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Tech Matters: All about Search Generative Experience: What it is and how to use it

By Leslie Meredith - Special to the Standard-Examiner | Mar 27, 2024

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Leslie Meredith

For almost a year, Google has been testing its Search Generative Experience, an artificial intelligence-powered alternative to its traditional search engine used by 87% of Americans, according to StatCounter. So what is SGE and how is it different from the Google search process you’re familiar with?

Behind the scenes, SGE uses generative AI to answer search queries. You can ask simple questions as you do in Google search, but the addition of AI allows you to ask more complex questions. Results may be combined to answer your question from a variety of sources in a conversational style, similar to a response in ChatGPT. In SGE, this part of the response is typically not sourced, but you may see “cards” with more information from specific websites that you can follow.You will also see prompts for follow-up questions and, finally, web results from regular search.

Responses are not quite instantaneous. Once you hit enter on your query, you’ll see bars moving across the page that indicate your answer is being generated. It only takes a few seconds. SGE responses are labeled at the top with “Generative AI is experimental. Learn more” and a three-dot icon to view standard information about the response — it was generated by AI, delivered in English, etc. Look for the export button on the right where you can choose to bring the text into a new Gmail or add to a new Google Doc.

If you’d like to try SGE, you’ll need to opt in to the experiment in Google Labs. Go to google.com and click on the beaker icon in the upper right corner to open Labs. The first section should be AI Experiments and the first listing should be SGE, generative AI in Search. Click to open and use the toggle to turn it on. If you don’t like it, you can always come back and turn it off.

At the same time as the company is integrating AI into its search platforms, Google is also cracking down on allowing low-quality, AI-generated content to appear in search results, which is encouraging. With the explosion of AI writing tools, content creators are putting up full websites built by AI tools, along with blog posts and other text-based content. These tools draw on existing web content, often adding a liberal dose of keywords, which results in unoriginal and spammy material.

Earlier this month, Google announced it was changing its algorithm to improve search quality rankings and tighten the company’s anti-spam policies. “We believe these updates will reduce the amount of low-quality content on Search and send more traffic to helpful and high-quality sites,” Google Director Elizabeth Tucker wrote in a blog post. “Based on our evaluations, we expect that the combination of this update and our previous efforts will collectively reduce low-quality, unoriginal content in search results by 40%.”

As consumers, we have to take a “trust in Google” approach as it relates to search results. But the company has a good track record, which is why it accounts for the majority of search market share. However, if conversational search responses become the norm — and I think they will — citing sources will be critical for those who take the “trust but verify” approach.

Across the table, marketers and website owners are grappling with the change, wondering how their content will rank as more search becomes AI-dependent. Without sources, their websites will disappear from view, a phenomenon dubbed zero-click searches. When you ask a simple question in search, it’s likely you’ll get the answer without having to click on a website link. “How old is Taylor Swift?” – you’ll instantly see she’s 34 with no AI needed. Up to half of search queries are zero-click, which is helpful for users but doesn’t generate traffic for websites. Expect more zero-click results as AI search grows.

So what can content creators do to survive in an SGE world? The best advice still stands: Write original, interesting content that people search for. But there’s more. A research team from Princeton University, Georgia Tech, Allen Institute for AI and IIT Delhi tested nine ways to optimize for AI search engines. They found that three of their methods improved results across a variety of website types, showing an increase in visibility of between 30% and 40%.

First, cite reliable sources in your articles. Second, add quotes from reputable and known people. And third, add statistics. The researchers found that the existing webpage text didn’t need to change, but the addition of sources, quotes and statistics made a big difference. And all of those are simple mechanisms to produce better writing — nothing new required.

Leslie Meredith has been writing about technology for more than a decade. As a mom of four, value, usefulness and online safety take priority. Have a question? Email Leslie at asklesliemeredith@gmail.com.


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