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40 Clever 404 Error Pages From Real Websites

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40 Clever 404 Error Pages From Real Websites

Running a successful website means staying alert for errors like broken pages or slow performance. However, sometimes there are problems that you just can’t avoid, and 404 errors are one of them.

A 404 occurs when a user requests a page on your website that doesn’t exist, thus throwing a 404 error page prompting users to return to the right place. No matter how many resources you put into ensuring your website never goes down … there’s always a chance that users could end up here.

It’s inconvenient, but a fact of life. And the reaction of visitors when they land on a nonexistent page can range from “taking it in stride” to “totally losing their minds.”

While there’s nothing you can do about the latter, you can make things a little less of a pain by having a creative error 404 message. This can do wonders to make your website visitors crack a smile in an otherwise frustrating situation.

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To get your website design juices flowing, this post will showcase some of our favorite website error pages. Hopefully, you’ll be able to take away a few ideas to snazz up your own 404 message.

What is a 404 Error?

A 404 error is a standard HTTP error message code that means the website you were trying to reach couldn’t be found on the server. It’s a client-side error, meaning either the webpage was removed or moved and the URL wasn’t changed accordingly, or the person just typed in the URL incorrectly.

For the most part, you can configure your server to create a customized 404 error page. (If you’re a HubSpot customer, click here to learn how to customize your 404 page in HubSpot.)

Some customized 404 error pages include a hero image, witty description, site map, search form, or basic contact information.

The Best 404 Web Page Examples

Over the years, websites have found different ways to inform visitors of a 404 error and channel them back to the right place, some simply, some creatively, and some hilariously. Let’s start by looking at some creative 404 pages, then check out some funny examples that are sure to delight anyone who comes across them.

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Page Not Found: Creative 404 Error Pages

1. Pipcorn

While a 404 page can easily stick out from a website, Pipcorn’s error page aligns perfectly with the rest of the site’s branding. There’s a nice animated background, a friendly text prompt directing visitors to search the website (complete with a clever pun), and a piece of popcorn used as the “0” in “404.”

404 error page example from the website pipcorn

2. Spotify

Music streaming giant Spotify has covered its bases with a clever 404 page. With a witty pun off Kanye West’s album “808s and Heartbreak” and a record animation, the website briefly entertains and then sends visitors back to the page they came from.

404 error page example from the website spotify

3. Genially

One simple way to ease the tension on your 404 page is to add a quick “Oops!” message — it helps your site feel more personable as you guide users back to the right place. In the case of Genially’s site, the page also includes a nifty illustration paired with some playful copy.

404 error page example from the website genially

4. Adobe

As you would expect, Adobe’s 404 error page is both useful and visually pleasing. It lists out popular links that visitors might want alongside some cool digital artwork serving as a visual metaphor for a broken or lost page. Honestly, websites should use visual metaphors more often.

404 error page example from the website adobe

5. Clorox

The 404 page for Clorox cleaning products rotates between three lighthearted photos to signal to visitors that they’ve made a misstep. It’s a smart use of branding to add a brief delight moment while helping out lost users.

404 error page example from the website clorox

6. Duma Collective

Other times, you might not need a witty blurb — just tell visitors that there’s no page at the address and let them move on. Entertainment consulting agency Duma Collective does just this with its error page, though it’s complemented by a background image for some minor flair.

404 error page example from the website duma collective

7. Chillhouse

Speaking of flair, self-care brand Chillhouse has put in the extra work to reroute its visitors in style. The 404 page is branded appropriately and even takes visitors on a little journey through a few image stills before they go back to the homepage.

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404 error page example from the website chillhouse

8. Bitly

If you enter an incorrect Bitly link, you’ll be taken to Bitly’s 404 page. We assume this happens a fair amount, which is why the 404 page gets straight to the point. It explains what might have gone wrong and prompts users to visit the Bitly homepage if that’s what they’re after.

404 error page example from the website bitly

9. Ikea

Ikea’s 404 page is similarly minimalist but still manages to sneak some smart branding in there. This example shows that your error pages don’t need to be elaborate to get the point across, but there’s nothing wrong with injecting some fun either.

