4 min read

It’s Time to Change — Again

Here’s the hard question we must all ask ourselves in the age of generative AI:

If anyone can generate content with just a prompt and the flip of a button, why should your content be worth people’s attention?

Moreover, now that Google’s September 2023 helpful content update is over, does your content really — and I mean really — deserve to be at the top?

The answer can be painful when we're called to look into ourselves, but the reality is that how we build websites has changed, and not necessarily in a good way. As Yoyao wrote in last week’s Niche Surfer newsletter, when things change, you adapt. The only other choice, after all, is to quit.

Content is now a commodity: Not too long ago, indie publishers had to spend hours a day for months writing content for their websites, or invest tens of thousands of dollars into freelancers and agencies to do it for them.

To have a website with a hundred, one thousand, ten thousand pages took time, skills, money, and a whole lot of good decisions. These days, all it takes is a few Google searches and ChatGPT prompts. Having more content is no longer an advantage.

Organic traffic is now harder to get: What Google’s doing reminds me of what Facebook did in the late 2000s. At first, they were giving away organic traffic to anyone with a Facebook Page.

Then, they realized they could make more money from ads if, instead of getting users to click away, they got them to stay. So they reduced the organic reach of posts by pages — and cluttered the newsfeed with user posts and ads.

With the helpful content update, Google promoted forum posts, Reddit threads, and Quora questions — user-generated content — and demoted blogs, niche websites, and affiliate sites as a whole. (Surprise, surprise, big-time publishers and parasite SEO outlets were largely unaffected.) Atop organic results in the SERPs, you now get ads, people also ask, and YouTube. Can you see any similarities?

Return on investment is not what it used to be: The times when you put $1,000 into a website and got $10,000 back after 12 months are gone. Most of the underserved corners of the Web are now awash with AI content, outsourced blogs, and the big-brand publishers who store their keywords.

As a result, it takes more time to do keyword research because good keywords are harder to find. Sure, it’s cheaper to produce the content — you can even use ChatGPT or an AI writer to do it for you — but so can everyone else. So, underserved niches don’t stay that way for long.

Should you give up?

If you’re in it for the passive income, the answer might as well be yes. Websites are no longer the "passive" income stream that they once were; it takes a lot more time, capital, and thought to build something that ranks high, gets traffic, and earns money.

Unless you’re outsourcing the day-to-day management of your business to a website operator, you can no longer afford to be a part-time website owner who only spends one hour or two on their websites every month. Generative AI and hustle-oriented website builders ate that pie all up.

What’s even more interesting is, we’ve found ourselves in uncharted waters.

The playbooks for building profitable websites are broken. The case studies for how to recover sites in a helpful-content-centric Web have yet to be written. It’s the Wild, Wild West — scratch that, with generative AI, it’s Westworld.

So, what can you, as an online publisher, do to adapt?

What I'm thinking:

  • Build a brand: I’m not saying that bestwhatever.com won’t work anymore. But it certainly won’t work as well as it used to. A brand is on a mission to help a known audience do something differently. It also has presence in more than one place. Social media is a necessary evil.
  • Rethink your content strategy: These days, less is more if done right. Consider how you can publish less content for more user engagement and topical authority to rank higher-competition keywords. What’s AI-generated? What’s reviewed and/or written by named expert contributors?
  • Provide a good experience: UX makes a difference. I added a "Was this helpful?" survey at the end of all posts on one of the websites in my portfolio. If you vote "yes," you’ll get a email list opt-in popup. And if you vote "no," you’ll see an anonymous feedback form. Subscriptions rates are up, and the user feedback from negative votes is beyond valuable.
  • Focus on monetization: An increasingly competitive Web means declining traffic per website and per page. If you want to stay in business, display ads and affiliate links won’t cut it. Websites finally need to be run as "real" businesses. Brand deals, products, services — you know, the tough stuff.
  • Diversify channels: Email newsletter? YouTube channel? Instagram and/or TikTok profile? Self-publishing (say, Amazon KDP or Barnes & Noble Press)? Parasite SEO? Your audience is still hungry for information, but are you reaching them where they expect?

Easier said than done, I know.

Online publishing is about to change… again, and I am forcing myself to rethink the way I think about it and approach it.

P.S. I’m also flirting with the idea of putting my thoughts together in a webinar — forty-five, maybe sixty-minutes long — and making that webinar available to you, Publetise’s readers, for a special price. (Hey, that Ghost.io subscription adds up!)

Help me figure out if this is something worth doing: Hit reply and tell me if you’d be interested.