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User Intent: Search Generative Experience

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Is SGE the next big thing in search? Stu and Mariah predict the future of the search generative experience in this episode of the DISTOL podcast.

June 7th, 2024

Episode 6

Is SGE the next big thing in search? Stu and Mariah predict the future of the search generative experience in this episode of the DISTOL podcast.

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Stu Eddins: They’re trying everything they can to maintain the story that their customer is the search user, not the college that wants to advertise, not the doctor that wants to advertise.  

Did I say that out loud? Welcome to did I say that out loud a podcast where Stu Eddins and Mariah Tang reflect on agency life and answer questions from our higher ed and healthcare clients about the latest in digital marketing, content and SEO? 

Stu Eddins: This week on Did I Say That Out Loud?  

Mariah Tang: We’re telling the future! 

Stu Eddins: Yes, yes, Google made some announcements that are directly impacting how we will use search in the future. One of those things is the Google’s search experience the the search generative experience that you can opt into at this time. It’s being tested in the wild to people who don’t opt in, of course, but I have opted into it. And when you do that, at the top of your search column, you will see what’s called a AI generated result. So if you type in, where’s the best pizza for lunch in my town, you’re probably not going to see much. But if you ask a question that might be more toward research beyond just the immediate need for a really great slice of pizza, you might get a good response at the top. And there’s two qualifiers there might and good. Right now it’s in beta. So the question of good is what they’re trying to answer. Might means that they’re deciding what questions they can and should answer along the way to the change that Google announced. Its AI overviews. That’s what that chunk of stuff is at the top of search. So when I search for something, and it comes up at the top, and I’ve been asking you about, let’s say, information on the best type of lighting for my office, with a north facing window, it’s going to give you a search generative experience at the top. And in the near future, soon as they enable it, it’s rolling out, I’ll be able to change the overview. I want detailed information. But I just want something simple. And that’s actually one of the options is simplify. I want a simplified result, we’re given more control over the response we get from Google because this this response is giving is coming from it’s knowledge. It’s gathered by indexing every page on the internet that it’s indexed. So it’s going out and finding answers based on that searching that index that it has and returning the top results. The extensive, detailed response you get, I’ve opened up some of these things there as long as your arm. There’s just a ton of information in it. And if all I’m really asking the question is to find out because I didn’t ask it to my question 20 halogen lighting or incandescent lighting, you know, or LED? What do I need? Maybe I just want a simplified answer. I don’t want to dig. In a way it’s kind of like the equivalent of using Google as a little more of a magic eight ball. It’s really simple. What is it? You got a possible responses on one of those, but you get the point, I believe this will be interesting. Chat GPT is also hinting at having a search replacement coming one day. That poses some interesting, some interesting questions. Also, Google has a vast, vastly larger array of information to pull from the chat GPT currently does. And Google has spent a lot more time segmenting and parsing out the information it has into what it considers to be its logical hierarchy of how to find stuff. Not more, I wouldn’t go out and argue for using those sort of Google search experience. At this point. 

Mariah Tang: I am looking through the lens of being in a somewhat jaded millennial. I don’t just trust what was up there even though I just from Google. So I’ll scan it and say Okay, that looks like something accurate. I’ll look and see if there are any of the linked sources to say okay, this is where they got this information. But mostly I’m skimming down through the page and looking at the people also ask questions and things like that. Okay. I think that is not how young people use the internet. And I know this. However, I think to me, it’s really reminiscent of a lot of the other changes that they’ve made throughout my career, which is, you know, Featured Snippets, the local pack be highlighting in the meta descriptions for app pages where it’s pulling up this information. We think this is what you’re trying to find. So we were chatting offline before this and you mentioned it’s it’s really bringing In full circle, what we’ve been talking about for a few years, it’s search intent, not the keywords, not the specific. Do I spell it this way? Do I spell it that way? How exactly do I phrase this? It’s what are you trying to achieve? And we’re going to help you achieve that, even if you say it in 35 words. 

