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AI Overviews: A Comprehensive Guide

[NB: This article will be updated regularly to help you keep on top of all AI Overview changes and updates – last update 19/6/24]

With the unveiling of AI Overviews in Google, SEOs are worried how this new form of search engine result will impact traffic and brand visibility within SERPs.

This new tool in Google’s toolbox might have raised a few heckles in the SEO industry – but it’s here to stay and consequently, we should all prepare our strategies in advance to maximise visibility once the technology is rolled out worldwide.

This article gives you an overview of Google’s new curveball so that you can better understand it and strategize your business plans and content marketing in a way that factors it in.

Table of Contents

What are AI Overviews?

AI Overviews are AI generated content that will sit at the top of some search results. They can be auto-generated, manually generated through clicking a button or not appear at all.

In the testing phase, it was called SGE (Search Generative Experience). Google has said that AI Overviews and SGE are not actually the same – AI Overviews came from the SGE.

AI Overviews use an LLM – or large language model. This means it provides answers in more conversational language and can decipher the meaning behind your search queries better. Or at least, that is the theory. The practice is a little different currently.

AI Overviews looks a little like this:

AI Overview 1

Tip: The results are currently not as fixed as traditional SERPs, so a query you made yesterday can yield completely different results the next day. For example, we searched “how to optimize seo” and got the above result. We made the exact same query a day later and got this:

AI Overview 2

[June 19, Update: Google has released a list of FAQs for AI Overviews, which is worth reading]

Why SEOs are worried about AI Overviews

The SEO industry is often declared dead with every Google update. But it’s simply not the case. However, this new development will need SEO agencies to adapt quickly and think about how best to showcase their clients (if you’re already an Edge45 client, don’t worry – we’re working on it now).

The concern among some people in SEO is that the AI Overview will push organic informational results down resulting in less clicks to those links. Plus, if Google is taking content from your site and expanding it with content from other sites, it can answer much more complex queries within the Google ecosystem – leading to a rise in zero click searches and a drop in organic traffic.

There is also the concern that Google is essentially taking content produced by websites and businesses, and using it in their AI Overviews without sending the traffic back to those websites.

This has led many publishers to seek out ways to stop Google from accessing their content. There are ways to add code snippets to essentially opt out of AI Overviews. This means you won’t be visible in the answers, but also means that Google can’t use your content for free to power its AI tools.

As experienced professionals in the industry, we predict that like with featured snippets, there will be a decline in traffic, at least initially. Regardless of that figure, it is sure to even out as companies find new SEO strategies to navigate AI Overviews.

One positive early sign is that the number of searches that produce AI Overviews is down considerably on the testing phase. In early testing, around 60% of searches produced some form of AI content. This dropped slowly to around 30%. Now it’s live, SEMRush Sensor is showing AI Overview for less than 1% of all searches. Though there is some doubt over the accuracy of this figure.

[June 3, Update: Monitoring tools for this are only measuring non-signed in Google users. As AI Overviews usually only appear if you’re signed in to Google, this could be why the level is so low. However, Google has also announced that it is scaling back AI Overviews due to some issues with some answers – this will be especially apparent in YMYL searches.]

Yes, this will grow as Google improves the tool in the real world, but it means there’s still a lot of searches that aren’t producing AI Overviews.

How do AI Overviews work?

AI Overviews use Google Gemini language model (Google’s answer to ChatGPT) to produce the results. It draws content from across the website in Google-indexed sites.

[June 3, Update: It’s been suggested that AI Overviews are created by Google generating an answer first, then finding the right sources to back it up. Previously, it was assumed that AI Overviews used webpages to create the content.]

Gemini says focusing on high-quality content that directly answers user queries can increase a link’s chances of being selected.

However, we are seeing that pages ranking low down (around positions 80-100) are being used for AI Overviews, while those in the top 10 are often being ignored. This includes spammy content and AI created content – both of which seem to go against Google’s guidelines.

This will change, but it’ll be interesting to see if Google offers two bites of the apple in the future – one in AI Overviews and the other in the traditional SERPs.

Based on our use of the resource, it seems more likely to materialise for simple queries than convoluted ones. For example, “how to make coffee” will trigger it, whereas “how to initialise an array in java” will not. But this is subject to change as the technology gets more sophisticated.

In terms of layout, the system is inconsistent. Sometimes the overview appears beneath the sponsored pages in the SERP, and at others is displayed as the top result. Overall, it appears first more, meaning that Google will prioritize it.

It also produces different coloured stars per search. As far as our research has shown, they don’t indicate anything specific (other than decoration). But perhaps in the future they will label different forms of intent, or some other categorisation.

How it presents links

AI Overview showcases links in its summaries, and picks them based on relevance, content quality, and how closely the source follows Google’s webmaster guidelines and presumably, E.E.A.T.

Links are shown in link cards or boxes like this:

If they don’t appear as the box above, you can find them by clicking on arrows next to the content:

AI Overview 4This icon appears when the user can unveil a source. It could be an article, video, forum or other medium.

AI Overview 5Once the user has clicked the above arrow, this arrow appears beneath the sources that the previous arrow was hiding.

