AI Overviews And Its Impact On Organic Search Traffic: Should We Be Worried?

  • 42% of queries in the health vertical showed AI Overviews (AIOs).
  • There was a very strong correlation (0.917) between sites appearing in the top 10 organic results and those cited in AIOs. In simpler terms, websites that perform well in organic search are more likely to be featured in AI Overviews.
  • A strong negative correlation (-0.61) was found between cited URLs in AIOs and changes in organic traffic. Meaning that as the frequency of citations in AIOs increases, there is a corresponding decrease in organic traffic to those cited URLs.
  • When AIOs appeared but a site wasn't cited, there was an average loss of -2.8% organic traffic.
It’s been close to 14 days since we saw search engine giant Google launch AI Overviews (AIOs). The rollout was not all positive and faced backlash from publishers and users who feared the worst was yet to come.

Now, experts are sitting down to determine what impact it can have, if any, on organic traffic and if the fear of implications wreaking havoc is really true or not.

Remember, it always helps to see what outcome can result from a new endeavor, especially in those cases where misinformation reports are on the high, not to mention harmful recommendations peaking as we speak.

Can they affect organic traffic to the extent that quick replies to users’ prompts end up doing more harm than good? We feel there might be a small possibility that AIOs roll out greater traffic to certain cited sites.

This particular study conducted by Kevin Indig based on ZipTie data crawled search results on 1675 questions of the health domain to see when and how the search engine giant displays AI Overviews. This was combined with data from Search Console to determine the implications it had and the influence backlinks bring forward in terms of domain traffic.

The greater rates are justifiable because Google mentioned how displaying overviews for complex questions is more likely to take place in the health domain than in e-commerce.

There was a weak relationship with words count that indicated longer questions triggering more overviews. Still, to see the figures is just overwhelming considering how this is health where getting wrong data can be deemed to be a serious risk.

There was no relationship reported for the difficulty of keywords or even search volume. But we do feel this domain tends to be cited more frequently when questions are simpler.

It was similarly noted how overviews pop up on those People Also Ask pages, featured snippets, or even discussions and forums modules. It all makes a lot of sense as these point to informational searches. There were no correlations found between top ads and knowledge panels but they were less frequent than usual Search Engine Results Page features.

The question is who pops up in these AI Overviews? In this study, 704 AI-based answer cited 4,493 websites which is close to 6.3 links per overview.

There’s a strong correlation between websites that pop up in the top 10 organic results and websites cited across overviews. Another interesting point worth mentioning is how no strong links between domains getting many overview citations and their respective organic traffic were seen. The same was the case with backlinks and ranking keywords.

Any page that ranks well for keywords is more than likely to get cited across AIOs but it’s not clear when the search engine giant would cite a webpage that does not rank well for a particular keyword.

Now the main part is worth discussing. Can these AI Overviews affect organic traffic or not?

For this comparison, organic clicks arising from the Search Console for a certain domain across 1675 non-branded keywords were used in week 7 and compared to that in week 14. When you exclude those terms having low traffic, 560 overviews showed up for various keywords.

The conclusion is that a very strong negative correlation was discovered between URLs cited and those linked to traffic change. This indicated how overview citations send out fewer clicks to URLs cited.

However, the results do tend to vary by the intent of the user. Most of these URLs lose out on clicks, thanks to these overviews. Similarly, it’s quite comparable to the likes of Featured Snippets that sent fewer or more clicks depending on which keyword is being used.

To conclude, strong SEO performance appears to be the best means by which you can pop up across AI Overviews. Even if Google cites URLs that are not doing great, it does not matter. But with that being said, we are still in the dark in terms of which content features make it likely that it would get cited for the AI-powered overviews.

As a whole, AI Overviews have a stronger impact than the usual Google Search. It’s the first AI rollout that greatly alters the cash cow for the company.

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