Stu Eddins: Right, more complex, you know, in some way, and and I’ll close this again, for the end of this, of this episode. It says the rule is grooming us to use search differently. And I think that’s going to be a large part of their intent with how they release features. Now, the other question comes up has been going to do the same thing. Because being in chat GPT are joined at the hip portal, you Yahoo out there. I don’t know what they’re doing yet. Frankly, I haven’t kept tabs on them the last few months? How this all shakes out? And who comes out on top? I don’t know. I can tell you that when it comes to technology. The new entry tends to take a little time to gain traction, but then it will overtake the existing the existing hero, if you will. It may be chat GPT may be something we’ve not seen yet. I don’t know. But really, when it comes to this, this simplification or high detail feature, I think it’s going to be helpful. But I think it also is a way that brings us back more toward the concept of Voice Search, which has always been an ask a question, get one result. And I think that the the whole search experience that we’re seeing the search generative experience has GE is it’s called for Google, these barred and now it’s Gemini that thinks Okay, they’re naming their platforms as they go along. Think what it is, is we’re seeing that fusion of app based search, meaning going to the Google app on your phone or going to the Google website on the internet, then we’re seeing the fusion of that and voice search a little more each day. This kind of lends itself to it. At home, I am based more on Alexa enabled echo devices. If I ask a question as far as getting too long, they tell the darn thing to shut up. Okay? Is this a more polite way of saying Shut up, you know, just give me the simplified version, please, I don’t need all this. So I think it can be helpful in that regard. If you’re trusting or more trusting at least of the response you’re getting. And you still get the 10 blue links, and you still get the ads below and you still get all the other things you always have. This is just that gradually expanding feature at the very top of the page. Because it is a feature that is getting more and more research and development improvement in it. I think it’s more it’s more than just competition against the chat. GPT is of the world. 

Google does an interesting thing, I think comparatively to some of these newer groups. And maybe they’ll do this down the line. But Google is extremely invested in user testing user groups, beta rollouts, and they’ve already scaled back some of their display on Ste because people were complaining that it was overtaking everything else. Advertisers were not happy users are not happy. So they said, Okay, you know, we’ll rein it back in, before it was even widely released. And so I feel like there’s a, Google always has a pulse on what’s the next thing for the rest of us do. And when you mentioned, you know, it’s teaching us how to use this differently. It’s teaching you it’s teaching me, but it’s already adapted to how younger people use it. And so I think all of us old fogies that are out here in the world are going to have to just suck it up and start using search differently if we’re going to want to reach these younger markets. It is in and as we’ve discussed, also, we have a cohort of people right now, higher education kind of focus on 18 to 24. Now, we’d like to go lower than 18. But you know, advertising and promotion practices don’t allow us to go below 18 readily. But that 18 to 24 demographic is more likely to use tick tock to find information than it is Google Search already. Our numbers are going up when it comes to organic search from Google on the websites that we associated with. So if the younger people are you are using other platforms, I have to say they’re still using Google, at least for the clients that we’re dealing with.  

Mariah Tang: Isn’t Google indexing some of that kind of content anyway? Because we’re you know, when you Google something, sometimes you’ll get TikTok  results, you’ll get Facebook results, you know, yeah, so it all kind of works together. 

Stu Eddins: Sometimes there’s still tension between those entities because it’s walled garden and Facebook, you know, you have to sign in to get there. Same with tick tock and Google was trying to answer by by bringing Reddit in at Google is trying to bring answers in by bringing YouTube shorts in instead, it’s trying to fill the gaps there. But that search generative experience is going to start taking over. And sometimes, as we get more used to the tool, getting a simplified answer is going to be important. Now, that actually brings us into the second thing Google announced what they’re talking about, there is multi step multi step reasoning. And that’s, that’s a, a fancy term for you don’t have to ask three questions to wind up where you want to be.  