404 error page example from the website ikea

10. Moxie Design Co.

Sure, “blew up the Internet” might be a bit hyperbolic, but it tells visitors that Moxie Design Co. doesn’t take itself too seriously with small slip-ups like this one. Also, a search bar is conveniently placed at the bottom to send you on your way.

404 error page example from the website moxie design

11. McKissack & McKissack

Ah, the classic “we lost the page” trick. Again, an easy way to present a 404 without alienating your audience. If you’re an agency like McKissack & McKissack that manages many client interactions, clear and concise copy is essential for all of your site’s pages, including error pages.

404 error page example from the website mckissack and mckissack

12. CSS Tricks

Ever ripped away a website’s wrapping to see what’s underneath? That’s the concept that CSS Tricks was going for in their 404 error page. This is both witty and reminiscent of what the website is all about: smart use of page styling.

404 error page example from the website css tricks

13. Good Old Games

For other websites, you unwrap the front end and there’s … just the vast emptiness of space. This page is a clever reference to GOG Galaxy, which is Good Old Games’ native video game client. Thankfully, a little video game character is there to give visitors a place to report an error if they want.

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404 error page example from the website good old games

14. Canva

For something a little different, check out Canva’s 404 page. It includes not just an error message, but a nifty tile puzzle visitors can play for some brief entertainment. There’s no harm in letting your visitors slack off for a couple of minutes, right?

404 error page example from the website canva

15. Innotech

Similar to Canva’s approach, Innotech features a Pong-esque game on its 404 page to provide some brief entertainment. Chances are you’ll remember a website like this. Plus, the fun detour complements a truly impressive website — seriously, when you’re done playing, head to the home page and take it all in.

404 error page example from the website innotech

16. Myriad

Video agency Myriad has opted for a quirky, on-brand 404 page design that mimics the classic SMPTE color bars that appear on old tapes and TVs. It’s a funny throwback to older technologies while representing the more modern problem of a nonexistent web page.

404 error page example from the website myriad

17. KonMari

Known for her popular cleaning and organization methods and brand, Marie Kondo has brought a similar feel to her website’s 404 page. The copy briefly and humorously harkens back to her tidying philosophy — a small but well-branded detail that fans will recognize.

404 error page example from the website mario kondo

18. BrandCrowd

Not only is the illustration on this error page detailed and engaging — the copy is clever, too. We love the reference to the Semisonic song “Closing Time”: “You can click anywhere else, but you can’t click here.”

404 error page example from the website brandcrowd

19. Hot Dot Productions

Hot Dot’s error page stays true to its tagline, “the intersection of new technologies and design.” The page is animated by hundreds of tiny dots that change direction in response to where you move your cursor. It’s mesmerizing and a great showcase of the agency’s design capabilities.

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404 error page example from the website hot dot

20. OrangeCoat

If you’re going to give an error message, why not entertain the user for a few seconds while you help them out? Following a friendly greeting, OrangeCoat offers a flowchart that actually helps users figure out why they reached an error page in the first place.

404 error page example from the website orangecoat

21. Ervin & Smith

This 404 page does more than redirect users back to active pages. Instead, Ervin & Smith’s 404 page invites you to scroll down and learn why you need a digital marketing agency, and why to choose Ervin & Smith in particular, capped off with a contact form. True to its mission, this agency shows that any page can be a conversion opportunity.

404 error page example from the website ervin and smith

22. DayCloud Studios

… or, your 404 can just be a place to waste time for a minute, as can be seen on the website for DayCloud Studios. Moving the cursor around the screen reveals a 404 message illuminated by lasers shooting from a cat’s eyes. Because why not?

404 error page example from the website daycloud studios

23. Headspace

Another instance of a website smartly incorporating its brand messaging into a 404 page — guided meditation app Headspace makes the effort to calm users, encouraging us to take a deep breath, then return to the main site.

404 error page example from the website headspace

24. Wildwood Bakery

Some websites thus far have integrated clever branded copy in their pages, while others have hosted full-blown online games on theirs. But, there’s nothing wrong with a brief push back in the right direction. Wildwood Bakery’s exquisite site keeps things short and sweet (literally).

