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Future of SEO

How Brands Can Prepare for SGE

 min read
March 21, 2024
The Botify Team

Generative AI and LLMs are making their way into search, and Google has answered the AI call with AI Overviews (formerly known as Search Generative Experience (SGE).) It's a more conversational, personalized experience than traditional search. It speaks to the changing behaviors of consumers who are becoming accustomed to in-depth dialogues with search engines. It also means SEOs must find strategies that can weather future change without interfering with online success today.

While the impact on website traffic and performance remains to be seen, Gartner predicts that by 2026 AI and virtual agents will reduce search engine volume by 25%. Change is coming, and brands need to prepare.

AI Overviews and AI-powered search today

In the current AI-powered search landscape, Microsoft has leaned into the conversational chatbot model with Copilot. With AI Overviews, Google has taken a different approach:

AI Overviews seem to be an evolution of the rich snippets model, appearing in the space normally reserved for featured snippets and Knowledge Graph results. There's a conversational aspect to the experience with the option to "Show more" and ask a follow-up question, but below the fold we still see blue links and a familiar SERP layout that preserves Google's well-known SERP template.

This approach makes sense. Consumers are used to Google's search interface, and big user experience (UX) changes could disrupt that experience. There's also the fact that Google is a business, and Ads revenue drives a significant portion of that business. While SGE was in experimentation mode in Google Labs, they could test and improve on functionalities like Ads placement without impacting revenue. Considering Google's business model and UX-first mindset, it's reasonable to think that as we see AI Overviews rolled out across all US search results, they will be an iteration of today's search engine results pages.

How could AI Overviews affect SEO strategy?

On May 14th 2024 at Google I/O, Google announced that they were rolling out SGE under the name AI Overviews across all US search results, with worldwide access to come. Given this development, it's clear that brands should be thinking about how to optimize their websites for AI-powered search. Though much is still uncertain, we can take direction from what we currently know about AI Overviews, consumer behaviors, and Google's long-held advice for SEOs:

  1. High-quality, best-in-class content will continue to be vital to increase visibility on the SERPs
  2. People's search habits are becoming more conversational
  3. Optimizing for the user is paramount

Search engines are moving toward a future where crawlers seek not only to crawl and index the content on your site, but to understand it well enough to craft personalized answers in the blink of an eye. Meanwhile, consumers are beginning to shed keyword-first behaviors in favor of intent-based, human interactions with AI chatbots.

That brings us to the question on everyone's mind: what should brands focus on to optimize and prepare?

Fundamentals, findability, and E-E-A-T

AI-powered search results prioritize speed and depth of response, accuracy, and relevancy. That means that for Google to reference your site in an AI-generated response, crawlers require a focused, clear path from their point of entry through to your most important and freshest pages. Those pages should serve best-in-class content and display your experience, expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness (E-E-A-T).

Facilitating site discovery and a deep understanding of your content will be critical. Rather than changing strategy to anticipate the unknown, brands should double down on the tactics that help crawlers find, parse, and serve their best content to consumers: technical SEO fundamentals, content strategy, and E-E-A-T. Optimizing your site for discoverability and best-in-class content is an opportunity to reinforce the training of AI models on every crawl.

9 ways to prepare for AI Overviews with strong site storytelling

Consider the best stories you know. They hook you from the start, spark your curiosity, and avoid off-topic details to immerse you in their world. It's a good analogy for optimizing your site for AI Overviews: you need a defined technical framework, strong foundations, a robust and relevant content strategy, and a streamlined site structure that cuts away distracting cruft.

Let's cover nine action items you can optimize today to future-proof tomorrow.

Technical SEO fundamentals

Discoverability is crucial -- the importance of your website being found and crawled remains unchanged. For consumers, discovery encompasses contextual relevance, helpful UX, clear next steps and calls-to-action (CTAs), and subject material displaying E-E-A-T. For search engine bots, it's also the technical pathways and signals that tell your site's story.

1. Remove distraction by de-crufting

Content that's outdated, underperforms, and/or has low topical relevance creates obstacles for both consumers and crawlers. Like an irrelevant tangent during an otherwise engaging story, your site cruft pulls both consumer attention and crawler bandwidth from the most important story you want to tell. Trim your "dead wood" pages to allow crawlers to move through your site with agility and speed.

2. Use log file analysis to understand how crawlers are exploring your site

Your site's log files can tell you where crawlers go on your website. Examine them to understand what content crawlers are finding and being trained on. AI models are always training and iterating, fed by the crawl process. Clues from your log files can ensure you're feeding new and important pages into the model, instead of wasting crawl budget and model training on "dead wood" pages.