Mariah Tang: Yeah, it is. All at once that ultimate instant gratification, I went this, this, this and this.  

Stu Eddins: Yeah. An example I use the other day was, what is the closest college with a business program that offers partially free tuition? Not too long ago, that was three separate searches. Finding colleges near me didn’t say, Okay, shall we the ones that have business degrees, we’re able to do that part right now readily when you add in the partially free tuition. And that’s a concept that that is actually probably the finest point of this. There’s a lot of colleges near me, most of them offer business, but the real qualifier is partially free. Now, what is partially free mean? That it has readily available scholarships, that there’s grant money available, that you know what, they are just, they just, you know, you sign up for this, you get the rest of it free, because they got to they gotta three months special going? That the point is that the concept of free tuition is varied. The thing is, what they’re saying is with the with the multi step reasoning, Google is going to be able to understand that has to be able to put it in context. And this goes back to what you said several minutes ago. Well, Google is about content, it understands the language understands how people speak, and can respond to it. No, it’s getting better at doing that. It’s still learning. That’s why this is all in beta. That’s why the, you know, you’re not forced into it. But let’s keep in mind two things. First off, Google has said Google executives have said that their vision for Google is one day to be like the computer on Star Trek. You simply say what you want me to give you the right answer. And that’s it, you’re done. The other thing to keep in mind, though, is that Google doesn’t get paid because it gives one answer. Google gets paid right now, because it provides 10 answers, and a handful of ads. 

Mariah Tang: I wonder if one day, there will be a model where College, ABC college is paying Google to play like I would like you to use us as the subject matter expert for XYZ, and we’ll give you a million dollars or whatever that looks like. And maybe that replaces ad spent someday. And that’s probably like, way down the line.  

Stu Eddins: But it is in the concept right now. It kind of flies in the face of a Google wants to be viewed as today. They want their results to be the organic results. They want that to be viewed as impartial, because they’re trying everything they can to maintain the story that their customer is the search user, not the college that wants to advertise, not the doctor that wants to advertise. They have two different business models. And the biggest one is we provide the best answers around for people’s questions. And that means that they’re beholden first to the people asking the questions. Along the way, they figured out how to monetize that through search ads and through everything else. And they allow that in now they allow that $219 billion worth of allowed last year. That’s their revenue from ads. I wouldn’t say they have incentive to preserve that. Because Google Search by itself getting links without ads, plus some money is the ads that pay their way. There’s no doubt. I don’t see too many Google self driving cars out there right now taking up the slack. They are getting into other things. But there has to be some way to monetize this because it costs money to have the servers running that answers. We’ve all seen the pictures of the Google data center datacenters. They take up acres of space they consume gigawatts of power, they have people there to serve them. There’s hardware that breaks down every you know, it has an expense structure they have to pay for that. They have stocked stakeholders that need to get money back further investment. There’s all sorts of reasons to have monetary reward for what they provide. That’s true. But I wonder if taking a direct payment to become the answer would be the undoing of their of their current ethos, which is the user’s art.  

Mariah Tang: Yeah. Yeah. And the thing everybody knows already.  

