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In May of 2023, Google announced that it was “supercharging search” with a new search generative experience, or SGE. This move was part of a broader push by Google to position itself as a leader in generative AI. While artificial intelligence and machine learning have been a part of Google’s search algorithm since the early 2000s, OpenAI’s launch of ChatGPT led to surge of public interest in generative AI in 2022. This surge led Google and other tech brands to integrate generative AI into their own platforms.

A year later, SGE has not yet been officially launched, but it has been rolled out to a limited number of users through Google search labs. As a result, we now have a better sense of Google’s vision for a generative AI-powered search experience.

For marketers, SGE represents a massive shift. Google is a major driver of web traffic for businesses, and any change to their interface will have wide-ranging consequences for how businesses connect with potential customers through the search engine. With that in mind, let’s explore some of the key features of Google’s search generative experience, and discuss how digital marketing educators can prepare their students for Google’s changing user interface.

What is Search Generative Experience?

Like Meta’s new AI platform, SGE aims to transform users’ interactions with Google’s search engine into something resembling a chat. This would be a major change in how people tend to use the platform. For most users, a typical Google search is a discrete event: The user will type their query into Google’s search bar, and Google will return a results page with links that will lead the user away from Google, effectively ending the interaction. If the user doesn’t find what they’re looking for with that query, they can adjust their phrasing and be led to a different results page.

SGE aims to change that: Rather than having each search query part of its own unique results page, Google’s search generative experience will allow users to ask follow-up queries that retain the context from previous questions. This has a range of possible use cases. For instance, a student using SGE to understand a new concept can ask quick follow-up questions to clarify and enhance their understanding without being sent to a new page.

How Will SGE Impact SEO

One of the major changes being introduced by Google’s SGE is the new snapshots feature. Like featured snippets, snapshots use generative AI to create personalized responses to users’ queries. For instance, if a user were to make a query such as “Does honey ever spoil?”, Google’s SGE would generate a snapshot providing an answer to the query, as well as additional details and prompts for additional questions the user may have.

An SGE results page showing a detailed answer for the query “does honey ever spoil”, SOURCE: Google

Importantly, these snapshots are generated in part using information sourced from the web and will include a link to the source webpage so users can verify the generation. This presents an interesting opportunity for marketers: If they write the content linked by an SGE snapshot, they will potentially earn a high volume of traffic from users looking to learn more about a given topic.

The best practices for being included in an SGE snapshot are similar to the best practices for SEO more generally: Marketers need to create compelling and informative content that provides useful information related to the keywords for which it is optimized. However, marketers can further optimize their content for snapshots by ensuring that it is easily digestible by both machines and humans. This might involve using structured data markup to highlight key information and optimizing for long-tail, conversational keywords that reflect how people interact with chatbots.

For example, a marketer can make a blog post about bike repair better optimized for SGE snapshots by including long-tail keywords like “How do I replace my bike chain” and “What size of bike chain do I need.” These kinds of keywords better capture the way people interact with chat interfaces and are thus more likely to be used by Google’s SGE snapshots.

How To Teach Digital Marketing Students About SGE

There are a number of ways that digital marketing educators can prepare their students for Google’s search generative experience:

Experimenting with the new search interface: One of the most direct approaches that marketing educators can take with Google’s SGE is to simply give students and opportunity to use the platform. This will give students hands-on experience and help them discover the unique benefits and limitations that this new approach to search can offer. Students can be tasked with researching a specific topic or product and reporting back on SGE’s usefulness when completing their task. Keep in mind that Google’s SGE has not been rolled out to all users yet, but students can check if they have access through Google’s Search Labs.

The landing page for SGE on Google Labs.

Optimizing Content for Snapshots: As mentioned above, Google’s generative AI SERPs are now dominated by their SGE snapshots. Considering this, creating content that can be more easily featured in a snapshot is going to become an important part of any marketer’s approach to SEO. With that in mind, students can be tasked with finding a piece of content such as a blogpost on a business’s website and optimizing it for snapshots. For instance, they may be tasked with identifying relevant long-tail and conversational keywords and integrating them into the content, or researching how structured data markup can be used to make content easier for web crawlers to read.

Discuss SGE’s impact on user behavior: Finally, students can be engaged in a discussion on how they think Google’s new search generative experience will change user behavior on the platform. While Google’s new generative search integrations seem designed to keep users on the platform as long as possible, this kind of chat-based interface will be more useful in some contexts and less useful in others. With that in mind, students can consider what kind of tasks will be improved by SGE. Similarly, they can consider which kinds of tasks are better suited to a more traditional search engine interface. These kinds of discussions can give students useful insights into how a business’s potential customers will respond to changes in the online environment.

To learn more about how marketers work with search engines, check out Mujo’s Search Engine Optimization textbook for higher ed, or Online Marketing Fundamentals for high school.

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