HomeBlogGoogle’s AI Overviews Just Changed the Web Forever

Google’s AI Overviews Just Changed the Web Forever

Author: Susie Marino
Last Updated: June 17, 2024 | Marketing News & Insights

If you feel like you can’t win when it comes to your search engine marketing, you’re not alone.

After months of major algorithm updates that have left many site owners scrambling to understand the new reality and recover lost search traffic, Google this month dropped another huge bomb on the internet.

By now you’ve probably noticed a new section at the top of the Google search engine results page (SERP) showing for many queries, flagged as an ✨ AI Overview. This new section, which takes up the majority of prime SERP real estate above the fold, is completely rocking the boat when it comes to SEO and PPC rankings. In fact, you could argue it’s rocking the entire digital ocean.

Today, we’ll look at what’s going on with Google AI Overviews, plus what it all means for businesses who rely on search marketing and advertising to drive traffic, leads, and sales, with perspectives and advice from industry experts.

Contents

What are Google AI Overviews?

Google AI Overviews (AIO) are AI-generated answers to search queries that compile and combine results from across the web. After running an earlier version of AI Overviews (known as Search Generative Experience, or SGE) as an optional experiment for a year, Google announced it was launching the new feature more widely on May 14.

According to Google, these AI-powered search results are “designed to improve the search experience by acting as agents that can answer questions and organize results into a personalized feed.” Similar to the results you might get from ChatGPT, “Google AI Overviews use multi-step reasoning to break down searches into parts, answer each part, and then put the answers back together.”

google ai overviews - screenshot example of an ai overview

An example of what a Google AI Overview result looks like on the SERP. 

Google compiles these results by sourcing information from across the web, as well as its own Knowledge Graph data.

Google hasn’t disclosed what percentage of queries AI Overviews show for. And because most rank and feature tracking tools currently work in incognito mode (which doesn’t seem to trigger AI overviews), it’s difficult to say just how widespread AI Overviews are right now. But our team has seen them for many search queries over the last two weeks. The lack of clarity around the prevalence of the feature is part of the chaos that this update is causing.

🚨 Is your Google strategy already being impacted by Google AI Overviews? Find out (and see how you can reoptimize) with a free, instant report from our Google Ads Grader!

The impacts of Google’s AI Overviews

Just about everyone has been talking about Google AI Overviews, and for good reason. This affects all of us in the PPC or SEO game, and really anyone with a website. Gartner has predicted organic traffic will fall 25% (more on this later), with some industries already seeing much greater impacts.

A change this massive completely throws off many of the best practices search marketers and advertisers have come to rely on for years. According to Elisa Gabbert, Director of Content and SEO at WordStream by LocaliQ, this is going to make content marketing much, much harder for all businesses, but smaller businesses in particular.

“The SERP has been getting more competitive and challenging for years, forcing businesses to increase their ad budgets to get people to their sites,” Elisa said. “But AI Overviews are going to reduce clicks to organic links even more dramatically than ad-heavy SERPs did. I’ve seen SERPs where the full screen above the fold was dominated by ads, followed by a full screen of an AI Overview, before you even get to the rest of the results.”

As some early studies have noted, the sites that Google sources for AI Overviews aren’t necessarily the same sites that earned strong organic rankings over the years. In some cases, those sources weren’t even ranking in the top 100 results, but they’re now at the top of the page.

The problem with AI Overviews

We know that Google has made the world harder for businesses, but that’s not the only issue here. There have been serious problems with the quality of the AI results from a user standpoint, as well.

google ai overviews - screenshot of coverage of ai overviews

A preview of the dozens of articles published on the issues surrounding AI Overviews.

Google itself acknowledges that the generative AI used in AI Overviews is “experimental and info quality may vary.” However, most businesses have found that to be putting it lightly.

Check out these examples of how Google AI Overviews have gone gravely wrong.

google ai overviews - example of an inaccurate aio result

google ai overviews - example of ai overview mistake

The “AI” (really machine learning) in AI Overviews obviously can’t read through the context of a search query like a real person would. However, these generated search responses are full of problems and potentially dangerous inaccuracies. For example, Google’s AI doesn’t seem to understand jokes or sarcasm from the sources it pulls, and it’s also been found to cite outdated (or even dead) URLs.

Life after AI Overviews: 3 predictions for the future of search

Wondering what happens next now that Google AI Overviews are here to stay? Check out these three predictions for where this might lead.

1. Google’s reputation and industry dominance are at risk

As demonstrated by the examples above (and many more going viral on social media under the #googenough hashtag) Google AI Overviews and Search have a severe quality and reliability issue right now.

“Trust in Google Search is eroding—even if Alphabet is making billions of dollars every quarter. As that trust erodes, people may start searching elsewhere, which will slowly trickle down and hurt performance for advertisers and further reduce organic traffic to websites,” said Danny Goodwin, Managing Editor at Search Engine Land, in this recent article.

There’s also been speculation that Google is “panicking” because of the threat from other AI companies developing products that could challenge or replace Google search as the industry standard.

2. Organic traffic from Google will decline–maybe drastically

There are a few reasons why your organic search traffic will see an impact from AI Overviews.

