The Super Bowl starts at 6:30 p.m. Eastern on Sunday when the Kansas City Chiefs play the San Francisco 49ers. CBS will broadcast the event, which will be played at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, Nevada. Taylor Swift will probably be there.
Which you know, right? Or you don’t care?
Doesn’t matter: Publishers around the world are putting up versions of this story, anyway — with the same keyword-laden text.
They’ve been doing it for years. They’ve been doing it for so long that I made fun of it way back in 2015, when I wrote the same lede for a meta-story about the same thing and begged us — people who make content online — to stop doing it for chrissake.
And yet, it’s still happening.
As I’m typing this, NBC is currently Google’s top-ranked search result for “What time is the Super Bowl,” followed by CBS, which — again — is actually broadcasting the event. Louisville, Kentucky’s Courier-Journal is doing one, too. So is Chiff, a site I’ve never heard of and can’t identify even after some searching. As is The Pioneer Woman, a pretty good recipe site owned by Hearst.
And if you thought the mighty New York Times, which continues to thrive as its competitors wither, was above this kind of thing? You’d be wrong.
And let’s be clear: All of them are doing this for marginal benefit. Because when you type “What time is the Super Bowl” into Google, the very first thing you see is a box from Google, which answers the question and means that any of the versions the publishers have ginned up is all-but-pointless.
And yes: One reason that publishers do these things is because “What time is the Super Bowl?” is a query many people have. And if some of them type that into Google and, for some reason, scroll down below Google’s owned-and-operated answer, maybe they’ll get a click? And some clicks are still better than no clicks, and maybe someone who clicked on The Pioneer Woman will end up poking around the site and finding their Marry Me Chicken recipe. Which, again: Pretty good!
There’s also an overall benefit to publishers to getting their stuff highly ranked on this kind of search, search experts say, because if Google has ranked you highly for one search result, it may be more likely to boost you for another.
But man. This stuff is so depressing. It’s such a bummer to think about human beings typing this stuff.
(For the record, I’m not naive about accepting what consumers really want from newspapers and other publications. A long time ago, I was a copyboy for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, and my two most important jobs there were 1) placing dinner orders for editors and fetching them in a company-owned car and 2) getting the winning lottery numbers from a newswire and putting them into the paper’s publishing system. If I screwed up the lottery numbers, I was told quite clearly, I’d be done working there.)
The only thing that’s really going to make this go away is if people stop using Google for search and just rely on AI engines like ChatGPT to fetch their answers. (By the way: If you are seeing a bulleted summary on top of this story? AI wrote those.) And in the meantime, you can certainly expect publishers to use AI to create this stuff because why pay someone to make this work at all?
Although, hilariously, the fact that the free version of ChatGPT is only trained on old data means that, for the moment, it can’t fully answer the question, although it’s pretty darn close:
So we’re probably going to pay someone, somewhere, to make this thing next year. But someone else can write the post complaining about it. I’m done.