Google's AI Revolution: How New Algorithm Updates are Reshaping the Web

Changes to the Google algorithm and AI search features, such as AI previews, are sparking debates about the future of the Internet. Discover how these innovations are impacting independent publishers and content quality

by Sededin Dedovic
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Google's AI Revolution: How New Algorithm Updates are Reshaping the Web
© Michael M. Santiago / Getty Images

If you've ever entered "air purifier reviews" into Google, you've probably been looking for content like that on HouseFresh.com. With ten years of experience in writing about indoor air quality products, Gisele Navarro and her husband launched this site in 2020.

Through rigorous scientific testing, their website quickly became successful, employing 15 full-time employees. But everything changed in September 2023 when Google made a major update to its search algorithm. "It destroyed us," says Navarro.

"Suddenly, search terms that used to put us at the top of results were now leading to major magazines that obviously hadn't even tested the products." In March 2024, another Google algorithm was even stricter, reducing HouseFresh's traffic from thousands daily to just a few hundred.

Most of the team was laid off, and the site was on the brink of shutdown. A Google spokesperson told the BBC that the company initiates changes only after rigorous testing confirming their usefulness to users, providing website owners with assistance and resources for feedback on their search rankings.

Google claims the changes will benefit the internet, and AI reviews are just the beginning.

Google Introduces AI to Search

Last week, Google CEO Sundar Pichai announced one of the most significant changes in the history of search engines.

Google Search will now provide its AI-generated answers to many user queries, a feature called "AI reviews," which is already available to users in the US. "The result is a product that works for you," Pichai said. "Google Search is generative AI at the level of human curiosity." AI reviews are just part of the drastic changes Google has introduced in the last two years.

The company claims these changes will usher in a new era of technology and solve many internet problems. However, critics disagree. As Google changes its algorithms and uses AI to transition from a search engine to a search and answer engine, some fear the outcome could be catastrophic for businesses creating your favorite content.

Google's changes have come in response to recognizing problems on the internet. If you've ever used a search engine, you're aware of the dominance of "SEO" techniques, which optimize articles for better recognition by Google.

Unfortunately, SEO can be abused; sites can create content for algorithms rather than humans, the BBC reports.

Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google, arrives for the “AI Insight Forum” at the Russell Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill© Nathan Howard / Getty Images

Google's attempts to address this problem haven't always been successful.

If you've ever been frustrated by searches like "Best running shoes," you know what it's about. Often, the results contain little useful information but lots of ads and links to stores. Google's fight against such spam results is intensifying.

The company introduced the "Useful Content Update" in 2022 to remove content created solely for search ranking. In September 2023 and March 2024, Google further updated its algorithms. The result is, they say, "45% less low-quality, unoriginal content in search results."

What about SEO optimization?

But the changes have had surprising consequences.

For example, data from SEMrush shows that the New York Magazine site lost 32% of its Google Search traffic in the last six months, while GQ.com lost 26%. Urban Dictionary lost about 18 million page views, more than half of its search traffic.

OprahDaily.com lost nearly 58%. At the same time, Reddit experienced a 126% increase in traffic from Google Search, bringing the company first-quarter revenues of $243 million, a 48% increase over the previous year. SEMrush data shows that other user-generated content platforms, like Quora and Instagram, have also seen growth, while LinkedIn and Wikipedia have also recorded impressive jumps.

Google's AI reviews have faced criticism from website owners and content creators. Katie Berry, owner of the Housewife How-Tos site, believes users will stop visiting her site if Google AI answers their questions. Traffic to her site dropped by 70% after Google's 2022 update and even more after the start of testing the new AI feature.

Salvation or downfall of the internet

Others, like David Leiter, believe Google's AI directly steals their content. Leiter noted that the search for "Best slot canyons near Las Vegas" used to show his article but now displays an AI-generated response that is mostly incorrect.

The AI review included a link to his article, but only if users clicked a small arrow at the bottom of the result. Leiter believes he won't get more traffic than before as the top search result. Google acknowledges that AI tools can provide inaccurate information but claims to be constantly working to improve results.

A Google spokesperson says AI reviews generally draw from multiple web pages, not individual sources, and the responses are designed to highlight relevant links. Google is currently facing numerous lawsuits, including one filed by the US Department of Justice, accusing Google of maintaining an illegal monopoly in the search engine industry. If the tech giant loses the case, penalties could include hefty fines or forced company breakup.

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