Around a year has passed since Open AI unleashed the generative AI chatbot ChatGPT on the world. For months afterwards, it seemed like every article about generative AI included the rabbit-out-a-hat trick of starting with a tract of text, itself written by ChatGPT. So I’m not going to do that. This is all human- apart from a few definitions below! But for digital marketers responsible for content generation, and perhaps thinking about website SEO, does it really matter whether your content comes from a bot or a brain?
Despite all the excitement around ChatGPT, including its incorporation into Microsoft’s Bing search engine, Google’s market share for search, globally, has held up incredibly well- still constituting over 80% of searches (1). In addressing the above question, we should therefore first look at what Google themselves are saying about AI generated content. In guidance published in February 2023, Google state that (2):
“Our focus [is] on the quality of content, rather than how content is produced [however] using automation—including AI—to generate content with the primary purpose of manipulating ranking in search results is a violation of our spam policies This said, it’s important to recognize that not all use of automation, including AI generation, is spam. Automation has long been used to generate helpful content.”
So, even if Google’s algorithm could distinguish content generated partly or entirely by AI from that written by a human, they are basically telling us it doesn’t matter. The same old rules apply: make sure you are delivering quality information (no matter how it is produced), and not just trying to ‘game’ the system, and you should be rewarded.
Things may not, however, be quite so straightforward. For some time now, Google has been promoting the concept of trust and authority in how they rank websites and in their guidance to website developers and writers often refer to “E-E-A-T: expertise, experience, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness”. So you may very well be able to generate a plethora of well-informed, well-written quality copy for your website using generative AI, but if it is not attributed to an authority figure, or delivered on a website known to be an authoritative source, your efforts could be wasted. In fact, if lots of unattributed (but high quality) content starts to flood the internet, it could be that ‘off-page’ SEO strategies start to become more important: having targeted, high quality back-links to your website has always been a cornerstone of Google’s search algorithm anyway.
One obvious result of the availability of ChatGPT and other generative AIs, is that there will be much more content repetition online. Lots of websites will be covering the same topics using similar text and so some commentators have pointed to the importance of “Information gain” (3). In other words, will search engines like Google start penalising ‘me-too’ content and rewarding articles bringing brand new information to the user? Time will tell in an arena that is fast becoming an AI arms race- primarily between Microsoft (owner of Bing search and major investor in OpenAI- creator of ChatGPT) and Google- who are heavily investing in AI themselves. Marketers might use Microsoft’s AI to generate content that is crawled and ranked by Google’s AI-powered search engine alogrithm….and vice versa!
In this environment the whole way in which we will extract information from the internet in the future is becoming more and more uncertain. Google’s very existence is dependent upon the revenue they derive from selling advertising on search, so if people start to use chatbots like ChatGBP in place of traditional search, the business model for the whole industry becomes up-ended. As mentioned, Microsoft have incorporated ChatGPT into their Bing search engine and Google launched their own chatbot- Bard, so in the near-to-medium term people will likely use a blended approach combining search and chatbots to find online information. Investors seem to be more confident in Microsoft’s capabilities in AI at the present time, judging by recent share price movements (4) and the company have started to monetise ChatGPT by selling a subscription model for the most up-to-date version- ChatGPT4.
So for the time being, many of the rules around generating content for your website remain unchanged: high quality, original and well researched articles written to inform users and not game the search engines will always win. Extra attention should be given to attribution and where possible source pieces from authority figures, not forgetting about off-page SEO.
Predicting what search will look like more than 18-24 months from now is more difficult: perhaps ask ChatGPT.
The below definitions are 100% the work of ChatGPT4…
“SEO”, short for “Search Engine Optimization”, is the process of enhancing a website or web page to improve its visibility and ranking in organic search results on search engines like Google. This is achieved by optimizing the website’s content and structure to make it more appealing to search engines
A “search engine algorithm” is a set of rules or a unique formula that search engines use to determine the relevance and importance of a web page. It’s the process or system used to determine search results in a search engine
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a field of computer science that aims to create systems capable of performing tasks that would normally require human intelligence.
“Generative AI” is a type of artificial intelligence that can generate new, realistic artifacts such as images, video, music, speech, text, software code and product designs. It learns from existing data to create content that reflects the characteristics of the training data
A “chatbot”, short for “chatterbot”, is a computer program designed to simulate conversation with human users, especially over the internet
“Off-site SEO” is a strategy that involves taking actions outside of your own website to improve its visibility and ranking on search engine results pages. This includes building backlinks from other websites, increasing social media engagement, and fostering partnerships with authoritative websites. The goal is to enhance the perception of your site’s expertise, trustworthiness, and relevance.
A “backlink” is an incoming hyperlink from one web page to another. Backlinks are important to SEO because they represent a “vote of confidence” from one site to another