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Google AI Overviews - Does Being Top 3 Still Matter?

Updated: Jul 1


If you run a website and get traffic from Google then you may be wondering whether that traffic is going to stay. Google is one of the last big referring websites left on the web. Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, Instagram, LinkedIn, etc. have over the last few years dropped the amount of traffic they send off-site. Until now, Google was the last one left, and that might soon change.


Last month, Google announced the biggest update to the search engine in not only years but in the existence of Google. It’s called AI Overviews.


Key Summary:

  • What are AI Overviews? AI Overviews use AI to summarise the most relevant information from search results directly within the search page. Google is essentially doing the Googling for you, surfacing the most relevant answers.

  • Will it impact your website traffic? AI Overviews may reduce website traffic by answering queries directly in search results, although Google claims included links receive more clicks than traditional search results. The jury is still out on whether this is true, but some research suggests that Google reliant websites could see an up to 40% reduction in traffic over the next year (​source)​.

  • What does this mean for ranking #1?: The value of top 3 search results may decrease as AI Overviews take up significant screen real-estate which was previously held for position 1-3. It will prioritise comprehensive content from various sources, which previously may not have been in the fabled top 3 position.

  • Long-tail vs. Short-tail Searches: AI Overviews will initially appear mostly for long-tail queries, where a summary of various sources will give a better answer than the user reading many individual websites. It is likely that short-tail commercial searches (i.e. buy mascara or plumber near me) will continue to show traditional search results (10 blue links).

  • Adapting to AI Overviews: To thrive, produce valuable, in-depth content that aligns with Google’s ​E-E-A-T principles​: Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trust, and interlink content to boost SEO for commercial searches.


What are Google AI Overviews?

In short, as Google puts it - let Google do the Googling for you. 


After you make a search, Google will determine if it is relevant to show you a list of 10 blue links or whether it would be more valuable for Google to read the content of those links for you and surface the most valuable information. Public research has shown that the AI Overview is shown on 24% of search terms, which leading publications rely on for traffic.


Google’s video announcement does a great job of explaining what AI Overviews are.




Why Are People Worried About AI Overviews?

The theory is that Google is going to stop sending as much traffic to websites as it once had. This is because above the fold (before any scrolling) will be taken purely by the AI Overview, which aims to answer the question. If the question can be answered in entirety by the AI Overview, it is theorised that the user will simply not click through to the website. 


That being said, AI Overviews will provide references for where it sourced the data.


The hitch? The references will be at the bottom of the overview once the content has been consumed. If the answer requires further explanation or research, a user may feel so inclined to click through.


Will websites get the traffic? Here’s what Google has to say:

“And we see that the links included in AI Overviews get more clicks than if the page had appeared as a traditional web listing for that query”


The jury is still out on whether this is true or not. Time will tell, but for now we are operating in ambiguity. Google hasn’t given the community the tools to analyse AI Overviews traffic vs regular search traffic.



Will AI Overviews Affect My Business?

I’m sorry, but I won’t be able to give you a golden ticket answer today. What I can do is give you my hot potato. I mean my hot take.


Bad news for the top 3, good for the rest of the SERP. 

Traditionally, approximately 80% of clicks are gobbled up by the top 3 results, of which 80% of those are taken by the first result.



As you may have noticed in the above image, Google is already doing some scraping and surfacing. The first result has had a portion of its content pushed onto Google via the ‘Featured Snippets’ feature. This has served to further prioritise the number 1 result by giving more screen real-estate to it.


With AI Overviews, I predict that the top 3 (1, 2 or 3) won't be as prized as a position. First off, they'll be pushed down the page (by an average of 980 pixels, according to this ​study​). Secondly, because Google is going to be sourcing information from all related content pieces to surface the most relevant for the specific query. 


Because AI Overviews works well with long-tail queries (e.g. "suggest a 7 day meal plan for a college student living in a dorm focusing on budget-friendly and microwavable meals"), you'll be seeing Google taking the best content from content pieces specifically related to the search. Previously, these articles may have never ranked for the variety of shorter tail queries the user would have searched. Now, they have a chance.

So, if you’ve been stuck beneath the top 3 (like most websites that aren’t the big dogs), then you might actually be coming out on top. 


But, if you’re traditionally in the top 3 for specific searches then you might find that your traffic is headed for a downward spiral.


Short-tail searches (particularly commercial) are mostly safe. 

Long-tail keywords will be the first to go, prioritising AI Overviews over the traditional list of 10 blue links. 


What is long-tail? That's a longer term search, which Google made pretty evident in its marketing material (e.g. "suggest a 7 day meal plan for a college student living in a dorm focusing on budget-friendly and microwavable meals"). 


But, for a short-tail commercial term, like 'best plumbers near me' or 'buy mascara' or 'diesel car servicing', you're still going to get your typical blue links.

