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The Great Printer Satire of 2023

And what it reveals about AI-driven SEO

Happy “Friday Junior,” Collaborators!

Welcome back! Since we’re all digging out from the long weekend (and/or Black Friday/Cyber Monday), we’re keeping things light this week with an AI satire.

There are only 4 weeks until the next long weekend. You’ve got this.


The serious takeaways from a delightful satire in this email were entirely written by humans.

A “Fine” Printer Meets AI-Driven SEO

The start of the review is promising. At least, it promises something very different to a typical product review.

“Here’s the best printer in 2023: the Brother laser printer that everyone has. Stop thinking about it and just buy one. It will be fine!”

The review appeared on The Verge, a technology-focused media outlet, in March. The company has made a name in the AI space with incisive reporting on misuses of the technology.

After a few irreverent sentences about Editor-in-Chief Nilay Patel’s experience with printers, the review takes an unexpected turn:

"And here’s 275 words about printers I asked ChatGPT to write so this post ranks in search because Google thinks you have to pad out articles in order to demonstrate “authority," but I am telling you to just buy whatever Brother laser printer is on sale and never think about printers again."

The Space: Affiliate Marketing

To understand why The Verge published this review, we need to talk about affiliate marketing.

If you have ever searched for “best [product]” in Google, you have seen affiliate content. As major publishers’ ad revenue has declined, an increasing number are turning to affiliate. 31% of publishers say that affiliate marketing is a top revenue source.

The business model is simple. Publishers create web pages recommending specific products (“The 20 Best Printers of 2023”). The pages are designed to rank in search results for keywords like “best printer.” The publishers get a cut of the revenue from products their readers purchase.

Affiliate pages are designed to maximize search rankings and click-through rates, not to inspire or entertain.

Due to the ways Google ranks content, affiliate articles typically include content that people will never actually read. Google rewards long-form content with higher rankings, because the search engine wants to send users to a single, “comprehensive” page that answers every question the visitor could possibly have.

Affiliate pages are often long, formulaic, and boring, especially for the people writing them. As a result, many publishers are turning to AI to create affiliate content.

The Solution: Comedy

After publishing several articles about the problems with using AI for SEO bait, the team at The Verge created their own AI SEO bait review.

They weren’t subtle about it.

According to the article, Patel wrote a personal introduction and then used ChatGPT to create copy on how to find the best printer for you. He didn’t edit the copy. He didn’t even proofread it.

The article’s “AI content” is 100% AI created, according to Copyleaks. (We’ll talk about issues with AI checkers in a later issue).

“The web is about to be overrun with AI-generated content explicitly designed to game the algorithms,” Patel told SearchEngineLand. “Me doing this is the least of Google’s problems. At least I’m being honest.”

The Results

SearchEngineLand estimates that The Verge’s printer review gets 8 million visits per month. While the post is satirical, the page’s affiliate links (and any associated earnings) are very real.

Even though the article directly tells Google that it is trying to game the E-EAT rankings with AI, it still ranks in the top 12 results months after it was published.

The Verge’s satirical article ranks among reviews from top publishers.

The Verge’s satirical article ranks among reviews from top publishers in organic Google results.

When the page was first published, it outranked more helpful, human-written content at publications like the New York Times.

The results don’t mean that AI is a magic bullet. Instead, they show that ranking in search is about more than content. The review has nearly 4,000 backlinks, and The Verge itself has 22M backlinks and a domain authority of 92. Its content will rank above other publishers, whether it is written by people or AI.

The Takeaways

Whether you’re at a multinational brand or a one-person startup, The Verge’s success offers a few key lessons for your marketing:

Do the opposite of what everyone else is doing. 

This is the single most important lesson.

While everyone else was writing hundreds of cookie-cutter reviews with AI, The Verge created one hilarious, viral review.

That single printer review accumulated nearly 4,000 backlinks—and 88% of them are dofollow.

Multiple outlets covered the review, and marketing influencers shared it. The earned coverage brought more visitors to The Verge’s site (and its affiliate links), and created a backlink profile that should help the article rank in search for months or years to come.

Authenticity builds trust.

Consumers are beginning to get wise to affiliate and influencer marketing. They know that the publications that recommend products to them often get something in return.

The pay-to-play affiliate model can erode customer trust.

In contrast, The Verge’s review is refreshing. It directly names the company’s affiliate relationship, and clearly highlights affiliate links. It describes the printer as “fine” instead of using the “life-changing” hyperbole of other affiliate reviews. Through transparency and humor, The Verge’s editor-in-chief makes a compelling case for users to buy the specific printer.

Calling out the affiliate relationship and honestly describing the product makes us trust the writer more—and may even convince us to buy.

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