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AI Overviews SEO Impact: Higher Ed. Research Study

AI Overviews is a new search feature launched by Google on May 14th, 2024. It was first introduced to us through Google’s Search Generative Experience in May 2023 and was only available if you had signed up for Google’s Search Labs. AI Overviews (until recently known as SGE results) were tested on users who had enabled SGE through Search Labs for a year to gather training data before the rollout.

We analyzed the top 1,000 keywords in the Higher Ed. space to understand the impact of this new feature on the visibility and traffic of the results. Here’s what we learned:


  • We analyzed a total of 1,000 keywords relevant to the Higher Ed. space
  • We segmented these keywords by search intent:
    • Find a program (transactional): 404 keywords (i.e. healthcare administration degree)
    • Get informed (informational): 354 keywords (i.e. what can you do with a criminal justice degree)
    • Mixed (Google shows a mix of both types of results): 242 keywords (i.e. bachelor of business administration)
  • We pulled data from different sources:
    • Ahrefs: Search Volume, Keyword Difficulty, CPC, CPS (clicks per search)
    • Google SERP Features (i.e. Featured snippet, Knowledge panel, People also ask etc)
  • We scraped Google’s search result to see if it’s showing AI Overview results

AI Overviews are visible for only 4% of the keywords where the intent is to ‘Find a program’

This was surprising to us. We were expecting a higher % of keywords that would show an AI Overview, but it looks like Google is being more conservative with these keywords. What this means is that if your institution was getting a lot of traffic to its program pages from non-branded program-related keywords, it’s very unlikely you’ll see any impact for the time being.

One reason this could be the case is that Google is just trying to be careful with the AI recommendations and answers in the Higher Ed. space. As we have seen in the past few weeks, there’s been a lot of noise online from users who are not happy with the AI results, and it’s totally understandable considering the very wrong answers sometimes Google provides.

AI Overviews are visible for 18.6% of the keywords where the intent is to “Get informed”

This is more in line with what we expected. AI Overviews are well suited for keywords where the intent is informational (you’re looking for information, asking questions, doing comparisons, etc.). They are designed to provide comprehensive and structured answers, making them a good fit for such queries.

Our Lady of the Lake University (a client of ours) ranks for “qualities of a good leader” in the 1st position with an informational blog post. Google is showing an AI Overview, which when you open, you’ll see OLLU isn’t linked as a result in the AI-generated answer and doesn’t have any visibility in this search feature. But their blog article still ranks in 1st position as a traditional result.

When we look at the Google Search Console data (a week before AI Overviews were launched vs. a week after its launch), we see that the total clicks declined by 51%, but the number of searches (impressions) for that keyword during the last week also declined by 34%. This is why the CTR, which declined by 25%, is a more important metric here because it tells us the real impact in the loss/win of clicks.

Based on the above data, we believe that the negative impact on informational keywords in the Higher Ed. space to be in the range of 20-25% which makes sense, considering that the nature of this content and the audiences that it attracts (not necessarily students looking for programs, but a more general audience).

Still, we’re big believers in creating this kind of content for multiple reasons, from building topical authority in areas where you have programs (it benefits your program pages and their rankings/performance), brand strengthening (even with the potential decline, you still going to get a lot of free traffic from Google), website authority (this content attracts backlinks which are very important in SEO) and lead generation (some of this traffic will funnel down to your program pages and convert).

Even with AI Overviews launched in the US, this article got over 7,300 clicks in the last seven days alone. That’s about 30,000 clicks/mo from this article alone.

Again, it’s still early to draw final conclusions, and we’re monitoring the search results daily, but from multiple tests, we got the same result, and are comfortable to say that we don’t expect significant changes in the % of the traffic you’ll get in Education search results from the new AI Overview feature.

AI Overviews are visible for 14.4% of the keywords where the intent is ‘Mixed’

These are more general keywords for which Google shows you different types of search results, such as blog posts with information on what you can do with a specific degree, websites that list the best schools to get that degree, universities offering that degree, etc.

Even the AI Overview provides you with bits of information for both intents; if you’re looking to learn more about a program, they’ll provide a snippet of information, and then, just in case you’re also looking for options, they’ll list 2-3 schools. Here’s one example:

Final thoughts

We don’t expect a negative impact on the ROI of SEO for Higher Ed. for one simple reason: someone interested in finding the right school will not be satisfied with just the AI Overview answer and will want to research more (click on results) to learn all the information it needs to make the right decision.

AI Overviews will negatively impact traffic on the keywords where the user was searching for information that could be provided in 1-2 sentences, like the example below.

If you aim to rank for program-related keywords, you’ll still get the traffic that converts the best because you’re answering the search intent by providing the information that prospects are looking for.

P.S. We’re still working on this analysis, this was just the first post of a series we plan on publishing. If you’re interested to learn more about AI Overviews impact in Higher Ed. search results, subscribe below and we’ll keep you updated.

Granit Doshlaku

Granit Doshlaku

SEO Director, Co-Founder

Granit is the Co-Founder & SEO Director at Manaferra.

Granit is the Co-Founder & SEO Director at Manaferra.

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