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Feb. 20, 2024, 2:49 p.m.
LINK:  ➚   |   Posted by: Laura Hazard Owen   |   February 20, 2024

If you’re looking to buy an air purifier or a dehumidifier, you could do worse than to start with HouseFresh, an ad-free independent review site that buys air cleaning products with its own money, tests them itself (the process involves incense sticks), recommends the ones it likes, and makes money from affiliate revenue.

I’d never heard of HouseFresh until I read “How Google is killing independent sites like ours,” a post its managing editor Gisele Navarro and founder and senior writer Danny Ashton published Monday on its blog. But Navarro and Ashton make a convincing case — with plenty of screenshots — that “big media publishers are inundating the web with subpar product recommendations you can’t trust” in pursuit of easy affiliate revenue and using a “cookie-cutter system” to trick Google into prioritizing their pages.

Given that HouseFresh conducts its own reviews and has its own editorial staff, though, I might have expected to see it in at least the top handful of Google results. Nope — for me, at least, it was result #60, and I only saw it because I was looking. Far above it were results from sites like Better Homes & Gardens, Good Housekeeping, Real Simple, People, Forbes, The Spruce, and Healthline.

Often, these sites don’t test the products themselves, relying instead on pre-created content like Amazon customer reviews (many, many of which are fake in the first place). Publishers like Dotdash Meredith — which owns Better Homes & Gardens, People, Real Simple, and The Spruce, among others — sometimes share product reviews, images, and quotes from the same experts across properties. (The Spruce, November 21, 2023: “The 11 Best Air Purifiers of 2024, Tested and Reviewed.” People, December 13, 2023: “The 16 Best Air Purifiers of 2024, Tested and Reviewed.” Better Homes & Gardens, January 26, 2024: “We Tested 67 of the Best Air Purifiers — These 10 Are the Most Effective Against Dust, Allergens, and Smoke.” Real Simple, February 12, 2024: “The 13 Best Air Purifiers of 2024, Tested and Reviewed.”)

I have no ties or loyalty to HouseFresh, a site that, again, I had not heard of until today. (When I bought room air purifiers for my house last year, I used Wirecutter’s recommendation — which also happened to be Google’s #1 result for “best air purifier reviews.”) And in the annals of saddest-things-in-media, “small product review publishers whose sole business model is affiliate revenue are losing out” doesn’t top my list. But Navarro and Ashton’s post on what’s happening behind the SEO scenes as big publishers scramble to replace ad revenue with, well, anything is worth a read.

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