The new year will be here before you know it, and it’s set to bring monumental changes to the world of search engine optimization.
Our SEO predictions for 2024 include some groundbreaking (and downright futuristic) new ways users can interact with search engines.
Most notably, Google’s Search Generative Experience (SGE) will go live sometime in early 2024, and it’ll likely change the search engine landscape as we know it.
In particular, SGE provides AI-powered Snapshots for some queries, which will directly answer user’s questions and provide detailed information for queries – alongside 3 relevant online sources.
Besides Google, Microsoft’s Bing has already brought AI into the mix with its chatbot Copilot (formerly called Bing Chat).
While users can still use the traditional version of Bing, its AI-powered chatbot Copilot is capable of answering user’s questions, writing original text, and generating new images from scratch.
All these advancements are transforming the online search experience in a big way, which will present some real challenges for digital marketers.
For example, zero-click searches are becoming more and more popular, which is where a user receives all the information they need from a SERP (search engine results page) without clicking on any results.
This trend will likely continue in 2024 with the advent of SGE and other AI-generated search features, and you’ll need to know how to adapt to it if you want to continue to thrive online.
The good news is we’ve concocted ways to deal with all of 2024’s challenges, so stay tuned to learn more.
Prediction #1: Google’s Search Generative Experience Will Cause a 25% Drop in Traffic for All Websites
December brought an end to SGE’s testing phase in Google Search Labs, and the technology is ready to go live in early 2024.
Currently, a select few in the US can enable SGE while browsing (although it’s technically still in experimental mode). It’s only available in English and on Android mobile devices that contain the latest version of the Google app.
Here are the official criteria and steps you need to take to enable SGE’s AI Snapshot on your phone.
As soon as SGE became available in Search Labs earlier this year, SEOs everywhere (including us) didn’t sleep on it.
We spent months rigorously testing and experimenting with SGE, which led us to our first prediction for 2024.
According to our research, every website currently ranking on Google Search will experience an approximate 25% drop in their organic traffic when SGE goes live.
Why is that?
It’s due to the effectiveness of the AI-powered Snapshot. It provides detailed answers and information to user queries, and we predict that a large portion of users will get the information they need here and click away from the SERPs.
Also, the AI Snapshot appears at the very top of the SERPs, and it pushes the top-ranked organic results farther down the page – which will undoubtedly play a role in the 25% traffic drop.
Gearing up for SGE: Top ways to prepare your site
It’s hard to jump for joy when you know your site will experience a drop in traffic, and the organic rankings you worked so hard for will matter a lot less.
Still, that doesn’t mean you have to hang up your SEO hat for good.
Instead, our experiments also revealed a bright light at the end of the tunnel.
If you optimize your site for SGE correctly, the 25% traffic loss will only affect low-quality visitors that weren’t going to convert anyway.
Here are some quick tips for making your content SGE-friendly (which is a term you’ll likely start to hear everywhere):
- Google’s GAI (generative AI) will only draw from trusted sites with strong reputations, so building a reputable backlink profile is more important than ever.
- Your content should focus on longer, more conversational queries instead of short-tail keywords to capitalize on SGE traffic.
- Elicit Google’s E-E-A-T (experience, expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness) guidelines in your content, as that’s how the GAI will gauge the quality of your content.
These are the best ways to get your site ready for SGE without drastically rethinking your current SEO strategy.
More good news is that if you’re already ranking in the #1 or #2 spot for certain keywords, Google’s GAI is more likely to feature you in the AI Snapshot.
Classic technical and on-page SEO factors will still apply, so don’t forget to keep those in working order.
For example, if your web pages aren’t able to pass Google’s Core Web Vitals test, or if you didn’t properly optimize each page for your keywords, you won’t stand a chance at appearing in the SGE Snapshot.
That’s why it’s still crucial to hit your site with regular on-page and technical SEO audits.
Prediction #2: Zero-Click Searches Will Rise in Popularity
We’re entering the era of zero-click searches, which is something SEOs would tell each other scary stories about before bed.
Alt tag: Harry from Dumb and Dumber freaking out over zero-click searches.
Frighteningly, zero-click searches have been around for a while, as a study by SEMrush discovered that 57% of mobile searches and a quarter of desktop searches end without clicking on any results.
Why is this happening?
It’s because users are getting the information they need from SERP features like featured snippets, knowledge bars, and the local pack.
Quick calculations, like asking Google, “What time is it in Australia?” also provide immediate answers via SERP features – negating the need for users to click on any organic results.
This realization makes the statistic above from SEMrush far less intimidating.
That’s because searchers looking for simple things like a time conversion or business hours from a local restaurant aren’t going to visit your site and become a customer anyway (kind of like the 25% of traffic lost from SGE).
The scary part occurs when things like SGE and other AI-powered search features enter the mix.
With SGE’s AI Snapshot, users can find answers to questions that they normally would find in your content, which is alarming.
