Google I/O 2023: The Future Of SEO?
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Google’s latest developer conference, Google I/O 2023, showcased several dramatic new developments that the search giant plans to roll out to revamp and improve users’ search experience.
As with many of their recent updates, the conference heavily emphasized AI and AI integration into search results, as well as updates to their Helpful Content system.
This post will take you through these announcements and what exciting things they mean for the future of SEO.
What Was Announced At Google I/O?
Google I/O featured several heavyweight announcements that are set to change the face of Search fundamentally.
Transformative Generative AI
This was the biggie and the one that really got the buzz going.
As previously seen with Google’s Bard and then Magi announcements, Google plans to integrate AI-generated content directly within search results to answer users’ in-depth queries better.
This monumental change is referred to by Google as the Search Generative Experience (SGE), representing a whole new approach to search queries.
our new Generative AI search experience SGE explained by my colleagues https://t.co/ncP0s4fZ4D
— Prabhakar Raghavan (@WittedNote) May 12, 2023
Google’s own Prabhakar Raghavan provides some extensive, though surprisingly readable, documentation on the development above.
The key takeaway is that the Search Generative Experience aims to provide more detailed answers to complex queries directly within the search results as an alternative to countless articles with varying answers to their query.
The new Google search generative experience: Here’s what it looks like https://t.co/Daa7CfAqBh
— Barry Schwartz (@rustybrick) May 10, 2023
The example provided by Google is a comparison of two national parks for a young family and their dog. The generative answer provides detailed suggestions based on the situation and recommends additional materials for further information.
If the generated response isn’t enough right away, you will also be able to have it expand upon its answer or ask it follow-up questions.
Brodie Clark provided a great summary here of the use of generative AI or the new SGE for queries with No One Right Answer, or NORA:
No One Right Answer can apply to any informational query where this isn’t one set factual answer. So “How tall is the Eiffel Tower?” wouldn’t trigger this, but Brodie’s example of dorm room plants does.
From an SEO perspective, it’s worth noting that this SGE field removes the coveted featured snippet spot.
Rather than directly promoting an existing article/webpage, the generative answer takes over this spot with credit provided via links or further reading. While this promotes the idea that Google values the content used to create the answers highly, it does further the concerns of zero-click searches.
Google has made moves to improve its citations, partially in response to outcry from SEOs and site owners. Still, citations do not necessarily equal clicks, and SEOs will need to adapt to this moving forward.
We’re already seeing shifts in SEO to start targeting these generative answers, and Answer Engine Optimization may be the first of several changes we see to SEO to adapt to the change in both search engines and user behavior.
In addition to the Generative AI developments, Google is also introducing ‘Perspectives’ into its search results.
Perspectives will aim to diversify search results by including and highlighting videos, images, and posts from forums, social media, and even Q&A sites directly within the search results.
Google promised to make search more “visual, snackable, personal, and human,” and this is a clear stride in that direction.
Their chosen example, someone looking to make friends in a new city, emphasizes this as they look to diversify their range of results, both in how it is presented and in the content it helps promote.
Perspectives will leverage Google’s existing E-E-A-T guidelines to ensure that only quality content created by expert individuals is promoted with the Perspectives carousel.
Helpful Content Updates
This leads us to the final major announcement for Search, the continued work on their Helpful Content System.
The Helpful Content System is designed to help promote content that demonstrates strong E-E-A-T to ensure that users get only the best and most accurate information in their results.
With the pivot towards generative AI and the dependence upon UGC for Perspectives, it’s only natural that Google would want to update its Helpful Content System accordingly.
What Do The Google I/O Announcements Mean For Users?
Search users are set to benefit from these updates with a more diverse, conversational, and informational search experience.
Generative AI can produce more complex answers for queries that might otherwise have required several results to fully satisfy. At the same time, Perspectives can ensure they receive that personal touch for added reassurance.
One thing we aren’t considering is how much the average user will actually like these features.
