The rollout of Google’s new Search Generative Experience, now called “AI Overviews,” sparked apprehension among many in the SEO industry. By now, you’ve probably noticed Google’s auto-generated summaries displayed at the top of results pages—that’s AI Overviews—which some folks predict will significantly reduce organic traffic.

Siege Media founder Ross Hudgens estimated an 11-18% drop in his clients’ search traffic, possibly due to changes in Google Search Help features. However, an analysis of actual post-launch data reveals a different story, complicating the narrative around Google AI Overviews. Across most sectors, key metrics like impressions, click-through rates (CTR), and overall visits increased after AI Overviews in Google Search went live.

These findings suggest that while SEO is undoubtedly evolving, its death toll has not yet sounded, despite the advent of generative AI features. With proper awareness and adaptation, search marketers can continue driving results in our changing industry.

What are Google’s AI Overviews in Search Results?

Google designed AI Overviews to provide a broader context to search queries by consolidating key information into autogenerated summaries that appear above standard organic listings. The goal is to help searchers find answers more quickly and seamlessly without visiting multiple sites.

Before AI Overviews’ launch, speculation about the implications for SEO traffic and visibility ran rampant. With eye-catching Overviews potentially diverting clicks from organic results, some experts predicted catastrophic declines caused by Google AI.

Others argued that because AI Overviews still link to other sites, their impact would likely be neutral or even positive. As Ross Hudgens noted in a recent article, AI Overviews in Google Search could theoretically increase click-through rates compared to normal rankings.

Methodology

To measure the actual effects on Google search results, Siege compared search metrics before and after Google AI Overviews launched on May 14th, 2024.

The sample included 43 clients across SaaS, fintech, B2C e-commerce, and other sectors driving significant organic traffic to their sites, all experiencing the impact of Google AI Overviews. They evaluated three key indicators: impressions, click-through rate, and total organic traffic. Rather than combining CTR across all sites, they calculated the average CTR to prevent outlier data from skewing results.

How Did Generative AI in Search Affect Results?

The data revealed promising trends for most industry sectors after AI Overviews went live:

Impressions: Up 4% overall
CTR: Increased across all but B2C e-commerce sites, potentially due to AI-generated snippets.
Organic traffic: Higher for all sectors

B2C e-commerce was the only category showing declines in impressions post-launch, with a minor 6% decrease. However, average CTR went up 10%, while visits increased 7% despite fewer impressions.

Across SaaS sites, which accounted for over 80% of tracked clicks, impressions rose 9%. Combined with a consistent 1.6% CTR, this translated into 12% more organic traffic. As complex B2B searches seem more prone to triggering AI Overviews, improved visibility for these sites aligns with expectations.

For fintech companies, already strong metrics rose even higher following the Google AI Overviews rollout. Impressions held steady, but visitors jumped 13% as CTR grew 7% week-over-week.

Case Studies: Client Examples

Below are results from our clients, demonstrating that AI Overviews provided significant traffic and visibility lifts for these businesses. One client enjoyed double-digit gains in organic clicks despite no change in click-through rates pre- and post-update. The other client intriguingly saw a traffic increase even as impressions decreased slightly, thanks to a higher post-update click-through.

While AI Overviews are still new, these early wins validate their potential for improving search performance. We look forward to continuing to monitor their impact and identifying opportunities to optimize pages for better AI-generated summaries.

The most exciting part of this feature is how it helps searchers. By surfacing more context upfront, AI Overviews help people find relevant pages faster. This delivers a better user experience while still driving clicks to websites. It’s a win-win for both searchers and sites.

Client 1 – B2B SaaS
Pre-launch: 37,341 clicks | 2,339,980 impressions | 1.6% CTR
Post-launch: 41,783 clicks | 2,553,118 impressions | 1.6% CTR
Increase: 12% more clicks | 9% more impressions

Despite a similar CTR pre- and post-update, this B2B SaaS client enjoyed sizeable gains in traffic and visibility from AI Overviews. More impressions with the same above-average click-through fueled a 12% increase in organic clicks.

Client 2 – B2C e-commerce
Pre-launch: 5,403 clicks | 567,887 impressions | 1.0% CTR
Post-launch: 5,769 clicks | 534,351 impressions | 1.10% CTR
Increase: 7% more clicks | Decrease of 6% impressions

Defying expectations, this e-commerce site grew traffic by 7% after Google AI Overviews launched, even as impressions declined slightly. A higher post-update CTR more than offset the drop in impressions, proving SEO success doesn’t live and die by visibility alone.

Is There a Way to Turn off Google’s AI Overviews?

It’s understandable for site owners to feel apprehensive about flashy new AI features like Overviews appearing before their brand name. You may be wondering: is there a way to disable these summaries if they become an issue?

The short answer is that no direct “turn off” switch is currently available. Google designed AI Overviews to broadly enhance search results, not disrupt sites already appearing organically.

However, Google systematically monitors user feedback and traffic impact data for all new products. If metrics showed AI Overviews significantly decreased clicks or engagement for featured sites over time, Google would likely refine or remove the functionality.

So, rather than panicking about potential visibility declines, we recommend proactively optimizing your content strategy to complement these AI additions. Here are a few tips:

  • Audit your site for comprehensive content opportunities (content gap analysis) around trending AI Overview topics. Ensure you thoroughly cover search queries prone to triggering summaries.
  • Promote and link to high-quality existing pages touching on frequently featured subjects. Strengthen their relevance signals through internal links and external backlinks from trusted publications.
  • Check your analytics for decreases in click-through rates from organic rankings. Declines over multiple weeks may indicate further content refinements are needed.

While AI will undoubtedly keep evolving search, Google maintains that improving user experience remains the guiding priority. By sticking to the fundamentals of valuable content creation and promotion, brands can benefit enormously from AI’s helpful summaries, not just survive them.

The Future of SEO Looks Brighter Thanks to AI in Search

While potentially disruptive changes often spark panic in SEO circles, the data shows AI Overviews have been a net positive for search marketers so far. Key highlights include:

  • Impressions up across most sectors, potentially influenced by Google AI Overviews
  • Increased click-through rates broadly
  • More total organic traffic to ranked sites

Rather than sounding alarm bells for SEO, the latest update from Google affirms that search as we know it isn’t disappearing overnight. By providing sites with new visibility opportunities, AI Overviews may even strengthen organic performance for brands proactively optimizing content.

Have Any Questions?

If you have questions about how generative AI in search could impact your organic acquisition and site traffic, don’t hesitate to get in touch. We would be happy to analyze your performance data and provide strategic recommendations tailored to your business. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.

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