Generative AI and Google Search: Here’s What We Know So Far

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ou’re finally starting to see real results from your SEO strategy. It’s solid, your rankings are climbing. You’re on trend to be in the top three results … and then Google changes the entire game.

You’ve probably noticed that Google’s search engine results page (SERP) looks a little different these days. Right at the top, there’s an AI-generated overview that sums up your query, along with links to its sources and other information. The results we’re used to — the sponsored and organic links — are pushed farther down the page.

This new technology is called Generative Search Experience (GSE) or, more recently, Google AI Overview. The goal is to use artificial intelligence and machine learning to provide search results based on more than just keywords and key phrases, and some businesses are concerned about how it will change the game for marketing.

How does Google AI Overview Work?

Google’s AI program works a lot like ChatGPT by searching the web, as well as its own databases, and compiling the information into one summary paragraph. The key difference between traditional search and AI is that through repeated interactions with a user, it learns to add context and intent to its answers — even if something wasn’t directly asked.

If someone had previously been searching for wedding dresses, for example, AI can use that data to infer that if the next search is “event venues” the user likely means wedding venues. If someone searches “lodging,” the AI bot sees their location and that they have kids based on previous search history and streamlines the search results to cater to those inferred needs.

This type of technology is still considered experimental and has yet to achieve the level of trust that users are accustomed to when they just return a regular search page. And unlike Google’s previous Knowledge Boxes, which just provided short snippets of information based on the regular search algorithm, AI Overview’s attempt at context sometimes produces nonsensical answers that leave readers scratching their heads.

Google AI Overview Challenges

Gartner predicts that AI may cause organic search volume to drop by as much as 25%, and you may already be seeing a dip in your numbers. A number of factors are at play here, including AI’s ability to answer questions quickly and succinctly. If someone gets the info they need, they may bounce without clicking any of the organic SEO links.

Another related challenge is digital real estate. Despite web pages having seemingly endless space, the section at the very top is the most valuable to marketers. This area is known as “above the fold” and much like its newspaper namesake, it’s the spot that’s guaranteed to be seen, even if a user doesn’t open the paper (or, in our case, scroll.) The new challenge will be getting your links to appear in that coveted spot, but just how that works is still a mystery as the feature continues to work out bugs.

Finally, because of AI’s tendency to hallucinate answers, some brands are worried that negative press or comments online could needlessly harm their reputation, or that the bot could incorporate biases into its answers that don’t reflect reality.

But where some people see challenges, we see opportunities to innovate and get ahead of the curve.

Opportunities for the Hospitality Industry

For hotels, resorts, DMOs, wedding venues, and other hospitality-related businesses, Google AI Overview presents a unique situation. Where a user might be satisfied with a quick-hit answer for simple questions, a short description about a resort property, for example, will only entice them to click through and learn more.

What this means for marketers is an increased emphasis on keeping content fresh and relevant so that it appears in that AI Overview paragraph. Here’s an example: If visitors to an area are interested in attending local activities, their search might include the words “this weekend” or “next week.” If they’re traveling a bit off traditional schedules, they might search for “late check-out.”

This is the perfect opportunity to include all of those things on your website and make them easily accessible to the search bots. Develop a section for current events, and make sure that your FAQ section is up-to-date, clear, and easy to access.

You’re also likely to see long-tail keywords added to your content strategy. These are phrases, and sometimes even full sentences, that users type into the query bar. For example, if a keyword phrase is “hotel near me,” the long-tail version of that might be something like “luxury hotel in {city} that’s under $300 a night and has free breakfast.” Optimizing your content around those more specific searches could increase your chances of showing up in AI Overview.

Finally, it will be essential to engage with your audience online and ask for engagement. User reviews, user-generated content, and social-media interactions will increase your visibility to not only your audience, but Google’s crawlers as well. This part of your strategy will come into play as the AI gets better at interpreting context and intent. It’s even possible that your online reviews may hold more weight than your SEO optimization, although that’s not yet certain.

In the meantime, use this opportunity to dig into your marketing toolkit and consider branching out into other channels, especially if your strategy is Google-heavy. Some underused tactics, like short-form video, are great ways to increase engagement and reach new audiences.

And finally, remember that Google AI Overview is in its infancy. It will be buggy, it will evolve, and it will probably make us scratch our heads once in a while. We understand that changes can be daunting, especially when it comes to understanding complex technology. But if you ask us, that’s the perfect opportunity to reevaluate your marketing strategy, find room for innovation, and even set standards for search moving forward.

Our SEO experts can help you craft a strategy that includes Google AI Overview and more. If you’d like to get started, let’s talk.


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