Understanding Google's AI Overview: Impact on Organic Search and Business Strategies

May 29, 2024 | Chris Marshall | Zach Tabler
google search on a mobile device

Need to find something? Just Google it.

We’ve all been doing this for years. We ask and Google answers. And if we don’t like what Google gives us, then we do it again and scroll endlessly until something, anything, looks to be what we want. In this blog post, we'll explore the features of Google’s AI Overview, its impact on organic search, and how businesses can prepare for this significant change.

This is all changing - again. At the Google I/O conference on May 14, Google released a major update to the way we receive answers to the queries we serve up. These “new” answers are powered and generated by AI and are listed above the search results you normally see.

A New Look for Organic Listings

With everyone talking about AI this and AI that it was just a matter of time before Google added artificial intelligence to the basic search listings. This new answer box will be clearly labeled and will cite sources that it used to generate the answers. Like ChatGPT you’ll be able to ask follow-up questions so you can dive deep and get the answer you want. It’s designed to be conversational and helpful with your search content carried over from one chat to the next.

Where this will be useful are these types of queries and questions:

  1. Local SEO and “Near Me” searches - while there is a local Map pack already, the AI Overview result is designed to give even more information including reviews 
  2. Informational queries - Like “Things to do in Detroit”, this would be a great way to compare different things and then have a chance to ask follow-up questions, like “Only Show Me Art Museums”.
  3. Transaction and Commercial searches - Like “best pickleball racket”; buyer guides and an image carousel would show up. For product listing, accurate prices, descriptions, and reviews will be important.

Limitations of AI Overview

But not ALL searches are impacted and there are certain queries that Google won’t allow, such as sensitive topics or public harm such as divisive politics or war. While we do not know for sure, the following topics will also be excluded from AI Overview:

  1. YMYL topics - include finance, health, and deeply personal queries
  2. Recipes - Google already does a good job pulling food sources
  3. News and Events - Google will pull up relevant sources, but as a regular result 
  4. Quick Searches - these types of answers like baseball or weather are already generated with a simple answer

Business Implications of AI Overview

Although Google has released AI Overview as a Beta, the public at large, and businesses for that matter, are unaware of the impending change. The impact on organic rankings or even how to optimize is not fully realized. We know that there will be some impact on Organic search and now is the time to prepare.

Early testing has concluded that AI Overview could lead to an 18-64% decrease in organic traffic for some websites, particularly involving Informational-type queries. Closely tracking KPIs and metrics will be essential in understanding the direct impact including conversions. The good news here is that search engines coupled with detailed analytics reporting may be able to gather more granular data on user interactions and engagement within the search results page itself. This could give businesses valuable insights to refine their content and marketing strategies.

However, this does allow businesses to increase their organic Impressions by showing up on the search results page, leading the site to gain a competitive advantage and trust. This can provide users with more concise and relevant information directly within the search results, reducing the need to click through to individual websites. This can lead to a more efficient and satisfying search experience.

Smaller sites and businesses may find it difficult to complete as this will require a more concentrated effort for SEO and other technical optimizations. But this also presents opportunities for increased visibility. Websites that are featured in the AI-generated responses may see a boost in traffic, especially if they were not previously ranking highly in traditional organic search.

The AI powering of AI Overview is designed to better comprehend user queries and intent. This can help businesses optimize their content and SEO strategies to align with the evolving ways users search and seek information online.

How To Get Ready for AI Overview

One way to get ready for the change is to make sure that SEO best practices are put in place including both technical and content. Experts agree that local businesses should have their Google Business listing filled out to the fullest and double-check for any errors.

E-commerce sites should have robust on-page content including real written reviews and as many product details as they can provide.

As far as content strategy, now is the perfect time for a Content Audit. This will help you catalog and analyze all the content on your website, including its performance, and optimize where needed. This may be as simple as a refresh of up-to-date content, metadata or imagery update, or even an archive of old content that is no longer relevant.

All sites, pages, and posts that are susceptible to AI Overview should contain schema or structured data. Schema is a standardized format for providing explicit information about the content on a webpage in a way that search engines can better understand. It is a semantic vocabulary of tags or microdata that can be added to improve how search engines categorize and display a website's content. This is exactly what AI Overview is looking for when presenting the best answer for the provided query or question. Thousands of schema codes can be implemented in several different ways so Google and other search engines can better understand your product, location, or offering. New and updated schema is always available at schema.org.  

These proactive measures aim to improve the overall search experience and to help deliver high-quality, relevant content that aligns with user intent.

Paid Ads and AI Overview

So far in early Beta tests, Google Ads are not affected by the new AI Overview experience, Ads still show up but above and below the AI Overview answer box. Of course, more testing is needed, and we’ll see if a greater impact is indeed upon the Ads when AI Overview is fully released.

We can take an educated guess as to how these ads will function, based on how AI Overview works now. With how heavily Google has been pushing advertisers to use Performance Max (PMax) campaigns and how dynamic the ads will have to be, it is safe to assume that advertisers will have to use PMax campaigns to show ads within AI Overview.

Performance Max campaigns allow Google to be flexible to the wide variety of searches that users will throw Google’s way. They allow advertisers to add images, copy, videos to be mixed and matched across Google’s available inventory without being bogged down by keywords for targeting, but rather focused on goals such as conversion value, ROAS or CPA.

AI Overview Example

Most searches are going to be research-oriented and the results informative. When it comes to more specific, research-oriented searches today, Google very rarely shows ads in the top results, and if they do, they are limited to a few advertisers. Many AI Overview results consist of information from organic results (see above). There could be a chance that Google will include paid results that make sense in these cards or to have search ads below these results, but unlikely above it, at least at first.

The goal of these types of searches is to get information to the user as quickly as possible and without having to go to an individual’s website.

AI Overview with shoe example

An example of what they could like for commerce-focused results could be like shopping results now nestled right in with the organic results (above), utilizing data coming from Merchant Center to match the context of the AI Overview search.

AI Overview with map example

Location results are another potential way that AI Overview could show sponsored placements, like local service ads. These will likely be powered by your Google My Business information.

When and how ads are going to be utilized in AI Overview is still unknown.

The rise of AI Overview underscores the need for businesses to adapt their SEO, SEM, and content strategies swiftly. Those who can integrate AI signals and optimize for the new search experience stand to maintain and enhance their online visibility. To thrive in this evolving landscape, businesses need to understand AI Overview's features and limitations and implement best practices like schema markup. The Bounteous x Accolite SEO and SEM teams of experts are here to help you navigate this transition effectively. Contact us today to embark on your journey toward search excellence in the era of AI-driven search.