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Monday, April 15, 2024

No, Google has NOT announced SGE isn't going to happen

Two sentences in a Google blog post seem to have convinced more than a few people in the search community that Google’s Search Generative Experience “isn’t going to happen.”

Specifically, SGE won’t launch. It will never be more than an “experiment” in Labs or become part of the default Search experience for all (or the vast majority) of users.

I just don’t buy it. Here’s why.

What is at issue. When Google announced Circle to Search, Elizabeth Reid, Google VP, Search, wrote in a blog post:

“This week’s launch of AI-powered insights for multisearch is the result of testing we began last year to see how gen AI can make Search radically more helpful, withSGEin Search Labs. We’ve gotten lots of useful feedback from people who’ve chosen to join this experiment, and we’ll continue to offer SGE in Labs as a testbed for bold new ideas.”

These two sentences led to a fairly elaborate interpretation shared by Ross Hudgens, CEO of Siege Media, (in the same post, he even states he is possibly reading too far into it). It reads, in part:

“This language makes SGE sound like it is a breeding ground for many different SERP features, instead of an all-encompassing one that we first saw when it was announced.”

“But we know these words are carefully chosen, and we also know Google is unlikely to announce things one way or another.”

Fishy. Yes, it’s debatable whether SGE, in its current form, will graduate and become the default Search experience. We don’t know Google’s product roadmap or if SGE is even “delayed.”

However, the idea that SGE won’t be released partially or fully –soon or maybe ever – took hold on social media.

To me, though, this looks like the equivalent of putting a cup in the ocean, finding no fish inside the cup and claiming there are no fish in the ocean.

To be clear. Google has not announced SGE may not launch.

Google also has never announced when or if SGE will launch. SGE has to this point consistently been referred to as an experiment.

SGE had an “end date” at one point –December 2023 – but that was removed in December. That “end date” also had zero meaning.

Hopefully, it’s all clear now that the above interpretation (and resulting rampant social media speculation) is based entirely on something Google didn’t say. Which is a sentence I can’t even believe I just wrote.

What we actually know is that Google will “continue to offer SGE in Labs.”

SGE experimentation. Meanwhile, we’ve reported from two separate analyses (from BrightEdge and Authoritas) that SGE is shown for over 80% of queries for users who have opted into SGE. Also, SGE experimentation is ongoing, according to a separate analysis of a billion queries by BrightEdge.

All of this data and ongoing experimentation should be enough proof that SGE isn’t dead. All we know with certainty is that Google has not launched SGE –everything else is unfounded speculation at this point – again based on two sentences of a blog post.

All that said, Google’s earnings call is tomorrow. It will be interesting to see whether SGE is mentioned.

What Google has actually said about SGE. Google has not stated that SGE “isn’t going to happen.” Let’s review:

During the Alphabet Q3 2023 earnings call, Oct. 24, Alphabet/Google CEO Sundar Pichai said:

“I’ve been pretty pleased with how the user feedback has been on SGE. We are rolling it out to more users. Through it all, we’re making sure the product works well and we are generating value for our ecosystem and that Ads transitions well.”

I think I view this as, with AI, the opportunity to evolve Search and Assistant over the next decade ahead. And I think as we’ve always seen, when you continue to invest and build great experiences, you can get value on the other side.

Interpretation: Google is thinking about the next 10 years. So maybe stop trying to extract meaning from two sentences of a blog post. Also, Google is trying its best to figure out how to make more money here –or at least not lose any more money. And it seems they still haven’t figured it out yet.

“We are still in very early days in terms of how much we have rolled it out. But we have definitely gotten it out to enough people, both geographically, across user segments and enough to know that the product is working well. It improves the experience.”

“But there are areas to improve, which we are fine-tuning. Our true north here is getting at the right user experience we want to, and I’m pretty comfortable seeing the trajectory. And we’ve always worked through these transitions, be it from desktop to mobile or from now, mobile to an AI-enhanced experience.”

Interpretation: Google thinks SGE improves the Search experience, as imperfect as it was at the time. Also, Google definitely went all-in on mobile-first – that happened. Pichai seemed fairly serious about making Search an AI-enhanced experience.

During the Alphabet Q2 2023 earnings call, July 25, Alphabet/Google CEO Sundar Pichai said:

“This quarter saw our next major evolution with the launch of the Search Generative Experience, or SGE…”

Interpretation: Pichai positioned SGE as an evolution of Search then and I doubt that has changed.

In an interview with Platformer, Dec. 6, about the newly-launched Gemini model, Pichai brought up SGE multiple times, including this:

“Our fundamental vision is that people come to search to experience the richness and the diversity of the web and the content ecosystem. So even though with search generative experience we can expand what we do, we’re actually designing the product in a. way so that people can go explore. And I think that’s what users want. I view it as a fundamental value proposition of search, so that’d be part of our goal as we evolve the product.”

Interpretation: Google seems to think of SGE as part of the “fundamental value proposition of search.” All I’m not 100% certain about is whether the product Pichai is referring to in the quote above is Search, SGE, or both.

Dig deeper. Google CEO on SGE and Search evolution: ‘We’ll get it right’

False. Were Search Engine Land going full Politifact, we would likely rate this story as “False” if not “Pants on Fire.” While many in search marketing may want the delay or even death of Google SGE to be true, there is no evidence to support this “interpretation” at this time.

Spreading around the idea that SGE isn’t launching and that Google said as much is harmful because misinformation is so easy to spread in our industry. You’re better off preparing for generative search experiences – which aren’t going anywhere.

Postscript. Liz Reid, Google’s vice president and general manager of Search, spoke with Wired (subscription required). Reid’s comments are intermingled with summary by the article author (Lauren Goode):

Interpretation: While it’s unclear if this is the author’s characterization or a direct and accurate summary of Reid’s message, this indicates Google has no imminent plans to fully replace “classic” Search – however, that doesn’t mean SGE (in some form) won’t or can’t also launch as a prominent feature.


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