Search generative experience and the new SEO battlefields

As Google implements AI-based changes to its search function, brands need to devise fresh strategies to optimise their ranking and appearance in search results.

Liam Donoghue, Organic Performance Manager, Wavemaker UK, discusses how marketers can best adapt to the new era of search, with generative AI capabilities built in.


Search Generative Experience (SGE) is on the horizon for UK brands. Some wish it’d never arrive, while others are hastily battening down their metaphorical hatches and waiting to see what “Storm SGE” does to their business.

More proactive companies and agencies are taking a different approach, however. Where some see crisis, others see opportunity – or are at least less pessimistic about the negative impacts SGE will have on their organic traffic.

For these brands, SGE is the new SEO battlefield, and they are figuring out what success looks like in this new SERP landscape. But with SGE being so radically different from anything we’ve seen in the SERP in the past decade, how do we navigate this new landscape to get ahead of the competition? 

A SERP unlike anything before

SGE’s radical shake-up of the SERP (search engine results page) isn’t news anymore. Everyone in the digital space is bracing for change. We will see paid ads moved, organic results pushed right down the page, and FAQ-rich snippets are destined to be a thing of the past.

While some previously important SEO placements in the SERP disappear (farewell the coveted p1 spot), others will rise to take their place. But what are the potential flashpoints for the competition we’ll likely see develop in a new SGE results page?

Battlefield 1: in-text citations

After an understandable outcry from the marketing community, Google has decided to cite its sources directly in its SGE generated copy, leading the SEO community to breathe a sigh of relief. However, it still begs the question: where do we want a citation from a site to appear, and are there any tactics available to us as SEOs to game this system?

Maybe the first citation in the block of text would be the best, or perhaps the citation that provides the most insightful nuggets of information would be the goal of SEO teams. Unfortunately, we won’t know until we get our hands on SGE and test it. My hypothesis is that the citation highest up in the copy will be the one SEOs should aim for, but we could find no correlation at all. 

Still, if we want Google to start pulling our content into these coveted citation positions, there are two things we can do – improve our sites’ EEAT signals and format on-page copy in a way that’s friendly to Google crawlers.

Every site gets graded on EEAT (Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness). Brands need an authoritative, trustworthy site with content written by experts before they can begin to consider competing for SGE snippets with any confidence. If you don’t have an EEAT strategy, that should take priority before you start thinking about how to compete in SGE.

Next, it’s time to optimise your copy – but how do we make it so attractive that Google can’t resist including it in its SGE result? 

First, we can look at how brands and websites optimise for Google Voice and use that to optimise pages for SGE. Google Voice and SGE essentially have the same goal: to provide searchers with the answers they’re looking for quickly and clearly. 

This, in theory, means the same principles should apply for generating an SGE result as an answer – providing simple, concise and signposted answers at the top of the page. By applying the principles of Google Voice optimisation to our copy, we will give ourselves the best chance of appearing in the SGE mix.   


Battlefield 2: SGE’s trio of websites

The SGE trio is the three websites that appear on the right-hand side of the SGE result on Google. We don’t yet know whether these ‘SGE trios’ are the same websites cited in the SGE-generated copy, but if not, we’ll see another battle for this prime position in the SERP.

But if a website makes it to this coveted spot, how do we give it the best chance of being clicked on? What will improve CTR? Will it get more clicks if the site is the result furthest left? Is this now a brand battle where the most trustworthy brands will get the best CTR? Annoyingly, pure SEO won’t be able to impact these considerations directly, but what we can influence is the chosen image and copy pulled through to the thumbnail. 

The length of text getting pulled through looks to be fewer than 60 characters. So, reducing the lengths of a website’s H1s and page titles to be really punchy and hook a reader in that very short amount of text is a must. When it comes to imagery, generic blog stock imagery probably won’t cut it anymore. Do we take a leaf out of YouTube’s thumbnail optimisation guidelines and show expressive images of people in these thumbnails?

Looking at app owners’ tactics to get their apps to stand out from the crowd could be a good strategy when reviewing our sites. Titles front-loaded with optimised keywords, attractive and high-quality images and snappy direct descriptions are all key features of app store optimisation.

Battlefield 3: Google Perspectives

Google Perspectives is a new search filter that displays content and viewpoints that relate to a search query. It is an alternative approach to finding content combining traditional blog posts with video, social posts, forum answers and more. 

Any website wanting to compete in this space must ensure they’re displaying great EEAT. However, Perspectives could also lead to more expert “influencers” employed by websites. This could make this section of the SERP a pay-to-play arena where any chance of appearing in perspectives relies on a well-known creator or author in their chosen niche.

But we should also focus on providing timely, newsworthy, opinion-based content. I don’t believe evergreen content has anything to offer Perspectives. However, since Perspectives provides a great way to attract visitors to your site, we could see SEOs turning towards publishers for ideas on how to create relevant, engaging content quickly to attract a consistent stream of visitors to a website alongside a more traditional keyword-focused SEO strategy.

Succeeding in SEO in 2024

Search Generative Experience will be a huge shift for the SEO industry but, until we can get our hands on the new SERP and test, test, test, test, we can’t be certain which strategies will work and which ones will be dead in the water.

By preparing, planning and monitoring SEO strategies, we can build new frameworks for succeeding at SEO and adapting internal and stakeholder KPIs to better reflect the new places we need our website to appear in.

Liam Donoghue

Organic Performance Manager

Wavemaker UK