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Why publishers fear disapproved traffic and ads in Google’s AI-generated search results

As Google expands its new “AI Overview” feature, publishers are wondering to what extent AI-generated search results will negatively impact referral traffic. And while it’s too early to tell the extent of the damage, some companies are hoping for more transparency from the search giant.

Following the release of AI Overview last week, some think the impact could be even worse than feared.

Raptive, which helps sell digital ads for websites of 5,000 independent creators, initially estimated that AI Overviews could reduce views by up to 25% and cause the industry to lose $2 billion in annual ad revenue. However, Raptive chief innovation officer Marc McCollum now believes that is “perhaps (on the) very low end.”

According to McCollum, Google’s vision for Overviews appears to be a “much more extreme version” than during the last year of beta testing. However, he said it’s hard to know without more data from Google, which it hasn’t shared so far. He calls the lack of transparency a bigger problem (for now) than concerns about quality, adding that the introduction of ads this week in AI Overviews is “just another nail in the coffin.”

When Google unveiled AI Overview last week, CEO Sundar Pichai said its Gemini model has powered answers to billions of queries through its generative search experience, which preceded AI Overview. (While Google says AI overviews generate more clicks, it hasn’t shared concrete information about what that looks like so far.)

“People are using it to search in completely new ways and to ask new types of questions, longer and more complex queries, even search with photos and get the best the web has to offer,” Pichai said. “We have been testing this experience outside the laboratories. And we’re encouraged to see not only an increase in Search usage, but also an increase in user satisfaction.”

“I think Google owes publishers that level of transparency because publishers have raised very serious concerns,” McCollum said. “We believe that what Google is doing is copyright infringement. “We don’t believe fair use applies.”

To help publishers understand the changes, McCollum said Google could provide detailed data on AI Overview as it rolls out: total users with access to AI Overview, the percentage of queries that include AI Overviews in various markets, and how the feature influences user behavior.

Google remains a major source of traffic for news and media companies. About a third of April traffic for the top 100 publishers came from Google, according to Similarweb.

For the New York Times, where 32.5% of organic traffic in April came from Google, that adds up to about 250 million visits. However, other American publishers rely even more on the search engine. Google accounted for 72% of Forbes’ organic traffic and 60% of traffic to USA Today, Business Insider, and Newsweek websites.

A much smaller percentage of publisher traffic comes from ChatGPT. Last month, ChatGPT generated 113.5 million visits to other websites, according to data from SimilarWeb. However, almost 80% of the referral traffic went to OpenAI’s own website. Of the media companies that got some traffic, none received more than 1% of outbound traffic. Meanwhile, most of the other 23.4 million non-OpenAI page views were for computing-related websites.

To help publishers track the impact of AI Overviews, Semrush, a company that works in SEO, search and analytics, created new tools, including one called Position Tracking to monitor the visibility of any site in AI Overview. Another tool, Sensor, monitors how many AI overviews appear in search results across various industries.

For now, AI overviews appear to appear in only a small fraction of Google search results. According to Semrush, less than 0.5% of Google search engine results pages show an AI overview, and AI overviews appear in just 0.1% of search results related to news.

“It will have an impact, but I don’t expect it to be as substantial as many fear,” said Kyle Byers, director of growth marketing at Semrush. “It can even have a positive impact on average, as AI Overviews link to the source web pages. An improved experience for Google users could also lead to more searches, which is another way to generate more traffic for publishers and content creators.”

All of the changes are part of the current existential dilemma publishers face with generative AI and what it means for their business model. Some have filed lawsuits against Google, OpenAI and Microsoft alleging copyright infringement. Others have chosen to partner on efforts to train AI models on higher quality content.

Earlier this week, News Corp and OpenAI announced a new deal valued at $250 million in cash and credits over the next five years. The deal will allow OpenAI to answer questions using content and mastheads from more than a dozen News Corp properties, including The Wall Street Journal, Market Watch and the New York Post. when answering user queries. Other deals announced this week include one with Reddit, which follows a previous AI training deal Reddit made with Google, and other publishers such as the FT and Dotdash Meredith.

Pete Brown, research director at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism, recently published a report showing that OpenAI has confirmed more than 20 deals with publishers. In all, he counted a total of 35 confirmed deals and another 17 in reported talks.

While Google and OpenAI see deals with publishers as a way to improve the quality of AI-generated content, some experts who research AI and media believe it’s hard to say how it will play out even if large language models improve at the same time. provide responses in real time. There’s also the key question of what happens to publishers’ accusations that tech companies train their AI models without consent.

“Overall, given the recent allegations, publishers should be able to know if and to what extent their data has already been used to train AI models,” said Felix Simon, a researcher in AI and news at the University of Oxford. “If they reach a deal, it would be helpful to know future uses of the data, including monetization and product options that could compete directly with publishers’ offerings.”

Others are aware of what AI Overview could mean for European publishers. David Buttle, who previously spent a decade at the Financial Times, is currently working on a report to examine that impact. Although it’s too early to tell, he believes Google could be delayed due to regulatory issues, including the May 22 passage of the DMCC bill by the British Parliament. Once implemented, it could be uneven depending on big news and high-risk queries, which could soften the blow for premium publishers. However, it might not be so certain for lifestyle publishers, he said, adding that they should start preparing now to reduce reliance on Google through direct relationships with readers and established unique voices.

As more users begin and end their information journeys on Google, Buttle believes it could result in fewer ads overall, even if a higher percentage are on the search giant’s platforms. This could also lead to lower ad inventory overall, especially for publishers, while also increasing the value of Google ads.

“Of course (Google) has the intention and personal data to offer an extremely attractive commercial offer in front of a publisher,” Buttle said. “Perhaps even more so with AI overviews that are likely to result, over time, in a different type of search query.”

Publishers and partners are also concerned about other recent changes to various aspects of search. Other issues include Google’s crackdown on “site reputation abuse” and other SEO spam. Pana Nikolaidis, CEO of coupon company Saving United, said she has noticed that traffic losses over the past week have already been significant, showing millions of page views lost. He understands the importance of improving the overall quality of search, but believes the changes are hurting publishers in the process.

“What’s irritating people is that there’s just not a lot of guidance from Google right now,” said Nikolaidis, whose company works with major publishers to create curated coupon platforms. “People understand power dynamics and need to understand what Google wants.”

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