Content has always been at the center of Google’s ranking algorithms. Low-quality and over-optimized content can lead to penalties for websites. Conversely, relevant, informative, and valuable pieces can propel them to the top of organic search rankings. While this rule of thumb has been around for decades, Artificial Intelligence (AI) has brought a reality check for webmasters and creators.
Suddenly, there’s a new way to create organic content for websites, blog posts, social media, and whitepapers… all within a matter of minutes.
The initial AI rush seemed to end the roles of content marketers. As the dust settles, however, things don’t appear as drastic as they initially did.
The big question at this point is whether Google can recognize AI content and penalize websites for it.
Before answering this question, let’s dig a little deeper into AI content and explore how it has disrupted the digital landscape.
Where Everything Starts: What Is AI Content?
The launch of ChatGPT in November 2022 was a game-changer for online marketers. The platform gained millions of users at a dizzying rate and showed an immense amount of power from the outset. In fact, a recent survey found that almost half of all business leaders are considering how to integrate AI into their overarching business operations.
One of the key uses of AI tools for businesses is creating content for websites, long-form blogs, social media posts, and other marketing materials. Besides quickly churning out content, AI tools can also generate images and even flesh out details for new business ideas. These tools are great from a marketing perspective, but the content they generate is far from perfect and lacks the psychological perspectives that only a real live human being is able to encapsulate.
Google’s Guidelines on AI-Generated Content
Since content has always been the cornerstone of Google’s algorithms, the search engine was quick to rework its guidelines after AI began to spread like wildfire. According to the latest Webmaster Guidelines, Google may penalize auto-generated content if it was written with the intent to manipulate search rankings, which in turn, would provide a poor end-user experience.
Some examples of AI content that could face potential penalties in the not-so-distant future include articles and web copy that:
- Contains search keywords but doesn’t make sense to the reader
- Is translated by an AI tool and published without human review
- Is curated from search results and/or scraping feeds
- Is generated through automated processes or obfuscation techniques
- Is stitched from different web pages, but doesn’t provide sufficient value
Can Google Detect AI Content?
OK, so now that we’ve covered the foundational basics of AI content, let’s try to answer the million-dollar question of the day:
Can Google tell the difference between machine-written content and content written by an actual person?
Unfortunately, at least as of the time this article was written (July 2023), there is no straightforward yes or no answer to this question.
This is a complex topic to try and tackle since content generated by the previous natural language generation (NLG) models (a software process that produces natural language using structured and unstructured data) is more likely to be labeled as AI content than pieces generated by more current - and advanced - AI tools. The latest tool versions, such as GPT-4, are acclaimed for their resemblance to human behavior.
Before you get too far ahead of yourself, and think that AI content writing tools are the holy grail of your content marketing efforts moving forward, be forewarned: Google's bots will likely keep pace with AI tools, even as they improve over time. You cannot expect to delude them for the long haul because they will surely detect shortcuts sooner or later.
How to Create Google-Friendly Content
There are no shortcuts to creating Google-friendly content, regardless of whether you use AI tools or write everything yourself. At the end of the day, you need to produce relevant, informative, and useful content that offers trustworthy information to users.
Here are the qualities Google looks for when it comes to determining content quality and relevance.
E-E-A-T (Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness)
- Experience refers to first-hand experiences such as reviews, guides, and recipes.
- Expertise includes anything that showcases credibility, such as an “About Us” page and blog posts.
- Authoritativeness refers to reputation and is demonstrated by how market experts and industry influencers speak about a particular company, product, and/or service.
- Trustworthiness is determined by the presence of factually accurate content and citations from trusted sources.
YMYL (Your Money or Your Life)
In certain niches, Google prioritizes content impacting the personal finances, health, safety, and happiness of the end reader. This applies to web pages and websites in industries such as:
- Finance, banking, investing, insurance, and loans
- Health, wellness, medicine, and safety
- Shopping and e-commerce
- Politics, civics, law, and government
- News and current events
AI tools can't provide valuable insights on Your Money or Your Life (YMYL) topics, since the content produced won't match user expectations.
At the end of the day, AI simply cannot demonstrate experience, expertise, authority, or trustworthiness. And using them to create content could potentially result in a penalty that affects the ranking of the website down the road.
Hitting the Sweet Spot with AI Content
Generating content with AI tools is an attractive proposition for marketers and business owners as it can save a tremendous amount of time and money.
It’s a balancing act, however, since you need to identify what Google’s“sweet spot” is in terms of how the algorithms currently work so that you are “playing nicely in the sandbox.”
Here are a few tips that should help:
- Know when and where to use AI for content creation. Safe bets are for generating ideas, conducting research, and building outlines, as well as translations and editing.
- Prioritize user experience by focusing on content quality, the flow of information, and valuable statistics.
- Always proofread and edit content before posting it. Give everything a once-over so that there’s the element of human touch to any AI-generated content you plan on publishing. Also, review the factual accuracy of the content.
- Ensure that content is more than just a bunch of search keywords: it must make sense to the end reader. Google’s algorithms are far too advanced for black-hat SEO strategies like keyword stuffing.
- Consider generating AI content in phases, such as writing sections or generating 100-word blocks at a time, as opposed to creating everything all at once. Think of it like a jigsaw puzzle: when you join pieces to create a complete picture, the result is organic and realistic. Search engines can hardly find patterns resonating with AI content.
Google’s ranking algorithms follow a continuous improvement approach, as the search engine constantly implements measures to counter the lack of authenticity, usability, and value in content. For this reason, marketers need to track changes and realign their content strategy every time the algorithm changes.
In a nutshell, if you want to use AI to generate content, you need to be responsible. Remember that AI tools are good assistants, but bad masters.
Capturing the Essence
AI writing tools can significantly enhance your content creation process, from ideation and research to a polished end deliverable that even the most advanced copywriters would be in awe of.
But you cannot get complacent or lazy simply because you have a tool that is doing a lot of the heavy lifting for you. You must use AI responsibly if you plan on staying on the up-and-up with Google’s algorithm.
At the end of the day, the safest way to use AI content is as an enhancement, as opposed to a total replacement of skilled copywriters and content writers.
By Tabitha Jean Naylor
Keywords: AI, AR/VR, Emerging Technology