AI Overviews Need Opt-out Options

If you missed the launch of Google AI Overviews, formerly known as SGE (search generative experience) last week no one would blame you. Maybe it’s just me, but the surprise announcement about OpenAI’s Spring Update (conveniently) the day before IO seemed to steal Google’s thunder. And even without the OpenAI announcement I question how much of a bang Google’s announcement would have had. For many, the roll out of generative AI in Google Search felt preordained in the most monotonous and uneventful way imaginable. Really it was already rolling out in late March. And maybe being out of office last week contributed to my unenthusiastic perception of Google’s IO event. But more than likely it was the overwhelming response from people looking to opt-out though.

People are pissed

I expected a lackluster response from digital marketers and industry experts, like Greg Sterling calling it “anti-climactic”. But the response from the public was genuinely surprising for me. To put it bluntly, people are pissed. Many people took to Google’s Search Help forum shortly after the release of AI Overviews, looking for a way to turn it off:

Google can ignore a few angry SEOs. But it’s going to be difficult to ignore the wave of criticism from everyday users that has percolated its way into mainstream news. Even the top of Google’s search results for the query “AI Overviews” is littered with unfavorable articles.

And I can see why…

You can’t turn off AI overviews in Google Search

It’s impossible to turn of AI overviews in Google Search. Period. Well maybe semicolon? Because you can use chrome extensions to block AI overviews or simply switch to another search engine. Within the first few days of Google’s rollout of AI overviews numerous chrome extensions came out designed to remove it – such as Hide Google AI Overviews & Bye Bye, Google AI. And just to be clear, I don’t mean remove AI overviews from Google completely. These tools simply hide AI overviews (and other parts of search results) for individual users. But as Google updates their search results (and specifically CSS) these tools could require updates or become obsolete. Odds are, if your favorite search engine doesn’t have an AI over of their own yet – they will soon. Enough speculation though, back to Google.

Turning off the AI Overviews and more in Search labs won’t disable AI Overviews in Search.

Which feels unnecessarily restrictive and problematic considering the quality of some results.

AI Overviews feels misguided and dangerous

As Search Engine Land and countless other publications have pointed out, AI overviews are giving dangerous answers. Despite being comical at times, I think we all can agree that a prominent, and at times trusted, source of information like Google shouldn’t be telling users to take a bath with a toaster or run with scissors.

I also thing Google’s internal motives for pushing AI overviews are misguided. Google’s CEO, Sundar Pichai, seemed excited to share that AI overviews increase search usage. But do searchers really want to search more. If anything, I would think Google would want to get users to what they want quicker – potentially decreasing usage per user.  Coupled with the revelations that have come from the recent trial between the DOJ and Google – I really question if AI overviews were ever meant to improve search.

Bing has on/off switch for Copilot

While I don’t use Bing often myself, I do like Microsoft has included an on/off toggle in the Bing Search settings. I think something like this would really improve the public’s perception of AI overviews. From what I’ve read it’s not their existence that is upsetting. I think what frustrating many people is being forced to use it in place of what’s familiar and always worked. Google might be anxious to move away from 10 blue links. But for many, that’s what they know and trust Google for.

Site owners can’t easily block AI Overviews

It’s important to remember that similar to Google Search users, webmasters have no way of blocking AI overviews – without blocking their site from Search.

Preview Controls

It’s possible to use what Google refers to as Preview Controls, aka meta tags like nosnippet, to block your site and its contents from appearing in AI Overviews. Google updated their robots meta tags specifications with details and Glen Gabe also did a case study testing it. The drawback is that your meta description will also be removed from regular search results. Which some site owners, and clients, probably won’t like.

Noindex

The only other alternative is to block indexing entirely using something like the meta robots noindex tag. This isn’t ideal for site owners that fix a bad AI overview (like some of the ones referenced above) or avoid it entirely – without sacrificing their SEO traffic.

Summary

We all deserve more from Google. Searchers and site owners deserve opt-out options for AI overviews on Google Search. I also thing site owner deserve data to understand any benefits (or lack thereof) they might be receiving from being included in AI overviews.

The additional features coming to AI Overviews soon, like simplify and break it down, may improve usability. And Google’s efforts to improve their models powering AI overviews will most likely improve the quality of results and decrease the number of hallucinations. But the rough start and on-going backlash could very well outweigh their efforts to win people over.

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