In the same vein, short-tail non commercial searches might also get a free pass. Let’s say the search for ‘budget friendly meals’ might be less likely to have an AI answer which is better than the typical Google search. 


Or, if you have a specific query that people are searching for. Let’s say you search for ‘best gluten free beer’. This is a search which is likely that someone has written an article about it. While Google may be able to source and surface content related to this term, the best result may actually come from a trusted reviews website.


Will My Blog Still Get Traffic From Google?

If the answer is a simple one-pager, expect traffic to decline significantly.

If the answer requires nuance, depth and length, then expect click-through to potentially even increase as your article may be sourced more regularly than the narrow field of keywords it currently ranks for.


Does this mean you should stop writing content for Google? Yes, stop. Nah, jokes. Keep it up! But what should you be writing?


Goodbye SEO optimised singular keyword focus content; hello content webs! 

Until now, a common SEO blog practice has been writing content relating to a specific keyword people have been searching for. 


For example, you might see that there is an opportunity to rank for a keyword such as ‘how to clean your fridge’. You’ll then be inclined to write a blog post answering that question in the hope that your content may rank in the top 3.


Moving forward we expect that you’ll be producing content with a different objective:


  • Rank in the top 3 for queries that don’t elicit an AI Overview.

  • Produce valuable content with the hope that Google surfaces your answer in the AI Overview.

  • Interlinking your product or service pages to boost them in SEO for commercial searches


So, with number 2, that’s what we’ve been harping on for a long while - produce valuable content, not SEO content!


How do you produce valuable content? Follow Google’s E-E-A-T principles. Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trust.

Let’s break that down.


  • Experience - give your readers a bang on experience when writing content. Make it readable, concise and valuable.

  • Expertise - show true expertise in writing about content. Don’t write about things that you know nothing about (and perhaps leaned on AI to create).

  • Authoritativeness - produce content around a topic that is specific to your niche to indicate your authority in the area. Generate links to your content, drive traffic and engagement on your content pages.

  • Trust - Build a trustworthy profile on the Internet.

By producing this content you should also interlink to your product or service pages to enhance their ability to rank for commercial searches.


Conclusion

In conclusion, while Google’s AI Overviews may initially seem daunting for website owners, there is an opportunity for those who adapt. The new landscape will reward valuable, in-depth content over SEO-driven keyword stuffing. Websites that focus on producing high-quality, authoritative, and trustworthy content will likely benefit from increased visibility, even if they weren’t traditionally in the top three search results. Embrace the shift towards content webs and ensure your content aligns with Google’s E-E-A-T principles. By doing so, your website can continue to thrive and attract meaningful traffic, despite the evolving nature of Google’s search algorithms.


FAQs

Are Google AI Overviews in Australia? 

Not yet! Google has launched AI Overviews in the US and says that 1 billion people will have access within the year. We suspect that this will include Australia, though it is yet to be confirmed.


What are Google AI Overviews? 

Google AI Overviews are a new feature where Google uses artificial intelligence to summarise the most valuable information from search results, rather than just presenting a list of 10 blue links. This feature aims to give users the most relevant information directly within the search results.


How do Google AI Overviews affect website traffic? 

AI Overviews might reduce the traffic to websites because users may find their questions answered directly within the search results. However, Google claims that links included in AI Overviews receive more clicks than traditional search results.


Will AI Overviews impact my business? 

The impact depends on your current search rankings and the nature of your content. Websites that typically rank in the top 3 for specific searches might see a decline in traffic. However, websites that offer in-depth, valuable content might benefit as their information could be included in AI Overviews.


What type of content is most likely to be affected by AI Overviews? 

Long-tail queries (detailed and specific searches) are more likely to be impacted by AI Overviews. These searches will prioritise AI summaries over traditional links. Short-tail commercial searches (like "buy mascara") are less likely to be affected.


How can I optimise my content for Google AI Overviews?

Focus on creating valuable, in-depth content rather than content solely optimised for SEO keywords. Follow Google’s E-E-A-T principles: Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness.


What are Google’s E-E-A-T principles? 

E-E-A-T stands for Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trust. Create content that provides a great user experience, demonstrates expertise, establishes authority in your niche, and builds trust with your audience.


Should I stop writing SEO-optimised content? 

No, but shift your focus. Instead of writing for singular keywords, aim to produce comprehensive content that can be interlinked and valuable to users. This can help your content be featured in AI Overviews and improve overall SEO.


How will AI Overviews affect short-tail searches? 

Short-tail commercial searches will likely continue to show traditional search results. AI Overviews are more focused on long-tail queries that require more detailed answers.


Can AI Overviews benefit my website? 

Yes, especially if your site produces high-quality, in-depth content. Even if you haven’t been in the top 3 search results, your content might now be surfaced more frequently for relevant queries.


This guide is written by Hedgehog, a Done With You digital marketing consultancy specialising in small and medium businesses in Australia. We offer digital marketing consulting, coaching, and training.


Happy marketing!

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