What Google's New Search AI Means for Church SEO

We tested Google’s new search AI and here’s what we learned.
Shahbano Imran

In May, Google launched Search Generative Experience, or SGE, an experimental version of Search that uses generative AI.

Unlike a normal Google Search, which gives you a list of links in the results, SGE uses AI (it’s like Google’s version of ChatGPT) to answer your questions in a new section at the top of the search results page:

It includes a natural language summary of the answer, links to where the answer came from, and the ability to ask follow-on questions:

So what does this mean for Church SEO (Search Engine Optimization)?

If Google makes a version of SGE a permanent part of search, it would mean that traditional tactics for ranking higher in search results have to be adjusted to stay effective. Here are our three major take-aways.

1. Your holistic web presence matters

Pre-SGE: It's crucial for your church's basic information, known as NAPW (Name, Address, Phone, Website), to be consistent across major sites like Google Places, Instagram, Yelp, and your own website. This consistency helps Google see that those listings are all referring to the same church and boost your online presence.

Post-SGE: Along with NAPW, it’s now important that the core messages in your copy (text) are consistent across websites where your church is mentioned (like Facebook, your local newspaper, a third party blog, etc). This helps Google’s natural language summary produce correct and consistent results.

Users can ask the SGE AI for specific aspects of nearby churches, like if they’re family-friendly. In this example, churches who’s reviews consistently mention that they’re family-friendly, and who’s website content does the same, will rank higher.

2. Your Google Places listing matters more than ever

Pre-SGE: It’s important to have a complete Google Places listing that complies with Google’s guidelines. It’s also important to have a healthy amount of content on the Places page (reviews, community Q&As, photos).

Post-SGE: The generated summary in SGE often pulls from reviews, which means having lots of expressive and authentic reviews becomes more important.

The SGE section also takes the place of the map pack, which was the first thing people saw in pre-SGE search. The SGE panel actually includes more businesses than the map pack did, which is good news for churches, because now more of them can appear at the top of the page.

The map pack that appears in regular search

The SGE panel

3. Content on websites you previously didn’t care about now might matter

In old search, the user gets a list of links as results, and most people don’t even scroll to the bottom of the first page before clicking into a website.

Generated using Midjourney

The SGE panel, which stays at the top of the page, can pull content from websites that may be on page 2 and onward of search results, on pages people may not otherwise ever see.

This could add more work to the process of making sure we have a strong web presence, since we need to now take those websites into consideration.

Overall, Google SGE adds clarity and context and helps searcher’s directly find the answers they’re looking for. It feels like the natural evolution for search and is certainly not bad news for Church SEO. SGE isn’t open to the public right now (but you can sign up through Google Search Labs here).

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