There have been major advances in AI over the past several decades, but it’s safe to say that before ChatGPT, AI wasn’t on the average person’s radar. 

Now that AI-powered technologies have grabbed the general public’s interest en masse, tech giants like Microsoft and Google (Alphabet Inc.) are in a race to be the first to offer the latest innovations. For Google, that latest AI introduction is its Search Generative Experience (SGE), which is so significant it immediately calls attention to the digital marketers’ need to understand and execute effective SGE SEO practices.

With 49% of US adults expressing an interest in AI-powered online search, Google sure seems to have its finger on the pulse of user interest.

Chart showing AI-powered technologies topics

Source: Statista

In this article, we discuss SGE and SGE SEO: We’ll define SGE to bring clarity to its expansive impact on search results and dive into the deep end regarding the benefits and challenges of SGE SEO, covering the best ways to future-proof content so it continues to reach your target audience (Hint: Now more than ever, a “people-first” content strategy is the winning move).

What Is SGE?

SGE stands for Search Generative Experience. It’s Google’s bold step forward in AI-based search. SGE is unique for one major reason: It is a user-facing AI-based technology. ChatGPT and similar AI-based applications have forever changed how we use technology. Now, with Google’s SGE SEO, AI is forever changing how marketing teams will evaluate the quality of results. 

SGE presents a bold new format for search, placing Google’s latest advancements on proud display.

Google describes the addition of SGE as a new starting place in the search process: a jump-off point for exploring web content.

SGE is built upon Google’s proprietary large language models (LLMs) to add a new form of query results to the user’s search experience. As of this article, SGE is still in its Beta stage, so it won’t be automatically seen by the masses right away.

How Can I Use SGE?

Google’s algorithm decides when a search triggers AI-powered summaries. SGE is still in its early beta-testing phase, so at least for now, you have to sign up for it to appear. There are a few requirements:

  • You have to be using the Chrome browser if on a desktop or laptop.
  • There is a limited opt-in for Android devices.
  • You must have a personal Google account and be signed in for SGE to appear.

To use SGE, tap the “Labs” icon in the Google app or Chrome. There are more details on the Google Labs website.

Before going into specific SGE features and the best way to win at SGE SEO marketing, we created this timeline of Google’s AI implementations and a brief glossary of terms as a reference for the underlying technology involved.

Google’s AI Timeline

Using AI isn’t anything new for Google. It’s played a supporting role for more than two decades, playing a more prominent role in advancements as the technology matures. Here’s a quick look at Google’s advances in AI:

Timeline of AI throughout the years

Google AI-Related Terms

Here’s a brief glossary of terms for the underlying technology involved in Google’s AI.

Google AI

A division of Google focused on research and development (R&D) in AI. Google AI involves developing products and integrating them into primary applications like Search, Gmail, and other services. 

LLM

SGE is the result of Google’s LLMs. Large language models (LLMs) are a form of AI used primarily for understanding and processing human languages. This makes them useful for text processing, language generation, communication, and language-based interaction. 

LLMs are trained by humans on massive datasets like computer language repositories, books, and articles. LLMs provide technology well-suited for search engines, virtual assistants, content ideation, and machine translation.

MUM

Multitask Unified Model (MUM) is an LLM developed by Google AI. MUM is designed to understand information from text, images, code, and audio. It is used for improving search results and is 1,000 times more powerful than BERT (sorry, BERT—it’s true!).

PaLM/PaLM 2

Google’s Pathway Language Model (PaLM and PaLM 2) are LLMs used for understanding meaning and intent behind text and code, with PaLM 2 most likely being the current LLM used for this reasoning in SGE.

Gemini

Gemini is Google’s current LLM, an application sharing the same technology and functionality as SGE. Gemini can be used as a chat-type application, much like people have become familiar with ChatGPT.

Bard

Bard is Google’s conversational AI service, using its proprietary underlying LLM. Bard has now been rebranded to Gemini as of Feb 8, 2024.

BERT

This is one of Google’s first Transformer models used to understand human language.

TPUs

Tensor Processing Units (TPUs) are Google’s own custom-developed computer processors designed specifically for accelerating machine learning (ML) processes like neural networks. 

The following table outlines how Google’s LLM and AI applications can be distinguished from one another.

Table comparing features of Bard, SGE, and Gemini

7 SGE Main Features

SGE’s new features are extensive, including numerous format modules for specific classifications of results. Google’s SGE brings the following capabilities to search:

  • Increased scale for training on massive datasets of text and code.
  • Multilinguality, to expand search’s ability to understand datasets in other languages.
  • The ability to reason while processing data to better deduce the intent behind queries.
  • The ability to treat computer code as languages the technology is proficient in so results can include fully operational lines of code.

