Google’s AI Overviews Coincide With Drop In Mobile Searches

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A recent analysis conducted by search industry expert Rand Fishkin indicates that Google’s implementation of AI summaries in May resulted in a significant decline in search volume, particularly on mobile devices. This study, which examined millions of Google searches across the United States and the European Union, highlights the unforeseen impacts of integrating AI technology.

AI Overviews Rollout & Reversal

In May 2024, Google introduced AI summaries for a wide range of search queries in the United States.

However, the feature received mixed reviews and was scaled back by the end of the month.

In a blog post on May 30, Google acknowledged issues with the accuracy and usefulness of these AI summaries, especially for less common queries.

Google disclosed that it implemented more than a dozen technical enhancements to address these challenges.

According to a subsequent study by SE Ranking, the frequency of AI summaries appearing in search results has decreased, with only 8% of searches currently triggering an AI Overview. However, when generated, these summaries now contain more detailed information, averaging a 25% increase in content length.

SE Ranking also observed that these expanded AI summaries tend to cite fewer sources, typically around four.

Decline In Mobile Searches

Fishkin’s analysis reveals that the rollout of AI Overviews in May coincided with a notable decline in mobile searches.

While desktop searches experienced a minor uptick, the decrease in mobile searches was significant, given that mobile devices typically account for nearly two-thirds of all Google queries.

This discovery suggests that users may have been less inclined to conduct searches on their mobile devices when presented with AI-generated summaries.

Fishkin commented:

“The most noticeable changes in May were observed across both the EU and US, particularly… Mobile searches dropped by a considerable margin (if there’s anything that might have prompted Google to scale back this feature, my bet would be on this).”

He further remarked:

“If I were in charge at Google, that decline in mobile searches (remember, mobile accounts for almost two-thirds of all Google queries) would be cause for serious concern about shareholder confidence.”

Impact On Overall Search Behavior

Despite the decline in mobile searches, the study concluded that overall search behavior remained fairly consistent throughout the rollout of AI overviews.

There was a slight uptick in the number of clicks per search on mobile devices, whereas desktop clicks per search remained unchanged.

This suggests that although some users may have been dissuaded from conducting searches, those who interacted with the AI overviews continued to click on search results at a comparable or slightly higher rate compared to previous months.

Implications For Google & the Search Industry

The study underscores the difficulties Google encounters as it integrates AI-generated content into its search results.

Furthermore, the research identified other worrisome trends in Google search behavior:

Low Click-through Rates: In the US, only 360 out of every 1,000 Google searches result in clicks to websites outside of Google. The EU performs slightly better, with 374 clicks per 1,000 searches.
Dominance of Zero-click Searches: Nearly 60% of searches in both regions conclude without any clicks, categorized as “zero-click searches.”
Google’s Self-referral Traffic: Approximately 30% of clicks from US searches redirect to Google-owned properties, with a somewhat lower proportion in the EU.

Why SEJ Cares

This study emphasizes the necessity for flexible SEO strategies.

As a sector, there might be a requirement to prioritize optimizing for zero-click searches and broadening traffic sources beyond reliance on Google.

The results also prompt inquiries about the trajectory of AI in search.

Despite significant investments by tech giants in AI technologies, this study indicates that their deployment may not consistently deliver anticipated outcomes.

Original news from SearchEngineJournal