Stu Eddins: Yeah. And he and I also have to say that skepticism about not just Google, but we keep talking about them, but they aren’t. They are the 800 pound gorilla. The skepticism with search engines right now is running higher than it ever has. And with generative search results being the bright, shiny object, there’s a lot of people saying, Hey, this is the way to go. This is the next thing. But quite frankly, I’m more suspicious of that than I am about Google results. Yeah. Google’s motivation, I think I can figure out pretty clearly, then, yeah, if they game the system is their system. It’s not a public utility, right? Neither is Bing, or Yahoo, or Yandex or Facebook. Yeah. And, you know, if you’re not paying for something, then you’re the commodity you’re, you know, selling stuff to us what they make money off of. So anyway, that’s all that but AI is not cheap. It takes more power than non AI types of search. It takes more energy, more people, more research more everything else, they got to figure out a way to pay for it. Okay. All of this started out as a conversation about how they’re allowing you to have simplified results at the top and detailed results. And right now, they don’t know how to monetize that. But here’s the thing. We’ve talked about multi step reasoning. Right now, most of what they do for support revenue is based on keywords, search terms. But I argue it’s not anymore. And this is the next logical step after that. What I just said about what is the closest college or the business program offering partially free tuition, easily has three search terms in there that are not, that are not tightly coordinated to each other until they’re strung together in that sentence. That’s my keyword. What Google has been training us on for the last couple of years, at least, if not longer is we don’t pay attention to keywords anymore. We pay attention to we pay attention to intention. What is the context? And what is the intent of what somebody is searching for? That is what Google is uncovering with all this? That is what is driving Google search results right now? Yes, in a search campaign, I still put in keywords. But in that campaign, my keywords might be colleges near me. Business Programs, and low cost or free tuition. 

Mariah Tang: Price, proximity, preference.  

Stu Eddins: Yeah, it’s the emotion, it’s the feeling, it’s the thing you want that specific item that you that you’re looking for, and maybe the closest college to nice 500 miles away that has free tuition or near partially free tuition. So it needs to make those judgments to the point being that we need to make sure that even today to be ready for these things AI overviews for okay, how do you get involved with an AI overview? That we’ll talk about that in a minute? Let’s solve the keyword problem right now. We need to stop thinking about keywords as things that we must build upon. And start looking at them as the shorthand the Cliff’s Notes of content. The keywords that we choose to target need to be able to together represent the intention that we’re trying to market to the intention we’re trying to attract. So if we have colleges near me business programs and free tuition, and we get a sense that that is what a lot of people are searching for. We need to make sure our content supports that concept. Not necessarily those words, because free tuition, I bet that would raise the hairs on the back of the neck of every executive and most in most higher ed institutions. But low cost affordable.   

Mariah Tang: They would we’d like to have that on their pages that was relevant, smart enough to know that those are all similar techniques. 

Stu Eddins: Right? So context. People are going to be people they’re going to search for what they want. They want free, semantic search, semantic search. Yes. And semantic search was introduced many years ago in Google Search, and we keep riding the crest of that wave forward.  

Mariah Tang: This is the adults. The adults. What is the word? I’m looking for evolution of content. 

Stu Eddins: It’s a maturing. Yeah, it’s the maturing of it. In there’s still more to go. Because it’s, I don’t know. I have raised kids, you’ve raised kids, and when they tell me my dog has the intelligence of a three year old I really question them, or it makes me question to humans. Raisa three years old, I don’t know which maybe you guys were Google searches too. It has a limited vocabulary, it understands the intention, I may use great big words when I scold a three year old, but what they see is the intention of I’m angry, and they did something. Yep. So it may be that we’re at that stage with Google Search to or Bing search or whoever. But it’s going to get better. And I think part of this this discussion is, we think we understand from reading the tea leaves the direction things are going. And we know where we bet, we’ve been to a point where we’ve come from the exact match keyword targeting, we’ve come from a point of make sure we had these words showing up in content. So we can get found organically. We’ve come from a point of view, where if we’re talking about a business, business program, business class, business degree business, we got to use all the near match stuff. That was lexical search, that was matching word for word to make things happen, instead of contextual search, which we have now. And I think that this is just the next step in that we get the, we get the AI generated result at the top, and we have the control to say give it to us all or you know what, just give me the highlights, we have the ability to say, Okay, I, as a human, I’m going to search for everything I need in one statement. And it may be multiple sentences long. Now, by the way, that echo device with Alexa on it, I’ve already been doing that, I will ask it a question. And and it’s multi part. And I don’t stop talking until I’m done asking all the parts of it. And I would say about a third of the time, it gives me a useful answer. Two thirds of the time, you just want it to stop talking at you because it’s so stupid. You know, it’s just the level we’re at with these things. But I’m also trying to stress it out. I’m trying to push the edge with it. 

