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SEO industry raises concern after Google quietly published AI web stories

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Google began testing a new search feature last week that left providers of SEO services (opens in new tab) in a bit of a panic. The addition saw extra contextual links included within the featured snippet that appears at the top of search results. Interestingly, the contextual links did not direct users to the original source of the featured snippet but to other sites.

Last week, Australian SEO consultant Brodie Clark (opens in new tab) spotted that when users hovered over the dotted lines included in Google’s featured snipper, content from a third-party site was displayed – often to provide further information on lesser-known terms. He also noticed that clicking on that link redirected users to the third-party site in question, not the source of the featured snippet.

Although the new feature provides potential benefits for search users, it could also penalize publishers of web content – particularly those that provide the information that Google repurposes in its snippets.

Testing complete

Google has since confirmed that the contextual links were part of a test and the feature is due to undergo further refinement before it becomes permanent, if it does at all. The problem for SEO teams is that the links are determined by Google – not the author of the featured snippet. Those links could even redirect users toward a competitor.

There is no single person that can be blamed for the choice of links either. Google’s AI system was responsible for the web stories that were spotted last week, so publishers had basically no control over the featured snippets or contextual links that were appearing.

For now, SEO managers can rest easy, as Google appears to be deleting its AI-generated web stories. What the future holds for Google search results and online content, however, is difficult to say.

Via Search Engine Land (opens in new tab)

Barclay has been writing about technology for a decade, starting out as a freelancer with ITProPortal covering everything from London’s start-up scene to comparisons of the best cloud storage services.  After that, he spent some time as the managing editor of an online outlet focusing on cloud computing, furthering his interest in virtualization, Big Data, and the Internet of Things.