Jump into the new year with the biggest stories in SEO. This roundup covers AI, SEO heists, and big hints from Google about what’s coming next.
First, you’ll review some recent data, analysis, and case studies. You’ll learn some new SGE insights, find out what tests revealed about removing meta descriptions, and learn whether the “SEO heist” we discussed in the last roundup was worth it.
Next, you’ll find some guides to help you develop more effective SEO. They’ll teach you what to expect from SGE and Generative AI and how SGE will likely impact your organic traffic going forward.
At the end, you’ll find some of the top news stories of the new year. It’s all about Google’s latest moves, including phasing out third-party cookies, the company’s response to a massive spam attack, and removing the previously posted SGE end date.
New Google SGE insights: Content formats, YMYL, product views
Danny Goodwin brings you a trove of data covering Google’s Search Generative Experience (SGE). This feature represents a huge shift in Google’s search capabilities and has already started driving some changes in some vertices. Danny introduces you to some of the changes revealed in a recent study.
For example, SGE is now showing up for 84% of all searches. When it does show up, it most often takes the form of an opt-in option where users can voluntarily request an AI-generated answer.
SGE is also showing up in some very predictable formats. 48% of the time, it appears as an ordered list. An unordered list appears about 38% of the time, and a product-view result appears about 8% of the time for product queries specifically.
Google has also implemented some SGE warnings for YMYL results. Answers may include warnings about results not being age-appropriate, not representing legal, medical, or financial advice, or possibly dangerous.
Product views are yet another area where Google is experimenting heavily. For products, Google provides SGE-related listings, carousel groupings for multiple preferences, and value cards for specific products.
Check out the entire article for more analysis and links to the research. Generated meta descriptions have been another major part of Google’s AI adoption. In the next article, you’ll find out what happens when you remove the ones you’ve created.
Does Removing Meta Descriptions Improve Click-Through Rates?
Noe Servin brings you this look at a recent Search Pilot study. The study involved removing all listed meta descriptions over the recommended character limit from an e-commerce site, even from pages that had carried those descriptions for a long time. This allowed Google to rewrite them based on the page content autonomously.
Search Pilot opened the test with a quiz of their followers. The polled SEOs didn’t agree much with the results. 42% believed the test would have inconclusive results, while the rest were split between the view the test would have positive or negative results.
The results of the test showed that there was an average 4.2% increase in monthly organic sessions when the descriptions were removed, and Google’s generated descriptions were allowed to assert themselves.
Ultimately, Search Pilot recommended the client to move forward with applying these changes to all applicable pages based on the result. Check out the complete study for more information about the test and its results. Next, you’ll look back at the recent SEO heist with AI content, and how it is playing out from the perspective of experts.
An Agency Used AI to Pull an “SEO Heist”: Was It Worth It? We Asked Experts
Curt del Principe brings you this biting analysis of how one agency founder used generative AI to pull off a heist that stole 3.6 million in traffic from a competitor. Curt asked experts to give their view of what happened, whether it is (as some critics call it) “the death rattle of the internet.”
You can grab the backstory for this heist from our last roundup or read this full piece to get an idea of what happened. For now, you just need to know that the heist involved downloading a competitor’s sitemap, turning all URLs into blog titles, and using those titles as AI prompts to produce thousands of pieces of content.
As Curt admits, this did work for a surprising amount of time. The site achieved significant growth over more than a year. According to Google, this shouldn’t be able to happen. The Google team has many times alluded to algorithms that catch and punish derivative content. They were effective at diminishing spun content sites in the early 2000s.
He theorizes that the algorithms didn’t work this time because new AI articles have a different construction than old spun articles. The heist didn’t involve stealing the competitor’s content, just the subjects of that content.
Some experts were asked whether this agency created a “black hat roadmap” for SEO. Some agreed that was a reasonable worry. If AI content can perform at the same level as human content, it could easily crowd out human-created content.
However, the experts Curt polled are skeptical that this will remain a problem. As they point out, hundreds of effective tricks for gaming Google have come and been squashed. They also pointed out that the original writeup of the heist didn’t cover conversion data, which may have been significantly lower than the traffic alone suggested.
How Google will deal with issues like these remains to be seen, but check out the complete piece for more analysis. For now, let’s jump into the month’s guides, starting with an idea of what to expect from SGE in 2024.
Google SGE And Generative AI In Search: What To Expect In 2024
Kristi Hines brings you this look at the evolving landscape of AI and how you may need to adjust your strategies to deal with the evolving landscape of AI in search.
She starts with some coverage of recent surveys suggesting that people are highly interested in AI-powered search. About a quarter of US adults already trust AI results, and a third are convinced the results are factual.
Kristi believes that Google is chasing even higher levels of adoption and reminds us that Google’s CEO and other officers have described the evolution of search with generative AI as one of Google’s top priorities. New changes, including increased speed and ad placements, have already been announced.
Google also focuses on new features that drive organic search traffic to websites. Advertisers have already been told that they can expect native ad formats for SGE, greater connectivity with Bard, and more. Kristi notes that based on Google’s statements and actions, local searches may be a big focus. One-third of SGE results already include local packs.
Overall, Kristi argues that SGE is here to stay. Far from a temporary project, it may be one of the most important parts of Google’s search results going forward. However, she also argues that there is a high potential for SGE results to push down organic results like featured snippets did.
