BGR Media Founder on AI Upheaval


BGR is a media site covering consumer technology such as games and devices. Jonathan Geller launched the company in 2006 and sold it to Penske Media in 2010. He remains its president and general manager.

The site has long relied on organic search traffic, which it monetizes with advertising and affiliate commissions. But the tsunami of low-grade AI content has upended search rankings and thus BGR’s business.

He and I recently spoke. We addressed the future of search engines, the importance of branding, and more. The entire audio of our conversation is embedded below. The transcript is edited for clarity and length.

Eric Bandholz: Give us a rundown of who you are.

Jonathan Geller: I founded a site in 2006 called Boy Genius Report. We’re a tech-focused media company covering consumer gadgets, games, and entertainment. Penske Media acquired us in 2010, and we’re now known as BGR. I’ve been running it since then as president and general manager.

Penske is a collection of media brands and businesses that include Variety, Rolling Stone, Robb Report, South by Southwest, Golden Globes, New Year’s Eve Dick Clark Productions, Billboard, and more.

Working with Penske has been amazing. Selling was a huge decision, although for me it wasn’t an exit. Penske told me, “Sell your business, come on board, and let’s run this together — build it and grow it.”

My journey with Penske in the ever-changing media landscape has been incredible. I’m having fun.

Bandholz: Ecommerce is hard, but it seems media is getting slaughtered.

Geller: Everyone’s feeling it. It’s challenging for many digital publishers. BGR is digital — a website monetized through ads and affiliate revenue. Other businesses in the Penske portfolio have revenue alternatives such as events and subscriptions. Some still do print and licensing.

The last year or two has produced 10 times the change as the decade before. We’re in the age of AI and spammy, low-quality content, and it’s insanely challenging. No one has any idea what the future looks like. Google’s CEO has no idea what this will look like in two years, and neither do the CEOs of Microsoft and OpenAI. Everyone can guess, but no one knows with certainty. We’re in the interim, trying to make the best assumptions and forecasts.

Bandholz: AI content has swamped Google and other search engines.

Geller: It’s a crazy turbulent period. AI went from 0 to 100 overnight. But that’s starting to simmer down. I think search engines will normalize. We’ve all regarded Google as a preeminent technology company. The last 18 months have seen a tsunami of AI-generated content and a ton of black hat SEO. Folks are trying to take advantage of the algorithm, throwing up content. And it’s working. They’re ranking, getting traffic, and monetizing it.

Google launched its latest core algorithm update a few weeks ago. Its primary goal is “tackling spammy, low-quality content.” Hopefully it resets organic rankings in a good way.

But over the next couple of years, having a strong branded search presence will be essential for sites dependent on organic traffic. Shoppers query your company name because they want to access your site directly, which also signals to Google that your brand has authority and satisfies search intent.

Bandholz: Google is lost. Organic search rarely produces meaningful results.

Geller: Media sites see the same thing. Search results are advertising-focused. The optimist in me says that this will reset. Google is making changes. There’s a new head of search — the previous person came from the ad side. Hopefully, it means the results are more organic-centric. But, to be sure, the broad direction is pay-to-play.

Google has long been a huge traffic driver, but so have Facebook, Pinterest, Flipboard, NewsBreak, and SmartNews. You might not have heard of some of those platforms, but they offer scale and traffic. At some point, there will probably be a traffic alternative to Google. Until then, capturing visitors from organic search will be very challenging.

So from a merchant perspective, publishing content to rank organically is increasingly difficult. But authentic content that speaks to your audience remains worthwhile. It’s another reason for folks to visit your site. But, again, optimizing keywords via, say, Semrush or Ahrefs is a much harder strategy.

I see Google’s ad products growing significantly with broad keyword match, Performance Max campaigns, and getting rid of cookies. Unfortunately, we’re in a black box organically.

Bandholz: Where can folks find you?

Geller: Our site is I’m @boygenius on X and @jonathangeller on LinkedIn.

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