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Google’s AI Overviews: The Future of Search

Julia McCoy
Thursday, 30th May 2024
Google's AI Overviews

Did you notice something new at the top of your Google search results today? That’s Google’s AI Overviews.

While this feature is currently experiencing a wider rollout, some users in the United States (or those participating in Search Labs experiments) might have encountered an earlier version called SGE or Search Generative Experience.

Imagine asking a complex question and getting an instant summary that hits all the key points. No more endless scrolling through links hoping to find what you need. That’s what AI Overviews brings to search.

For SEOs, how does this affect website traffic? What about traditional web listings?

Let’s find out.

Table Of Contents:

Google’s AI Overviews: What You Need to Know

Google’s AI Overviews are the talk of the town in the world of search engines. But what exactly is it, when did it come out, and how does it work?

AI Overviews: A Brief History

In May 2023, Google started experimenting with AI Overviews in Search Labs, originally calling it SGE or Search Generative Experience. This early version tested how AI could generate summaries of search results instead of the usual “10 blue links.”

A year later, at Google I/O 2024, Google officially announced the launch of AI Overviews. This feature, now part of search results, is initially available for U.S. users and aims to go global by the end of the year.

Here’s a funny bit: in early May 2024, Google briefly renamed the feature “AI Answers.” But after just a week, they settled on “AI Overviews” — 5 days before the big announcement.

How AI Overviews Works

Google’s AI Overviews use advanced generative AI models to analyze and summarize information from various sources, providing users with a concise overview that directly answers their queries.

These overviews appear at the top of the search results page, offering key facts and links to the main sources used to create the summary.

The Brains Behind Overviews: Generative AI and LLMs

To see how AI Overviews work, we first need to understand generative AI.

Gen AI works by using algorithms and machine learning to create new content based on patterns it learns from a ton of data.

Now, the real brains behind Overviews are LLMs or Large Language Models. These bots take your input, analyze it, and then use their understanding of language to generate new content that perfectly fits the bill.

For AI Overviews, Google uses a variety of LLMs including MUM, PaLM2, and a tweaked version of Gemini — all geared to make the user experience smoother and smarter.

Let’s dig a bit deeper into these power players:

MUM (Multitask Unified Model):  MUM is the multilingual master of Google Search. It is fluent in multiple languages and adept at handling text, images, and videos.

PaLM2 (Path-Augmented Language Model 2):  PaLM2 is all about structure, boosting accuracy, and context to ensure you get the most relevant results, every time.

BERT (Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers): BERT is a language model Google uses to understand search queries better. It reads text in both directions to grasp the full context, helping Google provide more accurate and relevant results.

Customized version of Gemini:  Unlike MUM and PaLM2, Gemini is Google’s search-savvy specialist. While MUM and PaLM2 excel in broader language understanding tasks, Gemini focuses on fine-tuning search queries and improving search engine performance. With its specialized techniques and algorithms, Gemini ensures you find what you’re looking for on the web quickly and accurately, making it an essential component of Google’s search ecosystem.

I’ve been testing out Google’s AI Overviews, and I must say, it’s not perfect yet, but it is the future of search and indeed the future of SEO!

Benefits of AI Overviews

The benefits of Google’s AI Overviews are clear: they save time, provide direct answers, and offer links to credible sources for further reading.

In the future, Google plans to expand this feature to include multi-step reasoning, planning assistance for tasks like recipes and trips, and even visual search using videos and images.

Potential Drawbacks

While Google’s AI Overviews are undeniably helpful, there are some potential drawbacks to consider:

Potential click and CTR decrease: The prominence of AI overviews on search results pages could impact website traffic and click-through rates for traditional web listings.

Google at some point decided to include citations into AI-generate answers and clearly stated:

“We see that the links included in AI Overviews get more clicks than if the page had appeared as a traditional web listing for that query.”

It’s too early to tell whether these links get higher click-through rates (CTRs). I, for one, will wait for Google to show the metrics in its Search Console reporting as they have promised.

Lack of Accuracy: Additionally, the accuracy and reliability of the generated content may vary, so it’s always a good idea to verify information from original sources.

While SEOs were wondering if Google was really ready, AI Overview launched and quickly got a bunch of negative feedback and media coverage that made Google remove them manually. Just take a look at Google News:

ai overviews fail on google news

People have been sharing lots of AI Overview fails on social media:

If you want to see the worst of Google’s AI Overviews, follow Goog Enough or #googenough on X.

While some of these fails are pretty funny, many believe others could actually be dangerous and Google’s little disclaimer at the bottom (“Generative AI is experimental”) doesn’t really make it okay.

When asked about these bad AI answers, a Google spokesperson said:

“The examples we’ve seen are generally very uncommon queries and aren’t representative of most people’s experiences. The vast majority of AI overviews provide high-quality information, with links to dig deeper on the web. We conducted extensive testing before launching this new experience to ensure AI overviews meet our high bar for quality. Where there have been violations of our policies, we’ve taken action – and we’re also using these isolated examples as we continue to refine our systems overall.”

If you ask me, it all will be improved.

I remember back in 2017 when Google had launched featured snippets and faced lots of issues with it as people were reporting wrong answers. Those days are long gone, and I believe that in the world of AI, overviews are going to get better, much faster.

The Impact of AI Overviews on SEO and Website Traffic

The rise of Google’s AI Overviews is not just changing the search experience for users; it’s also having a profound impact on SEO and website traffic.

That’s why the whole SEO community is talking about this, wondering how this could impact traditional search results.

I even saw people saying we are entering a new era: SEO 2.0!

Let’s take a closer look at the changes and challenges ahead.

Changes to the Traditional Search Engine Results Page

Google has clarified that AI Overviews will only appear when their systems detect a user’s intent to get quick answers from various sources, including web content and Google’s Knowledge Graph.