The following are the most impactful, broad-reaching SGE features:

1. AI-Powered Overviews

SGE helps users get a quick yet comprehensive understanding of results. You can think of SGE as a snapshot of your search results, not just a list of websites related to those results. Google provides the source links in SGE results.

Here’s an example of what SGE results look like for the keyphrase “SGE tips for SEO”.

Screenshot of SGE results for “SGE tips for SEO”

And here’s an example of what SGE results look like for the keyphrase “how does AI affect SEO”.

Screenshot of SGE results for

These results will vary each time, but you can see drop-downs that provide more data and context, along with sources cited to click and learn more.

2. SGE Follow-Ups

One of the more important features of SGE is the ability to ask follow-up questions, leading to even further results—Google’s SGE will broaden its responses to that greater context.

These generate new results, but can also steer the user towards the next steps in their quest for knowledge on topics.

Bubbles of SGE Follow-ups about Seattle topics

Bubbles of SGE Follow-ups about furnace related topics

For example, let’s say you’re looking for a specific recipe.

In a traditional search, you might try related keywords to pull up recipe sites that include the meal recipe you seek. Maybe one site has a more appealing list of ingredients than another. Maybe some sites with quality SEO don’t have quality instructions. It’s up to you to do a little digging and find the best information.

But with SGE, you can have a follow-up conversation with Search to discuss what makes one recipe better, how to source the freshest ingredients, how different chefs add their twist to the same recipe, and more.

Google’s SGE will offer you the sources where it gathered its responses, so searching becomes more about learning and discovering than just pulling up sources.

SGE will help users connect to broader concepts and related topics in a concise, digestible format.

Bubbles of SGE Follow-ups about ax throwing related topics

3. Vertical experiences

SGE provides specific modules depending on the type of query you enter. If SGE understands you are asking about a shopping-related topic, for instance, it will serve you a module for the shopping vertical, and even more specific if it is for local shopping. Items like restaurants, recipes, and every imaginable category are organized into vertical modules that best match your search.

4. Product Searches

SGE provides a snapshot of important factors about a product, like a description, up-to-date reviews, ratings, and images. SGE serves accurate results using Google’s Shopping Graph dataset as a source.

5. Generative Creative Tools

SGE (or, more specifically, tools like Gemini) isn’t just for expanding search results: It assists in creating poems, stories, lists, tables, and code, and you can even create images—like this French bulldog donning a pineapple hat—why not?!

AI generated images of French bulldogs wearing pineapple shaped hats

6. SGE States

SGE states describe the differentiators involved in the delivery of SGE search results. Google’s algorithm determines which of three main states it will display:

  1. Collapsed State: The user chooses “Show more” to view the SGE results.
  2. Opt-in State: The user has to request to view the result.
  3. No SGE State: No SGE result is displayed for the search query.

7. SGE Result Modules

SGE delivers AI-sourced results in several different formats. These are some of the specific modules (also known as Generative AI Experiences) we know about thus far:

  • Unordered Lists: These appear with descriptions or without. 
  • Google SGE Shopping Experience: These lists include descriptions, images, and reviews. For eCommerce, these breakout lists provide full product listings without exiting to the source websites until you click the “buy” button. 
  • Recipes: Google formats results about recipes like traditional recipe cards, featuring details like ingredients, cooking time, and preparation.
  • Local Packs: These are SGE-tailored search results based on the user’s location. Local packs include reviews, hours, location, and map-pack elements.
  • Product Views: Product views showcase product listings, carousels, and value cards. eCommerce items will appear much like a website’s store, but in this case, Google will gather SGE results into its own unified format.
  • Code Block: Code blocks display results in actual programming languages, like Python or Java, for instance, based on specific technology-related queries.
  • Answer Box: This currently appears at the top of SGE results, providing a concise answer or summary for the query, along with sourced information.
  • Source Panel: The source panel appears alongside the Answer Box, displaying sources SGE uses to generate its content, often including URLs.
  • Additional Questions: These are prompts appearing at the bottom of SGE results, used to expand the search into an ongoing conversation-like format.

New Generative AI Experiences

Google has announced a “New Era for AI and Google Workspace” that will be released on a rolling basis to testers before becoming publicly available.

List of new generative AI experiences

Digital Marketing with SGE In Mind: What Is SGE in SEO?