404 error page example from the website wildwood bakery

 

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Page Not Found: Funny 404 Error Pages

25. Astuteo

Design agency Astuteo’s 404 page is a perfect balance of elegant visuals, humor, and helpfulness. The minimal layout gives users the information they need alongside another amusing visual metaphor, a sinking cargo ship and a fleeing figure.

404 error page example from the website astuteo

26. LEGO

There’s few words needed on LEGO’s 404 error page — the character’s expression makes everything clear. Plus, fans of the LEGO movie franchise will enjoy the fun reference in the copy.

404 error page example from the website lego

27. Magnt

In this funny error message, Magnt pokes fun at the fact that, yes, they could have broken something — or, you just can’t type. The visual serves as a quick way to quickly illustrate their point.

404 error page example from the website magnt

28. IconFinder

IconFinder’s error page is simple but delightful. The company’s mascot wearing a robe and appearing weary is a relatable nod to lost visitors. No worries though, since the site lists some of its links to visit down below.

404 error page example from the website iconfinder

29. Sweet Dreams

Apparently, the team at sleep aid company Sweet Dreams took too many of its products according to the website’s 404 page. Not only is this page humorous — it also blends well with the rest of the site’s front-end aesthetic and messaging for a cohesive feel.

404 error page example from the website sweet dreams

30. GitHub

The line “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for” refers to Obi-Wan Kenobi’s Jedi mind trick on Stormtroopers in Star Wars Episode IV, and it’s become a well-known phrase used to tell someone they’re pursuing the wrong course of action. GitHub plays on this famous line in their 404 error message.

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404 error page example from the website github

31. Patagonia

Patagonia’s custom 404 page captures the brand’s vibe perfectly, complete with a boomerang video of a frisbee twirler, a clever pun combining “404” and “aloha,” and links to its product pages. It’s a friendly and funny way to greet visitors who wound up in the wrong place.

404 error page example from the website patagonia

32. Cloud Sigma

Check it out: Cloud Sigma’s letting us in on some behind-the-scenes action. Their 404 error page pretends to be a “junior developer’s homepage” — that junior developer being, well, a cat.

404 error page example from the website cloud sigma

33. AMC Theatres

You might have been to an AMC movie theater before, but you’ve hopefully never seen their website’s 404 page. The website makes use of a quick, funny, and relevant one-liner before it sends you back to the right place.

404 error page example from the website amc

34. Bruno

It’s no coincidence that creative agencies are great at coming up with cool 404 pages. Here’s another one from the creatives at Bruno that plays off the 2000 cult comedy classic Dude, Where’s My Car? No, it has nothing to do with the company or website, but it’s sure to get a chuckle.

404 error page example from the website bruno

35. NPR

At first, NPR’s error page seems like nothing special. But keep reading and you’ll see how they cleverly link to some of their great stories about lost people, places, and things, like a piece on Amelia Earhart and one on Waldo. This might just make lost users feel a little less alone.

404 error page example from the website npr

36. Medium

Medium takes a similar approach to NPR’s 404 page, recommending articles about getting lost and losing things. Check these articles out if you have time — they’re quite good reads.

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404 error page example from the website medium

37. HomeStarRunner

HomeStarRunner.com, home to a Flash-animated cartoon series, has had a series of hilarious 404 error pages over the years. The most recent features characters from the cartoon series in a scene that could’ve come straight out of one of their episodes. If you turn the sound on when you load the page, you’ll hear their character Strong Bad — known for yelling phrases out loud — saying, “404’d!”

404 error page example from the website homestarrunner

38. Blizzard Entertainment

Here’s a simple idea that ends up looking slick: Blizzard Entertainment’s 404 page features an animated character lost in an actual blizzard and some humor that World of Warcraft fans will appreciate.

404 error page example from the website blizzard entertainment

39. Hello Big Idea

A quick trip around marketing and social media experts Hello Big Idea’s website will tell you what you need to know about its bold and blunt style of copy. And, of course, its 404 error page is no exception.

404 error page example from the website hello big idea

40. HubSpot

It happens to us, too! This is the message we put up to tell our site visitors that there are some website issues. Our goal was to stay true to HubSpot’s brand voice by being as lovable, empathetic, and helpful as possible.

