The Niche Media Publishing Newsletter: 23 January 2024

Google’s SPAM Problem, Nightshade for AI, Programmatic Ads End Times, Niche Media Finds.

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Google’s SPAM Problem, Nightshade for AI, Programmatic Ads End Times, Niche Media Finds.

Welcome to this week's issue of the Niche Media Publishing Newsletter. I’ll get right into it.

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Alright, let’s get into the topics for this week.

Google’s Losing Campaign Against Spam

I agree with Lily here that this article by Mark Willams-Cook is one of the best SEO articles I’ve read in a bit:

My Take: There are so many interesting nuggets buried in this article that it’s worth a callout here.

I’ve seen examples that lead to the conclusion Google is proficient at understanding which pages are “good” and are “bad” from a technical perspective, but relatively ineffective at decerning good content from great content.

Mark Willams-Cook

As anyone who has tested AI content generators can attest, AI is great at creating content that passes the basic sniff test. This raises the bar for Google, which gets to the next point.

Google admits: it doesn’t really UNDERSTAND content.

From an internal “all hands” Google SEO meeting.

Instead, Google uses what user signals they have to validate their “first test” of new content:

If you’ve been listening closely to the people who know, Google has been fairly transparent that it uses click data to rank content.

Mark Willams-Cook

This is an important nuance that many publishers miss when it comes to Google. But this IS something I’ve heard before.

What I wasn’t considering - but nests with last weeks edition on the “giant list of changes” to come - is that the latest “Helpful Content Update” may be a stopgap for the next evolution of Google’s algo, focused on better UNDERSTANDING content quality.

Herein lies the problem: the speed at which this content is being created with generative AI means there is an unending queue of sites waiting for Google’s initial evaluation.

Mark Willams-Cook

So this might be WHY Reddit and other UGC sites are ranking highly right now. They are trust proxies. Reddit famously has overzealous moderators, at least on some subreddits.

My conspiracy theory is that UGC sites, with a few notable exceptions, are some of the least likely places to find mass-produced AI content, because much of the content published on UGC sites is moderated. 

While they may not be “perfect” search results, the overall satisfaction of trawling through some raw UGC may be higher than Google consistently ranking whatever ChatGPT last vomited onto the web.

The focus on UGC may be a temporary fix to boost quality; Google can’t tackle AI spam fast enough.

Mark Willams-Cook

AI “Nightshade” But for Content?

There's a cat and mouse game developing with AI and Glenn has this interesting new development in the creative art genre:

My Take: This is one way creators are “fighting back” against AI scrappers. I’m left wondering if there’s a similar lane for content creators to protect their written work.

If one thing is clear, the arms race is on.


Quality content should speak for itself, but it’s really difficult to assess AI content at scale without the help of AI detectors.

I’ve known Jon Gilham (the founder) for years and personally have seen adapt and flourish as the leading AI detection tool in content. It’s the most accurate tool in it’s class.

Because of the volume of content we publish, a tool like acts as a sort of metal detector for AI generated content. It picks up on where our editorial teams need to lean in and engage.

If you haven’t given it a try, it’s definitely worth checking out here.

End Times for Programmatic Advertising?

I’ve recently started removing programmatic ads from some of our portfolio blogs and focusing mostly on affiliate (performance) content and contextual brand placements.

This isn’t because I think ads cannibalize affiliate (minimal effects, if any in my testing).

Honestly, programmatic ads are the part I hate most about our own brands.

A necessary (and addictive) revenue stream that incrementally monetizes every single user is hard to turn down. But it’s just not a great user experience.

This, combined with the first-party data threats, gives it two strikes.

Now, reflecting more on Google’s use of user signals, I’m even more bearish on programmatic long-term.

I also happen to be BULLISH on performance marketing as a more aligning and durable monetization trend. I even started a dedicated newsletter over on Substack.

I’m not sure what the exact takeaway is, other than buyer beware on majority programmatic-based content business. If this is you already, make moves to climb the value chain!

Need Help Building a Content Team?

Regardless of what traffic platform you want to try next, scaling content production with content teams is one of the key breakthroughs that enabled Venture 4th Media to scale content.

So much so that we launched a service to help other businesses to do this. It's not an agency model (I dislike agencies) and once we find your team, you don't owe us a thing.

Niche Media Finds This Week

here’s some niche media businesses I’ve found this week that piqued my interest:

  • Audio Advice: This appears to be a service chain, but also ranking for 50,000+ keywords in Google for audio terms and buying guides. A brilliant strategy given their NATIONAL reach. I’ve seen so many local businesses try this strategy, but it’s largely meaningless because only a miniscule percentage of visitors operate in their local market.

  • EmailToolTester: I’ve followed this VERY niche media brand for some time. It boasts “only” 40k monthly readers, BUT this is an incredibly lucrative space and I’d bet they are doing at least $200k/month, given the high RPMs of this type of traffic. Ideation: What other micro focused B2B market could be targeted similarly?

I’m Speaking at Aspiring Entrepreneurs (Virtual)

You are invited!

I don’t typically do public engagements, mostly because I’d rather be “operating”. But I will be speaking at Aspiring Entrepreneurs with my friend Sophie Howard.

Topics will revolve around building and acquiring niche media as a lifestyle business to achieve financial freedom. It’s free, so sign up if this sounds interesting.

Other Newsletters Worth Following

Here are some other publications I co-sign.

A fun “play by play” journey of a searcher breaking down potential deals. Despite the billing, not all of the deals are in the “home service” category, some good digital ones as well.

Owned and Operated Weekly InsightsJoin thousands of readers who are learning to grow their Home Service business. Each week we break down marketing, recruitment, and more! This 5-minute weekly read is packed with actionable growth ...

If you leverage affiliate relationships in your media business, Affiliate Insider is where I share my in-the-field experience.

Our COO (Amy), publishes an incredibly detailed and thoughtful newsletter for content marketers here:

Content Forward: Thoughts from the Front LinesWeekly deep dives & insights from a real operator, for creators seeking an edge. New insights every Friday evening!

We also cover the latest MarTech trends and deep dives with a monthly (soon to be weekly) newsletter for B2B operators:

MarTech ToolkitDiscover & Implement marketing tech in your business.

OK, that's it for this week...

Please do reply to this email with any feedback or suggestions.