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Google's Generative AI Overview: What went wrong, and what does it mean for SEO

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In the rapidly evolving digital landscape, artificial intelligence (AI) is reshaping how we interact with the web. Google's AI Overviews, which is currently in beta testing in the UK due to the issues it faced in testing, is a prime example of this transformation. Integrating an AI-driven feature within Google's search engine to enhance user experiences by providing summarised responses at the forefront of search results, allows for quick, concise overviews of information, saving users valuable time. However, due to ongoing issues with information accuracy, the full rollout appears to have been delayed.


Challenges of AI with SEO

Despite its innovative approach, AI Overviews has faced significant challenges, including significant inaccuracies where the AI has suggested bizarre or incorrect advice, such as eating rocks to increase human mineral levels or using glue to secure cheese on pizzas. These inaccurate answers are partly due to developers potentially taking shortcuts by using sources like Reddit to obtain results. The AI also struggles with "data voids"—areas scarce in reliable data—where it may unintentionally prioritise misleading or satirical content as factual.

Google has taken several measures to address these concerns. The company has limited the deployment of AI Overviews, especially for high-risk or nonsensical queries that might generate misleading or humorous outcomes. More than a dozen technical enhancements have been introduced to improve the accuracy and dependability of the tool, and Google has updated its systems to decrease the reliance on user-generated content, which tends to be less reliable.


The Indispensable Role of Human Expertise

Despite improvements in user satisfaction, the issues experienced with AI Overviews underscore the critical need for human involvement in SEO and content management. AI, while powerful, often lacks the nuanced comprehension and ethical judgement inherent to humans. AI can process and summarise information on a large scale, but it cannot fully understand context, appreciate cultural nuances, or reliably assess the credibility of complex data without human oversight. The roleback of Google’s AI Overviews is a prime example of what can go wrong, when AI features are rolled out to the mass market, too soon.


The Future of SEO

Looking ahead, the future of SEO lies in blending AI capabilities with human expertise. However, currently, SEO teams have little control over AI outputs, blurring the lines of influence that SEO professionals can wield over these tools. The use of tools like Google's AI Overviews necessitates an investment in skilled SEO professionals who can manage AI applications, ensure content quality, and critically evaluate AI-generated data.

As AI tools like Google's AI Overviews continue to evolve, they remain parts of a larger ensemble where human expertise is essential. This combination not only mitigates the risks associated with AI's limitations but also enhances the reliability and nuance of digital interactions. In SEO, as well as in many other fields, the human element is not merely beneficial—it is crucial for fostering a balanced and effective strategy.


What does this mean for users and content writers?

Traditional SEO tools/strategies are still relevant, and in the near future are likely to still be the main deciding factor in where content ranks in Google. Whilst AI tools like Google's AI Overviews are likely to be improved in the future, they are still in their infancy, and do not currently take priority. Continue to use existing SEO strategies, and be sure to produce compelling, original and human-generated content, to increase your chances of ranking highly in search engines.

However, if you do want to get a head start, early analysis of Google's AI Overviews feature has shown that analytical/expert content, organised and structured content, and pages with a clear, niche focus, all ranked the highest within the AI Overviews. These are all attributes which contribute to compelling content, so there is no harm in throwing these into your SEO strategy now.

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