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Google, OpenAI, Reddit partnerships and search

How Google, OpenAI and Reddit Are Transforming Search

Cory Hedgepeth - Senior SEO Specialist

On Thursday, May 16, Reddit announced a new deal with OpenAI. The deal will have multifaceted effects for users of both ChatGPT and Reddit and ethical implications reaching far beyond both. But the bigger story here is that the deal serves as an undercurrent of what appears to be a raging digital experience river that equally involves Google.

Let’s explore how this deal serves as another evolution in the rapid reshaping of online search.

Reddit and OpenAI: A Groundbreaking Partnership in the Making for Years

Those who didn’t pay attention to the announcement fall squarely into one group: those who don’t entirely understand OpenAI and Reddit. Most people know what services each platform provides, but may not use them regularly. Hence, the announcement did not prompt much deeper exploration.

But alas, “the beyond,” as mentioned earlier, began rearing its head in the news, prompting more people to ask, “what the heck does this deal mean?”

Within 12 hours of the announcement, Reddit’s stock price topped $63 a share before pre-trading. For more perspective, Reddit’s all-time high stock price is $65.11. This placed Reddit on track to add $1.2 billion to its market capitalization.

This financial news quickly put Reddit on a lot of radars where it hadn’t previously rang any alarms.

But none of this happened suddenly. Instead, the moment had been building for months, even years.

Reddit and Google – Unlikely Bedfellows

In 2018, Reddit was an unlikely partner to Google’s search experience. Google was in the midst of angst and chaos due to a public perception that the internet was full of inaccurate news.

For any platform on the web that curates content in any way, balancing free speech and diverse perspectives against potentially harmful narratives is an endless dilemma.

Google’s “Medic” update, also known as the August 2018 Broad Core Update, began rolling out across Google’s search engine as a prominent way to begin outwardly reshaping search to account for this issue.

Google was attempting to counter harmful news from showing up in its search results. It reportedly concerned itself with news in the YMYL (Your Money or Your Life) categories. This meant content that could impact a person’s health, financial stability, safety or happiness, such as financial news or health news.

It was a bigger deal than many realized, because for any platform that hosts curated content, there’s some safety in keeping some distance from “managing” that content. Because if you manage some of the content, are you then liable for all of it?

That answer remains unclear today. But what isn’t unclear is that Google has continued to concern itself with combating what it views as inaccurate or potentially harmful content. The Google Helpful Content update, launched four years later, solidifying a trajectory to combat the issue.

But as Google leveraged a wealth of technological advancements and human brain power to shift content experiences for what it believed was for the better, a dark truth lurked in the shadows.

A growing number of searchers were appending their search phrases with “Reddit.”

As an example, instead of searching “low carb diet,” some people began searching “low carb diet reddit.”

“Carnivore diet reddit,”  “keto diet reddit” and even “Mediterranean diet reddit” are all popular searches on Google today.

At first, this trend probably seemed innocuous.

But there was a deeper, more profound concept at play. Because these search scenarios were, and remain, incredibly misaligned with Google’s ambition to have more official sources.

Google wants people to learn diet news from sources like Healthline.com. But a growing number of people circumvent those prioritized results and get to user-generated perspectives on Reddit.

Appending search queries with “reddit” is a way to bypass corporate content marketing and arbitrage and find more personalized, human experiences. In other words, someone may trust a Google-trusted result less than a group of Reddit users conveying their successes and failures on a type of diet, or with a specific use case such as smoking a brisket.

Do you want to learn how to smoke a brisket from Traeger, who will tell you to smoke that brisket on their device, or from a group of people who offer a diversity of perspectives? What if the certain media outlets you follow rail against low-carb diets?

Google always desired a helpful content ecosystem even before the 2018 “Medic” update. And helpful content often fell into human-powered content that offered fresh perspectives. But yet Google’s search results continued churning out cookie-cutter results that were saturated and repetitive. You were getting the same type of content over and over.

User-generated content is the ultimate break in this algorithm and people were figuring it out. And actually, so was Google.

Earlier this year, Google made waves when its search results pages began giving dramatic increases in visibility to user-generated content, mostly Reddit and Quora.

This served as a wild departure from Google’s decade-long agenda to reel in inaccurate news.