Mariah Tang: We can’t record doing that to someone. 

Stu Eddins: Says the lady sits next to me. The fact is that these things will get better. And they’re going to drag us kicking and screaming to get better at using them too. 

Mariah Tang: I was, you know, at first when I was like no links, what are they even thinking but the six excites me as the contractors and the content strategists. Because while there is a camp of people hollering, like, why did why would we even make content now if Google’s not going to take people to our site? In my mind, it’s there is a there’s going to be increased and steeper need for new relevant fresh content all the time. Great, because those questions are going to change, we see that now. The questions that people ask are going to change, they’re going to become more complex, they’re going to bring in other emotions as these needs changes the audience ages as you know all the things. And the cool thing about blog, web pages, whatever media you’re using, you can get the content of those pages and refresh it with new with new questions for you answers. Keep your URL the same. I don’t see that changing in the future. But, you know, maybe it’s these three questions for the first quarter of the year, maybe those evolve to, we’re going to keep two of those questions and add a new one, we’re going to swap some of it out, you know, this is an ongoing optimization, and the need for that is only going to grow.   

Stu Eddins: Yeah, and consider this pool search has been around for 20 some years. And even today, 20 some years later, one out of every five 20% of the searches they see they’ve never seen before, every single day. Can you imagine what it’d be like, you know, put pushing the tight out with a broom to stay ahead of that is constant work. If they were on lexical search, I have to match what you asked for in order to be successful. And 20% of the time every day I fail. The way they have to get around that is to go to context. They have to start understanding the meaning that the words convey. And that’s what they sold for some years ago and started progressing toward today. And it’s going to get better. And right now. It’s not being asked to learn me how I want my answers to come back. So I’m given control and said okay, you want simple answers, ask for that instead. The other part about this is a no, it’s not training me on how to ask a question or a complex question is training me on the fact that I now can do that with Google. It’s that connection. The third thing they announced last this last week, may have even deeper implication for certain verticals. And that’s search results categorization. Now, it’s not coming to higher education or probably to healthcare anytime soon. But recipes, it’s going to come to that travel is going to come to that. And what this is, is you ask a question shinned about I need recipes for healthy eating for overweight people who are middle aged. All right, right there. It’s a complex question being asked. But what it’s going to give you is a series of results that it’s going to say, I hear healthy recipes for anybody. Next category is healthy recipes for overweight, older people here. And then the third one is going to be eating out if you are a overweight, older person, so where do you rank? Number one? All categories? Probably not. What does what happens to the number one ranking in that type of a display?   

Mariah Tang: Yeah, maybe you have the opportunity now to say, We rank. We rank high in this category. And this matters, because that’s what you take to your stakeholder. My question is, is there going to be a category to take out all the stupid backstory about the recipe foggers that nobody cares about?  

Stu Eddins: Well, that could be that could be Yeah, that could be the simplify button for that. Yeah, yeah. References get rid of stupid. The the other part about this that that’s interesting is that keywords are no longer a thing. Okay, they are still to some extent, but our concept of keywords needs to change. themes. Themes are in fact, with in Google search, or to the Google advertising performance Max, we were asked to put in search themes, not keywords, 25 word descriptions that we have things we want searches we want to match to. It’s already here for those of us doing marketing in certain ways. But when it comes to the people that the vast majority of people who use surgeons that have paid beyond search, this is going to be a little more liberating, and at the same time, you have to give the public permission to do more, but not do so much more that you can’t keep up. 

Thanks for listening to Did I Say That Out Loud? with Stu Eddins and Mariah Tang. Check out the show notes for more information about today’s episode. And if you have any questions, concerns or comments, hit us up anytime at stamats.com

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