We’re just assuming everyone will switch their behavior to being satisfied with AI answers.
It’s probably true for the vast majority, but also, what if it isn’t?
— Lily Ray 😏 (@lilyraynyc) May 10, 2023
It is worth noting, of course, that a fundamental change to the user’s experience like this may also present hurdles and friction within the search model.
Google will need to balance these changes with an awareness of the limitations of AI answer generation, along with an understanding that some users may still prefer to browse websites to find their own answers.
There is no guarantee that all users will change their behavior, and the core concept of what Google is rewarding – well-made sites with great content – isn’t changing at all.
How Do The Google I/O Announcements Affect SEO?
This is the big one. The Google I/O announcements are set to continue the ongoing shift in SEO by systematically changing what the SERPs look like and how they operate.
Google emphasized its commitment to doing more with a single search. Where a query like the example of the national parks might previously have taken a few searches to compile the information yourself, generative AI can now compile it all into one answer right away.
The capacity for follow-up queries within the AI results furthers this as follow-ups remain on the same page and likely compiled from the same sources.
Generative AI has the potential to eat up longtail queries that might otherwise have generated several clicks and follow-ups as users hunt down niche results for very specific queries.
If you’re an ecommerce store, this could actually help you out as this cuts down on the “messy middle,” getting your products in front of searchers’ eyes faster. You just need to put the work in with your SEO to ensure Google’s generative suggestions pick out your products.
Zero Click Searches Are Likely To Rise
Following on from this, with AI-generated answers available directly within the results, zero-click results are likely to rise.
This isn’t a new concern and may be in some way offset by proper accreditation and follow-up links. Still, it does remain a point of contention for site owners and SEOs who will want proper accreditation and ‘rewards’ for producing useful content that helps generate these answers.
Google’s Trojan Horsing of the web is evolving again. Get ready for more zero-click searches and even less opportunity for the publishers whose uncompensated work trained these LLMs.
More wealth concentration for the powerful. Less for those doing the actual work. pic.twitter.com/OQQRM2yCyi
— Rand Fishkin (@randfish) May 13, 2023
Content Marketing Remains King
Even in the face of generative AI, content marketing remains king.
High-quality content will still be necessary for Google to form its answers, and the Perspectives tab will offer a wealth of opportunities for those creating quality content across video, blog posts, and even being cited in forum answers and Q&A sites.
Not All Searches Will Generate AI Snapshots (Yet)
We mentioned earlier the concept of NORA searches generating AI answers, but not all topics would do so.
Your Money, Your Life topics (YMYL) currently do not appear to generate AI snapshots, as Google is aware of the potential risks of AI-generated misinformation or misunderstanding affecting these sensitive topics.
It’s important to remember that not all searches will be affected by these updates right away and that you should stick to solid SEO principles in the meantime. You don’t want to throw the baby out with the bath water after all!
SEO And SEO Metrics Will Have To Adapt
In the face of these changes, SEO metrics and measures of success will need to change accordingly.
Traffic as a whole is likely to decline, but this doesn’t necessarily have to mean disappointment, as this will affect everyone.
Measuring SEO performance based on traffic alone is already an arbitrary form of attribution that lacks nuance. This change to user behavior on the SERPs will bring forth new KPIs for everybody, and your SEO measurements and reporting will have to change accordingly.
To use ecommerce sites as an example, the ability to make transactions within the search results may well mean a decline in overall traffic, but that doesn’t necessarily mean there will be a decline in sales if your products are being promoted within the SGE results.
Ecommerce SEO will have to change and adapt, as it always does, but the importance of quality content and favorable Google rankings will be more important than ever before, not less.
Our own Head of SEO charts his thoughts on the updates here:
A few thoughts on the #GoogleIO announcement and it’s implications for SEO
— Joe (@joecowmanwd) May 10, 2023
The simple takeaway is that, as ever, SEO is not dying but simply evolving, and SEOs need to continue to evolve with it.