How Can We Prepare for Google’s Search Generative Experience?

Google will likely announce SGE on May 14, the first day of I/O. How can marketers prepare for it?

Video Transcripts

David: Okay. I had a really wonderful conversation with a client yesterday about Search Generative Experience (SGE), and I want to workshop this together as a group because we’re all about to get questions about this. As of April 17, 2024, the rumor is that Google will release this on May 14, 2024. That’s because this is the day of Google I/O. Google I/O is their big announcement for developers, but they always have marketing stuff because, ultimately, Google is a marketing company. If you can spare the time, some of it will be while we meet, but it’s worth signing up for Google I/O and attending some of those webinars. They’re free. Dave could potentially go because I think it’s in California, but the rest of us will have to be virtual.

Tricia: Yeah, Dave, that’s your project.

David: Go to I/O for us, Dave.

Dave: No.

David: So, the rumor is that Google is going to announce SGE on May 14, which is the first day of I/O. Even if they don’t roll it out, I’d suggest, based on my past experience watching iOS, that they definitely announce it, and they might have a timeframe in the next three months. And we all know how Google does this, right? It’s going to be released in the next six months. Six months comes and goes. And they say, well, it will be released in another six months, and then suddenly, surprise, there it is. Right? That’s typically how Google does stuff, which is actually good for us. However, with Search Generative Experience, Google will transition into a ChatGPT model where people will ask a question and answer the question in their search results rather than provide ten blue links to websites. How will this affect our SEO strategy? That’s the question. Now, another rumor? Well, I’ll get to the other rumor at the end. Number one, when I say I had a really good call with a client the other day, I’m not being facetious. It was a really, really good call. The end of the call was, “We’re so glad you’re here, David.” And so, I hope all of you have a “we’re so glad you’re here” conversation with your clients, right? Because the fact is, if we’re doing the right things for SEO, they’re going to outlive SGE even if we lose ten blue links. Okay? So, number one, I’ve said it before, the last thing from Google is they are considering AI-generated content to be low-quality content, and they are, when they can identify it, suppressing it. Also, AI-generated content is only learned language model content. In other words, it’s an algorithm that predicts what the next word is going to say. So, it’s not really intelligent. It’s a statistical model that predicts what the next word in the phrase would likely be. By definition, that is recycling existing content. AI will never say something new. It might be good enough to say it right, but it’s only right based on its inputs, and it’s only able to rephrase what’s already been presented. So, you may have heard a Google update at the end of last year called the Helpful Content update. One of the data points from the Helpful Content update is that Google’s like, we’re tired of seeing you all write the same crap on all your websites. Write something helpful, write something new, say something no one’s ever said before. Does this sound familiar to you? Because AI can’t do that. So, if you’re not cutting corners and you’re hiring writers to do research on content, you’re setting yourself up for success because then you become the source of information for the Search Generative Experience, right? Because the SGE is not going to want to just regurgitate because that’s all it’s doing. They’re going to look for new stuff. If you have the new stuff, you’re going to be the source, and you’re going to be considered credible as a website because that’s what this helpful content update did. It’s not just that we’re going to suppress the content on your website that we don’t think is helpful. It’s that the amount of non-helpful content on your website reflects on the quality of a website as a whole. So, if you have a lot of just the same old stuff everyone says, even if it’s unique enough and passes plagiarism checks, Google’s going to say that website’s just not a very credible website because it’s just not really saying anything new. So, this informs our strategy, too. Don’t just do AI content, but hire writers. Less frequent, better thought-out, expert-writer articles are going to be better. So, we need to get away from our clients expecting x blog posts a week or a month and take the time to write good, interesting stuff so that it passes the helpful content barrier, which can then be incorporated. And if Google quotes us in their answer, that increases the odds not only of us being cited as the answer but also, I’d say, will appear in the ten blue links, which will still appear after the SG. So, if someone asks what I need to look for in a widget, SG might answer that question, “Here are the criteria to pick the right widget.” Well, the next question for you is, where do I get that widget? That is a great five-blue-link or ten-blue-links answer. And so, if Google is picking your, how to pick the right widget content, I’m suggesting that you predict in the future so we can all laugh when I’m wrong later. I’m suggesting that you’re going to be more likely to appear in the ten blue links underneath that question because you’ve already been identified as an authority on that topic. So, because we’re doing the right thing for SEO and we’re not approaching SEO as playing the game and trying to cut corners, we’re going to outlast this algorithm update. Okay. Second, rank is going to become even less relevant in an SGE world. Google, for a long time, has been moving away, and this is why I keep telling people things like rank is dead, rank is dead, rank is dead. Google has been pushing organic searches below the fold for years. They want to keep you on their website, and they’ve done it by filling the ranking zero. You know, featured snippets are the first effort there. Burying organic under three, four paid search listings. You know, one of the functions of local listings is to bury organics. Right? If they can keep you on their website, that would be even better. This is just the next iteration, pushing organic down on the list. So, it’s going to be less important to rank because the ranks aren’t going to show up, but the value is going to be traffic that leads to customers. And if we’ve already got our customers thinking in terms of traffic that leads to clients or customers or sales, when they’re disappointed because they don’t rank, maybe they don’t rank, or they rank number one, but the traffic has dropped off. But they look at the overall traffic and conversions, and that’s going to be a much easier pill to swallow than I’m worried about my rank. Right? Another thing that’s going to outlast search innovative experience is local listings. Like, Tricia, you’re in the right business.