SGE SEO is about focusing your digital marketing efforts with two priorities in mind: traditional search results and results served in Google’s SGE modules

Even though there is consistent alignment between the best SEO practices already on Google’s timeline of updates, Big Leap’s SEO experts are anticipating format optimizations and other website tweaks that can increase the potential to appear in SGE results.

Understanding SGE’s Impact on SEO—Digital Marketers Are Falling Behind the Curve

A recent study on SGE’s impact on organic rankings revealed some interesting insights:

  • 86.8% of keyword searches trigger an SGE result.
  • Websites ranking organically only appear simultaneously in SGE results 4.5% of the time.
  • There are 10.2 generative links per SERP on average, coming from an average of 4 separate domains.
  • 93.8% of the generative links are not top-ranking sources.
  • Only 1.6% of generative links came from top-ranking organic results.

Pie chart showing % of keywords with SGE content

Source: Authoritas

If this data represents the bigger picture for SGE, you can assume that a high ranking in traditional search won’t automatically correlate to an inclusion in SGE results.

Meanwhile, digital marketers are far behind the curve in proactively addressing SGE’s impact on search. Those who are paying attention (like Big Leap, for instance!) are focused on clear, conversational text, answering the questions people want to know, and displaying authority. Surprisingly, 30% of marketers are doing none of the above, and 32% aren’t sure if they are.

Description of how AI is reshaping SEO

Key Benefits of SGE and SEO

There’s no question: SGE is a game changer. Google will experiment with features and positioning of SGE results, but the following benefits are likely to remain:

Quicker Answers

The primary benefit SGE provides is a fast, thorough answer to your query based on multiple sources. Traditional search and sponsored results (ads) still appear, but Google aims to continue to steer search toward a process that resembles organic communication. 

Conversational Searches

The philosophy behind search is evolving; people want to be able to describe what they’re looking for without hitting the bull’s eye on the right keywords to use. As Google’s SGE improves upon understanding language, results will become more fine-tuned.

More Accurate Answers with Follow-Ups

This “conversational” approach to search results includes the second main benefit: follow-ups. In traditional search, if your initial query wasn’t turning up the best website matches, you could continue guessing at adjustments to the words you used. Without a lightbulb moment, there’s a chance you might never actually find the right site to match your intent.

Even though Google has been developing algorithms and AI-based technology to better understand your intent, there’s still a pretty wide gap between results-matching and when the right phrase is just on the tip of your tongue.

With SGE, you can describe what you’re looking for with an intelligent entity on the other end of the conversation, and there’s a good chance the gap will close much easier than before.

Follow-ups are also a great way to gain more knowledge about topics—perhaps even more than you initially sought.

This conversational approach to search is a technology bound to improve over time, because Google’s gaining a lot from follow-ups as well. How? Because users are essentially training the technology to learn how to be more precise. Machine learning (ML) is used to help SGE technology understand when it is right, when it is wrong, and what methods lead to greater accuracy. Most importantly, it means a true alignment between Google’s desire to serve human-focused results and actually doing so.

Optimized Classifications

Because SGE is designed around optimized, formatted modules tailored to specific topics and products, you get results based on an intuitive understanding of your search. If you want recipes, SGE will provide you with a response format unique to recipes. If you’re shopping for a car within 10 miles of your location, you’ll get a tailored local shopping experience. 

This may not seem revolutionary at first, but categorizing the way results are served based on intent means Google will continuously improve relevance. And then extending that relevance to format is huge!

The Downsides of SGE

As with all things AI—SGE is a work in progress. With that progress, a few negatives stick out:

The Unknowns of SGE

If AI is still a bit of a mystery to you—don’t feel bad. Even the great minds responsible for developing the underlying technology don’t fully understand how it works. This has brought some pleasant surprises along the way, but it is particularly tricky to identify the cause when things go wrong. 

SGE may deliver unintended consequences, unexpected technical hiccups, and even a little confusion while dishing out helpful search results.

Known Issues of SGE

There are some negatives we do know about AI that will take time for Google to improve:

  • Misinterpreting Language

Usually, SGE understands what you’re requesting and replies with great precision. But sometimes AI just doesn’t follow the nuance of language at all, and when that happens, it can be hard to steer the follow-up conversation back on course. 

Think about it: conversational search experiences really only work if they enhance your ability to gather information. The last thing we need is to get into an argument with a search engine, right?

