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AI’s Influence on Traffic Dynamics: A Comprehensive Review

2 min read

Two weeks after Google introduced its AI Overviews (AIOs), we can analyze early data to assess their impact on organic traffic.

I aimed to understand the implications of AIOs, particularly in light of numerous reports of misinformation and occasionally harmful recommendations from Google’s AI responses.

The findings indicate that AIOs can negatively affect organic traffic, especially for queries where users seek quick answers. However, some AIOs can potentially drive more traffic to the sites they reference.

 

When AIOs Show Up

 

On May 22, I used ZipTie to crawl the search results for 1,675 queries in the health vertical to understand how, when, and why Google displays AI Overviews (AIOs).

I combined ZipTie’s data with insights from Search Console and Ahrefs to analyze the implications for organic traffic, the influence of backlinks, and estimated domain traffic.

 

42% Of Queries Show AIOs

AIOs appeared in 42% of the queries (704 out of 1,675), significantly higher than the 16% in eCommerce by ZipTie or the 15% in SEO Clarity. This higher occurrence rate aligns with Google’s announcement to show AIOs for complex queries, which are more frequent in the health sector than in eCommerce.

A weak correlation was observed between the number of words in a query and the likelihood of triggering AIOs, suggesting that longer queries are more prone to AIOs. Surprisingly, AIOs were prevalent in the health space, where misinformation carries higher risks. There was no relationship between keyword difficulty or search volume, although the domain with GSC access was more likely to be cited for low-difficulty queries.

AIOs often appeared alongside People Also Ask (PAA), Featured Snippets (FS), and Discussions & Forums modules (D&F), which is logical since these SERP features signal informational searches. In contrast, Knowledge Panels and Top Ads showed no correlation and appeared less frequently than other SERP features.

 

Traffic Impact Of AIOs

 

The critical question is how AI Overviews (AIOs) impact the organic traffic of both cited and uncited URLs.

To investigate, I compared organic clicks from the Search Console for a domain across 1,675 non-branded keywords (US) during the week of May 7 and the week of May 14.

After excluding low-traffic keywords, AIOs appeared for 560 out of 1,344 keywords, with the target domain cited 171 times across 461 URLs.

To ensure rank changes didn’t skew the results, I excluded keywords with a rank change greater than 0.9 or less than -0.9, leaving 52 out of 521 URLs for analysis.

 

Findings

 

  • Negative Impact on Cited URLs: A strong negative correlation (-0.61) between cited URLs and traffic change indicates that AIO citations lead to fewer clicks for those URLs. Specifically, the domain experienced an 8.9% decrease in clicks when cited in AIOs. The impact varied by user intent, with URLs targeting queries like “how to get viagra without prescription” losing the most clicks, suggesting AIOs function similarly to Featured Snippets, which affect traffic differently based on query complexity.
  • Outlier Influence: A significant portion of traffic loss was due to a few URLs. Excluding these outliers resulted in a slightly positive correlation (0.1), indicating that some AIOs might drive more URL traffic when users seek more detailed information.
  • Impact on Uncited URLs: When AIOs appeared, but the site wasn’t cited, there was an average organic traffic loss of 2.8%. This suggests that users might still click on organic results, but a more precise measurement of organic clicks for the exact keywords is needed for a definitive conclusion.

 

Conclusion

 

The presence of AIOs has a complex impact on organic traffic, varying based on citation status and user intent. While AIOs often reduce clicks to cited URLs, they can sometimes drive traffic when users require more detailed information. The overall effect on uncited URLs shows a moderate decline in traffic, highlighting the nuanced influence of AIOs on search behavior.

 

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Shilpi Mathur
[email protected]