We shouldn’t assume all user-generated content is erroneous, but equally, we shouldn’t assume it’s factual. The point is more that Google continually signaled for more than 10 years that user-generated content was unreliable in comparison to high-authority, trusted websites. But yet suddenly, here we are, persuading searchers to explore Reddit and Quora when they don’t append the searches with “Reddit.”

Google additionally doubled-down when it struck a $60 million annual deal with Reddit to make its content available for training its own AI initiatives.

Just like that, Google, a company that spent a decade potentially trying to verify content authors and validate website sources, was highlighting user-generated content in its search results and using that same content to train its AI to the tune of millions of dollars per year.

On the other side of the digital river banks, OpenAI and its ChatGPT product were redefining web exploration in ways that many felt would lead to ChatGPT “destroying” Google. But ChatGPT’s success faced similar challenges. Let’s explore.

OpenAI – An Inconvenient Source

We appreciate ChatGPT for many reasons. One of our core use cases is searching for solutions or information on subjects where we may need higher-level results. If we want to find out if we should salt our brisket for 24 hours or five hours, we could avoid a recipe site that pummels us with ads, email forms and narratives involving grandma’s kitchen and the smell of chili peppers.

However, when we get that information, we may need a deeper dive. Maybe we’re worried about how to trim the brisket, how long we should rest it or if particular seasonings contribute to improved bark. In these cases, we’re off to Google search or YouTube. Why? We don’t know who ChatGPT is sourcing when it conveys nuances on a subject matter. And if you smoke meats, you know brisket is finicky. The point is, we need to know where this information is coming from. Because the last thing we need is a dry $90 piece of meat that our families gossip about for the next month.

It’s not difficult to see how we’d extrapolate that to a health search which has far more critical ramifications than dry beef.

While ChatGPT was evoking spirited debates about summarizing Google results, it was actually a far worse scenario in the way that the machine behind the mask was even less clear. If you were circumventing Google’s search results, which feature pages of ranked website solutions, you certainly needed more than a single AI conversation conveying a narrative form of thought.

ChatGPT’s interface appears mostly unsourced. People may begin their search experience there but, eventually, they want to know who is writing something and experience diverse human perspectives.

With Reddit rising in Google search, the ChatGPT experience runs counter to the idea that someone would desire a single, unsourced perspective on any subject that’s beyond completely basic.

With Google unabashedly promoting Reddit content and training its AI using it, OpenAI moved to strike the deal with Reddit giving them more competitive data access. Remember, Google’s AI has a major advantage with its vast search library. OpenAI’s technology reigns supreme, but its competitive shortcomings in data were a problem that needed a solution.

And thus, the Reddit deal enabled the beginning of such a solution.

The new partnership allows OpenAI’s ChatGPT deep access into the most prominent user generated platform in the world. OpenAI will use this data to train and improve its AI models. There are thousands upon thousands of user-generated posts across Reddit; such access for any AI model is powerful.

Reddit, on the other hand, will gain AI-based features that help it create improved user experiences, although as you might imagine, many Reddit users aren’t thrilled about that (we’ll get into that in a bit).

So What Happened?

Both Google and OpenAI vastly underestimated the searcher’s desire for multifaceted, unique perspectives. And this is extremely important.

For many years, Google telegraphed that it could facilitate “trusted content” through the search experience. ChatGPT arrived, invoking what it hoped to be a day where searchers could get a single summary of all that information.

Some marketers were worried that search might be turning upside down.

Were publishers and content marketers about to crumble into a dark despair? If AI and algorithms dismissed the need for new content, there’d be less ad revenue, but also less creative production, which means much less for AI to be trained on, and on and on and on …

Instead, if we’re to go by Google’s search results page update that now includes Reddit, we might conclude that users heavily signaled they don’t trust Google’s machine algorithm, or maybe any algorithm, to provide trustworthy or useful results.

This led Google and OpenAI to understand the vast wealth of this data, leading to partnerships and refreshed search results page views.

The Impact on the Digital Search Experience

While Open AI is seeking to maintain dominance in the AI space, Google sees hope to not only stave this off, but break out on its own.

Let’s examine what the impacts of this new “user-generated content” arms race will yield.

Feeding the AI machines for Google and OpenAI are the most pronounced starting points. The data ingestion aspect is obvious, but how might this affect outputs by users like ourselves?