  • Hallucinations

In this case, we’re not talking about seeing a mirage in the desert. Hallucination means that, despite having been trained meticulously on massive amounts of data, sometimes SGE will spit out answers that are completely misaligned with what sources provide. 

When this happens, it can have a profoundly negative effect on the user’s search. Think about it: There’s a good chance that someone doing a Google search might not know the right answer. Those rare times when SGE seems to be inventing its own data can make it hard to trust the rest of the time.

  • Bias

Researchers and developers have come to recognize one of the significant challenges with AI: bias.

AI struggles with keeping a neutral stance, especially on more controversial topics. But bias can also come from illogical places—even in image responses.

It takes human trainers to help guide the code in the right direction. But considering the limitless topics in the ocean of data fueling Google’s SGE intelligence, it’s difficult to know where bias will appear.

  • Impact on Traditional Search

Many are concerned that SGE will negatively impact the natural flow of search. Generative AI will only improve over time, and providing a fast summary devised from top search results is incredibly useful. But what if it’s so useful that people don’t need to click on the source links provided?

Over time, Google may change where SGE appears on the results page, but it pushes traditional organic search results farther down the page in its early stages. It’s almost like Google is saying, “Thanks for the source data: I can take it from here.”

Since the entire idea of a search has historically been about steering people to the most helpful websites that match their query, SGE truly represents the evolution of how search is defined. And as search evolves, so does the way we all approach SEO.

SGE and SEO: How to Do It Right

Google is hyper-focused on using its AI to understand how humans think and respond in kind. This is great news for SGE SEO—if you already follow their best practices. The truth is, SGE changes everything—and yet, nothing at all. Google rewards helpful content, so create it!     

If you’ve been creating content based on substance and incorporating keywords based on intent (not for the sake of gaming the algorithm) then you can warmly embrace this change as your friend. 

4 Important SGE SEO Pillars to Prioritize

Optimize your content around the principles that each significant Google update has been designed to address: 

  1. Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness (EEAT): Make sure your old and future content is based on the most accurate data.
  2. Micro-Semantics: Pay attention to LSI keywords and long-tail keywords when researching content updates and new articles. How the information in your articles connects to other information/articles on your site will be factored in for both traditional results and SGE.
  3. Brand Presence: Engage with your customers and communities online to build brand visibility and authority. Your competitors may not be focused on this aspect of SEO, so it’s a great opportunity to increase overall ranking by embracing the signals Google cares about.
  4. AI-Friendliness: Create content that is easy to understand. Write the way you would express concepts in a conversation. Use media like images and videos to express concepts and keep the reader’s focus.

NOTE: This graph isn’t real. In fact, it’s wildly fictitious. We created it using Gemini just to illustrate that it can create a graph.

Fictitious pie chart created using Gemini about optimizing for SGE

10 SGE SEO Best Practices

Consider the following best practices to maximize your potential to rank prominently in search results as SGE gains prominence.

1. Focus on Users

Google is improving its technology to think more like your ideal customers. The holy grail of quality SGE SEO is to focus on the user—not the algorithm. Let Google worry about improving how search points that customer in your direction.

2. Optimize: Don’t Chase Trends

Every Google update offers a time of reflection, testing, and retesting to ensure site content is optimized to the best potential. Check old pages for bad links and information that needs updating, and look for fresh opportunities to share links. Consolidate outdated content as well and bring it up to date.

3. Expand Existing Content to Other Media

Written content is vitally important because it is still the predominant way of connecting our search intent with results. What has to become more integral to SEO is thinking of ways to broaden that written content into other media, with visuals like infographics, charts, and tables.

4. Address Misinterpreted Results

We should treat SGE as a sign Google believes it’s ready to step into the limelight of full-blown AI search experiences. Once SGE is out of beta, it will capture the world’s attention. 

Alignment with search intent is vital to Google’s success, so now is an important time to validate search results with your content and make sure content returns the right results for the right reasons. KPIs that illuminate results aligning with your marketing goals indicate whether you’re ranking for the right reasons.

5. Learn from “Ask a follow up”

From a marketing perspective, think of “Ask a follow up” as an always-expanding “People Also Ask” (PAA) tree. Research these results as a means to incorporate information within your sales funnel. 

Since SGE guides users through potential follow-up conversations on their queries, this is valuable data for designing sales funnels, pillar articles, and related content clusters. 

6. Make Topics and Subtopics Obvious

While quality schema does still hold true, there’s a feeling that Google is simply using schema to understand the internet better, but it may not actually help your pages rank higher. 

