Much like everyone else (seemingly including Google), I have been trying to understand some of the logic behind the web pages used to source information for any given AI Overview.

First thing I did was use the AI Overview source bookmarklet to quickly gather all of the source pages for the following query…

what are the boats in venice called

Here is the output in plain text:

Venice, Italy has many types of boats, including gondolas, puparini, and water taxis:

Gondolas
The most well-known boat in Venice, gondolas are flat-bottomed, keelless rowboats with an asymmetrical design that originated in the 11th century. Their unique shape allows a single oarsman to navigate Venice’s narrow waterways. Gondolas are still built by master carpenters in traditional shipyards called squeri. Today, only about 400 gondolas are in active service, mostly for tourist hire. A 30-minute gondola ride costs €80, or €100 after 7 PM.

Puparini
Named after the word puppa, which means “stern”, puparini are rowing boats with a higher stern than bow.

Water taxis
Venice has many types of water taxis, including wooden, fiberglass, hybrid, tourism, and luxury boats. Taxi services are heavily regulated, and taxis are marked with green or yellow signs on their windows

Below are the sources that were returned in the order that they appeared in the citation carousel:

  1. https://www.gondolaromantica.com/gondolas/
  2. https://www.britannica.com/place/Venice/Canal-boats-and-bridges
  3. https://www.trulyveniceapartments.com/blog/events/the-rowing-boats-of-venice
  4. https://www.classicboatsvenice.com/all-things-water-taxi-boats-venice/
  5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gondola
  6. https://www.vivovenetia.com/the-construction-of-the-gondola-in-venice-a-centuries-old-tradition/
  7. https://www.introducingvenice.com/gondola-rides

Note: I stripped the above anchor text for each URL of the overlong text highlight fragments to make it more legible. The links still contain them.

Now lets dive into the analysis.

Awesome. Misinformation off the bat…

The opening line reads:

Venice, Italy has many types of boats, including gondolas, puparini, and water taxis

None of the sourced websites mention ‘puparini’, primarily because it doesn’t exist. Google just made that word up.

And no Google, I didn’t mean Pupperoni

Truly Venice, is the only sourced website, that does however mention Puparin

Given that it isn’t covered in any other source, let alone barely covered in the one that does mention it, I am bewildered as to why this is even a centric part of the answer.

If I had to make an educated guess, I’d say that the structure of the first sentence really tickles the definition fetish that Google has. The last sentence also compares the puparin to the gondola (the common answer to our query), and includes the word asymmetrical, which three other sources also do.

Why Google felt the need to add a stereotypical inflection to ‘puparin’ will, however, remain a mystery.

Google’s divine continuation of the summary

We’ve covered the ‘puparini’ portion of the AI Overview, now lets see what content Google is using to craft the ‘Gondolas’ section…

Gondolas
The most well-known boat in Venice, gondolas are flat-bottomed, keelless rowboats with an asymmetrical design that originated in the 11th century. Their unique shape allows a single oarsman to navigate Venice’s narrow waterways. Gondolas are still built by master carpenters in traditional shipyards called squeri. Today, only about 400 gondolas are in active service, mostly for tourist hire. A 30-minute gondola ride costs €80, or €100 after 7 PM.

1. Gondola Romantica

What Google used

Gondolas
The most well-known boat in Venice, gondolas are flat-bottomed, keelless rowboats with an asymmetrical design that originated in the 11th century. Their unique shape allows a single oarsman to navigate Venice’s narrow waterways. Gondolas are still built by master carpenters in traditional shipyards called squeri. Today, only about 400 gondolas are in active service, mostly for tourist hire. A 30-minute gondola ride costs €80, or €100 after 7 PM.

Gondola Romantica is the first page listed in the AI Overview. We can see that much of the page was highlighted, but only a small portion was used in the AI Overview. This indicates that Google found the highlighted content relevant, but the ultimately adapted its response based on the context of the query. If you want to read a truly useful article about how Google’s AI Overview work, I strongly suggest you read this one that Richard Sanger wrote.

Back to Gondola Romantica – the page is clearly a great source for our query. The website as a whole certainly checks the box for ‘gondola’. And, if the Google API leak is anything to go by, it would certainly qualify for a strong titlematchScore (a site-wide title match score signaling how well titles match user queries).