404 error page example from the website hubspot

Turn a 404 Error Page Into a Delight Moment

Nobody wants to land on a 404 page — they’re annoying and unexpected. However, you can’t really avoid them, so it’s always a good idea to have a 404 page to fall back on for your website.

And, from a user experience perspective, your 404 page should be a small speed bump, not a brick wall. The right design can be the difference between a frustrated bounce and a possible conversion, so why not make it fun?

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Editor’s note: This post was originally published in December 2015 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.

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Only 6% of global marketers apply customer insights to product and brand

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Only 6% of global marketers apply customer insights to product and brand

While many brands talk about focusing on the customer, few do it. Less than a quarter (24%) of global brands are mapping customer behavior and sentiment, according to Braze’s 2024 Customer Engagement Review. What’s worse, only 6% apply customer insights to their product and brand approach.

“At the end of the day, a lot of companies operate based on their structure and not how the consumer interacts with them,” Mariam Asmar, VP of strategic consulting, told MarTech. “And while some companies have done a great job of reorienting that, with roles like the chief customer officer, there are many more that still don’t. Cross-channel doesn’t exist because there are still all these silos. But the customer doesn’t care about your silos. The customer doesn’t see silos. They see a brand.”

Half of all marketers report either depending on multiple, siloed point solutions to cobble together a multi-channel experience manually (33%); or primarily relying on single-channel solutions (17%).  Only 30% have access to a single customer engagement platform capable of creating personalized, seamless experiences across channels. This is a huge problem when it comes to cross-channel, personalization.

The persistence of silos

The persistence of data silos despite decades of explanation about the problems they cause, surprised Asmar the most.

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Screenshot 2024 02 27 140015
Source: Braze 2024 Global Customer Engagement Review

“Why are we still talking about this?” she said to MarTech. “One of the themes I see in the report is we’re still getting caught up on some of the same stumbling blocks as before.”

She said silos are indicative of teams working on different goals and “the only way that gets unsolved is if a leader comes in and aligns people towards some of those goals.”

These silos also hinder the use of AI, something 99% of respondents said they were already doing. The top uses of AI by marketers are:

  • Generating creative ideas (48%).
  • Automating repetitive tasks (47%).
  • Optimizing strategies in real-time (47%).
  • Enhancing data analysis (47%).
  • Powering predictive analytics (45%).
  • Personalizing campaigns (44%). 

Despite the high usage numbers, less than half of marketers have any interest in exploring AI’s potential to enhance customer engagement. Asmar believes there are two main reasons for this. First is that many people like the systems they know and understand. The other reason is a lack of training on the part of companies.

Dig deeper: 5 ways CRMs are leveraging AI to automate marketing today

“I think about when I was in advertising and everybody switched to social media,” she told MarTech. “Companies acted like ‘Well, all the marketers will just figure out social media.’ You can’t do that because whenever you’re teaching somebody how to do something new there’s always a level of training them up, even though they’re apps that we use every day, as people using them as a business and how they apply, how we get impact from them.”

The good news is that brands are setting the stage for the data agility they need.

  • 50% export performance feedback to business intelligence platforms to generate advanced analytics.
  • 48% sync performance with insights generated by other platforms in the business.

Also worth noting: Marketers say these are the four main obstacles to creativity and strategy:  

  • Emphasis on KPIs inherently inhibits a focus on creativity (42%).
  • Too much time spent on business-as-usual execution and tasks (42%).
  • Lack of technology to execute creative ideas, (41%).
  • Hard to demonstrate ROI impact of creativity (40%).
Screenshot 2024 02 27 135952Screenshot 2024 02 27 135952

Methodology

The 2024 Global Customer Engagement Review (registration required) is based on insights from 1,900 VP+ marketing decision-makers across 14 countries in three global regions: The Americas (Brazil, Mexico, and the US), APAC (Australia, Indonesia, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, and South Korea), and EMEA (France, Germany, Spain, the UAE, and the UK).

