Mollie Rogers

Senior SEO Executive

What is Google SGE? A Guide for Nonprofits

6 mins read

Google wants to revolutionise search and shake up the way we engage with search results. Since May 2023, Google has been talking about integrating AI into search, and they called this ‘Search Generative Experience’ (SGE).

In May 2024, Google announced the launch of AI-generated search results in the United States, under a new name: ‘AI Overviews’. You can find out more about what AI Overviews are and what they mean for SEO, or keep reading to understand more about Google SGE before this latest update.

We believe this is the most significant and transformative development in Google Search in many years. In Google’s own words, Search Generative Experience (SGE) is an ‘early step in transforming the Search experience with generative AI’.

In this blog, we will delve into the exciting features and capabilities of the new Google SGE update, shedding light on how it improves the Google Search experience for nonprofits.

What is Google SGE?

Google launched their new “Search Generative Experience” (SGE) in May 2023.

Google SGE is a new version of their search results page, which shows AI-generated content in the results page. These answers are created by their own large language model – PaLM 2, which they then cross-reference with classic search results to make sure the information is as accurate as possible.

With this update, Google is trying to make the search experience better, by incorporating natural language understanding, improved context awareness, multimodal search, and other advanced features such as the new conversational mode.

Currently, these AI snapshot results are only available for users in the US – however, the SEO team at Torchbox has gained early access, and we’re using it to preview what these new search results could look like for nonprofit organisations in the UK. The new SGE search results are currently still in beta testing (as of April 2024) and are yet to be rolled out in the UK. SGE is still in beta, there will likely be lots of changes and updates to how the new Google search results will look.

The latest developments in SGE in 2024

In an announcement in January 2024, Google suggested that SGE, as we have seen in testing, will not roll out in a single launch. Instead, it is likely that, over time, we will see a slower release of AI-assisted search features. Google referred to SGE as a ‘testbed for bold new ideas’ and said that they will continue to experiment with applications of generative AI to find out which are most helpful to users, before introducing them ‘more broadly.’

However, more recently in April 2024, there has been speculation within the SEO community that Google is planning a full SGE launch after I/O, the annual developer conference, on May 14th. Whilst we cannot be sure of what SGE will look like, or how it will be introduced, it is clear that we need to continue to research, learn, and monitor any updates. Most importantly, we need to continue building SEO strategies which AI can’t disrupt.

How to sign up for Google SGE

Excited to see what Search Generative Experience search results could look like for your organisation? Check out this simple step-by-step guide to help you gain access to the beta version of the new SGE update and start experimenting!

  1. Download a free VPN (we recommend Proton or Tunnel Bear). Connect to the United States using the VPN
  2. Log in to Google Chrome using your personal Google account (work email addresses will not grant you access yet)
  3. Sign up for Google Search Labs here and join the waitlist.
  4. When you are granted access, enjoy exploring! You will need to use a VPN each time you try out SGE.

What does the SGE update mean for nonprofits?

The new Google SGE update holds considerable significance for nonprofit organisations, as it enhances their visibility and accessibility to a wider audience.

With its emphasis on improved context awareness and personalised search results, the SGE update enables nonprofit organisations to reach individuals who are specifically interested in their cause or mission.

This increased exposure in search results can lead to greater brand awareness, increased engagement, and potentially more support from donations, volunteers, or partnerships.

Demonstrating real-life experience and knowledge is going to be more important than ever. Ensuring that both users and Google can see first-hand that your nonprofit organisation is an expert in the field, is going to be vital when trying to appear in the AI-generated snapshot.

How Google search is changing with AI

The main ways Google search is going to be changing with AI components include:

AI-powered snapshots.

Google SGE generates AI-powered snapshots of information and insights that answer users' questions. Unlike the current featured snippet, this snapshot will pull from multiple sources to provide users with the best possible answer to their search query. This AI snapshot is revolutionary in providing users with the most relevant information, as well as instant access to some of the top sources of information at the click of a button.

There are a few different possible layouts of SGE results pages. Sometimes the snapshot will take up a large portion of the results page, with a coloured background to differentiate it from the standard search results. However, sometimes SGE appears in a collapsed state where users can click to expand the snapshot. Both of these variations of the snapshot can appear at the top of the page, or they can appear further down after paid ads or organic results. Alternatively, some results return an opt-in state which gives users the choice to generate an SGE result.

Improved understanding of natural (conversational) language.

Google SGE has the ability to respond to users asking questions or queries in a chat mode which is triggered by follow-up questions underneath the snapshot. Google suggests around three questions, or users can also ask their own.

Google is also testing this chat feature beneath ‘People also ask’. Here, users can also ask further questions taking them into the conversational mode. Both enable users to ask questions in a more conversational manner, mimicking the way we naturally communicate. This enhanced understanding of user intent helps Google to deliver more accurate and contextually relevant search results to users.

Vertical search experience.

SGE will also be useful for information journeys relating to verticals, such as shopping or local searches, as there are sometimes several perspectives or dimensions to consider. SGE, for instance, aids in the discovery of insights to enable shoppers to make thoughtful, complex purchase decisions more quickly and easily.

For product-related searches, Google SGE will generate an AI-powered snapshot of important factors to consider such as product descriptions that include relevant, and up-to-date reviews, ratings, prices and images.

Comparative search results.

The new AI-generated snapshot will now compare multiple organisations side by side, which is a particularly user-centred part of the new SGE search results.

Instead of the usual ‘map-pack’ result appearing that shows the top 3 businesses ranked by the number of reviews and years of expertise, Google is showing users a range of sources for them to compare.

For example, if someone was searching for ‘charity volunteering opportunities in Bristol’, Google will now show you comparative results, based on the predicted preferences of the user. This means SGE search results will be more about users finding what is right for them personally.

An image showing Google SGE’s Comparative search results. The new snapshot will compare multiple organisations side by side.

Google is now showing users a range of sources for them to compare.

An image showing an example of a response to a question in conversational mode.

This is an example of a response to a question in conversational mode.

What is Torchbox doing about the SGE update?

Google SGE is currently in beta and is, therefore, being updated and changed often, providing different results daily.

We are regularly testing this tool to see what has changed and how this could affect the nonprofit organisations that we work with. We are having internal discussions, to ensure every member of the team is up to date with the latest updates from SGE and how this could affect different disciplines.

In the digital marketing team, we are providing our clients with monthly updates on Google SGE and how this could affect their organisation directly.

We have also been working on a number of exciting and innovative projects including One-day innovation sprints to explore AI with a number of our nonprofit clients to explore the ever-changing landscape.

What are the next steps for nonprofit organisations?

To conclude, from what we have seen so far, the new Search Generative Experience (SGE) update elevates Google Search to new heights, bringing forth advanced features that enhance user engagement and deliver more accurate, personalised results.

With its new advanced features such as natural language understanding and improved context awareness, Google Search continues to be a powerful tool for accessing information in the ever-evolving digital landscape.

For now, we are embracing Google SGE and finding out as much as we can about the update and what it could look like for nonprofits and search results in the future.

This blog was updated on 16 May 2024, with a new introduction that puts SGE into context of recent Google I/O updates. The rest of the blog remains unchanged.

If you'd like to discuss your charity's SEO strategy or any other topic covered in this blog, please get in touch.

Emma Bennett Head of SEO

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