How to Optimize Your Website for Google Search Generative Experience (SGE)

How to Optimize for Google SGE-2024

Table of Contents

If digital marketing in 2023 could be summed up with two words, it’s these: “artificial intelligence.” From enhanced use of existing AI-based tools to content improved by – or, less usefully, completely generated by – AI text tools like ChatGPT, AI was a genuine sea change in the world of digital marketing. Yet the big-mama change only arrived towards the end of 2023: Search engines like Google and Bing rolling out AI responses to search queries. Google calls this the “search generative experience,” or SGE – and mastering SGE optimization will be a key marketing skill from now on.

It is not an exaggeration to say that for marketers who have relied on things like SEO to drive organic traffic to their or their clients’ websites, Google SGE and its equivalent on platforms like Bing could be near cataclysmic. After all, if people can get an answer to their queries by just reading what Google’s AI algorithm says in response, why would they go to your site to get the answer instead? 

Let’s not not mince words: A lot of sites will be negatively affected by this change. Especially if you’re on the second page of search engine results (SERPs) or below, you might kiss your organic traffic goodbye. 

So, should we give up? Is that it, digital marketers and SEO experts – time to put up the chairs, shut off the lights, lock the door, and bid our field farewell? 

I don’t think so. And neither do you, which is why I wrote this blog and you clicked on it. Because, as it turns out, with some hard work, we can make Google SGE work for us and still drive organic traffic to our web pages and those of our clients. But that requires knowing how to optimize your website – and the content you create – for search generative experience.

So, let’s dig into the world of SGE and SGE optimization, and see how you can make your websites one of the ones left standing after the AI earthquakes.

How Does Google SGE Work?

If you have Google search generative experience turned on (if not, click the beaker on the top right of Google to turn on experimental options), you can type a query as per normal. Then, in the results, Google will generate a quick summary response for you.

At the time of writing, I had been planning on rectifying the terrible mistake that was my partner admitting to me that she’d never seen the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy, so, for reference, let’s see how it handles a simple query of this type: 

How Does Google SGE Work?

As you can see, Google SGE responds with a straightforward answer to the question, both about the trilogy as a whole and about the staggering 11-Oscar clean sweep of Return of the King. Note that there are both followup questions – but more to the point, there are highly relevant links right there in the SGE answer. 

When we talk about SGE optimization, this is what we’re talking about. This is where you, ideally, want your websites to show up. 

Google, after all, doesn’t know everything on its own. All of its answers are generated by scraping information from other sites around the internet. And Google’s engineers certainly aren’t stupid; they know that if sites like yours, with its insightful content, go under – or if all of the content it scrapes is, in turn, being generated by AI – it will lose the ability to accurately answer questions like this one.

Therefore, we can understand that Google is incentivized to ensure that the most highly credible and informative content that contributes to the AI-generated answer is included in its answer so that a searcher can learn more if they want. This is what SGE optimization is all about. How do you get the top spot instead of your competition? 

SGE Optimization Tactic #1: Create SGE-Friendly Content

This one sounds like a no-brainer, doesn’t it? If you create content that SGE and other generative search AI algorithms like, of course you’ll do well when it comes to SGE optimization.

But what does this actually mean? How do you optimize your content in a way that Google’s search generative experience likes? 

Let’s break this down. 

Answer User Queries Directly and Naturally 

“Keyword stuffing” has always been a bad practice in terms of SEO, but now this is going to be even more the case. You can’t just repeat the same keyword over and over in a piece and expect SGE to pick it up.

Don’t think about content in terms of keywords. 

Think about your content in terms of “what are my potential customers actually searching for?” Use long-tail keywords that are phrases or longer to match this sort of query-focused search experience. 

In other words, if you sell running shoes, “arch support running shoe” probably shouldn’t be the keyword you want to go with for a blog; you might want to consider something like “how much arch support do I need for a running shoe” because that’s more like an actual question your users might search for. 

Then, answer the question! You shouldn’t dance around the point – you can expand on it afterwards, but you should try to answer the question clearly and unambiguously early on in your blog. 

Incidentally, here’s what SGE gave me for that exact question:

Answer User Queries Directly and Naturally 

Write Answers Naturally and Conversationally 

This flows from the above point, but you shouldn’t just design your content around these direct responses – you should write naturally. Answer questions in plain, straightforward, conversational speech. Dancing around the point or trying to stuff keywords and key phrases into the content you’re writing can come off as awkward and forced. Worse, it can come off as artificial or AI-generated in its own right.

Try to make your content sound as natural as possible.

Structure Your Content Clearly 

Anyone who has spent time working with generative AI, whether for work or for fun, knows that even on highly advanced paid models like ChatGPT 4, the model can… need guidance, shall we say. A little ambiguity in your prompt can result in an answer that isn’t what you asked for at all. 

You should think of Google SGE in a similar fashion. It isn’t just about whether your content exists and is good, it’s about how the AI algorithm can scrape the content you’re writing and parse it to deliver as part of the answer it generates.

To that end, you should make sure your content has a clear, consistent, and intuitive structure. Use lots of headers and subheadings so that Google and its peers can understand what you’re writing about and how to summarize it. 

SGE Optimization Tactic #2: Build Authority and Trust 

Google’s search quality ranking algorithm has long held to a series of principles called EEAT: Experience, Expertise, Authority, and Trustworthiness. (Sometimes this is boiled down to just EAT, since Experience and Expertise overlap in several crucial ways).

