Beware the coming “Searchquake”

Admit it. How many times when you are looking to purchase a product or find a solution have you gone on Google and spent time trying to find either “the best” or “the cheapest” or some other variable. In fact, it would be easier to count how many times you did NOT start with Google search.

And, if you’ve been paying attention, I’ve argued vociferously for communications professions to toss out the traditional “funnel” approach that starts the customer journey with “awareness” and magically leads to your goal. In reality, the customer journey today almost always starts with a Google search. Which is why we incorporate “Share of Search” as a key metric in many a client’s dashboard and devoted an entire session of Measurement Base Camp educating communications professionals on how to use search as a PR metric.

But our curriculum and our metrics are about to fundamentally change.

 “Search” as we know it is about to undergo what BrightEdge, a leader in enterprise SEO, describes it as a “searchquake.”  This upheaval in the SEO landscape is, of course, brought to you by Google, that last week informed us that, when you “Google” something, you will no longer have the option to see “news”  — Yup that handy little link is going away .

Even more consequential is that instead of links, you’ll see AI-generated content (they call it Search Generative Experiences  or SGE) – which means that if you don’t have the kind of content that SGE likes, you may not be found at all. And it turns out that SGE may not like what you think it does.

BrightEdge conducted a test using Google’s SGE search too and their report paints this PR-nightmare scenario:

“For example, imagine a user searching for a specific car model. In the past, that query on Google Search might have shown results with links to a dealership website, car maker’s Wikipedia page, Carfax.com, Top Gear and Consumer Reports.” And, with luck, perhaps a link to that nice review you worked so hard on in Car and Driver.

According to BrightEdge “now, with SGE, the top result will be AI-generated content that will highlight key purchase considerations. .., which may look like high maintenance costs, poor gas mileage and supply chain constraints. This represents a fundamental shift in the way a search engine interacts with a user, moving from static queries to dynamic two-way conversations.”

In other words, instead of finding all those nice media news clips about your brand, SGE could dredge up  every negative comment that your opponents or competitors posted on social social media.

The good news/bad news is that it may not be that big a problem problem, depending on the industry you are communicating about. According to Greg Jarboe, founder of SEO PR, who teaches our SEO sessions, “Different categories will get hit harder than others. For example, Healthcare will see 76% of their search results pushed down by SGE results at the top of the page. Education will see 44%. And Finance will only see 17%.” His analysis for one of his higher education clients revealed that the changes will impact both branded search (i.e., when they actual type in your brand” as well as non-branded terms. “In other words, this will be 8.4 on the Richter Scale.”

The warning for communications professionals is that in the not-too-distant future, it could be a lot harder to move that potential customer from “searching for an answer” to actually discovering your solution. It also means, we need to learn what SGE values and deliver that content ASAP.

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