Vertical search

Hello from Soho Farmhouse, which has to be the nicest of the many Soho House properties. My hope is to hold a version of the New Growth Agenda here.

Today, I'm looking at the coming fragmentation of search after a long, unnatural period of domination.

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Your audience is your best investment. But as platforms change and old business models become less reliable, what tactics, tools and technology will help you grow and engage your audience?

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The shift from the 10 blue links era of search is more than another algorithm tweak. ChatGPT has set off a chain reaction for AI to fundamentally alter what has served as a the backbone of the internet economy for a generation. 

The AI Overviews on Google will inexorably increase the number of zero-click searches. Coming on top of Google’s helpful content update and site reputation abuse crackdown, this is sending tremors through the entire content economy. Search is like inflation: Everyone feels it, albeit unequally. 

This kind of upheaval will affect individual entities differently. It’s impossible for something as big as Google not to trample the innocent and not so innocent as it moves to respond to the most serious challenge to its search supremacy. Yet let’s be real: Google has a ton going for it. There’s a reason that the Alphabet stock has doubled since ChatGPT debuted in late 2022.

Distribution is everything, and Google controls so many distribution points that it will likely see off competitors the old fashioned Silicon Valley way: It will copy them. Those are some nice citations you have, Perplexity, don’t mind if we do. It’s the same hustle as Facebook copying Snapchat and TikTok.

Yet the search market, which due to its nature has long favored consolidation, is poised to diversify. Troy woke me up to this during our new episode of People vs Algorithms

  • Microsoft has long tried to elbow into the search market and will continue to gain incremental share. 
  • It’s not hard to see Apple viewing AI search via Siri as a no brainer. Search is so lucrative, you don’t need to be from McKinsey to consider that owning search on the billions of Apple devices is worth more than the $20 billion Google pays it to be the default.
  • Meta has added its AI assistant to WhatsApp, and it will inevitably be across all of its apps. 
  • OpenAI is working on its own search engine. 

Looking beyond the current tumult, this should lead to a healthier media ecosystem. The intense centralization of distribution around Google has malformed this market. It created the incentives that have polluted the SERP, encouraged publishers to outsource their brands to affiliate marketers, and made the most lucrative parts of publishing for algorithms instead of humans. I don’t think we’re entering some kind of media nirvana by a long stretch, but a lack of competition nearly always leads to dysfunctional dynamics in markets. 

Diversity in the search market will take time to play out, but AI is well positioned to be the catalyst to this shift that will spur further innovation in search experiences that, let's be fair, have mostly changed to consolidate power. Never forget the Silicon Valley totemic belief: Competition is for losers.

The future of search and more are covered in this week’s People vs Algorithms. We take a stab at what the tech and media environment will be like in five years, including who will dominate and who will wane, as well as what publishing models will thrive. 

Listen to PvA on Apple | Spotify | other podcast players

How the Arena Group doubled page revenue

The Arena Group faced a problem: they knew their audience liked video and they knew video was great for monetization but they didn’t have enough of it. Learn how a partnership with online video platform EX.CO more than doubled revenue across their sites, which include Men’s Journal and Parade. Read the case study.

New avenues for audience development

Audience development is more complicated than ever, since it’s not just a matter of optimizing to Google and Facebook traffic. In a new online forum we are holding in partnership with True Anthem on May 29 from 1pm-2pmET, I will be joined by True Anthem CEO Chris Hart, a360media vp of audience Lorraine Goldberg and Newsweek svp of audience Josh Awtry about navigating this transition. We will explore the successful strategies being deployed to attract valuable audiences, including:

  • The new role of social platforms
  • Doing more with less in an efficiency era
  • Mastering emerging platforms like TikTok, WhatsApp and Reddit

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