The Publisher Lab: a new era of search and AI, plus a Google antitrust lawsuit

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The Publisher Lab is back after a two-year hiatus!

Tyler Bishop and Whitney Wright come together to discuss a new era of search and AI, and the anti-trust lawsuit against Google.

The Publisher Lab podcast returns

Like all media right now, The Publisher Lab is experiencing a reboot. Due to bandwidth limitations, the pandemic, and the uncertainty of its influence, The Publisher Lab was put on pause. However, over the past two years, we have heard from many of publishers that they wish the podcast was still around, and we kind of missed it too. So here we are!

You can watch the podcast here or listen to it on all podcast platforms, like Apple.

SEO, search, and Tik Tok with Gen-Z

For years, Google has held over 90% of the search engine market share (which is not

surprising) but more and more people are turning to social media, specifically Tick Tock, for search queries.

Social media is being used increasingly for more than entertainment, especially amongst Gen-Z. In an article by The Drum, it has been found that 40% of 18-24 year olds are now turning to TikTok over Google for searches.

It’s no surprise that consumers love word-of-mouth; in fact, 92% of consumers trust word-of-mouth over other forms of advertising. TikTok is full of peers who are trying products and trends, giving advice (whether they’re qualified or not), and relaying their experiences; it’s the new word-of-mouth for younger generations.

In general, younger generations want more of a visual representation of what they’re searching for, such as short-form, quick-to-the-point videos (TikTok, YouTube shorts, Instagram Reels); 79% of users say user-generated content impacts their purchase decision. That’s HUGE.

So what is the future of SEO and search?

Social SEO may be more important than you think—consider things like closed captions, alt-texts, captions, doing keyword research on these various social media platforms. Some publishers may be wary to go down this road again, having been burned by optimizing for Facebook and Instagram in the past and having everything change.

Video has been progressing since the TV was invented. You first had scheduled programming, then DVRs, and now streaming, YouTube, and social media. We have been harping on this for awhile and will continue to—if you’re not making video content, you’re ultimately missing the boat. It doesn’t have to be TikTok, but video is a major player in digital publishing right now and will continue to be in the future.

Many might think they have missed video’s moment, but it’s still here and happening; the way it looks is just different. It’s very likely we’re currently in the golden age of video.

Microsoft and OpenAI continue their partnership to make AI accessible to everyone

Microsoft and OpenAI joined together in a multi-billion dollar partnership in 2020 and have since been working together to develop better and better AI. They recently agreed to continue their partnership in the hopes of bringing AI technology to everyone. This partnership is what made ChatGPT possible, which is one of the most advanced natural language processing (NLP) models.

The companies plan to democratize AI and make it accessible to everyone in three ways:

  • Supercomputing at scale: more resources into creating and using specializrd supercomputers to speed up OpenAI’s research
  • New AI experiences: use OpenAI’s models in its consumer and enterprise products, create new digital experiences using OpenAI’s tech
  • Exclusivity: Microsoft Azure will power all OpenAI workloads as the company’s only cloud provider

While Bing may not be first in search, it is certainly driving the use of AI with this partnership and changing the way we search the web.

It is unlikely that in the future, people will be searching for information by loading a list of websites with potential answers on it, and this is a step in that direction.

Chat bots will soon be in search engines as early as March, as Google has gotten the go-ahead, so it’s really a competition to see who will do it first. However, even though it may seem that Microsoft has a bit of a leg up in that competition since it is using what is considered to be the world’s leading natural language processor, Google has LAMDA (Language Model for Dialogue Applications). You may remember the story of the Google employee who believed it was sentient, which Google heavily denied. LAMDA is likely as good or better than ChatGPT, so Microsoft has some competition.

Google has come out and said that AI-generated content will be less prioritized than content written by a human, but it’s a relatively empty threat, as it can write pretty well (better than humans, in some instances). The distinction is that it can write well, not necessarily come up with original content.

Google is at a severe disadvantage, however, because of one thing: legality.

Google can give you a lot of great content instantly when you search, like a video, knowledge graph, bulleted list, or image, but in orde to get the rest of the information you may need, you will have to click on an article; Google cannot scrape the content from somewhere and present it to you without the publisher’s permission. In Australia, there are court cases against Google providing news information without paying the publishers.

