A search results page with long, detailed, and incredibly smart answers to your queries versus a search results page with short descriptions and links to longer answers are two very different search result pages. The former will likely drive fewer clicks from search to your content than the latter, resulting in less traffic, fewer impressions, and less ROI on your content.
In short, publishers and content creators are worried. And if publishers are worried, Google and Bing should probably also be concerned.
The concerns. Several articles, blog posts and videos have been created over the past few days about this concern.
For example, WIRED wrote, “web users spend more time with bots and less time clicking links, publishers could be cut off from sales of subscriptions, ads, and referrals.”
The Verge wrote, “But if I ask the new Bing what the 10 best gaming TVs are, and it just makes me a list, why should I, the user, then click on the link to The Verge, which has another list of the 10 best gaming TVs?”
Famed YouTuber, Marques Brownlee, on his podcast spoke about the concern around less clicks and explored what would happen if publishers lose their incentive to publish content – how will that hurt the AI inputs that are being used to answer the questions in search? One of the hosts called this a “recursive problem.”
Some publishers are even demanding royalties for content that the AI bots are consuming and regurgitating to their users.
Glenn Gabe, SEO expert, also dug into these issues in detail, saying “we’ll know fairly quickly if, and how, publishers can survive.” Since marketers rely a lot on data, the data will tell us quickly.
Old concerns in a new form. As I mentioned, this all reminds me of the concerns publishers had when Google launched featured snippets. It was a big topic, so much so, it was spoken about by the former head of Google Search, Amit Singhal, during an SMX keynote.
Back then, Singhal said search still needs publisher’s content after former editor at Search Engine Land and now Google Search Liaison Danny Sullivan showed how Google was scraping publisher content and displaying it in its search results.
Over time, publishers mostly preferred to have the featured snippet over not. There has always been a lot of controversy around this topic.
But at the same time, this new, AI-chat form of answers is very different from Google showing a two or three-line answer. Google’s preview didn’t include any sourcing. Chat-based answers are long-winded, provide detailed insights and literally give you almost all the information you need.
Should publishers be concerned? There is no question that in the current form, the new form of chat-based AI answers will lead to fewer clicks to publishers.
If you think about it, can these search engines or AI chat features work without content from publishers? Not in its current form.
The AI systems need to train their models based on content on the web. If publishers lose the incentive to produce content, that should directly hurt the AI chat and search engines to produce timely and relevant answers to many questions.
So search engines need to ensure that content creators and publishers are happy. But the pain to get to that point might be very real. Time will tell, and it will be interesting to watch.
Why we care. If you produce content and rely on search to monetize that content, then you want to stay on top of this topic. There is no doubt that search engines like Bing and Google will continue to adapt in order to try to help publishers create content. How that looks, outside of deeply embedded links like Bing showed us in their demos, is going to change over time.