What to do about Google’s AI Overviews

There once was a time when the only reason to run a Google search was to go to a website, but now Google is deploying AI to answer people’s queries right there on the search result page (SERP). 

That’s not necessarily good news for small businesses who want to drive search traffic to their websites! But, what can we do about it?

Let’s start with a bit of context …

How it used to be

Those of us old enough (ahem!) will remember the Google Search of yester-year: you typed in your keywords and the algorithm returned a simple list of around 10 blue links with a few ads in the right hand column. You then clicked your link of choice to go and find the information you were looking for.

It’s been a long time since the Google SERPs looked like that, and we’ve got used to seeing a whole smorgasbord of results for most queries with “SERP features” such as video clips, images, answer boxes and more regularly appearing alongside the traditional blue links. Often, we can find the answer we’re looking for without clicking through to a website for more details – and that’s because Google is keen to become better at answering people’s questions in the shortest possible time.

Google Search today

Today, 60% of Google searches end without a click. Why? Because for many years now, Google has attempted to answer as many questions as possible on the search result page itself. It does this by pulling bits of text (as well as images and videos) from web pages and placing them in ‘snippets’ of information on the search result page.

Take a look at the results page for this search for “family holiday destinations”:

There’s only a single traditional blue link to a website (Virgin Holidays). The rest of the result is trying to answer the query right there on the page.

The important point here is that all the text within these “featured snippets” is pulled directly from existing web pages, and the link to each source is provided. This means users can click through to read the whole piece if they choose. So, while it’s not the same as sending a user directly to a website, it’s a fairly limited amount of information still requiring the user to go elsewhere if they want more detail.

That could be about to change.

Enter AI search overviews

After many years of blue links mixed in with snippets and other SERP features, Google is making a step change. It is now rolling out AI overviews, where the algorithm will use generative AI to create a specific, detailed answer to the user’s query. 

They’ll look a bit like this:

[Image credit: https://exposureninja.com/blog/how-to-rank-ai-overview/]

In a May 2024 blog, Googler Liz Reid announced that the search giant was starting to roll out AI overviews across the US, with other countries due to receive the technology at a later point. The company promises to “do the heavy lifting” for its users by “searching for them”. 

Needless to say, this announcement hasn’t been met with open arms by website owners, who now face the prospect of their 40% traffic share shrinking even further.

What should website owners do to encourage traffic?

If you own a small business website and you’re worried about AI overviews eating into your traffic when this feature is rolled out in the UK, you need an updated content strategy with a focus on providing answers to people’s questions. Tools like Answer the Public can be a good way to start thinking about your customer’s questions, and how best you can answer them.

The first thing you need to do is make sure you have published the best possible content. Just like the existing Featured Snippets, the new AI Overviews will include links to source content – as you can see in the screenshot above. 

Given that the overviews will appear at the top of the SERPs, there’s an obvious benefit to having your content cited – and to make that happen, you need to publish the best answer to the user’s query.

You also need to make sure your content is properly optimised for search, for two reasons:

1) We don’t yet know what criteria Google will use to select sources for AI Overviews, but the pages that get into Featured Snippets are almost always ranking in the top 10 organic search results already. It makes sense to assume that pages ranking well outside of AI Overviews would be the preferred choices to include within them.

2) AI Overviews aren’t going to be to every user’s taste. For many queries, a user may prefer to go directly to a source of expertise in that area, so they may simply scroll past the overview and look for a suitable website to visit. Make sure you’re doing all you can to put your website in their view!

As with all Google updates and developments, our advice is to stay calm, don’t panic, and look for the opportunity to publish even better quality, better optimised content for your customers.

 

For more help with your digital marketing and how AI can help, get booked onto one of our AI for small business webinars, or talk to our team about our 1-2-1 consultancy and training.

We’d love to help you, and we promise to turn up in person, not just send our AI avatars!

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