SGE Experimentation: What We Learned From Failing

Jenny Hart
February 28, 2024
SGE Experimentation What We Learned From Failing

Virayo has been closely monitoring the buzz around Search Generative Experience (SGE) — Google’s AI-powered search tool that debuted in May 2023. Available through Google Labs, SGE is an experiment in which Google attempts to serve up search results that help users find information more quickly, without having to click through to numerous websites.

Google hasn’t announced when or if SGE will move from beta-testing to a full rollout, but that could happen in 2024. And because we like to be ahead of the curve in all things SEO-related, we thought, “Maybe we should figure out how this works.” So we decided to run an experiment.


The Mystery of the Carousel

The gist of SGE is this: Websites that appear in the SGE “snapshot carousel” will capture the bulk of organic traffic. Here’s what the carousel looks like:

Google SGE result screen shot

SGE carousel cards are clickable and take readers to a post or webpage. But after reading extensively about it, we still couldn’t determine how Google chooses the sites that appear in the carousel.

Organic rank seems to have some impact on what appears in the carousel, but as shown in the following image, Google sometimes features pages that are miles away from the top of the SERP:

Google SGE carousel

Here’s another example for the search term “best enterprise seo tools.” You can see below that the number one organic result from Search Engine Land is not showing in the SGE carousel:

#1 organic result from Search Engine Land is not showing in the SGE carousel


50% of links in the SGE carousel aren’t within Google’s top 10 search results

Our early analysis suggests that nearly 50% of links in the SGE carousel aren’t within Google’s top 10 search results.

So the goal we set out to achieve was breaking into the carousel.


The Process

To launch our experiment, we picked a page from our site that was already ranking in the top 10 for its primary keyword to see if we could optimize it to trigger a carousel placement.

Despite ranking #6 for “Saas SEO agency,” the page wasn’t appearing in the SGE carousel when we started our experiment.

SEO agencies in SGE results

The sites we saw in the carousel weren’t unfamiliar to us — these were notable SEO agencies. And we assumed they might also be running their own SGE experiments. So we did a deeper dive to look for any common threads across these pages, including:

  • Page type (blog post or product page)
  • Organic SERP rank
  • Whether the primary keyword was in the page title
  • The top keyword
  • Total number of page-one keywords
  • Total number of ranking keywords
  • Backlinks

One of these pieces had zero page-one keywords, wasn’t ranking for the keyword in the organic SERP, and had just five backlinks. We saw no immediate commonalities among these pages and took a closer look at the content. That’s when we noticed at least one page had more structure than ours, including a table of contents and an FAQ. So, adding an FAQ and table of contents to our page seemed like the next logical step.


What Happened Next

Two days after updating and republishing our page, we were pleasantly surprised to see Virayo in the SGE carousel. But:

  • We had previously seen just three cards in the carousel, and now we saw six cards, with Virayo in spot six.
  • Our card displayed a truncated image of a client’s logo.
  • Our teammates in different parts of the United States weren’t seeing the same SGE results.
  • The top SGE cards were changing throughout the day.

Determined to do better, we tried again. We updated the featured snippet image and meta description, shortened the page title, and expanded the FAQ section. Then we republished.


How Did We Do?

The next day, Virayo was not in the SGE carousel — only two companies appeared there. A few days later, we reappeared in the carousel, but still with the wonky client logo as the image.

We tried using a VPN to mask our IP address to see if that affected the results. It didn’t seem to, and the results changed several times within a single day.

Once again, we revamped the content on our page, republished it, and re-indexed it. Then crossed our fingers.


A (Sort Of) Success!

Re-indexing the page seemed to be why our SGE carousel card finally displayed the correct image. We also appeared in the top three card results a few times, at least for one of us (our Idaho team still didn’t see us in the carousel). And we appeared for the first time in the list of agencies:

SGE carousel card image

Virayo continued to appear in the carousel for several days, often in the top three results. But once we stopped relaunching the page, we dropped out of the carousel and the list of agencies.


What We Learned

So, what did we learn from this experiment?

  1. Google’s methodology for populating the SGE carousel is unknown, and the best anyone can do is guess.
  2. If you’re not constantly optimizing your page, you probably won’t get into the SGE results or hold onto your position there.
  3. The results you see might be unique to you, your time zone, or whatever Google server you connect to.

While Virayo isn’t a regular on the SGE carousel for “SaaS SEO agency” yet, we’re just starting to tap into SGE’s capabilities. We eagerly await Google’s next move with SGE, whether a full launch or a shutdown. In the meantime, we’ll keep experimenting and testing, striving to enhance both our visibility and that of our clients.

We invite you to join us and share your SGE experiences. (And if you spot Virayo on the SGE carousel, please let us know!)

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