Google AI Overviews and SEO: Everything You Need to Know

Google’s been on a roll with big announcements lately. Less than a month after the end of its March Core Algorithm Update rollout, the search giant made another big splash by unveiling its biggest stride yet into the integration of AI into its search results.

On May 14th, 2024, Google announced a significant update to its search engine capabilities: the introduction of AI Overviews. This feature, powered by the advanced Gemini AI model, represents a leap forward in how search engines provide information to users. In my opinion, this is one of Google’s biggest moves in the past 15 years and it’s bound to change your relationship with Google whether you do SEO or you’re in the end user camp.

For SEO practitioners, the rollout of AI Overviews means rethinking traditional strategies. It’s not just about blue links and rich snippets anymore; it’s about creating content that AI can easily understand and prioritize. As the digital landscape evolves, staying updated with these changes is crucial for maintaining and improving search rankings.

What is Google AI Overviews?

Google AI Overviews is a newly introduced feature that leverages the power of generative AI to provide users with concise and direct summaries of their search queries directly within the search results. This feature is built on Google’s advanced Gemini AI model, which combines multi-step reasoning and multimodal capabilities to generate detailed and accurate responses.

The primary goal of AI Overviews is to enhance the user experience by delivering quick answers without requiring users to navigate through multiple websites. When a user inputs a query, the AI Overview can appear at the top of the search results, offering a synthesized summary that draws from various high-quality sources across the web. It’s important to note that the AI Overviews currently appear only in US search results for a small percentage of all queries – mostly those that fall into the Your Money, Your Life (YMYL) category of searches.

This new functionality was initially tested in Google’s Search Labs as Search Generative Experience (SGE) in 2023. If all goes smoothly in its stateside launch, plans for global expansion by the end of 2024 will likely come to fruition.

So far, user response to the AI Overviews launch has been at best. On one hand, some have expressed delight at the ease of use that the feature brings to the table. Users also seem to like the fact that the AI can be asked to do simplify explanations, organize events, create meal plans and troubleshoot real-world problems.

On the other hand, other users seem rather annoyed by it and have taken to asking how to turn off the feature online. Spoiler alert: you can’t.

Website-based content creators have expressed the greatest anxiety about AI Overviews so far and rightfully so. As AI Overviews becomes more prolific and starts appearing on more and more search results, the fear is that Google will drive less and less traffic to websites since it’s providing the information that users are looking for right on its own SERPs – if SERPs even live on as we know them.

I recommend reading Danny Goodwin’s commentary on the matter over at Search Engine Land. I enjoyed the rather blunt approach he took here. 😊

Google is Betting Big on AI. Here’s Why

Google’s a big dog in generative AI tech, but it’s not the only one in the yard. Right now, it’s in a real fight with OpenAI and Microsoft to establish a clear leader in the field. Whoever gets a leg up in the near future will likely dominate for decades to come.

Make no mistake: AI Overviews is just the first major bet that Google has placed on the table so far. Here’s why it’s investing so heavily on this innovation:

Enhancing User Experience

One of the primary motivations for introducing AI Overviews is to improve the user experience. Google aims to provide users with the most relevant and comprehensive answers as quickly as possible.

This is a response to the notion that users have been dissatisfied by Google Search in the past several years and have taken to searching on platforms like TikTok and Instagram as alternatives. If Google doesn’t buck the trend, it won’t just be searchers heading to the exits. Advertising dollars tend to follow where users congregate and show healthy levels of engagement.

By revitalizing the search experience, Google hopes to hold on to its de facto search monopoly and the ad revenue that comes with it.

Leveraging Advanced AI Capabilities

Google’s Gemini AI model is at the heart of AI Overviews. By leveraging it, Google can generate more accurate and comprehensive overviews. This technological advancement positions Google as a leader in AI-driven search solutions, differentiating it from competitors like Microsoft’s Copilot, which also employs AI technology.

Addressing Information Overload

In classic Google SERPs, users can get overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information – and misinformation – available online. AI Overviews was developed to help mitigate this issue by condensing the most relevant content into a single, easy-to-read summary. This approach not only saves time but also increases the likelihood that users receive reliable and accurate information. Google’s focus on high-quality, authoritative sources further strengthens the trust users place in the search engine​.

