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What Is Google’s SGE (Search Generative Experience) and How Will It Impact Small Businesses?

Last Updated on 3/26/24

Google’s Search Generative Experience (SGE) is a modified search experience within Google which leverages cutting-edge, generative AI to dynamically respond to users’ queries. Essentially, Google Search will use its AI, powered by large language models (LLMs) to first, truly understand, and second, respond to your query with a very customized, holistic, and helpful answer.

At a high level, Google states that that SGE should make it easier for people to:

  • Ask new kinds and formats of questions that are both more complex and descriptive. With SGE, the AI will be able to better understand and respond to these queries in comparison to a normal search results page.
  • Get the overall gist of the topic faster than scrolling through results on a search engine results page (SERP). The SGE will still also provide links to relevant information for more information.
  • Get started on a task that you need to accomplish rapidly, like writing a draft post or generating an image directly from within search.
  • Allow for subsequent conversational follow-ups with the search engine to either clarify questions, dig deeper, or determine next steps.

A Quick Analogy for Understanding Google Search Vs. SGE – Puzzles or Paintings

google search generative experience sge vs google search

A relatively easy-to-understand analogy is the thought that Google Search operates like a puzzle. You search for an answer or request a particular piece of information, and Google brings back multiple puzzle pieces that may “fit” what you are looking for based upon its complex algorithm. Google displays those puzzle pieces as links on a page or rich snippets for you to evaluate and click to dig deeper. With Google Search, you are still ultimately responsible for deciding where the pieces fit and putting together the full picture.

In contrast, Google’s Search Generative Experience acts like a talented and knowledgeable artist with a blank canvas. You ask it a question or describe what you are looking for, and SGE does its best to understand your request and paint a robust, complete picture of the answer based on its cumulative knowledge. Additionally, as you observe the output (the painting), you can talk with the artist (SGE) to ask it follow-up questions. SGE then hones and adds detail to its painting, thereby improving the information. As a result, you get a more robust painting and understanding of the topic-at-hand directly within the search results.

SGE Is in Experimental Stages

Currently, Google’s Search Generative Experience (SGE) is experimental and has been tested throughout 2023 and into 2024 with a select group of opt-in users (including multiple team members here at Igniting Business). Google originally stated that SGE would be in experimentation mode until December 2023. However, Google has since removed the end date from the experiment page’s details which insinuates that SGE will be testing longer into 2024.

As of March 22nd, 2024, SGE is now being tested in the US even for users who are not opted in to the Search Labs program. Google stated that this experience is being tested on a "...subset of queries, on a small percentage of search traffic in the U.S."

How to Enable Search Generative Experience

If you are interested in joining the growing ranks of users testing SGE, you can sign up via the Search Labs website. Note that SGE is not available in all countries currently. SGE is available in over 120 countries and territories across seven languages via the Search Labs opt-in program.

SGE may appear on Google’s search results pages in both the Google App and on Chrome Desktop. Note that SGE may not appear for all queries.

Known Limitations and Issues with SGE

As with any experiment, there are certainly issues plaguing SGE. However, this is a necessary part of the development process and Google continues to refine and improve its Search Generative Experience. That said, it is important to have a basic understanding of these limitations since some of your customers may already be using SGE or will use it once Google rolls it out to the public.

The following are several core limitations you may encounter when either you personally use SGE, or when a potential customer uses SGE to learn about your business or products/services:

  • Misinterpretation During Corroboration – Even if SGE technically interprets the input of your query, it may provide output (an answer) with a different meaning due to slight misinterpretations of language nuances.
  • Hallucination – Hallucination is a widespread problem with all LLM-based systems (e.g. Bard, ChatGPT, etc.). SGE may occasionally misrepresent facts or inaccurately identify insights that it “believes” are true.
  • Bias – The SGE system is trained using high-quality web extracted data. However, that data still ultimately comes from human authors, and, as a result, can lead to narrow representations of people and potentially negative contextual associations. Google puts in place numerous safeguards against biases; however, some certainly can still slip through.

SGE in Action

The best way to see and understand Search Generative Experience is to see it in action. We highly recommend signing up for SGE experiment and giving it a spin. You can always disable the experiment in search labs at any time.

The following is a summary of Google’s original release of SGE. That said, it’s changed quite a bit since the initial release and continues to evolve rapidly.

Our Experience with Ever-Changing Search Generative Experience

Our team at Igniting Business thankfully received early access to the Search Generative Experience (SGE). We began testing the new search experience on 5/26/23, so we’ve had some time to play around with the system. That said, even in six seemingly short months that SGE was available in 2023, the system has changed drastically. Countless new layouts, color highlights, display options, link/citation tests, etc. have all been rolled out, recalled, modified, and improved.