Google is almost constrained from participating in what may be the future of search in some ways.

The DOJ sues Google for abusing its dominance of digital advertising

On Tuesday, January 24, 2023, the U.S. Justice Department sued Google for its monopoly on digital advertising. If the DOJ wins the suit, Google would be forced to sell its ad manage suite.

Over the years, there have been complaints from advertisers and publishers alike that Google is not transparent enough about where their ad dollars go, specifically about how much publishers receive and how much goes to Google.

Alphabet, Google’s parent company, is estimated to bring in $73.8 billion through its ad operations in 2023, $58.8 billion of which comes from Google search advertising business; the rest comes from display ads. Google alone is expected to generate $65.7 billion in digital ad revenue in the US alone this year, which is about 26.5% of the market.

The DOJ claims that Google has used anti-competitve and unlawful means to eliminate or lessen the threat to its dominance, while Google states that the lawsuit slows innovation and will raise advertising fees, which will be hard for small businesses and publishers.

The government has been going after all of big tech for similar reasons—Amazon, Meta, and Apple, alongside Google. Eight states have joined in on the antitrust lawsuit.

Antitrust, by definition, is using dominance in one market or vertical to create one in another. Google is popular for Google Search but does not hold a monopoly over it; anyone can index the internet and there are multiple other search engines.

Where Google may be in trouble is that you are not able to serve ads from Google’s ad exchange, which includes more than just Google advertisers

Advertisers put money into Google and then those ads are collected in one or two advertiser products: Google AdWords or Google Search Ads 360, both of which allows any ad network or DSP (demand-side platform) to place inventory. Then, there is Google AdManager, which allows advertisers to serve ads across all sorts of mediums; as a publisher, you can use Google AdManager to display ads.

However, if you just use Google AdSense on your site, you are just displaying ads from Google. If you are an ad network, like Rubicon, you cannot compete with Google and get ads on enough websites on your own. To solve this, Google has the AdExchange, stating that they will allow everyone to bid against each other and serve out the highest bid. This allows companies like Sovrn to have a fairer chance of winning since everyone is using Google ad manager or ad manager child accounts (Google MCM) to put advertisements on their websites.

This means everyone has to compete inside of Google’s perimeters and it’s just assumed that Google is playing fair; header bidding was one solution that came about to keep Google in-check.

The problem with this is Google Ad Exchange, which conglomerates ad demand from across the industry into one playing field, is only accessible through Google Ad Manager.

Basically, the way that Google Ad Manager works today is that Google’s Ad Exchange, which is supposed to be open for everyone, requires that use Google’s own tool to then serve those ads. Google has made decisions in the past that seem protective of preserving this.

Amazon is one company that is growing enough to compete with Google in this space, while Apple is using their third-party cookie blocking to cut out Meta. All of these Big Tech companies are constantly looking for ways to get closer and closer to the user.

Amazon has invested quite a bit in its Wi-Fi technology over the years because they have realized you can collect better data that way; currently, when information leaves a device, it is encrypted, but some of this can be bypassed through being integrated into the Wi-Fi, and Amazon is using this to their advantage.

So how will this all change the digital advertising space?

It may seem like a lot of changes will be in store but it will ultimately make things better. Consider when Microsoft was forced to break out Internet Explorer as a part of their operating system 20 years ago; it created a more competitive browser sphere.

If Google is forced to break out Ad Manager and AdX—meaning you could use your own ad server or any number of ad servers—and anybody can connect into AdX without needing to have Google as intermediary, then it will create a more competitive and transparent ad space. This will drive up ad rates for publishers, though it may just make it more difficult to navigate the space.

Digital advertising is going to see a lot of changes

We’re currently in a place in digital publishing where everything is about to change a lot, though most of it should be for the better.

We aren’t likely to see any changes with Google because of the lawsuit any time soon, as it will take years to work through, but those who keep their ear to the ground and stay on top of this news and the emerging trends will be the most successful. 

By Whitney Wright

Whitney is a former journalist for numerous city-wide newspapers and online media sources. Whitney has multiple years of content and creative marketing experience and is a digital publishing expert.