These are the types of zero-click searches you need to prepare for (and maybe write a scary story about for good measure).
If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em: Taking the sting out of zero-click search
How can you prepare your website for the zero-click search era?
As of right now, the best way is to get those pesky AI Snapshots and SERP features to work for you instead of against you.
If you’re able to snag ‘position zero’ with a Snapshot or SERP feature, you’ll see a significant boost to your organic traffic and brand recognition.
This will help establish your brand as a thought leader in your field, heightening the chances that users will click through to your website to learn more than what the Snapshot/SERP feature provides.
The challenge is figuring out which keywords will trigger a SERP feature like a featured snippet.
There are a few ways to find out, one of which is SEMrush’s Keyword Magic Tool.
To use it, enter a keyword related to your niche into the search bar and hit the ‘Search’ button.
Next, click on Advanced Filters and select Featured Snippet from the SERP Features drop-down menu (you can filter for other SERP features as well).
Now, all the keywords listed will trigger a featured snippet on Google.
To make doubly sure your content will trigger SERP features, you should use Google’s Rich Results Test (it’s free). Simply enter a URL you want to check, and the tool will let you know all the SERP features it qualifies for – which is a huge help.
Prediction #3: Answer Engine Optimization (AEO) Will Become Essential
The AI craze has caused platforms like Bing, ChatGPT, and Google’s SGE to become ‘answer engines’ more than traditional search engines.
That’s because they provide direct answers to user’s questions in a conversational tone, thanks to their advanced LLMs (large language models).
This goes hand-in-hand with zero-click search, as users are getting the answers they need from AI-generated answers instead of clicking through to web results.
SEO has always been about adapting to changes, and AEO is no different.
As such, SEOs need to incorporate AEO into their repertoire – mainly by catering to the question/answer format of AI-powered search engines.
The best way to do this is to create concise content based on questions and conversational-style keywords. Be sure to answer the titular question as clearly as possible to make it easy for AI algorithms to cite in their generated responses.
Including commonly asked questions in each article is a must, but you should also take things a step further by creating long-form content based on single FAQs.
You can start using our free keyword planner tool to begin researching question-based keywords to get ahead of the competition, which is definitely something we recommend.
Prediction #4: E-E-A-T Signals Will Reign Supreme for Content
Google unveiled its updated E-E-A-T acronym for its Quality Rater Guidelines back in December of 2022.
It’s been imperative to include E-E-A-T signals in SEO content ever since, but it’s about to matter even more in a big way.
Google’s GAI for SGE will prioritize websites that demonstrate topical authority for its AI Snapshots – and E-E-A-T (experience, expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness) signals are how you gain it.
That means your content needs to fully embody every letter of the acronym, especially experience, the newly added extra E.
Wherever possible, include real-life examples where you dealt with the topic you’re covering first-hand. This will tell Google that you have real-world experience with the topic and aren’t just reiterating content from somewhere else.
If you haven’t already, work on building a rich library of content covering the most important topics and subtopics for your industry/niche.
Equally as important is to ensure your site architecture follows a logical and simple layout to make it easy for crawler bots and humans to navigate your website.
Prediction #5: Backlinks Will Be Bigger Than Ever
Backlinks remain a cornerstone of a website’s perceived legitimacy in the digital age. Considered akin to votes of confidence, these links from external websites signal that your content is valuable and your brand is reputable, which significantly influences your search engine rankings.
Originally, Google’s algorithm, aptly named “Backrub,” was primarily based on backlinks, highlighting their importance. Moreover, when reputable sites link to your content, it not only drives traffic but also boosts your domain authority, prompting search engines to rank your site higher in relevant searches.
However, as AI-driven tools like ChatGPT and other generative AI systems proliferate, producing abundant content, search engines might increasingly depend on backlinks to discern and rank content quality.
It’s crucial to note that not every backlink is of equal value. In the realm of backlinks, quality trumps quantity. To draw an analogy, consider a political campaign: an endorsement from a renowned, ideologically aligned politician is far more impactful than several endorsements from unknown individuals.
In an era where content creation and user experience enhancements are readily accessible through various tools, it’s essential to focus on elements that remain less automated, like acquiring high-quality backlinks. These recommendations, which AI tools currently cannot replicate, are your key to gaining a competitive edge in an increasingly level playing field. By capitalizing on the unique opportunity to secure more high-quality backlinks, you can stay ahead in the digital landscape.
Stay on Top of SEO During the Coming Year
2024 stands to shake things up in the SEO world in many ways.
AI-powered search engines are here to stay, so you’ll need to adapt to things like ChatGPT and Google SGE if you want your site’s content to remain relevant.
Instead of mourning the way things used to be, the smart move is to start preparing for these new search experiences now while you still have time.
If you want expert help navigating the new search landscape in 2024, don’t wait to try out HOTH X, our managed SEO service.