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Crafting Effortless Sales Through ‘Wow’ Moments in Experience Marketing

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Crafting Effortless Sales Through 'Wow' Moments in Experience Marketing

Crafting Effortless Sales Through Wow Moments in Experience Marketing

In an era where consumers are bombarded with endless choices and digital noise, standing out as a brand is more challenging than ever. Enter experience marketing – a strategy that transcends traditional advertising by focusing on creating immersive, memorable interactions. This innovative approach leverages the elements of surprise, delight, and reciprocity to forge strong emotional connections with customers, making the sale of your core product feel effortless. But how can businesses implement this strategy effectively? This guide delves into the art of crafting ‘wow’ moments that captivate audiences and transform customer engagement.

The Basics of Experience Marketing

Experience marketing is an evolved form of marketing that focuses on creating meaningful interactions with customers, aiming to elicit strong emotional responses that lead to brand loyalty and advocacy. Unlike conventional marketing, which often prioritizes product promotion, experience marketing centers on the customer’s holistic journey with the brand, creating a narrative that resonates on a personal level.

In today’s competitive market, experience marketing is not just beneficial; it’s essential. It differentiates your brand in a crowded marketplace, elevating your offerings beyond mere commodities to become integral parts of your customers’ lives. Through memorable experiences, you not only attract attention but also foster a community of loyal customers who are more likely to return and recommend your brand to others.

Principles of Experience Marketing

At the heart of experience marketing lie several key principles:

  • Emotional Connection: Crafting campaigns that touch on human emotions, from joy to surprise, creating memorable moments that customers are eager to share.
  • Customer-Centricity: Putting the customer’s needs and desires at the forefront of every marketing strategy, ensuring that each interaction adds value and enhances their experience with the brand.
  • Immersive Experiences: Utilizing technology and storytelling to create immersive experiences that captivate customers, making your brand a living part of their world.
  • Engagement Across Touchpoints: Ensuring consistent, engaging experiences across all customer touchpoints, from digital platforms to physical stores.

Understanding Your Audience

Before diving into the intricacies of crafting ‘wow’ moments, it’s crucial to understand who you’re creating these moments for. Identifying your audience’s pain points and desires is the first step in tailoring experiences that truly resonate.

1709033181 544 Crafting Effortless Sales Through Wow Moments in Experience Marketing1709033181 544 Crafting Effortless Sales Through Wow Moments in Experience Marketing

This involves deep market research, customer interviews, and leveraging data analytics to paint a comprehensive picture of your target demographic. By understanding the journey your customers are on, you can design touchpoints that not only meet but exceed their expectations.

  • Identifying Pain Points and Desires: Use surveys, social media listening, and customer feedback to gather insights. What frustrates your customers about your industry? What do they wish for more than anything else? These insights will guide your efforts to create experiences that truly resonate.
  • Mapping the Customer Journey: Visualize every step a customer takes from discovering your brand to making a purchase and beyond. This map will highlight critical touchpoints where you can introduce ‘wow’ moments that transform the customer experience.

Developing Your Experience Marketing Strategy

With a clear understanding of your audience, it’s time to build the framework of your experience marketing strategy. This involves setting clear objectives, identifying key customer touchpoints, and conceptualizing the experiences you want to create.

  • Setting Objectives: Define what you aim to achieve with your experience marketing efforts. Whether it’s increasing brand awareness, boosting sales, or improving customer retention, having clear goals will shape your approach and help measure success.
  • Strategic Touchpoint Identification: List all the potential touchpoints where customers interact with your brand, from social media to in-store experiences. Consider every stage of the customer journey and look for opportunities to enhance these interactions.

Enhancing Customer Experiences with Surprise, Delight, and Reciprocity

This section is where the magic happens. By integrating the elements of surprise, delight, and reciprocity, you can elevate ordinary customer interactions into unforgettable experiences.

1709033181 790 Crafting Effortless Sales Through Wow Moments in Experience Marketing1709033181 790 Crafting Effortless Sales Through Wow Moments in Experience Marketing
  • Incorporating Surprise and Delight: Go beyond what’s expected. This could be as simple as a personalized thank-you note with each purchase or as elaborate as a surprise gift for loyal customers. The key is to create moments that feel special and unexpected.
  • Applying the Principle of Reciprocity: When customers receive something of value, they’re naturally inclined to give something back. This can be leveraged by offering helpful resources, exceptional service, or customer appreciation events. Such gestures encourage loyalty and positive word-of-mouth.
  • Examples and Case Studies: Highlight real-world examples of brands that have successfully implemented these strategies. Analyze what they did, why it worked, and how it impacted their relationship with customers.

