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The internet in a screenshot

As the old adage goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. In this hyperconnected world of information and content, we’ll take it a step further and suggest that a screenshot can reveal a thousand things about the internet.

Let’s take a look at this screenshot of a Business Insider article page. There’s quite a bit going on, from information about stock market indices and a subscribe button. The former is relevant to Business Insider being a business-related publication and the latter is revealing of a wider trend in internet publishing. Premium or paid-for content is another way for publishers to monetize, similar to freemium models of apps and software, which allow users to try something for free and then to upgrade at a monthly or yearly price.

The subscribe button also reveals another aspect of internet publishing, namely the growth of digital advertising, that’s led to some publishers placing a high number of ads on their article pages. By subscribing to Business Insider, much like with many other publications, one can attain an ad-free or ad-light browsing experience.

What else can we discern in that screenshot?

BUSINESS INSIDER is front and centre, following the company’s announcement that it changed its name from INSIDER, in what is referred to as a “badass, bulked-up BI” and a recommitment “to what we do best: our powerful, insightful, and unique coverage of business, tech, and innovation.”

It’s slightly ironic, then, that the article in the screenshot is about health, weight loss and protein intake. Not exactly business focused! But it’s quite revealing. For a while, online publishers have had complaints with the way big brands appear to be favoured over smaller, independent publishers in Google search results. Despite Business Insider’s self-professed commitment to business coverage, it sees value in publishing articles on other topics. Is this because they know they’ll be favoured in Google’s algorithm?

Another point is the content of the article isn’t exactly ground-breaking. Sure, losing 140 pounds in 2 years is an admirable achievement. But highlighting the importance of protein is like highlighting the importance of exercise. For years, health and fitness authors, content creators and researchers have promoted the importance of protein. High protein foods generate higher levels of satiation compared to fat and carbohydrate-rich foods. It also has the highest thermic effect of food (TEF) of all macronutrients, meaning it requires the body considerably more energy to break down and digest protein than it needs for carbohydrates and fat. All of this suggests that a higher protein diet is a powerful tool to prevent overconsumption.

So what’s the point here?

Well, it reveals another aspect about internet publishing. Fresh, new content is seen as something that’s favoured by Google’s algorithm. Do a couple of random searches and you likely won’t be presented with articles published back in 2003. As such, online publishers may feel the need to publish articles that aren’t particularly fresh and new in content, but fresh and new in terms of publishing date. This is why some publishers take articles written from ten years ago, barely change anything, and then alter the title to include “updated for 2024”. It’s a tactic that Google says doesn’t work, but among online publishers, there’s a sense that what Google says and what its algorithm does are two different things.

So, there’s a lot going on in that screenshot. A picture can reveal a lot, but maybe a screenshot can reveal even more.

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