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ChatGPT is everybody’s new favourite artificial intelligence app. In its short existence, OpenAI’s new chatbot has already integrated into the modern office. It’s used to write documentation for software, to brainstorm headlines for ad copy, even to generate boilerplate code for developers.
In marketing, it’s a topic of heavy debate. Where is it OK to use AI generated content? What is the role of the copywriter in a ChatGPT world?
Today, we’ll take a closer look at one of these debates: the role of ChatGPT in SEO.
I don’t like burying the lede, so if you’re looking for a short answer, here it is: ChatGPT content is horrible for SEO. It is a useful tool to add to any marketer’s toolbox, but it should be used with care and consideration.
Let’s look at the case for and against ChatGPT for SEO.
Why ChatGPT is bad for SEO
First, let’s consider what SEO aims to accomplish.
SEO, at its core, is a competitive marketing discipline focused on outranking other websites in the search index by offering a superior experience.
You may quibble with that definition. Superior experience for whom? The user, or the crawler bot? Some high-ranking sites feel awful to use, so SEO must be about something else. If it were all about making better websites, the best websites would win, and they often don’t.
I’d push back by saying search ranking algorithms are imperfect. They strive to be an objective quality ranking, but fall short of reaching their goal. SEOs may exploit imperfections in the system, sometimes delivering poor quality results to the top of the search page.
That does not change the core philosophy of SEO, from the search engine’s perspective: to deliver better and more thorough results. That is the product they offer to drive their revenue-generating ad services.
In SEO writing, differentiation is key
Google doesn’t index billions of web pages so they can show users the same thing over and over again. They want a search index of unique answers, different opinions and ideas. That is, after all, the promise of internet search. Creating a way for people to navigate an immense web of user-generated content.
If you’d like to outrank a competitor, ripping off their content verbatim won’t work. Google can see it’s duplicate content. Your page won’t get indexed, or you may even suffer long-lasting penalties for stealing content. Re-writing that content could work, if the re-write also improves upon the original. The output must be unique and of high quality, or it won’t move the meter for SEO. This has been good practice in SEO for years.
If everyone uses ChatGPT…
Have you ever seen the Pixar movie The Incredibles?
The villain, Syndrome, wants to level the playing field with technology. He wants to create a world where “everyone is super… so no one is.”
A world where ChatGPT-generated content becomes standard is a world without differentiation in quality. It’s not a world of super content — a half-decent writer will out-perform ChatGPT, at least for now. It’s a world of homogeneous content.
Consider this: if AI-generated content gets published to your website, why would your target audience not simply open a ChatGPT window and ask the question directly? The output would be similar if not the same.
Now extend that problem to your competitors. What if they generate articles with the same topic using the same AI tool? The differentiation is gone. Because the content will be extremely similar, you will need to outperform your competitors solely through things like backlinking and technical SEO, both of which are smaller pieces of the pie than content itself.
That is, if your AI content even reaches the index. If you’re late to the party, Google may not even want your AI article. Your competitor already published the same thing. Why index two identical articles? A lack of differentiation is a key reason why ChatGPT’s usage in SEO should be controlled.
ChatGPT is a liar, sometimes
Another problem with relying on ChatGPT for SEO content generation is its general inaccuracy. ChatGPT content is always confidently written and often incorrect — a dangerous combination. Ultimately, the software assembles readable content using a fancy version of predictive text, the same thing you may use to assemble a text message on your phone.
Just as predictive text on an iPhone can lead to crazy, nonsensical statements, ChatGPT makes sometimes-subtle mistakes in its generated output. Code snippets that use insecure libraries, or facts that aren’t quite right. One interesting example is its inability to count words and characters. Ask it to generate ten headlines for a new blog post, all 50 characters or fewer. It will spit out ten headlines of completely arbitrary length, while assuring you that the length of each is within your parameters.
If ChatGPT were consistently wrong, that would be one thing. It’s almost more dangerous that it’s only wrong sometimes.
The screenshot below displays a chat in which I requested 5 headlines not exceeding 50 characters. Every generated headline exceeded the maximum length. When asked how long each headline was, the response was incorrect. When asked to count the length of a headline again, the value changed from the previous evaluation.
At the same time, it accurately counted my 9-character string. In a later chat, it accurately counted a 23-character sentence, but failed to count a different sentence of similar length.
It even lied about how it calculates string lengths, claiming to use a Python function to generate its output. This is a lie, if we can anthropomorphize a text generating robot in such a way, but would a less technical user spot it?
Without verifying its answers, human users may accept AI’s suggestions at face value, accidentally spreading false information or relying on incorrect assumptions. If your content team begins to rely on AI for article generation, you might contribute to misinformation completely by accident.
Editing ChatGPT content only gets you so far
Have you heard the phrase “like lipstick on a pig”?
