Google AI Overviews Launch In US Search Results

May 15, 2024 - 7:51 am 338 by
Filed Under Google

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Google, as expected, has officially launched AI Overviews in the US and will expand the launch to other countries by the end of this year. AI Overviews were in Search Labs under the Search Generative Experience last year and has finally launched.

AI Overviews, which was briefly named AI Answers, then went back as AI Overviews is rolling out to all US English users in the next week or so.

I spoke in detail with Hema Budaraju, the Senior Director of Product, Search Generative Experience, Google, as I covered yesterday at Search Engine Land. Google also announced a bunch of new AI search features that are coming soon.

Here are what AI Overviews look like, if you have not seen it yet - kind of like the lite version of Google SGE as we covered back in October but has been what most of us have seen over the past few months.

In March, Google began reducing how often they are shown significantly, launched it to everyone in the US. And no, Google is not charging for SGE.

What Are AI Overviews

They are not featured snippets but rather generative AI answers that aim to answer your query using Google's Gemini. Google will formulate an answer using AI, provide AI cards with links to publishers beneath the AI Overview, so you can dig deeper into the results.

Here is what they look like, if you've been living under a search rock:

click for full size

When Does Google Show AI Overviews

Google will only show AI Overviews for queries that are more complex in nature where the AI Overview will provide more value than the other information shown on the search results page.

Hema Budaraju told me it is not about if an ad will show up on the page or not, which is how I thought Google might solve their ad click issues, but rather what questions can AI response add value beyond the search results, Hema Budaraju told me.

How Often Do AI Overviews Show

Google simply won't say, I asked numerous times what percentage of queries will they show up for and Google would not tell me. It is not like Google doesn't have these rough figures internally, it is more that they do not want the public to know (in my opinion).

A recent study showed that AI Overviews dropped from showing 65% of the time to 35% of the time. And the folks at Onely also posted data just yesterday showing these AI Overviews show up a lot less often:

Clicks To Publisers

Hema Budaraju of course told me that Google wants to send valuable traffic to the web ecosystem, including publishers, content creators and of course advertisers. In fact, I was shocked to hear from Hema Budaraju that the link cards within at the bottom of the AI Overviews get more clicks than a normal search result snippet would get, she said similar to how featured snippets have a higher click-through rate.

Sundar Pichai also told CNBC:

BOSA: I think I heard Liz Reid say that it’s leading to more searches, but the generative AI, or AI Overview, as you’re calling it, is it leading to more or less clicks?

PICHAI: In general, we find it’s both overall increasing usage, and when we look at it year on year, we have been able to grow traffic to the ecosystem. So, we have compared to most of the players, we are prioritizing approaches which will generate traffic as well, so we are working hard on that.

Google Search Console Reporting (or lack thereof)

Google won't prove it to publishers, though. Google can give us access to this data in the Google Search Console performance reports but they won't. I mean, they are doing what Bing Webmaster Tools is doing with Copilot, formerly Bing Chat, but lumping together the AI Overview impression and clicks with the normal search results and there is no way to filter those to just show the AI overviews.

So we really have no idea if our links in the AI Overviews have a higher or lower CTR than the normal search results - we have to trust Google.

This drives me insane, because Google coded this for featured snippets but never rolled it out and simply lumps featured snippets with all search snippets in the Search Performance report in Google Search Console. Google - what are you hiding?!

Maybe it will change?

I do want clarification on when Google will count the impression in Google Search Console.

Opt Out

Let's say you don't want Google to use your content for these AI Overviews and you do not want to show up in the cards for the AI Overviews... You cannot just opt out of AI Overviews without opting out of normal search (like you would with those normal search controls).

AI Overviews are part of Search, so you need to opt out of Search completely by using robots.txt or meta tags (or other methods). Google Extended does not work for this, as we know, it is for other Gemini projects but not Search.

Although, you can use preview controls to try not to show up in AI Overviews. Google posted a new help document that says, "AI Overviews offer a preview of a topic or query based on a variety of sources, including web sources. As such, they are subject to Search's preview controls." Google added that if you implemented preview controls and you're still seeing your content appear in AI Overviews, try the following steps:

  • Make sure that the preview control is correct and visible to Googlebot. To test if your implementation is correct, use the URL Inspection tool to see the HTML that Googlebot received while crawling the page.
  • Allow time for Google to recrawl and process the change in preview controls. Remember that crawling can take anywhere from several days to several months, depending on how often our systems determine a page needs to be refreshed. If you've made changes, you can request that Google recrawl your pages.

Google explains in the robots meta documentation that you can also use the nosnippet directive. It reads "Do not show a text snippet or video preview in the search results for this page. A static image thumbnail (if available) may still be visible, when it results in a better user experience. This applies to all forms of search results (at Google: web search, Google Images, Discover, AI Overviews) and will also prevent the content from being used as a direct input for AI Overviews."

So it seems that nosnippet will block your content from being used in AI Overviews but also web search, images, discover and so on.

So, Google added a separate page for AI Overviews and your website, and updated the existing pages for robots meta tags and subscription and paywalled content documentation accordingly.

Featured Snippets

Speaking of featured snippets, those are not being replaced by AI Overviews, Google said featured snippets are not going away. Google will continue to show featured snippets in the Google Search results.

It is unclear if Google will show both featured snippets and AI Overviews on the same search results page. I believe we've seen examples of this in testing but I do not see a purpose to show both in the long run.

Safe Queries

Google said it will only show AI Overviews when it can trust and have confidence in the results. It does not want the AI Overview to harm people or send people off in the wrong direction. But that does not mean Google will not show them for YMYL (your money, your life) queries, they will.

Hema told me Google been honing its trusted quality systems for decades and uses this for its AI Overviews. But hey, it did not stop Google from recommending you drink urine to pass kidney stones.

You can report bad results with the feedback link and Google Search has policies and will take action on results that it needs to.

SGE - The Name

So is SGE, the Search Generative Experience, name going away? Well, kind of. Google told me that we should call them AI Overviews, and not SGE or Search Generative Experience. What launched are AI Overviews and essentially Search Generative Experience will remain in labs with new AI labs features.

Google has not used the name Search Generative Experience in a while and has gone with AI Overview - which I think works better.

Google wrote here, "AI Overviews in Search are replacing Search Generative Experience."

Ads

Google AI overviews do not show ads but Google does show ads above and below and other places around the AI Overviews. Google has their big Google Marketing Event coming up in a couple weeks, where I expect them to launch more ad formats that generate more clicks even with AI Overviews on the page - but we will see.

Google sent me these quotes on Ads, not Hema but some Google spokesperson:

Innovation and improvements to the user experience on Search have historically opened up new opportunities for advertisers. We saw this when we successfully navigated from desktop to mobile. As we use generative AI to expand the types of questions we can help people with and serve new intents in Search, we see this also opening up new opportunities for ads to be helpful and businesses to connect with customers. People are finding ads either above or below AI Overviews helpful. And we’re continuing to experiment with new ad formats, including Search and Shopping ads alongside Search results in AI Overviews.

Sundar Pichai also spoke to CNBC and said, "You know, the great thing is, users still value commercial information. Our ads work based on intent and quality and relevant at the right time. We have been able to test that in the context of AI Overviews and it’s working well, as we expected it to. So, I think it’ll be a smooth transition, and that’s what we are seeing."

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