Updated January 13, 2023: With brands like BankRate and CNET publishing content created using AI tools like ChatGPT, it has gotten more public interest recently. Danny Sullivan, Google's Search Liason, has further clarified their position on autogenerated content via Twitter.
If you follow digital marketing trends or tech news in general, you may have heard the recent buzz about ChatGPT and AI-generated content. If you're unfamiliar, ChatGPT is a chatbot developed by OpenAI that launched as a prototype in November. The launch attracted some attention because of the bot's ability to generate detailed responses across a wide scope of topics. Essentially, ChatGPT can produce content similar to what a real subject matter expert might research and publish. The prototype launch had many digital marketers thinking about the SEO implications for utilizing AI tools in their marketing mix. Can we streamline our content production processes with artificial intelligence? Has the game changed completely?
There is no simple answer to these questions, but this post will take some time to explore the grey area. In short, tools like ChatGPT can (and should) help marketers rethink their SEO content strategies. However, it's not as easy as outsourcing all of your written content needs to a robot. Well, not without a search ranking penalty from Google, at least.
AI Content is Detectable
While AI-generated content may avoid detection by the average website visitor, Google researchers are not new to this game. They've been working on algorithms that detect AI content for years, even when the text is specially designed to evade it. Without getting too technical, AI-generated text contains unique features (like Gunning-Fog Index and Flesch Index scores) which help Google's algorithms identify it as computer generated. And once it's been detected, the content is labeled as spam and devalued. Back in April 2022, Google’s John Mueller said as much by confirming that AI-generated content violates their guidelines.
“People have been automatically generating content in lots of different ways. And for us, if you’re using machine learning tools to generate your content, it’s essentially the same as if you’re just shuffling words around, or looking up synonyms, or doing the translation tricks that people used to do. Those kind of things. My suspicion is maybe the quality of content is a little bit better than the really old school tools, but for us it’s still automatically generated content, and that means for us it’s still against the Webmaster Guidelines. So we would consider that to be spam.”
-John Mueller, Senior Search Analyst / Search Relations Team Lead at Google
Furthermore, watermarking is also on the roadmap for technologies like ChatGPT. The watermarking of AI-created content is invisible and is based on a cryptography. The code can be in the form of very subtle punctuation/word choices, but anyone with the key can test a document to detect if it was generated by AI. Watermarking is also likely to become an industry standard for ethical reasons. This is similar to how the Robots.txt file became the standard for ethical crawling, giving web hosts the ability to opt specific pages out of Google crawls.
Limitations With Up-to-Date Information
AI content creation tools like ChatGPT currently utilize a database that only contains information relevant up to September 2021. This means that any information/news that has come out since then would not be factored into the tool's content output. Using an AI tool to create marketing content could have you publishing something factually inaccurate. Moreover, when speaking to trends and predictions for the future, even ChatGPT is well aware of its limitations.
AI Content Tools Have Inherent Biases
ChatGPT is 'trained' to avoid negativity (certain kinds of content) and has 'built-in biases' that skew content towards three main criteria: helpful, truthful, and harmless. While these ideals are good, they can also make subtle changes to content that should be neutral. In order to avoid this, users must grab the wheel and give explicit instruction, but it's still far from perfect. For an example of how this can manifest, check out the Raymond Carver/Raymond Chandler example featured here.
Even ChatGPT Knows You Shouldn't Use It for SEO Content Creation
If you want to hear it directly from the source, you can ask ChatGPT itself about writing SEO content. We ran a test to see if ChatGPT would override its biases by asking it to explain why you should use ChatGPT to write content for SEO purposes. The tool sticks to its principles and responds to the query by outlining how this practice is not recommended (see screenshot below).
Conversely, if you ask ChatGPT to detail why it's not a good practice to use it for your SEO content needs, the tool provides a pretty in-depth response. As seen below, ChatGPT outlines 4 key reasons for why this is not a good use of the AI capabilities.
- Lack of understanding of SEO
- Poor readability
- Plagiarism concerns
- Lack of personalization
The Best Uses of AI for SEO
So can AI be used for SEO content at all? Yes, but only indirectly. AI tools can still be immensely valuable, but for generating content, pretty much all output would need to be scrubbed so much that it's likely better just to have it written from scratch. Not to mention, we also have concerns about duplicative content coming from AI. There's not enough information available to definitively say you're not getting the same content as another user who's using ChatGPT for similar purposes.
At this point, the best way to incorporate AI tools like ChatGPT would be through the more tedious tasks of research and analysis. For instance, using AI to create an outline or content brief for writers is a good potential use case. Marketers can benefit from the vast knowledge base of the tools to help keep the content on track, but publishing it as is will have consequences. Not only are you risking Google's detection, AI-generated content can also lack quality, accuracy and helpfulness if not thoroughly reviewed first.
Using the AI tools to summarize webpages for meta descriptions is also totally acceptable. Google guidelines specifically mention this as an allowable use case, so it might be an efficient way to do some SEO clean up on any web pages that need new or updated descriptions. Playing with ChatGPT to generate article headlines and potential blog topics is also a good way to explore the benefits and limitations in a way that wont adversely effect your SEO.
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Learning More About SEO and AI Content
Finally, many are speculating that these AI tools will become paid soon. In fact, some of them already are. Not totally surprising given all of the recent buzz, but we encourage all of our clients to know what they're getting into before diving into any subscriptions.
If you found this recap of ChatGPT helpful and you're looking to up your SEO game for 2023, get in touch with us! We have a full team of subject matter experts who are well versed on AI and countless other Google guidelines and best practices. Let us help your organization implement them and improve your search engine rankings.
About the author
Joe knows what it takes to drive SEO results. He is an experienced SEO specialist who currently leads the SEO department and strategy at Marcel Digital.