Economic and Strategic Benefits

From an economic perspective, AI Overviews can potentially drive more traffic to Google’s ecosystem, allowing it to keep riding its highly profitable advertising business. While some concerns have been raised about the impact on traditional web traffic, Google asserts that AI Overviews lead to higher click-through rates for the linked sources within the summaries. This suggests a balanced approach that continues to support the digital advertising ecosystem while improving the user experience​.

By betting big on AI Overviews, Google is not only enhancing its search capabilities but also setting the stage for the next era of AI-driven digital interactions. This strategic investment underscores Google’s commitment to innovation, user satisfaction, and maintaining its leadership in the search engine industry.

Is SEO Dead? Lol. Fat Chance.

With the advent of AI Overviews, some might wonder if traditional SEO practices are becoming obsolete. However, the reality is far from it. Here’s why SEO is not only still relevant but also more crucial than ever:

Evolution, Not Extinction

Clickbaiters have been trumpeting it for 20 years or so now, but SEO hasn’t died then and it will not die now. Similar to other major Google developments in the past, AI Overviews represent a new layer of search results, adding to the existing structure rather than replacing it. This means SEO professionals must adapt their strategies to optimize for both traditional search results and AI-generated content. Understanding how AI Overviews works and what they prioritize will be key to staying viable in Google’s generative AI era.

Winners and Losers

Of course, there will be exceptions to this argument. If major updates have taught us anything in the past, it’s the fact that there are usually winners and losers whenever Google changes something up in a major way. For instance, the Knowledge Graph and featured snippets negatively impacted wiki-style websites that used to benefit from user queries carrying the intent of knowing more about an entity. Google’s Instant Answers, on the other hand, laid waste to lyrics and calculator websites.

In my view, content resource-type websites such as blogs, wikis, news sites and the like will feel the brunt of this development’s bad effects. While Google claims that referenced webpages in AI Overviews receive more clicks, it’s hard to see how that’s actually the case without data proving it. A simple thought experiment where you search for “give me a one-week OMAD meal plan” will tell you that you won’t feel the need to read an actual webpage if Google itself gives you a direct answer to that right on an AI Overview.

Conversely, commercial websites such as online stores, law firm sites, hospital websites and other online places that have strong followings will remain viable. This will be even truer if the website offers anything else other than information such as web-based tools, appointment setting, videos, and more. In short, the websites that will survive AI Overviews are the ones that offer value aside from raw information.

New Optimization Opportunities

AI Overviews create new opportunities for SEO optimization. Here are a few key areas to focus on:

  • Content Quality. High-quality, authoritative content is more important than ever. AI algorithms prioritize well-researched and reliable sources, so creating valuable content is crucial.
  • Structured Data. Implementing structured data (schema markups) can help AI understand and feature your content in overviews. This makes your content more accessible and likely to be included in AI summaries​.
  • User Engagement. Engagement metrics like click-through rates (CTR) and time on site can influence how content is featured in AI Overviews. Engaging, user-friendly content is more likely to be highlighted by AI​.

The Role of Featured Snippets and Traditional SEO

Featured snippets are not going away. Google has confirmed that these will continue to appear alongside AI Overviews. This means traditional SEO practices that aim to capture featured snippets remain valuable. Additionally, SEO strategies such as keyword optimization, link building, and site speed optimization continue to play a significant role in achieving high rankings​.

Local SEO and Niche Markets

Local SEO remains vital, especially for businesses targeting specific geographic areas. AI Overviews can enhance visibility for local queries, making it important to optimize for local search terms and ensure your business information is accurate and up to date on platforms like Google My Business​ (9to5Google)​

Adapting to AI Overviews

SEO professionals should view AI Overviews as an opportunity for new business horizons rather than a cataclysm. This means:

  • Staying Informed: Keeping up with the latest developments in AI and search algorithms to understand how these changes impact SEO strategies.
  • Flexibility: Being flexible and willing to adjust tactics based on new insights and data. Experimenting with different content formats and structures to see what works best with AI Overviews​
  • Holistic Approach: Combining traditional SEO techniques with new strategies tailored for AI Overviews to create a comprehensive and effective SEO plan.

Given all of this, it’s understandable why many of us in the search marketing industry would be anxious. As much of a veteran I am of the SEO game, even I would have to admit that we’re looking at what could be the biggest change yet to our livelihoods. Still, there’s no point in worrying about the inevitable. Similar to what we as a community did in previous, game-changing Google updates, we need to look at the situation objectively, continue to adapt our strategies and adjust our business models to the ever-changing search landscape.

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