The ChatGPT release in November 2022 began an AI mad frenzy. Publishers are beginning to rethink their strategy after Bing integrated OpenAI and Google launched its own version called Bard. AI technology will continue to advance rapidly because of OpenAI, moving the needle earlier than some would have expected. And as a result, Big Tech companies are under more pressure to compete and develop better AI solutions faster.

The solutions being built are geared towards keeping the user on the search screen, and provide the content written by publishers within that interaction and not having the users to click to the publisher’s sites. The landscape of search engines to showcase news or information is changed forever. Instead, we are transitioning to a virtual assistant model where AI-powered platforms directly provide users with answers. This shift, to some degree, is unsettling. But it is here and we can’t stick our heads in the sand and ignore it.

This sudden rise of AI chatbots will upend the audience acquisition model and create a new landscape where only publishers with audiences that seek real human-written content and strong brand loyalty will survive, while those focused solely on content written purely making a run for rankings leveraging keywords alone will be obsolete. As this occurs, consumer dependence on legacy search will wane and search habits will alter. In the long run, this trend spells the end for one specific category of publisher, which I call Clickbait Media.

Clickbait Media lacks subject matter authority, brand credibility, helpful content for their audience and their audience’s loyalty. Their visitor and pageview numbers are, for the most part, a result of keyword-based content, rather than quality content. This approach has given rise to no shortage of indistinguishable, low-quality AI-generated content sites. Clickbait Media typically invests minimally in editorial, chasing low-hanging search fruit for views and clicks to maximize ad revenue. Many of them even rely on AI to write articles entirely, or they scrape from other sites.

The new AI content recognition browser plugins and search engine algorithm updates will force Clickbait Media to rethink their reliance on AI-generated content with no human review, facts, insight or quotes. They will have to adapt their strategies to remain relevant. But building a brand authority is certainly more difficult than rank chasing and requires significant investment and a thoughtful, comprehensive audience acquisition strategy. For better or worse, Clickbait Media isn’t equipped to navigate this shift.

As a result, Clickbait Media will struggle to survive, while publishers with real content and audiences will gain more market share. This evolution will deliver greater value to publishers who invest in editorial content and adopt a varied approach to audience generation, like offering newsletters, hosting in-person events and expanding their online presence across content discovery platforms.

The winners in this transformed landscape will be publishers with authentic and authoritative  content that inspire loyalty and foster high-quality audiences experiences. These publishers offer their users helpful, people-first content that demonstrates expertise, experience, authoritativeness and trustworthiness. In contrast, Clickbait Media will find themselves struggling to maintain their relevance with content that is just fluff.

Candidly, I think this change will pave the way for a more robust and engaging content landscape, where quality and authenticity are paramount. It will also lead to a more accurate intent pipeline, as it will be easier to understand what an audience wants and how to deliver on their expectations. In this new era, only publishers who invest in their brands and nurture their audiences will do well. These are publishers who carefully develop high-quality editorial, embrace new channels and platforms for audience engagement and foster a sense of community and loyalty among their readers.

As I say this, make no mistake that AI isn’t an enemy, but rather an inevitability. To that end, publishers must also explore smart ways to leverage AI to their own benefit. No, that doesn’t mean laying off journalists en masse to cut costs through AI. Rather, use AI tools to optimize content creation, enhance personalization and improve user experience. By embracing AI and incorporating it into their strategies, publishers can stay ahead of the curve and ensure their continued relevance in the industry.

Ultimately, the AI-powered search wars will serve as a catalyst for change, pushing publishers to refocus their efforts on delivering high-quality content, building trust and loyalty, and creating genuine connections with their audiences. Clickbait Media will face lower crawl budgets due to their low quality content and won’t be around, in the end. This shift will not only benefit the surviving publishers, but will also elevate the overall quality of content available to consumers. The power will truly lay on trustworthy content.