Build Authority and Trust 

Moz.com

In other words, Google wants to know:

  • Are you who you say you are? If John Funk is writing a blog post, is John Funk a real person? What expertise does John Funk have in this field?
  • What authority on the topic does the author or site have? Writing a blog on digital marketing on a site devoted to digital marketing demonstrates authority in a way that it might not if I published this same blog on, say, a website dedicated to The Lord of the Rings fandom. 
  • Is the site – and the content – trustworthy? Are we up-to-date on all security issues and credentials? Are there any red flags or reasons to feel that the site could harm visitors, either through scams or hacks? 

To this end, obviously you want to make sure your site is technically sound (and more on this in the next session) – but you should also be trying to ensure that your writers develop names for themselves. Publish content on a given topic that resonates and drives engagement, and Google search generative experience might be more likely to pick it up – because it identifies John Funk as the writer, and John Funk is an expert who writes good content on the topic.

(Well, at least, I’d like to think so.)

Get Backlinks 

Beyond focusing on EEAT, you should make clear that other people think that your content is valuable, too. Getting links from other sites to your content has always been a best practice for SEO, and it’s no different when it comes to optimizing for Google SGE. 

Publishing content that demonstrates expertise and authority is good, but you need to make Google understand that other people agree with this claim. Developing a strategy to get backlinks from reputable sites will be a key factor in bumping your content up the charts in the search generative experience algorithm.

SGE Optimization Tactic #3: Enhance User Experience (UX)

If Google is going to use its search generative experience to not just cite your website, but push visitors to it, it helps to have a site that people want to visit. A clunky, slow website that must be viewed on a full-size CRT monitor from 2006 to display property isn’t one that will catch Google’s interest.

For SGE optimization, you need to focus on at least cleaning up your site on these three points:

  • Optimize for mobile. The vast majority of web traffic these days comes from mobile devices – and that means the majority of search queries does, too.

    Your site needs to look good on mobile devices, period. If you aren’t optimizing your site for people browsing on phones and tablets, you’ll have higher bounce rates and lower engagement, which means that Google will be much less likely to consider you for things like SGE.
  • Improve site speed. The slower your site loads, the lower your engagement rate and higher your bounce rate. This means Google will consider your site less authoritative, which means it will be less worth engaging with. Focus on improving your site load time by getting rid of unnecessary plugins or cumbersome code or large images.
  • Embrace intuitive navigation. This is like the content structure point above, but larger and for your site as a whole. If normal human beings can’t figure out how to easily get around your site, then bots and AI algorithms might struggle to do it, too – which means the great content you’re writing might as well be flung into the void.

    Think about intuitive, effective navigation and menus. How do users get around your site? What are the most important pages or page categories that you want them to be browsing – and that you want Google SGE to be pulling from when it answers a question?

SGE Optimization Tactic #4: Always Be Updating 

As Omar once said on The Wire, if you come at the king, you’d better not miss. However, as cool a line as it was (and as much as we’ll miss you, Michael Williams), it’s leaving out another truth: Age comes for all kings eventually. 

You might have a top-ranking blog post on your site that’s hitting all of your primary keywords. But how well is that blog post holding up? Are the “best practices for securing your website in 2019” still best practices in 2024 and beyond? Are the links in your blog post still relevant, or are they dead – or redirecting to a page other than the one you meant?

The good news is that, unlike kings in real life, you can refresh your content’s lifespan at any time. 

And you should, too, because there are plenty of hungry would-be kings looking to take your top spot. 

So this means:

  • Regularly update content. It’s not 2021 anymore, so if you have articles about best practices from that year, you probably want to make sure they’re referencing the current year instead.

    Also, things may have changed. Trends may have changed, new technologies may have become available, and what was once a best practice may no longer be the case. Updating older content lets you adjust to the times and keep your advice fresh and relevant, while not throwing away any extant backlinks that you worked hard to get and having to start fresh.

    Also, when you update content, make sure to update the publish date. Nothing seems more suspicious than a “Best practices for 2024” article that was published on October 21, 2017.

    In general, you should plan on refreshing top-performing content at least once a year. Maybe more, based on…
  • Monitor performance to spot issues. If you had a great piece of content that was regularly driving traffic from SERPs and it suddenly stops performing – what happened? What caused that? Look at what might have changed to drive this fall in performance, see what’s dethroned it for the top spot, and what you can do to change it. Perhaps something broke on your site, or perhaps another piece of content from a competitor is doing what you do more effectively – and you’ll need to refresh or otherwise reframe your content to take the top spot back.

Don’t be afraid to solicit and listen to feedback. If things are inaccurate in your content, you should fix it, for instance. Accuracy matters in establishing trust, and this is true for individuals as well as Google’s algorithms. 

Weathering the SGE Storm Will Take Work – But it Can Be Done

SGE, like AI in general, will change lots of things. It will change how we work, it will change assumptions, and things that we’ve relied on for decades may no longer be effective.

But that’s not a good reason to throw in the towel. After all, your competitors aren’t.

SGE optimization can work for you and your business – and if you’re a digital marketer, for your clients, too. By creating interesting, helpful, authoritative content; by building trust and expertise and displaying it; by improving your site’s UX; and by regularly updating your content so that it’s always fresh and relevant, you can best position your content so that Google search generative experience, and the other generative AI search results, will pull from it and link to it.

And sometimes you can ask for a cookie recipe and SGE gives you an answer that is, notably, not a cookie recipe… so in that case, you’ve still got to go to the actual recipe website itself. That’ll probably still happen, too.

SGE optimization

Author Bio

John Funk

John Funk

John Funk is a veteran copywriter, editor, and digital marketer. With a background in online journalism and a passion for fantasy and Dungeons & Dragons, he works to craft compelling narratives and content you enjoy reading.

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