The arrogance of Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella on my TV right now led me to open a browser and start writing this article. He’s pridefully talking about the innovation of Bing integrating GPT into its search results.
As a user, it’s pretty awesome.
But, as always, the impact on small online businesses is being completely ignored. By the time the media, Congress, and layperson realizes what happened, it’ll be too late.
The focus of this article isn’t on AI itself, whether it’s here to stay, how you can use it, or anything else you have read endlessly for the past few months.
It’s here, and it’s not going away.
This is about one problem:
What happens to publishers dependent on Google traffic when people overwhelmingly use the conversational AI-fueled method of searching instead of the traditional method?
And are we really going to just stand by as small sites get further squeezed yet again? (Probably.)
Table of Contents
- The Problem With AI-Integrated Search
- Big Tech’s History Of Killing Small Businesses
- Pushing Back Against AI
- How To Thrive (Or, At Least, Survive) In An AI World
- The Impending Evolution Of… All Of This
The Problem With AI-Integrated Search
For years, Google has faced backlash by simply answering questions directly on the search results page.
For some queries, like “Jennifer Connelly age,” it makes sense that I shouldn’t have to click through to celebrityage1239384.com to get this hard fact.
But when I google “best place to eat in Maui,” and Google regurgitates a list that was curated by a writer for a real website, it begins to get shady at best.
Yes, it’s better for the user in several ways. At least in the short term.
But when Google continues answering questions directly by literally stealing from publishers, those publishers make less money and ultimately can’t produce as much content.
Integrating GPT/Bard into search is taking that existing problem and setting it on fire. Then hurling it at millions of people.
Is It Really A Threat?
The current beta version of GPT-fueled Bing doesn’t appear too bad on the surface.
When you search for something, you get the results like normal and then a Chatbot on the right. It’s complementary and, again, it’s great for the user.
(Note: this article is not about the accuracy of GPT, which is a problem in itself. We have to assume it’ll get better very quickly.)
But, much like Google increasingly answering questions directly in the SERPs and its evergrowing abundance of ads, it’s yet another way to reduce clicks to publishers’ websites.
As someone who never builds sites for search traffic, I could easily say Boo hoo… do better.
But regardless of your marketing tactics, the problem is that traffic and money for publishers is being reallocated to the platform (Bing, Google) BY USING THE PUBLISHERS’ WORK.
This isn’t okay. And now it can’t be reasonably slowed down.
The Greed Of Microsoft – And Google’s Response
Google was slow to market with the AI they’ve been creating for years. They had reputational, financial, and legal risks to consider all the while ensuring their AI technology is actually accurate and works well.
But Microsoft, with a fraction of the search market share, had little to lose and everything to gain. So, with the help of their multi-billion dollar investment in OpenAI, they’ve completedly rushed to market.
It makes sense. Capitalizing on the ridiculous popularity of ChatGPT is smart.
But it’s bad for all of us. It forced Google’s hand to prematurely release their own version: Bard.
As an entrepreneur, I blame neither company. But this is now basically an AI arms race where it’s going to get really messy.
When you’re a trillion dollar company, you act first and apologize later.
Big Tech’s History Of Killing Small Businesses
I’ve seen this song and dance.
Amazon used internal data to see which products were selling, then just created their own brand of said products.
Facebook enticed millions of businesses to spend billions of dollars building Pages, then cut those Pages’ reach significantly.
Google has continued to squeeze publishers by trying to keep users on the platform, as mentioned above.
So why shouldn’t Microsoft join the party of taking a giant dump all over hardworking dreamers who want a better life?
Replacing a clerk with a self-checkout at Wal-Mart is an ethical argument. Financially and legally, it makes sense.
AI-fueled search engines, built on the backs of publishers, is a legal issue. At least, it should be. But here we are, once again, reliving big tech’s clear history of squeezing publishers and content creators so their market caps can go from 1 trillion to 1.2 trillion.
Pushing Back Against AI
On a macro level, lawsuits will be flying. Getty is already suing Stable Diffusion for allegedly using thousands of their photos to repurpose new photos.
I hate Getty. I’ve been bullied by them more than once. But this isn’t some sweet karmic moment.
Getty has spent billions on their content that they own the rights to use. You can’t just take these photos and repurpose them as new content.
Well, you can. But legally speaking, in my opinion, you shouldn’t.
