AI-powered SGE turns Google's organic farm into an industrial-sized content mill

By: Rob Corbidge, 28 March 2024

Travel and lifestyle blogging is being eyed up by Google to point its new Search Generative Experience at. Will it be a bitter content harvest?

Travel bloggers can be a difficult breed to like. From the vast number of internet-based career options on offer, earning your daily bread by swanning around the globe, writing of the divine Pegu Club cocktail in Myanmar or unique sand on Easter Island's Anakena Beach, is a life almost certain to generate some envy in even the most generous-minded of media's worker bees.

Anyone involved in content creation (you're here so you likely are) knows that the most successful of such bloggers show all the qualities of organisation, speed, production value, discipline, and audience awareness required to thrive in such a busy segment. 

Yet for every one such person, there are dozens who think travel blogging is an easy breezy way to earn a living, before being faced with the reality that a few thousand YouTube views of their "foodie stroll around the Algarve", or Instagram accounts that reek of desperation trying to sell lifestyle insight to several hundred bot accounts, don't pay the basic bills - let alone for the lifestyle they imply.

What then are we to feel at the news that the gigantic content harvesting blades of Google's Search Generative Experience (SGE) might soon crop all but the tallest poppies in the travel sector and regurgitate them as search responses in the form of full travel itineraries, complete with recommendations? 

As the report in TechCrunch puts it "when users ask for something like 'plan me a three day trip to Philadelphia that’s all about history,' they will get a sample itinerary that includes attractions and restaurants, as well as an overview of options for flights and hotels, divided up by times of day".

Given the sheer volume of such travel content, it's quite possible that, at least in its initial form, the data leaned on by SGE could be drawn from so many different minor sources that any reasonable requirement to credit such sources could be met with a reasonable "Which one?" from Google. 

Yet if SGE is good enough to a put a hole beneath the waterline of the entire travel blogging world, then the sources of such data will cease to be renewed as blogging itself becomes unviable.

This is a version of the "internet will eat itself" scenario that sees a system that relies on actual human-produced content removing the incentive for humans to contribute to it, giving the putative AI-dominated internet a data-based form of Mad Cow Disease. 

Once again, it is worth noting that independent studies of the impact of SGE show little good news for publishers, as Search Engine Journal reports this week, the latest Authoritas study found that:

  • When an SGE box is expanded, the top organic result drops by over 1200 pixels on average, significantly reducing visibility.
  • 62% of SGE links come from domains outside the top 10 organic results.
  • Ecommerce, electronics, and fashion-related searches saw the greatest disruption, though all verticals were somewhat impacted.

The situation that could emerge for SGE to finally reveal the fallacy of using "Google" as a verb. It was of course already a trick, in that "Googling" meant accessing an organised version of everything committed to the sprawling internet when in fact users were submitting to Google's indexed version of that information, even given it was the best index at that moment.

Writing as the partner of someone who takes great delight in meticulous research of travel destinations to the point that a considerable backlog of worryingly uncosted proposals has built up, it has to be pointed out that the solution SGE provides takes the delight of discovery from travel, even if you can argue it provides a template from which to start.

In summary, it appears that in its trialled form, SGE presents us with a yet more of The World of According to Google - this time asserting ownership over the content as well as the search. 

From a user perspective, that is a considerable stretch away from the current, if now corrupted, form of search that sits at the core of Google's advertising dollar printing machine.