Gauging Public Sentiment

One of the big missing components to ingesting static blogs is that it only does an OK job of measuring public sentiment over a topic. First, each blog likely possesses bias at the typing of the author. And each blog is its own ecosystem of isolated perspectives that lacks a feedback loop.
But on user-generated forums such as Reddit, there’s widespread perspective, debate and tone. There’s conflicts and agreements which create feedback loops for AI ingestion. They can figure out how people really feel about any topic on the fly.

Breaking News and Trending Topics

AI hasn’t been the best with breaking news or trending topics. Out of the gates, criticism of ChatGPT centered around its inability to scrape current web topics. OpenAI has made great strides to resolve this and Google’s Gemini is able to use current Google news, but even that stuff isn’t always compiling information where it begins. Reddit threads may contain a news story before it’s on major news. User-generated content, whether written, video or images, can prompt the beginning of a major news cycle.

Industry Reviews

Let’s talk Amazon. In case you haven’t noticed, Amazon uses AI to give a summary of all its product reviews. The obvious idea is that you don’t have to read all those reviews. Imagine doing that at scale using Reddit. ChatGPT or Gemini may be able to post a summary of reviews for a hotel that feature a gauge for sentiment, with highlights of the good and bad, and pepper in things you might not know. It could extract review sentiments for people who want to understand how the experience for kids or pets may be.

Trend Forecasting

Reddit often acts as a cultural barometer. ChatGPT or Gemini could use Reddit data to identify emerging trends, even with things like memes, very early on. Trend forecasting could benefit news agencies and businesses alike, for starters.

Content Generation

AI could leverage the vast wealth of Reddit discussions as inspiration for creating unique blog content, or even movie scripts. If Reddit links display in high-volume Google ranking positions, those threads likely contain new strategic search terms that could highly impact digital strategy on all fronts. Moreover, measuring sentiment over those topics could help content strategists with topic suggestions.

The Ethics and Controversies

Let’s explore a few of the more prominent potential issues in these deals.

Reddit Users

Reddit users should expect new AI-driven tools and features for moderation, content discovery and, of course, personalized experiences abound. These features might streamline how subreddit admins manage communities, fight spam or improve user engagement.

The core of the deal is OpenAI’s access to the Reddit Data API.

What does this mean?

Well it means every post, upvote and comment you’ve ever contributed is up for OpenAI ingestion. Clearly, this raises myriad privacy concerns and further places a spotlight on who actually owns user-generated content.

Making the situation more murky, there’s no way to opt out of any of this. Reddit’s user agreement provides no way to stop these actions. And this is probably the crux of the issue for many Reddit loyalists.

This lack of choice is a point of contention for users who value control over their digital footprints.

Inaccurate News, Advice, Recommendations

We discussed ad nauseam Google’s long battle against inaccurate news. And yet here we are in a new day where Google and OpenAI are training their widely popular and adapted models on the very content we’ve been told not to trust. And we’ve already seen evidence of these mishaps happening in Google’s newly launched AI Overviews. CNET compiled a number of these embarrassing issues in a blog post.

“Users who typed in questions to Google received AI-powered responses that seemed to come from a different reality,” reported CNET’s Ian Sherr. “For instance: ‘According to geologists at UC Berkeley, you should eat at least one small rock per day,’ the AI overview responded to one person’s (admittedly goofy) question, apparently relying on an article from popular humor website The Onion.”

User-generated content raises concerns for consent, bias and misuse of information. How these two AI giants will handle these scenarios remains to be seen. But we have some ideas.

Where It’s All Going

We understand why Google relented some on the search landscape to include more user-generated content. We also understand why OpenAI and Google would want to train their AI models on this content.

But clearly, this is a complex undertaking sure to cause some changes to online search and AI. Here’s some we see coming down the digital road.

More Attribution

The first major change could be attribution. When ChatGPT initially launched, it sourced nothing. Where it got the info it provided you was a big mystery. However, it has moved the needle toward more attribution with some links in recent iterations.

Google, on the other hand, began its journey in re-creating the organic search experience by providing AI snapshots. And these AI snapshots included more “attribution” links.

Every AI iteration seems to feature more sources for content, even if indirectly. It is likely that both companies find improved ways to give some credit where credit is due. There’s another reason that adding sources to information is imperative. Without sources, there’s no incentive for publishers to create new content, and that means no new concepts for AI models to ingest.

