May 24, 2023

The Impact of AI-Generated Content on SEO: Does it Help or Hurt?

As a brand manager or a business owner, you can’t deny that search engines and organic traffic are important aspects of any marketing strategy. With 3.5 billion searches (Or 8.5 billion) on Google every day, it’s hard to ignore the role that SEO (search engine optimization) plays in getting your website to the first page of Google search. 

But the introduction of AI has shifted this digital paradigm, with more than a third of marketers growing concerned about the impact of this new technology. Questions about SEO have grown louder:

  • How will AI affect the ranking of our content? 
  • Do we need a different strategy? 
  • Can we compete with AI content? 
  • Can Google detect AI-generated content? 
  • Do we need to use AI writing tools? 
  • Is SEO still a viable metric for our business to improve visibility?

All valid questions and in need of valid answers.

Should you be using AI to generate SEO content?

Well, most companies (including Google) would want you to. But tread carefully.

One SEO marketer saw a drop in their Search Engine Results Page (SERP) ranking, across articles that were written by AI and those written by AI but modified by humans. This was an outcome of Google’s 2022 search engine updates against spam - In April 2022 Google stated that AI-generated content was against guidelines, where the webspam team “would see it as spam.” However, this was before ChatGPT and Google’s own Bard AI.

The graph shows the comparison of the traffic and ranking changes affected by the Google Spam Update for the AI-generated content that was modified by the human versus the content that was not.
SEO traffic and rankings: Google Spam update effect on AI-generated content, source

Google came out with a guidance in February 2023 on AI-generated content, where they would “reward high-quality content however it is produced”. This stays true to Google’s intention of providing relevant and reliable content to their readers, allowing the use of AI tools as long as they create helpful content. Reading the guidance, one can conclude that Google is not closed to the idea of AI content, but strictly down-ranks content that is “considered” spam.

Danny Sullivan's Tweet Image

The parameters for search engine rankings also validate this.

  • Relevance – How relevant is this content to the reader? Search engines check for intent, brand, depth of information, and keywords, to provide exactly what the readers are searching for. 
  • Quality – Evident to any marketer or founder, everybody searches for quality and accuracy. This includes structure, readability, grammar, and originality. 
  • EEATGoogle ranks based on Expertise, Experience, Authority, and Trustworthiness. This is fundamental in creating any SEO content. 
  • Links – External and internal linking is a form of validation used by search engines to assign a value to your website. Internal linking also shows how long a reader spends on your website, another signifier of quality and relevance. 
  • On-page SEO and Off-page SEO – This covers a whole gamut of requirements, including website information, metadata, title tags, header tags, and alt-text. It also includes social signals from other channels to showcase relevancy.

These are just a few of over 200 factors that are possibly used by Google to rank pages, but it all circles back to content quality.

What is the quality of AI-generated content?

It entirely depends on your prompts, as seen in the examples below.

This image shows the ChatGPT response to a prompt to generate a LinkedIn caption for an education company.
A ChatGPT response for a LinkedIn caption

This image shows the ChatGPT response to a prompt which has more details to generate a LinkedIn caption for an education company, and therefore was able to provide 5 different options that are closer to the requirement.
A detailed response for a more specific prompt

As “quality” can become a subjective metric, you should draw your own (many) inferences from these examples. But it also showcases the differences and the similarities in content generation through unique prompts.

Developers are even hiring prompt writers to refine this process and make it more perceptive, paying upwards of $350k in salaries.

The transformation brought on by Large Language Models (LLM) like ChatGPT, is the method of interaction. A conversational and iterative structure allows for constant refinement of your generated content. You can ask for options that have a different tonality and structure, possibly helping you optimize SEO for AI-generated content.

The dark side of AI-generated content

With any good, comes the bad. Although AI has taken the world by storm, key problems exist with using AI-generated content for marketing. Look at the ranking factors and a trend emerges to dissuade you from using AI-written content.

