Google Search Labs for the last year, Google announced at its annual Google I/O Developer Conference that it will roll out the newly renamed AI Overview to the US market on May 14th.

Introducing Google's AI Overview

What is AI Overview?

AI Overview summarises your search query at the top of the search results page. It is designed to give you a quick, easy-to-digest, and straightforward answer to your query.

To display the summary, Google uses generative AI to craft the overview, piecing together information from multiple sources throughout its index. AI Overview can also pull through mixed media types such as text, images, links, maps, etc. It will eventually allow you to adjust your results by simplifying or breaking down the overview.

What Searches Is It Used For?

Currently, AI Overview is displayed for less than 1% of searches in the US market. You are more likely to generate an AI Overview with a complex search query requiring multiple searches.

So far, we’ve seen AI Overviews for both informational and commercial search terms, but they have been ignored for transactional and navigational intent searches.

Whilst informational intent search terms return generated content from multiple sources in digestible snippets, commercial intent searches return generated list-based content with recommendations.

Good Use Cases

Undoubtedly, AI Overview could be incredibly useful by saving you time or delivering unique information that isn’t easily accessible. For example,

You want to know if you’ll fit a new mattress in the boot of your car.

Previously, you’d have to find the boot dimensions for your car, maybe figure out which model you have, then search for the dimensions of the mattress, and then get your tape measure out to find your answer.

You’re cooking dinner for six people with specific dietary requirements and limited time.

Previously, you’d search for inspiration for what to make, find recipes that can be made quickly, find substitutions for each dietary requirement, convert measurement metrics to your preferred method, and convert measurements for six people.

Bad Use Cases

Although helpful, it has potential concerns, such as misinformation, privacy, overcomplication, and reliance on AI.

Google has already said AI Overview will not be present for YMYL (Your Money, Your Life) search terms, but there have been examples where we’ve seen this creep through with mixed results.

We’ve also seen AI Overview generate responses from websites that Google has previously penalised and doesn’t rank for the same query. This is causing a ranking conflict as it recommends sites it doesn’t recommend through its traditional search product.

Do Users Like It?

Although it’s in the early days, from what we’ve seen, it hasn’t been very well received. We’ve seen many examples of it generating potentially dangerous misinformation. You’d think that over time, this will improve, but it may be damaging its reputation before it gets to that.

We’ve also seen a rise in searches for “how to turn AI overview off” and variations, which shows users don’t like it and want to turn it off. People have even gone as far as building a Chrome extension to hide the AI Overview feature.

While I can see the benefits, I’d prefer this to be cut and not heavily integrated into search. The user experience of search has become quite annoying and slow. It would be better to go to from search and not vice versa.

How Does This Affect Traditional Search?

When active, this will have a significant impact on organic search. Before this rolled out, organic search listings were often shown below ads, which, in some cases, could push the first organic listing quite far down the page.

If your search query generates an AI Overview, it will take centre stage on your search engine result page and be displayed at the very top of the page. It will take up most of the space above the fold and have call-to-actions to expand the response. Traditional ads are shown below the AI Overview, and the first organic listing is below the ads.

They’ve also added a web filter allowing you to limit your responses to web pages, but this is nested deep within the page.

Why Have Google Rolled This Out?

To understand why Google is making significant changes to its search product, you must first understand its position in the market.

For years, Google has had a stronghold on the search market, but in recent years, especially among the younger generation, this has reduced as many now prefer social platforms such as TikTok, Instagram, YouTube, or Pinterest at the start of their search journey.

AI poses a similar threat to Google’s search product, with platforms such as ChatGPT and Perplexity capable of answering specific, complex, or highly personalised questions much easier and faster than Google’s traditional search product.

With the rise in AI, we’re seeing new platforms pop up constantly. It feels like all the major tech companies are in a huge arms race to have the best AI, integrate it the best, or be first to market. It feels like no one really cares about the user experience or the benefit to users; it’s just about showing they’re implementing new AI features.

At Google’s latest I/O conference, you’d struggle to find a new feature, enhancement or product that doesn’t incorporate AI in some way, shape or form. This shows how much emphasis Google is putting on their AI capabilities.

What Does This Mean for SEO?

According to Google, having an AI Overview recommend your website for further reading increases the click-through rate compared to standard organic rankings. However, they didn’t back this up with any data; I just can’t see this as accurate.

Transactional and most commercial search terms remain safe for now, as AI Overview will only show for more complex commercial terms. However, this release has created uncertainty for informational intent search terms. If AI Overview reduces the visibility and clicks through to websites, what does this mean for content creators?

Organic traffic isn’t the only benefit of having good informational content on your website, but often, it can be the only measurable factor to prove an ROI with content. It’ll be interesting to see the long-term impact on the industry.

Given the potential impact of AI Overview on informational search queries, diversifying your content strategy is crucial. Explore where your audience spends online; social media, video platforms, podcasts, and niche forums. Consider repurposing your content for these channels. This multi-channel approach ensures your insights reach your audience, mitigating the risk of reduced organic traffic and maintaining engagement across various platforms.

Can I optimise my website for AI Overview?

So far, from what we’ve seen, it's too early to know if you have to do anything different. The official documentation provided by Google says that you don’t have to do anything different and should just follow their search and content guidelines and policies.

Google has provided via their documentation a way of stopping your content from being used to generate an AI Overview and, as a result, excluding it from the possible linking position AI Overview can offer.

You can also measure the number of clicks AI Overview has generated for your website via a new section in the Search Console.

Google’s Civil War

Google is experiencing an internal conflict because of the rush to release the AI overview. While the Search team aims to rebuild confidence by prioritising user experience, the AI Overview update contradicts this effort. It often delivers mixed, sometimes unhelpful results, leading to a poor user experience that users have not received well.

Final Thoughts

I believe the backlash may force Google’s hand. AI Overview may become something you access from the search for complex or personalised queries, but otherwise, it might be reduced to a featured snippet. It will be interesting to see if there are any further changes by the time it’s rolled out in the UK later this year.

Search is evolving, and AI advancements now answer complex or personalised questions. But should these AI-driven answers be embedded in search or work better as a standalone experience? While AI can enhance search, premature integration may harm user experience. Moving forward, search platforms must carefully consider the best way to implement these technologies to benefit users truly.

References

Google's Official Annoucement

Google's AI Overview Documentation

Chris Regan

About the Author

Chris Regan

Chris is the Managing Director and Founder of Arriba. With a degree in web development and over 10-years of experience in the SEO industry, Chris is an expert in all aspects of user-experience and technical SEO.

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