AI Overviews in Google Search: Impact on Website Traffic, Customer Behaviour and Content Marketing

A March 2024 report by Authoritas revealed Google’s AI Overviews (formerly Search Generative Experience, or SGE) appear in over 90% of searches.

While Google is reluctant to share an exact percentage, they told Search Engine Land they’ve served billions of queries using generative AI during testing over the past year.

And Head of Google Search, Liz Reid, has since announced “over a billion people” will have access to AI Overviews by the end of the year.

This integration represents a significant shift in how users interact with search results and poses new challenges for businesses looking to connect with customers through informational content. 

With a potential reduction in organic website traffic looming, content marketers must adapt their strategies to account for this change or risk a drop in visibility.

Here’s a look at the latest data and Google AI Overviews’ potential impact on website traffic, customer behaviour and content marketing strategies. In addition, I’ve provided actionable recommendations for businesses looking to optimise their content for AI-augmented search experiences.

What is Google’s AI Overviews?

When a user enters a query in Google Search, an AI-generated response now appears above the traditional list of website links. It summarises information from multiple sources to provide a concise answer directly on the search engine results page. 

Google has built generative AI into search with the aim to help users:

  • Ask complex questions
  • Get a quick overview of a topic 
  • Move forward with suggested next steps

Sounds like added convenience for users, a boost to Google’s bottom line…and bad news for content creators. 

AI Overviews wouldn’t be possible without subject matter experts sharing their wealth of knowledge online, so I’m not thrilled about a potential reduction in traffic to the sources on which it relies. But with Google’s worldwide search engine market share at 90%, we need to be where our customers are and look for the opportunities in these changes. 

How will AI Overviews affect organic website traffic? 

A study conducted by Gilad David Maayan estimates that AI Overviews could lead to a huge 18-64% drop in organic traffic for websites. While this analysis focused on informational queries in the technology industry, it points to many businesses seeing some negative impact when AI responses appear in search results. 

A reduction in organic traffic will likely be due to three things. 

1. AI Overviews answer queries without a click

Users are unlikely to click through to websites covering a particular topic if they feel the AI response has sufficiently answered their query. 

Zero-click searches aren’t a new phenomenon – Semrush’s 2022 study found 55% of Google searches resulted in no clicks to an organic or paid result. But we can expect this number to increase due to AI Overviews. 

2. AI Overviews pushes organic links below-the-fold

The length of the AI response means organic links appear further down the search engine results page. This reduces the visibility of those websites as users must scroll to see them. 

Authoritas found that the average expanded AI Overviews response will show a minimum of nine links, pushing that coveted number one organic spot to the tenth position.

3. AI Overviews sources and organic links are different

AI Overviews highlights website links as sources within its responses, but they’re often different to those that appear in the organic results. 

Authoritas reported 62% of generative links came from websites outside the top 10 ranking organic links. While it’s unclear how these sources are selected compared to organic results, this does offer an opportunity for your website to be cited in AI Overviews even if you don’t otherwise rank highly for a search query. 

How will AI Overviews affect website visitor behaviour? 

If Google’s AI Overviews are successful in answering queries directly on the search results page, the users who do click through to our websites are likely to be further along in the customer journey.

1. They’ll be conducting deeper research

Users in the awareness stage may refer to AI Overviews for a broad summary and then click through to websites for more detailed information. They’re especially likely to want additional context and insight from experts when exploring complex topics and making important decisions. 

2. They’ll be reviewing and comparing solutions

Users in the consideration phase may turn to AI Overviews for initial research on available products or services, then navigate to specific brands for further evaluation. There’s an opportunity to assist their analysis and distinguish your offering. 

3. They’ll be ready to take action

Users in the decision stage are likely to click through even after seeing AI results as they’ll ultimately need to go to the website to enquire or buy. 

As Ben Hicks of Pilot Digital shares, “AI could replace search as the middle layer between what I’m looking for and the website that has what I need. But eventually, if I need to buy a pair of shoes, I’m going to end up on a site that sells shoes.”

How will AI-powered search affect your content marketing strategy?

These recommendations will not only help us optimise our content for inclusion as a source in AI Overviews, but reflect a necessary shift as AI becomes an information sifter for our customers. 

1. Explore niche and nuanced topics

With AI able to answer basic queries, there’s likely to be less user demand for entry-level content from websites. Instead, we should prioritise topics that require more in-depth knowledge and coverage than what AI can provide. Any query that can’t be answered in a paragraph offers an opportunity to connect with potential customers.

AI may also struggle to provide a sufficient response for niche topics when there’s not a lot of existing content to draw from. Creating expert content for these smaller but highly engaged audiences can result in the growth of a loyal community and a strong conversion rate.

2. Speak from experience

We know Google is placing greater emphasis on experience when ranking websites for their relevance and helpfulness in search. They changed their quality rater guidelines to reflect this in 2022. 

While AI Overviews can only regurgitate published information, we have the ability to differentiate our content and draw in audiences by sharing our real-world experience. Offer opinions, analyse implications, discuss practical applications and provide recommendations through the lens of your domain knowledge. Your insightful interpretations and actionable guidance aren’t something AI can replicate.

3. Fill information gaps

As Parthi Loganathan of Letterdrop shared, “Rehashing with copycat content won’t get you anywhere.”

You’re more likely to be featured as a source in AI Overviews if you deliver information gain by filling gaps in coverage of a topic or addressing subject areas that lack comprehensive information. Finding new angles and developing content that showcases your unique viewpoints and original ideas will also increase your chances of citation.

4. Anticipate follow-up questions

AI Overviews makes asking follow-up questions easier by allowing users to refine their search or explore a new direction without restating context. If you can provide the answers to these additional questions and facilitate your customers’ information journey, you’re likely to appear in more search results. The “People Also Ask” suggestions present a prime opportunity to find common query progressions that you can use as the basis for content.

5. Humanise your content

Google decided to constrain their generative AI’s conversationality after finding a higher risk of inaccuracies when their large language models (LLMs) are given freedom to produce human-sounding responses.

So we should do what AI Overviews cannot: connect with our audience on an emotional level. By allowing your voice to enliven your content, it will be more engaging and memorable which aids brand recognition. It’s also more likely to inspire your audience to make an enquiry, commit to a purchase, become a loyal customer or refer to their network.

6. Focus on conversion 

If AI handles top-of-funnel queries, we should focus on empowering purchase decisions. Develop a content plan that moves prospects towards a sale by evaluating solutions, answering objections and sharing success stories. Make your website a conversion engine.

If AI is the textbook, you are the teacher. 

While AI will excel at providing quick overviews and answering simple queries, there’s an opportunity to double down on uniquely human strengths that AI can’t easily replicate – specialised expertise, original thinking, nuanced insights and authoritative guidance.

If Google’s AI Overviews offers a textbook response, then you’re the teacher who brings meaning and adds value in an engaging way through your professional know-how. 

Want help optimising your content for AI-assisted search? Get in touch with me (Danielle Keightley) via team@playbookcreative.com.

Read Next: The Expert Advantage: What business leaders need to do to stand out from AI-generated content

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