  1. Copyright and legal – There are major concerns around the issue of copyright for AI-generated content. As these platforms have sourced the information from external sources for training, assigning copyright claims can become murky territory. Brands and companies can even become vulnerable to existing and retroactive legal proceedings
  2. Duplicate content – Humans tend to use similar vocabulary, which can filter into their prompts. The AI generator could create duplicate and similar content, which would go against the search engine guidelines. This can directly impact your SEO ranking. 
  3. Low-quality content – Use AI platforms long enough and you’ll start to notice a generic quality in the responses, derived from weak data points. We’ve not reached Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) levels yet and human nuance can be lost in the quality of content. This can create inadequate content that can be another factor in downgrading your SERP ranking. 
  4. Hallucinations – AI is called artificial for a reason and can be susceptible to the fabrication and creation of ghost data. This information does not exist but has been created by the AI platform. Without factual accuracy, your content is liable for misinformation and falsehoods.
  5. Lack of personalization – We should be using AI to create more personalized content for consumers, but might end up generating more generalized and impersonal experiences. AI does not know your brand voice nor your intended impact, so it can’t generate high engagement levels. The lack of a unique brand voice can also impact your SERP ranking.
A pie chart of the survey that was conducted on 1000 US Digital Marketers to vote on what they think is the biggest risks of using AI tools in Marketing
Survey results: What are the biggest risks of using AI tools in Marketing, source

How can you mitigate the risks and still use AI content?

Platforms are already figuring out how to detect AI-generated content and could possibly downgrade content not created by their own tools. The various pitfalls of this content-creation process might persuade you to skip AI generators altogether. However, that is possibly a regressive step, as AI tools are here to stay - Learn to be smarter with your content strategy instead.

  • Use AI to complement, not replace human writers – AI writing can generate quick and scalable content, but it cannot yet replace the unique perspective and voice of a human writer. Allow writers to use this tool to hasten their process and give creative outputs, which will also help reduce the chances of duplicate content. AI platforms can provide outlines, structure, initial paragraphs, and simplified information. 
  • Do your own research – Even if you use AI to write your first draft, it’s important not to rely on AI platforms for research. You’ll often find broken links and invalidated data, which reduces the trust factor in your content. Conduct your own in-depth research.

This is an example prompt on using ChatGPT to generate content and conduct research for you.
ChatGPT can assist in conducting research and creating content

Example of the broken link shared by the ChatGPT in the prompt response before
Example of the broken link shared by ChatGPT in the response before

Example of the broken link shared by the ChatGPT in the prompt response before
Example of the broken link shared by ChatGPT in the response before

  • SEO keywords and headlines – These LLMs can be used to generate concepts for headlines, keywords, hashtags, tags, and headers, with marketers using this as a starting point for their content creation process. However, it should be validated through Google keywords, Ahrefs, or Semrush
  • Use it for specific tasks – Start automating smaller tasks rather than deferring everything to technology. Idea generation, simplifying complex concepts, product descriptions, or even content schedule planning - You should look at AI as a support tool.
  • Social Media – Although there is a lack of clarity on how AI-generated content will fare on social media, you can use it for creative thought starters and first-draft captions. Publishing, after making some tweaks, can allow you to post more content and gain brand engagement. 
  • Paraphrasing tools - You can overcome the machine-sounding nature of your content with paraphrasing tools. These take your text and rewrite them into more natural-sounding sentences - More like a human. These can also be used to break down complicated subjects into easy-to-digest words.

Will search engines exist in the future?

We can continue to debate the use of AI writing tools for SEO, but the larger question burns brighter on the future of search engines altogether. 

The release of ChatGPT was seen as an existential moment for Google search, with internal communication indicating the same. As a large amount of their revenue comes from search, Google weighed their options – Either introduce their own AI model called Bard or just hope that these platforms won’t catch on. 

As we can see with the rollout of Bard, they chose the former. But it still begs the question of how AI might integrate with search and allow businesses to utilize SEO. Microsoft has done that with Bing but it’s not an intuitive process at the moment. All we can do is wait and watch.

Until then, use the steps specified above to create original and engaging content, albeit with a little help from our AI friends.

Tell us what your experiences have been with SEO and AI. Have you experimented and seen results? Let us know by writing a mail to us.

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