Media News

Business Insider’s Peng on how AI and Google have changed web traffic

June 7, 2024

Posted by Chris Roush

Barbara Peng

Business Insider CEO Barbara Peng sent out the following to the staff on Friday:

The last few years have been a punishing time for the media industry. And although it hasn’t been easy, we have continued to innovate to best serve our audience, many thanks to the resilience and flexibility of our team. I am enormously grateful to all of you, and I am writing today to give you an update on the media landscape and our continued path ahead.

As many of you know, traffic from Google has been especially volatile across the publishing landscape over the last month.

Up until now Google has played the “helpful librarian” role, organizing and prioritizing content for users in rank order. There has been an understanding between Google and publishers that if we’re helpful to their audience, they rank us highly and send us traffic. In this way we have been compensated for our work.

However, the way in which people find and access information is changing rapidly. ChatGPT is starting to gain ground on Google’s long-standing dominance, reaching 180M users in a remarkably short amount of time. To its credit, Google is now trying to disrupt itself by experimenting with its own search generative experience (SGE), which will also accelerate the disruption happening on a macro level. But when our content is summarized and served in this way, we don’t make any money to support our journalism.

One of the many reasons I am so proud of our deal with OpenAI is that it set the precedent that in an SGE experience we must be compensated for the use of our work. We are actively working to create mutually beneficial partnerships with Google and other companies in this space.

We have also known for some time that we cannot rely on external referrals as a significant driver of traffic. We must build long-term, deep relationships with our readers that compel them to come back to us, becoming a daily routine and go-to destination.

Our strategy announced last fall was developed with this in mind. Our return to Business Insider, focus on habitual engagement, and center of gravity around business, tech, and innovation will not only allow us to best serve our audience, but will also lessen the impact of shifts in distribution outside our control and build the most enduring Business Insider.

The great news is that we are already seeing positive results:

    • We’ve been rolling out goals around our new North Star metric (2+ days a week on site), and we’re now ahead on some of our engagement KPIs.
    • Our new AI-powered smart paywall is driving 75% more subscriptions than our legacy hard paywall.
    • The return to a refreshed Business Insider brand (and domain) has been good for business. We are seeing positive momentum in premium advertising and commerce, including the biggest deals in the history of our company.

We’re on track financially, but to be clear, the path ahead will be difficult. It will require hard work and a relentless focus on our strategy. At Business Insider, one of our greatest strengths is our metabolism for change — we embrace it and move faster than any other publication out there. We are prepared, have exactly the right strategy, and are in the best possible position to make this happen.

Thank you all again. Every day I am grateful to work with you all and be part of such an incredible team — the best in the business.


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