Google Core Algorithm Updates and AI Overviews Are Reducing Publishers’ Traffic

In this post:

  • Many small and large publishers suffer traffic drops as Google tweaks its algorithms.
  • Publishers and analysts express reservations about AI Overviews and core algorithm updates.
  • Platforms serving user-generated content, such as Reddit, Quora, and Instagram, have gained more traffic.

Publishers are increasingly concerned about Google’s upgrade to its core algorithm and AI-powered search tool. Google’s placement of the AI-generated summaries above publisher website links has reduced traffic for many publications.

Also Read: Chrome Extensions Aim to Improve Google Search Experience

Google’s decision to tweak its most successful search tool has led to up to 60% traffic losses for many publishers and up to 90% for some blogs in extreme cases. The full impact of AI Overviews is yet to be known, but analysts say that it will dampen the traditional “10 blue links” effect and make it difficult for publishers to get good click-through rates.

Google Core Algorithm Updates and AI Overviews are Reducing Publishers' Traffic
Google devastated many website owners who say they follow Google’s best practices. (Source: SEMrush) (Credit: BBC)

Semrush data indicates that during the preceding six months, Google search traffic to the New York Magazine website dropped by 32%. The search engine’s modifications resulted in a 25% drop in web traffic for GQ.com.

Publishers’ Traffic Is Declining

Google has now implemented “AI Overviews,” but its impact on publisher traffic is still unknown. In the meantime, data from some web traffic and ranking monitoring tools and advertising companies shows a concerning picture, with many publishers falling in Google’s rankings.  

Google Core Algorithm Updates and AI Overviews are Reducing Publishers' Traffic
Reddit traffic increased as compared to Amazon. Source: Lily Ray.

The SISTRIX visibility index measures the success of each website in Google search results. Its data shows that Canada-based entertainment site Screenrant endured a 40% decline in its visibility after Google’s core updates.

Second was BBC News, which lost 37% of its search visibility. Other large publishers whose visibility decreased were Evening Standard and LBC, whose visibility stats dipped by 32% and 30% respectively. On the other hand, Reddit more than doubled its traffic.

According to Raptive, which sells digital ads for its 5,000 customers (typically independent content creators), estimated that AI Overviews could affect website visitors by 25%. The agency also estimated that ad revenue could dip by $2 billion.

Raptive’s chief innovation officer, Marc McCollum, says that Google’s vision for the new “AI Overviews” seems more extreme. He said:

“I think Google owes publishers that level of transparency because publishers have raised such serious concerns. We believe what Google is doing is copyright infringement. We do not think fair use applies.”
Source: Digiday.

McCollum says that Google should provide a detailed explanation of the percentage of AI Overviews in different queries in various markets. He also pointed out that the feature should be explained in detail, as well as how it influences user behavior.

Google does not show AI Overviews for all types of queries, and the percentage is relatively low. According to Semrush, AI Overviews only appear in 0.5% of total Google search results pages. For news search pages, the percentage is even lower, with only 0.1% of pages showing AI Overviews.

Independent Publishers Struggle While Forum Traffic Soars

A relatively small independent publisher, HouseFresh, launched in 2020, said it has virtually disappeared from Google’s search results. The website observed a 91% decline in its traffic in recent months. In October, it received nearly 4000 visits a day, which has decreased to only 200 a day now. 

Giselle Navaro, managing editor at HouseFresh said in a post that lifestyle magazines like BuzzFeed and Rolling Stone are getting the traffic for the queries that HouseFresh specializes in. She claims that they do extensive testing on the products they write about, while the magazines surely have no idea how they work, even though Google now prefers them.

“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.”
Source: Homefresh.

Housefresh is an example of how Google’s changing practices are affecting independent publishers. Previously, the search giant’s policy was to support independent small publishers.

In the opposite case, Reddit saw a huge surge in traffic in the last few months. According to Semrush, Reddit saw a 126% surge in traffic from Google.

Lily Ray, the vice president of SEO strategy and research at Amsive, a marketing agency, said:

“The increase in traffic Reddit is seeing is unprecedented on the Internet.”
Source: BBC.

Ray said that now, many queries for video games, cooking content, adult content, fashion, and almost everything else are from Reddit. Ray is especially annoyed that Reddit references dominate AI Overviews, as she expressed in a string of tweets on X (previously Twitter).

Google says that people often look for information to learn from other people. To satisfy this need, Google shows content from different forums and online communities across the web. BBC reported a Google spokesperson who denied any special favors for Reddit in its search results, saying that the agreement does not include any such terms.

Google Algorithm Updates Are Different This Time

Google updates are not a new phenomenon. The search giant usually updates its core algorithm once a year. However, the series of updates it has made during the last few months has concerned publishers about their existence. As Google expands its “AI Overview” feature, publishers are expecting more transparency on the subject.

Also Read: Google I/O 2024 Unveils Gemini AI’s Impressive Demonstrations

The most recent core update targeted removing low-quality and AI-generated content. This update negatively affects both new and old publishers. This time, there was no explainer for publishers to identify the key reasons for their traffic loss. 

Google concentrated on SEO-savvy publishers in 2023 who created content around SEO techniques and frequently tricked the system to increase views. Their content was written with algorithms and not people in mind. Elizabeth Tucker, Director of Product Management at Google, wrote in a blog post:

“We believe these updates will reduce the amount of low-quality content on Search and send more traffic to helpful and high-quality sites. Based on our evaluations, we expect that the combination of this update and our previous efforts will collectively reduce low-quality, unoriginal content in search results by 40%.”

What’s worrying is that Google’s latest upgrade has affected all publishers—big or small, legitimate or engaged in scale abuse. The BBC and GQ instances mentioned above are excellent illustrations of how things are changing.

While Semrush, Quora, Instagram, and Reddit are getting more traffic, user-generated content is the cornerstone of all these sites. Yet, Google has only offered a vague explanation that they will keep providing worthwhile traffic to reputable sites. Publishers are having trouble coming up with a good plan as analysts insist consumers will not click on a link if they find useful information in an AI Overview.

Cryptopolitan reporting by Aamir Sheikh

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