Throughout my career in digital marketing, there were a few rules that I always held to be immutable. One of them was this – If you can automate it, it’s probably SPAM. This rule steered me the right way on many occasions when tempting shortcuts were offered to me. I’d lived through the dark times of SEO, you see, times when Google was more easily fooled than it is today and SEO forums were awash with hacks, grifts, and ways to “trick” Google.
One of these tricks was “content spinning“, taking a copy of an existing article that was ranking well and replacing words and terms to create an article that was essentially the same but was technically different. This used to fool Google. It doesn’t anymore.
Whatever happened to the good old days?
Like any trick, it was inevitable that Google would develop a means to detect content spinning and guard against it. How successful they were at this is possibly a topic for debate – after all, there are still issues with plagiarised content outranking original – but fundamentally Google came out strongly against content spinning and the practice has all but died out following strong moves by Google in 2010 and 2011 against “content farms” and sites featuring predominantly duplicate content.
You’d think in 2022 we’d be a little wiser and know that shortcuts, tricks, and automated ways of altering sites to improve SEO are invariably engineered out by Google. Sadly, we are not. There’s a new snake oil business in town… and it’s called Artificial Intelligence.
The Rise of
Skynet AI Content Generation
If you’re in the digital marketing, eCommerce, or web development space you’ve probably run across tools like Jasper (formerly Jarvis), Rytr, AI Writer, … the list goes on and on. It’s actually not hard to get into the AI content game. Thanks to freely available, open tools like GPT3, it’s getting easier and easier to spin up your own AI toolset. Of course, some of the output is pure nightmare fuel but it’s more than good enough that major news agencies have been using AI to generate content.
Legit copywriters, the type who have lungs and have to eat and stuff, have been up in arms about AI content generation. After all, this kit is taking aim directly at their livelihoods, offering a cheaper and more convenient option to content-hungry websites and digital marketers. Like the Luddites of old, they’ve been ready to smash the looms – if only there were actually looms and not just a load of code floating around in the untouchable “cloud” somewhere. But, are they just the old guard refusing the make way for the new?
Is Human Copy Writing Dead? Better ask Google.
Personally, I’ve been pretty skeptical about AI content generation for a long time but that is changing. We are at a stage where AI already produces passable content and it is improving all the time. Eventually, there is little doubt that it will be able to replicate or replace human copywriting for basic topics using reference material. There is even evidence that AI can be used to generate fiction, given sufficient input data, although the output there is of a significantly… lower quality. Imagination and originality are, for now at least, out of the reach of artificial intelligence. Phew.
So, is that it? Is it game over for copywriters? Well… no. Riding over the horizon is a most unlikely savior.
The Man from Google, He Say “No”
Like the Lone Ranger, John Mueller has come riding over the horizon to save the day with an unambiguous declaration that AI-generated content is contrary to Google’s guidelines. This actually isn’t something new but SEOs, especially those who like to find ways to try and outsmart Google, often need it spelled out for them.
“For us these would, essentially, still fall into the category of automatically generated content which is something we’ve had in the Webmaster Guidelines since almost the beginning.
And people have been automatically generating content in lots of different ways. And for us, if you’re using machine learning tools to generate your content, it’s essentially the same as if you’re just shuffling words around, or looking up synonyms, or doing the translation tricks that people used to do. Those kind of things.
My suspicion is maybe the quality of content is a little bit better than the really old school tools, but for us it’s still automatically generated content, and that means for us it’s still against the Webmaster Guidelines. So we would consider that to be spam.”John Mueller: Google Search Advocate
More importantly, people and businesses that are currently investing in SEO projects that are utilizing these tools need to take note – Google has a habit of not only fixing its algorithm so that it can’t be manipulated by factors that it doesn’t like but also of penalizing sites that have been using the techniques that Google are engineering against.
Google may not be able to detect AI-generated content now but it’s safe to bet that if they are currently using humans to detect it then they are also using the inputs and outputs from those humans to train their own AI. Like a pair of Rock’em Sock’em Robots, Google’s own AI is on a collision course with AI Generated Content. Personally, my money’s on Google.
It Doesn’t Matter Who is Right, It Matters Who Has the Deepest Pockets… and it’s Google
Back in 2015, Google announced that sites needed to be mobile-enabled in order to rank. Web developers went into meltdown, updating sites with a frenzy that hadn’t been seen since the Millenium Bug. And then… nothing happened. The Mobilepocalypse never occurred and it was many years until the mobile index overtook the desktop index as the primary driver for search engine results.
It didn’t matter – the point was that since 2015 the accepted wisdom has been to make sites mobile-enabled because this is “Google Best Practice”. For SEOs, web developers, and eCommerce consultants, what Google says… goes.
And if Google say AI Content Generation is gone… it’s gone. It just doesn’t know it yet.
(And Google are happy to take money from the likes of Jasper for Adwords in the meantime. Just sayin’)