So despite the layout and user experience of search engine results pages (SERPs) undergoing a significant transformation, it does not apply to all search queries.

But if it applies, the AI-generated summary will take center stage at the top of the page, potentially drawing attention away from traditional web listings.

This shift in focus may impact how users interact with search results and discover content.

While traditional web listings will still appear below the AI overview, the generated summary may satisfy users’ queries without requiring them to click through to individual websites, leading to reduced organic search traffic.

As a frequent Google user, I’ve already noticed the changes in the SERPs and have had to adjust my browsing habits accordingly.

Optimizing for AI Overviews

To optimize for Google’s AI Overviews, website owners should focus on creating high-quality, informative content that directly answers users’ questions and provides value.

This may involve restructuring content to include clear headings, concise paragraphs, and relevant keywords.

Implementing structured data markup can also help search engines better understand and extract key information from web pages.

But you might ask yourself, how does it differ from our regular SEO efforts where we were optimizing our content to rank better in SERPs?

Adapting SEO Strategies

The truth is with the emergence of Generative AI search engines, what worked in SEO may not necessarily work in bringing visibility to Generative Search Engines.

But you don’t need to worry — it doesn’t require additional budget allocation or a whole new knowledge to learn (at least for now).

All you need is a little tweak to how you research, write, and present your content.

As Google’s AI Overviews become more prominent, SEO strategies will need to evolve to prioritize content that is most likely to be featured in these summaries.

This is what SEO 2.0 is all about: Welcome to the era of GEO or Generative Engine Optimization!

What is Generative Engine Optimization?

In simple terms, GEO is a combination of traditional SEO techniques with generative models for increasing visibility in AI-generated search engines.

This may involve targeting long-tail keywords, creating content that addresses specific user intents, and focusing on question-based queries.

SEO professionals will need to closely monitor the impact of AI overviews on their website’s performance and adjust their strategies accordingly.

In my experience, optimizing for AI overviews requires a shift in mindset from traditional SEO tactics. By prioritizing user intent and creating content that is easily digestible by both humans and machines, I’ve been able to improve my website’s visibility in AI overviews and drive more targeted traffic.

For more in-depth coverage of GEO, read our blog post on 9 key techniques for Generative Engine Optimization (GEO).

To maintain website traffic in the face of Google’s AI Overviews, website owners should focus on creating engaging, in-depth content that provides value beyond the initial summary. This may include offering unique insights, personal experiences, or multimedia content that encourages users to click through and explore the website further.

Building a strong brand presence and fostering user loyalty can also help drive direct traffic and reduce reliance on search engine referrals.

In my experience, maintaining website traffic in the age of AI overviews requires a multi-faceted approach. By creating compelling content, building a loyal audience, and diversifying my traffic sources, I’ve been able to weather the changes brought about by Google’s AI Overviews and continue to grow my website’s reach and engagement.

Advertising in Google’s AI Overviews

As Google’s AI Overviews continue to revolutionize the search experience, advertisers are left wondering how this new feature will impact their campaigns.

Let’s explore the world of paid advertising in the age of AI overviews.

Types of Ads in AI Overviews

Google is likely to introduce new advertising opportunities within its AI overviews such as sponsored snippets, product recommendations, or contextual ads.

These ad formats will be designed to blend seamlessly with AI-generated content, providing relevant information to users while offering advertisers new ways to reach their target audience.

How Ads are Targeted

Ads within Google’s AI Overviews will likely be targeted based on a combination of factors, including the user’s search query, browsing history, and demographic information.

Machine learning algorithms will analyze the content of the AI overview to display ads that are most relevant to the user’s interests and the topic being discussed, ensuring a more personalized and engaging ad experience.

From what I’m seeing, targeting ads based on user intent and context is far more effective than traditional keyword-based targeting. By leveraging the power of AI and machine learning, advertisers can create ads that truly speak to users’ needs and interests, leading to higher engagement and conversion rates.

Impact on Advertisers

The introduction of advertising within Google’s AI Overviews presents both opportunities and challenges for advertisers.

On one hand, it offers a new way to reach potential customers and influence their purchase decisions.

However, advertisers will need to adapt their strategies to create ads that effectively complement AI-generated content and provide value to users in this new context.

The Future of Search with AI Overviews

As Google’s AI Overviews continue to shape the future of search, it’s clear that we’re on the cusp of a new era in information discovery.

Let’s take a look at what the future may hold for search with AI overviews.

Google’s Long-Term Plans

Google’s long-term plans for its AI Overviews involve expanding the feature to provide more advanced capabilities, such as multi-step reasoning, step-by-step planning assistance for complex tasks, and visual search using videos and images.

The search engine giant aims to make AI Overviews the default search experience for users worldwide, reaching over a billion users by the end of 2024.

As someone who has been closely following the development of Google’s AI Overviews, I’m excited to see how these long-term plans will shape the future of search. The potential for AI to revolutionize the way we access and interact with information is truly limitless, and I believe Google is at the forefront of this transformation, despite the current situation and all the criticism pointing at them.

Potential Improvements

As Google continues to develop and refine its AI overviews, users can expect to see improvements in the accuracy, relevance, and usability of the generated summaries.

Google will likely invest in more advanced natural language processing and machine learning techniques to better understand user intent, context, and the relationships between different pieces of information.

Conclusion

The rise of Google’s AI Overviews marks a significant shift in how we interact with search engines.

This technology promises quick answers but changes the dynamics of web traffic and SEO strategies.

If you’re adapting to these shifts or still figuring it out, one thing’s clear: understanding AI’s role is crucial moving forward.

Written by Julia McCoy

See more from Julia McCoy
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