While you can get wins with schema, the goal is to not rely on it. Rather, focus on making sure topics and subtopics are very obvious on the page so that Google will understand it even it if didn’t have schema at all.

7. Focus on Quality

Prioritize accurate content that displays authority and is highly relevant to important keywords and phrases. Connect relevant content to other articles on your site when possible. Google has been trending towards authority across all industries, so every article counts. Again, updating or consolidating old content to rise to your new standard can contribute to better ranking just as much as publishing new articles.

8. Think Strategically

Google is relying on MUM to interpret queries, which means you need to understand the broad details of the content you publish, keep it accurate and relevant, and consider launching more extensive content campaigns with hub and pillar articles that branch out into related topics.

9. Focus on More than Keywords

Keywords still matter, and they always will to some extent. They work because they are the language we use to get results when looking for information. But you also have to approach content holistically. 

Let the keywords land in their proper context on the page instead of creating content solely centered around keywords. If you’re focused on creating content for your ideal customer, then there’s a good chance you’re already focused on what SGE is designed to accentuate. Think about your target’s “why” and “how” search intent when optimizing content for them.

10. Plan on Providing Proof for EEAT Content

SGE SEO just continues the trend for Google EEAT and the need to display your knowledge and authority in your space. Stepping up your game means providing information about the authors of content on your site, providing bio pages, linking to social media accounts for your company’s leadership and not just a single corporate account, and making sure your advice, products, and services all align with your industry’s compliance guidelines.

5 Best Practices for Local SGE SEO

Google has yet to release official data about SGE for local SEO. Still, local search is sure to be a top priority in SGE, just as it has been for traditional search, and local results already appear in the SGE format.

storefront icon

1. Pay Attention to Your Local Listings

There’s no official documentation from Google on SGE’s impact on Local SEO, but since local packs, shopping options, reviews and ratings, and local-specific details are all prominently included in relevant SGE results, be sure to continuously review and monitor reviews, store hours, and anything related to accuracy.

Watch where SGE displays local modules and pay attention to patterns that might impact your business—good or bad. Until Google provides more guidance specific to multi-location and local businesses, the best strategy is to remain aware.

star reviews icon

2. Focus on Customer Reviews

This is true for local content, YMYL, and generally any online business: You need to show evidence of positive interactions with your customers. Make it easy for them to write a review about their experience with your products or services. Since SGE represents Google’s technological capability to capture and understand data in context at a greater level than before, reviews will become increasingly significant in ranking.

If you get a bad review, take the high road and seek a solution. Ignoring a bad review doesn’t ever work to your advantage, and neither does responding defensively. These reviews will be an increasingly strong signal to Google about your site’s reputation and trust.

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3. Keep Your Local Content Up-To-Date

For local and multi-location businesses, maintain your Google Business Profile. Make sure everything is accurate and current. It’s an important time to keep an eye on your metrics and remain in the loop on any SGE updates that have the potential to require new details in your profile.

product feature icon

4. Prioritize Product Features

For your eCommerce-related SGE SEO optimizations, make sure individual product pages prominently and clearly display your products’ main features, price, and selling points. Google’s AI is focused on serving shopping results that it can format according to its own product modules, so keep an eye on how SGE serves eCommerce-oriented results and think of your content in those terms.

Pay attention to your category pages and how SGE is grouping similar products. Over time, it may be possible to aim for SGE results similarly to aiming for featured snippets by aligning closely with how shopping-focused modules are grouped and displayed.

pin location icon

5. SGE and Local Packs

SGE draws from Google Business Profiles to deliver interactive local results, providing drop-down details from location packs, like maps, business names and locations, distance, ratings, and reviews. Keeping these profiles up-to-date is vital. Regular audits and adjustments should be a priority for multi-location and local businesses.

Now More Than Ever: Trust the SGE SEO Experts at Big Leap

Change is the only true constant in digital marketing, and Big Leap is passionate about embracing change so we can find new ways to master it. 

Search Engine Optimization now includes a long list of qualifiers to deliver content that gets results. Never has it been more critical to understand the distinct virtues of content made by humans for humans, to instill confidence, reflect authority, and get seen at the top of search results. 

Our SEO experts understand the true value of mastering Google’s high standards and understanding how to navigate the complex, underlying technologies that underpin those standards. 

Whether it involves local SEO, multi-location, eCommerce, or a YMYL-focused service, companies rely on Big Leap to raise the standard of their marketing results. 

Interested in talking to one of our experts? Great! We’d love to hear from you! 

Get in touch with us today!