2. Britannica

What Google used

Gondolas
The most well-known boat in Venice, gondolas are flat-bottomed, keelless rowboats with an asymmetrical design that originated in the 11th century. Their unique shape allows a single oarsman to navigate Venice’s narrow waterways. Gondolas are still built by master carpenters in traditional shipyards called squeri. Today, only about 400 gondolas are in active service, mostly for tourist hire. A 30-minute gondola ride costs €80, or €100 after 7 PM.

So it looks like one word is all that Google sourced from Britannica.

I honestly don’t think I’ve ever seen a Britannica page in any result before. But I guess Google has their reasons to surface it now along with other significant trustworthy sources like Reddit and Quora.

I admit that it is a sweet word to include, but I can’t decide if this is giving ‘this is gonna make us sound so smart‘ or ‘we don’t know who to trust anymore‘ vibes.

I think it’s both. Yeah, both.

3. Wikipedia

It wouldn’t be an informational Google result without Wikipedia!

What Google used

Gondolas
The most well-known boat in Venice, gondolas are flat-bottomed, keelless rowboats with an asymmetrical design that originated in the 11th century. Their unique shape allows a single oarsman to navigate Venice’s narrow waterways. Gondolas are still built by master carpenters in traditional shipyards called squeri. Today, only about 400 gondolas are in active service, mostly for tourist hire. A 30-minute gondola ride costs €80, or €100 after 7 PM.

Although most of the sources acknowledge that gondolas are flat bottomed, Wikipedia is the only one that hyphenated the term. Credit goes to Wikipedia here. Sorry I don’t make the rules; Wikipedia has a set of their own.

The highlight shows the part of the Overview that discusses when gondolas originated. Interestingly, the first sentence also includes the year ‘1094‘. This is interesting for two reasons.

  1. The text reading ‘1094‘ was highlighted on the Gondola Romantica page.
  2. It was also one of two words in the highlighted text portion of the URL for Gondola Romantica: https://www.gondolaromantica.com/gondolas/#:~:text=Gondolas,1094

I’d be curious to see if Gondola Romantica included more detail about the 11th century within their ‘Brief History of the Gondola‘ section would actually edge Wikipedia out as source. Someone reach out and tell them to do this.

We can also see the reference to ‘four hundred in active service today, with virtually all of them used for hire by tourists.’ highlighted on the page. It is worth calling out that this Wikipedia page goes on to say this in three different ways:

  • There are approximately 400 licensed gondoliers in Venice and a similar number of boats, down from the thousands that travelled the canals centuries ago
  • In the 1500s an estimated 10,000 gondolas of all types were in Venice; in 1878 an estimated 4000 and now approximately 400.
  • The profession of gondolier is controlled by a guild, which issues a limited number of licenses (approximately 400)

The rules are different for Wikipedia, apparently the firehose trick works when you’re in Google’s pocket.

4. Vivo Venice

What Google used

Gondolas
The most well-known boat in Venice,
gondolas are flat-bottomed, keelless rowboats with an asymmetrical design that originated in the 11th century. Their unique shape allows a single oarsman to navigate Venice’s narrow waterways. Gondolas are still built by master carpenters in traditional shipyards called squeri. Today, only about 400 gondolas are in active service, mostly for tourist hire. A 30-minute gondola ride costs €80, or €100 after 7 PM.

Look, nobody else said the word ‘squeri‘ so Google had to include it. It’s right up there with ‘keelless‘. All jokes aside, this is a cool fact.

5. Introducing Venice

What Google used

Gondolas
The most well-known boat in Venice, gondolas are flat-bottomed, keelless rowboats with an asymmetrical design that originated in the 11th century. Their unique shape allows a single oarsman to navigate Venice’s narrow waterways. Gondolas are still built by master carpenters in traditional shipyards called squeri. Today, only about 400 gondolas are in active service, mostly for tourist hire. 
A 30-minute gondola ride costs €80, or €100 after 7 PM.

This is great information for someone traveling to Venice. Except for the part that Google excluded from the sourced page where it states that most gondoliers will charge you more than the official tariff.

Helpful content!

6. Classic Boats Venice

For the final section in the AI Overview, Classic Boats Venice gets all the glory.

This was notably the only source page that did not contain a link with highlighted text, but instead just linked plainly to https://www.classicboatsvenice.com/all-things-water-taxi-boats-venice/. I’m not sure what to make of that other than you don’t get a screenshot here.

