Online Merchants Scramble as Google’s AI Overviews Disrupt SEO

Online Merchants Scramble as Google’s AI Overviews Disrupt SEO

Google’s recent rollout of AI Overviews (AIOs) in U.S. search results has sent shockwaves through the eCommerce industry, prompting online retailers to reevaluate their search engine visibility strategies.

SE Ranking, an SEO platform, says there are both challenges and opportunities for online merchants as they navigate this shifting terrain.

SE Ranking found that only 8.71% of keywords now trigger AIO in its study of 100,013 terms, a significant decrease from the 64% observed in pre-rollout testing.

While AIOs appear less frequently, they’ve grown more substantial in content. The study notes,

“Our latest findings indicate that the average AIO text length is approximately 4,342 characters,” SE Ranking’s study noted. This represents a 24.59% increase from earlier observations, potentially pushing organic results further down the page.

The report reveals how Google’s AI Overviews are reshaping the search landscape, potentially altering how consumers discover and interact with online businesses. By highlighting changes in search result visibility, ad placement and content requirements, the research provides vital insights for eCommerce companies seeking to maintain or improve their online presence in an AI-driven search environment.

What Triggers Overviews?

The research also revealed that certain niches are more likely to trigger AIOs than others. According to the study, “the Relationships niche has the highest percentage of keywords triggering AIOs (26.62%), with Food and Beverage (24.78%) and Technology (18.11%) following close behind.”

For eCommerce companies operating in these niches, this presents a mixed bag of opportunities and challenges. The increased likelihood of AI-generated answers could mean more visibility, but it also raises concerns about losing direct clicks if AIOs satisfy user queries without the need for additional navigation.

However, not all sectors face equal AI disruption. The data found that “Travel, Healthcare, Legal, News, and Politics have < 1% of keywords triggering AIOs.” This uneven distribution suggests that Google may be approaching certain topics with caution.

One potential bright spot for online retailers is the continued importance of authoritative content.

According to the study, “84.72% of AIOs link to at least one domain from the top 10 organic search results.” This indicates that investing in high-quality, relevant content remains crucial for both traditional SEO and AI visibility.

The research also shed light on the types of websites most frequently referenced in AI Overviews. While established players maintained their prominence, niche-specific sites emerged as top sources.

“The presence of niche-specific domains like Runnersworld.com and Healthline.com as top-linked sources could indicate that Google is prioritizing sites with deep expertise within specific topics,” SE Ranking wrote.

This trend toward subject matter expertise could benefit specialized eCommerce players who can position themselves as authoritative sources in their respective niches.

The study also revealed insights about query length and AIO triggers.

“Longer queries tend to trigger AIOs more, with ten-word queries triggering 19.10% of AIOs,” the report said. This finding may prompt retailers to rethink their keyword strategies, potentially focusing more on long-tail, question-based product descriptions.

Staying Flexible

As online retailers navigate this new AI-enhanced search landscape, the study emphasized the need for adaptability.

“Considering the unpredictable nature of AI in search, SEO specialists should diversify their SEO tactics to optimize for both traditional and AI-enhanced searches,” the researchers advised.

The researchers suggested that SEO specialists might need to “adjust their content strategies to target niche specific queries” and “reconsider content length and structure to provide sufficient topic depth.”

The study also noted changes in the advertising landscape alongside AIOs: “Ads accompany AIOs 87% of the time. Before the rollout, ads appeared on 73% of search results with AIOs.” This increase in ad presence could further impact organic visibility and click-through rates for eCommerce sites.

As Google continues to refine its AI integration, the frequency and nature of AI Overviews are likely to evolve. For now, eCommerce players are left to navigate a future where AI serves as both a potential obstacle and an opportunity in the quest for online visibility.

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