Tricia: When you said that, I was just thinking about local listings.

David: Local listings are going to last. Yeah, that’s a Google product. They’re going to protect that.

Tricia: Yeah.

David: And it’s going to be pretty important to make sure you not only have one but it’s optimized. Just out of curiosity, because I’m staying in this co-working space, I was wondering if there are any SEOs in this co-working space. So, I did a Google search SEO near me to see if anybody showed up a couple blocks around here or even in this building. Three or four of the SEO companies that are right around these places, their local listings aren’t claimed, and their websites are 404. Even better, one of the websites has an SSL certificate, but they didn’t update the link, so it comes to a warning page. Right? Well, I’m pretty secure with my SEO business if that’s the way they’re going to run theirs.

Tricia: Yeah. And the local listings. I’ve seen so many issues with clients not understanding and having it set up improperly. They spend a lot of time on it, but down the road, they could actually lose it. So yeah, for sure.

David: So, especially if you’re a local business, that’s worth a lot, right? So, we know Tricia is an expert in this, and we are thankful Tricia rewrote our process recently. So, double-check that. Make sure you have your Ps and Qs in order. Another thing that won’t change, or just change slightly, is guest blogging. It is going to be really interesting. We used to kind of focus on wham, bam, thank you, ma’am, about our guest blogging strategy. We wrote in your blog, and now we don’t care about you anymore. Moving on to the next blog. I’d say now I’d almost be more willing to contribute to a blog if, number one, it actually has a following. Even if I don’t get a followable link, that gives me SEO credit because that website already has an audience. I also use the power of their ability to promote that socially through their emails to get notoriety for my business. And if I get a follow mobile link, I still get credibility from it. So, link-building is still going to be important. We show up on other websites so that we can be found and benefit from their marketing efforts pushing their website. So, you know, PBN, crappy blogs that no one reads that we might have used to. And I hope you’re not contributing to anything like that. But, you know, we used to do it. I used to do it, right? Those are worthless under SGE because, first of all, the content’s pretty crappy, so Google’s not going to serve it. But second of all, they don’t even have an audience. So maybe the standard for contributing to a blog has how many Facebook followers they have, how many followers on LinkedIn, and how big is their email list, and if we can contribute to that, it’s not going to necessarily affect our SEO, but it’s going to bring us traffic to customers, right? And we take credit for that because we helped get their placement on that website. Speaking of email, I think email is such an underrated but super valuable marketing channel, and it’s so easy to pivot. I am making sure every one of my clients has an active email list. And heck, start with Mailchimp and just start there, right?

Tricia: The one list you own. You own those addresses, and you can’t have them taken away, like your Facebook. I constantly see my Facebook page was taken away. I can’t contact people anymore.

David: Right.

Tricia: You own that, your own email.

David: That kind of marketing is going to be super… It’s so not glamorous. Who was I talking to last week? Who wanted to do a TikTok thing? And I’m just like, the fact is you have to have an email address to have a TikTok account. So, let’s double down on our emails, like lead magnets, making sure we get consent to add people to our email list when they fill out a form. Like, give them an opportunity to fill it out, just to simply join your email list. Even if it’s just that simple, just join my email list. If you have relevant people who are interested in what you have to do, you don’t have to have a thousand people on your email list. I’d rather have 50 people who really want to hear from me than 500 people whose emails I got randomly from somewhere and didn’t really ask for permission to market them. I’d much rather have 50 good people. One of my clients they’re hilarious. It’s like, every few months, we kind of send out some email, like, oh, so how are you going to do this? Here’s an idea we had. They immediately get clients just one or two, but they’re always big numbers as far as value, right? Because the list is so relevant. So, if you’re, this is a way to take advantage of the traffic you’re getting to get more out of it for the client. So, make sure you have an opt-in, and you really need to make sure that you don’t auto-check the opt-in. You don’t assume that because they sent their email, they have given you consent to market to them. And don’t burn that list because those are valuables. Don’t cheese them off. And maybe I’ve got some learning to do with this, even with Reliable Acorn or Curious Ants, right? Because I think I over email everybody. But the point is, own your stuff. I think these things together are going to be like those of us who’ve been doing SEO, right… What’s the word about this? Things are going to change. We might have some clients frustrated. This might be the final straw for some clients who are like, you know, I’m tired of this. I’m just going to pay Google for the traffic and do paid search. Because, you know, paid search is still going to work. That’s how Google makes their money.

Tricia: Yeah.