Water taxis
Venice has many types of water taxis, including wooden, fiberglass, hybrid, tourism, and luxury boats. Taxi services are heavily regulated, and taxis are marked with green or yellow signs on their windows

So there we have it. A mildly interesting look at how Google compiled the AI Overview for the query ‘what are the boats in venice called’. Generally speaking, this is a pleasing answer from a user perspective. I mean, I’m just looking for the word ‘gondola’, but still, kudos to Google here for featuring a good mixture of sites and additional information. They provided a good balance of historical and current information, giving me the opportunity to choose my own destiny.

So now that we’ve looked at the source pages, what is the correlation between them? Why these pages?

N-grams (Google hates this trick)

Thanks to Screaming Frog, I was able to easily crawl all of the source page URLs to gather more intel about them. I recommend doing this if you are curious about targeting a query that generates an AI Overview. It will help you see common traits that you might be missing the mark on. The new N-gram feature in particular revealed some interesting things for this analysis…

Keyword stuffing works, I guess?

The first source page listed in the AI Overview (Gondola Romantica) has the greatest density of the word ‘gondola’ compared to any of the other sources. It is also the only source page that includes the word ‘gondola’ twice in the title (Gondola History – Gondola Romantica). All of the other cited pages include the word ‘gondola’ just once or not at all.

WordBody textDensityBody text (unlinked) HeadingsTitleIn-links anchor text
gondola157.10900473914120
venice62.8436018966100
gondolas62.8436018966102
boat41.8957345974100
waterways41.8957345974000
design41.8957345973000
venetian31.4218009483000
today31.4218009483000
row31.4218009483000
instagram20.94786729860000

N-gram for https://www.gondolaromantica.com/gondolas/

Now I’m not saying that keyword density and frequency are the golden ticket here. Google has moved on from that. Mr Mueller said so himself.

Even if the words used in the query (venice, boats) and the answer itself (gondola) are the the three most frequently used words across all of the cited source pages.

WordBody textDensityBody text (unlinked)HeadingsTitleIn-links anchor text
venice1442.46195930992672
gondola1182.01743887882651
boats931.59001538784432
taxi771.31646435371210
boat601.02581637949410
venetian560.957428620344310
gondolas410.700974525637122
water360.615489827330210
transport350.598392887716000
gondolier300.512908189413000

N-gram for all cited pages for the query ‘what are the boats in venice called’

Google has MOVED ON. They’re totally better than that.

While this is interesting, these findings are just for one query, and is almost certainly just a coincidence. This is obviously not the only factor here, but the evidence is also right there.

How I actually plan to optimize for AI Overview visibility

AI Overviews are still in their infancy—and like an infant, they’re just as confused and messy, offering explanations that are as clear as a baby’s first words, leaving you wondering if they’re trying to communicate or just making noise.

I’m sure that best practices will eventually come to light. But for now, I plan to optimize for any given AI Overview in the same way I would a featured snippet.

In fact, Gondola Romantica (the first cited source) is the featured snippet shown directly underneath the AI Overview in this analysis. So if that doesn’t prove my point I don’t know what will.

Repetitive SEO advice like the ripples behind a gondola

For real though, this isn’t anything new. Just go make great content on a user-friendly foundation that is readable by robots.

  • Keep your content fresh with the latest information to stay relevant and accurate. Google like shiny.

  • Format your content well by using headings, subheadings, bullet points, lists, and tables to summarize key points or steps, and highlight important info with bold or italic text. When your page is organized clearly, it makes it easier for robots to read.

  • Use the right keywords by adding specific terms that people are likely to search for and ensure they fit naturally within the content.

  • Optimize your titles and headings with clear, descriptive phrases that directly answer potential queries, and include synonyms and variations of key terms to cover a broader range of searches.

  • Provide unique and valuable insights by sharing lesser-known details that make your content stand out, like mentioning ‘squeri’ for gondolas in Venice.

  • Add credibility with expert opinions, statistics, or data where necessary.

  • Use schema markup to help search engines understand the context of your content better.

This was fun. We should do it again sometime.

Moving forward, be sure to regularly check which of your pages appear in AI Overviews and analyze these pages to see what makes them work, and stay updated with the latest AI trends and search engine updates to tweak your strategies as needed.