Adding attribution to content equally helps stave off a potential content creation wasteland due to lack of revenue from clicks and lack of incentive resulting from AI gobbling up their content with no credit applied.

The Arrival of Decentralized Search

For many years, there’s been an advocacy for decentralized search free from algorithms. Some saw the advent of blockchain as an advancement toward that direction, but so far, it hasn’t worked out on a global level.

Reddit and other user generated forums could morph into alternative search engines. And these search engines, in some ways, would circumvent “algorithms” which some people and critics don’t appreciate.

Of course, it’s a steep battle as interfaces such as ChatGPT, Gemini and Google Search still gatekeep the content.

But things like attribution and the rising popularity of platforms like Reddit could encourage more people to go directly into the source.

Blurring Lines Between Social and Search Engines

Search engines and social media are clearly having a moment — a merge moment. Nearly 1 in 10 Gen Zers are using TikTok as a search platform.

With user-generated content becoming more visible in Google search and a tightly instituted component of AI outputs, it’s not difficult to see that the lines between what is search and what is social may drastically blur.

Content Creation

Ever since ChatGPT found its way into the mainstream view, there’s been a whole lot of questions regarding the future of content creation.

The primary concern revolves around cookie-cutter, automated content flooding search engines. Ironically, Google has sat at the forefront of trying to combat what they now call, “unhelpful content.” Google has an ambition to cull out AI content, at least, to some degree.

But could user-generated content influence more creativity? If it’s feeding the AI engines, would those engines become more creative?

Inevitably, user-generated content could serve to keep AI’s potential for mass generic content at bay.

Regulation

It’s difficult to ignore the landscape of potential incoming regulations. The surfacing conflict between Reddit users and OpenAI/Google may be only one chapter in what is likely to be a long story of difficult battles between AI and users.

New regulations will seek to protect user privacy and transparency while AI models will continue to seek more information ingestion to improve their AI capacities.

One thing is certain, there’s no easy way forward as we continue to find ourselves in a great technological evolution.

So, What Should You Do?

Reddit’s bold inclusions in OpenAI and Google Search Results put on display how cherished user experiences and authenticity are, even when they might pose a risk of misinformation. This conveys that people still desire other people’s thoughts along with more official perspectives.

Don’t Autopilot AI Content

The worst case scenario for your content marketing will be fully automating your content creation process. And by “fully automating,” this includes having someone approve, or slightly modify, mass AI content creation.

Google is culling AI content en masse. Furthermore, even if you pass the Google algo smell test early on, you may not forever. The Google search algorithm notoriously lags behind infamous behaviors.

Lean into Expertise

If you sell snow cones, you need to create content and messaging as a snow cone expert. There has never been a time where expertise was more necessary to the Google ranking equation, and possibly, to a ChatGPT and Gemini citation model.

Expertise is one of the few ways you can separate your content from the flood of AI mass production. We’ve been heading here for a while, now we’ve arrived.

Prioritize PR for Links, Branding

Acquiring links on other reputable websites can significantly enhance the credibility of your content. While it’s crucial to avoid “buying links” or engaging in dubious practices, a well-planned public relations strategy that showcases your work in industry-specific online magazines can effectively demonstrate to Google that your content is valuable. Backlinks have long been a contentious topic in the SEO community, but the recent Google algorithm leak may either validate their importance or further fuel the debate, depending on your perspective.

The primary challenge for all involved companies will be striking a balance between providing users with a variety of options and ensuring the accuracy and reliability of information to combat misinformation effectively.

Google, OpenAI and Reddit’s new partnerships offer valuable insights into the future of search experiences. This collaboration directly addresses the initial concern that AI might diminish users’ need to validate information or seek out diverse sources for learning. The primary challenge for all involved companies will be striking a balance between providing users with a variety of options and ensuring the accuracy and reliability of information to combat misinformation effectively.

 


CoryHedgepeth

Cory Hedgepeth is 9Rooftops’ lead SEO strategist. He applies extensive expertise in search engine optimization and content marketing strategy to enhance digital visibility and engagement for brands. His vast background in data analysis and keen understanding of market trends helps brands drive sustainable growth.

Connect with Cory on https://www.linkedin.com/in/coryhedgepeth/

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