To start, top-ranking organic results will now be further down the page. Unless your site ends up in the Overview itself, your potential customers will have to scroll further down below the fold to click directly on your organic listing.

Secondly, inaccurate results may also cause a decline in traffic. AI Overviews have proven to be unreliable, so they may not include your site in a response even when they technically should. You could end up missing out on traffic by not being pulled into a relevant Overview.

Further, providing more thorough information directly on the SERP makes clicking off to a specific page less likely. The typical user previously would have clicked into a few pages from the SERP to further research their query. Now, people might feel like they found everything they needed from an Overview without having to click into any of the sources (even though that’s not necessarily recommended).

In fact, it’s been estimated that, for the average business, organic search engine traffic volume will drop as much as 25% by 2026 because of AI chatbots and other virtual agents providing searchers with information instead. What’s arguably even more concerning is, currently, 79% of consumers expect to use AI-enhanced search within the next year and 70% had at least some trust in generative AI search results.

3. SEO best practices will change (quickly!)

Many of the tried and true SEO tips and tricks from over the years will need to evolve to align with the new AI Overview search experience.

Further complicating matters, leaked Google documents have recently come out that appear to contain previously undisclosed information on Google’s ranking factors. These  Google documents are considered to be “one of the biggest stories in the history of SEO and Google Search,” according to Danny Goodwin.

For example, it was found that Google keeps (or at least has the capability to keep) a copy of every indexed page, so it can “remember” past versions of a page and could possibly take change history into account when ranking sites on the SERP.

google ai overviews - leaked document linkedin post screenshot

Source

We don’t know for sure what the leaked documents mean or which of the 14,000+ factors found in them really matter most for your rankings, but one thing is certain. Getting your site to rank and stay ranked so you can drive consistent traffic is more complex than ever.

3 ways to survive the recent Google changes

So, how can you take action to ensure your business’s SEO and PPC are still viable in a post-AI Overviews world? Consider these pieces of advice.

1. Don’t give up on SEO altogether…

It’s not time to throw in the SEO towel just yet. SEO will continue to be a major marketing channel for businesses of all different verticals, but be ready to pivot your SEO strategy according to the new SERP structure.

“In a nutshell, AI overviews represent nothing more than a shift in attention from ranking pages to the SERPs themselves. The focus now turns to the answers served in the AI snippets,” said Goran Mirkovic, CMO at Freemius.

“Yes, it might be harder to attribute results, and a new category of AI optimization may emerge, but we’re still dealing with the same searchers looking for information on the internet. The core rules of the game remain the same—who better serves the demand for information; wins! As long as we can meet this demand, whether through our website, Google’s search results, or potentially another platform in the future—will continue to generate revenue,” Goran said.

2. …but start exploring other marketing channels

The fact of the matter is your organic website traffic may start to look a little different than what it was pre-AI Overviews. To make up for any traffic losses, start to consider what other marketing channels you could lean into to continue to grow your business online. For example, video marketing could be another avenue for quality content that converts.

“As SEOs and content marketers, and businesses as a whole, we typically neglect video,” said Zac Harris, an SEO consultant who has worked with brands like SpyFu and Copy.ai.

“Yes, continue to create written content, but think about how to get the maximum amount of value out of that. Can we create video content to go with that?  Can we create Shorts and slice up videos for LinkedIn and social?” Zac said.

This is also a good time to rethink your search advertising strategy and budget. As organic traffic dips and content marketing and SEO potentially become less cost-effective, you can increase your paid search budget to keep your lead flow strong. And definitely allot some of that budget to search engines other than Google–we’ve found that both cost per click and cost per acquisition are significantly lower in Microsoft Ads.

google ads benchmarks - microsoft versus google ads cost per click comparison chart

Data from US-based LocaliQ campaigns shows the difference in costs per click between Google and Microsoft. 

3. Focus on building your brand

It’s no secret that the bigger your brand, the bigger your presence will be online. While it’s easier said than done to grow your brand as a small business, it can be well worth the work in the long-term. Try establishing your brand messaging in a cross-channel marketing approach to make your business more visible and recognizable to potential customers across the web.

“If there was one universal piece of advice I had for marketers seeking to broadly improve their organic search rankings and traffic, it would be: ‘Build a notable, popular, well-recognized brand in your space, outside of Google search,’” said Rand Fishkin, Cofounder of Sparktoro and Snackbar Studio, in this article.

Google AI Overviews: what’s next

Google has acknowledged some of the problems with AI Overviews and claims they have made “more than a dozen technical improvements” to their systems already, so let’s hope for the best. We know that Google AI Overviews will continue to adapt to Google’s ever-changing needs, so it’s key to be a step ahead of the game by staying fully informed on all the implications an update like this involves.

While we can’t escape AI Overviews anytime soon, we can be thinking of ways to work around it to still see results—whether that be through different strategies or different channels. If you have more questions or want help with your SEO during these tumultuous times on the SERP, see how our solutions can help you maximize your business’s search marketing for sustainable growth.

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Meet The Author

Susie Marino

Susie is the Senior Content Marketing Specialist at WordStream, where she uses her experience as a PPC consultant to share tips, tactics, and best practices in the ever-evolving marketing and advertising space. Outside of work, Susie loves to get outside for some snowboarding or (once the cold weather melts away) hiking!

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