Are Indian publishers prepared for Google AI Overviews?

With users obtaining answers directly from the search results due to the implementation of Google AI Overviews, there is a fear among publishers that users may not click on the links to visit their websites, resulting in decreased traffic

Khushi Keswani
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Delhi: A few days back, Google announced the rollout of AI Overviews. This new feature provides users with concise summaries of their search queries, along with suggested follow-up questions and a list of links for further information, though these links are only visible if users scroll down the page.

However, this development has raised concerns among publishers. With users obtaining answers directly from the search results, there is a fear that they may not click on the links to visit publishers' and brands' websites, resulting in decreased traffic.

While Google has assured that it will continue to drive traffic to these websites, there is uncertainty about whether search traffic will decline. After all, if users find the information they need in a summary at the top of the page, they may be less inclined to explore further by clicking on additional links.

Early reports suggest it could potentially impact user behaviour, potentially leading to fewer clicks on publisher websites. “It has been a pattern, be it with ChatGPT or the new AI overview. They are ruling out the citation or the source and this is not only bad for the publisher but also for the user as the source selected can be unknown and not trustworthy”, said Abhishek Karnani, Director of The Free Press Journal.

Although AI Overviews are currently only available in the US, Google plans to introduce them to more countries. This raises questions about the potential impact on businesses once this technology is implemented in India.

Sanjay Sidhwani, CEO, Indian Express, echoed these concerns and warns of a potential "acceleration" of the zero-click trend with AI Overviews. However, he also acknowledged a "reduced impact" due to the already prevalent discoverability features within Google Search.

The narrative isn't entirely bleak. As search engines like Google become responsible for content curation within AI Overviews, the onus of quality control shifts.  Publishers adhering to Google's EAT (Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness) principles are likely to be prioritised for content used in these summaries. 

This, according to Sidhwani, could lead to a "renewed focus on quality journalism." He said, "This renewed focus on quality content selection by AI Overviews could incentivise publishers to prioritise in-depth reporting and fact-checking, ultimately benefiting audiences seeking trustworthy information."

However, Karnani raises a critical point: data privacy and content ownership. He questioned the lack of transparency surrounding how Google uses publisher content to train its AI models, particularly regarding compensation. “Government will be a party to this as we have seen that the responses to the prompt that AI generates are not always in line with the law of the land. Also, it can create disharmony”, he added. 

In fact, an impact on companies that rely on SEO for visibility, or those that invest heavily in SEO strategies “has been on toss with Google rolling out updates almost every month”. As Karnani put it, “We have now stuck to basic good stories and useful information content.”

While copyright laws might be evolving slowly in India, global trends suggest a shift towards fairer practices. A 2023 report by the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) highlights how major tech companies like Google are striking deals with large publishers in Western economies to compensate them for content used in training AI. 

A 2022 Reuters Institute Digital News Report further found that trust in news media remains a challenge in India, with only 36% of respondents reporting they trust most of the news they see online. A shift towards quality content, as emphasised by AI Overviews, could be a catalyst for rebuilding trust with audiences. 

The Indian market's adaptation to AI is still in its early stages. However, as AI adoption increases, copyright concerns are likely to gain traction.  Sidhwani anticipated that established publishers "will continue to get compensated for content in times to come," but the challenge lies with the vast amount of independent content creators.

A few checkpoints that can help publishers prepare themselves for the AI era

Embrace AI: Explore AI tools for content creation, audience targeting, and data analysis to stay competitive.

Focus on Quality: Prioritise in-depth reporting, fact-checking, and adherence to EAT principles to ensure content is picked up by AI Overviews.

Diversify Revenue Streams: Investigate alternative revenue models like subscriptions, memberships, or branded content to reduce dependence on ad clicks.

Advocate for Change: Lobby for revisions to copyright laws that ensure fair compensation for content used in training AI models.

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