Overall, we do see several areas where SGE is both alarming and exciting.

Positioning and Overall Footprint of the SGE

For queries that Search Generative Experience is present for, it often appears at the very top of the page above the traditional organic results. As a result, if you have worked hard to earn your top spots in the search engine pages, it is likely that SGE will overtake your position simply by being a new feature rolled out. Additionally, just because you ranked well in the organic search results before does not mean you will be shown within SGE’s response.

That said, since SGE is still an experiment, where and how often the SGE will appear is still yet to be finalized. Additionally, this is a new piece of search real estate in which your website is eligible to appear.

Potential for More Zero Click Searches

As many early adopters have pointed out, SGE is able to answer many questions directly within the search engine which may eliminate the need for a searcher to visit an actual website to read the full answer. This creates the possibility that users will simply use SGE to get their answers without visiting an actual website, yielding what the SEO community begrudgingly calls a “Zero Click Search.”

Example of a Potential Zero-Click Search in SGE

Keep in mind that Google does currently cite (and link to) sources within SGE, so it is still possible to earn a click if a user truly does need additional information. However, with SGE’s answers being fairly robust, that need may become secondary.

Increases the Need for Your Content to Be Helpful

Since SGE is powered by robust LLMs including an advanced version of MUM and PaLM 2, it is able to understand both simple and fairly complex queries with its own set of “trained” (or “learned”) knowledge. Technically, it learns this knowledge from its training datasets which include millions of websites and resources interconnected throughout the web.

Thus, SGE’s impressive base knowledge requires your resources to be truly unique and authoritative in order to justify referencing it within its generated answers.

Improvements to the User Experience

While change is always difficult for the masses, change is also the harbinger of technological advancement. What if we all rejected the microwave due to its magic-like cooking ability? I personally would eat far less popcorn, and reheating leftovers at lunch would be much more arduous.

Yes, change can be scary, but almost every great technological advancement has a combination of excitement and intimidation. I choose to focus on the excitement of how SGE can make life easier and search more helpful for its users.

Ultimately, Google is still sticking to its goal of making the search experience the best it possibly can be for searchers.

How Local Small Businesses Should Prepare for Search Generative Experience (SGE)

Small businesses have come to rely on Google’s search engine for visibility and as a primary source of organic leads. We recognize and fully understand that any change to this system can feel threatening for small businesses.

Proper steps to optimize your business to appear withing SGE results are still widely uncertain, especially as SGE itself continues to change and evolve in its experimentation stage.

However, five core principles remain important and will bolster your optimization for both Google Search and SGE:

Continue Creating High-Quality, Helpful Content for Your Customers

It is critically important to create truly helpful content for your customers. Make sure your content reflects your unique experience and insights. Google is continually implementing ways to reward and showcase truly unique perspectives and quality content to its users. If you have high quality content, Google will be more likely to reference it within SGE and Google Search.

Ensure Your Company’s Information Online Is 100% Accurate

Accurate company information includes data about your company, its founders and key leadership, contact and support information, and common business data (e.g. name, address, phone, hours, service categories, service areas, policies, etc.). This helps decrease the likelihood that SGE will share incorrect or outdated information about your company.

Example of a Search About a Specific Company in SGE

Build Your Reputation

Look for ways to continue to build your reputation and trustworthiness online. This could include collecting reviews from customers, serving as a source for journalists, earning backlinks from industry-related websites, and more. These efforts will aid improving your E-E-A-T (Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness) in both the eyes of potential customers and search engines.

Engage with Vetted, Professional Help When Needed

Depending on the importance of organic traffic to your business, it may be wise to seek professional help from an SEO company. Keep in mind that just because a company says they do SEO, does not mean it is a well-developed skillset. For example, many web designers will say they “do SEO” when all they mean is they enable an SEO plugin, which is not going to get you very far.

We recommend carefully vetting an SEO company to ensure they offer solutions that match your needs. Also, we would recommend asking them about their experience thus far with SGE and how they see it impacting their strategies on a go-forward basis.

Stay Up-To-Date on SEO News

Given that SGE is still currently in a state of flux, we highly recommend staying up-to-date by following credible leaders within the SEO industry. We have put together a list of the best SEO newsletters and blogs that we personally follow here at Igniting Business.

Of course, you could also subscribe to our free monthly newsletter which is geared towards small business owners/managers and multi-discipline marketers.

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