Above the ‘Show More’ button

The initial search will reveal a summary in response to the query and will prompt the user to read more. There are numerous possibilities for its display depending on the query, based on multiple factors such as search history. Sometimes, the link box or card will appear here. Other times, it won’t and you’ll just be surfaced the copy.

Edge45’s educated guess of the day is that users’ interactions with Gemini could also influence this.

As evidenced by our “how to optimize seo” query yielding two totally different results from one day to another, the results could be broad and varied in their layout, while essentially giving the user the same information.

AI Overview 6

After Show More is clicked

Click Show More and AI Overviews extends to take up more space on the page, and you’ll get more information. You will sometimes need to scroll down to reach the organic results, meaning that yes, if AI Overviews is extended, visibility goes down. This is often when you’ll find the link cards or boxes. These are scrollable – so you’ll get 1, 2 or 3 links visible. But there are others that can be scrolled to. Whether these will be classed as positions 1-3, who knows?

In auto generated overview

An auto-generated overview is content that is created by AI algorithms, which analyse and summarise content without human intervention. It uses Natural Language Processing (NLP) to extract key points and present them concisely.

In manually generated overview

In contrast, manually generated overview is created by a human. This is utilized when a topic is complex, delicate, or easy to misrepresent, and efforts are made to navigate it. “Your Money or Your Life” topics such as health apply here, as they require a deft hand and full comprehension. The consequences of misrepresentation here can impact the user’s well-being.

How accurate is AI Overviews?

Currently, there has been a lot of negative feedback with examples showing how it’s serving wrong information, some of which could be dangerous.

[June 3, Update: Google has addressed some of the mistakes AI Overviews have been making in this blog post]

[June 19, Update: Here’s the official line from Google: “Generative AI is experimental and can make mistakes. We’re constantly improving accuracy to ensure AI Overviews uphold Search’s quality standards.”]

This will change over time. But it’s worth pointing out that the LLM is different to a search engine. The LLM used in AI Overviews is designed to be creative. That’s how it can analyse language and answer complex questions.

But this creativity sometimes gets the better of it – and it’ll make up answers. These are called ‘hallucinations’, and Google is aware of them. Also, if it finds two contradictory pieces of content for a query, it might serve both as one answer, which doesn’t help anyone.

[June 3, Update: It’s been pointed out by Lily Ray that if you are seeing the little bottle next to your AI Overview answer, it means you’re still signed into Google Labs and, therefore, are getting the testing phase AI Overviews]. 

Can you optimise for AI Overviews?

Yes, you can optimise for any search engine or SERP feature, whether you’re targeting Featured Snippets or want to rank highly on Bing. AI Overviews are no different, though the best approach and in-depth strategies will come with time.

This is because the best way to optimise for any SERP feature is to see wat Google is serving and work back from there.

We will look at who is being featured in AI Overviews for key search terms, look for patterns and similarities, and find out why Google has chosen these sites over the millions of others.

As with any content, we always suggest focusing on high quality, highly relevant content that speaks directly to your audience. This way, even if you aren’t featured in an overview, you have content that you can share through other channels to convince and convert your audience.

We also know that schema mark-up could play a big part in this. Establishing you and your brand as Entities within the Google ecosystem means that when Google comes to choose reputable sources, you’re more likely to be chose.

We’re so confident in this that we’ve created a blog on using schema to optimise for AI Overviews.

Tracking AI Overviews

At the moment, tracking the impact of AI Overviews is difficult as Google has said it won’t bucket clicks from this search result. It’ll all just appear as Organic Traffic in GA4 and Search Console.

SEMRush has a tool to track search features, so you can see how many AI Overviews are being served.

There are other tools quickly coming to the market to track AI Overview usage for specific search terms and whether your site appears in them. Edge45 will be testing these tools to see how accurate they are.

When will AI Overviews come to the UK?

AI Overviews has been spotted in the wild in the UK – but only in very limited occasions. It is available to US citizens now, but Google plans to roll it out worldwide by the end of the year, with a prospective usage of 1 billion by then.

Again, this is only in theory, as the mechanism can be (in theory) turned off, and it is repelling a lot of users and companies, who may turn their attention to Bing and other search engines if they feel it will affect them.

That said, we all know that Google rules the roost, for better or worse, and companies are advised to assume that AI Overviews will impact their traffic and plan accordingly to maintain their visibility – this involves staying abreast of AI developments, studying ways to stay relevant, and developing strategies.

What does the future hold?

One thing we do know is that AI Overviews will get better. And they will be appear more often. Current talk is of Google adding paid results into the overviews.

It’s also going to be interesting to see how features like Google Shopping integrate into AI Overviews. Will they actually suggest products with Buy Now buttons within an overview?

Can you turn it off?

[June 19, Update: Google says you can’t turn these off as they are a SERP feature]

Yes, you can currently turn AI Overviews off. This may change.

  1. Log in to your account.
  2. Go to Settings > Data & Personalization (or Data & Privacy) > Web & App Activity.
  3. Turn Web & App Activity
  4. Browse Google sans AI Overviews.

There are also extensions that turn it off, and several sources out there that will do it for you. Though we will recommend that, as an SEO or company endeavouring to increase a digital marketing presence, to leave it on and observe its capabilities and drawbacks as part of your strategy.

Alternatively, you can turn to professionals to handle your marketing content strategy. Get in touch and find out what Edge45 can do for you.