Documentation accompanying Google’s latest search update says its algorithms will no longer attempt to rank content based on who or what it was created by, as long as the content itself is deemed helpful and high-quality. For brand publishers experimenting with AI content generation tools, that could be music to their ears – and an invitation to experiment more.
Google continued the rollout of its Helpful Content Update last week and replaced the words “content written by people” with “content created for people” in materials explaining change to its indexing and ranking approach.. The new language implies Google recognizes the growing role AI is playing in content creation, but may also serve as an admission that detecting AI content is – or soon will be – impossible to do anyway.
Search experts say Google’s acceptance of AI-generated content could help level the playing field for smaller companies and teams, including brand-owned publications. As long as they can meet and maintain Google’s quality requirements, AI could enable smaller operations to generate content at scale and compete with those with greater resources.
“Initially we thought they were going to treat AI content differently,” said Jonny Waite, chief operating officer at SEO agency Improove. “But it turns out that as long as it is meeting quality guidelines, they don’t care.”
Brand publishers have been relatively open to experimenting with AI, particularly as a way to increase the volume of their output and make processes more efficient. For those companies, Google’s new stance could be a welcome one.“Could this create a world where the internet is flooded with un-useful content? Yes, but, isn’t it already? If this helps you spend time on other things and use AI to create some content for your site without it affecting rankability, it levels the playing field for people who can’t afford to hire huge teams.”
Waite said that he’s now advising clients to experiment more with AI content creation. “If it helps you to produce the content, go for it.”
One editor at a SaaS company said the new guidance makes her feel more “comfortable” using AI tools to come up with headlines, excerpts and even outlines. “I draw the line at using it to actually write stories, and a human is always going to be involved in whatever we produce, but it’s a bit of a relief to know we aren’t going to get punished by Google,” they said, speaking on background as they hadn’t received permission to speak publicly about AI.
Emily Anne Epstein, the former head of editorial at Asana and the president of Decopop content agency, said she believes a new era is beginning when AI is going to be a crucial element of every writer’s toolkit. “In some ways, this algorithm update is creating a race to AI. Whoever figures out how to use AI well first, without compromising accuracy and quality, is going to be the most successful,” said Epstein.
According to a recent study by Byndr, 55% of marketers are already using AI tools to support content marketing efforts, with 54% of them using it for first drafts, 43% for content optimization and 42% for spelling and grammar. And per the Content Marketing Institute, three-quarters of respondents to a recent study said they’re integrating AI into daily operations. At the same time, many brands are trying to balance the upsides of efficiency and ease with the resources involved in fact-checking and ensuring quality.
The difficulty, of course, is that while Google may not expressly ding sites for using AI to produce content, AI-generated content still needs to be of high quality to rank – at least in theory.
One option is to use AI as a starting point. “If a business wants to use AI to create the foundation of a piece of content and then add layers of experience and quotes on top of that, then they’re in a much better position than businesses that simply publish the outputs from AI tools,” is how James de Roche, managing partner at SEO agency Lead Comet sees it.
For some brands, that presents a catch-22 situation. “It feels contradictory in some ways,” said an editor at a health company. “Google wants to see things like author bios to showcase expertise, expert quotes, proof that you’ve tried the products you review, etc. AI-generated [content] can’t accurately send those trust signals.”