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Let’s start with the last question I asked you in a previous interview, back in 2022: “What are you going to talk about at Friends of Search or, why should people come to your session or the conference in general?”

I’m going to be speaking about how AI has impacted SEO, from our workflows, the increase of spam and Google *need* of the latest updates, as well as the latest in Google SGE *still* in testing, and ultimately, what we should do about it all to minimize challenges and risks, while maximizing on the opportunities.

Looking back, last year has been an exhilarating journey with significant transformations in the field of SEO on social media, you even called it ‘One of your most productive professional years so far’. You have achieved many great things again such as getting SEOFOMO to +30K subscribers, what are you most proud of?

A lot indeed happened last year! I’m very proud in particular of what was achieved in a couple of SEO clients projects… Google got a lot of backlash from last year’s Google updates, but, ironically, they also ended up highly benefiting a couple of my clients that had been working *very hard* for some time and totally deserved it. One of them in particular, completely revamped the way they targeted their core topics through their customer journey, how they showcased their USP to provide a best-in-class, unique search experience … It was proof that hard work in the right direction pays off… even if it can take a bit of time. Especially in this case, being a startup team, for which the site increased fivefold in organic search traffic, it has been game changing and is so fulfilling to see.

On the other hand, with my own projects too, besides SEOFOMO reaching the 30K subscribers and the launch of the SEOFOMO forum now with +800 registered users, with LearningSEO.io: the site was completely redesigned and expanded to provide the best experience for those looking to learn SEO for free, starting the LearningSEO.io accelerator Q&A with new SEOs from all over the world for free, giving them a chance to ask to some of the top SEO specialists and learn from them. I’m building the type of resource I wish to have had when I started doing SEO. And it has paid off: it is now ranking in first position for the key word “learn SEO”!   

Last year was a big year with the rise of AI and notable shifts in search results. The introduction of Google’s ‘Search Generative Experience’ (SGE) is poised to be a game changer. Regarding SGE, how do you expect its impact? Is it more of a risk or an opportunity for websites that generate organic traffic from Google?

This is something I’m very excited to speak about at FOS! I’ve created a Sheet resource that helps to assess the traffic risk depending on the type of SGE snapshot and how it relates to the existing SERPs. After analyzing a few thousand of them, I identified 3 types: duplicative SGE (low risk), summarizing or complementary SGE (low-medium risk) and the accelerator SGE (medium-high risk). I’ll go through them and explain more in my session!

Currently, many search results in SGE do not contain references or sources, making it impossible for users to follow through to the original information source for further reading. This situation appears disadvantageous for both users and website owners. What are your expectations for how Google will address this?

I expect this to be fixed. Google has already made quite a few changes since the initial test release, and it’s going in the right direction: giving more visibility to content sources, and highlighting them better. It’s fundamental for the survival of the Web ecosystem -and Google business model- to continue linking to sources… and Google is aware of it.

Can you provide more insight into the challenges and potential consequences of SGE not meeting the intent of user queries, as has often been seen recently in commercial searches?

This generates a bad user search experience and Google should tackle these scenarios and if they don’t, then don’t worry: more traffic will continue going to the traditional search results you should already be ranking for!

Taking a closer look at e-commerce websites, we’ve noticed that SGE shows various retailers for brand search terms in a product carousel at the top of organic search results. While this may not be advantageous for brands, it could be compelling for retailers. What insights or opinions do you have about this?

I’ve noticed that for many branded commercial product queries too, that could be even considered navigational at this point for brands and retailers, since they were pretty much ranking at the top of the search results with their PLPs/PDPs. The generation of an SGE snapshot that pretty much replicates the PLP experience directly and showcases many times products from even other competitor retailers offering the same product can be quite… impactful. These are the types of “accelerator” snapshots I’ve talked about earlier, and some of the ones you should actually take action for. In this particular case, by ensuring the optimization of your PDPs to maximize inclusion in those product knowledge panels.

And do you have any thoughts or expectations about the impact of SGE in other sectors? Are there notable examples that catch your attention?

It’s interesting how Google is now taking more care of what they actually show an SGE snapshot for now versus what they did when they launched it last year, especially in YMYL topics. I expect that if the SGE is released as a “whole” new feature, it’s launched for a very limited group of topics first.  

Over the past year there have been numerous updates to the Google (core) algorithm, leading to unpredictable shifts in rankings. Even if you follow Google’s guidelines, it’s not uncommon to encounter unexpected and disappointing results or to be outranked by low-quality or spammy websites. What are your initial thoughts on these updates? Do you think that Google tends to improve rankings overall? Do you sometimes encounter strange things after certain Google updates?

Incremental iterations and tests too! Even with the wins I mentioned earlier and that the path that they follow is understandable and reasonable to minimize manipulation, it’s obvious that it doesn’t always play out as they expect, giving more weight to certain areas that are easier to manipulate or are simply too much *ehem* spammy ugc forum results *ehem*. I’ve also been on the other side of the story: with very strong, prominent retailers losing in visibility for top terms since Google is now giving more visibility to informational content or very niche/product line specific players, which in a lot of cases, don’t really seem to fulfill the need in a much better way than my clients. It’s about identifying patterns, closing gaps… expanding efforts accordingly. Google ultimately wants to provide the best experience for users, and if we do that in a very obvious way… they should identify it next time.

Thank you Aleyda. We look forward to seeing you again on March 21st.

Stefan Rooijakkers

Manager & partner bij SDIM

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