Best Practices for Experience Marketing

To ensure your experience marketing strategy is as effective as possible, it’s important to adhere to some best practices.

  • Personalization at Scale: Leverage data and technology to personalize experiences without losing efficiency. Tailored experiences make customers feel valued and understood.
  • Using Technology to Enhance Experiences: From augmented reality (AR) to mobile apps, technology offers myriad ways to create immersive experiences that surprise and engage customers.
  • Measuring Success: Utilize analytics tools to track the success of your experience marketing initiatives. Key performance indicators (KPIs) could include engagement rates, conversion rates, and customer satisfaction scores.

Section 5: Overcoming Common Challenges

Even the best-laid plans can encounter obstacles. This section addresses common challenges in experience marketing and how to overcome them.

1709033181 656 Crafting Effortless Sales Through Wow Moments in Experience Marketing1709033181 656 Crafting Effortless Sales Through Wow Moments in Experience Marketing
  • Budget Constraints: Learn how to create impactful experiences without breaking the bank. It’s about creativity, not just expenditure.
  • Maintaining Consistency: Ensuring a consistent brand experience across all touchpoints can be daunting. Develop a comprehensive brand guideline and train your team accordingly.
  • Staying Ahead of Trends: The digital landscape is ever-changing. Stay informed about the latest trends in experience marketing and be ready to adapt your strategy as necessary.

The Path to Effortless Sales

By creating memorable experiences that resonate on a personal level, you make the path to purchase not just easy but natural. When customers feel connected to your brand, appreciated, and valued, making a sale becomes a byproduct of your relationship with them. Experience marketing, when done right, transforms transactions into interactions, customers into advocates, and products into passions.

Now is the time to reassess your marketing strategy. Are you just selling a product, or are you providing an unforgettable experience? Dive into the world of experience marketing and start creating those ‘wow’ moments that will not only distinguish your brand but also make sales feel effortless.


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The Current State of Google’s Search Generative Experience [What It Means for SEO in 2024]

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The Current State of Google's Search Generative Experience [What It Means for SEO in 2024]

SEO enthusiasts, known for naming algorithm updates after animals and embracing melodrama, find themselves in a landscape where the “adapt or die” mantra prevails. So when Google announced the launch of its Search Generative Experience (SGE) in May of 2023 at Google/IO, you can imagine the reaction was immense.

Although SGE has the potential to be a truly transformative force in the landscape, we’re still waiting for SGE to move out of the Google Labs Sandbox and integrate into standard search results. 

Curious about our current take on SGE and its potential impact on SEO in the future? Read on for more.

Decoding Google’s Defensive Move

In response to potential threats from competitors like ChatGPT, Bing, TikTok, Reddit, and Amazon, Google introduced SGE as a defensive maneuver. However, its initial beta release raised questions about its readiness and global deployment.

ChatGPT provided an existential threat that had the potential to eat into Google’s market share. When Bing started incorporating it into its search results, it was one of the most significant wins for Bing in a decade. In combination with threats from TikTok, Reddit, and Amazon, we see a more fractured search landscape less dominated by Google. Upon its launch, the expectation was that Google would push its SGE solution globally, impact most queries, and massively shake up organic search results and strategies to improve organic visibility.

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Now, industry leaders are starting to question if Google is better off leaving SGE in the testing ground in Google labs. According to Google’s recent update, it appears that SGE will remain an opt-in experience in Google Labs (for at least the short term). If SGE was released, there could be a fundamental reset in understanding SEO. Everything from organic traffic to optimization tactics to tracking tools would need adjustments for the new experience. Therefore, the prospect of SGE staying in Google Labs is comforting if not entirely reliable. 

The ever-present option is that Google can change its mind at any point and push SGE out broadly as part of its standard search experience. For this reason, we see value in learning from our observations with SGE and continuing to stay on top of the experience.

