Google’s AI Search Is a Death Blow to Publishers

The Google Dance — the endless war between SEO experts and the Big Iron in Mountain View — might finally be over. Why? Because Google is about to give AI-powered “overviews” to search requests which, in the end, means there will be fewer clicks through to well-researched and carefully-crafted articles of all types. (We have proof.)

Image via Google

For example, in the above screen you’re getting a basic piece of information about hypoallergenic cats and a suggestion to read about Sphynx and Siberian cats. That’s all well and good if you’re interested in hypoallergenic cats, but it’s not great if you’re the Nova Pets Health Center:

Image via Google

Nor is it great if you’re PetMD,, and whoever is below the fold for this particular topic:

Image via Google

Google placement can make or break a media organization. Most modern orgs, from People Magazine to The New York Times to Martha Stewart, have spent decades gaming the SEO system to rank as high as possible for popular topics. Ever since The Wirecutter brought the affiliate business model to publishers, every tech website’s business model is now based on describing the best products and making cash from referrals. The model is so far from ethical journalism that we can barely call these news organizations anymore, but that’s what you get when you weaponize SEO against independent content.

So Google’s move to add these AI-generated essays is a big deal. When you know in an instant what cat to buy to reduce allergies why visit If you know what to look for when you’re buying a fire extinguisher automatically thanks to AI, why do you need Wirecutter?

You don’t.

Image via Google

It’s so bad that even Google is trying to backpedal with a Web view which is, in short, Google before it was completely bastardized:

Image via Google

They wrote: “We’ve added this after hearing from some that there are times when they’d [users] prefer to just see links to web pages in their search results, such as if they’re looking for longer-form text documents, using a device with limited internet access, or those who just prefer text-based results shown separately from search features. If you’re in that group, enjoy!”

That’s right: Google is giving people the option to remove all the Google cruft that has accreted on search of the decades, including the AI dross that’s about to destroy publishers.

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It may seem like I’m a bit hyperbolic when it comes to this move, but I don’t think so. Publishers are already being destroyed by Google thanks to a reliance on so-called “high quality” content which has been SEOed to an extreme level. The Verge had an interesting story about this problem:

In February, HouseFresh managing editor Gisele Navarro called out publishers like BuzzFeed and Rolling Stone as some of the culprits that publish content about air purifiers despite a lack of expertise — but Google rewards these sites with high rankings all the same. The result is a search results page filled with SEO-first content, designed to do not much more than rank highly on Google.

In a piece published today, she says HouseFresh has “virtually disappeared” from search results: search traffic has decreased 91 percent in recent months, from around 4,000 visitors a day in October 2023 to 200 a day today.

“We lost rankings we held for months (and sometimes years) for articles that are constantly being updated and improved based on findings from our first-hand and in-depth testing, our long-term experience with the products, and feedback from our readers,” Navarro writes. “Our article [previously ranked at #2] is now buried deep beneath sponsored posts, Quora advice from 2016, best-of lists from big media sites, and no less than 64 Google Shopping product listings. Sixty. Four.”

In short, sites like Rolling Stone, which have huge SEO budgets and a set of shock troops dedicated to writing and updating “reviews” for the site, hoovered up all of the traffic — and all of the cash. Now, thanks to AI, even those high-ranking sites will lose that advantage.

All this goes to say that AI is about to decimate independent media. If you run a watch site, for example, and ask “what is a Rolex Submariner?” even Rolex might not rank above the fold, or even on the front page of an AI-powered “Overview.” This gives Google inordinate power over search results and news.

As we rush headlong into AI we’re all learning where and when it’s going to come and bite us. Here is one of the most alarming examples we’ve seen.

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