The same thing is happening to all of us with sites that get search traffic – it’s just a lot harder to organize a movement to fight it because it’s not an X versus Y situation like Getty’s.
In addition to lawsuits, in theory Congress should already be looking closely at this – but they’re always 5-10 years behind technology.
In 5 years when Satya is testifying confidentally that they did nothing wrong, it’ll be too late to do anything about it.
The shift is happening, and we can’t stop it.
How To Thrive (Or, At Least, Survive) In An AI World
Start thinking about how to shift your strategies today. Don’t wait til you’re swallowed up.
The first thing: please, do not conclude, “Ahh, I’ll be fine… how could AI replace what I’m doing?”
I see this all over forums and groups. Everyone thinks their content is invincible – it’s not.
Just because you have a personal story from your Summer in Italy where you learned how to make pasta that only a god could cook doesn’t mean your content is invincible.
Because it’s not about whether your content is necessarily the best. It’s about how users will be seeking out content.
That’s why I have a problem with the gurus now who continue to say, “Now’s the time to make sure your content is the best. Make it bulletproof by being unique, authoritative, and trustworthy.”
While I agree, how’s any of that matter if it’s just ingested and regurgitated anyway?
There are two ways we should be looking at our businesses moving forward.
The Content Itself
If your site’s focus is basically hard facts, it’s probably not going to be around much longer.
If your site’s focus is tutorial-based, it’s probably going to suffer.
The biggest threat AI brings to publishers like the above is that it’ll do just as good of a job as you or your freelance writers. For that reason, there’s a massive wave of site owners adding AI-generated content to their sites.
This is the most temporary strategy I’ve ever seen. Your site is unnecessary to host this AI content – it’s going to live directly on Google and Bing as they continue rolling it out.
So, if this type of content is at risk, what potentially isn’t?
AI will, of course, be ingesting and regurgitating content almost immediately, but being timely has inherent benefits.
We do live in a world where people want information right now.
While AI will replace humans giving other humans common knowledge, it won’t replace personalities. At least not any time soon.
Ideally, if you’re creating timely content that’s exclusive to your personality, there will be an audience for you.
Perhaps more important than the content is where you’re distributing it.
If Google and Bing further steal clicks from publishers, where can you ensure your clicks won’t be stolen?
I’ve been preaching email for 12 years. It’s been the one distribution method that, for the most part, hasn’t been stolen from us. Time will tell if big technology companies find a way to squeeze us there too, but, for now, building your newsletter base is vitally important.
Closed Forums and Groups
We may see a rise in popularity among closed groups – places where humans want to converse with other humans on all the intricacies that make us unique.
If a forum is open, AI will likely ingest it and regurgitate it, so this will be interesting.
Along these lines, it’s why I’m interested in knowing what’s being stolen from Reddit and Quora. These two massive communities are (were?) irreplaceable because of the human input.
Will they just stand by if decades of human input is stolen and regurgitated by Microsoft and Google?
The Impending Evolution Of… All Of This
We’re still in the very early days. But this isn’t the 1920s where we’re figuring out how to build cars at scale.
Everything moves exponentially faster in the 2020s, and this will be no different. In a matter of 3 months, most people had no idea GPT even existed and now both Bing and Google are rolling out better versions of a Chatbot that took the world by storm.
That being said, Google and Bing need to ask, “how do we reward creators and publishers?”
Of course, they aren’t asking that for moral reasons. If they could replace all of us tomorrow, they would do it without flinching.
But they need our content, so they can’t just steal all of it or it’ll stop being made.
And they need our money, so they can’t just kill all of us off without it affecting their bottom line.
Like Amazon, Facebook, and Google have done for years, they’ll find that balance where they can continue robbing us without completely putting us out of business.
They’ll put a gun to our heads, force us to change, and then grow even bigger on the backs of our hard work.
Again, this problem is not new. But in the face of the most blatant form of thievery, there needs to be legislative and financial pressure to mitigate just how far they can take this latest method.
There likely won’t be.
It’s not the time to hope or assume you’ll be fine. The only reason I have had success online is because I live by two thoughts:
- The assumption my site will die tomorrow.
- Constantly reading, learning, and adapting.
The notion that having a successful online business is the dream life is fiction.
It can be, don’t get me wrong. But it can be incredibly stressful when you’re heavily dependent on a single platform.
With AI coming at us fast, it’s never been more important to think outside the box.