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In the world of search engine optimisation (SEO)content is king. So when the process of generating said content transforms almost overnight, it’s critical for your business to understand what effect that might have on your ability to rank on the search engine results page (SERP), to continue attracting those all important organic visitors to your site.

When ChatGPT was released to the public in November 2022, it began as a novelty (albeit a very impressive one). But users soon began to understand the momentous shift that the tool represented – its ability to generate cohesive, accurate, unique and natural-sounding text was unlike anything anyone had seen before, and marketing minds were soon spinning with the potential consequences of the tech.

But the industry was holding its breath for a single announcement that would define the use of AI or automation to generate content: whether Google would accept it.

On 8 February 2023, we found out exactly that, when the company announced that it would be “rewarding high quality content, however it is produced.”

Why Google’s view on AI content is important

Holding a market share of well over 90%, Google is the undisputed king of search engines. The most common search on Bing, the second largest, is “Google”, a fact that backs up the company’s claim that people are forced to use Bing, but choose to use Google.

The consequence of this monopoly is that website owners and digital marketing teams need to play by Google’s rules in order to rank highly on the SERP for the most relevant terms, and attract more visitors.

Google keeps the specifics of its algorithm – the recipe for success – a closely guarded secret, and it’s only through trial and error that website owners begin to understand the SEO strategies that work and those that don’t. From time to time the company does offer general advice, however, such as how it looks for content that demonstrates what it calls E-E-A-T: expertise, experience, authoritativeness and trustworthiness.

Google’s announcement on AI writing tools was so hotly anticipated because it would define the creation of searchable content – web copy, landing pages, blogs, guides and more – for every website on earth. Its market dominance means that as it stands, Google’s view is the one that matters.

If Google says you can use AI to create content, you can use AI to create content. If Google says that it will downrank automatically generated content from AI tools, websites will understandably be hesitant to, and the content creation process will remain largely the same as it has been, at least for now.

Google: We’re rewarding high-quality content

On 8 February 2023, four months after the release of ChatGPT, the announcement finally came. Here’s what Google had to say:

At Google, we’ve long believed in the power of AI to transform the ability to deliver helpful information.

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, such as sports scores, weather forecasts and transcripts. AI has the ability to power new levels of expression and creativity, and to serve as a critical tool to help people create great content for the web.

However content is produced, those seeking success in Google Search should be looking to produce original, high-quality, people-first content demonstrating qualities E-E-A-T. Evaluating your content in this way, whether you’re using AI generated content or not, will help you stay on course with what our systems seek to reward.

In short, Google doesn’t particularly care how content is produced, as long as it delivers value to Google users.

In many ways the instruction is open to interpretation – a tool like ChatGPT simply regurgitates information it has ingested in an organic way. Whether this regurgitation demonstrates the qualities of E-E-A-T is highly questionable, which is why most digital marketers and content creators see ChatGPT not as a tool to replace the human, but a tool to enhance the human.

ChatGPT is fantastic for creating outlines for web pages and articles. It can offer inspiration on everything from catchy headlines to how to word specific paragraphs. It can even write entire articles, but a human should always be on hand to ensure that the requisite expertise, experience, authoritativeness and trustworthiness is inserted into the text. ChatGPT didn’t write a word of the article you’re reading right now, but it certainly could’ve.

We humans, with our ability to collect and share unique experiences, still have a place at the heart of the content creation process. Artificial intelligence is getting better at replicating humans, but in reality that’s all ChatGPT content currently is: a very convincing replication.

Can Google detect AI-generated content?

The next question is obvious: does Google know when I’m using AI? The short answer: it will probably be able to identify AI-writing soon, if it doesn’t already.

Over the years Google has used a few techniques to identify automatically generated text, including methods to identify everything from keyword stuffing to duplicate content. As a convincing and entirely unique facsimile of human writing, AI-generated content seems as though it would be a particularly difficult thing to identify.

But apparently it can be done.

When ChatGPT first dropped, enterprising students around the globe instantly saw an opportunity. They began using the tool to write all manner of exams and essays, a task for which it proved particularly effective, which left schools and universities at a loss as to how to deal with an avalanche of counterfeit work.

Under pressure to respond, on 31 January 2023 OpenAI, the organisation behind ChatGPT, released a tool that it said could distinguish between text written by humans and artificial intelligence (although it said that the results are not fully reliable and there are a number of other limitations).

An arms race between creation and detection is likely to follow. AI content identifiers will continue to improve, but so will AI writing tools, which may mean that identifiers will always be a step behind. Nevertheless, identifying automatically generated text looks like it is possible, and what search engines choose to do with this information is yet to be seen.

The unknowns of using AI-generated content

Speaking of things that are yet to be seen, it’s important to realise that we find ourselves at the very beginning of this particular journey. Where things go from here is anyone’s guess, but a few early events have hinted at the direction in which the likes of OpenAI and Google plan to take things.

Microsoft is the main backer of OpenAI, having pumped an extra US$10 billion into the company since the launch of ChatGPT. As part of the investment agreement, it has exclusive rights to the technology in terms of search and has already integrated it into its Bing search engine.

Google understood the repercussions of Bing transforming from the butt of jokes to the most capable and intuitive search tool ever, so it scrambled to launch its own version of ChatGPT, called Bard. Unfortunately, it appears to have been a rushed job. The announcement video featured an AI-generated mistake, which saw US$100 billion instantly wiped off Google’s market value.

How will Google react if Bing begins to take search engine market share? Will this reaction even matter if Google cedes power? Will Google and Bing treat ChatGPT and Bard-created content differently? Will Google reconsider what it is to “manipulate search rankings”? All these questions currently lack answers.

All these unknowns mean that for now, all a website owner can do is to what they’ve always done, and what Google continues to tell them to do: create relevant, valuable, high-quality content.

At Traction Marketing the quality of content is always front of mind. We help Kiwi businesses build their reputations by delivering the right information to the right audience at the right time. Our combination of deep experience and innovative thinking ensures that our clients always enjoy a place on the leading edge of digital marketing strategy.

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