SGE User Experience and Operational Challenges

If you’ve signed up for search labs and have been experimenting with SGE for a while, you know firsthand there are various issues that Google should address before rolling it out broadly to the public.

At a high level, these issues fall into two broad categories including user experience issues and operational issues.

Below are some significant issues we’ve come across, with Google making notable progress in addressing certain ones, while others still require improvement:

  • Load time – Too many AI-generated answers take longer to load than a user is willing to wait. Google recommends less than a 3-second load time to meet expectations. They’ll need to figure out how to consistently return results quickly if they want to see a higher adoption rate.
  • Layout – The SGE layout is massive. We believe any major rollout will be more streamlined to make it a less intrusive experience for users and allow more visibility for ads, and if we’re lucky, organic results. Unfortunately, there is still a decent chance that organic results will move below the fold, especially on mobile devices. Recently, Google has incorporated more results where users are prompted to generate the AI result if they’d like to see it. The hope is Google makes this the default in the event of a broad rollout where users can generate an AI result if they want one instead of assuming that’s what a user would like to see. 
  • Redundancy – The AI result duplicates features from the map pack and quick answer results. 
  • Attribution – Due to user feedback, Google includes sources on several of their AI-powered overviews where you can see relevant web pages if there is an arrow next to the result. Currently, the best way to appear as one of these relevant pages is to be one of the top-ranked results, which is convenient from an optimization standpoint. Changes to how attribution and sourcing are handled could heavily impact organic strategies. 

 

On the operational side, Google also faces significant hurdles to making SGE a viable product for its traditional search product. The biggest obstacle appears to be making the cost associated with the technology worth the business outcomes it provides. If this was a necessary investment to maintain market share, Google might be willing to eat the cost, but if their current position is relatively stable, Google doesn’t have much of an incentive to take on the additional cost burden of heavily leveraging generative AI while also presumably taking a hit to their ad revenue. Especially since slow user adoption doesn’t indicate this is something users are demanding at the moment.

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While the current experience of SGE is including ads above the generative results now, the earliest iterations didn’t heavily feature sponsored ads. While they are now included, the current SGE layout would still significantly disrupt the ad experience we’re used to. During the Google I/O announcement, they made a statement to reassure advertisers they would be mindful of maintaining a distinct ad experience in search.  

“In this new generative experience, Search ads will continue to appear in dedicated ad slots throughout the page. And we’ll continue to uphold our commitment to ads transparency and making sure ads are distinguishable from organic search results” – Elizabeth Reid, VP, Search at Google

Google is trying to thread a delicate needle here of staying on the cutting edge with their search features, while trying not to upset their advertisers and needlessly hinder their own revenue stream. Roger Montti details more of the operational issues in a recent article digging into the surprising reasons SGE is stuck in Google Labs.

He lists three big problems that need to be solved before SGE will be integrated into the foreground of search:

  1. Large Language Models being inadequate as an information retrieval system
  2. The inefficiency and cost of transformer architecture
  3. Hallucinating (providing inaccurate answers)

 

Until SGE provides more user value and checks more boxes on the business sense side, the traditional search experience is here to stay. Unfortunately, we don’t know when or if Google will ever feel confident they’ve addressed all of these concerns, so we’ll need to stay prepared for change.

Experts Chime in on Search Generative Experience

Our team has been actively engaging with SGE, here’s a closer look at their thoughts and opinions on the experience so far:

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“With SGE still in its early stages, I’ve noticed consistent changes in how the generative results are produced and weaved naturally into the SERPs. Because of this, I feel it is imperative to stay on top of these on-going changes to ensure we can continue to educate our clients on what to expect when SGE is officially incorporated into our everyday lives. Although an official launch date is currently unknown, I believe proactively testing various prompt types and recording our learnings is important to prepare our clients for this next evolution of Google search.” – Jon Pagano, SEO Sr. Specialist at Tinuiti

