Google Displays Fewer AIOs by Two-Thirds and Increases Citations

  • July 2, 2024
  • SEO
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The buzz around AI Overviews (AIOs) has subsided considerably. A month after conducting an initial traffic impact analysis, I revisited and updated the relevant data on AIOs. These findings are crucial for anyone targeting organic traffic through Google, as a paradigm shift in AIO architecture is underway.

Upon Google’s launch of AI Overviews on May 14, my examination of 1,675 search queries revealed:

  • A decrease of 8.9% in organic clicks when a domain featured in AIOs compared to regular search results.
  • A significant correlation between a domain’s organic rankings and its citation frequency in AIOs.
  • Variable referral traffic influenced by user intent.

Recent observations include:

  • Users encountering discrepancies between Featured Snippets and AIO answers.
  • Google’s widespread reduction of AIOs across all sectors.
  • An increase in the number of sources cited in AIOs.

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AIOs Reduced by Two-Thirds

Post-launch, the deployment of AIOs faced scrutiny due to potentially misleading and harmful responses. In the article “About last week,” Liz Reid, Google’s VP of Search, pointed out that many queries were problematic by their very nature. This isn’t a novel concern as similar issues have arisen in cases like the NY Times vs. OpenAI lawsuit.

Following the negative publicity, Google curtailed AIOs by approximately two-thirds across most industries:

  • May 30: Desktop: 0.6%, Mobile: 0.9%
  • June 28: Desktop: 0.2%, Mobile: 0.3%

Industries with significant reductions (data from Semrush Sensor):

  • Health: -3.7% desktop, -1.3% mobile
  • Science: -1% desktop, -2.6% mobile
  • People & Society: -2% desktop, -3.9% mobile

Image Credit: Kevin Indig

YMYL (Your Money or Your Life) domains such as health, science, animals, and law experienced the most significant drops. Some industries saw minimal gains in AIOs, not exceeding a negligible 0.2%.

  • Example: SEOmonitor illustrates a drop in visibility metrics for the job site monster.com.
A line graph with two lines indicating visibility percentages over time, showing a red arrow highlighting a peak around mid-June. The time period from May 1 to June 22 reflects the impact of Google AIOs on these trends.
Image Credit: Kevin Indig

From my analysis of 1,675 queries, the appearance of AIOs dropped from 42% to 23% (almost halved). Domains were more frequently cited (31% vs. 25%), and they appeared more often in the top 10 search results (45% vs. 41%).

Bar chart showing changes in AIOs in health before and after Google PR backlash. Metrics compared: AIOs shown, Citations, and Domain ranks in top 10, with percentages for 6/29 and 5/23. This illustrates the AIO Pullback during this period.
Image Credit: Kevin Indig

Queries that lost AIOs generally had lower search volumes. Interestingly, no definitive pattern emerged across elements like word count, user intent, or SERP features. Google’s reduction in AIOs affected all kinds of queries.

A bar chart titled
Image Credit: Kevin Indig

AIOs Rely Heavily on the No. 1 Web Result for Text Snippets

Comparing before and after scenarios sheds light on AIO structures and behaviors. Queries like [hair growth products] and [best hair growth products] produce nearly identical AIOs, differing slightly in product lists and cited sources. This suggests that Google equates product searches with “best” searches.

SERPs for hair growth products (Image Credit: Kevin Indig)
SERPs for hair growth products (Image Credit: Kevin Indig)
SERPs for best hair growth products (AIO text is identical to screenshot above) Image Credit: Kevin Indig)
SERPs for best hair growth products (AIO text is identical to screenshot above) Image Credit: Kevin Indig

The primary distinction is that the “hair growth products” query lacks a citation carousel when the “show more” button is clicked. On mobile devices, the carousel appears at the AIO’s bottom, potentially reducing click-throughs. These subtle design nuances likely influence click probabilities, given that prominently displayed citations enhance the likelihood of clicks from AIOs.

Citations only expand when users click “show more” (Image Credit: Kevin Indig)
Citations only expand when users click “show more” (Image Credit: Kevin Indig)

For transactional queries like [hair growth products], the ranking of products within AIOs doesn’t follow an apparent order. Analyzing various parameters—reviews, ratings, prices, organic product carousel, and top-ranking articles—reveals no direct correlation with AIO rankings. Google’s Shopping Graph likely aids in sorting these lists.

Google appears to derive more text from the organic No. 1 result compared to other sources. For instance, for the query [best hair growth products], where TIME.com ranks first, the AIO closely mirrors TIME’s structure, particularly the section discussing ingredients, before listing products.

The AIO mirrors the text on the No. 1 web result (time.com) (Image Credit: Kevin Indig)
The AIO mirrors the text on the No. 1 web result (time.com) (Image Credit: Kevin Indig)

AIOs employ snippets from top-ranking websites, leveraging Retrieval Augmented Generation (RAG) to generate responses. In my article How SEO might thrive under Bard and Prometheus, I discuss how RAG combines classic information retrieval with machine learning. Essentially, this method integrates web ranking scores to filter out inaccurate results, ensuring accurate and relevant outputs.

A prime example is the AIO response for [rosemary oil for hair growth], which sources its text primarily from the top-ranking site, MedicalNewsToday, while structuring the information anew.

Highlighted text comparing studies from 2015 and 2022 on the effectiveness of rosemary oil for hair growth, noting its potential treatment for androgenic alopecia similar to Minoxidil after 6 weeks of use, cited fewer AIOs overall.

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