AI content for search engines: warnings and best practices

June 18, 2021


John Thomas

What does the influence of AI mean for brands who hope to use it to power and optimize their marketing?

Artificial intelligence has been a boon for content marketers and SEOs for years. Many of us employ AI-powered tools like Hubspot, Grammarly, and in a cruder sense, the Hemingway Editor to help create and manage quality content that ranks. Reputable companies, including Google and its parent company Alphabet, use AI to improve processes and quality across multiple business units. In fact, Alphabet is a world leader in AI research, and Google is reportedly a consumer of AI-generated content

But Google’s John Mueller made headlines recently when he called AI-generated content “spam” in response to a question during a recent Google Search Central SEO office-hours hangout.

What is Artificial Intelligence (AI)?

Firstly, what is AI? According to IBM, “artificial intelligence leverages computers and machines to mimic the problem-solving and decision-making capabilities of the human mind.” In a content creation sense, this might mean automatically generating content based on data you already have. For example, an online travel agent might auto-generate simple hotel descriptions based on data they have about their properties’ facilities and amenities. But is that really spam?

What is Search Engine Spam? 

Although many of us have heard of spam in the email context, spam in a search engine context might be less obvious. According to Google Search Central, “spammy content tries to get better placement in Google’s search results by using various tricks such as hidden text, doorway pages, cloaking, or sneaky redirects. These techniques attempt to compromise the quality of [Google’s] results and degrade the search experience for everyone.” This is helpful context in that it shows Google’s ultimate concern when it comes to AI-generated content: the user experience.

Can I use AI to Create Content? 

Ultimately, yes. Google employee statements often get twisted to apply quite broadly. Mueller’s latest statement, for example, conflicts with previous musings that Google may eventually not care if the content is generated by a machine or a human but rather consider the overall quality of the content. Not to mention that Google is alleged to use AI-generated content themselves. Additionally, Google hasn’t indicated a formal process for identifying AI-generated content and, although third parties can report you to Google for spam, it may be difficult if not impossible to identify programmatic content today.

That said, there are specific situations where Google may issue a manual action if you’ve used AI or auto-generated content.

  1. Text that makes no sense to the reader but which may contain search keywords.

  2. Text translated by an automated tool without human review or curation before publishing.

  3. Text generated through automated processes, such as Markov chains.

  4. Text generated using automated synonymizing or obfuscation techniques.

  5. Text generated from scraping Atom/RSS feeds or search results.

  6. Stitching or combining content from different web pages without adding sufficient value.

At its core, this list warns against low-quality content, plagiarism, and hands-off publishing, all practices that quality brands already know to avoid, whether using human-written content or automation. 

Best Practices for Using AI-Generated Content for SEO

If you plan to use AI in your content or SEO strategy, consider these best practices to avoid manual actions and ensure your website and blog visitors have a positive experience. 

1) Make AI a Part of Your Team, Not the Only Player

‍AI has improved significantly over the past few years. That said, even the best AI can’t match the quality and consideration of human writers and editors. If you plan to use AI, have it be a part of your process rather than the end all be all. For example, Draft’s technology stack speeds up competitive analysis and keyword research so that our community of vetted writers can create high-quality content faster. We firmly believe the future of content is in enabling great writers with great AI, not replacing one with the other.

2) Set a Reasonable Publishing Cadence

The frequency at which you post content impacts several parts of your content program; from how quickly you might rank on search engines, to how much you need to spend on content creation. While it might be tempting to push out tons of content over a few days or weeks to rank quickly, going from 0 to 100 might be an indicator to Google that you’ve employed programmatic or AI-written content. Moreover, your audience will be inundated with content that they won’t have time to consume, ultimately making your program less effective. We suggest posting 2–4 times a week for SEO growth, or weekly to monthly for SEO maintenance.

3) Center the Reader

Ultimately, Google cares about your shared user—the person who Google is referring to your site. Low-quality content, whether created by a human or a program, will always create a negative experience for your visitors and likely have a negative impact on your SEO and rankings. Make sure the content you create isn’t just indexable and crawlable but also makes sense to your human readers and answers their burning questions.

4) Monitor SEO News

AI has been a topic of Google’s webmaster guidelines from nearly the beginning but progress in AI research and implementation may force Google to take a closer look at its philosophies on AI and auto-generated content. If and when Google takes a firmer stance, they’re likely to make an announcement or at least earn news coverage for the change. We recommend keeping tabs on the latest SEO trends so that you can always make the best decisions for your marketing programs. Draft offers a free monthly newsletter that covers content and SEO best practices, trends, and more; sign up below.

5) Work with a Partner who Knows the Industry

You’re busy running a business. Keeping track of the art and science of content creation can be a full-time job in and of itself. Consider partnering with a platform like Draft—we make it our business to watch the industry and improve our content creation technology and workflows so our customers get fast, high-quality content for every business need.

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