If you don’t know, Google is building a new search engine. And it’s powered by AI.
Google will alter the fabric of search, and to help you, I’ll explain what you need to do and who needs to panic.
Google doesn’t like you… I’m being serious
Let’s talk reality. Google doesn’t like or care about your business. It cares about being the dominant search engine and will do anything to keep it that way.
So, when ChatGPT emerged, Bing gained cyborg powers by merging with it. Google panicked. And from that point on, things got weird.
A cringe-worthy launch of its new ‘in development’ AI tool called Bard, followed up by the announcement of SGE. Google’s ‘in-development’ search generative experience.
It all felt like we were living in week 1 of The Apprentice, and Alan Sugar had set the task of ‘launch an AI-based search engine’.
Every search consultant, paid and organic, had a mild panic attack. They are still having mild panic attacks. But Google wasn’t done yet.
No, it then threw a huge wealth of algorithm updates out, one of which was while most of the UK search experts were at the nation’s largest SEO conference. Google is busy. Google is changing organic search.
Whose lines are they anyway?
At the core of SGE is the idea that Google will give people information faster. If you want to know where the best walks in the Lake District are, it’ll quickly give you a mini AI-generated text overview. You can immediately see how publishers won’t like this.
The idea of content was always a game. Brands and publishers wrote content for free. They then earned money, either through sales or ad revenue. Google was the middle person. They served up your content and placed their ads there, too.
Right now, it is an unknown risk. It’s an experiment, and we don’t know how the final version works.
It was a match made in search heaven. So everyone is rightly annoyed. This could wipe out billions of revenue in a second from companies online. One day, your content generates traffic; the next, it doesn’t. But there is another issue.
Google is creating this content by amalgamating the existing content of others. And this is where creators have already voiced opinions.
Is this right? Is this ethical? The answer is, we don’t know. We’re all sailing into uncharted territory. But what could the impact be?
Known threat vs unknown
First, a cautionary tale. Years ago, I had a very different career than I do now. I was a police officer for 20 years, and during that time, we had a risk analysis system that was surprisingly simple – known or unknown threats.
We either knew an individual was dangerous due to their past, or they became an unknown threat. We never had low-risk threats.
Because any situation carries some degree of risk, and SGE is no different. Right now, it is an unknown risk. It’s an experiment, and we don’t know how the final version works.
But because it is unknown, we do need to plan for likely outcomes, and here are a few.
Large loss of traffic
A possible worst-case scenario looks like a more severe version of past updates. Panda, Penguin and the recent Helpful Content Update caused widespread traffic losses. One day, sites are there. The next, they aren’t visible. This will hurt publishers, affiliates and anyone reliant on ad impressions.
However, with other updates, other sites were rewarded. This isn’t going to happen this time. Google will keep people on its search engines, increasing what is known as zero-click searches. Traffic will vanish, lots of traffic.
The 25% version
In the next possibility, website owners wake up the day after it’s launched and take a few hits to their traffic. Maybe a 25% loss at worst. They roll with the punches and carry on as usual, building new traffic to compensate. This scenario is possible based on a few reasons.
Firstly, Google makes billions from display ads. As such, killing the traffic to those sites would ultimately be self-harm. It would be destroying share value to fight off Bing’s snazzy new search engine, even though it has 83% of the search market.
But wait, there could be another option.
Faster sales, faster results, brands will win
Google has recently released its new Decoding Decisions report. The sequel to its 2020 report unleashed the Messy Middle of Search. And two things stood out for me in particular.
The first was how decision fatigue can increase the time it takes for a prospect to purchase. And secondly, how brands that reduce the time gap to purchase will win. SGE does help with this.
Focus on building your brand. It’s the only defence you really have.
It provides information faster to people. This should reduce the time a prospect goes from research to purchase. And here’s the next best part: at this time, it’s brands that it’s referencing.
All AI models list brands in their results because brands are trusted. And because brands are often featured in the best sites in the world, large language models (LLMs) are trained from these sites. So, larger brands in any category could sweep up the revenue.
But this would start to apply the Ehrenberg-Bass model of ‘double jeopardy’ in search. While that has always been the case due to bigger businesses investing more.
Challenger brands that invested in organic search were able to rank despite having weaker brands. That might yield lower revenue in the future for smaller brands.
Looking at early SGE examples, you’ll see that Google offers a new panel with links to key products and pages based on its AI results.
It’s clearly going to have a few ads in there as well once it launches.
And you can easily see how valuable this real estate will be for businesses (and Google). Being in the AI results either as a paid search listing or organic brand could be huge. You’ll want to be the brand that Google references.
So, what should you do?
Organic is a channel for profit growth.
Google is quite open about its issues. It is trying to improve search and urge people to create content that others would trust. Its ‘X’ account, run by Google’s Danny Sullivan as their ‘Google Search liaison’ is packed with advice, which, while some would say doesn’t give away any secrets, I think that’s the point.
Don’t try to do things for Google; approach SEO for your customers.
And if businesses want the rewards that organic search offers, they need to invest in doing the job properly. Creating well-written content and building your brand online through advertising and publicity.
You might think, ‘Yeah, but I’ll just buy paid search placements’.
That’s true. But if anything is going to happen moving forward. Paid search costs could rapidly increase. Google is constantly playing a game of earning revenue from search while also making search useful. And if it’s harder for brands to earn revenue online organically, you can bet that the same will apply to paid search.
For now, my advice is quite simple – focus on building your brand. It’s the only defence you really have.It’s just that for many marketers addicted to paid search they forgot that brand marketing exists.
Perhaps these changes will be the reminder of brand marketing that people need. However, that’s a discussion for another day.
Andrew Holland is an SEO specialist, marketer and was a police officer for 17 years. After first learning SEO while working in police intelligence, he swapped catching criminals for capturing the attention of search engine users. In the last eight years, he’s gone from freelancer to head of organic marketing for a seven-figure agency, helping businesses to leverage search engines to support their business goals.