Google’s AI Updates Correlate with Decline in Mobile Search Activity

  • July 3, 2024
  • SEO
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A recent study led by search industry authority Rand Fishkin has uncovered that Google’s introduction of AI-generated overviews in May has caused a perceivable drop in search volumes, most notably on mobile devices.

The study, which scrutinized millions of Google search queries from both the United States and the European Union, highlights unforeseen repercussions associated with the integration of AI technologies.

Rollout and Subsequent Reversal of AI Overviews

In May 2024, Google launched AI overviews in the United States. This feature was designed to generate concise summaries for a multitude of search queries.

Despite its innovative nature, the AI overview feature was met with varied reactions, prompting Google to scale it back by the end of the month.

In a blog post dated May 30, Google conceded that several of these AI-generated overviews were either inaccurate or not particularly useful, especially for less common queries.

In response, Google implemented over a dozen technical enhancements to refine the functionality of its systems.

A follow-up study by SE Ranking indicated a decrease in the frequency of AI overviews, now appearing in just 8% of searches. However, when these overviews are displayed, they are more detailed and comprehensive, offering an average of 25% more content than before.

This study also pointed out that the expanded AI overviews typically link to fewer external sources, generally around four.

Noticeable Decline in Mobile Searches

Fishkin’s analysis reveals a significant decrease in mobile searches coinciding with the introduction of AI overviews in May.

Although there was a slight increase in desktop searches, the decline in mobile searches was alarming, particularly given that mobile searches constitute nearly two-thirds of all Google queries.

This trend suggests that users might have been less inclined to use their mobile devices for searches when faced with AI-generated summaries.

Fishkin remarked:

“The most visible changes in May were shared by both the EU and US, notably… Mobile searches fell a considerable amount (if anything spooked Google into rolling back this feature, I’d put my money on this being it).”

He further added:

“If I were running Google, that dip in mobile searches (remember, mobile accounts for almost 2/3rds of all Google queries) would scare the stock-price-worshiping-crap outta me.”

Impacts on General Search Behavior

Despite the decline in mobile searches, overall search behavior showed a degree of resilience during the rollout of AI overviews.

The number of clicks per search on mobile devices experienced a slight uptick, while desktop clicks per search remained relatively unchanged.

This indicates that even though some users were less likely to initiate searches, those who did engage with the AI-generated content continued to click on results at a comparable or slightly elevated rate compared to previous months.

Broader Implications for Google and the Search Industry

This study illuminates the complexities and challenges Google faces when integrating AI-generated content into its search results.

Additional insights from the research disclosed other emerging trends in Google search behavior:

  • Low Click-through Rates: Only 360 out of every 1,000 Google searches in the US result in clicks to external websites. The EU sees a slightly better rate with 374 clicks per 1,000 searches.
  • Dominance of Zero-click Searches: Nearly 60% of searches in both regions conclude without any clicks, falling into the category of “zero-click searches.”
  • Google’s Self-referral Traffic: Approximately 30% of clicks from US searches are directed to Google-owned properties, with a somewhat lower percentage observed in the EU.

Relevance to the SEO Community

This study underscores the importance of adaptable SEO strategies.

It suggests the necessity for the industry to pivot towards optimizing for zero-click searches and diversifying traffic sources beyond Google.

The findings also prompt a reevaluation of the future role of AI in search.

While significant investments are being made by major tech companies in AI technologies, this study suggests that the anticipated outcomes may not always align with the actual results.

Featured Image: Marco Lazzarini/Shutterstock

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