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Google Search Generative Experience (SGE)

What is Google Search Generative Experience (SGE)?

Google Search Generative Experience is a set of search and interface capabilities that integrates generative AI-powered results into Google search engine query responses.

The Google search engine is the flagship product from Alphabet's Google division, providing users with responses to queries. Throughout Google's existence, the search engine has largely been powered by a process where a web crawler visits websites to collect and index information. The indexed content is ranked by Google search engine algorithms, which are constantly evolving in order to help provide the most relevant information to users.

Google SGE was first announced by the company at the Google I/O conference on May 10, 2023. Prior to the official announcement at Google I/O, the effort to build AI into search was being developed by Google under the code name Project Magi.

Rather than relying entirely on data indexed and ranked by Google's traditional search approach, the SGE makes use of a large language model (LLM) -- specifically, at the outset, the Pathways Language Model (Palm) 2 model -- for both content and query capabilities. Palm 2 is trained on a large corpus of data and is a transformer neural network, also referred to as a transformer. The transformer model enables the AI to infer results and make suggestions to help improve user search results. SGE does not entirely replace results from the existing Google index; rather, it is intended to supplement them.

"As we look ahead, Google's deep understanding of information combined with the unique capabilities of generative AI can transform how Search works yet again, unlocking entirely new questions that Search can answer, and creating increasingly helpful experiences that connect you to the richness of the web," said Google CEO Sundar Pichai during his Google I/O keynote.

Google is not alone in attempting to integrate generative AI alongside search. Microsoft also experimented with the technology by integrating capabilities from ChatGPT vendor OpenAI into Microsoft Bing search. Known as Bing Deep Search, this generative AI feature was announced in December 2023. It briefly took flight in February 2024, but has since been paused for testing purposes. This tool uses Bing's index to provide the user with optimal search results while leveraging the capabilities of GPT-4.

What does Google Search Generative Experience look like?

SGE starts out much like any other Google search query, with a user typing in a question or a set of terms that they are looking for information about.

With the traditional Google search engine, query results are returned to the user in an ordered approach based on Google's PageRank algorithms and might also be supplemented with sponsored search results.

With SGE, a user query will also be routed through the Palm LLM, which will generate an AI-powered snapshot of key information that is relevant to the user's direct query. SGE will also suggest next steps and other directly related topics and questions that are commonly associated with the initial query the user first executed.

In contrast to conventional Google searches, SGE can recall the user's original query and enables it to be modified without the user needing to retype the original search term.

When a user clicks on one of the suggested next steps that SGE provides, the user will be shown the new conversational mode. With conversational mode, the search experience is more like an AI chatbot, such as OpenAI's ChatGPT or Google's Bard -- however, at launch, a Bard instance is not being triggered.

In conversational mode, users can continue their exploration with context retained from the original query. Conversational mode will pull up responses generated by Palm and direct users to web resources for additional information.

Google is highlighting shopping at the outset of its new search experience. With shopping, Google is also bringing in its Shopping Graph, which is an AI effort that integrates over 35 billion product listings and is constantly being updated with product information, reviews and seller information.

For example, when a user types in a shopping query, the AI-powered snapshot of key information will pull up relevant product information alongside suggestions for consideration about the product. It will also show other queries that can be asked to dig deeper into what the user is looking for.

What are some examples of ways businesses can use Google SGE?

Google has pledged that it will continue to publish search ads as part of SGE. As is the case with the existing search, ads in SGE will be clearly marked as sponsored results.

According to Google, the overall goal is to also continue to direct users toward web content. As such, it is incumbent on businesses to ensure they have high-quality content. It's also likely a good idea for businesses to continue using search engine optimization techniques, as the new search experience will to some extent still deliver content that has been optimized for the main Google search engine experience.

When will Google SGE be released?

In May 2023, SGE was an experiment for Google and was not an available production-grade service. As such, the initial set of opportunities for businesses to use SGE were very limited at the time.

During its May 2023 announcement, Google did not specifically provide a date for when the service would be released and made generally available.

Despite SGE remaining in beta form along with limited information related to when it might be released, progress has been made. SGE is currently available for access through Google's experimental version of its search engine, known as Search Labs. Participants must sign up to obtain access.

Google also announced in November 2023 that Search Labs had expanded to over 120 countries and territories, along with four new languages. Also, newer research indicated that 77.8% of searches contained an SGE result in the same month. Google announced in March 2024 that it had begun testing SGE-based AI overviews in active Google search results.

Google has a long history of previewing products before releasing them in beta for an extended period of time. A well-known example is Gmail, which was first introduced in April 2004 and didn't exit beta testing until July 2009.

How can Google SGE be accessed?

Google Search Generative Experience will initially be accessible as an experiment called SGE in the Google Search Labs initiative.

To start, SGE will only be available in English and for users located in the U.S. The Search Labs SGE will also only be available at launch for mobile users of the Google App on both Android and iOS. Desktop users will be able to access Search Labs SGE with Google Chrome.

Sean Michael Kerner is an IT consultant, technology enthusiast and tinkerer. He has pulled Token Ring, configured NetWare and has been known to compile his own Linux kernel. He consults with industry and media organizations on technology issues.

This was last updated in April 2024

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