She argues that there are steps that SEOs should take to be better prepared, and makes some predictions, including:
- Expect a shift towards more long-tail and conversational keywords
- Aim for a diversity of content types to improve visibility
- Use proper markup schema on text, image, and video content to ensure it appears in relevant AI responses
Make sure you check out her full article for more analysis of Google’s statements and how SEOs can prepare. For now, let’s dive more into one specific topic that she covers: GEMini, and its implications for the future of AI.
Hidden Gemini: Google Is “Humanizing” the Search Results to Protect Itself Against the AI Storm
Kevin Indig brings you this look at how Google is attempting to humanize search results to protect itself against some of the consequences of the incoming AI storm.
Google has already launched a system called “Hidden Gem.” This system is designed to find and boost content in forums and blog posts that have proven helpful to readers but have not been given a normal chance to rank.
Kevin believes that this will target content that has good user engagement but has struggled on domains without strong authority. As he points out, we have already seen some effects of this policy, with sites like Reddit and Quora appearing for more searches.
Kevin argues that one of the biggest benefits of boosting forums is that many of them already impose user verification in some form. By promoting forums, Google can rest on the work these forums already do to verify users rather than try to handle verification itself.
Kevin has some ideas for how you can leverage hidden gems for growth. He recommends collaborating with gems through paid influencer campaigns, creating or buying profiles on top forums. He also recommends starting your own community.
Check out the complete guide for more tips on using hidden gems. In the final guide for the month, you’ll get a deeper look at how SGE will impact your current organic traffic and what to do about it.
How Will SGE Impact Your Organic Traffic?
Zach Edelstein wants to help you create a step-by-step template that will allow you to estimate your site’s traffic loss or gains from SGE.
He points out that Google’s SGE results already take up a ton of vertical space in searches (when enabled). It is one of the “loudest” search features ever implemented. When these results are combined with the knowledge panel, organic results are much further down the page.
You may experience loss or gains from these changes, and Zach describes how you may be able to predict it. He recommends that you perform some research on how SGE may impact your top keywords.
He describes to you how the Moz team developed a forecasting tool for SGE and how you can apply it to your own sites.
First, you’ll need to establish some assumptions about the CTRs as they exist without SGE. He argues the quickest way to do that is to use the results of CTR studies and provides some links to research that may help you finish your projection. He also recommends using GSC for some personalized CTR assumptions.
Throughout the rest of the article, he takes you through a series of steps you’ll need to follow to set up a spreadsheet in Excel or Google Sheets. He includes helpful commands that will allow the sheets to organize some of your information for you.
Check out the full guide for more tips and included templates. For now, you’re ready to move on to the news. First, Google has announced that third-party cookies are now being phased out of Chrome.
Google Begins Phasing Out Third-Party Cookies in Chrome
Google has announced that it is taking steps to phase out third-party cookies. Tracking Protection rolled out to 1% of the browsers in early January, and Google plans to eliminate all third-party cookies by the end of 2024.
The search giant first revealed this plan in 2021. The move is suspected to be the result of regulatory changes in the European Union. As the authors point out, many browser competitors have already moved forward on blocking cookies. Mozilla did the same in 2019, and Safari followed in 2020.
The planned removal of third-party cookies may make first-party data far more valuable to the marketers who possess it. Others may be required to make dramatic changes to their existing data gathering to compensate.
Check out the complete article for more news about the end of cookies and how marketers may need to respond to it. For now, you’re ready to learn about the next big news story: Google was recently hit with a massive spam attack.
Google Search Overwhelmed By Massive Spam Attack
Roger Montti brings you this story about a massive spam attack that was ongoing for several days in late December. The effects of this attack were surprising, with many domains ranking for hundreds of thousands of keywords each.
Roger appears to believe that the spam sites are taking advantage of several windows of opportunity to rank spam sites.
First, local search has a more permissive algorithm, and it’s easier to game. Second, long tail keywords typically have lower volume, so there is less competition to rank. Finally, the spam sites are made on brand new domains that don’t have existing sanctions.
He provides some examples of these spam domains so that you can see what they look like (and if they’re operating in your niche). One of them ranks for 300,000 keyword phrases alone.
Roger argues that Google has tools to deal with spam and recommends some ways they may move forward, for example, being stricter and not permitting certain domains to rank. So far, Google has not resolved the issue, but there may be more news soon.
In the final news item for this month, Google has removed the end date to SGE.
Google Search Generative Experience December End Date Removed
In a fitting close to a roundup that has featured a lot of SGE news, Barry Schwartz brings you this look at Google’s removal of the original December 2023 end-date for SGE.
The date was originally designed to mark the end of an experiment with SGE. However, it now seems that SGE has no defined end-date, and the “experiment” may not be ending at all before the full and complete launch of SGE.
As for additional details, the change didn’t include any. Google didn’t even announce that the end-date had been removed—It was spotted by the SEO community. If anything changes again with SGE, you’ll be able to read all about it in a future roundup.
5 Strategic Additions for Stronger SEO Content Plan in 2024
On January 30th, Surfer co-founder and Head of Innovation, will walk you through actionable steps to take to ensure 2024 is the best year yet for your website! You can’t miss it!