Generative AI in Google Search Results: What Does it Mean for the Future?

Date: July 14, 2023

As AI technology rapidly evolves, so too does the way that major search engines are incorporating it into their search engine results pages (SERPs). Artificial intelligence (AI), as we all know, is intended to perceive, reason, learn, and take appropriate actions based on the data and algorithms they are exposed to in a way that mimics human thought. But some search engine companies are taking it a step further and implementing AI systems that directly answer a user’s queries outside of the display of traditional search results. This type of artificial intelligence, called generative AI, will generate an answer to a query based on what it has scraped from books, blogs, and other content across the internet. This has caused some controversy, especially among legal marketers who wonder how this will affect search rankings and how users interact with them. 

Current AI Implementation on SERPs

AI already lives within our major search engines, powering everything from indexing new pages to matching search queries to the most relevant and useful results. AI is already baked into those algorithms. This is expected and understood, and marketers understand what these AI algorithms are looking for in order to rank their content well. Generative AI, meanwhile, will seek to answer your question in real time in its own words before providing traditional search results. That being said, its “own words” are not always its own– AI learns by scraping existing pages, but it is often fed copyrighted material like novels and pages behind paywalls, and this already-owned language becomes repackaged as AI-generated answers. 

Recently, Google began testing the Google Search Generative Experience, where AI results are generated and placed above paid ads on the SERP to experiment with how that might suit the user. Currently, that can only be accessed by signing up for the Google Labs waitlist. This announcement led to outcry that doing so would diminish the likelihood that users would scroll to discover organic results. Not only that, but there has been significant chatter that by utilizing AI tools to scrape websites and repackage the verbiage, Google diminishes the work of publishers and content creators. While SGE includes some citations, its partner, Google Bard, does not, in contrast to the new Microsoft Bing’s AI generative response system, which cites its sources. 

How Legal Marketers Can Leverage AI in Search Results

The major cornerstone of any ranking algorithm is quality. For the last decade, legal marketers have aimed to create high-quality content relevant to their specific legal niches using human language. This goal remains the same– generative AI search results will continue to reward quality content that fits relevant results. This does not, however, mean using generative AI to create content that specifically seeks to manipulate the algorithm. Like keyword stuffing of yore, this violates Google’s spam policies. Rather, legal marketers should continue to lean into human-centric, human-focused content.

The nature of generative AI is also focused on natural language processing (NLP), which, as the name implies, instructs AI on how to understand the language that we naturally use. This means that AI can parse out search intent, and can even predict future searches. This will result in much more specific, personalized answers for users, and in order to generate those answers, AI systems need specific quality content to pull from. Legal marketers can begin the shift now to create increasingly targeted content in order to compete with these personalized results. 

Additionally, users interact with generative AI, like voice search, with much more colloquial language than the traditional short, pointed keyword. SEO marketers would do well to lean into long-tail keywords, in order to target the way that users communicate with generative AI systems. For example, while someone is likely to search “elder law attorney” in a general search, they’re more likely to type “what does an elder law attorney do” into an AI-powered search, and legal marketers should be prepared to conform their content to this new landscape. 

Ultimately, though the standards and goalposts may shift, it seems clear that generative AI is here to stay. How it will be integrated into search results in the long term remains to be seen, and will likely vary across all platforms. As these systems develop, more questions, concerns, and even litigation continue to arise. That being said, engineering content to maintain high quality standards and answer specific, targeted questions can only help you move the needle forward.