Today, Google finally published clear guidance about the role of AI content in how Google ranks content. In this article, I answer, in my opinion, some of the most pressing questions website owners have had about whether using AI-generated content is in line with Google’s guidelines, or whether it could potentially prevent a violation that leads to penalties or ranking declines.
Google states that AI content is not inherently against its guidelines and can be used effectively for search. However, Google’s guidance once again distinguishes between helpful content made for users that demonstrates good E-E-A-T (experience, expertise, authority, and trustworthiness), from AI content written primarily for search engines, which is unhelpful for humans. Any method of autogenerating content aimed at reaping SEO benefits – without human oversight or quality control – is and always has been against Google’s guidelines and will effectively be treated by Google as spam.
Should I integrate AI into my content creation strategy?
Ever since the launch of ChatGPT, and even leading up to it, many companies have wondered whether they should incorporate AI content generation into their content creation strategies. As with many things in SEO, it depends.
Clearly, AI can be used to create decent quality content quickly and cost-effectively, and it is able to generate useful content about a wide range of topics. ChatGPT, in particular, took the world by storm because of its ability to answer nearly any question and provide meaningful, helpful answers, as well as blocks of code in various programming languages, formulas, tabular data, translations, and much more.
However, there are shortcomings with ChatGPT and all AI content generation tools in their current form. For one, by definition, the tools are only working with information that’s already available and aren’t equipped to produce brand new, unique, expert-level insights on many topics. Especially with Google’s recent emphasis on the new E in E-E-A-T – Experience, Google is often looking for content that demonstrates the author has first-hand experience with the subject matter they are writing about. AI, by definition, cannot provide that first-hand experience.
There is also a bit of a delay with the information used to train AI content generation tools. For example, ChatGPT was trained on data ending in late 2021, although the tool does appear to be improving to reflect more recent information. Given the importance of fresh information in so many areas of SEO, this is a significant limitation for the tools to be able to produce entirely helpful content.
Lastly, although Google has formally declared that AI content is not intrinsically bad for SEO, Google also provides several important recommendations about how to use it responsibly. If Google determines that the majority of the content on a site is unhelpful or written primarily for search engines, the site can be devalued in search results, as confirmed by Google’s recent Helpful Content System. The challenge here is that Google does not provide specific examples of what helpful or unhelpful content looks like. Instead, they offer site owners a variety of questions to consider, such as:
- “Is the content primarily made to attract visits from search engines?
- Are you producing lots of content on many different topics in hopes that some of it might perform well in search results?
- Are you using extensive automation to produce content on many topics?
- Are you mainly summarizing what others have to say without adding much value?”
These are just a few of many more similar questions provided in the article, and they are crucial for site owners and content creators to review as they think about SEO.
What are some good use cases for incorporating AI into an SEO content strategy?
While it’s important to approach AI content generation with some caution and to ensure AI content is used responsibly and in a way that’s helpful for users, there are many applications where AI content can be effective and helpful, such as:
- Creating summaries of your own content
- Generating product or category descriptions
- Generating meta descriptions at scale
- A starting point for writing poems, songs, or lyrics (with tweaking, of course)
- Coming up with content ideas or editorial calendars
- Some basic keyword research tasks
- A starting point for generating structured data, Excel formulas, robots.txt commands, regular expressions, and other types of code (but always ensure the output is reviewed and validated by humans)
Below is an example of how ChatGPT can be used to create regular expressions to filter data in Google Search Console:
The types of use cases shown above provide examples of AI content tools can be used safely and in a way that adds value for users. They can also create significant efficiencies in your own workflow. Aleyda Solis published an article about 20 such use cases for ChatGPT, and a fantastic new ChatGPT plugin called AIRPM already has over 100,000 users leveraging its ability to create helpful prompts for different SEO activities.
When should AI content be avoided for SEO?
While the quality of AI content is undoubtedly mind-boggling, and the output is only becoming more accurate and helpful every day, there are still significant concerns with the information quality itself. Many articles have recently been published showcasing how ChatGPT can not only get information wrong (like simple math) but can also “hallucinate” certain information that can’t possibly be true. Furthermore, the tool doesn’t tell you when the information might be wrong. In fact, it seems to present all answers confidently, even when the information is blatantly false.
For this reason, it’s not wise to rely on ChatGPT and other AI generation tools to provide consistently reliable, factually correct information. This is even more important for YMYL content – your money, your life information that can impact the user’s health, financial security, safety or well-being. As we have consistently recommended, it is important to work with real-life experts in these areas to produce and/or review your content for accuracy. Not doing this is dangerous and can not only get you in trouble with SEO performance but potentially with users as well.
E-E-A-T considerations for AI content & ensuring content is helpful
Today, Google provided some new guidance about the role of AI content in being able to demonstrate E-E-A-T. For one, Google suggested that website owners be clear and transparent with users when the content has been generated using AI. Google stopped short of recommending that site owners list AI as an actual author name in author bylines, but they did encourage site owners to clearly reveal to their readers the extent to which AI was used in the content creation process.
Google also asked site owners to think clearly about the “Who, How, and Why” behind the content. In cases where AI or automation is used, site owners should be clear with users about why the use of AI leads to higher-quality content.
Furthermore, Google mentions that the use of authorship, author bylines and bios, transparency around the content creation, and a clear reason for why the content exists are all important considerations and tactics that can increase user experience.
If you read between the lines, Google is still emphasizing the importance of genuine expertise in the content. For many topics, Google likes to see that there are expert insights or contributions from people with real-life experience on the topic. For example, with product reviews, Google has made it abundantly clear that they want to elevate content written by writers who have legitimately tried and tested the products (even with photo and video evidence, to boot).
This is where AI will always have a disadvantage to content legitimately created by humans: AI isn’t human. It doesn’t have first-hand experience and it never will. It doesn’t have real emotions or sentiments about the content it creates. Google will likely continue to focus more on the new E in E-E-A-T – Experience – because it cannot be replicated by AI. Only real content creators can demonstrate real-life experience, and Google knows how important those insights are to providing high-quality results.
Accurately navigating AI adoption is only one part of a data-centric, performance-driven strategy, giving you the power to know more and do more. Dig deeper into E-E-A-T, or let’s talk about how to achieve more for your marketing—and your business.