“It’s been exciting to watch SGE grow through different variations over the last year, but like other AI solutions its potential still outweighs its functionality and usefulness. What’s interesting to see is that SGE doesn’t just cite its sources of information, but also provides an enhanced preview of each webpage referenced. This presents a unique organic opportunity where previously untouchable top 10 rankings are far more accessible to the average website. Time will tell what the top ranking factors for SGE are, but verifiable content with strong E-E-A-T signals will be imperative. –Kate Fischer, SEO Specialist at Tinuiti

“Traditionally, AI tools were very good at analytical tasks. With the rise of ChatGPT, users can have long-form, multi-question conversations not yet available in search results. When, not if, released, Google’s Generative Experience will transform how we view AI and search. Because there are so many unknowns, some of the most impactful ways we prepare our clients are to discover and develop SEO strategies that AI tools can’t directly disrupt, like mid to low funnel content.” – Brandon Miller, SEO Specialist at Tinuiti

“SGE is going to make a huge impact on the ecommerce industry by changing the way users interact with the search results. Improved shopping experience will allow users to compare products, price match, and read reviews in order to make it quicker and easier for a user to find the best deals and purchase. Although this leads to more competitive results, it also improves organic visibility and expands our product reach. It is more important than ever to ensure all elements of a page are uniquely and specifically optimized for search. With the SGE updates expected to continue to impact search results, the best way to stay ahead is by focusing on strong user focused content and detailed product page optimizations.”  – Kellie Daley, SEO Sr. Specialist at Tinuiti

Navigating the Clash of Trends

One of the most interesting aspects of the generative AI trend in search is that it appears to be in direct opposition to other recent trends.

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One of the ways Google has historically evaluated the efficacy of its search ranking systems is through the manual review of quality raters. In their quality rater guidelines, raters were instructed to review for things like expertise, authority, and trustworthiness (EAT) in results to determine if Google results are providing users the information they deserve. 

In 2022, Google updated their search guidelines to include another ‘e’ in the form of experience (EEAT). In their words, Google wanted to better assess if the content a user was consuming was created by someone with, “a degree of experience, such as with actual use of a product, having actually visited a place or communicating what a person has experienced. There are some situations where really what you value most is content produced by someone who has firsthand, life experience on the topic at hand.” 

Generative AI results, while cutting-edge technology and wildly impressive in some cases, stand in direct opposition to the principles of E-E-A-T. That’s not to say that there’s no room for both in search, but Google will have to determine what it thinks users value more between these competing trends. The slow adoption of SGE could be an indication that a preference for human experience, expertise, authority, and trust is winning round one in this fight. 

Along these lines, Google is also diversifying its search results to cater to the format in which users get their information. This takes the form of their Perspectives Filter. Also announced at Google I/O 2023, the perspectives filter incorporates more video, image, and discussion board posts from places like TikTok, YouTube, Reddit, and Quora. Once again, this trend shows the emphasis and value searchers place on experience and perspective. Users value individual experience over the impersonal conveyance of information. AI will never have these two things, even if it can provide a convincing imitation.

The current iteration of SGE seems to go too far in dismissing these trends in favor of generative AI. It’s an interesting challenge Google faces. If they don’t determine the prevailing trend correctly, veering too far in one direction can push more market share to ChatGPT or platforms like YouTube and TikTok.

Final Thoughts

The range of outcomes remains broad and fascinating for SGE. We can see this developing in different ways, and prognostication offers little value, but it’s invaluable to know the potential outcomes and prepare for as many of them as possible.

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It’s critical that you or your search agency be interacting and experimenting with SGE because:

  • The format and results will most likely continue to see significant changes
  • This space moves quickly and it’s easy to fall behind
  • Google may fix all of the issues with SGE and decide to push it live, changing the landscape of search overnight
  • SGE experiments could inform other AI elements incorporated into the search experience

 

Ultimately, optimizing for the specific SGE experience we see now is less important because we know it will inevitably continue changing. We see more value in recognizing the trends and problems Google is trying to solve with this technology. With how quickly this space moves, any specifics mentioned in this article could be outdated in a week. That’s why focusing on intention and process is important at this stage of the game.

By understanding the future needs and wants SGE is attempting to address, we can help you future-proof your search strategies as much as possible. To some extent we’re always at the whims of the algorithm, but by maintaining a user-centric approach, you can make your customers happy, regardless of how they find you.

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