David: That’s another thing I wanted to add, too. The other rumor with SGE is that they’re going to charge for access like ChatGPT. So, if that happens, some people will pay for it, but not everybody will pay for it. And that’s going to be the best-case scenario for those of us doing SEO because only those who pay for SGE are going to use it, and then everybody else gets the same stuff. Right now, they’re probably going to add to the beginning, pay for SGE, and you get a more complete answer. Or here’s a partial answer. Why don’t you sign up and get the full answer? I mean, they’re going to do stuff like that, but it’s going to push organic down and stuff like that, but organic will not die. I’ve been through several earth-shattering Google updates, Pandas and Penguins, and I saw SEO companies go under, and it’s mostly the companies that are trying to approach SEO as a game to trick to beat Google rather than real marketing. I think Stephanie and I are thinking about the same dude who used to really think of this as a big game, a friend of ours. Is that the right word? Friend? A friend of ours who really, it was all a game. It’s all a game. He also burned many clients when there were very big Google updates. And for those of us who are doing this as marketing, it’s okay. We’re still here. It changes. And so, I’m telling you all this because I’d encourage you to have honest conversations with your clients in the next couple of weeks, maybe when you give them the next monthly report. Say, hey, you know, some big changes are going to happen, and I don’t want you to panic. I want you to know I’m keeping up with it. I’ll quote Dave here: he’s like, don’t worry, I’m part of a mastermind group. We’re talking about this together, right? This is something I think Dave said, right? But, like, use that, and we’ll work through it together. Because we’ll all be like, we’ll all be in the same boat. Yeah, but have the conversation now, and that will help. The other side of this is that our clients are about to get inundated with a pile of junk from people who threaten to have the secret sauce or threaten that SEO is dead. It’s going to change, but we’re doing it the right way. That will pass the test of time. I was thinking through all the processes on Curious Ants, and I’m like, all right, how do I change this? And I was like, analytics, still relevant. The monthly dashboard is still relevant. Search Console is still relevant. Keyword research is still relevant. Oh, it’s all relevant. So, the Curious Ants process is going to change very little. There’ll be some changes, and we’ll work through them together. But anyway, I want you all to have that conversation with your clients. I really highly recommend getting ahead of it, just so they don’t panic. And then you set yourself up as the expert to come to them when they say, “I got this email the other day that said SEO is dead. Why am I paying you again?” “Let’s talk about that.” Right? Why do people send emails like that? Because they’re desperate for business, and they’re crappy marketers, and they’re using threats and fear. Meanwhile, we’re making you money, right? So, we’re here for you. And that’s why I took it as the best compliment when one of my clients said, “We’re so glad you’re here,” because I was anxious to talk to him. I was like, ho-hum, I have to tell you this. I waited until the end of the call so we could cut it off. You know, it left so good. And I wish that for all of you, to have that great, productive, proactive conversation. So, I’m cheering you all on. Do you have any thoughts you want to add or other things that you think are going to change or will not change?

Dave: Another thought on that. I’m glad you brought that up. But I mean, if we’re also focused on conversions and helping them make sales, then search is only a part of it, and they’ll understand that, too. So now the conversation changes to, yeah, we want to bring you up in search results, of course, but that’s not the only thing.

David: That’s a means to an end, but not the end.

Dave: That’s right.

David: The fact is, this is how my clients usually work with me. They hire me as a consultant. Dave, we need your help doing this. Okay. After a couple of months, gosh, we can’t keep up with you. We can’t do it all ourselves. Will you do it for us? Yes, I will do it for you. A little more expensive, but I’ll do it for you. Okay, then, that way, you’re doing a service contract. A couple of months later, hey, do you guys have an email list? Oh, you know, we’ve always wanted to. We just never thought about it. Well, you know I can do that for you, right? Or do you remember how much you spent to go to that conference? Oh, yeah, we spent $20,000 to send all our sales reps to that conference. How many leads did you get from that? Well, we got good FaceTime was the answer. You know what I could do with $20,000 in paid search for you, right? Give me 20 grand, and let’s see what we can do. Right? And so, for most of my clients, I started providing SEO, but because we’re focusing on leads, and that’s when that first page of that monthly report is so important to identify, oh, Facebook’s actually doing pretty well for you. Let’s pay some more attention to that. Let’s put some more thought into it. Maybe we should pay, right? So, we’re always looking for the next opportunity. The other day, one of my clients said, remember when you used to just do SEO for us, David? I’m still doing SEO for you, but it’s such a small fraction of what I’m really doing for them, and they don’t think of me that way anymore. I’m the reliable marketing person that they can turn to. And that is why clients would be like, your budget’s kind of a rounding error in how much money we’ve made, so why would we not keep paying you? And that’s what I want for all of you, right? I want you to be a rounding error. That’s my goal. Be a rounding error. Why would you not pay for this? We make so much money. Why would you not pay for this? Like, it’s a pittance compared to what we’re making? And if we’re talking about lead generation, customer acquisition and sales, we can have that conversation. You pay me this much, and you made that much. Pay me more, we’ll make more, or stop paying me, and that money might go away.

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