ChatGPT’s capacity to generate content in a variety of tones is impressive, but ultimately superficial. It can explain well-known concepts and provide fairly accurate factual information, adapted to suit the style of your website content.
That isn’t good enough for SEO, in most cases.
For most competitive topics, simply explaining facts and basic concepts isn’t sufficient to displace the pages at the top of the index. Anyone with sufficient industry knowledge can offer the same or better insights as ChatGPT. No matter how much you re-write AI content, it’s structurally, fundamentally incapable of creative thought.
We return to the concepts of differentiation and quality. If AI content can only re-write what’s already been written, it cannot offer true differentiation. If its information is of questionable accuracy and lacks thoroughness, it cannot offer quality.
Where AI CAN help with SEO
Document outlines to overcome writer’s block
Blank page syndrome is common among humans, yet non-existent for robots.
Despite this article’s focus on uniqueness, many website pages and articles will — and should — follow a similar structure. For example, we have an article describing SEO for B2B companies, using a tone and style that resonates with customers like ours. Its insights aren’t unique, nor is its structure. It is an opinionated piece, one where certain concepts get highlighted over others, but its purpose is similar to many articles on the web.
AI is a great way to build document outlines and kickstart your content writing process.
Say you’re working on building out a new content cluster for your website. You have ten article ideas that support your selected keywords. Instead of asking ChatGPT for an article about each, ask it for a bullet point article outline. Paste the output into each article draft document. These outlines are great references to keep your article on-message. Having a clear outline also reduces the mental burden of writing. It’s many times easier to fill out an outline than it is to write a complete article free-form.
ChatGPT, your brainstorming buddy
Depending on the size of your team and your preferred level of collaboration, content writing can be lonely work.
Sometimes, writers need a sounding board. Another brain to bounce their ideas off of. ChatGPT may be a mindless auto-complete robot, but in a pinch it does the trick.
Trying to find the perfect headline for your latest article? Ask ChatGPT to generate ten exciting headlines for it. The output will probably be bland and general, but that’s not the point. Somewhere in that list of headlines, you’ll find a structure that jives with you, or a synonym that you couldn’t quite pin down.
For more complex debates about subject matter and strategy, you’ll need a real human to collaborate with. For everything else, there’s ChatGPT.
Always online marketing tech support (buyer beware)
SEO isn’t just about content. There’s plenty of strategy to be done, much of which relies on data and the analysis of said data. Then there’s reporting.
For some SEOs, this is the stuff they live for. Give me a CSV and a text editor and let’s bust out some regular expressions!
For others, every word in the previous sentence was more painful than the last. For those SEOs, ChatGPT can help.
Regular expressions are confusing blobs of text that look like this:
They allow us to match complex patterns in strings of text. The regex (slang for regular expression) above will match with most email addresses, regardless of the email name or provider URL.
Learning to write good regex isn’t easy, but it’s a perfect job for ChatGPT. Provide it a prompt like “generate a regular expression that will match any URL containing the word ‘product’ on the domain example.com”, and it will get to work.
Similarly, SEOs and marketing professionals often have to work with basic website scripts. ChatGPT can make editing scripts or even generating new ones from scratch quite easy. In some cases, you can even paste broken scripts into ChatGPT and ask it for a fix. It doesn’t always work, but with a little trial and error you can often find a workable solution with AI’s help.
Now for the big huge warning: don’t ever put AI-generated code into sensitive areas of your websites and apps. Remember how AI can lie sometimes? It can also generate very scary, insecure code. Be very careful not to use any code unless you’re fully confident that it works, it’s secure, and/or it doesn’t touch any critical part of your business. Pasting regex into Google Search Console? Go ahead. Adding a custom PHP file to your WordPress site? Absolutely not.
Google’s Foray into AI Search (featuring Microsoft)
As of writing, news of Google’s Bard AI Chatbot has just begun to circulate. A direct competitor to ChatGPT expected to roll out within the coming weeks, beginning with Google insiders, Bard is Google’s attempt to catch up to OpenAI’s explosive growth.
What’s even more interesting is Google’s proposed AI-powered search, which CEO Sundar Pichai says will “distill complex information and multiple perspectives into easy-to-digest formats.” How that will work is not yet clear. Are users expected to navigate to websites from the search index, or will the new AI feature making browsing websites obsolete? The answer to that question, and many more, will dictate the future of SEO.
Not even 24 hours later, another edit is required: Microsoft’s Bing plans to introduce AI search in the same fashion as Google has proposed. In fact, due to the mature nature of Microsoft-funded Chat GPT, it may arrive sooner than later. If Microsoft pulls off AI search first and best, Google will have a tall mountain to climb in order to remain the internet’s go-to search engine.
For now, all we can do is what we’ve always done in SEO: focus on quality first, quantity second. Plan, strategize, and react to emerging trends.
The more the game changes, the more it stays the same.
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