Exciting news! Botify customers can now access GPTbot data within LogAnalyzer in Botify Analytics. This allows you to understand how GPTbot, one of the most active web crawlers on the Internet, is accessing your website pages.

3. Optimize horizontal and vertical link structure

Internal links continue to guide both humans and bots to the next page of your website's story. Does your horizontal linking structure provide a clear, undistracted path to discovery? Or are you complicating your story with unnecessary details? Analyze which pages are getting crawler attention. How can you better guide their journey through your site?

Additionally, try to aim for a shallow click depth. Content buried deep in your site architecture risks not being found by Google. Bring your most valuable content higher to make it easy for crawlers to find and parse information into AI-generated answers for consumers. Locate end-of-funnel or "long-tail" content at deeper click-depth.

4. Implement schema

Think of your site schema as crib notes to help search engines understand all the aspects of your website's story. Structured data allows crawlers to parse your pages quickly and easily. The faster they can understand your website, the faster they can supply a response to consumers -- and response speed is a priority for answer engines.

5. Serve your site to crawlers quickly

The faster your pages render, the sooner bots can understand them and craft a satisfying reply for consumers. A search engine experience manager like Botify's SpeedWorkers can serve fully rendered pages to crawlers, ensuring they see the story you want to tell across your most important pages.

Content optimization

Google kicked off its March 2024 core update with the goal of massively improving search results, including an anticipated 40% reduction in spam. Content quality continues to be critical for ranking well, and there's no reason to expect that to change with AI Overviews. As you focus on telling your story from a technical perspective, make sure your content does the same, showcasing your brand's E-E-A-T.

6. Shift from keywords to intent research and optimization

Reconsider how you think about "keyword" and "topic" research. Consumer intent is what will drive responses both now and in the future. AI-powered search engines aim to satisfy consumer intent regardless of how they ask, serving results that speak to their purpose rather than the words they use to search.

Your goal shouldn't be to rank for a specific set of keywords. It should be more nuanced and strategic: what questions are we answering for our consumers? What needs are we meeting? As you begin to answer those questions on your website, consider investing in authoritative guides. AI Overviews may favor content that directly answers questions and provides clear explanations over thin content and product pages. Knowing your audience inside and out is what allows you to craft an engaging story that also serves the needs of search engines providing personalized, in-depth AI responses.

7. Audit your core content pages

Perform an AI Overviews-focused audit on your most important content pages. Do they display E-E-A-T? Are they well-linked internally and accessible at a low click depth? Think about the way crawlers and users can find and move through this content, then strategize from there.

Pro tip: Is your content telling the right story? Try asking an AI tool to summarize the content of one of your URLs. Is that what you want crawlers to get from your content? HTML alone isn't always enough for crawlers to understand what a page is about; this exercise can reveal any gaps you need to fill.

8. Think like a consumer in an AI world

Content development should revolve around audience intent and your brand's topical expertise. Once you've identified intent, what else might your consumers need to know? How might their curiosity expand and grow, and does your content go deep enough to provide a satisfying answer? An AI-future-proof content strategy hinges on anticipating audience behavior, curiosities, and end goals.

Pro tip: Take your highest-value keywords and open up an incognito Chrome browser. Knowing your consumer's intent, phrase them as a conversational question and explore the results. What kind of response did Google provide? Was it an AI overview, a traditional result, or something in-between? What websites does it reference, and what follow-up questions are suggested? Use what you find to build a content ideation list that can deepen your site's story on a topic.

9. Make your content easy to find and understand

Confusing or unclear language can derail both human consumers and intelligent bots. Tell an easy-to-follow story that enables swift, satisfying answers by improving readability and clarity. Ensure that your site structure and information architecture is accurate, sensical, and serves the overall brand story you want to tell.

Optimize for discoverability today to future-proof tomorrow

There's a silver lining to a discoverability- and content-first strategy: there's no risk betting on a maybe. Anything you optimize today to prepare for AI Overviews is rooted in improving your site's health overall. It will only benefit you in the current search landscape.

Optimizing for AI Overviews doesn't require reinventing the wheel. Regardless of what's coming down the line, crawlers still need to find your content before they can decide to share it with consumers. If you prioritize SEO fundamentals, smart technical optimizations, and content informed by intent research, you'll be in a strong position as AI Overviews show for more and more results now that they're rolled out broadly.

If you'd like to stay updated on the latest in search strategy and technical SEO, follow us on LinkedIn or sign up for our industry newsletter.

*Editor's note: At Google I/O 2024, Google announced the wide release of SGE across all US results under the name "AI Overviews." As of 5/29/24, this article has been updated to include mention of AI Overviews for clarity.

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